Traveling has always been something important in my life. Either it is a trip to a provincial park I have never been to before or taking a plane to Greece, I love everything about it: dreaming about it, anticipating what it will fell like to be there, what I will see and experience, planning the trip, deciding what to bring, to actually being there and then the journey back home. This summer, I had the chance to explore a whole lot of what our southern neighbours have to offer.
To give you the full picture, Jacob and I did a pretty cool road trip back in July. Since I had to go to Kelowna, British Columbia, for work in early July, Jacob decided to leave in advance and drove from Ottawa to Kelowna – about 40hrs give or take. From there, we drove to Vancouver where we spent a couple days, then headed to Portland and made our way to the Oregon coast. We later drove through the incredible landscapes of Montana, fell in love with Missoula, and stopped for 4 days in Yellowstone National Park. We then made it to the Badlands in South Dakota and drove back to Ottawa. This post is about our short dip into Portland’s culture and awesome vibe.
We left our hostel in Vancouver on a sunny and beautiful Saturday morning, excited for some quiet time on the road after spending the last two days in the heart of a busy city. We had our passports, lots of water, a new indie playlist on our iPod, and fresh coffee to start the 6 hour drive (that would end up taking us almost 10). We took it very easy, stopped to eat a bite around lunch time and to refill on Starbucks. We arrived a bit late, showered, and fell asleep in a matter of minutes.
The next morning, the sun pulled us out of bed early. We were pretty excited to be in Portland but since the decision to go to this Oregon city was made when we were in Vancouver, we were not quite sure what to do or where to go. So the nerd in me Googled “best restaurants in Portland” and “what to do in Portland” and “tourist center Portland”. After grabbing a coffee and learning that the unofficial motto of the city is “Keep Portland Weird,” we navigated through downtown and stopped at Camera World on 6th avenue. Jacob was amazed by all the equipment that was available. “We don’t have half of that in our stores in Ottawa,” he would say, and then walk around the room for the 30th time.
We walked through downtown the entire day. It was incredible to see all the small restaurants, the independent stores, the creative art. As we were walking towards Powell’s, we stopped at a store named Animal Traffic. Inside were vintage clothes for men and women, lots of craft, cool boots and bags. What I also liked was that the fitting rooms and shelves were made or old barn siding, barn doors and beams that came from regional farm buildings. I especially loved the selection of handmade jewels from local artists. I ended up buying a beautiful bracelet as well as a neckless that had a coyote tooth dangling from it, followed by a strange discussion between me and the guy at the cash registrer, asking him to confirm that “no animals were hurt to make this neckless!” He promised.
Walking around, I noticed a lot of breweries. I would later learn that Portland has more craft breweries that any other city on earth – that is pretty impressive. No matter where you are in the city, you are pretty much always close to a fresh beer from one of the 60 breweries.
I don’t think anyone can go to Portland without going to Powell’s. I wrote about Powell’s in a recent post so I won’t repeat myself. But I will say that Powell’s bookstore is simply amazing. There is so much to explore, so many books and authors to discover. I would have easily spent my entire day between those wood shelves and the smell of old and new books.
When we left Powell’s, I told Jacob I was hungry and turned out it was almost 2 o’clock. The good news was that we were super close to Clyde Common, a restaurant opened in 2007 by Nate Tilden and Matt Piacentini that I really wanted to try but couldn’t get a table that night (I tried, believe me). However, they were still serving brunch and Jacob and I got a lovely table outside of their beautiful, European style restaurant with inviting atmosphere.
I had read the restaurant had some of the best cocktails in town. We ordered our drinks, created by the renowned mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler, based on our waitresses recommendation and took our time to decide what to eat. I had read about Clyde Common on the Internet, learning that it was one of the downtown hot spots – named a couple of years ago as one of the best 50 bars in America by Esquire and Food & Wine Magazine.
While sipping my drink, I finally ordered the Brunch Board, which consisted of a house bagel, sesame crackers, a smoked pickled egg, some bacon jam, lavender chevre, blueberry jam and honey. Jacob decided to go with an Olympia Provisions mortadella sandwich. The food arrived shortly after and was absolutely delicious. The flavours on the board were perfectly balanced: the sweetness balancing the saltiness, the pickled food bringing some acidity to the pallet without being over powering. Jacob’s sandwich was huge, had a fresh runny egg in the middle and the bread was toasted to perfection.
It was a beautiful day – the temperature was warm, but not too hot. Our legs were tired but our spirits were high. How lucky we were to be sitting on the patio of a great restaurant in Portland on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
We kept walking around for a couple hours, stopping here and there. That afternoon Jacob found some kickass Danner boots made in Portland. This is actually another seducing character of the city: people take a lot of pride into producing things locally and selling it at a fair price for the workers. You end up paying a bit more for your shoes, but at the same time you know that you supported the manufacturing industry of the region, gave someone a living wage – and that feels good. We also stopped at Will Leather Goods where I saw the most amazing apron that I am hoping a certain person will eventually get me for a certain special occasion (wink wink) – that or one of their vintage bag will do!
That evening, we went out to the Imperial restaurant. I have to admit that picking restaurants was the hardest task to do while in Portland. They know how to make food and they celebrate it in so many different and delicious ways. Browsing through the Internet you feel like you wouldn’t be able to taste everything the city has to offer, even in a full year. It comes as no secret that some of the most renowned chefs in America live in Portland.
That evening, Jacob and I had lots to drink and lots to eat and stayed a long while at the restaurant, enjoying ourselves and feeling lucky to be able to do all this. We started with some fresh oysters, followed by some pasta for me and some Tails and Trotters Bacon Chop, made in a wood fire oven (the speciality of the house) for Jacob. The food was good. The pork seemed a little under cooked to us but we were reassured by our waiter that that is how they cooked the pork in the restaurant and that it was perfectly acceptable. I think what we liked the most was the feeling to be on vacation, eating slowly, enjoying each bite, and the overall ambiance of the restaurant which, for a Sunday evening, was completely full – like still a lineup-on-to-the-street-for-dinner-at-9:30p.m. kind of busy.
I wish we had had more time to spend there, to explore furthermore. Portland is a city that has a lot to offer. It is very easy to feel comfortable in those artsy streets. It is inspiring because, instead of building its stores and restaurants to attract clients, you could feel the authenticity and spirit of each place. It was like walking into someone’s vision, someone’s space. And the best part is that I never felt out of place. Everyone was nice to us, wanted to know where we were from and how we ended up there. And we wanted to know more about them. Jacob and I thought that if we were ever to move to the States, it could easily be to Portland.
We left Portland for the Oregon coast the next morning.