Falling in Love with Portland, Oregon

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I’m treading water waiting to go on my next trip at the moment, but a year ago I was exploring the United States and spending every last cent I’d saved in South Korea on new clothes, new gadgets, and far too much fatty food. It’s no wonder the United States is the world’s most obese nation. If we had access to the decadence of 90 cent fountain soda, 24 hour breakfast diners, and a thousand fast food chains – we’d be in the same boat. It’s a junk food lovers paradise.

But I digress.

A year ago I went on a six week expedition around America’s North West – taking in sights in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington State, Arizona, and Nevada. It was utterly fantastic and an experience I never really documented. So, while I wait for my next adventure to begin, here’s some of my US adventures!

A Rough Start

I remember waking up to a cool Idaho morning and knowing right away that I had not gotten enough sleep. Fallon and I had been up until the wee hours of the morning creating and burning nine different mix CDs for our six hour drive to Portland. It was 6am and we had a long day ahead of us.

As we hurriedly moved our bags out to Fallon’s parents Celica a phone call almost derailed our entire trip. Fallon’s grandfather had been rushed to hospital with heart complications and nobody was sure if he’d pull through. There was a tough moment as Fallon tried to decide whether it was best to go ahead with the trip or stay at home with the family in anticipation of the worst. It was her mother who made our decision for us – insisting that we get out and go on our ten day trip to Portland we’d been so excited about.

Portland for Fallon was a lot like Armidale for me. It was the town she did her growing up in and a town about which she had a great many fond memories. In addition to that, her best friends in the world were living there.

So it was that we found ourselves on the road from Couer D’Alene to Portland with full Bubba Kegs (massive drinking cups that are tapered to fit into a cup holder) and an arm full of snacks. True to Fallon’s warning, the terrain we passed along the way was thirteen flavours of boring.

And I say this having grown up in rural Australia – the land of brown grass, endless pastures, and tiny towns that don’t ever shut down because they’ve never really woken up.

We were about 45 miles out of Kennewick, Washington when Fallon’s Mom texted with the news that Fallon’s grandfather had passed away. On a busy freeway, I had to content myself with holding Fallon’s hand as tears rolled down her cheeks.

There’s a strange kind of powerlessness you feel when somebody you love is going through something and the only help you can offer them is your presence – but I did the best I could as we pulled off the freeway and I stepped out of the car and held her while she cried on my shoulder.

Getting it out of her system seemed to help, but before we could pull away to continue on to Portland – we realized she’d left her purse behind in Kennewick. I think this very nearly pushed her over the edge – but I managed to diffuse the situation by maintaining my cool, calling 411 to get some details, and then confirming with the staff at Carls Jr. that they still had her bag. Still, she wasn’t happy with herself as we made the 90 mile detour to pick it up.

The remainder of our journey was easier. With the news of her grandfather’s passing confirmed, it no longer hung over us and we could make plans to attend the funeral. With the knowledge that the funeral would be Monday – we resolved to do three days in Portland, make the drive down to American Falls, and then trek back up to finish the detailed Portland itinerary that Fallon had spent countless nights in Korea planning.

Portland – Food, Booze, and Shopping

DID YOU KNOW: Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon is the largest independent bookstore in the United States. It takes up an entire city block.

Between our detour and our numerous snack related stops along the way, we didn’t reach Portland until around 6pm. We made a hurried stop at Fallon’s friend Adam’s to drop off our things and change out of our stinky travel clothes. Adam is Fallon’s oldest and closest friend – they were born just three months apart and have known one another since then. He’s the kid that – when they were both five – their parents joked about her marrying, but they’ve known one another so long now that he’s more a brother to her than a friend.

I can’t say that I’ve ever really had a friendship like that. My oldest continuous friendship only stretches back as far as my first year of high school. One of the side effects of having a father whose job moved him all around the state when I was young. I’d gone to six different schools before I even reached high school.

