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Trip Report Portland area trip report

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We're baaaack! We had a GREAT time in Portland, and I want to thank all the nice folks who gave us advice on what to see and where to go. My fears of traveling with a 13-month-old proved to be unfounded, and all went well. For those of you who are interested, here's what we did:

Wednesday: My sister Grace and I woke up early on Wednesday and had a lovely breakfast at La Provence, a charming little bakery in Lake Oswego (a suburb of Portland). It was decorated like a French bistro, but with a wonderful lit case of pastries and baked goods on offer as well. I had the banana-pecan french toast (a HUGE portion, served the creme anglaise), and my sister Grace got the ham and cheese croissant (completely decadent - buttery, gooey, warm). Service was a bit slow at first (the dining room was packed), but it picked up as some of the diners trickled out.

The food was absolutely amazing, so good that we stopped by the bakery counter on our way out and picked up a bag of pastries to eat during the week. We chose the pain au chocolat, the lemon turnover, and plain croissants. They were delicious heated up for a bit in the microwave, even days later. It was a bit pricey ($25 for two breakfasts plus a bag of treats for later), but I thought it was good enough to warrant the cost.

After that, we headed to the International Rose Test Gardens. Things grow like crazy in Portland (probably because of all the rain), and there were alot of botanic gardens on my sightseeing list. We really enjoyed our trip to this one. First of all, admission is FREE! The garden features some 7,000 rose plants, spread over several acres. There is a gorgeous variety of specimens, and all of the gardens were very well-maintained. We spent about an hour there, strolling among the blooms. (An FYI - Part of the garden is wheel-chair/stroller accessible; steps must be used to access other areas.)

Following that outing, we decided to stop by the Portland Japanese Garden, which is absolutely gorgeous. To enter, you can either walk the short (but steep) .25-mile trail up to the garden's entrance or take a convenient shuttle. Guided tours are available at specific times, but we chose to enjoy the garden on our own, with a handy brochure to help us identify important features. We loved the zig zag bridge, set among iris and ending in front of a beautiful waterfall. Statuary throughout, along with lush moss, ferns, and the artful arrangement of natural stone, make the gardens particularly striking.

My only complaint is that a good portion of the garden is hard to navigate with a stroller (which also means that patrons in wheelchairs can't enjoy most of the gardens. Boo. Hiss.). Soooo, that meant that Grace and I had to either forego seeing most of the garden or tote Clay around. We chose the latter, and we ended up carrying him aloft as if he were an emperor up and down steep stone steps. I kept saying "peace and tranquility, peace and tranquility" over and over to myself. But still, this is an awesome botanic garden, and not to be missed. Admission was $8 each for adults.

After that, we decided to let booger stretch his legs for a bit. We headed to one of the playgrounds at Washington Park, where he got a big kick out of running around with the other kids and just generally getting all his ya-yas out.

We stopped at Bijou Cafe in downtown Portland for lunch. YUM! We had a 5-minute wait for a great table, and our waitress quickly came over to take our orders. I thought I'd try the famous oyster hash, which, I must say, lived up to the hype! Large, fresh-tasting oysters, breaded in cornmeal and fried to a turn, along with onions, potatoes, and parsley. YUM! Grace chose a smoked mushroom panini, and our hungry toddler was accommodated with a fresh fruit plate, some whole wheat bread, and some cheese. Service was speedy, and though our waitress did seem less than happy to see us sit down with a 1-year-old, other staff members got a hoot out of kidding around with the tyke.

After that, we went back to the apartment and collapsed in a heap! (We tried to combine sightseeing with plenty of downtime, both for us and for the baby.)

Thursday: Grace had to work on Thursday, so the baby and I rented a car and headed to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. What fun! They had a dinosaur exhibit up, with casts of dinosaur skeletons, animatronic models, and some actual whole-skeleton fossils. It was amazing to see. While the museum was busy, we did not find it overcrowded. For us, the highlight of the facility was the Discovery Playground, an interactive indoor environment where kids 6 and under roam free. Clay LOVED this place. There were stations where kids could play with playdough, learn about how water powers things (complete with waterproof smocks and little rubber boots so the kids don't get dripping wet), a puppet theatre with puppets the children can play with, tables with legos and other toys, and tons of other stuff. While we also enjoyed the rest of the museum (some cool areas that teach you how turbines are powered, some life sciences exhibits about human development, etc.), the Discovery Playground was wonderful because it allowed booger to blow off some steam and play with other children.

