Thursday, August 21, 2014

Experiencing Portland

We are back from a 3D2N weekend trip to Portland!

This is part of a series of trips we will be making as Panda clears his leave to prepare for our return home. We are definitely maximizing the rest of our US stay.

Day 1- Experiencing Local

Portland is known for its public transport system. For this trip, we decided not to rent a car and to get around with TriMet. For five bucks a day, we can hop on to buses, light rail and streetcars for unlimited rides. We stayed at Hyatt (again!) at Cascade Station - an easy two-stop ride from the airport. Plenty of room for people to load their luggage.

First stop was the Portland Saturday Market. Alighted at Skidmore Fountain Station and there we were, at Bangkok's Chatuchak?! Music, street food, arts and clothing stalls. No kidding - it's like we have flown back to Asia.

Of course, the prices were nothing compared to Asia. We didn't buy anything at the weekend market, awesome though some of the clothes and accessories were. We still had a blast enjoying the laid back atmosphere, browsing shops and taking in the sweet aroma of street food.

A short distance away from the Saturday Market is the famous Voodoo Donuts. The line was so crazy that we had to pause and rethink whether we really want to try them that badly. Out of curiosity, I asked an elderly couple sitting under the purple umbrellas if the donuts were that fantastic. "It's... different," the old man said. Nah, not enough for us to queue under the hot sun.

Noticed I said 'a short distance' because it's almost a straight line's walk from the Saturday Market on SW Ankeny Street. But we could still get ourselves lost, because yours truly read NW 3rd Ave instead of SW 3rd Ave. Made a huge detour because of that.

Argh. I need new glasses. 

After stopping at a nearby cafe to refuel, we hopped back on to the MAX rail and stopped at downtown. Downtown Portland has plenty of light rail stops and is pretty walkable. There were also loads of cyclists sharing the road with other vehicles - it truly is a cyclists' heaven!

(Side note: I had wanted to do a beer tour on bicycle, but Panda wasn't interested in alcohol. How sadddd...)

What I loved about Downtown Portland was the ubiquitous food carts. Street food rocks because they form such a colorful part of any local culture. And they normally taste better than restaurant food, in my opinion.

There are carts and pods located all around selling a huge variety of food, but the biggest can be found between SW Alder St/SW Washington St and 9th Ave/10th Ave. It is supposed to be the largest concentration of street food in US. Yummers!

The only drawback is limited seating. Not all food carts come with customer seating. We bought food from a Thai food cart and had to sit on a weathered public beach bespattered with suspected bird poop. Tried not to think about it as we ate!

Our last stop for Day 1 was Powell's City of Books. There is no direct MAX rail and I gave up trying to follow the directions here and just walk six blocks down. Seriously, why ain't the light rail and street cars more integrated? 

Once inside the bookstore, all tiredness were forgotten. I love everything about this bookstore, from its chic modern facade to the endless floor-to-ceiling shelves lined with books. The fact that it sells (and buys) old books gives it a unique vibe. Like a non-pretentious, down-to-earth person who appreciates the value of a well-read worn out book. 

I had a whale of a time getting lost in the ginormous bookstore, weaving in and out of the different color coded rooms, spending some quiet moments at one of the language aisles. There are handwritten staff pick notes everywhere. Oh, that human touch.
Love it! 

Day 2- Experiencing Nature

We gave in to our tired, old feet's demand and rented a car for Day 2. I was eager to do the Columbia River Gorge and Mt Hood loop because both places are sufficiently near for a day trip. The Painted Hills and Crater Lake look lovely but at four hours away, they would be too far out a drive.

We reached Vista House at Crown Point after a 30-min drive from Portland. This observatory looks small on the exterior but it has a surprisingly spacious interior. Love the vaulted ceilings within the dome. The bottom floor of this structure houses a gift shop and the rest rooms, while the upper deck offers spectacular views of the gorge. 

A pity that we didn't stop by the Portland Women's Forum viewpoint along the Historic Columbia River Highway to capture this gorgeous little house against the river backdrop.

A small note: On our way to the Vista House, we saw lines of cars parked along the road. But on this late Sunday morning, we found a lot in the car park within minutes of reaching. I supposed traffic moves pretty fast for this observatory. It was a good thing we checked the car park before trying to park along the road.

We headed east to start our journey of the waterfalls. There are 27 waterfalls from Vista House to Hood River, where we planned to stop for a late lunch.

I had a hunch that we were probably overestimating our time management abilities, even if we wouldn't be visiting every waterfall. Nature is something on which I wouldn't want to do a touch-and-go!

First stop was the Latourell Falls. We went up a short slope to get a view of this 249-ft tall cascade. Then we spotted a bridge near the base of the falls, and overheard some lady telling her kid that they could get inside the water.

We could? Really? Sped back to the car to change into slippers.

When we got down to the bridge, there were already one or two brave souls who had climbed down the muddy banks and were making their way to the base.

The climb was harder than I thought. Flip flops ain't invented for this kind of adventures and the water splashes got more powerful as we neared the base. I was soaked almost to my undergarments, even though I wasn't even THAT close to the base of the falls yet. 

