Yep, it’s still weird. And wonderful.
The thing to understand about Portland, our nephew Connor explained at our first dinner together, is that it’s all about the neighborhoods. We were dining at Hat Yai, a highly rated Thai restaurant in the Vernon neighborhood, part of Portland’s Alberta Arts District. Highly walkable and filled with restaurants, bars, and interesting shops (tattoos! bars with psychics! cannabis shops with funny names!), it was a fun area to explore. Our home for the month is in downtown, more specifically the Portland State University neighborhood. It’s a lovely area, with a food truck pod just around the corner offering a world culinary tour–Indian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Italian, Asian, and more–and lots of shops and restaurants. On the other hand, and I don’t know how to write about this, homelessness here is ubiquitous, with more uban campers than we’ve ever seen anywhere else. Evidence of the early 2021 riots is prominent, with many boarded-up buildings, along with businesses that were forced to close due to the pandemic. It’s hard to walk the city without feeling a mix of heartbreak and hope, grief and joy.
We face east but still get a reflected sunset view
Carry-out Thai from Chef Q
Portland is an interesting city. Oregon is known for its natural beauty, and Portland for its parks, yet the city has been battered. Most of the parks are still open, but many beautiful buildings await major repairs, and the city struggles to keep up with the trash load. The International Rose Test Garden is in full glorious bloom (and very crowded during our visit!), and on a Sunday the line to enter Powell’s was a full block long. The hilltop views are stunning, shops with boarded-up windows have reopened, and restaurants seem to be flourishing at last.
Mount Hood as seen from the Portland rose gardens
We’ve been walking a lot. There is always something interesting to see on our treks–graduates’ photo shoots in the parks, traditional Portland fashion (think Doc Martens with short black skirts, fishnet tights, bright green hair, black lipstick, plenty of tattoos, and gauged ears), food trucks of every ilk, and tiny-home villages. And when we’ve done a long walk, maybe 5-7 miles, we reward ourselves with a cocktail. And possibly mini corn dogs.
This gorgeous purple cocktail at The Pharmacy goes great with corn dogs!
Our walk to and from the Rose Garden was one of our favorites. We walked almost eight miles that day. The worst part was when people ran past us as we huffed and panted up the steep hills. Undaunted, we took frequent rests and finally made it. The roses were spectacular, and so worth the climb.
We’ve also enjoyed the Saturday farmers’ market nearby. With tons of happy people (masks required) and everything from saffron to gorgeous fresh produce to prepared foods, the only problem was deciding what to buy. On our first trip we splurged on fresh morels. Morels have a special meaning in our family, aside from being delicious. Phil’s dad used to forage for them in a special place in Oklahoma. One of my favorite memories is going out with him and hunting for these unique wild mushrooms. Well, not the poison ivy part, but finding them was like winning the Easter egg hunt. Fresh ones are only available in the springtime, and foragers fiercely guard their secret locations. With our treasure, I tried to recreate a dish we had on our first trip to France–morilles a la creme, or morels in cream on brioche. Delicious!
Morilles a la creme on the terrace
A very special highlight of our time in Portland was celebrating 40 years of marriage! Since we’ll be spending a week in France next month (our gift to each other; more on that later), we decided that a meal at a nice restaurant would be the right celebration for June 6. I found a highly rated tapas restaurant, Urdaneta, and we took the 5:15 pm reservation, the only time available. We arrived and were seated outside under an open-sided shelter, where we ordered cocktails and pintxos. And then. . .down came the rain. The wind was so strong it blew my fork across the table, sent the menu flying down the street, and quickly soaked the back of Phil’s shirt. We were laughing so hard we almost didn’t hear when the server came out to move us inside! Once inside and cozy, we gradually dried out while enjoying a wonderful meal.
Rain-soaked anniversary Phil
Another fun adventure was lunch at the Topaz Farm on Sauvie Island. We’d heard about it from nephew Connor and his partner April, and since we love seeing where our food comes from, we jumped at the first opportunity to visit. Sauvie Island, about the size of Manhattan, is about ten miles north of Portland and sits at the confluence of the Willammette and Columbia Rivers. It’s beautiful, a mix of agricultural and wildlife areas, with nary a gas station on the entire island. We bought sandwiches and wine and proceeded to the picnic area, followed by a visit to the farm animals–chickens, a giant turkey, ducks, a calf, donkeys, and our favorite, goats! After chatting with the critters we walked around the farm and came upon an educational garden sponsored by non-profit Sauvie Island Center, where volunteers were hard at work. We learned about their methods and were invited to help ourselves to flowers and fruit.
A friendly Topaz farm goat!
We have been so very fortunate. All our travels so far have been educational, safe, and fun. This life suits us to a tee, and we feel grateful each day to be living it. We have about a week and a half left in Portland before we head to Seattle. Stay tuned!
Flowers from the farmers’ market