Pithering in Portland (part 3)

March 24, 2008 § Leave a Comment

Another couple of weeks since part 2. I’ve become slowly more ingrained into Portland’s way of life. It’s a nice city. Once I saw a truck go by boldly exclaiming: ‘Portland – the city that works’. There is a good measure of pride here; you can see it in people as they discuss their city and in the way people pick up litter as they walk on by.

Last weekend I fancied hanging round Portland. I was tired and so thought that chilling out in a coffee shop all of Saturday would help mellow me out. I was a little wrong and practically shaking after my third cappuccino. They’re pretty strong out here compared with in the UK. On the Sunday I visited Portland’s Japanese garden:

Japanese garden

It was nice, although the wrong time of year to go as the trees hadn’t blossomed. At least I got to see some stones:


After this I decided to go walkabout. There’s a national park around this area and so I took a trail through some woods where there’s load of preserved tree specimens, different Oaks and Elms etc. All very interesting stuff. The trails were good and easy to use so I wasn’t in the least bit concerned about any Blair Witch shenanigans. One point I saw a hawk fly right overhead. I managed to blast off a shot before loads of other trekkers arrived and starting unloading their far bulkier photography equipment.


For the next weekend I decided that I simply must venture out of Portland, or even Oregon for that matter, so I booked a hotel room in downtown Seattle. Leading up to the trip I was perhaps a little apprehensive about driving still. My workmates that I take to work every morning have enjoyed a somewhat varying level of excitement each day. In order to spice things up I may choose to over-run a stop sign, or pretend to drive down the wrong way of a one-way. In fairness though the street-signs are a lot smaller over here. In preparation of my trip to Seattle I decided to buy a new pair of glasses to compensate.

On the Saturday I got in my car, put on the tunes (I’ve recently discovered I have satellite radio with no ads), and stepped on the gas up the I-5. Three hours later I was in Seattle:

seattle 1

It was a bright, lovely day, clear blue skies. I was very lucky because the forecast for the following week was sheer rain (as indeed it did rain all the way back on my return journey on Sunday). Seattle is fairly big and is set in some fantastic scenery. Please note that my camera seems to make everything darker than it should and doesn’t do the sights justice.


Can you see Mount Rainer in the background? It’s just to the right of the skyline.

snowy backdrop

All around Seattle you can see a rocky-snowy-mountain backdrop. Seattle itself is a young city, only really getting going at the end of the 1800s. What gave it a kick-start was the discovery of gold in Canada. People used Seattle to stock up on equipment and goods before hiking over the border. Inevitably a new sex industry sprung up, and became Seattle’s biggest tax revenue earner.

Seattle 3

I took most of these photos from the space needle, which was right outside my hotel:

Space needle

Seattle has a monorail which is quite cool. I jumped on that as it links up North and South downtown. Once downtown I strolled around for a while:

seattle downtown

Then I went to a famous pike place market which sells lots of fish and stuff. It was really vibrant.

public market

Then I had crab cakes by the waterfront.

waterfront seattle

After this I thought I’d go for a tour of Seattle’s underground. When they built the city for a second time after a fire, they did so against the advice of a chap who said the city would have more room if they started off the ground level a couple of stories up. They ignored him, and then changed their mind three years later. So Seattle has a underground where the old ground level with old sidewalks used to be. The old downtown has buildings that begin someway underground:

seattle underground

And that’s about it. I went for a meal later, but walking around by yourself in any large city is a bit of a dubious thing to do, so I didn’t stay out for too long. I did wonder if the streets of Seattle was where the car-chase scene from Bullet was – it has the levelled out, slopey streets where the cars temporarily take off and come crashing down. I’ve just been told that this was in fact San Francisco, which is somewhere else I need to get to.

bullet seattle

Pithering in Portland (part 2)

March 10, 2008 § 1 Comment

My first full weekend in Portland. First I needed to stock up my kitchen so I targeted a Whole Foods downtown. I’m still a little nervous driving over here, so each trip out is a little challenge in itself. I am getting in to the swing of it though. Like a coral forming over millions of years my confidence is on the rise.

