For the fifth year in a row in 2017, Portland International Airport (PDX) was voted the best airport in the USA by Travel & Leisure magazine. I can see why. There are coffee shops, live music, and numerous food options, many of which play to Oregon’s reputation for good wine and fresh food. There is also shopping; a Made in Oregon store, a Tender Loving Empire record store, an amazing Nike outlet, and a Kiehl’s cosmetics. Shopping isn’t really the reason for an airport, but at PDX it seems like it should be. Air transport seems like a byproduct of the building’s purpose.
Aside from the atmosphere, light, airy, and friendly which seems to set the stage for any Oregon visit, there is a practical reason for this accolade. Our flight landed at 7:39 PM on a Friday night. By 9:00 PM we had claimed our luggage, gotten the rental car, and had ordered a bottle of wine at Café Castagna in Portland’s Hawthorne neighborhood. It was just the way I wanted our vacation to start. We easily got a seat outside, fireworks in the distance signaled the beginning of the Festival of Roses, and our server was chatty and helpful.
We spent that night at an AirBnB in the neighborhood behind one of Portland’s Top 10 Cuban restaurants, El Cubo de Cuba. Sadly, we had to skip it that time. This increasingly seems to be the case whenever I go to Oregon; I want to spend more time there. I want to spend more time with this person or that one, take my JD to the Bagdad Theater for a movie, do some browsing in the cool shops, and try just one more restaurant.
The next day would be fun, and as it turns out, busier than we thought. When I told one friend about our day, she said, “You were productive on your first day of vacation.” We certainly were, in the best possible way. We were meeting my brother, sister, and their families at Portland Saturday Market later in the morning, so we started with a hearty breakfast at Bread and Ink Café on Hawthorne Avenue.
As I have mentioned, I always try to eat local whenever I travel and get items that I can’t get at home. In Oregon that means seafood and Marion berries. That morning I had a Dungeness crab omelet with a side of polenta spiced with roasted red pepper. Even though it was 9:30 AM, we ordered craft cocktails – I had the grapefruit champagne cocktail and my JD has the Bloody Mary with house made mix – and settled in for some people watching.
Couples, families, and singles slowly trickled onto the sidewalk to stand in the line for Bread & Ink’s walk-up waffle window. The Oregonians we saw that morning were relaxed and friendly. We talked to one woman who was socializing her pit bull puppy for the first time. Another couple had little girls who were wearing their best tulle skirts and sequins for breakfast. They graciously, and a bit shyly, accepted my compliments. A friend I grew up with and who lives about 10 minutes away, joined us, which only added to the relaxed conviviality.
Portland Saturday Market
The Portland Saturday Market is the largest continually operating arts and crafts market in the country. It was an easy drive from Bread and Ink. Portland Saturday Market runs east to west just south of the Burnside Bridge, ending at the waterfront along the Willamette River. We had fun browsing the vendor stalls, everything from pottery, to tee shirts to wood crafts and soaps. It was unusually hot in Oregon that day, so my nephew waded in the fountain and we stood in line for homemade Marion berry ice cream to cool down. It was a long line to get ice cream and a bottle of water!
After we got our “Keep Portland Weird” bumper sticker, we walked to Voodoo Doughnuts (the magic is in the hole!), whose doughnuts are simply over-the-top, with irreverent names like, Dirty Old Bastard (try listening to your 5-year-old nephew order that one without laughing), Cock and Balls, and Tex-Ass (a doughnut big enough for Texas, as big as six regular-sized doughnuts). There are many other doughnuts that won’t make you blush when ordering them, like the Apple Fritter, with huge chunks of apples, the Maple Bacon Bar, or the Voodoo Bubble, which comes with a piece of Dubble Bubble. The Voodoo Doll doughnut is filled with raspberry jam and has a pretzel spike sticking out of it, just where the heart would be.
Voodoo Doughnuts gained popularity many years after I had left Oregon, but even in Chicago it was famous. I finally went to Voodoo after tiring of answering “No” to the question, “Oh, you are from Oregon. Have you been to Voodoo Doughnuts?” I wish I had gone sooner! There is always a line at that place, even at noon on a Monday, the first time I went in 2013. This time was no different, except that it was very hot. Voodoo is cash-only, and they don’t really encourage dawdling when you get to the counter, so it went pretty quickly.
We had fed our bellies all morning, so it was time to feed our brains. Powell’s Bookstore, further up Burnside, is just the place. Powell’s is the largest independent bookstore in the nation. They sell new and used books, and it is popular with locals and tourists alike. The building is several floors, taking up nearly an entire city block.
The essential item to pick up when you first get to Powell’s is a map. It is a good old-fashioned paper map that helps navigate the multi-floored maze that is Powell’s. The color coded sections help, but it is easy to get lost there, and develop interests that you didn’t know you had. They have a whole section on the Knights of the Templar? That sounds like something I could become interested in. Ronald Reagan’s biography? Ya, now that I think about it, I have always wanted to know more about him.
It is also easy to stay lured in at the front of the store, and never make it further than the cash register. There is eco-friendly merchandise, discounted best sellers, a table covered with classics; literally whatever your reading brain desires can be found at Powell’s. By this time my feet were aching, so I headed to the long row of benches to have a seat and wait for the rest of my family.
By this time, we were hungry, again. My mom used to say that “Us Dukalskis eat our way through wherever we are visiting”. And that has stayed with me into my adult travels. It can be said that Portland started craft brew movement, so no stop in the City of Roses is complete without a pint at one of literally dozens of breweries in Portland. They have become increasingly neighborhood-centric, so depending on where you go, it may still be a well-kept secret. That day, we chose Fathead’s Brewery, a short walk up Burnside from Powell’s. Fathead’s is family-friendly with a brightly lit, relaxed atmosphere. I had light, summery, raspberry ale to wash down the pizza and the nibbles of chicken wings that I shared with my nephew.
We wanted to walk off the day’s delicious food at Tryon Creek State Park in Portland, near Lewis and Clark College. A quick Google search to confirm spelling also told me that this is the only state park within Portland city limits. At dusk there were few other people there, so we practically had the place to ourselves. As we walked deeper into the forest, the quiet became heavier and thicker, where every word spoken seemed to disrupt the forest. So, the further we walked, the quieter we became. The only break in silence was my brother occasionally whistling or breaking a twig in an effort to “frighten” his son. It worked when he was five, but not now that he is eight. He kept saying, “Papa!” and my brother would softly chuckle and try again.
I had been to parks within city limits before, Phoenix, Chicago, but I kept thinking how quiet it was at Tryon State Park. I continually marveled that we were so close to a college, and not far from a major access road. I was in entranced and couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in a sacred place. The diminishing light through the trees and the bright green even in the shade set the stage.
When we got back to the parking lot the spell was broken, but I felt so relaxed and at peace. It was a perfect way to end a busy day. I realized that day, that everything we did that day symbolized Portland to me; neighborhood breakfast place, Portland Saturday Market, Voodoo Doughnuts, craft brewery, and hiking. We got to my brother’s at 8:00 PM that night. So much had happened since we landed at 7:39 PM the night before. The first 24 1/2 hours of our vacation were productive!