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Put a bird on it

Written by Chaz on 6 September 2011

After leaving Joanna in Los Angeles, I headed up to Portland to visit my friend Sophia, who was interning for the summer at the Oregonian, the city’s newspaper. I’d heard a lot about how wonderful Portland is, and I was very interested to see it for myself — especially after watching Portlandia, a niche TV comedy about the city, when it ran earlier this year. Portland certainly lived up to its reputation.


I spent my first day in Portland exploring the downtown area. The city has no major tourist sights to speak of, but I didn’t mind that. I was mostly interested in walking around and getting a feel for the city’s famous coffee-sipping, skateboard-riding vibe.

IMG_4077The Portlandia statue, a symbol of the city and the TV show’s namesake.

But one major landmark and highlight was Powell’s Books, a bookstore the size of a city block. I spent at least two hours there, combing every section. The selection was incredible. Frankly, I wouldn’t have thought there was a single bookstore in the country in which I could compare ten different Swedish grammar books.


As I walked around, a few things really stuck out. First, of course, the streetcars, for which Portland is well-known. I was able to take a few steps out of the airport and hop right on a light rail train that took me right into the heart of the city, and they’re equally useful for getting around downtown and to a number of suburbs. To top it all off, they’re free in the central area.


Another was the parks, which are everywhere and beautifully kept. My personal favorite was Tanner Springs Park, which is a reclaimed wetland nestled into an extremely urban setting. It’s in the Pearl District, a trendy neighborhood just above downtown.


Sophia and I had dinner on my first night in Portland at a place that could not have epitomized Portland better: a worker-owned vegan cafe. It was actually pretty good, too. We had a bunch of different veggie-based dishes that were inexpensive and, I’m sure, nutritious. Sophia is a vegetarian, and we spent most of dinner talking about how difficult being vegan would be.


Afterwards, we explored another scene that Portland is known for, its craft beers. We checked out two places that were near dinner. One had a wide selection of local beers and the other made its own line of sour beers, which were sour like sour candy. Not my preference, but an interesting idea, I guess.


Sophia and I went hiking in three great parks just outside the city center: Forest Park, a huge park that extends from downtown out to the northwest; Council Crest City Park, which had gorgeous views out of the city; and my personal favorite, Tryon Creek State Park, a lush oasis of green still within the city limits. Here’s Sophia, doing what she does best and reporting live from the scene.

We also took a longer expedition down to Oregon’s wine country, where we visited a few vineyards before stopping for a delicious dinner at Cana’s Feast Winery in Carlton. The view from our table, out over the rolling fields into the mountains, was spectacular, and dinner was very good too. Wonderful, fresh produce.


The next morning, we had breakfast at Bijou Cafe, which all the guidebooks called a must. It was very FLOSS — a Portland term that means “fresh, local, organic, seasonal and sustainable.” I had a (vegetarian-fed) beef hash and Sophia had a beautiful omelet.


Because the news never stops, not even when I’m in town, Sophia had to work the last afternoon of my visit. I took the opportunity to get a little closer to Mt. Hood. I took a short hike out to Mirror Lake, which reflects the mountain in its waters.


I drove back through the beautiful Columbia River gorge, stopping at the incredible Multnomah Falls. As I approached Portland, the sun was setting, and the colors of the sky were amazing.


I got up early the next morning and headed back to the airport and Philadelphia. Portland seemed similar to Philadelphia in only one way: a perfectly nice place to visit, but a fantastic place to live. I definitely understood why people love it.

IMG_4154Taken at a vineyard by a random person; highly suitable for wedding invitations.