Portland Road Trip Part Two: Portland, Night & Day One

I left Bellingham in the morning, planning on being in Seattle before noon so that I could have lunch with Brian before the crowds got to the restaurants. The skies continued to provide entertainment as clouds and mist rolled through the hills. The I-5 was a typically zany race of caffinated Grand Prix enthusiasts. Also I’m not a big fan of the concrete road surface as it causes lots of wheel bounce, making it harder to focus the camera while driving…

I-5 south of Bellingham
On the Road

Also the Suzuki is prone to wind buffering by big trucks, adding to the excitement ;o)

At some point I realized I’d forgotten to print the Google map with directions to Brian’s office in Seattle. The iPad wasn’t making a wifi connection, even while driving through Seattle Center (look at the iPad, look at the road, look for a map, look at the traffic…). Finally I stopped and phoned Brian to fine tune my directions. We went for lunch at a Thai restaurant close to his place of work (that it was Thai is important later in this story). After a delicious lunch (red curry, one of my faves) we went next door and purchased cupcakes for dessert. As we exited I suddenly entered Gentleman mode and held the door for another customer. My cupcake did an Olympic style flip and landed, top down in its plastic container, on the ground. I contemplated the thick mess of icing smeared inside. I decided I’d wait to consume it. We walked back to Brian’s building where I photographed him with his (intact) cupcake beside a rather Large Popsicle (isn’t everything in America bigger?).

somewhere in Seattle
Brian and the Giant Popsicle

Placing the cupcake beside my camera on the passenger seat I set off for Portland, planning on getting there before rush hour. I got on the I-5 and then missed an exit and was suddenly headed over Lake Mercer. Oh well, I’d never been that way before and I knew I’d eventually find a road south. I soon rejoined the I-5 and was again in the chaotic flow heading south. Some guy in a Beamer zig-zagged past making a ‘let’s roll’ motion with his free hand. Half an hour later I saw him pulled over by the Highway Patrol. Sometimes I enjoy seeing quick justice done. Meanwhile the cupcake container continued to roll topsy turvy on the seat further mushing its contents.

Just north of Portland I decided that it was time I took a closer look at Mount St. Helens, which blew it’s top in a major way in 1980. I scooted off the highway and found the visitors centre. Unfortunately I’d forgotten about the American government’s shut-down and the centre wasn’t open. I couldn’t even see Mt. St. Helens due to cloud cover and I didn’t want to take the time to drive right up to the mountain. I rejoined I-5 and with map handy made for my first Portland hotel.

I knew which exit to take and which streets would get me to the hotel. Unfortunately when I arrived at the hotel desk it didn’t take long to realize I was at the wrong hotel; this was the one Sue had booked us into for Saturday and Sunday nights as it was close to downtown. I checked my iPad and headed back towards the airport to find my hotel. After lots of circling I finally found it in the midst of a zillion big box stores, surrounded by various highways and overpasses. Alas! it still wasn’t the right hotel! When I’d booked for a second night I’d misread the description and had booked at another location. Thankfully the right hotel was not that hard to find, even though it too was surrounded by highways and overpasses. As the sun set in the West I checked in. By now I was starved and set out to find food and drink. I saw a large supermarket and wheeled into the parking lot. It was a Chinese supermarket, specializing in Asian foods. However, they had lots of American beer and microwave ready food. Thus my second Thai meal… although the microwaved noodles were not nearly as tasty as my lunch (plus I’d neglected to pack any cutlery). But the Third Shift Amber Lager washed it down and I was happy to be in Portland. Even if there was a suspicious disinfectant smell wafting from the bed.

Day's Airport Inn, Portland, OR
What a View!

(That’s the Days Inn – Airport, which actually isn’t the closet Days Inn to the Airport (which led to my confusion) but is on a road to the airport.)

There I was: Friday morning, Portland. Breakfast? Check the ratings on the internet and choose a convenient location. Aha…. Laurelhurst Cafe. Lots of good reviews, not too far away and on the way downtown…

Laurelhurst Cafe, Portland
Laurelhurst Cafe

Driving there I saw some Portland neighbourhoods: nice looking older homes, lots of trees, slightly winding streets, chilled speed limit, the skies were clearing. The Laurelhurst Cafe was perfect for my needs. Bottomless cup of coffee and a Hipster 3 egg scramble (crimini mushrooms, caramelized onions, feta, organic arugula) while I sat outside and enjoyed to passing scene. Plus wifi so I could plan my day and check maps.

