Month: June 2015

Passing the Time in Portland

The train ride to Portland was nice and comfortable (the train wasn’t very full, which helped) with great views.  I loved that there were tv screens throughout the cabins telling you what you were looking at as you passed by.  And the four-hour ride was only $26!  Hard to argue with that.

I got a cheap cab ride to my hotel and lamented that the area I was in didn’t look like it had much character or much going on.  I was completely wrong.  At first, I thought there were just divey bars or places that didn’t interest me very much.  I had thought Besaw’s, just two blocks from the hotel, only served breakfast and lunch, but it turned out they also served dinner most nights of the week.  I told myself I would have leftovers for the next morning, but my burger mysteriously disappeared.

The next day, I set out early to rent a car–I was tired of dealing with public transportation and also figured I’d be driving out a bit beyond its reach anyway.  I hadn’t made a prior reservation, so the woman working at Enterprise told me they only had a luxury car or a truck.  Neither of those sounded great to me, but I knew there was no way I could confidently drive a truck, so I chose the luxury car, a BMW.  Now, I have a poor opinion of people who drive them–many of the ones in Northern Virginia just tend to think they own everything and that you and the rules of the road are inconveniencing them–but man did I quickly come to enjoy that car.

I went to the Japanese Gardens and arrived just in time for a free tour to begin.  I was really glad to have had such an informative tour guide, because otherwise I wouldn’t have appreciated what I saw nearly as much.  The International Rose Test Garden is in the same park, so I found my way over there and ran into someone from the Japanese Garden tour and we palled around for a little while, eventually going to Dwaraka to get lunch from the buffet.  (I enjoyed the food until I found a hair.)

The pagoda near the entrance of the Japanese Gardens.
The pagoda near the entrance of the Japanese Gardens.

I had dinner plans with a friend that night, so I went back to my hotel to shower and chill for a while.  I wish I had made better use of my time that day by going to the Lan Su Chinese Garden, but oh well–next time.  I got a cab to Pok Pok, and the driver told me all about how Portland isn’t as great as it used to be now that all these new people are moving in, but he also made sure to tell me to get Pok Pok’s fish sauce wings.  Sounds weird, but he was right–they are delicious!  After dinner, my friend and I moved on to Noble Rot, a fantastic wine bar situated right outside downtown; in the evenings, you can get a view of the sun setting over the mountains behind the city.  We got the last table, so we lucked out, and we’d arrived just in time for sunset.  The atmosphere was nice and not too stuffy, and the waitress was really cool.  Again, the bar is in an industrial area and on the fourth floor of a building, so you kind of have to look for it, but definitely worth seeking out.

I was sad when my last full day of vacation rolled around–I had just gotten to Portland and now I had to get ready to leave.  I had breakfast at Besaw’s (on its last day open 😦 ) and took the car for an enjoyable drive out to Multnomah Falls, which I was only familiar with because I’d read about it in a novel.  I wanted to drive out to The Gorge, or at least deeper into the mountains, but hadn’t realized quite what a commitment that would be, so Multnomah Falls, 45 minutes outside Portland, was a good compromise.

Multnomah Falls

I came back to the hotel to shower and change before having a wander around.  From a map I’d seen of the Nob Hill neighborhood, a lot of interesting cafes and restaurants looked really far away, but weren’t at all.  I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to eat, but as I walked by Southland Whiskey Kitcken, I was enticed by the thought of BBQ and whiskey (and the ’90s-era Mariah Carey song playing outside).  I only wish I could’ve finished my dinner; it’s a shame to throw away good food.  I did manage to finish most of the local Oregon whiskey from my sampler though (the primary reason I didn’t was because the first had a bug in it).  I enjoyed the Burnside Bourbon sample best of all.  I was going to get ice cream from Salt & Straw, but the line didn’t move much in the 10 minutes I stood there, so I sauntered on until I found Moonstruck Chocolate (kind of regretting that decision upon seeing Salt & Straw’s flavor list now, but oh well).

Saturday morning, my friend met me at my hotel and we walked a few blocks over to the Industrial Cafe* for breakfast, where once again, my eyes proved bigger than my stomach**.  I managed to eat the side of bacon I’d ordered and one of the three massive slabs of French toast (I made sure to eat those candied walnuts though), and my friend ate another.  Before I knew it, I was back at the airport and genuinely bummed to be leaving.  I definitely look forward to going back.

*Apparently on this trip I visited at least two places (Ezell’s Chicken in Seattle and Portland’s Industrial Cafe) that Guy Fieri had featured on his show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  I did enjoy my meals from both places, but please let it be known that I hate that guy.

**I’m sure I would have finished more of my meals on vacation if not for my allergies, but it turns out I’m allergic to the Pacific Northwest, which is a shame, because I really like it there.


Ah, Seattle.  The best continuous calf workout of my life.  Seriously, they hurt pretty much the entire time I was there because of all the walking I did.  And the hills.