Friday: Hubs met up with us. We started the day with a visit to Portland's Chinatown to check out the Classical Chinese Gardens. (Our last botanic wonder, I swear. But the weather was good, and we decided to take advantage of it.) This was my favorite botanic garden in the Portland area, and, considering how many gardens Portland boasts, that's saying something. The vegetation is amazing, and the structures in the garden are beautiful and provide countless opportunities for spectacular views. There are gorgeous specimen plants in addition to mossy green ponds, and even the gift shop is cool. The garden is completely ADA-accessible, so we had zero problems pushing Clay's stroller around (which was great, because he slept through the first half of our visit).

But what put this attraction over the top was the teahouse located in the midst of the garden. Operated by the Tao of Tea, this was a WONDERFUL place to stop for fine tea and a delicious snack. The selection of teas is mind-boggling, but the helpful staff will be happy to recommend something you'll enjoy. They brought us pots of three different teas, plus a plate of almond cookies. It was delicious, and comst something like $15 for all three of us. Clay woke up while we were in the teahouse, and we used this opportunity to feed him his own little snack. Afterwards, we enjoyed the rest of the garden.

For lunch, we decided to check out a food festival, called Bite of Oregon, that was being held in Waterfront Park. Restaurants from all over the state had set up tents, and you could sample (or order whole meals) from them. We paid our admission, and we each decided to pick up lots of small plates instead of eating big meals, so that we could try more of what was on offer. Then, we each shared a bite or two of what we got with each other, so that between the three of us, we probably sampled a fair percentage of what was being sold.

And it was GOOD. We first had seared chicken with creamy macaroni and cheese. Then we tried kobe beef chili, hot dogs, and slider burgers. We also ate some crabcakes, a spicy soft taco, some lobster ravioli, some great marionberry pie, and a strawberry shortcake. We washed it all down with rasberry lemonade. I really loved this festival. There was live music, there were kids and families everywhere, even the portapotties were clean. It was very well-organized, and everyone seemed to be having a great time eating tons of great food.

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    Portland, Continued . . . .

    Saturday: Brian graciously agreed to keep the baby all day so I could go play on Mt. Hood with Grace.

    We stopped for a quick lunch at the Mt. Hood Brew Pub (formerly the Ice Axe Grill), and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. We sat at the bar, and service was speedy and friendly. Grace had a gorgeous salad of greens, dried cranberries, blue cheese, nuts, and green apples. I had the Flat Iron Ciabatta sandwich (sliced beef, caramelized onions, and a yummy spicy sauce on thick peasant bread) with fries. Both dishes were excellent and arrived quickly from the kitchen. We also ordered the beer sampler, which featured a nice variety of dark and pale beers brewed on the premises. Prices were a bit high (mainly because of the restaurant's location on the mountain), but I thought the food and the service warranted the money we paid.

    While Grace took care of a few work responsibilities, I made the short hike to Zig Zag Falls (down road 39 - the trailhead is at the very end of the road). This was a quick hike down a beautiful trail with a gorgeous payoff at the end. I really enjoyed it. What's striking about hiking in Oregon forests is that they feel almost primeval. The trees are huge, everything is lush and green, and plants - ferns, mosses, wildflowers, understory trees - are literally growing everywhere. It's like something out of a fairytale. You know those babbling brooks and rushing mountain streams you used to read about? Well, in Oregon, they are all over the place. Waterfalls are rushing down right by the side of a regular old road. I wonder if people who live there even notice them anymore. It's absolutely beautiful.

    After that, I spent a little time at the Mt. Hood Cultural Center, learning about the area, its settlement, and the adventures (and disasters) experienced by hikers/climbers on Mt. Hood. It was pretty amazing to see the evolution of climbing. They had gear from different periods on display, as well as some atmospheric photos of the mountain throughout the seasons. They also had a book of newspaper clippings that reminded me how dangerous climbing Mt. Hood can be. There have been quite a few fatalities over the years.

    Once Grace finished up with her work event, we took a quick drive to Summit Meadows, which is a large, green meadow filled with tall mountain grass. It was a place where settlers traveling through the area would stop and rest a bit before continuing the grueling journey through the mountains.

    We also stopped by Trillium Lake, a clear, blue, man-made lake with stunning views of Mt. Hood. (Well, the views WOULD have been stunning, if the darn clouds weren't in the way at the time.) There were tons of people out on the mountain, and also at Trillium Lake, enjoying the scenery. (That was something I really noticed in Oregon. The people there don't take their public lands for granted. They are out there camping, hiking, fishing, you name it. It was actually kind of inspiring.)