Anyway Whole Foods was too expensive, and to be honest I have to say that I don’t actually like Whole Foods. It’s a just a big statement of man’s ability to gather up masses of food in all different shapes and sizes and then to create a pretty display. It’s a demonstration of sheer exuberance, with no telling what kind of wastage they produce. Give me a humble farmer’s market anyday. So I bailed from WF and drove across town to a Fred Meyers average Jo type supermarket where I was asked for ID in order to buy beer.

Saturday I visited one of Portland’s many coffee houses. Portland is a mecca for coffee enthusiasts. The one I went to – Anna Bannanas – is set in an old victorian house. There’s loads of sofas, chairs, tables, books etc – it’s basically like turning up to an eccentric’s house. I got chatting to the guy who served me and he said there’s loads of space but best not to go down into the basement, that’s where the crazy people go. He was deadly serious. ‘Really?’ I asked. ‘Oh yeah,’ he said, ‘we once had this Japanese guy who would buy a coffee and sleep for hours at a time down there, he spent two years here’. He saw my concern and continued: ‘but don’t worry. We’re sort of blessed to have only one paranoid schizophrenic at a time, I think it’s when you get more than one there’s a problem’. He returned to overseeing the complex process of whipping me up a cappuccino. ‘A bit like hamsters in a cage’ I mused out loud.

It was nice to relax in the coffee house and write letters. The guys at my place of work proudly claim you could visit a different coffee house every day and go for weeks before returning to the same one.

So, after this relaxed start I thought I’d visit the Chinese gardens downtown. On the way I strolled around Portland’s ‘Saturday Market’. On my first day upon hearing from the receptionist that such a market existed I said ‘but its Sunday today’. My bold attempt at humour left him unmoved.

Saturday Market

I left to continue my journey to the Chinese gardens. Unfortunately I got as far as a wine bar. I walked into an opticians and mused round, when two middle aged guys walked in and one asked ‘is this the wine tasting bar?’ ‘No, that’s down a block’, was the response. So I followed the two guys, who seemed on a serious mission, and found this place:

Wine bar

This place was quite the experience. I thought I’d have one glass which was on the menu called a ‘flight’. It turns out a flight is actually three tasting glasses, so I had my first wine tasting experience of Oregonian pinot noir. Substantially heavier than the burgundians is my considered analysis. But it wasn’t the wine that captured my interest, it was the people. Everyone was very friendly and wanted to talk to me. They all knew each other by name and it was easy to sit back and join in the banter. There were all extremely proud of the community they’d formed in this bar; the call it the ‘Cheers of wine bars’. By the end of the night everyone – including the staff – had formed a plan to go on to a cocktail bar. I was tempted but ended up declining, for I had plans to drive to the Coast the next day.

The next day I woke up with a couple of cobwebs in place that needed blasting away. What better for it than to hit the coast? Oregon is famed for it’s beautiful coastline and I had an urge to get out there and see the sea, so I got in my cool red car and peddled the gas.

Cool red car

The highway to the coast was great fun. Sometimes going high into the hills where there’s still snow, the scenery was at times exhilarating.


See the snowy mountain in the distance? I suspect that’s a big volcano. I continued along highway 26 through the hills and eventually arrived at Cannon Beach. It’s a great beach as you can see:

coast 1

There are such like rock formations up and down the coast line.

Big beach

It’s a big beach

I drove up to a place called Seaside town, which was very tacky. It reminded me of a tacky UK coastal town, except this one was thriving. I made to escape just as soon as I’d had a disgusting fish and chips for lunch.

