Welcome to Portland

The drive from Seattle to Portland, a straight shot south on the I-5 for three hours, was fairly uneventful. I’d grown accustomed to long car rides from the many trips I took between my college in New Hampshire and home, so I felt at ease behind the wheel. (I’m also no James Corden, but my Carpool Karaoke is pretty spectacular.) And even though I wasn’t driving my trusty old blue car, Lola, I did find a good travel companion in my rental car, good ol’ Martha. The road before us was nearly empty. The sky, still mostly cloudy. The sun peeked through at times though and allowed me a glimpse of the mountains in the distance.

I was especially excited to arrive in Portland because it meant reuniting with my good friend Nicole. We met five years ago when we studied together in Ireland, and although we’ve been on many adventures together, we don’t see much of each other stateside. When I arrived at our Airbnb, I was welcomed with a warm, friendly hug. We originally planned to go on this trip together, but she wanted to spend more time in Portland and I was still keen on hitting the road. After we caught up and grabbed a bite to eat at Sizzle Pie, Nicole and I headed to our first stop.

St. John’s Bridge is a steel suspension bridge that spans the Willamette River. The bridge, the tallest in Portland, was built between 1929 and 1931. It featured, at the time, the highest clearance in the nation, the first application of aviation clearance lights to the towers, and longest suspension span west of Detroit, Michigan. We walked along the bridge, enjoyed the expansive views of the area, and soaked up some sunshine. Next, we drove up the West Hills to the Pittock Mansion. The French Renaissance-style château, built in 1909 as a private forty-six-room home for London-born Oregonian publisher Henry Pittock and his wife Georgiana, sits atop part of the West Hills. While the mansion itself is stunning, the view of Downtown Portland was even more spectacular.

We wanted to see what all the hype was about at Salt & Straw, so we headed there next. As someone with a mild ice cream addiction, I was happy to oblige. The artisanal ice cream shop is known for its exotic flavors and use of locally sourced ingredients. I tried a scoop of the Honey Lavender (in a freshly made waffle cone, obviously), made from Oregon-grown lavender petals steeped in Portland honey. The flavor was both subtle and rich, and oh so creamy!

Afterward, we drove around to check out some of the local street art murals and the Hollywood Theatre. I was really glad to have Martha the Rental Car because Nicole and I were able to check so much off our list in such a short amount of time. We had drinks and dinner at the Horse Brass Pub, a historic English-style pub in South East Portland. The Superbowl was on that night, but neither of us was all that interested in the game and, apparently, neither were the locals. It was a quiet Sunday at the pub. We drank pints of hard cider (our favorite!) and ate the most delicious veggie burgers (also a favorite!) while we watched the commercials (and a little bit of the game) and relaxed after a long afternoon of exploring.

Monday morning rolled around and we decided to leave the city for the day. Nicole and I made a very important stop before we got on the road: Blue Star Donuts. Behind the glass screen were nearly twenty beautiful gourmet donuts, made fresh and from scratch! Blue Star uses local products that support their communities (are you noticing a pattern in Portland?) to create the delicious donuts. I grabbed a Blueberry Bourbon Basil (one of their most popular) and a vegan Mexican Hot Chocolate, and we hit the road. We had hoped to visit Oregon’s tallest waterfall, Multnomah Falls, on our trip, but the nearly-three-month-long Eagle Creek Fire in the fall made many of the Columbia River Gorge trails inaccessible. Instead, we chose to drive West and see the ocean.

One of my friends from middle school, Erin, lives nearby and was able to join us for our day trip. The three of us drove along Highway 26, through the mountains, and out to the Pacific. We continued to Cannon Beach and walked along the shore near Haystack Rock (and The Needles) at low(ish) tide. The weather was cloudy and a little drizzly, but we still had such a lovely walk together—even though Nicole had to listen to Erin and I squeal about puppies the whole time! As we left the beach, we spotted a couple of the wild rabbits who roam the area and the squealing continued. We drove over to Indian Beach, part of Ecola State Park, and explored some of the old growth forests and more of the shore. We even saw a fuzzy little seal pup relaxing near a waterfall that led straight into the Pacific! Naturally, there was more squealing!

On our way back to Portland, we stopped at a natural spring on the side of the road. The water was cool and refreshing, perfect to quench our thirsts after a day in the wild. There was so much talking and laughing and new adventures that day, and I felt so lucky to have friends from such different parts of my life come together so effortlessly.

Nicole and I reluctantly said goodbye to Erin, cleaned up, and took the MAX downtown. That evening, we wandered around Portland and got lost among the millions of stories at Powell’s Books. It wasn’t much of a surprise that a couple of writers found our way to the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. We combed through shelves until our stomachs growled, and then we dined on delicious Vietnamese cuisine and even more Salt & Straw (a scoop of Roasted Strawberry Coconut).

The Great Do(ugh)nut Debate: Blue Star vs. Voodoo

My trip to Portland wouldn’t have been complete without one more stop, so the next morning, we indulged in one last Portland treat: the eclectic Voodoo Doughnut. We grabbed our donuts (sorry, doughnuts) and hit the road. I was so excited to spend time with friends in Oregon, but that time was quickly coming to its end. I feel like I say it all the time, but I am so glad that Nicole and I found each other that fateful morning on an open-top bus tour of Limerick all those years ago. I guess getting caught in the rain (more than once) really helps you bond.

At the airport, we said our goodbyes and parted ways—her, back home to Minnesota and I, onto the next part of my adventure: the road trip!

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