Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Portland: Places to eat, People to see, and Things to Do

Who knew that Portland offered such a wealth of activities? Probably everyone BUT me.  Oh, and most of the people I talked to about my mini vacation.  
"Where are you going?" they'd ask.
"Portland! I'm so excited!!" I'd gush.
"...For...work??" they'd respond slowly, completely mystified.
"No! for VACATION!"
"Why?" was their only response.
Ok, so maybe Portland doesn't make most people's "Top 5 Places to Visit Before I Die" list, but oddly enough, I've been toying with this idea for the past 5 years when I first tried to talk my folks into going up there to meet up with their Seattle friends.  I wanted to send them first to get their impressions to decide if I should go, but they wouldn't play into my ploy.  So I was left wondering what attracted visitors to that city. 
I had some vague ideas of things I wanted to see and do. More importantly, I had a long list of food places that were recommended to me as "not to miss" Portland Culinary Experiences.  This trip, as with most of my trips, had food and drink as the central draw.  The highlights were Breakfasts, Lunches, and Dinners; everything else was the fluff that filled the time while we waited to digest in between the meals.
First Impressions:
The people.  I know I talk about the people every where I go and how nice everyone is.  I'm not kidding, THIS place was ridiculous in how nice they were.  Major props to Bill Wyatt, Port  Executive Director and his team for making the first point of entry for most travelers a friendly and helpful one.  As I got off the plane, there was someone there to tell me where my baggage was and at baggage claim, someone to tell me how to use the TriMet train to get to Pioneer Square, just a few blocks from The Benson hotel. 
As I was snapping away at a photo of this statue:
This man [a master jeweler] came up to me to give the background on the beautiful statue of Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Rider, by Alexander Phimister Proctor:
But the best part of the people portion of the trip was that I was able to meet up with one of my most favoritest former colleagues who moved up to Portland.  A few things that I miss most about working with Matt is that he's sarcastic as crap, could easily extrapolate the lean facts out of my blithering nonsense, and  was a darn good basketball player.  One thing that I don't miss about working with Matt is that he's pretty darn predictable.  If it were up to Matt, we would've met up at some brewery [not a bad choice, mind you] or burger joint.  Luck for me, his lovely wife, Shannon, kindly suggested Papa Haydn so that I could go shopping up in Northwest Portland area after lunch. It's been years since I've seen Matt and while time has been kind to him, it has left me older and WIDER.  Hence the tweaked photo and why we look like we're 10 feet tall:
The City. My first thoughts as I was riding the TriMet into the city was, "Wow. These city planners did an EXCELLENT job." Downtown is spotlessly clean, tons of solar trash cans, beautiful Bubbling Benson water fountains that run 24 hours a day, squares/parks that are modeled after European town squares for community gathering spots, free transportation within the downtown city limits, but better than that - a totally walkable city.  You can walk to nearly everywhere you need to go. 

Tax Free Shopping.  Ok, I don't have anything to add to that.  Tax Free.  Easy for me to do the math on the stuff I'm buying.  Love it.

Culinary Experiences. In order to get my feet wet, I decided to contact Portland Walking Tours for help.  They offered a great 3 hour walking tour with promises of visiting unique shops within Portland. My travel friend, Carrie, and I were all over this.  Unfortunately, Carrie's flight was canceled so she wouldn't make it in to town in time for this.  Please note that these tickets are treated like concert tickets - no refunds or exchanges.  One lesson that I [re]learned is not to book a tour the same day I fly in.  

Carrie sent me an email saying, "Go on without me..." so, after a few hiccups with our tour start time, we headed off to a great Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar shop that allowed you to taste from every barrel.  If I had more time, I would have sampled each and every one.  
Other stops included: cocoa, spice store, tea store, TWO food carts, and a cupcake store for dessert.  The one comment that I can make regarding future tours [so take note, PWT], need more alcohol stops!! 

I have to give a big congratulations to PWT and their staff [and this is as a meeting planner, not as a tourist] : When running a business, it's not only about whether or not you did everything right. It's not about the mix ups or the mess ups that happen during the course of operating your business because those things just happen.  The important thing is how you respond to those mix ups/mess ups.  I have to hand it to Portland Walking Tours - although their tour guide for that day was a no-show, they quickly turned it around and had a back up plan in place that they executed with near flawlessness.  I appreciated that about the tour and this company.  Because of that, I would have no qualms about recommending this company for any group events/activities.  **This was an unsolicited, unpaid props to PWT - I paid for my tour**
Food Carts. Holy cow.  Thanks to Gaby's list that she kindly sent to me, I headed off to Nong's Khao Man Gai.  Little did I know that she wasn't exaggerating when she called it Life Changing.  It was really awesome.  I went there twice.  For this:
During the course of our tour, we hit up two other food carts.

Ziba's Pita:

Ziba's Pita.  These pitas were crispy on the outside, tender and flavorful on the inside.  She left war torn Bosnia and set up shop here in 2006. 
Saied of Aybla Grill:

Aybla Grill, Saied makes the most tender and amazing falafels.  I'm used to having them deep fried to the point of toughness.  Not these.  I still think about it.

Surrounding Areas. Wine Country and the Falls.
Wine Country was lovely.  It was interesting to see the Pines interspersed with the grapevines.  While the Willamette Valley wines is a bit too subtle for my dull palate, there was some beautiful wineries that I enjoyed.  The Sokol Blosser Winery is one of those places.  
Lovely setting...
lovely wines...
Bella Vida wines offered some stunning vistas:
The Falls in Mount Hood was gorgeous! I learned there that I'm far more out of shape than I realized.  Luckily, I was once informed by my dear friend, Miles, that Round is still a shape.
Trees along the path, dappled with sunlight.
Bridal Veil Falls. Breath taking...and easy to hike to...

Sorry for the long post, I've got so much more to share with you about this amazing town!!  In the meantime, I hope that you will consider this place, if not in your Top 10, but maybe in your Top 25!

Travel Portland

Visit Portland

Travel Orgeon

Portland Walking Tours


  1. Great blog, makes me want to go to Portland. I'm a big time walker and blog about walking, losing weight, staying fit, and finding money while walking that all goes to charity. I would like to follow your blog but wasn't able to determine the logistics. If you allow followers, contact me at bleason at UNO dot edu.


  2. Now see, Portland IS on my list of places I would love to visit and now it's moved considerably higher thanks to this post. I had to laugh at the "tax free" and "easy to do the math" reference LOL!

    Bookmarked in my "travel" file ;-)

  3. portland is terrific - i can't wait to go back - those food carts are really fun!

  4. I didn't get to try the pita. Sigh.

  5. bleason: fixed & thank you for following!!

    mardi: well, of COURSE i'd expect you to have this place on your list!! you would *love* this place. i mean, move out of canada kind of love.

    AD: it is pretty terrific! I wish I had more time for more of the food carts. next time!!

    Carrie: well, when you finally move up there and I come to visit, we can go to ALL of them [my nefarious and selfish scheme to get you to places where I want to visit]


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