Yes, that's a calm Panda with his quick dry gear, and a delirious me with my burberry scarf. I was in a roaring thunderstorm.

We had to wash off all the mud after that. In retrospect, it was a lucky thing we didn't slip and fall into the water or mud. The rocks were quite slimy and we could have broken an ankle. 

But would I do it ever again? Yes.

In comparison, our visit to the Bridal Veil Falls was less eventful. After a short hike from the car park with our still-damp butts, we reached this 118-ft cascade. I wished I had the courage to climb up the boulder and jumped into the water like what these two youngsters were doing.

But after experiencing the water temperature at the previous fall, and recalling that we are well into our 30s, we made the wise decision not to.

The fun belongs to the younger generations.

Further down the road, after a massive jam and parking into the muddiest roadside lot, we arrived at the picturesque Multnomah Falls. This is easily one of the most popular falls in the area, judging by the horde of tourists.

We would have to climb one mile up a steep slope to get to the top of the falls. By then, Panda was getting a little tired of looking at waterfalls. "They all look the same after a while," he sulked.

Nevertheless, he acceded to my request to at least go up the bridge. Yay!

The bridge is as narrow as it seems. It was hard taking selfies, because you could barely reach out your hand without blocking the path of other visitors. And you wouldn't want to be the one piling up traffic on this tiny bridge.

Still, it felt awesome to be standing there observing the cascading falls. We waved to the folks down below and did some silly poses in hope of photo bombing someone. We never learned to act like our age, huh?

At the base of the falls is the Multnomah Falls Lodge offering visitors some food and rest. There's a restaurant and a gift shop inside this quaint little building. We were pretty hungry by then, having survived mostly on tidbits and energy bars for most of our journey. But we were still thinking if we should soldier on to Hood River and Mt Hood.

It was already 3pm.

Poor Panda was tired, hungry, and nauseated from all the waterfalls.

Back in our car, we decided we should make the best out of our car rental and head to a premium outlet. Mt Hood has been passed up in favor of tax-free shopping!

There were so many bad yelp reviews on the nearby Columbia Gorge Premium Outlets that we decided to drive down to Woodburn. It took us almost an hour to reach but it was worth it. Panda and I agreed, unanimously and unequivocally, that Woodburn Premium Outlets is one of the best outlets that we have visited.

Clean toilets, a great variety of stores, sheltered walkways.

It's even better than Livermore.

We barely had two hours to shop because it was a Sunday and stores close at 7pm. We only hit two stores, North Face and Oakley, but we left happy as a bird.

Say yay to tax-free shopping!

Day 3- Experiencing Pearl District (or not)

We wound down on our last day with some light shopping at the Cascade Station Mall opposite our hotel.

Panda, the avid NBA fan, always visits basketball stadiums when we travel. So after checking out in the morning, we took the MAX rail to Rose Quarter/Moda Center, home of the Portland Trail Blazers.

I had hoped to visit the Pearl District before flying back in the evening. But again, I found myself getting lost. I kept trying to search online for the nearest MAX rail stop, without realizing only street cars go to Pearl District (duh!).

I had both the TriMet Tickets app and PDX Bus app on my phone. I should have followed this map, make a switch to street cars along Galleria/SW 10th St, then alight at NW Northrup St.

It was the second time I was stumped by Portland's public transport. On the first day, I had happily thought I could find return stations opposite from where I alight. Not true when you are at Downtown Portland. You have to go to the next block to find the returning station.

And if you want to switch to street cars, you have to walk a little. They don't use the same tracks as MAX rail.

So after getting off at the wrong stop and strolling around aimlessly, with me feeling apologetic for the lack of directions (I'm normally the one in charge of navigation), we decided to walk towards Powell's again.

It's part of Pearl District, yes?

Along the way, we check out locally designed shops. Panda got himself a 22-litre camo roll top bag from Poler Outdoor Stuff, a cool hipster shop for outdoor gear.

The happy boy used it immediately after purchase. The front buckle came with a built-in whistle, which he kept blowing as he walked. Boys will always be boys!

We only had an hour or so before we needed to return to the hotel to collect our luggage for departure. So we abandoned our plans to explore the Pearl District, and headed back downtown where the MAX lines are. 

Back at Downtown Portland, we continued checking out shops and eateries... 

... before finally deciding on this hole-in-a-wall cafe called Brunch Box. They have a pretty good yelp review on their food cart at SW 5th Ave and Stark St. Panda ordered a bootlegger, loaded fries (bacon and cheese) and a chocolate milkshake to share. Paid happy hour prices: $12.

I must say all the burgers in their menu look monstrously big and sinful to me. How do people finish eating them? Thank God when the bootlegger came, it was of a decent size and was quite yummy.

But I was still happiest with the milkshake.

Panda was saying he might want to fly to Portland for Thanksgiving to enjoy all the tax-free shopping. We have gone crazy in the last two Thanksgiving sale, going home only at 4am.

This will be the last Thanksgiving sale before we head home. Will we pull the craziest stunt ever - fly in, shop all night, fly out?

We shall see!

So long for now, Portland.

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