Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Portland Vacation: Day 2

(Continuing our Portland Oregon adventures from yesterday)

Monday morning. While the residents of Portland were sipping their fresh organic roasted coffees to get ready to bike to work, I was nursing the aftermath of a late night out enjoying Portland's nightlife.

Luckily Portland has a solution for rough mornings.


Portland has epic brunches. People get into heated arguments about which place serves the best brunches, and googling "Best brunch in Portland" will make your eyes hurt.  It is an expected practice that you will wait an hour in line outside before you get seated. And no, they won't take reservations.
Portland is famous for its brunch scene, so much so that Portlandia did a full episode on brunch (here is a shortened versions with all the asides cut out).  Luckily we didn't have to wait over an hour for a spot, because it was a Monday morning and, as I mentioned, most respectable people go to work.

But we were on vacation.  We hit up Besaw's, a place recommended by a friend from an earlier night (I don't actually remember whose friend, because she wasn't mine as I did not know her - we were a few drinks in - but she was certainly someone's friend, I'm sure). It was delicious, and once again I was tempted to order every thing off the menu. Why oh why don't I have multiple stomachs?

Hair of the dog: more mimosas

After our delicious we wandered through the Northwest District, which had a lot of lovely shops and restaurants. This also seems to be the neighbourhood where Simpsons creator and Portland native Matt Groening drew the inspiration for many of his Simpsons characters, as the streets has names like Flanders, Kierney, Lovejoy, Quimby. Pretty neat, really. If I become the writer for something famous, I doubt I'll be giving my characters the names of the streets in my neighbourhood, because here the developers seem to have just randomly smashed together nature-ish nouns: Flower Tree, Apple Creek, Autumnfield, Cerdar Roc, River Tree...Nope.

this public art is so Portland.

This pet grooming salon is also so Portland.

We stopped at Blue Star Doughnuts, which rumour has it has doughnuts just as delicious as Voodoo Doughnuts, but zero lines.


We passed by a shop with the curious name "Mary Jane's House of Glass". I wondered if the shop belonged to some little old lady selling stained glass who had no idea how much this store name sounds like it should be a head shop, especially if it said House of Grass. As I stood there, pondering this, the store clerk poked his head out the door and waved us in.

"Come on in, guys," he said. "We've got a lot of stuff in here, all handmade by independent artists."

We felt too awkward to say no, so we went in. Turns out there was no oblivious little old lady named Mary Jane. It was a head shop, full of display cases of beautiful, handcrafted and hand painted blown glass bongs. Artisanal and locally made. It was like being at an art museum. But of marijuana paraphernalia. Probably the most impressive, almost classy head shop I've ever been to.

But, like, I wasn't in the market for a collection of original beautifully handcrafted three foot bongs, so instead we politely chatted with the store clerk about the weather, our stay in Portland, with the owner inserting into the conversation for thirty seconds the fact that Portland will be legalizing pot very soon. All while I admired the artwork.  I sniffed a few incense sticks and considered buying a candle, and eventually left.

We kept walking east into the Pearl, Old Town, eventually crossing the Burnside Bridge into the southeast neighbourhoods of Portland.

The famous Powell's, one of the largest independent book stores in the world

..and a truly magical place of dreams

Interesting floating walkway over the river

After a while, we needed to find a cab to take back to the other side of the river. This proved more difficult than we expected however.  We stood patiently at the curb for a while, waiting to hail a cab, but no cabs passed by.

Finally, we saw one taxi van driving passed, and we waved at him frantically.  He saw us, and as we approached the van, he pressed the gas pedal and kept driving. We went back to the sidewalk, disappointed, and wondering how much longer we'd have to wait.

And then the taxi van reappeared behind us, which was weird. Also weird was the fact that he was now willing to pick us up. But we didn't care. We piled in, feeling tired from our long walk.

Looking back on this experience now, I have this theory that this wasn't actually a taxi. Maybe the guy stole a cab or borrowed his friends and was driving around. Or maybe this guy owned a delivery business with a business vehicle that just really looked like a taxi.

I walked up to the van door and tried to get in, but the driver had his bag on the seat and did not make any attempt to move it. I stood there, politely waiting for a while, but when nothing happened, I just moved to the back of the van. There was a row of seats there, but they weren't folded down, and I couldn't put them down. The driver again made no attempt to move. Shrugging, I crouched down in the trunk of the van, like an illegal migrant.

This should be fine, I reasoned to myself. The trip isn't very long and although I'm not wearing a seatbelt, I should be okay as long as the taxi doesn't get into an accident....

Just as I thought those words, the driver drove through a stop sign and an oncoming car swerved to avoid us. The driver slammed on the breaks and I lurched forward. The entire ride, the driver had not said a word. It was a near miss, thankfully, but maybe...maybe we should have walked.

Luckily we were on the other side of the bridge and had arrived at our next destination, the Portland Aerial Tram.

The Portland aerial tram is a cool cable-car tramway that gives its riders a gorgeous view of the entire city.  It's a form of public transit rather than a tourist thing, but oddly enough it doesn't seem to go anywhere that useful for most residents - it just connects one health centre to another hospital further up the mountain. But it's a fun thing for tourists to do, for only about $4 roundtrip. Too bad Portland doesn't have aerial trams everywhere, including across the river, so that nobody has to cab with sketchy drivers anymore.

The ride up the tram only took a couple of minutes, but the view was breathtaking. We could see the whole city and the surrounding forests. I especially loved the astonishing view of the mountains, including the gigantic Mount Hood and also Mount St. Helens, the still-active volcano that was one of the deadliest North American volcano eruptions in modern history. Why can’t Ottawa be set up with a series of fun aerial trams? Well, I suppose the lack of mountains might be one obstacle.

Mount St Helens

 Mount Hood

Closeup of Mount Hood

After admiring the view at the top for a bit, we took the tram back down to the bottom, because apparently you aren’t supposed to actually hang around a hospital like it’s a tourist destination.

We tried to catch a cab back to our end of town, but once again there were no taxis passing by. Which is probably a good thing, in case Sketchy Taxi Van came by again…

In the evening, we checked out the Departure restaurant, a rooftop restaurant at the top of the trendy hotel The Nines. The interior looked like a sleek airliner of the future. You know, the kind of airplane flights envisaged by 1950s sci-fi movies where the flight attendants are beautiful, the women are glamourous, the men wear suits, and the walls are either padded white or made of shiny glass? Not the real-life modern airplane flights where you get crammed in like sardines in uncomfortable seats surrounded by crying babies and they don’t serve you any food.

The Departure restaurant definitely served food. Delicious, delicious food, plates with interesting Asian (and often Korean) twists. We were seated next to somebody famous, one of the restaurateurs who has been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s TV shows, but like the polite Canadians we were, we didn’t make a big deal of it, and I won’t tell you who he was. Because I’m a polite Canadian, but also because I don’t actually know who he was.

(You can read about Day 3 here)