The pursuit of weird

This travelogue was originally published on The Big Ring

There’s something about Portland.

Yeah, it’s weird. But in a comfortable, endearing way.

Portland’s weirdness is fun, not threatening.

Mario Bartel storyteller photographer writer blog communicator Portland
There’s no shortage of wonderful weirdness at Portland’s Saturday market in Old Town.

My first visit to Stumptown was a respite from a camping road trip down the Oregon coast with a buddy. We’d secured tickets to They Might be Giants at the Crystal Ballroom, so a night in the city, bunked in a motel room was a bit of a break from sleeping in a damp tent.

The city’s network of geographical streets and avenues is confusing; the first place we alighted after exiting the interstate was a leafy part of town called Nob Hill.

We booked into a cheap motor hotel called the Carriage Inn that seemed stuck in the 1960s. The linoleum was worn, the bedding threadbare; but it was  reasonably clean and all the rooms had fully-equipped kitchens.

We explored the neighbourhood, populated with old, well-kept Victorian homes and apartment blocks. People sat on their porches, chatted in manicured courtyards. Nearby 21st Avenue was alive with people enjoying dinner or a beer on tables in front the numerous restaurants, bistros and pubs. Two blocks away, on 23rd Avenue, couples and families strolled past shops and boutiques.

In the opposite direction, Powell’s Books and Portland’s downtown were only a 10-minute walk away.

But mention Nob Hill to an outsider, and they usually just shrugged; they never heard of it.

Nob Hill became my go-to district for subsequent visits to Potland, for the GI Joe’s Indy, for journalism conferences.

Then, the Carriage Inn closed.

When it reopened it had been funkified into an eclectic boutique hotel with chartreuse walls, lime green and orange furniture, tubs of colourful saltwater taffy and Starburst chewies in the lobby. It was renamed the Inn at Northrup Station, after the new tram line right out front.

It was time to share my love for Portland with Princess of Pavement.

She immediately took to the city’s friendly folk and their slightly off-kilter vibe.

We went there for part of our honeymoon. We went for her first marathon. We went just because we felt a need for a little dose of Portland.

Last week we went to celebrate the conclusion of another grueling semester in the Princess’ transformation from journalist to science geek.

As always we had no set plan.

I was hoping to catch an exhibit by American photographer William Eggleston at the Portland Art Museum. The Princess wanted to visit her favourite boutiques on 23rd. We both wanted to explore some new neighbourhoods. And, of course, renew our allegiance to Salt and Straw ice cream.

The Eggleston exhibit was brilliant, the Art Museum quite fine with a bold collection of contemporary works.

We used Portland’s transit network of trams, streetcars and buses to get to the Hawthorne/Belmont area and up to Williams/Mississippi on the city’s north side where we popped into Hopworks’ Bike Bar. Sadly , other than some frames hanging from the ceiling and taps adorned with repurposed hubs and stems,the cycling vibe was somewhat lacking in this bike-themed bar. The Flandrian it is not.

Mario Bartel storyteller photographer writer blog communicator Portland
Sure, the Bike Bar has bikes; but it lacks a cycling atmosphere.

But our visit did connect us with one of the guys behind another recent addition to Portland’s craft beer taps, Labrewatory. One of its owners was visiting Bike Bar and recognized my Steel & Oak hoodie as he’d done some consulting work to help them set up their brewing system. He invited us to stop by.

Mario Bartel storyteller photographer writer blog communicator Portland
Beer + science = great taste at Labrewatory in Portland.

Labrewatory doesn’t just help other brewers get off the ground, they also serve up some pretty fantastic beers in their stylish tasting room; their Golly G Porter and Abuelita Stout are outstanding.

In our eternal quest for a great sandwich, we time-travelled back to the 1970s in a cluttered hole-in-the-wall counter called Bunk, where their excellent Cubano was served up by a guy rockin a ‘fro to ELO on the sound system. But Lardo’s pork meatball Banh Mi, so beloved on the foodie blogs, was a letdown; it just doesn’t compare to the light freshness of Freebird’s at our own River Market.

Mario Bartel storyteller photographer writer blog communicator Portland
The Princess of Pavement time travels to the 70s at Bunk sandwiches.

As for Salt and Straw; we visited every day during our time in Stumptown. Let’s just say their chocolate gooey brownie may be my most favourite ice cream, ever.

Mario Bartel storyteller photographer writer blog communicator Portland
Salt + Straw = Joy!
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