Oregon – Portland, The Coast & Astoria


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June 30th 2014
Published: June 30th 2014
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Portland – The ‘Foodie’ City

We leave at 8am from Spokane as we have a long drive to Portland (350 + miles). As we head through Washington State the landscape is quite gentle, not so hilly and mainly grasslands – large ranches and not many settlements. Once we hit Oregon, we are following the Columbia River (the State Line between Oregon & Washington runs down the middle of it) and we see the biggest wind farms we’ve seen in the US to date – mostly on the Oregon side but also some on the Washington side.

As we get closer to Portland, vineyards start to appear together with lots of fruit orchards and we also get sight of a snow covered Mount Hood in the distance – it looks a bit like Mt Fuji in Japan.

From the outskirts of Portland, driving to our Motel – Aladdin Inn & Suites south of the city, the traffic gets pretty heavy and the main circular routes (I-84 & I-5) were worse than the M25 in London; it’s wall to wall cars during the rush hour. The city has a sort of spagetti junction to move traffic around and across it. It’s mad at the best of time and is a bit of a nightmare in the dark as the turn offs are pretty quick and on sharpe bends. One thing we notice is that Oregon drivers tend to drive much faster than most Americans who seem to keep very much to the speeed limit + 5mph. Here it’s 10 to 15+ over the speed limit as a rule.

The weather is a very pleasant 80F degrees (27C) and sunny. A nice change from the last few days. Once in the city we head first to Lardo, on the east side of town, for lunch. It’s recommended on Yelp and Urbanspoon, and is also opposite an area of foodcarts which are pretty big business here and spread throughout the Downtown area. Lardo mainly do pork, cooked slow and long, and we have a good Korean pork sandwich with kimchi, with parmesan and herby fries. Nice food but bloomin’ salty chips though ( too much parmesan & salt)!

Portland has probably the most foodcarts of any of the places we’ve visited and really is a foodie ciy. You can literally find somewhere to eat on just about every street corner. We’re told there are more restaurants here per capita than New York!!

We get lots of good info from an enthusiastic volunteer in the Visitor Centre Downtown, then wander around for a while enjoying the sun and exploring. Parking can be a problem and potentially expensive, but the city have ‘Smart Parks’ which made life a lot cheaper and good value for 2 or more, as bus fares were a minimum of $5 return each for the day but we could park for 4 hours for less than $10.

Portland seems to have copied Austin’s tag line of “Keep ‘the City’ (Portland) Weird” and has a really easygoing, alternative feel. It’s obviously quite an affluent area but in contrast we see many homeless folk living rough and begging and quite a few with obvious mental health issues wandering around.

In one neighbourhood by Chinatown (which isn’t particularly big) a cardboard city has been set up on a site that is up for sale, with plans on the hoardings showing how the site could be developed into a community resource. Coin Street in London comes to mind where the community won.

The Downtown area of the city is actually quite small and after a couple of hours we’ve explored Chinatown, the Riverside area, and the Central area.

One piece of history which we come across here is about the incarceration of Japanese American people in the US during the 2nd World War. By their own accounts it is another dark chapter in American history, when families were uprooted from their homes and communities and marched off into sorts of concentration camps and tortured and treated really badly. Short of being put to the gas chambers like the Jews, their fate & treatment was what many are ashamed of and there stands an apology and memorial plaque in the park to the Japanese people of Oregon. (We’d seen something about this period previously in the southern states but this is the most graphic).

After exporing town we head off to the motel which is pretty good. The outside has been reclad with wood and looks quite stylish, and the room we’re given is huge – with a separate bedroom. Breakfast isn’t too bad either & the service excellent. All for about $75 per night.

For dinner we head to Pambiche (a Cuban place we have read about & which gets good reviews) on the other side of the river, (the drive there and back at night is challenging) for Cuban food. The place is pretty busy and very colourful and we go for a Cuban stew and oxtail Cuban style. Not bad though not quite the taste we had in Cuba.

Next day it’s cooler but sunny. After a good breakfast at the Motel, we catch up with a load of admin, book stuff (bus and hostel) for Philidelphia in October and then take a trip Downtown again.

We visit the Food Trucks in a central square. This reflects the very cosmopolitain nature of Portland – there are trucks selling Egyptian, Turkish, Greek, Ethiopian, Thai, Indian, American, Mexican, Moroccan, Brazillian etc. food and quite reasonable prices too. Unfortunately as we are a bit late some have closed or others run out of the things we wanted so it’s off to Stumptown Coffee where we have great coffee & awesome snacks. They seem to have a retro style and only play vinyl albums on an old style turn table - Black Sabbath was on when we arrived.