    After enjoying the lake a bit, Grace took me to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. The lodge was built as part of FDR's Works Progress Administration, and it has been meticulously preserved. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and Grace gave me a fabulous tour of the place. After kicking back a bit in the lodge lobby, we ordered two hot cocoas, which we sipped by the big picture window as we discussed what to do next.

    We decided on an easy hike at Salmon River. You can drive right up to the trailhead, and the hike takes you parallel to the river's course. There are tons of old-growth trees there, and the river makes for beautifully changing scenery.

    We worked up an appetite on our hike, so we decided to have dinner at the Skyway Bar and Grill (in Zig Zag). This place is an absolute gem. Though there is an indoor dining room, featuring a full bar as well as a stage for the live music (something like 5 nights a week, I think), I thought the real scene was in the "backyard area," where they had plenty of tables for you to eat at, as well as a roaring campfire and a view of the sun setting behind the trees. The Skyway serves up fabulous barbeque (with a selection of delicious homemade sauces - huckleberry, blueberry, traditional, chipotle - we ordered a sampler of the sauces so we could try them all), and I chose the ribs. As as side item, I ate perhaps the most heavenly macaroni and cheese that has ever passed my lips. Creamy and cheesy with the crunchiest breadcrumb topping EVER. Plus, they have local beer and wine at the bar in addition to all the standard offerings. As we were finishing our dinner, some of the other diners pulled out their guitars and sang around the campfire. I know it sounds hokey, but it was totally magical. I sipped my wine and warmed my feet by the fire. One of Grace's friends brought her guitar, and she and Grace sang and played. This was perhaps my favorite evening of the trip.

    We drove back down the mountain afterwards and rested up for the next day of fun! Grace dropped me off at Brian's hotel, so I spent the remainder of the evening with him.

    Sunday: We slept in! When we awoke, Brian and I headed down to one of the hotel restaurants for a big breakfast. (Even though I ate like a horse while we were in Oregon, I didn't gain a single pound. It must be the mountain air. Or all the hiking.) We had HUGE plates - Brian got the breakfast buffet, and I had the Boursin omelette. Clay enjoyed liberal helpings from Brian's plate - yogurt, egg, some criossant, fruit. The kid is a bottomless pit. (He must take after his parents.)

    After breakfast, we met up with Grace and headed for the Portland Saturday Market (which, oddly enough, is held on both Saturday AND Sunday). The market reminded me of the Mississippi Craftsmen's Guild. There were tons of booths featuring homemade items - fused glass jewelry, intricate wood carvings (we bought some little wooden cars for the baby), handmade soaps, food items, cute cloth bags, knitted hats and accessories, paintings and photographs, just a ton of beautiful, handmade items. There were also the less interesting booths (lots of tie-dye, incense, etc.), as well as some performance artists (some neat, others not so much) and food booths. We shopped for a bit, then got lunch from a cart (spiced chicken with tabbouleh and hummus).

    Be aware - the Portland Market is a magnet for bums. There are lots of them there with signs and hats for money. What I noticed most, though, were how many of them were really young, just kids. It was heartbreaking.

    At any rate, we enjoyed the market, and then we decided to take the rest of the day off from sightseeing.

    Monday: Grace and I took the baby for a drive up the Columbia River Gorge. We stopped at all of the lookouts and many of the waterfalls. The Vista House at Crown Point is beautiful and offers 360-degree views of the gorge. We stopped there for a little while and stretched our legs. We also stopped at Latourelle Falls, Wahkeena Falls, and Multnomah Falls. I really wanted to hike some at the stops, but it was not a possibility with the baby. So, feeling a bit like a tourist, I got out of the car, snapped a few photos, communed with nature, and climbed back into the passenger seat. Oh, well. Next time . . . !

    The area is amazing, though, and the views are breathtaking. On the way back, our rumbling stomachs led us to TippiCanoe, where I had a HUGE plate of fried halibut and french fries and Grace ate maybe half of one of the biggest sandwiches I've ever seen. We also both sampled the restaurant's seafood chowder, which I can highly recommend.

