On the flight down from Juneau I read a review in The Atlantic of a book called, "Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion and Film". This was either the best of worst possible thing to read on the way to a city that seems to revel in whimsy. Needless to say this book was also featured at a major Portland bookstore so the hipsters who rode there on their single gear "fixie" bikes could revel in irony as they browsed the books and twirled their whimsical 19th century mustaches. Perhaps I am being too harsh on Portlanders - they are more laid back in their quirkiness than New York hipsters, though in addition to fixie bikes I did see more 35mm film cameras than I had seen in years - carried slung over the shoulder to leave the hands free for iPhone use.
Whether the hipster designation (condemnation?) is valid or not, other Portland stereotypes certainly ring true. For one thing, Portland people sure take their environmental concerns to heart. I awoke on my first morning and looked out the window to see a truck from a "sustainable Mexican food" caterer drive by. Sustainable in what way? Are the tortillas made from recycled cardboard? Do they have a scheme to capture any methane produced during digestion and use it to generate electricity? I noticed that the ice cream place we stopped in one day used metal tasting spoons - no disposable pink plastic a la Baskin Robins. The Indian restaurant we ate at (more on that later) dispensed water from a metal container with a "" logo. Oh, so green. I'm glad (and a little surprised) I didn't have to hand-crank the elevator in our hotel - not that that would have made it much slower.
Anyway, we had left Alaska with a boat load, so to speak, of dirty laundry so we started a load of laundry (the hotel had coin-operated machines) then went and partook of the gratis Embassy Suites breakfast which was served in one giant mutha' of a breakfast room. V was feeling tired (I think she was starting to get sick at this point) so she took an after-breakfast nap while I finished up the laundry and relaxed. By mid-day V was feeling better so we irresponsibly burned some fossil fuel and drove over to the west side of town where we went to the Portland International Test Rose Garden. The garden was huge and gorgeous, particularly on what was a beautiful bright sunny day. We also visited the nearby Japanese garden, which was serene and quietly pretty. It was there that we ran into a guy taking pictures of his stuffed platypus, Ducky. Apparently he blogs about his travels and Ducky always figures into things. What was most remarkable about the whole affair was that we have exactly the same stuffed platypus (ours is named Giuseppe). The other notable thing about the whole affair is that the guy, who naturally was in town for a conference on renewable energy, was a rather serious sour-puss of a fellow - not the kind of guy you'd expect to be out on the town snapping photos of his stuffed platypus visiting Portland landmarks. While we were at the park I also made sure to find a geocache so I could add Oregon to my list of states.
|Me at the Rose Garden|
|A rose at the Rose Garden|
|V at the Rose Garden|
On the drive back from the park we started feeling pretty hungry and so stopped at a pizza place (Hot Lips Pizza). We began to notice that Portland has a lot of pizza places. And micro-breweries. And coffee bars. Considering that pizza and coffee are among my favorite food items, and beer is pretty high on my list too, I was really starting to like this town. All the city needs to add to meet my full spectrum of food needs is a breakfast cerealitarium - though I wouldn't be surprised if there already was one. From there we went to the famous, enormous and wonderful Powell's Book Store, where we passed quite a bit of time browsing. When we met back up we realized that neither of us had much more than scratched the surface of the place and so we decided that if we had time we'd come back again during our visit.
Our hotel was right near Chinatown, and so for dinner we walked over to a restaurant called Good Taste. I think I've already mentioned that Portland has a large homeless population. Well, Chinatown and its environs are dense with homeless, at least in part because the city has set up designated homeless safe sleeping areas (complete with Porta-potties and security) in that neighborhood.
The food at Good Taste was OK, though nothing to rave about (note to self: next time eat at "Great Taste" instead), and when we got back to the hotel I had something of a stomach ache so we just settled into the hotel for the evening.
By Tuesday morning I was feeling better and I was antsy over not having "really" exercised for almost two weeks. Yes, I had been hiking and kayaking almost daily and had rowed once, but I felt I had been a little short on real cardio. On Monday I had scoped out the hotel's fitness room and had noticed a sign there describing a nice outdoor running loop along the Willamette River. Despite the fact that I didn't have any running gear I decided to go out and try it. I put on a pair of shorts and my light hiking shoes, the only sneakers I had with me, and headed out for a run.
Early morning in Portland - on my walk down to the river I spotted a young couple sleeping in the back of a Nissan Sentra. They had folded the rear seat down and were effectively sleeping in the trunk with their heads sticking out into the back seat area. I also thought I'd swing by a spot where I suspected there was a geocache, but there were too many homeless people sleeping there for me to look around for it.
