Monday, August 17, 2009

Portland, Oregon, August 2009: Part 1

Our last several vacations have been to New York City or Chicago, or family visits to Maine. This year, Don signed up for Sock Summit, a convention for sock knitters, in Portland, Oregon, and we decided to make it our '09 vacation--after not really getting in a vacation together in '08. We had been to Eugene, Oregon many years ago for an academic conference and we were both charmed by its slightly funky but crisp, clean atmosphere; it felt like a small big town, or a big small-college town, with lots of boutiques, interesting restaurants, and a huge weekend arts fair. Assuming Portland would be like Eugene, I figured that while Don was at the Summit (2 or 3 hours each day), I could occupy my time with street strolling and bookstore visits.

Portland does have a compact downtown area, easily walkable, though if your legs get tired, there's also a light rail system which is free of charge in the downtown area. But the vibe of the city is a little weirder than Eugene (hence the sign above). The downtown is grungier than I was expecting, with several empty buildings and a fairly large homeless and/or panhandling population. Some areas are artsy and almost collegiate (it's home to Portland State University, just a few blocks south of our hotel), some are crammed with shopping, some are lovely tree-lined neighborhoods, and some are traditional run-down "old town" sections.

We stayed at the Paramount, only a couple blocks away from the heart of downtown, Pioneer Courthouse Square and the multi-level shopping mall Pioneer Place, and had no complaints about the lodgings: lovely lobby, free computers and Internet access, and a friendly staff, and we had a nice view from our 15th floor room of the very green South Park blocks (pictured at top).

Eats: Our first night, being jet-lagged, we wanted dinner at 3:30; we waited until 4:30 but the place we had picked didn’t open until 5, so we wound up at Greek Cuisina (above), a perfectly fine Greek restaurant with a big purple octopus as its logo. Best drink of the trip was here, a Bombay Cooler, which was gin with pomegranate and grapefruit juice. We had a good breakfast at Mother's Bistro, though we weren't crazy about being crammed in next to three other tables when there was no one else in the restaurant [bitchy rant about hosts/hostesses who do this deleted], but had a better breakfast at the smaller, funkier Bijou CafĂ© (below) up near Old Town--in fact, we ate there twice!

My realization about food while traveling is that it's not really about the quality of the food, but more about the atmosphere. For example, in Chicago with friends this past spring, we ate at Topolobampo, a ritzy Rick Bayless restaurant. The food was too high-end for me, but the experience of eating there was memorable. I'm not sure we had as memorable a meal in Portland, but the two that stand out were Deschutes Brewery & Public House (a Portland microbrew pub) up in the Pearl District, and Lolo's, a Tapas restaurant where we met 17 of Don's closest on-line knitting buddies whom he'd never met in person before. I unadventurously had burgers at both places, but the ambience of the each restaurant was enjoyable--loud and lively.

Part 2 in a day or so...

1 comment:

  1. Mike, it's very diplomatic of you to characterize the food at Topolobambo as "too high-end for me." I've felt terrible for dragging you there ever since March, but I'm glad to know the experience wasn't irredeemable for you!