Three years ago I spent three months in Portland, Oregon living in a host family and volunteering at a local music school (any Finn interested, check out Allianssi). I have always wanted to be an exchange student, but had not had the opportunity to go for it. So when I graduated from Uni, I knew the timing was perfect.
Portland became a special place to me. Not only the fantastic hipstertown that Portland is known to be, but also the host family treated me so well it made a lasting impact. I always wanted to come back.
When we started to plan our return in Australia, we started to play with the idea that we would go say ‘hi’ to my host family. The plan grew and before we knew it we were planning to do the whole West Coast. But Portland was still the main target and we saved the most amount of time to be there without a feeling of rush.
I will now write a
long essay short novel about what is Portland and why did I want to go back.
Portland is divided in easy sections: Northwest Portland, Southwest Portland, Northeast Portland and Southeast Portland. Downtown on the Westside seems like its own thing, and west and east is divided by the Willamette River.
Portland has many nicknames, like many much-loved cities have. Bridgetown, Stumptown, Rose City, Rip City, Mudtown, Biketown, Beervana… and the list goes on.
The city is known like it and its people live in their own universe. Locals and American visitors alike, they all said the same thing: never think that the rest of the US is like Portland. Some called it “the most European city” in the States. Portland is urban and liberal, located in the heart of more rural, conservative Oregon. And it all blends together nicely.
Portland is known to be the town for hipsters (along with Seattle, the rival hipstercity). People take their bicycles everywhere and it is in fact a quite biker-friendly city. You can also see imaginative ways to transport yourself and your three kids with the bike. Portland is also known for high density of local breweries, tattoo shops and strip clubs. Portland loves its beer over any other alcohol, but it also loves its food trucks, coffee, doughnuts, ice creams and waffles. And what could be a better place to finish your evening than catch a movie at one of the several, independent movie theatres?
Good food scene is important to the locals. Some of them also have divided feelings about Portland’s big, well-loved brands like Salt&Straw (ice cream) and Voodoo Doughnut. Quite often there are massive lines to both shops and they have a bit of a cult reputation among tourists and some locals. But once I was listening to a conversation in a restaurant between the chef and a customer about best ice cream in Portland. “Salt&Straw is over-rated and is now a million dollar business. F$@& Salt&Straw!””Yeah and same goes for Voodoo!”. That is just Portlanders loving their small businesses which don’t make too much money.
But one thing they mostly agree is how beer is THE drink. There is also a wide selection of sports to watch while drinking those various craft beers: NBA (Trailblazers), college football (all I see is Oregon Ducks, but I know there’s local teams as well), ice hockey (Junior Hockey League and Winterhawks), men’s soccer (Portland Timbers), maybe even more popular women’s soccer (Portland Thorns),or roller derby (Rose City Rollers).
Portland downtown has its charming areas, but it is not very grand or big. Portlands charm lies in its neighbourhoods and fun streets, of which I definitely know better the ones on the Southern side of Willamette.
Speaking of Willamette, it is filled with crossing bridges – thus the nickname Bridgetown. Some of the bridges are only for cars or only for public transport, and to be fact, it is not very pedestrian-friendly to try get over the river. But it is doable, so that is what we did for the most parts too.
I feel that Portland’s strength is also its synchronized co-existence with the state of Oregon. Outdoorsy as the people of Portland are, they have claimed part of the forests, waterfalls and hiking trails as their own tourist destinations. Mt. Hood is beautiful and can be seen from the city on a clear day and Oregon’s wineries and orchards are an easy ride away. Two hours to the other way and you would end up to the coast and little beachtowns like Cannon Beach or Astoria.
Portland is also a quirky city with music and arts and weird things to pass time with (thus its slogan is “Keep Portland Weird”). Three years ago I spent an evening watching amatour actors reanact Star Trek episodes in front of hundreds of cheerful people. I have also seen impro-theatre in a dark alleybar and sat on a local elementary school’s yard watching thousands of swift birds diving into the school chimney and cheering as they go.
I have seen people walk their pet pigs and pet turtles on a leash, and people expressing themselves in a bold, loud and honest ways. One thing I never had the courage to witness is the rowdy Rocky Horror Picture Show experiences happening on every Saturday in SE Portland. But there is something for everyone, even if it was not everyone’s cup of tea.
The city is so loved, that there is even a TV-show Portlandia celebrating all things weird, fun and typical of the city.
I hope that when Matte and I write about our experiences in Portland, you can get a glimpse of understanding why I would return here again and again over any other city I have visited so far.
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