Portland aka Stumptown aka Bridgetown…and almost Boston: Part I

We stumbled upon Saraveza on our first night in Portland. It was perfect after the drive from Eureka, I tried one of their pasties (pronounced pass-tea as the menu explains), pasties are pretty common in Australia, although I’m guessing not so common in the U.S. from the above explanation, Laura had the mac and cheese, both our meals were amazing and we washed them down with grapefruit cider. Picking our meals was definitely easier than choosing drinks because they had a huge range of amazing drinks, IPAs and craft beers and ciders (seriously have a look at the beer section on their website, it tells you what they’ve just tapped).

I forgot to mention that yes, our first night in Portland was Independence Day, we ended up in a local park for the fireworks. The photo above was my attempt at getting a photo of the city’s fireworks (I didn’t quite get the geographical scale of Portland by the way). You can just see fireworks though.

We made our way into the city for a free walking tour, with Secrets of Portlandia‘s founder and creator Eric. Interestingly, creating this was one of the first things Eric explained about Portland and it continued as a theme throughout the tour. Eric had to create the tour as a job for himself and initially he used to stand in Pioneer square waiting for people to come before the tours really took off. Although Portland has a lot of people moving to the city, there just aren’t the jobs to match, hence why Portland’s unemployment rate is higher than Detroit’s, not only were unemployment rates high but Portland like a lot of the U.S. cities we experienced had a large homeless population (more on that when we get to Canada).
We would definitely recommend Eric’s tour, he had great knowledge of the city and the personality to pull it off, what would you expect from an American guy who worked for 2 years doing tours in Spanish, in Spain. He also branches out to a Spanish language cooking show which he films in Mexico, getting cooking secrets from grandmothers. Eric’s knowledge of the city even extended to the location of the Portlandia statue, made famous by Portlandia, the location of this statue is unknown to the general Portland population. We were hoping that we would just bump into Fred and Carrie while we were in Portland, alas, it was not to be and we will not be featured in the next Portlandia series (at least not wittingly).

Keep Portland Weird is the city’s motto, kindly borrowed from Austin, TX, and we certainly saw evidence of this weirdness. I’m not exactly sure that weirdness is exactly the right word but Keep Portland Forward Thinking doesn’t have the same ring to it. The city was full of cyclists, zero emission buses and a great train/light rail system and it also had solar powered bins which crush waste and reduce the number of trips needed by garbage trucks. All of these environmental initiatives stemmed from Portland becoming the first local government in the U.S. to adopt a plan to address global warming in 1993. By contrast, in 2014 Australia’s Prime Minister calls himself an intelligent skeptic when it comes to climate change. I will say no more on the issue.
Portland’s food culture was awesome, we started with some great coffee from Stumptown Coffee. Stumptown derives its name from a bit of Portland’s history which we learned about on Eric’s tour. When Portland’s original settlers; William Overton and Asa Lovejoy (possibly related) founded the city and cleared the forest to start selling it to settlers, they decided to leave the stumps because they were obviously pretty hard to get out and there were 2 of them. That, and they didn’t think anyone would notice. Turns out they were wrong and thus began the continuing battle between Seattle and Portland, 1 point to Seattle, which initially had more settlers. This was also when Portland was almost named Boston, Oregon. After Overton sold his share to another settler, Francis Pettygrove, the decision was made to name the city, Pettygrove and Lovejoy both wished to name the city after their hometowns, Portland, Maine and Boston, Massachusetts. The matter was eventually decided with a coin toss.
It seems a universal rule for the standard of good coffee stores is how many cyclists a cafe attracts and the Division Street store was no exception. It had its share of cyclists, they probably all knew Spike. The coffee was great and although most people got takeaway cups, the shop had a very cool vibe, well lit with exposed brick walls and sturdy timber trim. I think it made for some pretty good photos (let me know what you think in comments).

The city is known for its food carts, and its donuts. One store in particular is quite famous; Voodoo Doughnuts started out making bad tasting donuts in novelty shapes (which I won’t outline here) eventually they realised that they actually needed to learn how to make donuts and the rest is history. The Voodoo Doughnut store had a 2 hour wait and a line which zig zagged out onto the street. Unbeknownst to those waiting there is another Voodoo Doughnut store which they could walk to, buy donuts and return before they could even order at this one (that was where we went when we finally got Voodoo Doughnuts). We had done our research, and we knew that although Voodoo Doughnuts is the popular tourists’ choice for donuts, there was another store, the one the locals go to; Blue Star Donuts. Their donuts added a certain touch of class to those you could get at Voodoo Doughnuts. Their flavours included the basil, bourbon, and blueberry, the jelly (jam) and powdered peanut butter donut (see below for these 2) as well as some other amazing flavours, unfortunately we didn’t have the time or the appetites to try them all, needless to say when we got back to Australia, we flat out refused an offer of Krispy Kreme donuts at Sydney Airport but these weren’t even the best donuts we had (more to follow on amazing donuts).

Another of Portland’s monikers is Bridgetown, and of course the city had some lovely bridges. While it didn’t have the scale of the Golden Gate Bridge, St John’s had these beautiful architectural features reminiscent of the arches of a cathedral, both in the concrete under structure and the metal pylons.

We found this piece of street art very close to the Blue Star Donut store, the portrait reminded Laura of Piper, of Orange is the New Black fame, and we learned later that the artist; Rone is actually Australian.

Among Portland’s many parks was the Japanese Gardens, unfortunately we visited it at the wrong time of year, the lack of fall/autumn colours combined with the $5 charge for taking a tripod in conspired to disappoint us. Overall the garden was quite beautiful though I’m not sure I can recommend it with its exorbitant entry fees.

There will be further adventures from Portland, meanwhile more of my photos are here

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