Portland – 5th to 7th July, 2017
Throughout my journey I have decided almost from day-to-day how long I would stay in a place and where I would go next. I have had only one lovely ‘deadline’ throughout, which is to be in Anchorage on 16th July to pick up my friends Sarah and Anna who are joining me for the last part of my adventure in Alaska. WIth this date in mind I realised I needed to get moving North and decided that in doing so I would call in and see two cities I have always wanted to visit – Portland and Vancouver.
Throughout this trip I have tended to take the same approach when visiting cities, with the exception of San Francisco where I was lucky enough to have someone to show me around. This approach involves booking an Airbnb somewhere on the outskirts, to both save money but also have the chance to see areas where locals live and get some tips from them on where to visit away from the tourist traps. I normally try and pick somewhere that is also a good location to be able to run in the mornings. My choice in Portland proved to perfect in all these respects. Situated next to the Arboretum and Forest Park, I stayed in the beautiful home of David (and his dog Buddy), a really interesting Airbnb host – a writer, musician and linguist. As well as having lived for a while in France, he was also the first American I had met on my trip who not only knew where Newcastle, England was, but had actually been there! He was a great host and even left coffee and fruit outside my room in the morning.
On my first morning, after a great run (in which I got completely lost on the labyrinth of trails available), I headed into downtown Portland using the MAX light rail. I always try not to drive in cities as find it more relaxing to use public transport and it also gives me a better sense of orientation. Once downtown I normally set off on foot as find this is the best way to get to know and explore a city. So far it has served me well and I often stumble across unexpected places this way – nice cafes, little galleries etc. Portland was no exception and I happened upon a great cafe where I indulged in a delicious high cal and high carb brunch of fried apple fritter filled with egg, cheese and spinach :-). Feeling replete, I then headed to Powell’s City of Books, which takes up a whole city block and claims to be the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world. As a book lover, I was probably slightly overly excited at the prospect but was certainly not disappointed. I spent at least an hour browsing and going through a lengthy internal struggle in order to finally decide on what to buy, given my self imposed limit of two books.
I then headed down to the waterfront for a stroll in the sun, before parking myself on a bench overlooking the river and getting started on the first of the books.
After this brief I rest, I continued my walk around the city, soaking up the atmosphere and the streets.
As the evening arrived, I ended up at the Armory which, as part of Portland’s ‘first Thursday’ (of the month), was offering a photography exhibition, beer, nibbles and some live music – all for free! I don’t even particularly like beer but felt it would be rude not to have at least one while enjoying the music…
Portland is quite well known for its food carts which are all over the city, so on my way home I stopped at one of these to pick up an absolutely delicious tofu and avocado Thai curry for less than eight dollars! At that price I figured that for a change I could get dinner for two, and gave the second one to a young guy obviously having a difficult time in his life (just to clarify I didn’t force him to eat tofu – he chose chicken!). He was just one of many homeless people very visible wherever you go in Portland, probably more than any other place I have visited here (perhaps with the exception of Santa Cruz). As always this made me think about how lucky I am to have had the opportunities and support that I have had throughout my life, and how easily it could all be so different for any of us.
Vancouver – 7th to 9th July, 2017
The drive to Vancouver proved to be something of a nightmare as I got caught in Friday afternoon traffic on the outskirts of Seattle. This turned what should have been a five hour journey into nine hours!
I crossed the border into Canada in the early evening, with lots of questions from border agents about my intentions. Satisfied eventually that I did intend to leave again at some point (they must have heard about my extended stay in California), they finally let me through. I was greeted by a huge sign saying ‘Welcome to British Columbia, Canada – the best place on earth’! A rather bold statement I thought, and here’s me thinking Canadians were more understated than Americans…
Vancouver however did certainly live up to the hype and, similar to the way in which I had explored Portland, I spent my brief visit roaming the streets. This of course included a nice stop for brunch in a lovely place called Wildebeest, recommended to me by a random local man I got talking to while queuing. Whilst eating lunch at the bar, I also got chatting to the barman who it turned out was from Leicester in England, despite the fact that I had mistakenly guessed he was from Australia (in my defence he had lived there for four years).
I was a little concerned however when I saw this sign in a restroom and wondered if the people of Vancouver often contemplate drinking water out of the toilet…
I also suffered some disappointment when I found out that the false advertising below did not mean I could buy myself a mountie to accompany me on the rest of my trip…