During my trip to USA, Portland in Oregon inspired me a lot, and turned out better than I even imagined. It is pretty obvious I liked that it is one of the bike-friendly cities in the world and is full of craft breweries. There’s also a nice night life that is also a source of great rock music for decades.
The Portland atmosphere is hard to explain, as it is an alternative city, which is youthful and tremendously lively and is also a cultural centre. It is very modern but still tied to its past. So here is a list of five things and not a list of what to visit in Portland, but five experiences to do in this city that has to be experienced rather than to visit.
Drink a beer in a microbrewery - Also called Beervana, Portland is the American capital of microbreweries, or the craft brewers. The beers that I drank were always very good, although quite different from Indian ones. Here I tasted beers flavored with cherry and fish, but the real love at first sight I had is the milk stout (beer brewed with lactose) and the sour beers, with a very complicated and risky production process as you do not know what can be the result until you taste.
There are scores of interesting microbreweries, but the most beautiful and the most rock and roll I have ever been is definitely the Crystal Ballroom, in the Pearl District, a ballroom of 1914, where over the years they have hosted James Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, the Grateful Dead and the Electric Prunes. Today the ground floor houses a microbrewery with good beer, billiards and the Rolling Stones pinball, while the first floor continue to hold a rock concert on the same stage in a nice retro style.
Bike Rides - Portland is one of the most bike friendly cities in all the USA and the world, and riding through the streets is a pleasure, which you can enjoy in complete safety. Here almost everyone uses a helmet and go on a bike so cool, maybe vintage, possibly fixed gear and kept very well. Yes, Portland is a bit hipster.
But back to the pleasure of biking, the city is not very big and the bike is a great way to see Portland. It is a viable option for riding an entire city even in America. Just outside downtown from the suburbs are surrounded by greenery and full of public parks where you can pedal amidst trees and ponds. To the northwest of the city stretches Forest Park which is a veritable urban forest!
I managed to do these two things at once, biking and sampling a lot of beers, thanks to my driving partner with whom I did a guided tour by bike of microbreweries and East Portland.
Portland food carts - The other thing that Portland is famous, in addition to bikes and beer, are the hundreds of vans, carts, caravans and other vehicles that sell street food from every corner of the globe. Not only that, many food cart offer fusion cuisine combining the flavors of very different places, which often work, as in the case of Koi Fusion, which combines Mexican and Korean and is open till late. But I was spoiled for choice as I saw food carts representing Middle East, Hawaii and every single Asian country, and there is even someone who has managed to export English cuisine and possibly improve.
Visit the submarine to Hunt for Red October – It is the USS Blueback, precisely where it was shot a film with Sean Connery and is also a real American submarine, who was on Navy duty for many years, before being sent into retirement and parked in the Willamette River, in front of OMSI, the Portland Museum of Science. The submarine still has the missiles (obviously unarmed) and you can visit on a guided tour.
My tour guide was a former sailor in service for many years on this medium. Today he is retired, and volunteers as a guide. He was very nice and a walking encyclopaedia on submarines, who has told me many stories about everyday life on board.
Eating a donut from Voodoo Doughnut - Some say it's no longer the best place in Portland to eat a donut, but it is still among the top, and definitely serves the donuts most beautiful of all in the United States. They have the strangest, provocative and entertaining donuts from the voodoo doll to the one with the moustache, not to mention the phallic shapes.
And even in terms of taste it is surprising. Voodoo Doughnuts is famous for having launched the taste the bacon and maple syrup. I tasted it, and it's not bad as it seems from the name, though one with cake base that is pie, baked and not fried dough and chocolate icing with satanic pentagram was definitely more scrumptious.
For me it was not just visiting Portland. I have lived intensely in the three days I spent there. I tried to get the best of this city, and I was lucky because I met several people who have helped me to make experiences authentic. I felt almost at home there.