I ran on the promenade alongside the west side of the Willamette River, up and over Steel Bridge with its metallic smell of train tracks, down the east bank, back over Hawthorne bridge, and back to start. Between the shoes and the fact that I hadn't run in a while I was moving slowly and so I was surprised at how quickly I finished the 3.5 mile loop - until I realized I had crossed back a bridge too soon and so had only run 2.5 miles. The run once again made me appreciate the Potomac. The promenades along the Willamette are nice enough, but the riverfront is fairly industrial and ugly.
|V near Pioneer Courthouse Square|
When I got back we ate breakfast and headed out to Pioneer Courthouse Square, a sort of central hub of the city. There we strolled around, browsed in some shops including a pretty awesome crafts shop, watched a band, and visited the visitors center. We went across to check out the stores in the Pioneer Square mall, but it turned out to be a lot like the Tysons Galleria - too many high end luxury retailers. We checked out a few shops and moved on. I also went into the downtown Target to try and get a prescription refilled - to no avail.
Another thing Portland is known for is food trucks. In fact, there are areas where there are big clusters of all kinds of food trucks. Since we hadn't eaten lunch we decided to visit the biggest of these, which features food trucks all the way around a whole block, and then some. The trucks don't have to leave at the end of every day - they are parked on what is essentially a block-sized parking lot and at night they lock up but stay put. After inspecting the whole block (Indian, Mexican, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, BBQ, Thai, Middle Eastern, ...) we settled on something we'd never eaten before and split an order of Georgian mushroom dumplings, which turned out to be a delicious choice. The dumplings came with instructions from the vendor on how to eat them: hold them pinched side down and eat from the top so that the juice doesn't spill out. We repaired to an adjacent park and followed the instructions.
|Portland Food Trucks|
We then strolled back up through the Pearl District, which I would describe as Portland's quirky, artsy neighborhood except every neighborhood in Portland seems to strive to fit that description. We browsed in vintage clothing stores where I discovered that the polyester togs I wore to my bar mitzvah are worth a pretty penny (or bitcoin) to hipsters. V went to a yarn shop, etc., etc., Eventually we wound up back at Powell's books for our second round of book shopping (we didn't really buy anything on either trip since books are heavy to carry home).
For dinner we went to the widely hailed Bollywood Theater Indian restaurant in the Alberta Arts District. First of all, I should know by now that "Arts District" is a euphemism for "gentrifying area". Think of Williamsburg (or maybe now Bed-Stuy) in Brooklyn, or Del Rey in Alexandria, VA. The place was in a hipster enclave of a transitional neighborhood, next door to a similarly hipster ice cream shop with flavors like goat cheese habanero. The line for the restaurant was out the door, but it's an order at the counter sort of place so it moved reasonably quickly.
I'm torn about Bollywood Theater. I liked the food, which was indeed different stuff than your average Indian restaurant. Papri Chaat, something I had had only once before when my Indian neighbors served it at a party. Wraps. Samosas. Fried curried okra. V was not as thrilled with it, but thought it was OK. I had no problem with the hipsterish crowd (young daddies with their long hair in top-knot buns, there with their babies in Snuglis). It's just that, well, I read in an interview that founder Troy MacClarty wanted to recreate the Indian food he experienced as a student in Berkeley (the menu fudges it a little bit and says he wanted to recreate the food he experienced on his first visit to India - though in the article he says that he had the restaurant idea first and only then decided to visit India). I guess I'm just used to Indian restaurants being run by Indian people, not people who discovered Indian takeout when they were in college. But what the heck - the best bagels in Arlington are baked by Egyptians, and there's a chain of Italian restaurants in Virginia run by a Lebanese family, so why shouldn't a Southern California dude earn a living making papri chaat?
I think one of the reasons V didn't like Bollywood Theater is that she was really starting to get sick. By Wednesday morning she was sick as a dog. I did what I could to help her out, then when she headed back to sleep I decided to occupied myself by going off kayaking. I had spotted a kayak rental place among all the tourist info - only 15 minutes away on a section of the Willamette River just outside the urban area, a nice, residential area of Portland. Well, actually, the shop is not quite on the river, which is interesting. The shop is on a main avenue, and then there's a park between that street and the river. So, when you rent a kayak there they give you a set of wheels and you walk the kayak down the street for a block, then down a side street, into the park, and through the park's parking lot to the boat ramp - about a quarter mile in all. I felt a little strange doing this but I didn't get any looks - I realized after a bit that there must be a steady flow of people out strolling with kayaks and paddle boards and so the locals must be used to it. The outfitter rented excellent boats at low prices. They rented me a composite Nigel Foster Legend for $15/hr. Key Bridge Boathouse charges the same amount, but for the money you get a crappy plastic rec boat. Interestingly, they provided the boat, paddle and PFD but no skirt, no pump, and no paddle float. These west coasters are far more lax on safety gear than we are in DC.