Saturday afternoon I just wandered around the city going to places like Pike Place Market and just generally getting a feel for things.  But I crashed by 7:45 since I’d been awake for 19 hours.

Sunday I went to the EMP Museum (f.k.a. the Experience Music Project), which was one of my main attractions in Seattle.  I was beyond excited to find out that there was a Star Wars costume exhibit that was having its world premiere there (shoutout to the Smithsonian!), and I geeked out during the entire walkthrough.  I had always loved Padme’s clothes and could have stared at her outfits all day.  But there were yet other interesting permanent exhibits at the EMP, such as the fantastic Fantasy exhibit, which features outfits and props from Game of Thrones, LabyrinthThe Princess Bride, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies, and more.  The exhibit talks about the different character archetypes in fantasy stories (The Fool, The Maiden Warrior, etc.) and you can take a quiz to determine which one you are.  The Infinite Worlds sci-fi exhibit was cool, although I was personally disappointed that there were only two props from Doctor Who, a show that’s been on for over 50 years.  But there were a lot of other things to check out, like outfits and props from TerminatorAlien, and the more recent iteration of Battlestar Galactica.  There was also a whole exhibit on Nirvana, which I feel like as a music nerd I should have found more interesting, but the grunge movement happened when I was too young to understand or appreciate it.  Maybe you had to be there?  There’s the Sound Lab, where you can attempt to make music with a number of different instruments, and you can even record a song or video and take it with you! The ultimate souvenir, right?

After leaving the EMP, I found my way back to Pike Place and bought souvenirs at the original Starbucks, which itself is not much to see–they offer a lot of memorabilia and coffee drinks and that’s about it.  It might be a little disappointing if you want the full “Starbucks experience” after you’ve been standing in line for about half an hour.  I also found the amazing Seattle Public Library Central branch downtown–in looking it up to write this post, I just found out there were tours of it, and I wish I had known that while I was there!  It’s a curious architectural marvel of oddly-angled glass and metal.

That evening, I hung out with a friend and former roommate who last year moved to the Seattle area, and we drove to West Seattle since the skies had cleared a little and the views out that way were really good.  But we found that the views weren’t quite up to what he’d hoped, and also that everything in West Seattle closes by 8 p.m. on Sundays, so we went to Taqueria el Rinconsito, a local Mexican chain.  The tacos were tiny, but they did not skimp on flavor.

Memorial Day was overcast and I had my friend drop me off at Boeing’s Museum of Flight, which is an excellent way of spending a bad weather day.  It reminded me a lot of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center out near Dulles Airport.  There’s a lot to see, and if you’re an aviation nerd, it’s a must-see. You can explore a plane that used to be Air Force One, a Concorde, and one of the 787 Dreamliners!  There were lots of fun flight-themed finds in the museum gift shop too, and I could have easily spent even more money than I did.  After I had finished exploring the museum, I caught a bus up the street to Georgetown, a part of town that requires a wander before you realize it has a record and comics shop and lots of great bars and restaurants like the excellent Fonda la Catrina (the mole sauce is amazing!), where I saw the staff from The Hangar Cafe, where I’d had fabulous breakfasts two days in a row.  There’s even a bar with old arcade games in it! (Apparently that’s a thing now. I’ve heard about them in other cities too.)

On Tuesday, my last full day in Seattle, the weather cleared some early in the morning, so I got an early start and was one of the first people to go to Columbia Tower Sky View Observatory that day.  It’s both cheaper and taller than the Space Needle (which I didn’t think looked that impressive in person), and it does have pretty sweet views.

I also took the ferry to Bainbridge Island, which is very picturesque and quiet, with a lot to offer. There’s an art museum, a walking trail, boutique shops, restaurants and bars, and wine tasting rooms and distilleries.  It would easy to fill at least one day here!

My friend came by that night to pick me up and we went to dinner at Ezell’s Chicken, which was indeed tasty, and I got a glimpse of the views from his apartment parking lot. This picture doesn’t even compare to his.

The view from my friend's apartment parking lot.  Horrible, right?
The view from my friend’s apartment parking lot. Horrible, right?

The next morning, my friend picked me up again and we ventured into the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle, which was super cute–my friend said he would even considering living there.  Not as industrial looking as Georgetown, with yet more shops, cafes, restaurants and bars lining the streets.  The buildings were more attractive, and the area had a lot to offer.  We were able to have a leisurely breakfast before driving around Seattle a little more.  We drove by a waterfall garden park right in the middle of downtown–I wish we’d had time to check it out, but I had a Portland-bound train to catch.

Seattle felt like a missed opportunity since the weather was less than ideal for views. I didn’t do much outdoorsy stuff in terms of going to parks or seeing views (shoutout to Chris at the Chocolate Box for giving me all these suggestions though).  Downtown Seattle to me felt like pretty much any other downtown area, but the neighborhoods were what made it for me.  I’d go back.  What did I think of Portland, you ask?  You’ll just have to read on!