After a fantastic first day in Portland, I was excited to see what other charms the city had to offer. EZ and I decided to kick off the second day by walking to a highly recommended rose garden. The rest of the crew had woken up early to check out a waterfall just outside of town, but EZ and I decided to visit that particular wonder later in the afternoon the next day.
So we set off, just the two of us, into the streets of Portland. It was mid-morning on a Sunday, but the city was empty. No lines queued up at the local brunch spots, no shoppers getting an early start to their day. Apparently, Portland is a city that wakes up late.
The walk to the rose garden was about 1.5 miles, but I didn’t mind. There was plenty to look at. We spotted some more public art, including a hill of bicycles crowned with a golden bike, as well as a massive grinning mask in front of the soccer stadium.
Finally, we approached Washington Park, entering a wooded area lush with green. The sprawling park encompasses a variety of attractions, including a holocaust memorial, the rose garden, a Japanese garden, a zoo, a playground, a museum, an arboretum, a Vietnam veteran’s memorial, and a railway. However, EZ and I only visited a select few.
Oregon Holocaust Memorial
When we visited Paris last year, EZ and I had stumbled upon a powerful Holocaust memorial that evoked confinement and captivity. The Oregon Holocaust Memorial, while equally emotional, was permeated by a very different aura. Instead of the enclosure of a barred grotto, this memorial was placed under the guardianship of towering trees. Here, it felt peaceful. Surrounded by beauty. But also, sadness. A deep quiet vibrated with the memory of devastation.
A cobblestone path led to a curved wall of inscriptions. But along the path, bronze objects: a briefcase here, a teddy bear there, a pair of spectacles left behind. They were strewn helter-skelter, symbols of loss, of daily life gone horribly wrong.
We walked slowly down the path, each object searing itself into our minds. Conjuring images of people, of mothers and fathers and children. The wall is full of inscriptions.
On the front side, a history of the Holocaust, accompanied by heart-rending quotations from survivors. A reminder of the human capacity for evil. A tribute to the human capacity for survival.
On the back side, names of those who died in the concentration camps, and names of their kin in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Acknowledgements of non-Jews who were also persecuted by the Nazis – the Romanis, the Slavs, the homosexuals, the disabled…among others. A final inscription – a commentary on the vast range of humanity, a plea appealing to the goodness within every individual.
Out of respect, I did not take photographs within the memorial…except for one. These words left a mark on me, and I felt compelled to share them.
Misty-eyed and achey-hearted, we walked back across the path.
International Rose Test Garden
Wandering through the greenery, we soon came upon The International Rose Test Garden, and a breeze carried the sweet, floral scent to us like a gift. It was a balm for the soul. Before us lay thousands of beautiful roses. Roses of every hue, size, and type. We strolled up and down rows and rows of lovely, lavish roses.
In addition to being a free, gorgeous attraction, the International Rose Test Garden receives new rose cultivars from all over the world and tests them for color, fragrance, and resistance to disease, among other characteristics. Awards are issued to roses of merit. No wonder Portland is known as the City of Roses.
Once we’d had our fill of flowers, EZ and I continued our walk through Washington Park. We passed a large, whimsical playground for children and a small museum of natural artifacts. Speaking of natural artifacts, we also spotted a banana slug at our feet.
After a bit, we decided to follow a small trail that caught our eye. Here, minutes from downtown Portland, we felt lost in some deep, mystical forest. Dense and verdant, it was unlike any hike we had been on in California.
“I’m pretty sure this is where most of those X-files episodes were shot,” I said.
The trail soon ended, leading us to a green space where children were playing soccer. Since we were growing hungry, we circled back toward downtown. Excited for our next culinary adventure.
Pine State Biscuits and Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider Taproom
EZ’s hankering for fried chicken reasserted itself, while I yearned for brunchy food. After referring to our recommendations from friends, I fell upon an eatery that would satisfy what each of us pined for: Pine State Biscuits.
Since the location downtown was closed, EZ and I hopped on a bus that took us across the river to the Northeast Quadrant of Portland (in case you’re unfamiliar with the lay of the land, as we were, Portland is divided into quadrants, with the Wilammette River splitting the east and west sides of town and Burnside Street splitting the north and south sides of town). In other words, we departed the downtown area and ventured into more residential territory. Still, many of the residential neighborhoods of Portland include their own walkable strips of food, bars, and shops.
Pine State Biscuits was a small, busy place that shared a location with Sizzle Pie, a pizza joint. As EZ and I put in our orders at the cash register, we noticed that all the seats were occupied. The cashier recommended we take our orders to-go and eat at the nearby ciderhouse. It sounded like a good plan to us, so we sipped on some drinks while waiting for our orders, then took the bags out and around the corner.
We soon found Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider Taproom. I grabbed myself some cider at the bar, then EZ and I settled into some seats around a cider barrel, opening our takeout containers with grumbling stomachs and simmering anticipation.
I didn’t care that our dishes were not as visually appealing tucked into the takeout containers as they might have been if artfully displayed on actual plates. Our food was amazing. I had ordered The Chatfield, which is a biscuit sandwich with crispy fried chicken, bacon, and cheese, topped with sweet apple butter. EZ had ordered the McIsley, which is a biscuit sandwich with crispy fried chicken, pickles, mustard (oozing with whole mustard seeds), and honey. Buttery, sweet and savory goodness.
For good measure, we had also gotten fried green tomatoes and Cajun fries. I swear, the fried green tomatoes were a revelation! Can we just replace all French fries with fried green tomatoes, please?!
