Nature in Portlandia

The sun woke me up again. But, after quickly checking my phone, I learned that it wasn’t going to last. Changing my plans to get brunch, I rushed out, grabbing a quick bite at a local bakery instead. You see, I wanted to get a chance to enjoy the city’s parks and get in some fresh air while I still could. Through my research of the city, I had found out about a trail called the 4T Trail that takes one from Washington Park to the peak at Council Crest Park to the Portland Aerial Tram—a nice little tour of the nature and views of the city. I had hoped based on the previous weather reports that rain wouldn’t interfere too much. But I guess the weather reports aren’t very accurate too far into the future.

The rain did eventually appear. An on and off drizzle that was both easy to ignore and just enough to become annoying. Thankfully, the scenery made up for it: Vivid green moss blanketing deep, dark tree limps, and ferns and vines filling in the gaps on the ground. It was a forest, a right proper forest, but civilization was never far. Glimpses of multi-million dollar houses and the distant hum of highway traffic would appear and disappear as the nearly 5 mile trail twisted and turned through the parks.

It was almost one o’clock when I finally took the Portland Aerial Tram back down to civilization. Everyone inside gazed out over the city as the buildings slowly grew up around us. I was tempted to take it again.

After a quick bite at another nearby food truck pod, I headed back to the Hawthorne District. There were still more places that I had wanted to check out. I wandered around for a bit, falling in love with the local, ethnic, unusual stores. Yes, they were evidence that the “hipster” stereotype was true. I mean I did get some organic, mango carrot froyo after passing a micro-brewed hard cider tasting bar, but the hipster-ness wasn’t as intense as Portlandia likes to make people think it is. There were still chains such as Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s, and Peet’s Coffee & Tea. In many ways, this area reminded me a lot of Austin.

The rain had risen in strength while I was there, and I had to walk through it to grab my bags from my family friends’ and then check back into the hostel. But strangely enough, I didn’t mind it that much. The rain was light, and there was no wind to intensify the situation. Dare I say, I was getting used to it? Of course I would, right when I had to go back to windy Boston.

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Voodoo Doughnuts in the Sun

I woke up that morning with sun shining on my face. It had broken through the clouds and now patches of pale blue broke up the previously uniform grey. I hadn’t expected this. The weather reports had called for more rain.

I celebrated this expected sun with a sugar rush sponsored by Portland’s famous Voodoo Doughnuts. I ate my fruit loop doughnut outside, sipping on my coffee and watching the line in front of the brightly painted establishment grow longer and longer. Like any other attraction in any other city, pictures and selfies were plentiful.

Hoping to walk off the sugar mountain that now sat in my stomach, I wandered around the urban grit of Old Town/Chinatown District. It being the middle of a week day, the place was fairly deserted save the restless homeless and meandering tourists. I took advantage of the now patchy sunshine to satisfy my photography craving without worry of the rain.

By the time I reached the train station, I was starting to feel the sugar leave my system and it wasn’t happy. I needed to sit and rest. I made my way to the Waterfront Park, parked myself on a bench, and then watched the joggers fly past and the photographers snap pictures as the falling petals of the cherry trees spun around us. A brief shower broke up this early spring beauty.

Remembering a vintage shop I wanted to check out, I returned to 10th street after most of the sugar had worn off. I bought a flannel shirt (when in Rome…) and a snack at the same food truck pod that I went to the day before and debated what to do next. The intense sugar of that morning and the many miles I had walked in the past 24 hours had taken their toll. So wandering around on foot didn’t seem like an option. I had to figure out a plan B. And then the trolley ran past. (Yes, Portland recently brought back the trolley system…what could be more Portland?) I knew what I wanted to do: ride the rails.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, and I did get to see parts of the city that I wouldn’t normally have, but the trolley kept getting caught in traffic and when it wasn’t being slowed down by other cars, the driver would still creep along. The thing was slower than a bus. I nearly feel asleep out of boredom.

When I finally got back downtown, I wandered around some more but I kept walking around in circles. The area is not very big after all. So, while feeling guilty about abandoning the relatively nice weather for the indoors, I, on a whim, decided to see a show at the Regal downtown. Since none of the blockbusters sounded interesting and I had already seen Spotlight, I choice to watch a recently dubbed anime film called The Boy and the Beast. I had heard good things, and I was grateful I saw it. It was very much of its genre, but still very good.

