Louise Goldsbury takes to the weird side in Portland.
The most popular, satirical song on cult comedy show ‘Portlandia’ perfectly describes this underrated city: “It’s where young people go to retire”. They flee from Los Angeles and New York for relief from the craziness, only to run into a brick wall plastered with the local motto: Keep Portland Weird. And weird it is, in a completely fantastic way.
I moved here from Sydney a few months ago, knowing very little about the place, but what I knew I liked: free public transport; good, cheap food; a big music scene; surrounded by mountains and wineries; and more breweries than any city in the world.
The pleasant surprises kept coming as I discovered unfailingly friendly people, brilliant bars and restaurants, hiking and cycling trails, and perfect summer weather. Just be sure not to visit during the very rainy winter – and much of autumn and spring.
The joke around town is that the sun finally comes out on the day after 4th of July. Then the fun really begins with weekly festivals and fairs, street parties, parades, outdoor art shows, sports and free concerts.
A popular past-time is to go rafting or tubing down the rivers. My boyfriend and I tied together our ‘donuts’ (US$9 from Walmart) and gently drifted down the Mollala for five hours. On the last Sunday of July, more than 1,500 people participate in The Big Float on the Willamette River, which dissects the city, followed by an after-party in the park.
An all-in-one package is Washington Park, comprising a zoo (don’t miss the Zoo Railway), museums, a Japanese garden, amphitheatre, archery range, tennis courts, soccer field, picnic areas and a wild forest with kilometres of walking tracks. It’s also home to the nation’s oldest public rose test garden, abloom with several thousand roses, as beautiful as the city views.
HI USA offers two great hostels in Portland – one in the hipster hub of the Hawthorne district, and one in the city’s leafy north-west.