Portlandia

A rash decision, a bought of cleaning and a series of goodbyes led to a fast departure from Kimberley.  It wasnt in my plan to suddenly be heading south, however Lennart and I drove south to the US border and were interrogated as to our intentions, heavily.  Once we were allowed in, minus the mandarins, we were driving through rural Idaho.  The border town was called Good Grief, like “Good Grief, where are we?”  We drove alongside fields and the occasional scattered house until we pulled up at a fuel stop in the first settlement.  It was a bit of a hick town, but my first observations about the states was that the fuel was in gallons, the distance in miles and there was a cabinet of cigarettes where you could serve yourself.  

The road began travelling west, towards Spokane.  We passed rolling scenery and the occasional homestead before the highway started gathering vehicles, delivering them to the city.  There was fast food everywhere and you began to feel its draw as evening rolled around.  Why would you park the car and explore when you could roll up under some illuminated sign and find a feed so easily.  Still we found a place to park the heavily laden car and walked a block or two of cute but quiet shopfronts before coming across an inoffensive pub to fill our bellies.  We then attempted to walk it off and find the park.  Spokane was a 5/10 city.  A city of urban sprawl with little charm.  We were staying west of it at a motel.  

As we left Spokane the next day the temperature was rising and we were overdressed for our long drive.  Lennart was still expressing his disappointment with breakfast.  Remarkably, he had found his “worst breakfast ever” so the day was only going to get better. The day started in Washington and after an hour or so we crossed the dividing river into Oregon.  We stopped at a park to see if the air tasted different, but the playground was shut.  Still you could play count the oversize American flags if you so desired.  We commented on the fluctuating fuel prices, world politics and the straightness of the trees. 

The drive alongside the river got more and more dramatic.  The highway wound along the banks and there was a trainline on either side.  Long snakes of carriages busied up one side and down the other.  I got a highly sarcastic photography lesson on the rule of thirds and photo composition.  We made sure to visit a McDonalds drivethru.  That was a great American roadtrip necessity.  

At some point Lennart realised we were passing Hood River, Oregon, a famous kitesurfing spot.  We decided to check it out and temporarily adopted a dog for the adventure to the waterfront whilst her owners sat eating fish and chips out of the boot trunk of the car.  We saw a guy with the sign.  Lennart wanted to know what he was up to and upon further questioning was told that he was “a broken cracker in need of some cheese…”  Lennart explained that if he was hitchhiking that unfortunately we had no room in the car, and that was that, we drove off discussing the possibilities of that metaphor. 

At some point, historic highway 30 was signalled as an alternative to the Interstate so I took the plunge.  It turned into some winding country road with trees and moss greener than most colour samples can imagine.  The on off rain and explosive waterfalls explained most of that.  Water tumbled into angry spray filling fast flowing falls.  We were almost alone at Horsetail falls but Multnomah falls had certainly been discovered.  A two part, perfectly neat drop of water flowing from the mountain to first pool, from where it continued to a second plunge.  There was a beautiful Iron Bridge between the two.  The gushing water was beautiful but the mosses on the sculpted cliffs made me awe at Oregon.  We rejoined the highway, now listening to the roadtrip playlist on its fourth run-through, eating a rudimentary car picnic of crackers and cheese, still theorising on the ideal photo composition.  Apparently, I still hadn’t found it. 

We managed to drag out the 5.5 hour journey so we were rolling into town at 6.30pm.  Portland had promise.  The houses looked old.  We spotted something looking suspiciously like brick and there was already more coffee shops than you could shake a stick at.  It felt weird to be in a place with population, however once we were done with dinner we headed out to explore.  

We walked up to NW 23rd Avenue on the promise of ice cream flavours flavors we had never had before.   The houses were beautiful with wooden balustrade and the odd brick.  Lennart touched it to make sure it was real.  The shops were unique, quirky, beautiful.  The ice creamery, salt and straw, had a line outside it, so we joined.  Good to get involved in a solid queue once in a while.  The American customer service was worth waiting for as we got to sample the different ice cream flavours from strawberry balsamic and black pepper, to hibiscus.  Lennart settled on pear and blue cheese, me on olive oil flavour flavor and we sat on the porch to people watch whilst we ate.  