I got dinner back in Hawthorne at the pizza place/bar near my family friends’ apartment. Amazingly, and unusual for the states, they had hard cider on tap. Locally brewed of course.

Portland and Powell’s

Suddenly 30 or so kids filed into the city bus, laughing and talking, their teacher urging them to be quiet. I watched them, trying to follow their teacher’s orders but still unable to stop acting silly, with a smile. They were obviously glad to be out of the rain. Their hair was wet; some who had forgotten their rain jacket were fairly soaked. It had been raining all morning, a steady shower that would continue for the rest of the day.

I knew it was going to be wet in Portland. My spring break wasn’t going to be filled with sunshine (ironically Boston, where I was coming from, was sunnier and warmer at that moment), but I had always wanted to visit Portland, the northwest sister city to my hometown of Austin, TX. Rain wasn’t going to let me down. It was part of what made Portland, Portland, right?

Within the nonfiction section of Powell's City of Books. © Violet Acevedo
Within the nonfiction section of Powell’s City of Books. © Violet Acevedo

After having a filling breakfast in the hostel, I began my first day by heading straight to Powell’s City of Books, a local book emporium that is basically the west coast version of the Strand Bookstore in New York City. Powell’s is such an icon that it’s marked on all the tourist maps. One step inside and it’s easy to see why. The place is three floors of ceiling-high bookshelves, sloping mountains of new and used paper bound worlds. The selection was nothing like I’ve seen before. For instance, four selves were filled with all of Vonnegut’s novels in various additions and a dozen or so isles were devoted to science-fiction. They had books by my favorite authors that I’ve never seen before. Those finds felt like previously undiscovered literary treasures or presents from the literary gods. And in truth that’s what this place is to the book lover/book shopper: A temple, a west coast literary mecca.

After I left that bastion of books, I walked around Downtown and the Pearl District for a bit. It was still raining (forcing my photographing cravings to be left unsatisfied), so I decided to walk to the Portland Art Museum. My path down 10th street took me past vintage stores, craft stores, Starbucks, local coffee shops, and even a City Target. I stopped at some and only barely glanced at others. I ate lunch at a food truck “pod” that circled a parking lot and boasted everything from Vietnamese noodles to Mexican tacos to German sausage to Hawaiian sushi.

When I finally reached the museum, the damp grey and misty greens of the buildings across the street were accented by a line of yellow school buses. I could hear the cheerful chatter of children drifting through the soft and steady patter of the rain. The kids on the city bus this morning had said that they were going to see the Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, and there, on the marquee above the entrance to the theater, was the orchestra. I smiled at the coincidence and walked into the art museum.

After seeing so many world famous museums, such as the British National Gallery and the Louvre, my standards are fairly high. I can’t help it. It’s one side effect of traveling. But instead of trying to imitate and/or live up to those world-class institutions, the Portland Art Museum focuses on what it can do best: local and/or contemporary art. Their galleries held beautiful exhibits by local artists or about local topics, exploring concepts that were both relatable and up to interpretation, experimental yet understandable. I was especially partial towards the photography exhibit dealing with past and contemporary photographs of Native Americans and how visual interpretations of these peoples related to Americans’ different perceptions of them. I was enthralled.

The rain had actually picked up when I finally walked out of the museum. The school buses were gone and the only bright color left were the few twinkling lights of the theater’s marquee, turned on in to fight against the darkening sky. I wondered if the kids enjoyed the show. I walked back to the bus stop, the rain beating loudly against my umbrella.

It was supposed to meet with family friends who live a few blocks away from the hostel. They were kind enough to let me crash on their couch for a couple nights, saving me about $60. But I had a little time before I should meet with them so I visited a vintage store in the area (the Hawthorne District). Called House of Vintage, the store spanned two whole buildings each full of vintage clothing mostly from the ‘80s but also touching on other eras such as the ‘60s and ‘70s. I spent hours in there.

After I finally met with my family friends and dropped off my stuff, I went to the nearby food truck pod for dinner. I remember the kids on the bus pointing it out as we passed it, and I thought I’d check it out. One truck specialized in grilled PB&J sandwiches with local, fair-trade, and/or organic nut butters, fruit spreads, and cheeses. Another truck (the kids’ favorite) sold only French fry dishes like chili cheese fries and poutine. As much as I wanted to follow the kids’ recommendation, I decided to be less adventurous and stick with simple Egyptian food. Maybe next time…