September 16, 2008
September 17, 2008
September 18, 2008
September 19, 2008
September 20, 2008
September 21, 2008
September 22, 2008
I flew on direct flights through Northwest Airlines. Both flights were packed and had dreadfully uncomfortable seats, but the flight out was in a new plane with incredibly narrow, miserably pitched seats. It was horrid. At least the old beater we had on the way back had wider seats with a reasonable amount of pitch!
I didn’t rent a car and didn’t need to. A colleague arriving on the same flight helped me figure out the transit system and (most importantly), how to get from the transit stop to the hotel. (Thanks, Wade!) The transit system in Portland is fast, efficient, and free if you stay in the downtown “Fareless Square.” (A two-hour ticket to any part of the city, including the airport, was $2.30 and one can ride anywhere all day for $4.75.) It is easy to transfer between the MAX rail system and the bus and stations are well-marked.
The city is also quite walkable – it is a human-scale place, with wide sidewalks (when not blocked by construction projects), and a straight-forward grid. On the other hand, bikers regularly use the sidewalk, the homeless hang-out everywhere (although not usually blocking the way), and way-finding signage is non-existent. Walkable, but not perfect.
Michele joined me via Amtrak from Seattle and the station proved to be an easy walk from my hotel. Portland’s historic Union Station has been restored to serve Amtrak. It also houses Wilf’s Restaurant and Bar, which turned out to be a delightful spot to sit and sip a glass of wine while waiting for Michele’s (slightly delayed) train.
The conference hotel was about 4 blocks from the MAX stop in a boring neighborhood near the convention center. It was a standard Holiday Inn that was in the process of transitioning to a Crown Plaza. (Despite the description on the web page, the hotel is NOT downtown.) There was construction work underway in the entry and pool areas while we were there, but the rest of hotel had been updated recently and was quite nice. Better still, the staff were among the most friendly and helpful I have ever come across – even the guys working on the maintenance and remodeling projects greeted me with warm hellos and a sincere “I hope you enjoy your stay.” There is also free internet access, but the signal isn’t very strong in some parts of the hotel. (I was able to get moved to another room tha had a stronger signal, but there were a lot of problems with the signal in the conference rooms.) The hotel has an airport shuttle for those who don’t want to use the rail system.
As soon as the convention ended I headed downtown to the City Center Marriott, where I had snagged a $135 AAA rate for the weekend. (A great rate for a good downtown hotel.) All of a block from the Pioneer Square transit stop and located in the midst of the downtown shopping area, it proved to be a lovely hotel in a perfect location. Our room was huge and inviting, although our view was directly into the mostly blank wall of the adjoining building. Oh well. We weren’t in our room very much anyway. The staff here was also very helpful. But why is it that all the better hotels charge for internet access when the cheaper ones give it away? It’s really annoying. (Peet’s Coffee next door has free internet, but rather limited weekend hours.) There is no airport shuttle, but the MAX stop is just around the corner.
Portland was a good city for food even when I was there a dozen years ago. Today there is a wealth of enticing restaurants, so it is hard to go too far wrong.
I ended up eating dinner at Jake’s Grill early in the trip when I didn’t know exactly where I was going and couldn’t find anything fun and funky. (I needed to be one block over, but who knew?) Jake’s is a classic seafood spot, but it is now part of the McCormick & Schmick’s chain. My large serving of seafood pasta was perfectly prepared, but quite expensive and not really interesting. Good, but not really great – especially for the price. This is still a classic seafood spot with carefully prepared traditional dishes, attentive service, and a gorgeous dining room, but it’s more food for big-buck executives than foodies in search of fresh local ingredients prepared with a twist.
Wilf’s Restaurant and Bar is located at Union Station, but it isn’t the usual railway station food stop. With a beautiful dining room, elegant cuisine, fine wines, and live jazz, it’s worth a visit even if you aren’t waiting for a train.
Michele and I both wanted to find a good Middle-Eastern spot for dinner and ended up at Al Amir, a Lebanese restaurant with what appeared to be a solid local following. (It’s usually a good sign when I’m about the only pasty white girl in any ethnic restaurant.) The food was quite good, but what made the night truly memorable was the amazing belly dancer who came out to perform just before we began eating. The web page claims that Claudia is the “Northwest’s best belly dancer.” No doubt. She was absolutely amazing.
We discovered a lovely branch of the regional restaurant chain Typhoon just down the street in the Hotel Lucia. The interior of this innovative Thai restaurant was as elegant as the food, featuring lovely delicate dishes and a long list of beautiful, fragrant teas.
Lovely coffee, chocolate, breads, and pastries are available at the neighborhood St. Honoré Boulangerie. It’s almost like a quick trip to Paris.
For me, the dining highlight of the trip was Andina, a lively, trendy, and highly-recommended nouveau Peruvian restaurant in the Pearl District. With a long wait for a table, we sat at the bar. The bar may have the best seats in the house as the full menu is available and the smoothly efficient bartenders were a treat to watch. We did a series of small plates, all of which were interesting and tasty, although a few had little too much hot pepper for Midwestern girls like Michele and I. I’d fly back to Portland just to eat here again.
Of course, there are also brewpubs everywhere, but since I’m a wine drinker you’ll have to sort those out yourself.
Notes on Sightseeing
The Chinese Garden is located near downtown in the heart of the Chinatown/Old Town area. It is a tranquil spot in the heart of the city. We didn’t stop for a snack at the lovely tea house, but it certainly looks inviting.
On the other hand the Japanese and International Rose Test gardens are located far from downtown, out by the zoo. It is not walkable, but a shuttle provides access most of the year. (Our shuttle driver also provided commentary on the park, the homes around and within it, and the history of the area, along with good logistical advice.) The mountainside location of the Japanese Garden was MUCH colder and wetter than the city itself and there are no food or hot beverages available within the garden, so be prepared.