AKA Feeling Blessed in the Pacific Northwest
April 4 – 10 2016
Back to SFO for my morning flight to Portland, Oregon. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Portland other than hipster clichés (is that an oxymoron?), food trucks and small city vibes. Time to get the real story.
When I landed it was raining, but luckily once I got to the hostel it had cleared, AND it wouldn’t rain for a few days. Later I’d learn I was supremely blessed to have avoided the Portland and Seattle Rain Festival which occurs 13 out of 12 months of the year.
My hostel was located near Flanders , Lovejoy and Quimby Streets… curious. But no time to ponder street names – I was hungry and the food trucks were calling. Portland’s food truck ‘pods’ – blocks lined with permanently setup food trucks – are famous and there are several around the city and suburbs.
I headed to Nong’s Khao Man Gai at the Alder St pod for their much loved chicken and rice. It. Was. Scrumptious. And the dipping sauce… *drool*. Apparently I wasn’t full enough from that because off I went to Voodoo Donut for some sugary, chocolaty treats.
Since Oregon has no sales tax I partook in some retail therapy. But not too much because it was the start of my trip and I could not deal with more luggage. I didn’t realise ‘no sales tax’ also applied to restaurant meals, so all I had to worry about for dinner was the tip. Victory. I needed some vegetables so dinner was green papaya salad with a side of spicy green beans. Eek, huge portions. The joys of eating for one.
Oh yeah tipping. It’s a thing and it’s not going anywhere. There are many suggestions about when to tip and how much. Standard is 15-20%. Since state sales tax is about 8-10%, if you just double the tax, that’s your tip amount right there. Here’s an educational post about it. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Portland Day 2 – Ah! Sideshow Bob!
I was excited to get back into nature, so I headed off early and stocked up on fruit, trail mix, tuna and bread rolls at the local Trader Joe’s, ready to get hiking.
By the way, this is my understanding of the hierarchy of US supermarket chains starting with the freshest, highest quality and priciest:
Whole Foods – great for fresh, organic, tasty food and meal options $$
Trader Joe’s – smaller range but good quality $$
Safeway – huge, cheap, decent quality and taste for the price $
Walmart – huge, cheap, lower quality fresh food, cheapest for packaged food, non-food grocery items $
The hostel was located near the north eastern entrance to Washington Park so I decided to just walk there. And boy would I be walking many a mile this day, around this magnificent park. There’s a rose test garden, Japanese garden, Arboretum, Zoo, museum, forestry centre, and Holocaust and war veteran memorial in this park. It’s immense and glorious. Especially in spring.
I had read about ‘The 4t’, a loop comprising of 4 modes of transport, a Trail, Tram, Trolley and Train that takes you all around Portland. And because I hate my feet, I thought why not add many more miles to my day. YOLO, etc.
It was the right decision. How else do you get 360° hilltop views??
And hey hey hey, the aerial tram is right next to another food truck pod. Hello nutritious Hawaiian inspired Korean rice plate from Namu. ASIAN FUSION.
Also the name of one of the trails on the 4t was the Terwilliger trail. The Simpsons references were getting too frequent. I needed to know WTH it all meant.
Fun fact: The Simpsons are Oregonians. Matt Groening is from Portland and used a lot of landmarks to inspire character and location names in the show. He even drew Bart in some concrete near his high school. PORTLAND IS SAHHHHH COOOLLL. There is no doubt.
After finishing the 4t, I ended up in downtown so I took the opportunity to check out Pioneer Square and I little more retail therapy. Then I created my own thin crust pizza at Pieology. I also headed to Powell’s bookstore, one of the largest independent bookstore in the world. I imagine this to be heaven to all my bibliophile friends. Finally it was time to head home after a huge day.
Portland Day 3 – Columbia River is Gorges
I really wanted to head to Columbia River Gorge, but no car meant booking a tour. Tripadvisor to the rescue! I joined the highly rated Pedal Bike Tours for a 5 hour van and bike trek. Our tour guide, Evan, was super enthusiastic and knowledgeable and went into the geological formation of the gorge, the history of the Oregon trail and the great wagon migration, plus the building of the highways and Vista House, dubbed America’s most expensive outhouse (the building is made of marble, including the restrooms!). We also got to see views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helen’s – all active volcanoes, no big deal (http://www.inquisitr.com/3074685/mount-st-helens-grumbles-causing-fears-of-another-major-eruption/). Oh and Evan sounded just like Chris Pratt (parks and rec, Jurassic world, starlord from guardians of the galaxy) which was fun.
When we got to Lauterell Falls it was time to get on the bikes and start chasing waterfalls. This area has the highest concentration of waterfalls in North America. It was a pretty wonderful day. I was so glad I came to Portland.
It was mid-afternoon when we reached downtown, i.e. way past lunch time, so off I went to another food truck pod east of the Willamette river. This time Indian food, followed by Salt & Straw icecream. Some local school kids had invented some flavours. I liked the sound of ‘blah blah blackberry’. Om nom nom. Thanks to Caroline for the recommendation.
I still had most of the afternoon left, and it was my last day in Portland so I headed back downtown to walk the riverside and understand why it’s called ‘Bridge city’.
I immensely enjoyed my stay in Portland. The great (dry) weather helped, plus the fact it was spring and everything was green and in full bloom. Also it reminded most of home and felt very liveable.
Seattle Day 1: Mountain to Sound
Another day, another early start. No airplane though, it’s time to take the greyhound bus 4 hours north to Seattle. Very ‘Interesting’ clientele take the greyhound. I would suggest having your headphones in so you don’t hear anything you don’t want to. Otherwise, for what you pay, it’s a pretty comfortable and scenic journey.
