We’ve been talking about driving down the road one day to visit Portland and we finally we made it!
My driver decided he did not want to make 504 km (313 miles) drive that takes around 6 hours, depending on how “nice” the American Customs guys are at the moment! So…we booked seats on the Amtrak train that leaves Vancouver at 6:40 am. With very little sleep we manage to make the train, a good thing because it only goes once a day. Let’s just say Amtrak is not the Eurostar! We arrived around 3:15 pm at Union Station, a downtown Portland landmark, opened in 1896. The Benson, our hotel in the “Pearl District” was built in 1912 and even though it has been brought up to date with the usual stuff, still retains the original traditional finishes! We certainly couldn’t complain, a nice king-size bed and free Wi-Fi, what more does one need?
Located on the Willamette River, Portland was incorporated in 1851 and we thought it a pretty place with sort of a “small town feel.” They have managed to keep many of the old buildings which lends a really retro vibe. Reminded us of what Victoria looked like 20 or so years ago. The locals have favourite nicknames for their city: Rose City, Stumptown, PDX, Beervana are a few and “Keep Portland Weird” is their unofficial slogan!
Our plan mostly was to check out the food and microbrewery scene. Portland’s abundance of microbreweries dates to the 1980s when state law was changed to allow consumption of beer on brewery premises. This is a really good thing and is starting to happen, finally, here in Vancouver. The availability of local ingredients from barley to over two dozen varieties of hops and pure water from the Bull Run Watershed provides a perfect environment for beer making. Time for some tasting! Here’s some of our favourites: Full Sail Amber (really nice and “hoppy”), Ninkasi Total Domination IPA (slightly bitter, lemon coloured, wheat flavoured with a kick of pine) delicious! Next up Elysian Pumpkin Ale (with a hint of cinnamon) loved it! From the Pfriem Family Brewery, a Strong Dark Ale that we loved it too!
Portland is known for their food carts that are arranged in “pods” around the city but we just didn’t have the time to check them out. Some of our food finds were Kenny & Zuke’s a Jewish style delicatessen just up the block from the famous Ace Hotel. They are well known for their cured and smoked meats and fish; we couldn’t pass that up! The thing is, all the food is just like homemade, very tasty; we especially liked the caraway rye bread used for the sandwiches and their dill pickles!
We also made the journey out to the Firehouse Restaurant on our last night in Portland. Our pizza toppings were excellent. I ordered the pizza bianca with fresh chanterelles, fresh mozzarella and gremolata and my husband had the tomato sauce, house-made Soppressata sausage with fresh mozzarella pizza. Now…we don’t ordinarily order dessert but….and we aren’t big chocolate lovers…but…they had an amazing chocolate pots de crème topped with salted caramel, toasted hazelnuts and if that isn’t bad enough, chantilly crème! Yikes was it good!!
Although we didn’t try them, there is a place called “Voodoo Doughnuts” where people line up outside one door, get their order, then leave via another door, clutching pink boxes containing their stash of doughnuts! Of course there is a Voodoo Doll Doughnut; a raised yeast doughnut, filled with raspberry jelly, iced with chocolate frosting with a pretzel “stake” through its little heart! Not sure if it’s the actual doughnuts that attract people or their crazy names!
Bookstores are almost becoming a thing of the past here in Vancouver, not so in Portland where you will find Powell’s Books. It fills a city block and stocks new, used and out of print books. What a great place for book lovers! We left with a bag of books!
When in Oregon you simply have to try the Pinot’s! We brought home as much as allowed for our cellar to be sure!
Portland is quirky in its way, full of older model Subaru’s of all things and a certain style of dress adopted by the younger set which is kind of funky, lots of plaid shirts, knitted caps and hats, tight jeans with rolled up cuffs (this is the guys, by the way) and…tattoos, tattoos, tattoos. We were thinking of each getting one; not likely! The locals are super friendly, a nice thing these days! The City has a great transit system so if you are staying in Portland itself, there’s no need for a car and cabs are pretty easy to come by too. Most of the restaurants are not downtown but across the river and located in the various neighbourhoods of the City, a nice thing for locals as you just have to walk a couple of blocks and there’s a place for food or a drink.