From there, we were back into the car not long after that to meet up with Fallon’s other best friend, Jenny. A little nervous about meeting the best female friend Fallon has, we waited outside PF Chang’s and were soon joined by her. Dinner was good, although I was basically a spectator as the two caught up on 14 months gossip. After a meal of Singapore noodles, lettuce rolls, and a few beers – we headed over to Powell’s books – which is the largest bookstore on the West Coast and the largest independent bookstore in the United States. For the princely sum of $20 I managed to pick up Black House by Stephen King & Peter Straub; the first book in Glen Cook’s Instrumentalities of Night series; and the complete first book of the Gunslinger Born graphic novel by Stephen King with Marvel Comics. I was very stoked about that.

I have to say, shopping in the United States is a dream. Australia’s ridiculously inflated prices on just about everything are one of the key reasons why I like to travel. I like nice things, but they’re easier to buy just about anyplace else.

After that, it was time to part ways – and we headed back to Adam’s place for some drinks with Adam, his housemate, and Cody & Dez (friends from South Korea). It was pretty low key. Fallon had three beers to my one; we all feasted on the orange cinnamon rolls Desiree had baked earlier; and it was bed by midnight for a very drunk Fallon and I.

Thursday saw us up early for our day of shopping – which was particularly important now that we knew we’d have a funeral to attend. After a breakfast of Fudd Rucker’s (amazing) we first stopped at the Croc’s Store so that Fallon could pick up a pair of heels she’d seen. We’re both staunch Crocs haters, but these were some damn nice looking shoes – and with them having a 2 for 1 sale, I also picked up a much needed pair of thongs (flip flops or jandals if you’re not Australian).

From there it was out to the Woodburn Outlet Malls. Over the next five hours I spent my full $250 clothes budget between Banana Republic, Gap, Eddie Bauer, and Colombia as I picked up a pair of cords, a pair of cargoes, a pair of khakis, a sweater, a coat, a hoodie, two pairs of shorts, two long sleeved shirts, a polo shirt, and two or three t-shirts. Fallon also got some pretty fantastic clothes, and soon we were headed back to Portland proper.

Dear Australia: Where are your Outlet Malls?

We stopped off at a mall on the way home to visit a Build-a-Bear store, where we made one another talking bears to keep us company for the two months we’ll be apart. Fallon made me a dog cheerleader named Pepper that proudly announces: “You’re my favorite, and I love you” when its paw is squeezed. In return, she got a teddy bear in a hoodie and underpants by the name of Snickelfritz that tells Fallon: “Love you lots and lots, pretty lady. Can’t wait to show you around Australia”.

In hindsight, that bear stopped making sense about three months later when she moved to Australia.

With that syrupy sweetness done, we headed to the famous Raccoon Lodge for dinner. Having had burgers for breakfast, Fallon and I decided to split the Ring Tail Burger and an order of fries while we sank a few beers.

Are you getting the central theme here? Food, beers, and shopping. I promise – we actually do stuff sometimes too!

Portland Brewery Tour

DID YOU KNOW: Portland, Oregon has more microbreweries per capita than any other city in the United States?

Friday rolled around with us ready for the brewery tour Fallon had designed for us. Adam, Cody, and Desiree joined us as it kicked off at Widmer brewery at aroud 1pm. We had lunch (I had my first reuben) and Fallon and I split a sampler of six beers to kick things off. Fallon’s favorite beer is a Widmer Hefeweizen, so she was happy with that.

Adam nursing a beer as big as his head at Widmer Brewery

Next up was Lucky Lab. The beers we tried there weren’t so hot, but we had a good slice of vegetarian pizza. The brewery itself was inside a big, German style beer hall which might have been more impressive if we hadn’t been the only ones in it. The massive engine block suspended immediately over my head as I drink didn’t exactly fill me with confidence either. Visions of Final Destination danced in my head.

Ominous...

Then it was over to Laurelwood’s restaurant, where we had another eight beer sampler that was quite good. We also split the nachos plate and all five of us shared a slice of their famous carrot cake. It really was borderline orgasm inducing.

The prettiest beer menu on earth

It was at Laurelwood we parted ways with Cody & Dez, who had a family thing to attend – but Adam, Fallon, and I pressed on to the Rogue Brewery. Well, the brewery is actually in Astoria – but we still managed an eight beer sampler that probably produced the most likable beers of the day. Their Pumpkin Frog; Sesquicentenial, Pale Ale, and Kel’s Irish were amazing. Our last stop was too busy, so we instead headed straight to dinner at E-San, which is Fallon’s favorite Thai restaurant in Portland. I was not disappointed. We shared the Pad Thai and a chicken dish on coconut rice that I can’t remember the name of for the life of me. But damned if they weren’t both amazing.

