Oct 29 2008

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Portland, Oregon, rain or shine

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Portlandoregon
By Joanna Wiebe

Because my heart belongs to a little girl in Portland, Oregond, we’re visiting the Rose City often.

Our greenest city (Popular Science, February 2008), Portland is an eclectic metropolis of about 540,000 people with a median age of 37. People walk, take public transit, ride bikes and carpool. They shop at outdoor farmers’ markets, Willamette Valley wineries and local brew pubs and microbreweries. It’s easy to visit the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade Mountains, for sightseeing or sport. The weather is temperate. For these and many other reasons, Portland gets rankings on “most livable city” lists.

On a July family vacation we took a tip from an OrbitzTLC Traveler Update contributor, and snagged a seat on the left forward facing side for a good view of Mount Hood as we flew into the Portland airport (PDX). From the air, on a clear day (on average, 143 yearly days of sunshine), it’s easy to see how the Willamette River splits the city into east and west.

Burnside Street divides the north from the south. However, a little wrinkle is that the northern section is further split into two: North, and Northeast. Knowing the names of the five Quadrants (OK, five pieces called quadrants, part of what helps “Keep Portland Weird”) helps you navigate: North, Northwest, Northeast, Southwest and Southeast.

My little sweetheart lives in the Southeast quadrant, with Portland’s only volcano, Mount Tabor, in biking distance at the end of the street. Portland City Code Title 13 allows residents to own chickens, and my granddaughter delights in feeding the three red hens who live in a coop on their lawn.

Getting around

We mostly got around by bike. With the highest percentage of bike commuters in the nation (3.5 percent), Portland has 250 miles of bikeways, and a 5,000–acre city park. Portland has been “Best cycling city in the USA” since 1995, per Bicycling Magazine. The City of Portland Office of Transportation has a fantastic, free bike map, “Portland by Bicycle,” widely available. The map is up to date with information on multi-use paths, shared roadways, bike lanes, shared roadways with wider outside lanes, bike route signs and markings, steep hills, major streets, MAX stations, and “difficult connections” where higher speeds and/or volumes, combined with narrow lane widths or other problems for cyclists. Bikes can be brought onto all TriMet buses and MAX for the regular fare. Bike storage lockers are also available at many transit centers and MAX stations. Bikes can be rented from at least six places. Find out everything you need to know about biking in Portland at bikeportland.org.

On residential streets, I was amazed to see so many cars that had been parked on the street for apparently a long time, for they were layered with dust and leaves from last autumn.

TriMet’s awesome online Trip Planner, also serves up satellite-verified actual arrival times for each TriMet stop, all day and night. Google Maps‘ “Use Public Transportation” option also serves up integrated walking and public transit directions matched to the TriMet schedule. Your transfer slip is good on the bus, MAX or streetcar, but not the tram.

The Portland Aerial Tram, from South Waterfront district to Oregon Health & Science University, is a three-minute cruise along 3,300 feet of cable.

Things to do

At Pioneer Courthouse Square, you can pick up information about local attractions at the Travel Portland Information Center. On a sunny day, pick from the many outdoor options.

On a January visit (about 46 inches of rain fall here per year) my whole family explored the aisles of the world-famous Powell’s City of Books, a bookstore on four floors of a city block. This is the largest independent bookstore in the U.S., with 1.5 million books in 3,500 different sections.

On my July visit, our toddler enjoyed a bike ride along the 2.6-mile Portland Fountains Walking Tour, which visits a dozen fountains, from the old (Skidmore Fountain, 1888) to the weird (The Car Wash, five graduated arcs with wind sensors).

One day, we drove to the Pacific coast tide pools at Ecola State Park, where the receding tide bared the rocks which were decorated with thousands of bright orange and purple sea stars, lime green anemones, hermit crabs, sculpins, muscles, limpets, barnacles, and more. On our way back, we visited the Tillamook cheese factory. In the visitor center we enjoyed freshly prepared waffle cones filled with ice cream in traditional and unusual flavors (Marionberry Pie, White Licorice, Mountain Huckleberry), and munched free cheese curds as we watched workers packaging enormous blocks of cheddar.

I spent an afternoon at the tranquil Portland Classical Chinese Garden, which grew from Portland’s sister city relationship with Suzhou, China. Building on a former parking lot, 65 workmen from Suzhou created the classical Chinese structures. Throughout the $12.8 million garden are placed large Tai Hu rocks, slender pillars of limestone mined from Lake Tai, a fresh-water lake near Suzhou. We sipped green tea in the  teahouse, sniffed fragrant magnolias, strolled pathways and bridges. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $5.50 for students. Children 5 and under are free. The garden is open to visitors seven days a week year-round, closing only on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

On that same trip, our teenager spent many hours at Portland’s numerous excellent guitar stores.  When we stepped on the MAX light rail, on our return to PDX at the end of our trip, we carried a new electric guitar and mandolin.

PDX is a great airport to spend time in while waiting for your flight. Both Portland-based Nike and Powell’s Books have stores in the airport’s Oregon Market, before security. Pick up a slice of gourmet Pizzicato pizza, or a Berry Zen Smoothie at Jamba Juice.

After security, we lingered at a handmade bike display, where we saw ten one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted machines that are functional works of art.

I’m going back in November for my granddaughter’s third birthday. I expect I’ll be spending much of my time in local playgrounds, but I also hope to take in some Wordstock events. If you’re planning a trip, find lots more options at www.travelportland.com.

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Joanna Wiebe is an Information Architect at Orbitz Worldwide, a homeschool parent, and a writer. But most of all, she’d rather be outdoors.

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