Eating Our Way Through… Portland!

Hi Folks:

Well, in a fit of madness (spurred on by our son’s wedding at the end of June) we came home from Vancouver, changed clothes and escaped Victoria for a few days… going south to Seattle and Portland. We’d promised ourselves an adventure for the summer, and this was it! Most of our food posts have covered local restaurants; this will combine both food and travel information into one.

We left the island via the Victoria Clipper, something Marcia had experienced but Mike had not. Definitely not as fast as flying to Seattle’s harbour or SeaTac airport, but the experience lies in the journey itself. It’s about a 2½-hour ferry ride, plus the requisite Customs checks, etc. on both sides, but it’s really a wonderful way to see the Sargasso Sea and the San Juan Islands before arriving at Seattle’s bustling harbour. Neither of us had been to downtown Seattle before, so after we dropped our bags at the Hotel Seattle we headed off to see the sights. Our time in Seattle was short and in situations like that we tend to eschew visiting museums and the like and simply wander the streets, breathing in the living culture of wherever we happen to find ourselves. NB: If you’re one of Victoria’s pedicab drivers, do not think about moving to Seattle. I don’t think they make a gear low enough for some of those hills.

We had to experience the Pike Place Market, of course, although the sheer size of it took us by surprise. Not just one market, it spans several blocks, several floors and is largely divided into sections like the Fish Market, the Farmer’s Market, the Crafts Market, and more. There was much more to explore than we could fit in, so rather than trying to rush through everything, we simply enjoyed being in the moment wherever we were. We did stay to see the throwing of the fish… being tourists and all. AND, being coffee lovers we did make the (requisite) pilgrimage to the (pseudo) original Starbucks location. We passed on the touristy mementos but we did pick up a couple of chilled drinks to offset the mid-30s temperature and continued on. Wait: while we hate to despoil carefully-built illusions we must admit that we did discover at least one street corner in downtown Seattle that did not have a Starbucks on it… (heavy sigh).

One store at Pike Place Market we wandered into was Beecher’s Cheese, where we found an unexpected treat! In addition to a delectable selection of cheeses (some of which we purchased to enjoy later), we found bags of fresh cheese curds! Cheese curds are like candy to us and (unless one has ready access to a cheese factory) increasingly difficult to find. Coveting our treasures we continued on… exploring the different areas of the city, walking back down to the harbour, the Bell St. Pier, Seattle’s Great Wheel, etc. Both being photographers, we stopped wherever the muse dictated, making images as we went. We did have a wonderful lunch at a small café in the Market, but neither of us recorded the name of it and we weren’t able to find it again. Oh well… so many great restaurants, so little time!

As mentioned above, we spent the night at the Hotel Seattle before departing the next morning for Portland. It’s an older hotel and showing its age, but the staff were wonderful and the rooms were clean and well maintained. It served well for us and is only a 15-minute walk to the King St. Station, where we hopped the Amtrak train heading south.

We arrived in Portland a little later than expected but it all came together. We had booked a studio apartment in NE Portland through AirBNB and it worked out very well for us. On a quiet street, close to both grocery store and public transit it made the perfect launching pad for further adventures. It was larger than we had anticipated and had an excellent view of the towers of the Oregon Convention Center!

We’ll pause here to mention Portland’s excellent public transportation system. A combination of buses, street cars and light rail lines, we found them easy to negotiate (with Google Maps, an Android phone and a little pre-planning) and by purchasing day passes, quite inexpensive. We did walk a lot as well, of course!

On our first day we headed over to the north end of Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade which, (surprisingly enough) follows the east bank of the Willamette River. A mecca for pedestrians, rollerbladers and cyclists alike, we walked south for about an hour or so (it may have been longer as we had no schedule and stopped to make photographs as we went) to the Hawthorne Bridge where we crossed over the Willamette and followed the flow back north again. One thing in which we took great delight was seeing pianos set out in the various parks, inviting those interested to sit and play them! We were treated to several songs by different people, young and old, as we went. Someone would walk over or ride up, park their bicycle, sit down and play for a bit, then continue on. A lovely idea! We passed a water feature at Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park that looked like a dozen fire hoses arranged in a circle, all arcing up to meet in the middle. Given the heat of the day it was well appreciated, although it took a certain amount of bravado to face the center where all of the streams converged. We wandered here and there, stopped in a few places (like the Pendleton Woolen Mills store) but ultimately we had two destinations for the day.

