Friday, July 3, 2015

I heart&soul Portland, part I

So I took the MAX to Pioneer Courthouse Square, which seemed to be central and has a tourist information centre.  Maps! It was HOT - all week long it was around 89 Fahrenheit which is about 31 Celsius.
Pioneer Square is a sunken, open space of red brick sort of in an ampitheatre set up in that there are steps all the way around leading down to the square itself.  At one end is the tourist info centre over a short walkway with water features either side.  I perused the leaflet stands and picked up a few which I never ended up using but I like to have them anyway.  I used the bathrooms there to change from my light and comfy but still too hot trousers into shorts, and switch to trainers for all the walking I knew was imminent.  Not really knowing where to begin I decided a good idea might be to find a park and have a lie down and rest since by this time it was about 3pm in Portland, 6pm in New York and the heat and travelling had left me worn out.  I set off walking and, well, went the wrong way but no matter because I accidentally walked smack into the famous Powell's Books - the largest independent bookstore in the US.  It is impressively big and consequently confusing.
During all this I'm still carrying my backpack and my duffel bag with my clothes and stuff and starting to feel the strain.  Still a little uncertain what to do I crossed the street because I'd spotted familiar territory - a Buffalo Exchange (where I buy all my clothes in New York).  There I asked a very nice employee what her thoughts were as a local and she gave me some names of places to check out.  I had a refuel in the Powell's coffee shop and set off for a bar she'd recommended called White Owl.  

En route I ran across a lovely fountain area - it's like a little city oasis, there are large stone steps in a shallow semicircle framing a shallow pool full of splashing kids.  Water pours out through the steps onto the tiles and because the ground slopes towards the steps, it fills up and goes from shallow to a bit less shallow.  I took a minute to sit and enjoy the cool air brought by the cold water and witnessed something you'd never see in New York - a couple were washing their clothes and themselves in this fountain in a completely businesslike and nonchalant manner, right beside these kids playing.  This couple were evidently homeless, but seemed completely at ease and the mothers around them seemed equally at ease.
If a homeless person in New York came to wash their clothes in a fountain, highlighted and somehow unperspiring mothers would tear their children away and authorities would be called.
It should be noted that by this time, let's call it 6pm on Monday, I still didn't have a place to stay that night.  None of the Couchsurfing calls I'd put out had been answered and all the hostels were booked up.  If I'd been anywhere else I might have panicked but I was pretty ok with the idea that I might have to camp in a park that night - it was warm enough, safe enough and hey I could take a fountain shower the next day.  Still I was still browsing my Couchsurfing app just in case.
I crossed the river by streetcar and did what I do best - wandered along until I found something interesting.  I stopped in a couple of bars and tasted a couple of Portland beers, and eventually made it to the White Owl.

And this is where the Universe started working in mysterious ways.  The back patio had this great open fire and I had a great beer so I was pretty happy sitting alone with my bags even if I garnered a couple of odd looks.
Eventually a nice girl who'd been sitting across from me came over and introduced herself, saying that her group had all decided I was French (?) so I chatted to her for a while, then made a couple of new friends and went with them to eat tacos, and those new friends were kind enough to show me the way to a hotel that was supposedly cheap.  Not cheap enough, it transpired, but free wifi so at around 1am I put out a final call into Couchsurfing land and got an immediate reply from Justin.  So I grabbed an Uber (for the first and last time...I know it's convenient but you need reliable internet all the time! C'mooon!) and journeyed into what I found out later was a neighbourhood known as Sellwood.

I knocked on his door at 1.30, he let me in telling me that there were two girls in the room already and said goodnight.  So I crept in to said room and bunked down on the mattress pad, glad to have a place to sleep and full of the contentment that open fires, beers, summer night air and travelling can inspire.

And that's Monday.

The next morning is where the Universe revealed itself as the sneaky puppet master I always suspect it to be.
I woke up to voices and lay there for a while feeling comfy but awkward because, hey, where the hell did this girl come from who is on the floor? Is what I would think if I were one of the other couchsurfers in the house.
The first person I saw when I eventually stirred and sat up was a girl who said 'oh! it's you!' and after a second I recognised her as one of the people I'd been sitting opposite around the fire the night before, but not one I'd talked to.  In fact, it was the girl on the left here in this picture.  I took the picture wanting to have a snapshot memory of an evening with a fire and hanging lights on a balmy night, and what I got ended up being a picture of some people I was destined to share a house with for a few days.  Mysterious Ways!

Jazmin, left, Sophie centre and Lou right were all staying at Justin's plus two Danish girls who I was sharing a room with and didn't see much of the whole time though they seemed cool. I hung out with Jazmin Sophie and Lou briefly on Tuesday and I will say plainly that these girls and I had nothing in common and would never have been friends under any circumstances, but they were fun company for the morning.  Oh I forgot there was one other girl a Canadian called Amy who was charming but I saw her once the entire time.  Anyway so Tuesday: Jazmin had driven her car from Vegas and we went in it to eat lunch.
Outside Justin's


Lunch was nice, and delicious, but I parted from the group because my agenda was totally different from theirs.  I wandered the Pearl District where we'd eaten for a little while before stopping in a doughnut shop for a crucial energy boost, half an hour after lunch.  In this doughnut shop the pleasant cashier explained to me how to get to Washington Park AND gave me a second free doughnut.  Why? No idea! None! Free doughnut! Oh Portland.
Waiting for the MAX
Washington Park is where things really, really started to pull together for me.  To recap:
- Beautiful day
- Delicious lunch
- The freedom of solitude
- Comfy clothes, no makeup, no pressure, no need

And then I arrived here

 Dya like trees? Do ya? Do ya?? Dya like hills and ferns and sweet smells and birdsong and tranquility and shade and plants you don't know alongside ones you grew up with?

I loosely followed the Wildwood trail for a while then went off piste and yomped merrily across the mountainside, before rejoining the trail right at a shuttle stop.

Here's the thing: I hear park and I don't know I guess I've been in New York a while because I think pathways, benches, manmade, surrounded by tall buildings.

In Portland they do this shit for real.  THIS is a park.  It's up a small mountain.  It's yuge.  It's exhilarating and that is not the last time that word will be used in my account of this trip so there.

And, there is a free shuttle bus that takes you around the sights - there is a Japanese Garden, the Sacagawea statue, an archery range, a visitors centre and the International Rose Test Garden.  The shuttle bus came along and the Rose Garden is where I went.............

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