I love Portland – the food, the trains, the bicycles, and the general weirdness of everything. It’s an amazing city. Emily and I spent the September long weekend soaking up the city, our second weekend getaway to Portland.
We took the Amtrak Cascades train from Vancouver to Portland. I don’t think there’s a better way to travel. There’s plenty of leg-room, you can get up and walk around, there’s free WiFi and electrical plugs, and there’s an excellent view of Puget Sound. Sure, it’s a few hours longer than driving or flying, but there aren’t any border hassles and it’s affordably priced. And with Amtrak’s Rewards program we got 2 one-way tickets for free.
We we disappointed that weren’t able to take our bikes on the train this time. Amtrak does take bikes for $5, but each train only has room for 6 and all the spaces were full when we booked our tickets. Bummer, but we were able to rent bikes and go on a guided tour of wine country. It was the first time we’ve explored Oregon outside of Portland.
Pedal Bike Tours offers a five-hour guided tour of Oregon’s wine region. Five hours seems like a lot, but 2 hours were spent in a van, 2 hours were spent at wineries, and only an hour was spent on the bike. Which was good, because it was over 30 degrees. We didn’t actually visit any wineries by bike. Instead, we did a 10-mile loop through farm roads in Dundee Hills, and then visited the Erath and Four Graces wineries by van. Oregon has excellent Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir wine, and we picked up 4 bottles to bring home.
Without bikes to get around town, we were reliant on public transit. In the core, the trains (light rail and streetcar) are free and convenient. It was a bit frustrating waiting for buses when we were trying to get to the east side and the buses were running on Sunday service frequencies, but for the most part we had no problem getting around. A few times we gave up on the bus or streetcar and just walked, and I was surprised how quickly we got to where we were going. Portland has some of the smallest blocks in North America (just 200′ x 200′), so distances on maps are actually smaller than they seem.
A highlight of any trip to Portland is the food. The street food culture is renowned, but we only ate at one food cart, a yummy tamale stand. Apparently most food carts cater to the business crowd because they close on the weekend. We also skipped the uber trendy Voodoo Doughnut, which had a 50 person lineup every time we walked by. We did however discover some new restaurants that had amazing vegetarian food:
Blossoming Lotus – with great raw food options
Hungry Tiger Too – served up the best tofu scramble I’ve ever eaten
Los Gorditos – vegan tacos that you can eat on the giant patio of the neighboring Apex bar.
Portland has an awesome brewpub culture. We were pleasantly surprised when we found ourselves at the Apex bar. We went for the Mexican food at Los Gorditos, and they served it to us at the patio of the bar next door. It looks like they converted a strip mall parking lot into a giant patio (I wish Vancouver would do that more), and you could eat food from the neighboring restaurants. I really liked Apex – it had a funky vibe, 50 beers on tap (most under $5), a room full of pinball machines, and a massive patio with parking for dozens of bikes.
We checked out the Nikki McClure exhibit at an art gallery and wandered through the overwhelming number of vendors displaying their wares at the Art in the Pearl festival. We also stumbled upon two spontaneous concerts (not just busking, but 7 piece bands performing and people dancing) on downtown street corners. But the real cultural treat was just watching Portlanders in their natural habitat. After watching most of the Portlandia skits, I have a love for Portland stereotypes. I definitely noticed a lot of tattoos and hipsters. And when we were waiting for our table at the raw food restaurant, there was a punk beside me who had a Vegan patch on his jacket and he was talking about how he might start looking for a job next weekend. Oh Portland, I love you.