I washed down all my comfort food with Revival, a sweet, cold cider that hit the spot. After so much cider, my bladder soon grew full. EZ told me to take a closer look at the cider tanks as I made my way across the cidery and to the restroom. And what did I see? Each tank had been named after a different god. Alas, I had been drinking an elixir of the gods!
Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
We ambled through the beautiful neighborhood of the Northeast Quadrant, walking off our heavy meal. The houses were lovely – lots of Craftsman homes, with no two alike. This was no cookie-cutter tract development. This place had character.
The front yards burgeoned and bloomed – fronds, foliage, and flowers spilled over onto sidewalks. Along the curb patch in front of one house, someone had created a whimsical little fairy house at the mossy base of a tree.
We also passed Portland’s White House, a bed and breakfast in the Historic Irvington District that was built as a Greek Revival Mansion in 1911.
Fire on the Mountain
After exploring the neighborhood for a while, EZ’s friend DG picked us up in his car and took us to Fire on the Mountain, where GS, NR, KB, and KO would soon meet up with us. The place was casual, with a relaxed, slightly funky vibe and a burnt orange palette. Fire on the Mountain is notorious for its chicken wings and wide assortment of homemade sauces, along with its variety of fried munchies. However, EZ, DG, and I just ordered some beers. I was still quite full from my biscuity brunch.
We settled into a booth, and DG, who had lived in Portland for a few years, explained that he went to dental school in the city. He’d recently been on a group trip to Thailand where he provided dental care for poor villagers. While school now took up most of DG’s time, with no other passionate pursuit like PK’s woodworking, he seemed to be happy studying and living in Portland.
Soon, we were joined by KB and KO, along with NR and GS, who had returned from the waterfall. Although they enjoyed the excursion, they seemed a bit tired from the hike before the hike…that is, the hike up a hill to the house that provided their GetAround (rentable car from fellow consumers via an app). Needless to say, they were hungry. They ordered food and drinks, including a dish of deep-fried Oreos that I sampled. They tasted a bit like donut holes with classic Oreo cores…yummy.
¿Por Qué No?
My appetite was beginning to return. After they’d had their fill of fried food, our crew (minus DG) headed to ¿Por Qué No? Taqueria to partake in tacos. Why not, right?
It was an enchanting little teal blue building adorned with various decorative artifacts, and the décor only got better inside. Brick, teal, and red walls were accented by a haphazard hodgepodge of art and ornamentation. The wooden beams above supported an array of lanterns, colored strings of light, and a disco ball. Shelving displayed colorful knick knacks, plants, and bottles. All in all, it was a vibrant and festive atmosphere.
As a SoCal native, I felt skeptical of Portland’s tacos. But I need not have worried; I tucked into my juicy Barbacoa as ravenously as I would a tasty taco from LA’s finest taco trucks and taquerias.
What luck! Just next door to the taqueria was Ruby Jewel, an ice cream parlor. While EZ remained outside, chatting with an old man about the good old days (sometimes I’m convinced that EZ is an old man on the inside), the rest of us popped in for a sweet treat.
The others sampled a flight of ice creams, but I contented myself with an ice cream sandwich of dark chocolate cookies paired with mint ice cream. It was quite refreshing, although the cookie was a bit crunchier than I expected.
Our group posed for a Polaroid that would be proudly displayed on Ruby Jewel’s hall of fame.
The six of us crammed into the GetAround car. We dropped KB and KO off downtown, the continued onward to drop off the car with its rightful owner. As it happened, the rightful owner lived at the top of a hill (which KO had bemoaned earlier, as this resulted in the hike to pick up the car before the actual hike to the falls). Luckily, we drove up the hill to drop off the car, leaving a downward slope back toward downtown.
The walk down the hill took us through wealthy neighborhoods with big, gorgeous houses, blossoming dogwood trees, and picturesque gardens. At one point, a clearing between homes revealed a stunning view of downtown.
Later that evening, after napping and freshening up at the hotel, our crew departed for Departure, a slightly upscale Asian fusion restaurant that seemed to have some kind of airport theme. At least, that’s what I gathered from the name and the modern octagonal entryway that led into the sleek interior.
Around us, I noticed that many girls were wearing clubby dresses. It was the most dressed up I had seen girls in Portland thus far. Although we had made a reservation, the hostess couldn’t find us a seat for a while. She seemed astonished that our entire party had actually arrived, and on time at that. So to the rooftop patio we went, grabbing some drinks at the bar and taking in the illuminated Portland skyline. It as a nice view, but not quite as interesting as the downtown LA skyline, or what I imagine the NY skyline is like.
Unfortunately, the rooftop happened to be cold and windy that night. Our group gathered around a heat lamp. On a bench nearby, a pair seemed to be on a first date. For some reason, a foreign flag was propped up on their table.
Finally, our table was ready indoors. We sat in the large booth and ordered a number of small plates to share from the late night menu, since dinner was no longer being served. Among our selections were skirt steak skewers with garlic and soy, grilled prawns with chili and lime, edamame, and spicy tuna bowl with avocado and white ponzu. The food was all delicious, but the portions were very small, while our appetites were large.
To remedy this, after departing Departure, we stopped in at another bar for a couple more drinks and then tracked down some pizza at Sizzle Pie. The pizza at Sizzle Pie was quite good…thin and crispy on the bottom, juicy and flavorful on the top. However, since our whole group ordered by the slice based on the slices available in the glass display case, we were confused as to why we didn’t receive our slices when we paid up front. Instead, we had to sit at a table and wait 15 more minutes for our numbers to be called before we could retrieve the slices that had been right before our eyes.
Still, by the end of the meal, our stomachs had been satiated and our eyelids began to droop with fatigue. The supernaturally comfortable beds of our hotel beckoned…
Continue reading: Portland – Day 3!