What better time to visit the Pacific Northwest, than during the fall season of All Hallows Eve 2011? Images of colorful fall leaves underfoot, inhaling crisp autumn air, Victorian houses illuminated by carved pumpkins and the smell of spiced cider.
For quite some time, I’ve been disenchanted with living in Florida. While this state may be an escapist destination to those who dream of living on the beach, sipping Margaritas and wearing flip flops all year round, the humid and plastic reality is anything but.
Living in Orlando, I experience a high level of commercialism with similar strip malls on every corner, overwhelming heat beating on your back most of the year and a nightmarish fight with traffic all too frequently among tourist drivers. Friends can be spread out all over town, and sometimes fighting traffic for an hour to hang out a few minutes isn’t worth it.
For years, I’ve searched for a place which has a lot of attributes I want in a home-base, including:
- The ability to live without car, and rely on my own two feet, a bicycle and public transportation.
- A dense walk-able city, not far from nature hikes and trails.
- An independent spirit, with as few chain stores as possible.
- Season changes, with a vibrant autumn season.
- Nightlife and festivals that suits my particular musical taste.
- Abundance of spiritual, community building activities like drum circles and bonfire campouts. (There was room for improvement, Florida still wins in this category for the moment.)
Not only did Portland meet my wishlist with flying acorns, but also surprised me with having:
- Hundreds of ethnic food carts located throughout the city, priced on average $5 – 7 for a meal. In fact, Portland was rated #1 in the World for street food.
- More breweries than anywhere in the world.
- An overall friendly crowd who live at a slower pace than the East coast.
- A very green culture, including solar trash compactors, electric car chargers, self cleaning solar bathrooms and more.
- Powell’s , the world’s largest independent bookstore.
- Voodoo Doughnuts , supplying a better than expected Maple doughnut with Bavarian creme filling. Yum.
…..and I could go on and on about the great stuff I saw. I asked many travelers and locals for their opinion on the city and it’s crowd, and it was mostly positive. Every city has its drawbacks, but for my needs it was killer. Sure, it does drizzle a very large portion of the year, but I’d rather have this than scalding heat….I’ve always preferred the woods vs. a beach. The cold energizes me, the heat depletes my energy.
Lodging and Transportation
For my week long trip, I stayed at Hawthorne Hostel, which was a great experience., especially considering it’s location and under $30/night cost. I met some awesome people traveling from all over the world and we shared plenty of stories. I had a great conversation with a fellow traveler Nan, who sold all her stuff to travel, and was on a multi-month European adventure you can read about at her blog.
Located in the kick ass Hawthorne district, I was smack in the middle of about 30 – 40 blocks of independent shops, restaurants, beautiful side streets and mountains off in the distance. The hostel was picture perfect with candle lit carved pumpkins , a rocking chair and resident black cat.
I’d catch the bus which took about 10 minutes to get into downtown. It was a great experience walking around the city on foot, interacting with people and seeing so many cool places. A far cry from the traffic locked, strip mall existence in Florida. In fact, there were a ton of transportation options available from street cars, light rails, an ariel tram, buses, taxis, bicycles, rent by the hour Zipcars and of course your own two feet. During this time period, there was a strong “Occupy” protest going on, and a temporary tent city setup downtown.
There was a very prominent cultural vibe present in Portland, which I dug including everywhere being dressed up and in the Halloween spirit several days beforehand. If you’re into locally grown food, supporting independent artists, spending rainy days in a bookstore sipping coffee and celebrating all things earthy, this place is for you.
Some people I met from the East coast hated it, it’s an acquired taste. I liked the overall grungy fashion, party due to the weather, partly to due aesthetic. The punk scene was alive and well. It was refreshing to see punks and goths roaming the street in native attire in addition to the Bohemian vibe on Hawthorne, and more business like attire downtown.
One day I wandered into a cool shop called Memento, and was overjoyed to find surreal art and postcards featuring Alice in Wonderland and Mark Ryden, while Siouxsie and the Banshees was playing overhead. Later, I came upon a liquor store in the downtown area playing Minor Threat and the Dead Kennedys. Want to play at a nickel arcade, or watch a stop motion Jan Svankmajer film while sipping on local crafted beer? It’s all there.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to see the coast, tour wine vineyards, ride a bike or a handful of other possibilities.
One of my trip highlights was an adventure to the Portland Japanese Gardens. After four days of late night drinking, I rushed out of the hostel with no food in my belly. Armed only with a bottle of water and a power bar in my trusty Maxpedition Rolly Polly daypack, I started the trek. I could have easily taken a bus all the way there, but wanted a bit more adventure. After taking a bus part of the way, I decided to walk the rest.
Using my phone GPS, I kept trying to place a particular street to no avail, walking in each of the four directions possible. Finally, it turned out my needed street, was an unmarked trail which winded into a mountain, starting with just a few visible steps. I can’t remember the last time I felt so exhilarated to find such a picturesque path. Up into the woods with an uncontrollable smile, I rushed into the green like a 10 years old boy after a new toy.
After reaching a clearing, I took a short breather and consumed my powerbar. On the way to the Japanese gardens, I passed through the International Rose Test gardens, where over 200 rose cultivars are grown every year. This was truly a sight to behold. There was an ethereal radiance over the area, producing this just after the rains saturated glow which was otherworldly.
Finally, I arrived at the gates of a magnificent Japanese garden, which is apparently the most authentic of any outside of Japan. There was such an intoxicating fragrance in the air and multiple gardens and waterfalls to behold.
One of the most extravagant sights, was this brilliantly hued Maple tree.
After meditating on the steps of a Japanese building for a while and taking tons of photos it was time for a return trip back to the hostel. Still starving, I attempted to find my way back, which proved a challenge. Finally after getting caught in the rain, exhausted and an about to die GPS, the way presented itself.
What better way to break my hunger pangs, than indulging in some proven to be fantastic Lebanese food at Tarboush, housed in a warm and cozy Victorian.
The creative vibe, locally grown food options, walk-able districts and preferred weather really left an impression. I had a sort of coming home feeling while being there. Something about the environment, retro feeling, simple pleasures and abundance of like minded people deeply resonated.
I took another trip here in the Spring of 2013, with my friend Brian, the Vegan Black Metal Chef. We did a ton of fun activities like visiting Multnomah Falls, seeing Timber Creek Lodge (whose facade was used in the movie, The Shining) hiked around Mt. Hood in the snow, and beheld a Lord of the Rings inspired waterfall called Latourell falls (all in the same day!). This trip was just as fun!