A New Favourite…?

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After telling people I’m travelling across the USA for two months and ignoring their bemused expressions, I usually get asked “so what do you think of the US?”. I ramble on about the friendly people, great museums or whatever. However I tend to always finish with “but I wouldn’t want to live here.”

Well if I said that now, I’d be lying. Because?

Because Portland.

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In a bid to get me to stay longer with him, I was assured by my Seattle host Eric that Portland was compact and could easily be explored in a day. Turns out he was right, however that doesn’t mean it hasn’t got much to offer. My host here, Ty, gave me an extremely comprehensive tour of the city.

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The creator of The Simpsons, Matt Groening, went to high school in Portland. This can be found in the sidewalk near the school

He took me from forested hilltop mansions to riverside handicraft markets, through gritty industrial areas as well as gentrified shopping districts, and down super trendy bohemian neighbourhoods that were a hipster’s paradise. In just a few hours! Portland takes everything that’s great about the Pacific Northwest and delivers it in an extremely manageable package. Exploring here made me realise the problem with Seattle – it’s too big, impersonal and impenetrable. Portland feels like a city you can really get to know. My only regret is how little time I spent here.

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Pittock Mansion. It was built in the early 1900s, so is ancient by American standards
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The distinctive Convention Centre building

So our first stop was the Pittock Mansion, in Forest Park. Perched on the top of a hill surrounded by lush and mossy forest, its grounds provide a beautiful view of the entire city. We hiked down the muddy paths through the healthiest woodland you ever saw. I could attempt to describe it but here are some photos instead…

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The trail came out in an upmarket residential neighbourhood that soon gave way to the awesome 23rd Street (or trendy-third) where we had some delicious ice cream from some place. We made for the waterfront park where the crafts market was, before crossing the bridge (Portland is oft nicknamed Bridgetown for the 11 bridges that cross the Willamette) and eating lunch at Red Robin.

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Looking back at the city over the Willamette River

After that we took a ride on the cable car, and walked back down the hill and through the university campus. We were heading for the Pearl district, which used to be an industrial, bum-infested and rundown place until extensive gentrification happened. Now its super swanky with nice restaurants and bars, modern city parks and sculptures, and a load of swish looking apartment blocks. In this area was the superb bookstore – Powells. It’s gigantic and essentially a bookworms paradise. Plus having my name on every single item made it feel like everything there already belonged to me. I couldn’t resist buying some merchandise (a lot) with the Powell logo on it…

I didn’t see much of the nightlife (the two nights I was around were a Sunday and a Monday) but Ty and I had a great time hanging out at his place in Beaverton. We saw the movie Wild, with Reese Witherspoon (who we both agreed was superb and much more attractive than we used to think), played Animalopoly, Scrabble and Uno, ate out at IHOP, grabbed pizza and beers… all good times. Plus he has two cats, Milo and Simba, who were both very entertaining. Apparently they miss me 😉

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Simba resting in my lap after fighting with Milo the whole day

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What I liked most about Portland was how it had everything so tantalisingly close. You have beautiful beaches a couple of hours West and beautiful mountains a couple of hours East, with forests all around (the only flaw of London I can think of). It’s even just two hours North to Seattle, if you want a big city to hang out in. Portland itself was stylish, accessible, full of character, safe, youthful and affordable. A little like Berlin if you scrubbed it clean and provided jobs for the unemployed.

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So I had a very brief but memorable stay in Portland. I wish I could have stayed longer, had better weather, seen the surrounding countryside (Oregon is a gorgeous state I’ve heard) but alas, I’m already on my way to the next destination (after a little bit of difficulty…). But no doubt I will return to Portland some day. As I said – I could totally see myself living there. The first US city that’s won me over. Although I expect the next place will also be a contender…

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