Oh, and I forgot to mention how friendly the people are.  Two people spoke to me whilst I was checking out the parking meter.  Two more spoke to us in the line.  We asked someone for directions and they were equally lovely, (they confirmed that I was right..). Welcoming west coast. 

In the morning Portland drew us out early.  The neat avenues and streets delivered us past a quaint coffee shop on every corner until we reached Powells city of books.  Taking up an entire city block and growing 5 storeys tall, it is the largest book shop in the country and we I got lost exploring and didn’t manage to escape empty handed… 

The next stop was a walking tour of the city, meeting in its very centre, Pioneer square.  Built on the design of a winning entry in a city competition, it was influenced by the piazzas of Italy.  Red brick steps and granite in the place of marble announced the theme which was continued in marble pillars and amphitheatre style seating.  Our guide described it as Portland’s living room, with 300 events a year, movie nights, food trucks and even a weather predicting statue.  The statue announces its prediction at 12pm everyday, taking 4 minutes to decide whether the next 24 hours will be sun, storm; announced by a dragon or rain; announced by a blue heron, the unofficial symbol of this sultry city. 

The city was set upon in 1845 by two explorers, William Overton and Asa Lovejoy, who canoed 13 miles from Oregon city to decide upon this spot.  They purchased the land from the government for a quarter (25cents) and began setting upon their vision.  The heavily forested area was a challenging start to the city and resulted in the nickname Stumptown.  By 1848 families were making their way along the Oregon trail, 2170 miles from Independence, Missouri, across the Rocky Mountains, wagons in tow, looking for a better life.   The story of how the name was decided involves a coin toss of a penny, now the infamous Portland Penny.  Arguing for the namesake of their hometowns, Lovejoy wanted to call it Boston after Boston, Massachusetts and Overton wanted to call it Portland after Portland, Maine.  

We discovered Portlandia, the copper statue of the icon to the city, however we were intrigued to learn about another of Portland’s claims to fame.  Portland has been awarded the ‘Largest leprechaun colony west of Ireland’ home to Patrick, a leprechaun who lives in the hearts of the people.  In the middle of a set of traffic lights sits an area fit for a lampost and indeed once intended to house a lampost.  It is now officially the worlds smallest park.  It has its own maintenance crew, own parks budget, events calendar and has been known to host weddings, yoga and school trips.  It sits opposite where the Oregon Journal office used to be.  One day a story was published that a leprechaun was spotted from the window.  A grumpy leprechaun resident of the small hole in the middle of the traffic lights.  The story caught portlanders hearts and imaginations so tales of Patrick were published for 16 years on.  The land came to be declared a park and plans to erect a lamppost were dismissed.

After walking the city on a tour, we sat in Pioneer square to sample the food from the food trucks.  With so many things to try, we dedicated most of our trip to sampling the best delicacies and next on the list was the offensively decorated Voodoo donuts.  There was a queue, a great sign.  We selected 3 of the many options spinning infront of our eyes, pressured by the intense beat of the music, and took our chosen delicacies to the edge of the Williamette river to watch where the bridges rose up and down for the passing boat traffic. 

The city had caught our attention with its weird and wacky personality, so we spent the evening exploring its quieter side, Washington Park.  Here we could walk for hours through the rose garden and the winding trails, quite forgetting we were in Oregon’s most bustling city.  We also made sure to check out all 8 of the see-saws.  On the way to the park we caught a glimpse of what this heavily wooded area may have looked like before it was deforested.  Two huge Coast Redwood, Portlands favourite trees, towered over everything around.  Their roots reached across the road and far under the houses which have since cropped up around them. 

Saturday morning was market time.  We set off early for the farmers market held in the grounds surrounding the university.  It was stressful deciding which goodies to try as local produce and baked goods boasted themselves from every stand.  We then crossed town to the Saturday market held in Chinatown, to look at arts and crafts which perpetrated Portlands crafty spirit. 

 

2 comments

  1. Americans seem to duplicate so many place names. They should have stuck with Stumptown. At least they wouldn’t be ‘stumped’ to come up with an original name for the new settlement. Fascinating city by your account, books and coffee, what’s not to like!

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