Thursday 19 March 2015


We stopped in Portland because we needed a place in between our stops in Canada and the national parks down the coast of California. Plus, if you haven't heard of Portland then there's something wrong with your internet. Like, you don't have any. According to my internet, every cool thing that the hipster world embraces seems to come out of Portland. Beards? Food vans? Amigurumi? Portland, Portland, Portland. Okay, so I have no actual evidence for any of this, but since when did that stop anyone from saying anything on a blog?

Still, I'm a bit torn on Portland. The place obviously has some very cool things going on including a fantastic food scene, great live music, craft and vintage shops to die for, gorgeous residential architecture, however, I found the highly visible poverty and homelessness extremely challenging. I don't know if it's there because people in tough situations come to Portland because it has compassion on them, or whether it shows that under a veneer of social justice, actually nobody cares. I like to think the former.

That's all a bit drab and depressing, isn't it! Here's the touristy stuff we did in Portland...

Powell's Bookshop (if you don't like books, turn away now) 

When we mentioned that we were headed to Portland, people all over the place said 'You must go to Powell's'. So, ever obedient and since I've been known to enjoy a book or two, off we went. Poor Will. Powell's is the bookshop that there will be in heaven (except there all the books will be free). Firstly, it's huge, and it's a mix of new and second hand, so you have these beautiful vintage editions mixed in with the modern paperbacks. The children's section is bigger than most bookstores. That would be off-putting except that it's so well organised. I mean obviously, everything is done in alphabetical order by author, that's easy. But what if you don't know what you want to read? Well, when we were there, there was a whole section (like, more than ten bookcases) set up to highlight Newbery Award winning books. That's an award the American Library Association has been giving out since 1922, and I really like it because they recognise book genres that parents don't necessarily think of when buying for their children - for example, this years winners were two verse novels and a graphic novel autobiography. In Australia the equivalent would be the Australian Book Council Awards (ABCA). I can't tell you how many times I've gone looking in Australian bookstores for the ABCA winning and nominated books and have had to search all over the shop, knowing what I'm looking for and even then they don't always stock the short list! But that's not all that Powell's had done (after all, highlighting award winners must be fairly common practice in the book world). Then they set the display up with popular past winners, and highlighting lesser known winners you might enjoy. Like 'If you enjoyed Flora and Ulysses, they might like these four other books'. Given we were only a couple of weeks into our trip I was hardly going to buy a whole bunch of books to cart around for the next five and a half months but I am going to be buying up when I get back to Oz. Or maybe I'll just send a list through to the librarian at school (hi Karen, hi Cathy!)

Food Vans

Will eventually went with Polish (oh pierogis, how I love you),
I had something called F***ing Amazing Chicken Noodle Soup
I'm sure at one point these were actually moveable vans, but now they just seem to line a certain section of city street and boy, are they popular! I mean, they would be, wouldn't they? If you're a city worker, you can pop out for your lunch break and get a quick and tasty meal with a huge abundance of choices. We walked up and down trying to decide between Polish, Indian, Malaysian, burgers, soups, Mexican, Chinese and so on and so on. All looking delicious, all very reasonably priced. Oh and we felt ridiculously hip.





Knit Purl

I looked up knitting shops in the Portland area and this one kept coming up. It certainly wasn't the cheapest but I was looking forward to seeing (and feeling) all the yarns that I read about in my American knitting magazines in the flesh. It was beautiful. And there was a place Will could sit and go on Facebook while I went briefly mad, so it was perfect. Non-knitters will not understand the sensory joys of a knitting shop. Knitters will need no explanations. This store was filled with beautiful, soft yarns and gorgeous shop assistants for whom no question seemed too silly, and who knew what I was talking about when I enthused about Jared Flood or Cecily Glowik Macdonald. I left with the wool, needles and pattern for a lace cowl that is ridiculously complicated for travel knitting but it is giving me something to do on those long flights (they're very little, bamboo needles, but I do ask every time at check in whether they're okay to go on board before they take my big bag away).

Voodoo Doughnut

I saw Voodoo Doughnut featured on a food/travel show years ago, before I’d even heard of Portland. As soon as I saw the maple bacon doughnut, it was seared into my memory. It is a very small shop front with no internal seating and just a few picnic tables out the front. The shop inside is very obviously set up for queues, but given we were there in the middle of a weekday in winter we didn’t have to wait long. There were a lot of donuts I wouldn’t be too keen on, since they were covered in sugary American cereal, but there were enough tempting choices that I was (momentarily) unsure. In the end I went for the maple bacon doughnut that started it all, and I was not sorry. That sucker was delicious. I don’t think my heart could stand me eating too many, but I think one in a lifetime isn’t going to do too much damage.
There's the maple, there's the bacon, there's the doughnut (but not for long)


I wanted to search out a particular vintage shop that I had read about online (which turned out to be way expensive but had gorgeous cocktail dresses) and we decided to walk, even though it was quite far. I’m very glad we did because we ended up going through this section of town. It’s a residential area set out on a grid of squares connected by intersecting crosses and it is clearly the ‘nice part of town’. The architecture is too good. I can’t tell you with any reliability the era or the style, but to say that I loved it is an understatement. I took so many photos of peoples’ houses I’m pretty sure the FBI has started a file on me.

Doug Fir

Common, Dear in action
Macaroni and cheese for dinner with cider, followed by a peanut butter cookie ice-cream sandwich. I cannot say with any honesty that I ate healthily in Portland but by gum I ate well. We had looked up venues for live music and looked up some bands online and settled on the Doug Fir for our evening’s entertainment. We had a momentary hiccup when the bouncer asked for our id and said he could only accept an American driver’s licence or a passport (which we had left back at our accommodation) but since clearly neither of us are under 21 he did let us in in the end. Phew! So dinner was as described above, then downstairs for the music. There were three bands playing, firstly 'Common, Dear' who was like Mumford and Sons with a chick with an amazing voice, then 'Dean!', a husband and wife team who you could totally imagine just singing and playing guitar in the lounge room and finally 'My Brothers + I' who were heaps of fun and were just generally loving life up there, and who doesn’t get into that?

All in all a lovely time in Portland. I haven’t written in here about the coffee shop that Will found online and that we walked a million miles to go to, because they literally only sold coffee and I don’t drink coffee, so you’ll have to ask Will about that one (he did mention them in the coffee post, and I think he said it was the best coffee he found in the US, but would it kill them to serve a pot of tea??)  We also went to the most ridiculous pub on the first night for dinner that must have had hundreds of different beers you could try - that was a recommendation from our AirBnB hosts since it was their ‘local'. Too much good stuff anyway. If you happen to be driving past, I recommend a visit.

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