The tour was over, but the night was not – so we headed to Ground Kontrol, which is an arcade that serves alcohol and still only charges in quarters. Adam, Cody, and I teamed up on Sunset Riders and managed to finish it – with me getting the second highest score of all time for the low, low price of $3.75. That was a lot of continues, given you get three lives for a quarter.

After that I played some pinball and watched Dez & Fallon failing epically on Dance Dance Revolution. With everyone’s quarters exhausted, we went by the famous Voodoo Donuts for a snack. Voodoo do a lot of more ‘adult’ donuts, and actually had Pepto and Nyquil filled donuts until about a year ago. We decided to get a selection. Fallon and Adam both got the Memphis Mafia (a donut covered in chocolate, peanut butter, and banana); I got one with fruit loops; Desiree got the eponymous Voodoo (shaped like a man, filled with raspberry sauce, and with a chocolate coated pretzel stick to stab him); and Cody got the Maple & Bacon (which is exactly what it sounds like). We ate our fill and then it was off to the Boiler Room – Fallon’s favorite karaoke joint from her college years.

It bleeds jam!
Fruit Loops and donuts - together at last!

Life has an annoying way of changing things we loved, and it was that way for the Boiler Room. What had once been a chill place to sing had become a meat market, so our stay was brief before we decided to make the 10.30pm showing of the very, very, very awesome Zombieland.

By the time the movie finished it was almost 1am, so we retired to bed knowing we had a full day of parties for the Saturday.

Saturday rolled around with us due at Cody & Dez’s second wedding reception (the first having been in South Korea) at 11am. The reception was pretty fun. I mostly sat around chatting to Adam, Jacob, Jen, David (Fallon’s ex, who is now engaged), Johanna, and Bobby (the latter two being former classmates from PSU) – but Fallon and I also stole a good half hour nap on the love-seat as we soaked in the last of the summer sun.

After the reception it was naps, Baja Fresh for dinner, and then it was time for what was supposed to be my first American kegger. But with no keg and only about a dozen people, it ended up being a far more mellow affair. While Fallon caught up with old friends – I alternated between explaining the rules of rugby league to curious Americans; watching European Vacation in the living room; and being a little bored. I had no complaints when it was time to unroll the air mattress and go to bed at midnight.

That brings us to the sad part of the trip which, while significant to Fallon, doesn’t really have any place in a travel blog. More Portland adventures to follow at some later date.

Links!

In case you are curious about any of the places visited in this post, I’ve tracked down links for you. Aren’t I generous?

Powell’s Books – http://www.powells.com/
An entire city block of books, stationary, and gift ideas. I could have spent an entire day wandering around this place and still wanted more time. If you’re ever in Portland, pay it a visit. You won’t be disappointed.

Voodoo Donuts – http://www.voodoodoughnut.com/
Fantastic, devilishly adult donuts. It’s only open after 10pm – so it’s a perfect place for drunken revelers to stumble when they have a hankering for something unhealthy.

Widmer Brewery – http://www.widmer.com/
Makers of the fantastic Widmer Hefeweizen.

The Lucky Lab – http://www.luckylab.com/
Not the best brewery I visited in Portland, but it has a fantastic beer hall design and affordable pizza slices. Worth a look.

Laurelwood – http://www.laurelwoodbrewpub.com/
Visit for the carrot cake alone. I cannot stress how amazingly, toe-curlingly good the carrot cake was. The beer ‘aint half bad either. A tad pricey though.

Rogue Brewery – http://www.rogue.com/
Astoria’s best export since The Goonies. See the entry body for my beer recommendations.

Ground Kontrol – http://www.groundkontrol.com/
All the fun of classic arcade games at classic arcade game prices and it’s licensed. Play the original Donkey Kong while throwing back dirt cheap PBR.

E-San – http://www.e-santhai.com/
Hands down – the best Thai food I have ever eaten. Granted I’ve not been to Thailand (yet) but it beats anything I’ve had in Australia.

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