One thing we notice is how Petrol prices go up to over $4 per gallon - we think because of the Iraq crisis & the impact on crude oil prices but are informed it’s the norm as summer holidays have started and demand pushes up prices each year about this time. For us the cost of some of this is off set by the £ getting slightly stronger against the dollar.A quirk of the Oregon system is that you are not allowed to fill your petrol tank up at a gas station – an attendent must do so and apparently if you did – even inadvertantly you are liable to a $125 fine! Completely nuts.

One good thing about Oregon is that prices include tax (if payable as most items don’t attract Sales Tax as in Montana). This so refreshing as the price you see is the price you pay unlike many other places where ST is added - between 8 and 15% normally.

In the evening we go to C Bar for dinner & drinks after seeing them on the Travel Channel. They are in another neighbourhood which gets us a feel for another part of the city. We try the Gladstone Poutine (chips with collard greens, cheese and meat sauce) their dish that was tasted on the show, and it’s not only enormous it tastes pretty good washed down with some Portland Amber Ale - our drink of choice when we go out to eat. Microbreweries are big in Portland and they do some good beer.

As it’s Saturday we have been recommended to go to the local Farmers Market at the University (8am to 2pm) before we leave Portland later. It’s pretty packed by 9.15am when we arrive. It’s not quite Borough Market (as the person in the Visitor Centre had suggested), but it’s a fun visit. What is amazing is how clean and almost sanitised the whole market is. Every stalls display is pristine and all the fruits and vegtables washed clean and set out in almost obsessive order – lines, boxes, cirles etc. We try some coffee and Quiche (bacon & Chard) from a local stall which is lovely but quite expensive for what it is. That’s tendy markets for you I guess.

We finally leave Portland at about 10.30am as we have a way to go…..

Newport – The Seafishing Town

The drive to Newport, by the sea, about 175 miles away is quite boring and flat at first, other than the odd glimpse of the coast, then it gets hilly towards our destination and there are an amazing array of wildflowers along the road & cliffs with a great variety of colours, making it feel quite Summery e.g Foxgloves, Lupins, wildflower etc.

It’s pretty obvious that the Lewis & Clark expedition made its way and finished near here as there are signs, woodlands, State parks, Highways, all with their names on it.

We arrive in Newport in time for lunch. It’s a glorious sunny and warm day and we park just by a local institution - the Local Ocean Seafood restaurant which is packed, with a queue (waiting time about ½ hour). We take a seat at the bar (less wait time) watching the chef and cooks do their thing, enjoying fish taco’s with awesome fennel slaw, as recommended and Dungeness Crab Cakes with a cup of spicy and sour shrimp soup – very good and resonably priced even if this is a more expensive place. Beside us is a couple from Portland, Sheila and Travis, and we get chatting; he has been fishing for the last few days and she has just joined him for the weekend. As we are leaving they offer us some of the fresh Halibut that he had caught – wow! We follow them to their trailer and Travis gives us a huge piece – enough for 2 days, and won’t accept anything for it. They seem a really lovely couple (unfortunately she has MS) but we don’t get to see them again to say thankyou.

During the afternoon we tour the harbourside – this is a fully operating fishing town with marina and fishing boats, and the town area – just one main street which has fish processing factores on the waterside and lots of typical seaside eateries and gift shops. It’s a nice place to explore, particularly in the sunshine.

We had noticed lots of Tsunami warning notices as we drove around here and in town is a huge chunk of the harbour from Misawa in Japan where they had the Tsunami in 2011, which eventually washed up on the coastline here. It’s on the same Tsunami fault line apparently. We hadn’t really thought about the fact that the nearest western neighbours are Japan.

After pitching the tent at South Beach Sate Park, 2 miles south of town - a pretty good site right next to the beach, that’s packed as it’s the weekend, we start getting dinner ready. Disaster! The propane cylinders won’t attach to the cooker. It worked fine yesterday. We make a quick dash to Walmart for new cylinders but they don’t work either. M does a great Heath Robinsonesque “fix” so at least we can cook and we enjoy fab Halibut wraps by the campfire.

(Note: next day we go back to Walmart to see if they have a spare cooker connector and the superviser happily swaps our dud one for the new one in the kit they have on sale. Awesome! What a star & great Customer service.).

The next day the weather is lovely so we do some exploring around the local area. First stop, Yaquina Bay lighthouse, a small lighthouse that only operated for 3 years in the late 1800’s before they realised ships coming round the headland couldn’t see the light!!! Inside is a small museum that shows how the family would have lived and the duties for maintaining the light. There’s also a small film show about the lighthouses and coast.