I was trying to decide whether to leave Portland and drive up the Columbia River to view the sights, go downtown or maybe visit Forest Park, one of the largest urban parks in the US. I decided on Forest Park, as I wasn’t quite ready to for the full-on city experience. I continued west on Burnside, right through the downtown core and suddenly I was surrounded by lush forest. I parked by the Pittock Mansion, but decided not to tour the house as it was such a nice day. Instead I went for a walk along part of the Wildwood Trail. The sun shone through the last of the morning mist and my legs cried for joy after spending the previous day in the car.

Wildwood Trail, Forest Park, Portland, Oregon
Wildwood Trail

After doing an hour loop on the trail I returned to the car and drove to a more groomed park nearby,  Washington Park, starting with the Rose Garden. After all, Portland is the City of Roses.

Rose Garden, Washington Park, Portland
Rose Gardens

And just in case you forget that we’re near the west coast here’s a reminder of how wet things can get: a moss and vegetation covered roof.

Washington Park, Portland, Oregon
Moss Covered Roof

However, the day was sunny. I could clearly see Mount Hood to the east and Mount St. Helens to the north. After the Rose Garden I crossed the road, walked up a short hill and entered the Japanese Garden. There was an admission fee but I’d overheard someone saying how it was well worth the cost so in I went. Right away I noticed a free tour just about to begin so joined in.

Mount Hood from Washington Park
Mount Hood from Japanese Garden
Mount Hood from Portland, Oregon
Telephoto Shot of Mount Hood

The tour leader led us through the gardens, providing information specifically about these gardens and Japanese gardens in general. I was inspired by many of the design features and could see how they could be applied to our own garden (we’ll just have to wait and see whether those thoughts come to fruition). He also commented how it was the first time in weeks that Mount Hood was visible from Portland. I felt blessed.

Japanese Garden, Washington Park, Portland, Oregon
Tea House, Japanese Garden, Washington Park, Portland
Tea House
Japanese Garden, Washington Park, Portland, Oregon
Herons, Waterfalls, Calm
Japanese Garden, Portland, Oregon
Dry Garden

After the tour I continued walking, photographing and contemplating the beauty of the place. So many planned aspects of the gardens (the sounds, the balance of plantings, the layout of walkways and sculptures) complimented and enhanced the natural experience.

From the park I drove back downtown in search of the famous food carts. They weren’t hard to find. Soon I was back sitting in the car slurping up some corn chowder and planning what to do next. I decided to start heading back towards my next hotel (sure that I knew which was which by now).

I drove along NW Front St., paralleling the Willamette River, looking for a good view point of one of Portland’s most famous bridges, a vertical lift rail bridge. I discovered that on the south side of the river this was going to be difficult due to congested commercial properties and that the best viewpoint was inaccessible due to a security checkpoint. I headed across a road bridge to St. Johns, on the north shore of the river. I knew from my research that there were some recommended thrift stores so I first sought those out.

Captain Fishhead Boutique Thrift Store, Portland, Oregon
Captain Fishhead Boutique Thrift Store

There were several thrift stores clustered near the end of the bridge. I spent an hour or so poking around but nothing really grabbed my attention (I’m also spoiled by Pender’s Nu-To-Yu, a bargain hunter’s delight). I checked my map and figured where to go to get an angle on the rail bridge. Eventually I parked the car and got out and walked around photographing from various angles.

Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge 5.1, Portland, Oregon
Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge 5.1

The 5.1 designation marks the distance the bridge is from the Portland’s Union Station. It’s a very cool looking bridge and I wished I had brought a kayak so I could’ve paddled under it. Or seen it in action. However, I had achieved my short term goal of getting a photo so hopped back in the car and continued exploring. I drove past The University of Portland and looped back, stopping at a Fred Meyers for my evening’s food and topping up the beer supply. I then continued making a circuit of St. Johns. My goal was a large slough located between forks of the river. By the time I got to the viewing point, after driving past miles of industrial parks, it was almost sunset at which time the gates closed. Not wanting to be locked in a slough with a bunch of birds and thinking of my cold beers and snacks I headed off to the motel.

And, yes, it was the right one. Soon I was checked in, feet up, TV on, beer in hand and chowing down on sushi. I set my alarm so I’d be up in time to fetch Sue from the airport. I just knew she was going to love Portland.

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