We booked ourselves on the Amtrak Cascades train line down to Portland. The experience of travelling by train in America is not dissimilar to that of flying minus the waiting around and frenzied atmosphere. We got the King Street Station 1 hour before departure, checked in our luggage then took a sit whilst we waited for the seat allocation to open. In this time I found a wallet stuffed with notes that I dutifully handed in. On first glance it appeared to be thousands but with American bills going as low as $1 it was probably only $100 or so. Either way I didn’t count it to avoid temptation. We got seats on the right side of the train which had the view of Puget Sound as we travelled South. The railway went close to the waters edge on some of the journey so we had some good views over the waters of the Sound, the land on the other side islands and the Cascades mountain range in the background. It was a sunny day to boot so I think we did well! As we got closer to Portland we moved inland from the coast and went through lush green forests, pastures and farmland. Everything is so green here.
On arrival into Portland we were met by our AirBnB hosts, Kate and Kev plus their dog Riggins, who drove us to the North East district to where we will base ourselves for our time here. Portland is divided into easy to navigate districts and a grid system so it seems we won’t have any difficulty getting around. Once plonking our luggage in our rooms and getting a run down of the house we set out to NE Alberta Street, a road lined with various cafes, bars, restaurants and community projects. They have some tempting stops along this street, notably an ice-cream shop Kirsty took a shine to (Salt & Straw: Oprah’s favourite apparently) and a doughnut shop (Tonallis) that I shall be visiting in the near future. We had Thai for dinner in need of something fresh, simple of laden with vegetables before wandering back through the neighbourhood streets to Rosa Parks Avenue and bed.
We had the leftover Thai for breakfast the next day before heading over to Downtown via the Broadway bridge (Portland has 8 bridges spanning the Willamette river which splits the city, Portland is also known as Bridgetown) to check out Powell’s books, one of the largest independent book stores in the world. They sell new and second books and take over an entire city block with a second store over the road. They also have a cafe which we stopped in for coffee, tea and cake.
Once we were done with the books it was onto the vintage clothing stores for which Portland is known. Before though I got a slice of pizza from Sizzle Pie. A slice is a loose description as this was the size of a dinner plate. Vintage clothing seems to be a lot cheaper here than Australia to Kirsty’s delight, she bought herself a few peices needless to say. The store of choice was Magpies.
Next on the agenda was a brew pub crawl. We crossed back across the river into the SE district and first stop was the Lucky Labrador for a pint of IPA. We then hit up the Buckman’s brewery which hosts the Green Dragon Brewers and it seems as though we had crashed a 200th brew party. No free beer though but a tasty wild rice pilsner ad a berry atlas cider. The next stop on the crawl was a bit out of the norm. The brewery did nothing but Sours. I sampled a few tastings and glad I didn’t get anything larger as they were certainly sour and not my kind of beer although a novelty. Kirsty got me a tasting as a challenge for me to guess from a list of around 10 beers. I failed, guessed it on my 10th attempt I think. That was the Cascade Brewing Beer House. From there we hopped further up the road to the Base Camp Brewing House where we had some food from a Falafel food cart and got chatting to some locals over a pint of cider and alpine pale ale. We got some tips of where to go with our rental car in Portland and also where to go for some dancing on Friday night (Funk/Soul). It was nice to chat with some locals and get their take on the city (a baby San Francisco apparently, everyone’s still ‘playing’ here). We exchanged numbers with the intention of meeting up on Friday after the basketball play-offs (Portland Blazers versus the Houston Rockets). For the basketball to happen on Friday night Portland had to lose the game they were playing that evening, to take the play-off series to another game so we cheered on the Rockets when we got to the next brew pub – Burnside Brewing. Wednesday night was cheap night here and a pint of IPA for $3 – not bad! We called it a night after this one and got the bus home. A packed day and great fun. I was particularly impressed with the brew pub crawl taking in 5 pubs and only walking about 1km! There are over 50 breweries in Portland, the most of any city is the USA.