When I get to my accommodation in the early afternoon, the TV is on and The Rock is playing. This pleases me as I’ll be heading to Alcatraz at the very end of my trip. But I mustn’t waste time watching it. There’s a whole city to explore, and more importantly I need to eat. Once I’m full of pho I walk to Seattle Center, a park, arts, and entertainment hub, originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair.
Oh hey there Space Needle!
I assumed I’d find the Space Needle kinda lame/gimmicky/touristy but, hey, it’s the thing you do in Seattle.
Turns out, I couldn’t get enough of it, I found myself looking out for it any chance I could get. I feel it makes Seattle what it is; I couldn’t imagine the skyline without it and wanted it in all my photos!
It wasn’t quite sunset yet meaning I had time to visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum as recommended by my sister-in-law. Dale Chihuly is an immensely talented world-renowned glass blower from the State of Washington. Even if you don’t know his name, I’m sure you’ve seen his work. I didn’t realise it but I’d seen one of his ‘chandeliers’ at the Victoria & Albert museum in London (one of my favourite museums, if you’re in London I highly recommend the V&A). I think his work was displayed in most of, if not all, the museums I visited in North America. And you can see why here…
I spent a ridiculously long time at the Space Needle, first in daylight, checking out the city, Mt. Rainer and the mountains of Olympic National Park in the distance. Then watching the sunset on Puget Sound and finally the city lights come alive at night.
*Sigh* All these views thanks to you, Space Needle.
Seattle Day 2 – One more time…
Well my Seattle City Pass included two entries to the Space Needle, so back I went to Seattle Center. Another wonderful clear spring day.
Then to the EMP, a pop culture, film, TV, music museum, designed by architectural guru Frank Gehry. It was a fun place to visit for a pop culture lover like myself. There were exhibits on the genres of horror, fantasy, space, plus video games, Nirvana + Seattle grunge (duh), Jimi Hendrix, the history of guitars, sound mixing and Hello Kitty. Also the largest LED screen in the world playing music videos – blissssssss.
Next stop was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Centre to learn about the amazing philanthropic work they do. Globally they work to improve education, healthcare and reduce poverty. You can learn more about it here and here. I am just floored by the incredible generosity and vision of the Gates family and major contributor, Warren Buffet. Inspiring stuff.
Once I was done exploring Seattle Center and it’s surrounds I walked to Kerry Park to get some more great city views. This time including the Space Needle. Oh yeah, steep climbs were involved. The price you pay. After that, a 30 minute bus ride to Discovery Park on the city’s west. The park has something for everyone: superb views of the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges, plus beaches, seaside cliffs, open meadows, sand dunes and forests.
Seattle Day 3 – This little piggy went to Market
First stop today was to the Boeing Factory in Everett, Washington, via an organised tour bus. This is the largest building (by volume) in the world, containing a production line of many a passenger and freight plane, mighty impressive. Because I went on the weekend there wasn’t a lot of activity in the factory, which impacted my opinion of the place (cool, but maybe not worth the effort/price to get there). Definitely a ‘wish I had a car’ moment. The bus driver/tour guide, Carlton, was great however; giving us a mini city history tour as we picked up other passengers, and he recommended where to eat at Pike Place Market, which was where I left the tour.
Pike Place Market is a farmers market, with craft, restaurants, and souvenir stalls. It is also the home of the original Starbucks, which almost always has a huge lineup. I ate at Jack’s Fish Spot because I was craving some seafood. OMG potentially the best grilled salmon I’ve ever had. Plus garlic fries. Thankyou Carlton. I came back the next day for the steamed shellfish and the banter between the staff and customers added to the experience. My boss also recommended Elleno’s Greek yoghurt, so obviously I had to eat there afterward. Oh yeah, and I went back there the next day too.
I had some time to kill before my afternoon river boat cruise and the aquarium was included in the City Pass. Hey fishy fishy fishy. And more otters. I’m not the biggest aquarium fan though, so it was a whirlwind visit. I do, however, very much enjoy city river cruises. More skyline, more Needle, more mountain ranges, but this time on the water.
Seattle Day 4 – Profitable Seamtresses
Previous mornings I’d headed to a nearby French café, La Parisienne, for scrumptious pastries and coffee, but it was closed Sunday, so back to Pike Place Market for a toasted cheese sammich at Beecher’s handmade cheese. This place is pretty famous all over the US, also they have milk bottle seats. It was also starting to get mighty cold and cloudy (cue foreshadowing music).
.I’d had two people (and most of Tripadvisor) recommend Bill Spiedel’s Seattle Underground Tour, so today was the day to head to Ben Fold’s happy place. It’s an entertaining Seattle history tour with a twist (you’re walking under the streets), filled with amusing stories and anecdotes, mostly unsavoury (it took me a really long time to figure out how a “seamstress” could earn a good living without owning a sewing machine). It also explained how modern day Seattle came to be built on top of the original Seattle (fire, it’s always fire). Afterwards I checked out the public library building for the architecture. It’s very original, inside and out.
Then back to Pike Place for lunch: take 2 (see above).
My last tourist experience for Seattle was the Olympic Sculpture Park. I love me some huge sculptures. I had seen/would be seeing more of these artists’ works around the country, reminding me again of “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things”.
Finally, I treated myself to a delicious Greek inspired three course meal at Lola’s because Seattle Restaurant Week had started and it was only $30!
But alas it’s now Monday and morning has broken; I must continue this segment of ‘Planes, trains and automobiles” north once more. Adios Space Needle, and adios America… I gotta see a man about a moose.
Essential listening and viewing:
PNW bands: Dandy Warhols, Sleater Kinney, Modest Mouse
TLC – Waterfalls
Frasier (I don’t care if it wasn’t filmed in Seattle)
Sleepless in Seattle