    We spent the afternoon at the apartment before heading out to Toro Bravo for dinner. I'd heard wonderful things about this Spanish tapas bar, and prices were supposed to be reasonable, so I couldn't wait to check it out. They don't take reservations, so we showed up at 5 p.m. (when they opened) to LINE UP (I swear, there were already people lined up.) and get a table. Luckily, we were seated immediately, and we were served iced water and a lovely little dish of toasted, spiced chickpeas to munch on while we perused the menu. We ended up choosing several small plates: 1.) Manchego and spicy chorizo with peasant bread; 2.) grilled sweet corn with a dusting of herbs; 3.) polenta with vegetable ragout and melted cheese; 4.) cheese-and-nut-stuffed dates drizzled with honey; 5.) pork croquettes. Each plate was delicious; the quality of the food here is beyond reproach. Some serving sizes were a bit small (the dates, in particular), but others were generous (the polenta - YUM). We washed our food down with two glasses of Oregon wine. All told, our tab was $50, which was a total steal for the dinner we had.

    Tuesday: On our last full day in Orgeon, Grace and I headed to the Pearl District to window-shop. We checked out Powell's Books first, a HUGE book store that is independently-owned. The store is more than one story, and it covers a full city block. Inside, the most extensive collection of books I've ever imagined sat on meticulously tagged shelves. The tags were EVERYWHERE, and they denoted anumber of things - book-award-winners, staff picks, cross-references with other authors/books, even full reviews, signed by staff members. I loved this book store.

    After that, we legged it around the area for a bit, stopping for a bit of Stumptown coffee (which is locally roasted) as a souvenir. When hunger struck, we hopped over to Chinatown because Grace had never tried dim sum. I'd read in my trusty guidebook that Fong Chong's served a good version of it, so we bellied up to a nice table there to find out. Now, Fong Chong's doesn't look like much, I'll grant you. It's kind-of a hole in the wall, and the bathrooms are less than appealing. But you might decide that doesn't matter when the dim sum carts come out. We loved the ginger chicken, and we ate a huge variety of steamed and fried dumplings. The carts kept coming, too, with sliced meats and green beans, more dumplings, more of everything. We got a ton of dim sum, with tea, and paid something like $23. Great food, and lots of it, at reasonable prices. I think Grace really enjoyed herself, and I did, too.

    After lunch, we headed back to the apartment to relax before dinner, which we made at home. The next day, we took a blessedly uneventful flight back to Mississippi.

    We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to the Portland area! It's well worth a trip there if you haven't been, and the atmosphere is very family-friendly.

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    Sounds like a great trip! It sounds like you did a lot of fun things on your trip, my daughter took her boyfriend to the Rose Gardens a few days ago, they took some beautiful photos there. ***kim*** ((#))

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    Glad you enjoyed your time here. La Provence is busy every day, but like you said it is very good! You hit so many places that we enjoy as well. Trillium Lake is fantastic in the winter, so come back then and go snowshoeing there. Do you have a return trip planned yet? ;)

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    Great report!

    Glad you had a great time, especially traveling with your "13 month booger". Trips like this not only make for good memories, but will give you the courage to take him on more travels.

    Thanks again. You really covered a lot of Portland, and made me very hungry in the process.

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    Nice report. Glad you enjoyed Portland.

    Be aware - the Portland Market is a magnet for bums. There are lots of them there with signs and hats for money. What I noticed most, though, were how many of them were really young, just kids. It was heartbreaking.

    Actually, you see such people all over Portland, not just at Saturday market. I'm surprised you noticed them only at Saturday Market. It's rare that I don't get hit up for spare change a few times on a single visit to downtown Portland. Perhaps Saturday Market is a good haunt for them since there are a lot of tourists there who aren't jaded by seeing the same people over and over and over again...

    Our local free weekly, Willamette Week, did a story a few years ago about all the people with signs begging for change at the freeway onramps and such. Turns out they are not randomly there; they are quite organized and are even picked up/dropped off in vans, and you can't simply show up and take a spot, because it's been allocated to someone ahead of time, by some sort of pseudo-underworld outfit. And these people make a good amount of tax-free money begging (like more than they'd make working at McDonalds). So I have little sympathy for the folks who have these signs begging for money.

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    So glad you enjoyed the trip report. Just wanted to post again and thank everyone who helped out with advice!

    And you guys are right - one good trip with "booger" leads to another. Before you take an infant on a plane, you worry alot about how it will be. But when you do it for the first time, you realize that kids have good days and bad days, regardless of whether they are on a plane or not, and you just have to deal with it.

    I would LOVE to return to the area; I wish we'd had more time to explore Mt. Hood and go hiking in the gorge. Next time, I will build in more vacation days for those activities.

    Thanks again for all of your help, guys!

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