Monday, October 08, 2012

Portland–City of Roses and Water

Without looking at my travel notes, I can narrow my Portland trip down to two major impressions: the best bookstore experience and the numerous fountains (both the drinking kind and the decorative kind).



After sorting through my notes, I realized I had forgotten about the informative city walking tour, the dazzling and overwhelming rose garden, as well as the Japanese garden, the Chinese garden, vibrant life in Pioneer Square, and more. There is a lot to Portland that cannot be photographed. I also spent good number of hours browsing the magazine rack at the famous Stumptown coffee.

By the way, I have never been to Portland before, and didn’t see Portlandia [tv series] until I went to Seattle right after my stay. I really didn’t have too many expectations (high or low) but did hear great things about the bookstore. Having experienced major sightseeing spots and downtown’s efficient public transit along with the best weather one can hope for, I came away with a very positive impression of the city.

I looked a few airport shuttles but ended up taking the Max train into the city. The good thing about travelling light (one backpack for my entire west coast 10 day trip) is the ability to use public transit without dragging wheels behind me. It was a pleasant enough ride and build up my anticipation of downtown proper. Since the train went through rather suburban areas with the familiar strip malls and box stores, I was at first quite frightened by the prospect of being stranded alone without a car. The horror! Since I was in the city for a while and wanted to explore the area, I bought a day pass on the public transit. Ended up taking the bus/Max quite frequently to go everywhere. The city is also bike friendly so another thing to consider next time.

Walking around town
When I finally checked into the hotel, I browsed a number of touristy options. Since the city looked particularly good for walking, I decided to catch the Best of Portland walking tour (link). Somehow the group was small (maybe because it was a weekday) but that meant we got a detailed tour of history/buildings/and fun. Our tour guide even mentioned that he’s made an appearance on the TV show Grimm (filmed in Portland!) I did find it interesting that Portland is looking for a symbol/mascot besides the Portlandia statue. It had never occurred to me that cities needed something like that (NY, LA, SF, Chicago, Shanghai, Beijing, etc all had their share of souvenirs and tall buildings). If they can make Pioneer Square into a symbol/souvenir, they should do it. I loved that place and went back quite often. The sign below is found in Pioneer Square. Besides famous cities and landmarks, it also includes fun places that require a bit of thinking.


Suzhou style Garden
While I’ve been to the real Suzhou gardens, I still like all the gardens that are inspired by them. This one in heart of downtown Portland was also a treasure! Since I was going straight from the walking tour, I had to rush through the garden a little bit before they closed.
Lan Su Chinese Garden [link]


French Bistro
I used yelp to find a place for dinner near the Chinese garden.  
Little Bird Bistro got good ratings and the menu looked fairly appetizing. While it would have been nice to have friends along for the meal, I’m happy I got to experience fine dining on my travels alone. Portland was the only leg of my four city trip where I travelled alone.
//grilled trout with haricot verde and almonds. 1811 Ft George beer.
//dessert was peach tart with bourbon figs.
Next time need to try the bone marrow and star anise soda…

Books, Glorious Books
Powell’s City of Books
1005 W Burnside
Portland, OR 97209
I regret not having taken photos of Powell’s bookstore. I must say it was such an engrossing experience I wished my hotel were closer so I could literately stay from open to close and maybe go back to my room only to sleep. Having stayed in the bookstore for way longer than I estimated, I ended up having to navigate the streets/public transit after dark. Luckily Portland is relatively safe and has amazing transit. I got back without any issues. They also offer shipping service so you don’t have to worry about bringing back too many books to add weight to your plane carry-ons. I ended up getting a funny travel quotes book called “But I wouldn’t want to live there!”. Some good ones:

California is a great place to live if you’re an orange.

Living in California adds ten years to a man’s life. And those extra years I’d like to spend in New York.

The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.

New York is the only city in the world where you can get deliberately run down on the sidewalk by a pedestrian.

The most irritating thing of all is that New Yorkers really don’t care what you say about their city.

Japanese Garden
After browsing through travel literature about Portland and equipped with public transit via google maps, I decided to venture out of downtown area for two additional gardens on my second morning in Portland. Situated on top of a mountain, the Japanese garden offers a calm and serene setting to meditate and to contemplate. I found peace and symmetry in the garden’s pond, bridge, koi, trees, rock sculptures, and sand gardens. I have been to so many Japanese gardens in the U.S. that I think I ought to check out some Japanese gardens in Japan as well.

Rose Garden
Whether you are a fan of roses or not, this garden is going to impress and overwhelm you with the variety of roses. My note from the trip is summed up in “HUGE"! Some other notes I took were of the names given to some of the roses. In particular, I liked sixteen candles, sun struck, and Marilyn Monroe.



Pioneer Square Festa Italiana [link]
When I came back from the gardens, I stumbled upon a festival that was taking over Pioneer Square. For those of you who have never been to Pioneer Square, it’s sort of a cross between NY’s Union Square and Washington Square. Tons of stuff going on and perfect central location. It was lunch time so I looked around the food options.

I pigged out on People’s Pigs [food truck] Porchetta Platter with summer squash and arugula. I grabbed some olives from another booth and finished off with hazelnut gelato and peach sorbetto. Ridiculously deliciously food, makes me think there may just be a world outside of NYC (and with better weather and better transit too!).  


World Famous Coffee
One of the first times I’ve heard of Portland (ok call me sheltered) was when I checked out this coffee shop guide from the library. I distinctly remember being shocked by all the “indie”, “non-Starbucks” coffeehouses around Portland and Seattle that were featured in the book. After drinking possibly more than 3 cups a day in Seattle last year, I had also wanted to check out the Portland scene. Somehow, I missed it entirely until a few hours before my bus leaves.

After investigating Yelp and local guides, I decided to make my way to Stumptown Coffee [link]. Thankfully the barista helped me navigate the numerous types of brewing methods as well as the type of coffee. (thank god for notebooks, otherwise who would remember). I ordered a chemex brewed cup of Honduras coffee. Not sure if the brewing method or coffee was the reason behind its ultra smooth taste. Or maybe it’s the entire surrounding of grungy artwork, funky music, and entire new magazines that I’ve never read before. Writing this entry is making me crave chemex now. Luckily the coffee shop has a branch in NY that I still need to check out.

Magazine Rack selections from Stump Town that I read and subsequently noted down:
Bicycling (Biking)
Barista (Coffee)
Draft (Beer)

The Last Tour Stop in Portland
I got ready for Bolt Bus earlier than departure time. Instead of waiting at the terminal I walked around the area and found a good hot chocolate place.
Cacao Drink Chocolate
I definitely ordered a hot chocolate that was way too rich and large. Next time, just a shot or a small cup would do.

Other Stops on the West Coast Tour:
4th leg: Seattle [link, day2 placeholder]
3rd leg: Portland [current entry]
2nd leg: San Francisco [placeholder]
1st leg: San Diego [link placeholder, bonus chapter link]

1 comment:

Gail said...

I love Portland - so clean! :D