In many ways Portland was exactly how I imagined it. Bikes, beers, beards. It also confirmed a fear of mine: all major U.S cities are starting to look the same.
As I walked around the neatly, alphabetically ordered streets of the Pearl District in Portland, I couldn’t help but notice how all the new condominiums looked exactly like the ones in Denver, Atlanta, Chicago, Oakland, Brooklyn, and many other growing American cities. It begs the question, how does a city retain it’s own identity in this age of globalization while trying to accommodate its growing population? Obviously I don’t have the answers, I don’t have a clue.
Despite so, in each of the cities that I’ve visited, there is always something distinctly different about each place, and that’s the spirit of the people. If I had to describe the spirit of Portland, based on my four days there, I would say it’s a quiet, slightly melancholy, environmentally conscious, romantic, hipster. The pace is slower than the Bay Area, there are tons of breweries, public transportation that is efficient and affordable, the streets are clean, locals are friendly, and they offer good food (with tons of vegan options too.) I even ran into someone blowing bubbles in front of their house. It was like I walked into a fairytale. It sort of makes you wonder, what are its flaws?
Rain, so much rain. I’ve heard that the Northwest is a wet place, but I thought I’d at least see some sunshine. On my third day of walking around with soggy shoes, I finally ditched my cheap slip-ons for a pair of warm comfy, waterproof boots that I scored at the local thrift store for 10 bucks. In the Bay Area it’s not uncommon to see people wearing hiking boots because they’re probably going hiking, but people in Portland seem to be wearing hiking boots just because they’re going out. To be fair, I was told that I did come in a particularly wet time, and that the city was still cleaning the aftermath of a terrible snow storm in January.
According to Google, Portland has a population of around 600,000, and Oakland has about 400,000, and I would say that felt about right. Walking around town, you will see a decent amount of people out on the streets even though it’s raining. Here in the Bay Area, no one goes out when it’s raining. Downtown was lined with food trucks, or I should say pods, because they aren’t all mobile. Some stay there and are open the whole day.
Architecturally nothing in downtown really stood out to me. I was told that there were some historic buildings nearby worth checking out, but since I was short on time they weren’t really a priority for me. So I spent most of my days walking all over town, stopping by for a donut here, a burrito there, and some coffee. I did of course go to the famous Powell’s Book Store and perused for an hour. It reminded me of a much, much larger version of the Strands bookstore in New York City. After that I made my way to the water front area, but it was raining and there was not much for me to do except walk around some more.
At the heart of the trip were the people that I met at my hostel, and the stranger that treated me to ramen for no reason other than kindness. Shout out to my friend, Declan from New Zealand, and Christina and Allyson from Canada, and all the awesome people that I met on the art gallery walking tour. From each of you I learned something new, and you guys remind me of why I like to travel in the first place. Also Declan, I hope you finally got your SS#.
Other than that I spent the rest of my time admiring flowers, LOTS, and lots of beautiful flowers. In fact the entire time I was in Portland, I felt like I was walking around in one gigantic garden. I was a little disappointed when I went to the rose garden and didn’t see any, because they just trimmed all of them for the next budding, but it’s ok, at least I saw some pretty peonies and magnolias.
Even though it was a wet four days, I appreciated you Portland for the good food, cheap beer, and many awesome people. You were a good place to be when I wanted to get away from the Bay Area and needed a renewed sense for traveling. Next time I’m back, I hope you’re still as charming as could be, and I’ll be sure to bring a working umbrella and my waterproof boots.