The first was Voodoo Doughnut.

Voodoo Doughnut

Voodoo Dougnut
(photo by Marcia)

It’s a place we’d heard about from our son Nick and it sounded intriguing enough that we had to visit. They have five locations now, but we had to go straight to the source – which in this case is SW 3rd Avenue. It’s not hard to find, being bright pink! Voodoo Doughnut is cash only, and open 24-hours a day (except some holidays). From what we’d heard, a part of their reputation came when they started selling ‘morning after‘ doughnuts like an aspirin doughnut and a Pepto Bismol doughnut. Whether or not that’s true or urban legend, well… you’ll have to go and ask for yourself. They do have some interesting combinations. We selected an apple fritter large enough to feed a family of five, and (being Canadian) Marcia had to try the maple-bacon doughnut, just because. Voodoo Doughnut also supports an organization called ‘Harper’s Playground‘ – they build playgrounds that are inclusive for people of ‘all abilities’. The Harper’s Playground doughnut is shaped like a turtle, and $1 from each sale goes to the group, so we had to buy one of those as well. Being July 1, some Canadians will appreciate that we got to take a bite out of Harper on Canada Day! 😉

Doughnuts in hand, we continued north to the Lan Su Chinese Garden.

Lan Su Chinese Garden

Scholar’s Hall – Lan Su Chinese Garden
(40-image composite)

A collaboration between the city of Portland and its sister city of Suzhou, China, the garden is an oasis of tranquility in the middle of a busy city. Step through the gates and you are surrounded by quiet. Their website says it best: “Lan Su is a creative wonder — a powerfully inspiring experience based on a 2,000-year-old Chinese tradition that melds art, architecture, design and nature in perfect harmony.” In a word, we were enchanted, and we stayed for about 3 hours, practicing a little t’ai chi, wandering, making photographs, and enjoying the space. The Lan Su garden also hosts a traditional tea house, located in the Tower of Cosmic Reflections and managed by The Tao of Tea. The tea menu is an adventure in itself, and one may enjoy a single tea, or several flights of tea served in a tea ceremony. The menu also includes salad, steamed buns and sweet treats. The tea house was quiet while we were there and combined with the ambiance of the garden made for a unique and most enjoyable afternoon! The sight of blossoms within the garden inspired the following haiku:

Spent white lace flowers
catch the falling of the sun
through extended fingers

Two things to mention before continuing on. One, we recently discovered that the city of Vancouver (BC, not WA) is home to the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden so we’ve added that to our ‘must do’ list for the not too distant future. Second, it was only yesterday we discovered that the city of Suzhou, China has become renowned as a major centre for Chinese silk ‘painting’. To call this handmade needlework ’embroidery’ is an understatement of Titanic proportions, and its resurgence as an art form in Suzhou is owed to the dedication of one woman (Lu Juying) who began doing silk painting work as a young girl and who sold her first piece in 1980. Juying has, by her own estimation, trained 8,000 people in Suzhou to do this work. To do silk needlework ‘painting’ one uses silk threads as thin as 1/48th the thickness of a normal thread. Absolutely incredible art. We noticed a few silk pieces on display at the Lan Su garden but didn’t realize their significance until now.

( We had the doughnuts for dessert that evening. 😉 )

For the next day we chose one major destination. Washington Park, in SW Portland is about 400 acres, and home to everything from the Oregon Zoo and Portland Children’s Museum to the Hoyt Arboretum and a huge Rose Garden. One could easily invest days exploring the ins and outs of the area, but we had one specific place in mind: the Portland Japanese Garden.

Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden
(photo by Marcia)

This 5-acre walled garden is composed loosely of five gardens, joined by walkways, waterways and in some places by stairs. On their website it suggests approximately 45-60 minutes for most visitors to visit the garden, but they do encourage people to relax and enjoy the experience. This is a good thing, because we were there for nearly four hours. It took us about 20 minutes to go from the roadway up to the main gate, making images and admiring the changing quality of the light as we went. Parts of the garden are accessible for those with wheels, but there are other areas with stairs and/or raised stone pathways. We were lucky when we were there in that the Kizuna Ceramics exhibit was being displayed. Mashiko, Japan is a small town about three hours north of Tokyo and has long been a home to first functional ceramics and in recent history, ceramics as art. The area was devastated in the 2011 tsunami and earthquake and has been steadily rebuilding. This exhibition was an opportunity to view the traditional and modern ceramics being created by Mashiko artists and to offer support and solidarity for their rebuilding efforts.

