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Portland: Week One

Before I start, there are three points I feel I should make.

  1. Portland is the nicest, friendliest city I’ve ever been to.
  2. In a gridded city like Portland/San Francisco/New York, it’s impossible to get lost; the avenues run from 1st upwards and, in Northwest Portland at least, the streets run in alphabetical order (Burnside…Flanders…Lovejoy…Quimby… Are you starting to see where Matt Groening got his inspiration for Simpsons characters yet?)
  3. This is going to be quite a long post. I thought about splitting it into two parts, but overruled the idea. You’ve been warned!
Even businesses are friendly

Even businesses are friendly

Monday

After a long weekend with the ratio of being awake to sleeping soundly standing at 10:1, it was time to start exploring Portland. I’m a little ashamed to say that I was a bit nervous being in a new city and I hadn’t quite understood the street numbering/lettering system yet, so my excursion twenty feet down the road to the Co-op to buy some milk was a nerve-wracking but rewarding one.

After consulting Google and contemplating just how far to venture, I settled for Forest Park, a 5,100 acre expanse of pure beauty, a haven of greenery and nature that cuts off all sound from the city that lies no more than a mile away.

Joaquin, who is hosting me, lives in the Northwest quadrant of Portland, and the Forest Park trail starts at the end of the road he lives on, so, with a mental picture of the map of Portland in my head, I left the house, turned right and walked for a mile before I realised I should have turned left.

Tuesday

Portland has the highest number of strip clubs per capita than any other city in the USA

Portland has the highest number of strip clubs per capita than any other city in the USA

Secretly annoyed with myself for being such a dim clot, I was determined to make a go of it on Tuesday. I visited Trip Advisor and head out the door into the drizzle of not-quite-summery PDX. First stop: Lan Su Chinese Garden. Speed turned on heel when I saw the admission price: moderate to quick.

I walked from 3rd & Everett to 9th & Burnside, where I excitedly sifted through numerous classical LPs in the famed Jackpot Records. Although I came across a rather lovely copy of Massenet’s “Le Cid” performed by none other than The CBSO (whose Chief Conductor has just been appointed Music Director of The BSO – congratulations Andris!), I understand that 12′ vinyls aren’t the easiest of objects to backpack with…

My next stop was one block up, at the magical Powell’s City of Books. Occupying a whole city block (nearly 68,000 square feet) and buying, on average, 3,000 used books every day, it essentially gives the finger to every eReader company on the market. Upon entering, I was actually provided with a map of the store, as too many people had complained of getting lost. In an ideal world, I’d set up camp on the second floor and make my way through the shelves, but I fear the staff would have something to say about that.

Wednesday

This was a particularly busy day, as I had decided to advance into the Southwest quadrant of Portland; this area is more built up and business-like than Northwest, hosting taller buildings, coffee shops every ten metres and, like in any city, a diverse range of people either high on life or something more illegal.

David Cotter sculpture in Couch Park

David Cotter sculpture in Couch Park

Within the first five minutes I’d witnessed a suited woman skateboarding down the middle of the road, a man stood on the corner dressed as a Smurf, another man rocking out in the middle of the street on a child’s plastic guitar toy and a chap running into the middle of the highway, picking up some moss, continuing to the other side (oblivious of horns blaring) and proceeding to plant the moss into the grass, all the while shouting, “I’ll save you!”

Farmer's Market on SW Park Avenue

Farmer’s Market on SW Park Avenue

Keeping my gaze glued firmly ahead of me, I visited the Farmer’s Market, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (unfortunately closed at the time of day I went, but I hope to get a look inside before I leave Portland) and the Pioneer Courthouse.

I decided on my way back to visit Washington Park, home of Oregon Zoo, the International Rose Test Garden and the Japanese Gardens. On the way, I was shown fully the kindness of Oregonians. I had stopped on the sidewalk to take a picture of a tram that was rapidly approaching, when I realised there was a car that would be between me and it at the crucial moment. I lowered my camera, knowing that I could get the shot at a hundred other points in time. The car, however, actually slowed down and the driver indicated to me to take my photo.

