Sunday, 1 September 2013

Four days in Portland, Oregon

Portland sits either side of the Willamette River, with eight bridges spanning the river downtown, including the Hawthorne Bridge, the oldest operating lift bridge in the US.   

The city claims to be the most bike- and foot-friendly city in the country, packed with proper cycle routes, and I found all drivers displaying courtesy to pedestrians that is unknown in UK cities.  Portland is known as Beervana: 31 breweries operate here, according to the Oregon Brewers Guild — more than any other city in the world.  Food carts are all the rage, with a rumoured 500 in the city, most gathered into “Pods" around the edges of car parks and other open spaces. are surface lots with more than a few carts.  

The Ace hotel, a very fashionable hangout in the city, opens its first European branch in London next month, in Shoreditch High Street, so I felt duty-bound to try the restaurant, Clyde Common.  Good food,  great design, and a lively atmosphere, which i thought would go down well in Shoreditch.  Then chatting to the manager she explained that they won't be having this restaurant - they are doing something else.

One of the "must do's" is a visit to Powell's City of Books, which is 1.6 acres of new and used volumes. It has the floorspace of a warehouse with the ambience of a living room (with, inevitably, great coffee) and people bring in books to be resold by the store.

On the west of the city, and at the highest point, Washington Park contains great attractions within its 400 acres.  Hoyt Arboretum has more than 1000 species of native and exotic trees and 12 miles of walking trails through its 187-acres.  There are also excellent views of the city and Mount Hood (3429m) from up here.

Also within Washington Park is the Japanese Gardens, proclaimed by the Japanese Ambassador the most authentic garden outside of Japan. It is 5.5 acres of beautifully laid out gardens, with very mature planting, and the typically tight pruning and shaping of trees and bushes.  As well as a tea house, and pavilion, all the settings display wonderful use of water, stone and gravel.   Very calm, very beautiful.

One thing I knew I had to do while over here was attend a game of American Football.  Like many people I'd seen brief extracts on TV, but never made an effort to understand it.  However, I knew that Martin Johnson, former captain of the England Rugby squad, was an avid fan, so I thought I'd make an effort to understand why it appealed to a rugby player.  On Thursday, the Portland State University team ( 'the Vikings') were to play their season-opener against Eastern Oregon University, tickets were available and cheap, so off I went. I'd found a useful one-page guide to American Football (the official rules run to over 100 pages).  Fuelled by beer and hot dogs, and with helpful guidance by veteran Vikings supporter Dave (sitting next to me), I had a splendid evening.   

The game time is 60 minutes - four quarters of 15 minutes.  Kick-off was 7.15. The final whistle sounded dead on 10.15.  Yes, folks, it takes three hours. Although there are only 11 players on the field at any one time, the two teams fielded 70 players each!  There is constant traffic of substitutions, the coaches apparently replacing good offensive players, with better defensive ones as the games moves forward and back.  

The home side also came complete with two dozen cheerleaders and gymnasts (male and female), and an excellent band. There are six officials on the field at all times, who use an arm waving technique (semaphore?) to report various infringements and misdemeanours to the referee.  

The home team won 57-17.

At the Portland Art Museum I saw a smashing exhibition "Cyclepedia - iconic bicycle design". 

"Drawn from the collection of Vienna-based designer and bike aficionado Michael Embacher, this special exhibition features some 40 bicycles, each chosen by Embacher as examples of pivotal moments in the evolution of bicycle design. The exhibition will include racing, mountain, single speed, touring, tandem, urban, folding, cargo, curiosities, and children’s bicycles."

A very early folding bike

An early attempt at a parent-and-child bike.  Note the tiny footrests for the child

Corima Cougar, produced in France for the '92 Olympics. Chris Boardman broke the world hour record on a Cougar in 1993

A bicycle in a suitcase, The Skoot, 2002

Exhibit no 43  "Flying Gate" designed by Trevor Jarvis in the 1930's.

I was impressed by the artwork over the side door to the Museum.  It's a letter P, for Portland.  On closer inspection you'll see it is made of cycle helmets.  Clever

The area i particularly enjoyed was the Pearl District, just northwest of downtown, an old industrial quarter, where former light industrial and redundant warehouse buildings have been converted into apartments, cool restaurants, small shops and microbreweries.

I was amused by the way this building has had extra floors added, with no attempt to disguise its former purpose, at least at the rear.....

....the front is more refined.

Portland is a great city to cycle, jog, and roll around, apart from the hill up to the park and forest, with long walkways of several miles along both banks of the river. It's relatively compact, with traffic light by UK standards.   Some other images from my visit:

Young couple saw a clever photo-op as the centre section of the bridge was raised

My morning breakfast stop: Northwest Coffee

A fairly ordinary building on the university campus...

....these dampers I assume are to help protect the building in an earthquake

I came across a location shoot for the locally-based TV drama Portlandia, but was quickly asked to stop taking photos.....

....I don't know if these pizza boxes are props, or are lunch for the crew and cast

I saw more beggars and apparently homeless than in any other city I have visited

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