While we were at the Japanese garden we made a total of 670 images (most of which will be combined into panoramas and/or HDR images, but that’s for a future blog post).

At one place where there was a bamboo pole directing water into a stone bowl we encountered a small rabbit sitting quietly in the shade. It inspired this gogyohka:

Gray softness
wrapped in stillness
overlain by shadow
sits by the fountain
absorbed in harmony

Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden
(spot the bunny)

Some people will ask, “If I can only visit the Chinese garden or the Japanese Garden, which one should I choose?” We don’t have an answer for that. On the surface the idea of them may seem similar, but in reality they’re very different. The Lan Su Chinese Garden is located in downtown Portland, and occupies one city block. It’s representative of a Ming Dynasty Chinese Scholar’s house and grounds. The Portland Japanese Garden is outside of town, on five acres and surrounded by five acres of forest. In design and execution it’s closer to a Japanese country estate. If asked, we’d have to say to visit both, and take your time with each!

Moving on… Portland is a great city for foodies, and we were glad to avail ourselves of local food while we were there. Having our own apartment meant that we ate ‘at home’ most of the time, but there are a few more places to mention. For our last night in town we moved to the Shilo Rose Garden Inn. Again, it was small but clean and the staff were great. For our last night in Portland we were planning to head to SE Portland to a pizza place we’d heard about but the woman at the front desk directed us elsewhere. A self-professed pizza aficionado, she suggested we walk over to Bellagio’s Pizza instead. We’re very glad we did.

Now, we must admit that at first glance it wasn’t what we were expecting. Bellagio’s does a lively take-out and delivery trade, and they have a few 1950s diner-style booths as well. It’s not what we would have considered a ‘restaurant’ in classic terms. However, the staff were welcoming and laid back and so we nestled in. We ordered the Caesar salad and since they had a special on pizza, we ordered one for dinner and a smaller one to take with us for lunch the next day. The food was excellent, and we made a point of letting the clerk at the inn know how pleased we were by her recommendation!

Okay… we saved the best for last. In a word, chocolate. Creo Chocolate, to be precise. Locally owned and operated by the Straub family, Creo Chocolate is a must-visit for chocolate lovers in Portland. In a prime example of serendipity at work, we stumbled across Creo Chocolate while looking for something else, wandered in and within two minutes felt like we had been welcomed into their home. It was wonderful… and the chocolate is excellent too! The Straubs make chocolate from scratch, and by that we mean they buy whole cacao beans directly from farmers in Equador and go from there. They even custom-built their own winnowing machine. In their words, “In our factory we roast, crack, winnow, grind, conch and temper small batches of cacao beans and then mold and package each bar by hand. Our beans are sourced directly from the farmer and crafted to bring out the interesting flavors of the bean.” In addition to selling bars of chocolate (free samples are available!) they also offer classes and factory tours. We bought a couple of chocolate bars to take home with us, and also ordered two chilled drinks (Dancing Ca’Cow) to enjoy while we were there.

Well, all good things must come to an end, and so the next morning we arose early, headed to Portland’s Union Station and our train ride back to Seattle, then walked west and north along Alaska Way to the Victoria Clipper and our ride home. We did stop to enjoy our pizza along the way! The ferry ride north was a bit rougher than our trip south (much to the chagrin of some of the passengers), but we were able to meet and chat with a number of people who were coming to visit our fair city for the Independence Day weekend, offering tips on hotels, restaurants and interesting places to visit. Because of the weather we were a little late getting into port, and since we had reserved tickets for the Royal BC Museum IMAX that night, we took our baggage straight to the museum and left it in the coat check room while we enjoyed our movie!

Many thanks to the cities of Seattle and Portland and to all those who conspired to make our visit so enjoyable. We didn’t even scratch the surface (and we haven’t mentioned the art in the park event, the public sculptures… so much more); we’re already looking forward to our next trip!


2 Replies to “Eating Our Way Through… Portland!”

  1. Janet Straub

    It was so nice to meet you lovely folks. Thank you for enjoying some time with us and for the kind words.
    Please stop by when you are in our area again.

    Janet at Creo Chocolate

    1. wolfnowl Post author

      Thanks for stopping by our little corner of the ‘net, Janet! We’ve passed on your contact information to an Oregonian friend of ours, currently on sabbatical here on the island. We’re certain she’ll drop by at her first opportunity!



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