Portland, Ore. is a gem to visit any season of the year with endless possibilities for an active lifestyle of food, drink, culture and recreation.
There are eight bridges across the Willamette River, which divides the City of Roses. This provides easy access to explore on the south or north side by way of foot, bicycle or LRT. A new cable bridge -the Tilikum Crossing, was completed this past year (opened Sept. 15, 2015), and is used for pedestrian, cycle, bus, and commuter rail. It is an exciting architectural addition to the existing historical steel bridges -two dating back to over 100 years.
A convenient and comfortable way to travel to Portland is on Amtrak, with a daily morning departure from Vancouver through Bellingham and Seattle and arriving mid afternoon. There is wifi, beverage and food service, and two levels of coach comfort-providing a relaxing, carefree way of travel. You can bring your bicycle on board for just an extra $5 fee. Rail service feeds into the city's downtown Union Station from major cities of the north, east, and south.
Portland's half sized city blocks make everything within easy reach. Light rail transit takes you almost everywhere you would like to go, and bikes are welcomed on it. Combined with a bike friendly bus network -moving about is quick and easy. Taxis from the downtown will on average be $6 to $8 to most restaurants in the heart of Portland. With your bike, you will experience one of the most pedal friendly cities in North America. How about a brewery tour by bicycle?
In downtown Portland, right near Stumps Coffee and Voodoo Donuts is Portland Bike Tours. Owner Evan Ross and manger Guthrie Shaw come from a solid background of guiding and trekking. Starting their shop with only two bikes - they now have over 50 for rent. Complementing this is a full service department store filled with accessories. And of course, at the service counter there are two taps with local craft beer to enjoy at the end of your Brews Cruise Tour. Both men are active cycle evangelists in the community and at the hub of change for more bike friendly roadways in the suburbs.
My pedal from the newly renovated, bike friendly, Hotel Rose, on the river front, was an effortless fiveminute ride. I was presented with a Cycle Portland Map and given a few safety tips, including a refresher on hand signals. Sunny days and mild climate provide very pleasant cycling experiences in Portland year round. My guide, Guthrie, pointed out to me some interesting facts about the bicycle-friendly city. Street lights are timed to change at a bike cruising speed of 20 km/h. Cyclists can ride two abreast in cycle lanes, and on streets without cycle lanes they are treated as cars and ride in the centre of the lane. Guthrie says about Portland cycling: "Touring Portland by bike offers the perfect blend of adventure, mobility, and culture. You can visit Portland many ways, but none of them are finer than the view from behind the handlebars." Our tour took us across the Steel Bridge and along the river front to OMSI Science Centre and the Cold War 581 Submarine. Its claim to fame was a small part in the Sean Connery movie Hunt for Red October. I would later return for an exciting end to end tour from the captains command seat to the torpedo launching bay. Away from the river front we traveled through the light industrial neighborhood in the southeast section of the city. A short time later we arrived at Cascade Brewing Barrel House to have a taster tray of their unique sour beers.
On Tuesdays at 6 p.m. they host "Tap It Tuesday". Ron Gansberg, brew master and owner, invited me for a behind the scenes barrel room sampling. The beers are 12 to 18 months old - aged in bourbon and wine oak barrels. It was truly a sweet fragrant nectar like I never tasted before. Ron says "Our future is full of more shared experiences with food, customers, and empowering our employees to create more fun".
At 6 p.m. a sizable crowd gathered to see the tapping of Ginger Snap Sour. There is always a possibility of a "sour shower" if the guest tapper does not hammer the tap in right. At 11.7 per cent alcohol, one 10 oz. glass is plenty.
Back in the downtown section of Portland, great sites in the daytime include the Lan Su Chinese Garden, a traditional Ming Dynasty meditative sanctuary that is claimed to be the most authentic outside of China.
Across town, a must see is the Portland Art Museum. Antiquities from China, tempera and oil paintings from Europe, dating back to 1340 AD, and world class photography exhibits fill the two adjoining buildings. There is so much too see that you really should set aside at least four hours. Further up the hill, above the city (best by LRT Blue Line train -bike friendly) is the Washington Park Zoo. With its own railway you get great views of Condors and Elephant habitat. The walkway through the zoo takes you through the northwest to the Arctic, Asia and Africa. Outside the zoo a wonderful network of roads and trails takes you across and down the forested hillside to the Japanese Garden -composed of five distinct styles of gardens. A beautiful waterfall cascades from the mountain forest into a pond full of colourful orange and red koi. Influenced by three eastern religious philosophies, the gardens are a beautiful combination of nature and traditional design.
From morning to night there are endless possibilities for great food experiences in Portland. Brunch at Tasty N Alder in the Pearl District is a must. Cozy and busy - with a flare for unique comfort food cuisine. Their signature dishes include Bim Bop Bacon Eggs and The Whole Toad (breakfast bread pudding). Since you are in Portland there is always a tasty IPA like Breakside Brewing IPA's to go along with your meal. Bluehour is in the same vicinity and is worth a stop for happy hour or return in the evening for a white linen dining experience. Globally trained local chef Kyo Koo dishes out a tasty Mediterranean fare. As a starter I tried one of their delicious cocktails, appropriately named Smokey Robinson. A bourbon/mescal based drink with a little maple syrup to round it off.I followed that with an appetizer of Weather-vane Scallops and main course of chinook salmon. The seafood dishes are perfectly prepared with a fresh mouth watering flavour. On tap they serve delicious craft beers to get you through your four-course meal. On the other side of the river I tried Biwa known for its Japanese fusion style dishes including special Otsumami and grilled tako (octopus). For pub fare don't miss bicycle themed HubBrewing. With a long list of craft beers and and delicious pub fare - it is a perfect cap to a day of cycling around the city.
My seven-day tour could have continued on for 14 days without running out of things to do. Did I mention Powell's Books (four floors). The full city block store is the largest independent book store in the United States. Two city blocks full of food carts called "Alder Pod," at SW Ninth and Alder, provide 60 options for great eats.
Be sure to checkout upcoming festivals throughout every month of the year. Alacia Lauer, with Travel Portland, sums up the city perfectly -"Portland's got this laid-back attitude that I think a lot of people find refreshing - a little quirky, a little unconventional and really, really friendly. Good food and good beer, however, are taken very seriously." Being on the Wet Coast, Portland isn't a fair-weather city and that fact is celebrated by cyclists each year with the "Worst Day of the Year" ride, happening in February each year (worstdayride. com/).