It has been a while since I wrote a travelogue in this column. This past week, Mary Lou and I, along with my brother, sister, mother and most of my cousins on my mother’s side spent a long Labor Day weekend in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington.
It was a bittersweet time as my Aunt Catharine was buried on Friday and her grandson, McCageor “Cage” Byrd, was married to his beautiful bride, McKenzie, on Sunday. The truth is it was a fun filled four days full of celebration and good times shared by family and friends, just as my Aunt Cat would have wanted it to be.
Since Vancouver is where my aunt and uncle, along with two of my cousins, lived, that is where I have usually stayed on a visit. This time, because of the wedding, all of the southern branch of the family stayed in Portland. It was a delightful visit.
Portland is known for having a lot of gray and misty days. My grandfather used to say it would rain every day for two weeks when he would visit, but the rain gauge would only measure a tenth of an inch. This weekend brought wonderful weather with temperatures mostly in the 70s during the day and 60s at night. Not a drop of rain our entire visit.
We stayed in a new hotel in the Pearl District of Portland. Now a trendy, upscale part of the city, it originally was a warehouse district. In 1985, a local artist described the area’s old buildings as crusty, like the outside of an oyster. But he described the people living in the buildings and the transformation that was occurring as a pearl.
The name stuck and now the district is home to world class restaurants, brewpubs and coffee shops. There are more breweries in Portland than any other city in the world, with over 84 in the metro area. It is not uncommon to find establishments with more than 100 beers on tap.
Coffee is another area where Portland excels. There are more than 30 roasters in the city and more eclectic coffeehouses than you can imagine. It is part of the culture that you cannot help but come to love.
As for the food scene, Portland has something for everyone. I never visit without having at least one dish of salmon. This particular visit did not disappoint. There is a huge international offering of cuisine with ethnic restaurants of almost any description.
We visited a restaurant offering “international cuisine with a southern flair”. To validate their claim, my brother and I ordered a whole fried chicken. While good, it was not the same as what your mama cooked in a cast iron skillet.
We had brunch at a very popular restaurant called “Tasty N Alder”. We shared a communal table with some Egyptian and Chinese students. Four of us each ordered a different dish which were delivered one at a time. Nothing was what we might experience having breakfast back in Southwest Georgia, yet every dish was extraordinary, even the biscuit and gravy.
Finally, we were lucky to have had the annual arts and crafts festival called “Art in the Pearl” take place the same weekend we were there. It was only one block from our hotel. Over 800 artists audition for a very limited number of slots to offer their wares. It is described as one of the top 100 arts and crafts events in the country and it did not disappoint.
Our visit to Portland was capped off by a beautiful wedding in an 1895 building that had been restored into a striking wedding and events venue. Post wedding, some of the cousins visited the rooftop patio of our hotel where you could see the lights of Portland.
There are a lot of places to visit in the United States where you get to experience the diversity that exists in our own country. There are few cities that I would recommend more than Portland.
It is not Southwest Georgia, but it is a vibrant city with an edge. You have to be willing to experience a place with an attitude that might be different from your own. You have to be willing to experiment with food that is out of your comfort zone. You have to be willing to embrace those who are a bit different from you, yet have the same fundamental values.
Justifiably known as the City of Roses, Portland is so much more. Two rivers. Views of Mount Hood on a clear day. Magnificent opportunities for outdoor activities of all kinds. Try a different city for your next extended long weekend and experience the Pacific Northwest. You will not be disappointed.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]