John and I have this terrible habit when we are traveling: We arrive, set our bags down somewhere and get so tangled up in exploration and adventures that we realize, when it’s far too late, that we are famished. I should also mention, he and I both become cranky toddlers when we are starved. We also become incredibly indecisive. In a new place, any restaurant can be ok, or even good, but is it the BEST? Case in point: we once drove around Denver for 2 hours trying to find something, ANYTHING to eat, and ended up eating Little Cesar’s in our hotel room because we gave up. Now that we’ve traveled a few times together now, we know that we get like this, we can anticipate it.
We arrived in Portland hungry. So… not a great start. Our first priority was to find the block of food trucks in downtown. The only problem? John thought it was this way and I thought it was that way (Ps: I was right) We wandered for about 15-20 minutes, which isn’t so bad for normal people (but not two adults acting like cranky toddlers) and finally I spotted the trucks off in the distance, hoping it wasn’t a mirage from hunger. I helped myself to banh mi and hawaiian BBQ while John was the last customer of the day for a Carolina BBQ truck. That’s more like it! We found a little park (well, really more of a bricked area) and sat down to enjoy our food, happily munching in silence.
To make a long story short, we were finishing up our lunch when a heavily intoxicated homeless man came up to us, threatening us if we didn’t give him money for “booze and a blunt”. He mostly left me alone, and chose to scream just a few inches from John’s face. Another Santa Clause-looking homeless man disrupted the other man’s rant and asked him to leave. Once the angry man stormed away, the Santa Clause-looking man assured us that we would have been safe and moved his jacket. Both John and I didn’t catch a look, but I’m pretty like 90% sure he was trying to show us his gun. A GUN. Did I mention that this all took place within the first hour of being in Portland?
I tried not to take that experience to heart, but it definitely upset John a lot. In order to put ourselves in a better place, we headed to our Mecca, Powell’s. After about an hour of wandering on our own, John managed to find 6 books that he’d been searching for for years and I came up empty handed and frustrated. Though it didn’t occur to me at the time, I kept getting overwhelmed and then really tired. I ended up grabbing 4 magazines and a random book, just to feel like I’d accomplished SOMEthing, but left pretty bummed. John and I both used some downtime in the hotel room to decompress.
Being pragmatic, I decided that we should walk around until we found something good to eat. Being us, we walked for at least 3 miles before we almost gave up. (I should note here that we passed several perfectly decent restaurants, but we wanted something quiet and something “our style”, aka: no chains). We even stopped back at the hotel restaurant, but it was roaring and packed to the brim with people. Finally, we headed in the opposite direction of the hubbub. At this point we were both officially hungry and I told John that we could walk for 10 more minutes before we should give up and just order room service.
Then, we saw it. Hamlet: super cute sign outside of a super cute bar. We treated ourselves to a baguette slathered in butter and a plate of super tasty applewood smoked prosciutto. And some wine! Needless to say we were happy, a little tipsy and very satisfied with finally having found someplace that fit exactly what we were looking for.
The next morning I woke up on a mission, a Google mission. I searched for the BEST Portland breakfast within walking distance and didn’t find many restaurants that were open that early on a Friday. I finally came across the Original Dinerant which definitely fit the bill for diner-breakfast foods that John and I love. While my food wasn’t “the best” that I’ve had, it definitely wasn’t bad and for what the food lacked, it made up for in the most attentive service and adorable retro decor. Plus, John LOVED his Monte Cristo sandwich.
After breakfast, we walked to Billy Galaxy, a super kitschy vintage toy store. John walked through and pointed out all the GI Joe’s he played with, and how many Star Wars figurines he had. I wasn’t really into a lot of toys as a kid, but it was fun to see him so excited about it! I should also mention that we went back to Powell’s (I know, I know) and I managed to pick up 2 more books and a tote.
It was about time to check out of our hotel, which was a bummer since now we had to lug our luggage and our gatrillion books around with us for the next 4 hours. (We obviously did not think this through) We started off our trek with doughnuts at Blue Star because it was recommended to us by pretty much everyone we knew. I can’t say much about my doughnut (ahem, Top Pot is way better, ahem), but it was a really beautiful space and it was fascinating to see how they rolled out the dough right behind the counter with their whole forearm!
We wandered for a pretty long time and my back kind of felt like it was being stabbed by my backpack. It was pretty cool to see so many beautiful buildings and signage across the city, but John and I kept noticing just how many homeless people were around. We saw people defecating on the wall of the Chinese garden, we saw newspaper blowing across the sidewalk that had been used as toilet paper, we saw people screaming at each other on street corners and others staring with blank expressions at the puddles on the ground. I’ve been to Portland about a dozen times now, but I’d never seen it like this. I’m sure a large part of it had to do with the weather (the sun peeked out about 5 minutes the entire time we were there) but I also have a feeling that something has fundamentally changed. There was no construction going on. Buildings lay empty. And there were just SO many homeless people around. I feel snobby for saying this, but it was tough to see the beauty around us and I think in a lot of ways, we missed home. After walking another 3 miles or so, searching for just a nice quiet park to sit in (spoiler, there aren’t any!) we decided to stop in the bustling Sushiland for some cheap sushi and a break from walking. I helped myself to a ton of their salmon nigiri because I’m pretty certain it was the best sushi I’ve ever had. Finally, we hobbled back over to the train station and immersed ourselves in our books and magazines until our train arrived. I’ve traveled by train before, but this was John’s first time ever! He was much more patient than I with the dozen stops were had to make and the handful of delays that the trains put us through, but the trains were actually really well maintained and our first train actually had comfortable seats! If you hate driving, taking the train really didn’t take that much longer (especially with the traffic we saw on the 5 outside our window!) but for what you get in ease, you lack in control. Both of our rides took longer than expected and it was tough for me to deal with the other passengers loud conversations. It was a cool experience, but not one that I’m looking forward to experiencing anytime soon.