Gobsmacked, I lifted my camera and took the picture, marvelling at the graciousness this complete stranger had shown me. Of course, when I got home, I discovered the picture was blurred, but that’s neither here nor there.

International Rose Test Garden

International Rose Test Garden

I never expected to have fun in a garden full of roses; the same roses my father insists on showing me in his garden every time we Skype, but the IRTG was exceptionally beautiful. Flowers in colours I didn’t know existed, a pleasing Shakespeare Garden with his memorable quote etched in stone under an arch, and the cutest little Asian girl you ever did see picking at petals before attempting to put them back.

Definition of cute?

Definition of cute?

With another rapid heel turn after seeing the price of Oregon Zoo, I made my way down Stern’s trail and back to the house to ready myself for my first outing with the North Portland Run Club. Meeting at Bar Bar on Mississippi Avenue in North Portland every week, they offer a 5k or 10k run, perfect for me, running for the first time after ripping every tendon in my ankle to shreds whilst tumbling in gymnastics two months previously.

24 minutes later, I drank three successive glasses of water. By 10pm, I was home. By five past, I had passed out. A brilliant day.

Thursday

Still aching and limping a little from the night before, how better to spend the afternoon than with a four mile hike through a different trail in Forest Park?

Forest Park

Hiking through Forest Park

The scenery was, as always, beautiful, with quirky touches all through the forest, including this lovely quote carved into a tree trunk:

“Running has given me the courage to start, the determination to keep trying, and the childlike spirit to have fun along the way. Run often and run long, but never outrun your joy of running.”

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in the sun before heading out to Last Thursday, a street party in North Portland that takes place on the last Thursday of every month. Bands sing and play, bars heave and everyone smiles. All of life can be found at Last Thursday, from folk groups to dancers to food vendors to people jousting on bicycles to completely naked women who have had their bodies painted in many themes and styles.

Folk band playing at Last Thursday

Folk band playing at Last Thursday

Before the night was over, I made my first real cultural mistake: ordering a two-scoop cone ice cream. Forgetting I was in the US of A, I handed over my money and in return was handed a snack almost the size of my head. An hour later I finished it. My stomach didn’t thank me for it.

Friday

Still slightly achy from running and walking, but not wanting to sit at home all day, I called a friend and we set off into Forest Park once more, taking yet another trail; one that would lead us to Pittock Mansion, a sandstone, French Renaissance-style château situated in the West Hills, offering incredible panoramic views of Downtown Portland.

Built just over 100 years ago, it was home to Henry Pittock, the publisher of The Oregonian, Portland’s major daily newspaper.

View from Pittock Mansion

View from Pittock Mansion

Six miles later and we were back home, showered and ready to head to Brew Fest, a festival marking the importance of Portland’s many breweries. Being a non-drinker, I socialised with new people, watched the simply awesome folk band play on the stage and took photos as the sun set over the beer tents.

Child

Someone threw a small child in the air, so I took a picture!

After a Mexican dinner at Matadors, it was once again time to rest up for the next day’s activities…

Saturday

After an hour’s drive, we arrived in Silverton, a city in Marion County, south of Portland. Silver Falls was to be our hiking destination; a five mile trek encountering some of the most beautiful naturally occurring waterfalls in the States. Also, a chance for me to cross off an item on my bucket list: “Stand behind a waterfall.”

Waterfall

The first waterfall on the Silver Falls hike

We hiked as a group for just over a mile, before the majority decided to turn back and head for their cars. The weather had improved dramatically over the course of the week, and Saturday was the first day it had peaked at over 30°C. Joaquin, Gunnar, Gandhi and I decided to carry on, and five miles later, huffing and puffing, we were back at the car. A good workout in those conditions!

Jen had put on an incredible barbecue, and I stuffed my face with chicken/seafood skewers, homemade salsa dip, bratwursts and ice cream for the next hour. Again, my stomach definitely didn’t thank me.