|Walking a Kayak Down the Street|
I paddled downriver a bit and looked at some permanent houseboats (small houses built on floating platforms). Then I paddled back upriver towards the city. I spotted an eagle sitting on a branch just above the river. I tried to get a picture of it but for some reason my camera wasn't focusing right so I unclipped it from my PFD (can you guess why I'm mentioning this detail?) to play with it. I couldn't get it to work right so I just jammed it back into the PFD pocket, forgetting to re-clip it (have you figured it out yet?). When I was paddling past the marina adjacent to the boat ramp - yes, the last 100 yards of my last outing on the last day of my trip - I pulled the camera out again to get a picture of a cool-looking sailboat and blip! It slipped from my hands and into the river. Gone in an instant. Fortunately this was my little point-and-shoot and pretty much all of the meaningful pictures I took on the trip were on my other camera, which was safely back in the hotel room. The only ones I regret losing are some of me in a kayak in front of the Mendenhall glacier.
I paddled back to the boat launch and found myself taking the whole thing pretty calmly. Strangely, I wasn't beating myself up as I ordinarily would do. Still, it must have been subconsciously affecting me because I was acting uncharacteristically spaced out. Returned the kayak and left, forgetting to take my car keys. Went back for my car keys and left, forgetting to take my water bottle. Retrieved my water bottle and left, and only later realized I had left a banana in the day hatch of the boat. I hope they noticed it before too long.
By the time I got back, about 2 PM, V was feeling a little better and we went to a restaurant called Mothers for lunch. The place had a Portland interpretation of Jewish deli food, and it helped V to have some comfort food - chicken soup. For my part I had a salmon sandwich which was actually better than anything I had gotten in Alaska. A truly superb piece of salmon. After lunch V crawled back into bed and I went for a walk. I again tried unsuccessfully to get my prescription filled at Target (they hadn't gotten the expect shipment of inventory). I tried on Stetsons at a Western store. And I finally got coffee at Portland's famous Stumptown roasters. A truly delicious, winey latte that made me realize anew that Starbucks is the McDonalds of coffee bars. I poked my head into Voodoo donuts, another Portland landmark, but I'm not really a big donut fan so I settled for the experience and left without a donut. One of their outlets is near our hotel and we had marveled at the lines out the door in the evenings, much as we shake our heads over the mob at the DC cupcake place in Georgetown.
|Coffee from Stumptown|
I think I have mentioned that Portland prides itself on being quirky. Our hotel had a list of Portland's offbeat museums, which include a vacuum cleaner museum and a bathtub art museum. I was delighted to discover that included on this list for some reason was a perfectly normal (at least from my perspective) museum, the Lincoln Street Canoe and Kayak Museum. Yes, there's some guy in Portland who builds meticulous recreations and replicas of traditional kayaks based on drawings and actual artifacts collected by early western explorers. His name is Harvey Golden ... wait a minute ... Harvey Golden? I know him! We met at the Delmarva Qajaq Festival in 2004 and I know that he's very active in QajaqUSA (for readers who aren't aware of this, the folks into traditional Inuit kayaking often use the "Q" spelling).
With V still snoozing I hopped into the car and drove back into East Portland to Harvey's Museum. It turns out he's built so many boats that he's run out of room to store them in his house, so this being Portland he bought a storefront up the block from where he lives and opened it as a kayak museum. He's got several dozen of his creations, plus smaller models and related artifacts, on display. He even had a self-guided tour - little booklets with descriptions of the various items. I think that for most people a visit to the kayak museum would be good for about 10 minutes, but I was there for close to an hour and had a blast! It's largely a one man operation and so Harvey was there working on his next book (Kayaks of Alaska) and minding the store. He and I chatted for quite a while and of course dropped some mutual names - kayaking is a small world. While I was there V called me - back among the living yet again - so I bid farewell to Harvey and hustled back to the hotel. V and I grabbed a quick dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant then we packed and Thursday it was off to home.
|Lincoln Street Kayak Museum|
Teddy picked us up at the airport and when we got home we found he had straightened the house and had even made our bed (which we had left unmade). A good kid with a good surprise for us to end a good trip.