Population = 619,360 (part of the Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton Metro area with 2,348,247), latitude 45º31’, longitude 122º40’, elevation 79 feet, average January low temperature = 36.6, Average July high temperature = 79, average sunny days = 144, annual snowfall = 3.3”, annual rainfall = 42.4”
Turning back to Interstate 5, we head North to Portland. The valley is getting wider and flatter, the mountains backing off into the near distance, the valley floor getting broad and flat and covered with the lush, boisterous carpet of greenery that swaddles Oregon. We get our first look at icy Mount Hood, towering over the rest of the nearby mountains like an enormous croquembouche dusted with sparkling powdered sugar.
Soon though, the Interstate turns into intercity freeway, and traffic slows to a crawl. Our GPS gives us confusing directions about “bearing right” and “turning right”. We cross a long, high bridge and find we have to cross another one downstream to get back to the right part of the city. Our rental is in the Southeast section of the city. Portland is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own character and style.
My first impression of Southeast is that it is an older neighborhood with narrow streets and very little parking, constipated by overwhelming traffic, complicated by numerous one-way streets. Most cities have extra wide thoroughfares lined with businesses, separated by several blocks of residential properties on narrower streets. Portland did not get that memo. Most of the streets here are narrow with only curbside parking. Favorite restaurants flood nearby streets for blocks with parkers. The homes here look about 1920s to 1930s vintage, some of them very beautifully kept. What is really striking about the homes are the garden lawns. Lots of homes have yards consisting entirely of flowers, bushes, and trees, without a single blade of grass to mow. Roses are everywhere, earning Portland the nickname “City of Roses”.
Marylu’s nephew Colin lives here (in the Northeast section where the streets are wider) and he becomes our tour guide to Portland. He takes us to see the University of Portland, high above the banks of the Columbia River. From there we pass over a bridge and climb up the bluff that holds the Pittock Mansion. I imagine the mansion is beautiful inside, but we are more interested in the view outside. From here, Portland stretches out in all directions, wearing a belt of sparkling Columbia River passing through the many loops of bridges, a coat of tall trees over a shirt of roses, with Mt. Hood as a party hat.
The tour continues into the Washington Park area. This is another high butte, wild and well forested, that holds the Oregon Zoo, the Hoyt Arboretum, the Portland Japanese Garden, and the International Rose Test Garden, among other attractions. We try for the Rose Garden but, this being Portland, we find no parking available. Since it is about Beer O’Clock anyway, we decide to skip the roses and head into the Pearl District downtown. Here we find an older section of downtown that has been updated, restored, revitalized. Fine and trendy places to eat and drink are everywhere. The 10 Barrel Brewery hits the spot with good beer and pub grub.
Our next foray with Colin takes us downtown again to Powell’s Bookstore. This is reputed to be the largest independent new and used bookseller in the world. They have a parking ramp that is always full but they validate. Colin has a mountain of books to sell so Marylu and I set out to explore. Books are sorted by genre, genres have their own room or even floor. They have maps of the building. We don’t really need any books to carry around with us, so of course we each buy one. By then it is Beer O’Clock again so we find our way to yet another brewery for beer and eats. A local guide to the craft beer breweries lists 96 in Portland, so you can just assume we are visiting many of them.
Our further expeditions lead Marylu and me out of the city. Out East of the city there is a park on Powell Butte that promises great panoramic views. The trail is a long, steep climb with several switchbacks. There are a few benches but not much shade. Finally we make it to the top and there is a semicircle of concrete with markers pointing to the mountains; St. Helens, Hood, Adams, Jefferson, and more.
The next day we set set of for some more urban exploration. Today we are visiting the Hoyt Arboretum. This is back in the Washington Park area again but today there is parking. We get a trail map and set off. This also turns out to be a lot of climbing. The trails run up and down big hills and valleys. And our timing is bad. The rhododendrons are past bloom. The cherries blossoms are all gone. But the area is beautiful. Wildflowers speckle the hillsides everywhere. Gigantic, 200 year old Douglas Firs create a vivid green canopy overhead that shades the ferns, hostas, and wildflowers.
Our next adventure was to go see the Columbia River Gorge. The Columbia River has, over the millennia, carved a deep valley with high, sheer walls. A scenic Historic Highway runs along the top of the gorge, affording spectacular views of the valley, the river, and the many waterfalls. There are a few stops where you can see the waterfalls from the parking lot. There are also stop that are trailheads where, after a long trek, you can get a more intimate view of waterfalls. The star of the route though, is the Vista House. This was built in 1918 on a rocky promontory 733 feet above the Columbia River. From here, you can see miles and miles of the Gorge and river.
We finally made it to the International Rose Test Garden, on a weekday when there was parking. This is a 4.5 acre plot of new cultivars of roses being tested for color, fragrance, disease resistance, and other characteristics. To enter into the park is to be dazzled by the rainbows of roses and other flowering shrubs, bushes, and trees. The scent of roses is thick and palpable, ranging from musky to lemony to anise. There are blossoms as small as a marble and as big as a baby’s head. Stop to admire the perfect bud. Inhale deeply to savor the subtle aromas, changing so dramatically from bush to bush.
Other than our explorations in and out of the city, were our many urban commutes to restaurants, breweries, and shops. The list of restaurants is extensive and includes every ethnic, every price, every attitude from dive to diva. There are many food truck “pods” around the city where little clusters of them group together, semi-permanently. From what we saw, I’d say most of the Millennials do not cook. They prefer to run over to the Latest Place and hang out with their pals; jeans and beard guys, girls in short skirts with piercings and tattoos. There is status involved in waiting in the longest line to eat. Sunday Brunch is the power meal around here and everyone has a favorite place to go and wait to eat.
Portland has so much to offer, it is overwhelming. If you are a urban hipster (if that term is still current), looking for an area dense with food, transit, opportunity, and, of course, beer, then Portland is for you. For an older person, like myself, I would much prefer living in the outer edges of the metro area, where I could enjoy the wide streets and easy parking yet still grab the train into the anthill occasionally.
Next up: Tacoma, WA