Sunday

Today was due to be hot. The hottest yet, in fact. As the temperature hit 34°C, Joaquin and I were running errands; picking up paint for his other house and supplies for the 4th July camping trip we’re due to be taking.

The afternoon and evening was spent taping and painting the house, with good company, good music, good pizza and a happy heart.

I love Portland, and I’m one very happy camper.

Standing behind waterfall

Stand behind a waterfall: check

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Portland, OR – Settling In

After four relaxing days in Portugal with family, I had one night at home in the Essex countryside before embarking on the adventure I’d been so looking forward to since the idea was conceived in April. From now, I’ll be travelling for over two years through multiple countries, from the USA, to Canada, the Bahamas, Australia, New Zealand and through to Southwest Asia.

The whole trip nearly ended before it had even begun, as at Heathrow Airport in London, I wasn’t allowed to board without a return ticket to the EU within three months of my departure. After some frantic head scratching, telephone calls and a hurried cigarette, a solution was found: buy the most expensive, fully refundable ticket you can and cancel it as soon as you get to the USA. Crisis averted.

Sunset in Portugal

Sunset in Portugal

After some gorgeous weather in Portugal, I was glad to board the flight bound for sunnier climbs when the conditions in London were so dreary. I was flying with Air New Zealand (incidentally, the best airline I’ve ever flown with – you could start using the in-flight entertainment system as soon as you were seated before takeoff – it’s the little things…) for the 12 hour flight to Los Angeles, where, upon arrival, I would have to sleep overnight in the terminal building for my 7am flight the next day to Portland.

Travel tip: if you’re ever stuck in LAX overnight, head for the Tom Brady International Departures building; comfiest seats in the whole airport.

Without a wink of sleep, I boarded my flight to Portland with Virgin America (hmm…) and was picked up by Joaquin, who I met travelling through Southeast Asia 7 months ago. We were driving straight from the airport to Lake Billy Chinook in The Cove Palisades State Park, three hours East. Joaquin’s friend Cristie had rented a “party barge” and two jet skis for the eleven of us, and the next 5 hours were spent soaking up the sun and speeding across the length of the lake at 50 miles per hour.

Joaquin & Rona tearing it up on Lake Billy Chinook

Joaquin & Rona tearing it up on Lake Billy Chinook

By 6pm, with a fuel refill and some swimming, drinking and sunburn under our belts, it was time to take the barge and jet skis back to the marina and head for the campsite.

Party Barge

Party Barge

With tents pitched, sleeping bags unravelled and fire lit, Rick and Tats got the cooking underway, barbecuing chicken and beef skewers. For dessert? S’mores. Two Graham crackers filled with melted marshmallow and chocolate; one of the messiest and tastiest snacks I’ve ever eaten. We happened to be camping the night of the super moon, the largest perceived moon that can be seen from Earth, and just before I turned in for the night for my first wink of sleep in 50 hours, it rose and perched on the canyon top above us.

Supermoon

Supermoon

After a good night’s sleep, the tents were packed away and, after a breakfast of bacon, egg and bratwurst, we started the drive to Smith Rock State Park, an area near Terrebonne famed for its many miles of hiking trails and tuff/basalt rock formations that hold over a thousand climbing routes for beginners and experts.

Climbers at Smith Rock

Climbers at Smith Rock

We started the four mile hike in moderate sunshine, walking up the zigzagging Misery Ridge trail to the peak, where we were welcomed by the intensely beautiful views this stunning area has to offer. Continuing in light drizzle, we arrived at Monkey Face, a ~200 foot rock with a very distinctive profile. In pouring rain, we finished the hike and ran for our respective cars before heading to the nearest food joint for my first American burger. I learnt two things over the course of the meal: it’s only acceptable to eat with your hands in the US, and if none of the filling falls out, one is deemed to have failed at life.

Smith Rock State Park

Smith Rock State Park

One very tasty burger consumed and we were back on the road to Portland. I experienced another first along the way, when Joaquin announced he was tired and I was tasked with controlling an automatic, left hand drive car on the wrong side of the road in torrential rain. Only slightly nerve-wracking, honest…

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