Back in the car and eager to move away from such a place, I followed highway 101 down the coastline. It was beautiful, immaculately preserved owing to Oregon’s tough planning laws.

coast 2



I drove back along highway 6, which seemed to follow a river back through the hills to Portland. I preferred this highway to the first one, it was always twisting and turning into another magnificent view; forests everywhere, waterfalls, snowy mountain tops. Everything in the US seems a lot bigger, including the scenery. On the way back I couldn’t help but notice the size of some of the cars people were driving, monstrously sized trucks in abundance.

Pithering in Portland

March 3, 2008 § Leave a Comment

So, after a couple of weeks of planning, I’ve arrived in Portland Oregon for three months. I’m here on a ThoughtWorks project, making use of the company’s perk of being able to move around. In fact I just had an IM chat with an Italian in Hong Kong who is 16 hours ahead of me. We were also joined by an Algerian back in the UK.

The flight was OK. It didn’t take off for a while due to an engine not being able to start, which the captain assured us was OK. They just needed to get the right bloke with the right tool to sort it out. In fact the whole journey was fine, I watched three or four films, and no doubt worring the chap sitting next to me with my abundant symptoms of having a cold. I think he was less than happy with me anyway as I’d took up all the hang luggage space with my guitar.

My only not-so-wonderfully-positive experience was when I got to Portland and picked up the rental car. The car itself is brilliant. I don’t know much about cars in general but I love this one. It’s like a red sports car, as you can see below.


The inside works for me too:

car inside

During the journey over to Portland I’d been slightly worried about having to drive when I got to the airport. So I didn’t drink and when I got to Portland I found it waiting for me – I was ready to go. Before long I was wondering what I was so concerned about. Driving in Portland (and I’d guess this applies to the US in general) is easy. The big wide roads, the traffic lights as oppose to fast moving roundabouts – simple. So I stepped on the gas and drove over to the location I’d printed out from Google maps. It was a short journey, and would serve as a good first drive. An easy immersion.

Except it wasn’t. The problem was that I’d got muddled up with the wrong street; my hotel was actually miles away from where I thought it should be. This only dawned me an hour or so after driving around the suburbs getting increasingly lost and confused, not to mention tired. Perplexed, I phoned up my father who lives in Florida during the English winter. It was midnight his time. Sleepily at first, he woke up his computer to access google maps, but we were both exacerbated by his failing internet connection. Then his computer started experiencing difficulties. Probably unwisely I just started driving around random streets with my mobile phone speaking into my ear: ‘just a minute, hang on… Glisan Avenue you say…. found you…. maybe.. crap the browser just shut down… hang on… umm… where are you now?’

Just as I was starting to despair, I rammed the car (almost literally) into a gas station, and even though the rock ‘n’ roll guy behind the counter just simply couldn’t understand my explosion of nervous english, an oldened, wisended chap walked in and knew the area of where the hotel was. His only question was “what the hell you doin’ out here buddy?” My father meanwhile had rebooted his computer, doing whatever he needed to do, and before long had pinpointed my location. Together we navigated myself to the hotel.

The next day I awoke determined to discover some of Portland, where I’d be staying for the next three months. I wanted to orientate myself, to get settled. First I made a trip downtown, and was struck at how clean and spacious ‘downtown’ is. It’s different to any city I’ve seen in the UK. Most probably because it’s properly designed as opposed to just having evolved, plus it’s got more space and less people to contain. My first impression is that I like Portland, and I’m looking forward to getting to know it better. Apparently it has a fiercely competitive restaurant scene, and failing that there’s always your ever reliable Irish bar. Later this afternoon I strolled across to the local mall:

mall 1

Equip with a skating ring:

mall 2

So as of right now I’m chuffed. I’ve figured out some of the transport system – which is free (bits are) and simple to use. I’ve sussed out where the shops are etc. Right now I’m going to watch some US tv, which to be honest is not a million miles away from what we have in the UK with all the digital channels. Tomorrow I’m looking forward to starting work on a new project.

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