miscellaneous commentary

2 Days in Portland

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Below is my half-ass attempt to finally write something about my west coast trip last month.

As mentioned before, we arrived by Amtrak. I enjoy the nice leisurely pace of train travel and got to see a part of the country I had never seen before, but it was a once in a lifetime experience. That is to say, I wouldn’t want to do it again without good reason. Next time I travel out west, I’m flying or driving, if I have companions to ride with.


Freight train on the opposite (south) side of the Columbia River, Sunday morning, just after sunrise.

We arrived in Portland on Sunday – St. Patrick’s Day. Didn’t do any drinking, aside from the enormous 22 ounce Czech beer with my dinner (more on that later), so I can’t offer any bar or club recommendations. But I know Portland is a pretty good place for local brews.

After checking our bags into the guesthouse we wandered downtown and made our way to the “Saturday” market near the riverfront, which I guess was also taking place on Sunday. Lots of vendors selling homemade arts & crafts items and lot of food carts. I bought a scrumptious lamb gyro for lunch.


Fee fi fo fum

The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around downtown, within the confines of I-405 and the river. Portland is a very walkable city (at least downtown is) but there is also an excellent streetcar service and bus service that seems to run 24 hours a day. We visited a number of parks, including the well-designed Ira Keller Fountain by Clay St. It’s very play-friendly during the summer months when the water is flowing.


Ira Keller Fountain, sans running water.

I cannot say enough good things about the Northwest Portland Guesthouse, where we stayed for two nights. Three old houses have been converted into overnight accommodations, two houses serving as the hostel with a kitchen (free homemade bread & coffee each morning) and the other being the guesthouse. The difference between them is that Viet & I were in the guesthouse and didn’t have to share a room with strangers. We had to share bathrooms with the others at the guesthouse but that wasn’t a problem as there were two downstairs (one with a shower) and one upstairs (with shower). I think only once I wanted to go and they all were occupied, but it wasn’t a big deal to wait and I didn’t have to wait long.


What the Mandalay *should* be.

Our room was great; very spacious, no TV (which was fine with us, we didn’t travel halfway across the country to watch damn television!) none of the usual “frills” of being at a hotel like vending machines or a swimming pool or “continental breakfast”, aside from the aforementioned free black bread and coffee (we ended up walking a few blocks to Trader Joe’s and picked up burritos to make for breakfast anyway), The room had a view of an old gorgeous synagogue across the tree-lined street. It was just a bed in a room, which is all we really needed for overnight accommodations. And for the price and location (only a few blocks from downtown), it couldn’t be beat. We looked up hotels near downtown and the closest we could find under $100 per night was a shoddy three-star joint with some sketchy photos. I highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Portland. The guesthouse, that is… I’m too old and I earn too much nowadays to be sleeping in hostels anymore.


This room was bigger, more stylish and more comfy than most hotels I’ve stayed at.

Dinner Sunday night was at the Fish Grotto, a seafood joint a mile’s walk from our lodging. The décor was okay (the waiter claimed they were remodeling) but the food was absolutely fantastic. Loved the crab-filled mushroom appetizers. A bit pricey though; our meals, plus my hearty Czech beer, totaled $78.

After dinner we walked to Voodoo Donuts and waited in line for about 30 minutes for one of their namesake treats. It tasted alright. Lots of sugar and filling. Their display case had a lot of different delicious-looking options, but I wouldn’t waste my time waiting in line again just for a donut. If you like treats, try it out, but be prepared to wait. We walked by earlier in the day and the line stretched past two city blocks!

Any trip to Portland must include going to Powell’s City of Books. It’s the largest new and used bookstore in the world. Several floors, stairways and aisles of floor to ceiling bookcases to get lost in. I came prepared with a list of book titles and authors to look for, and it still took us an hour to find what I wanted. Without a list, I could have easily spent an entire afternoon wandering around. I picked up a nice hardcover edition of Blood Meridian, a used copy of It’s All About the Bike, and a book of musings by Mindy Kaling (just finished reading; kinda okay). Viet bought Bossypants by Tina Fey, which I will read as soon as he’s finished with it.


Bring a map. Or don’t. Getting lost in here is easy to do, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing…

About all we did on Monday was ride the streetcars, visit the OMSI and go out for dinner. An important notice about the streetcars – there are two lines that run through downtown, NS and CL. The NS line runs NW/SE and loops around Portland State campus, while the CL line stays closer to the Pearl district and crosses the Willamette River to run SE towards the OMSI. I clearly asked the lady at the front desk of the hostel which stop to get on in order to reach the OMSI, city map in hand, unfolded and on display in front of her, and what does she do? She directs us to a stop for the wrong line. GRRRR.


We didn’t figure this out until, oh, about an hour later, when we reached the final stop at the SE tip of the NS line. A maintenance guy who boarded the car informed us we could either ride the car back towards downtown, transfer to the right line (for which we’d need to buy another $1 ticket) and then cross the river, or just walk to the nearest pedestrian bridge and cross on foot. Both options, he claimed, would take about 45 minutes. We opted to walk. It took about an hour. So overall it took two hours to go from our guesthouse to the museum. Blerg.

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is alright if you like kid-friendly displays and IMAX theaters. There is also a decommissioned submarine docked along the riverside. We bought tickets to all three (museum, IMAX and sub) as well as to the traveling Mythbusters exhibit, which was kinda worth it. Overall I think I spent $25-30 on admission. In hindsight, I would have passed on the IMAX and sub tour. They weren’t that great (they were screening “The Hobbit” but not on the day we were there). The museum was okay but most of the exhibits seem geared more towards children and students than adults. To their credit, they have multiple electric vehicle charging spots right in front of the building. Good for them!

Sad to say, the best part about going to the OMSI was Theory, the indoor restaurant. No joke, for $8 I had one of the best burgers of my life. Every bite of the “Mmmm burger” was SO GOOD! Grilled chicken, grape compote, bacon and beer cheese on ciabatta. I seriously wanted to buy another and take it with me to eat later. Viet enjoyed his $5 salad so much he actually did go and buy another to eat! The décor was on par with a five-star restaurant, and oddly enough there was almost no one there, on an early Monday afternoon.


I wanted to check out the Bagdad Café and a few parks on the east side of Portland but we were pretty wiped by the time we left the museum. Took the CL streetcar back over to downtown and we walked back to the guesthouse. I was tired and cranky and upon entering our room I took a three-hour nap. When I woke up Viet has picked out our dinner location, a Vietnamese restaurant only two blocks from our place. Fish Sauce. Pretty good pho noodles and jicama rolls, nice ambience, reasonable prices.

Two days is not nearly enough time to see more than a handful of things I wanted to see while in Portland, which only means I’ll be going back again. Hopefully soon. We checked out Tuesday morning and walked back to Union Station, stopping at an REI store along the way. Nice products but a little out of my price range.

Thoughts on Seattle later this week.


Written by camcarlson

April 24, 2013 at 10:02 PM

Posted in Travel

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