PortlandI spent last weekend in Portland, Oregon. For those of you who don’t know, Portland is on the North-West coast of the US, just about as far away from Texas as you can get. People have asked me many times: “why Portland, of all places?” Well, firstly, I wanted to see as many different places in the US as possible, hopefully one a month, so anywhere is good. Secondly, believe it or not, I have a friend (Daniel) who lives in Portland.

He’s a kiwi and is about to return home, so I thought I had better visit him quickly before he disappears and there would be no one to show me around that part of the country. You probably know him as the enigmatic “Kyhwana” who is an unashamedly confirmed atheist (don’t worry. I made a point of hitting him with my Bible). It’s a good thing I had a friend with me too, I don’t think I would have as much of Portland if I didn’t have the advice of a local to go by. More pictures are published in flickr.

Grand CanyonI hadn’t planned the trip in any great detail: I booked a rental car and a hotel near to where Dan lives and had a return ticket with a stopover in Vegas for 4 hours. I secretly hoped to be able to see some of Vegas (albeit briefly) on the way.

I awoke at around 3:30am on Friday morning and started getting ready for my 7am flight (I took Friday off so the airfare was cheaper). After the 45 minute drive into the city, I parked my car at the parking outside Dallas airport and was driven by bus to the terminal, silently hoping that the battery wouldn’t discharge as all the naysayers say it will. Apart from the obvious security and ticketing process, the flight to Vegas was utterly painless. I arrived at 11am, hoping to maybe take a look at all the impressive buildings there.

My flight took me over the Grand Canyon. The image on the left was actually taken on my trip back “home” to Dallas, via Phoenix.

Slot machines at Vegas Airport The first thing I was confronted with in the airport was a slot machine. I laughed. Vegas has its reputation for debauchery not only because it is so liberal in what it permits. It has its reputation only because so many Americans see gambling as bad, and thus a very desirable thing to do. They come here to gamble and they believe that what they are doing is wrong. So, while they’re at it they do their utmost to do a whole bunch of other bad things.

To me, having lived only in countries where gambling is not illegal, the concept is nonsensical. Why would anyone repetitively put money into a machine when they know there was only a very small chance of money coming back out? Just so I could say I did it, I put $1 into one of the machines and pressed a button 5 times. It made some noises and the money was gone. Nope, it still has no hold on me. It just goes to show that if you prohibit something enough, people are going to think it must be worthwhile doing, even when it’s not.

Vegas city from the airportAnyway, I made my way out of the airport, accosted by more and more extravagant ways to get rid of my money, until at last, in the main lobby, the airport was indistinguishable from a casino in its own right. I stepped out into the bright Nevada sunshine and walked up to the ticketing agent for trips into the city.
“I have about 3 hours to kill, what do you recommend?” I asked hopefully.
“Don’t do it” the kindly old lady recommended sternly from behind her glass prison
“I beg your pardon?” I asked. Surely it was her job to get people into the city, not keep them away from it.
“Security clearance is about 3 hours on it’ own” she shook her head. “better to just have some breakfast and take it easy, sorry.”

So, I vainly took some photos of the city, turned on my heels and prepared for the next leg of my journey.

Ironically, Portland bears some strange similarities to Austin (my previous excursion). Both cities sport bumper stickers that exhort people to “Keep Portland weird” or “Keep Austin weird”. Once again, this alternative flavour is due in large part to a contingent of hippies who have settled here. The only difference here is the hippies here are skinnier (Vegans I guess) and the ones in Austin were the rotund, naked type. Also, the music here is more rock ‘n roll, whereas Austin had a definite country and decidedly more modern flavour. This beautiful eclipse was the first sight to greet me in the city of Portland proper. I saw it while crossing over one of many bridges (not for the last time to be sure). It reminds me of the monolith from the movie “Space Odyssey 2001”

Portland (as the name suggests) is a large inland port. The city is essentially divided by the Willamette River. This means that in order to get anywhere interesting you are most likely going to cross one of the many bridges over this wide river. Because it’s a port all the bridges raise in some way. The bridge on the left raises vertically, it has enormous counterweights and the whole centre section lifts straight up like an elevator.

The city is a city of contrasts. On the waters edge you can see homeless people being attended to by volunteer workers. Closer in to the city, the bustling Saturday market is in full swing, as the MAX tram hurtles through the heart of the city. It’s a city, with commercial districts to support the industry of the port, but it definitely has a strange off-beat feeling to it.

I only really had one day and two evenings, so we took in the sights of the city as quickly as possible, went to the art museum, the Chinese garden and a number of interesting Portland-only places.

One such Portland-only experience was having Pizza and beer in a movie theatre. I didn’t have any beer but I loved the novelty of it! We watched Clerks 2, a movie about a couple of guys rapidly approaching middle-age, stuck in a dead-end job. Funny in a sad kind of way.

I also insisted we go and see what was reported to be the largest chocolate fountain in Portland or some-such. All that chocolate was actually far less appealing than I thought it would be. That didn’t stop me buying over a dozen specialty chocolates to tide us over till lunch on Saturday!

Apart from that, I tried some of the local restaurants and bars. If I liked beer I would have been blown away by the variety of microbreweries. As it was I became quite enamoured of some pear brandy.. very interesting!

Another Portland-only experience is Powells book store. It’s about 4 stories high and covers one whole city block. The parking is very small and cramped, you get the first hour free if you buy a book… but you will need more than an hour. Every shelf is packed with new books, second hand books and delightfully unique books. You want original signed copies? You want “uncorrected proof” copies? You want the very first edition of Dr. Seuss’ books ever published? Come to Powells! I just stood there in Science Fiction section drinking in the books, rediscovering my love of the written word. Dad would have loved this place.

Although it’s not distinctly Portland (or even distinctly American) we also went to the Chinese gardens, which were some of the most beautiful I have seen. The juxtaposition of the Western city in the background and the ancient Chinese setting in the foreground is strangely soothing.

Move your mouse over the thumbnails below to see the larger version!

Suffice to say that in a very brief time I got to see a great deal of Portland. On the whole it was a very enjoyable trip. Portland is so much cooler and greener than Texas. The dialect is a little different too. The reason for the title of this post is Portland was, at one stage, nicknamed “Stumptown” oweing to the logging of the lush forests around here. Other nicknames include the obvious “Bridgetown” and the more obscure “City of Roses”. We tried to go to the “Rose Garden”. Much to my chagrin, the “Rose Garden” is an event center for a circus, nothing to do with roses. The image on the right is of a rose in Portland.

After something of a harrowing trip back (I may relate that later) I walked into my little place and, to my delight, saw that my roses were in full bloom, without any intervention on my part. Life is good.