The next morning I picked up our rental for the next week – a Chevy Implala. As usual, the car rental firm were not prepared and we have an upgrade from a Yaris. Two in two!, wander what we’ll get next time, I am hoping for a Dodge Charger. With the car we took a day trip out to the Willamette Valley and some wineries. That is out in the direction of Beaverton and first on the list was Ponzi. This region is known for it’s Pinot Noir and we did try some tasty ones. They charge for tastings out here so that did curb our natural inclination to visit as many wineries as we could get to but we did get around to three, the other two being Arborbrook and Bergstrom. The last stop was our favourite, sipping wine on the veranda of an old farmhouse whilst being brought the tastings to our table.
On the way back into Portland we stopped off in Dundee for a belated lunch for BBQ Port sandwiches and gluten free pizza. Both excellent choices. This area seems to be a real food and wine hub, not unlike some parts of Australia for all the wineries and cafes. There wasn’t much to do between here and Portland so we just headed back into town and the Skidmore Bluffs taking a detour into downtown for a Voodoo Doughnut. Of the many on offer, including doughnut topped with bacon, I opted for an ‘Ol’ Dirty Bastard’ – a doughnut topped with chocolate, peanut butter and crushed Oreo biscuits. This is a lookout that is popular with locals to watch the sunset from, lying on a blanket and sipping a beer. John, whom we met the day before at the pub, sent us a text saying he was gathering a crew to head down so we joined along. It was nice to do something with some locals (I say locals, but all have them have moved to Portland from somewhere else, we have yet to meet a Portland-born local), and the view over the city teamed with the setting sun was a sight to behold. We had to leave shortly after sundown though as we had tickets to see We Are Scientists at the Doug Fir Lounge which rounded off the day.
Our final day in Portland started slowly, sorting out some stuff for future travel – flights, car hire etc. Once we got that out of the way we headed out in the rental car to Washington Park, a large space near to the city with Oregon Zoo, an Arboretum and various gardens with trails to walk all in it. We found a bench beneath the trees to read some more about our future destinations when, about to leave for lunch, we were apprehended by a god-loving, charity fund-raising, magazine and oil change salesman. Note quite sure what he wanted, but not that sure he did either. We just let him talk until he kind of talked himself out of any donation we might make. Anyway, once he ran away for the bus, we drove back into the city and Alberta Street for a gluten-free bakery we had seen before – Back to Eden. Kirsty lost her mind when she realised she could eat everything in the store! I had some biscuits and gravy (biscuits are basically scones) and Kirsty a quiche with chocolate ‘milkshake’ for dessert. A good feed.
That evening we had tickets to game 6 of the NBA play-offs with the Portland Blazers playing the Houston Rockets. We went to a couple of brew-pubs beforehand, feeling the need to indulge whilst in Portland. We went to ‘Upright Brewing’ first for a dark rye brew and a few games of ‘Rack-O’. A popular place apparently judging by the queue with limited opening hours. Our next stop was a cider place called ’Rev Nat’s Hard Hat Cider’ with the bar setup in a warehouse and tanks of fermenting apple juice behind. We got a taster paddle of six opting for a apple ginger tonic for the main event. After a couple of drinks we were ready for the basketball. It was a sell-out crowd and they were all up for it. So much effort goes into American sports with getting the crowd involved and they were going nuts. At one point a decibel meter they put out read 120dB! This was our first game of basketball and quite an indoctrination with the Blazers winning by one point with a 3-pointer scoring after the buzzer for them to progress to the semi-finals. Needless to say the crowd spilled out of the stadium in the complex surrounding it all in party mood. Horns going off, policeman high-fiving fans, fire trucks doing drive-bys with sirens blaring and topless dancing on the pre-match band stage. This is the first time they have gone past the first round in 14 years so I can understand why!
Next stop is a road trip down the Pacific coast ending up in San Francisco and catching up with Drakey.