There is also an interesting info board that recounts how this area was “discovered” by Captain Cook, who arrived in such bad weather he named the area Cape Foulweather and moved on, which in part resulted in President Jefferson establishing the Lewis & Clark expedition into the newly acquired US area known as the Louisiana Purchase, so that other countries wouldn’t try and claim the area.

Next stop is Yaquina Head lighthouse, 3 miles north of town. The entry fee is $7 and just as we’re wondering if it’s worth it, the Ranger asks if we have an America Parks Pass. We do, so in we go for free! And if we hadn’t gone in, knowing what we do now about how fantastic a place this is to visit, we would have been gutted!! The lighthouse stands high on a promontory surrounded by rocky outcrops that are the resting places of thousands of sea birds and sea lions. It’s also a good whale watching spot at the right time of year. Around the headland are masses of yellow and purple flowers that really frame the place. And the beach is covered in black rounded stones so different to anything we’ve seen anywhere else before. It’s rugged, wild and exactly what makes the Oregon coastline so beautiful.

For lunch we head back into town, this time to Mo's for their 'World Famous' Clam Chowder (not enough clams), Oyster stew (curdled milk soup!) & Marionberry Cobbler (more like a pie than a cobbler). It’s a bit of an institution in these parts with branches all over the place though it left us a bit underwhelmed.

Wandering around town again after lunch we see some of the (predominantly Mexican) fishworkers at work from the piers along the town. As the private charter boats come in, their catch is taken off and expertly filleted, skinned and chopped for the punters to take away. Private charter fishing is big business here - $75 for 6 hrs Salmon fishing or $180 for 7 hrs Halibut fishing – and there are limits on how much of your catch you can take back.

We then head over to “historic” Nye Beach, just north of town. We have no idea why it’s historic, and it doesn’t seem to have any of the charm it’s made out to have?? There are some intriguing sand dunes along the shore – almost like exaggerated mogul fields you get on ski slopes, and some hardy folks wrapped up in hats and scarves braving out a picnic despite the cool wind. But somehow it doesn’t do it for us, so we head back to get organised for our Halibut steak for dinner & last night of camping in the US, stopping en route at the public fishing pier by Yaquina Bay. There are loads of folk out with cages on lines fishing not for fish but for the famous Dungeness crabs. Chicken thighs seem to be the bait of choice and the most successful catch seems to be a young lad using a rod and line with an intriguing trap contraption at the end. He catches some huge ones! Given how much crab cost locally we can see why this is a great family attraction. Just nearby is the Rogue Brewery Bar overlooking the Bay, where we enjoy a quick Amber ale while watching the highlights of USA vs Portugal.
We’ve had a lovely couple of days in Newport – it was definitely a surprise package, and we head off to Astoria, further up the coast looking forward to another couple of days on the coast, but this time in a hostel.

Next morning the weather is very misty as we start Route 101 north. This is the longest road in the America’s stretching along the west coast from Canada down to Mexico. We realise we went along part of it 10 years ago when we travelled along the coast of California but hadn’t appreciated the “fame” of the road.

We have decided to travel along the Route of the 3 Capes (Kiwanda, Lookout and Meares) which is described by LP as a scenic route with some of the coasts most scenic headlands. Disappointingly, we can’t see them - partly due to sea mist and cloud and partly due to poor signage - we missed the turn off for the first one completely!!

First though we stop for coffee and a snack at Pacific City (one of the smallest communities you could come across!) & get chatting to some guys from Portland who are impressed with our decision to stop work and live! They are planning to start a Magic show in Portland (one of them is an accomplished magician) and say that our adventure gives them the inspiration to live out their dream too. It’s funny how doing something so simple as talking can make such a difference.

At Cape Lookout we do stop for a look at the coastline. It’s actually a mile or so walk to the headland and best views but we can see that we can’t see anything!! So back in the car and we decide to give up on the scenic drive and just head to Cannon Beach – supposed to be very nice, for lunch.

Most of the journey, the landscape is pretty uninspiring, though we do go through bits with lovely flowers along the roadside. At Garibaldi there’s a Scenic Oregon Coast Steam train firing up though we don’t know where it goes to. We’re tempted to stop but lunch calls. At Wheeler the signage is so poor we lose our way for a bit on a straight Route 101; unfortunately we raise the hopes of some hitchhikers when we stop to ask for directions – though they can see we don’t have room for all 5 of them (honestly!).

Cannon Beach – the town of hanging flower baskets

And finally we drive along a very calm looking Pacific as we head in to Cannon Beach. It’s misty & overcast, and Cannon Beach which is a 1 street Town looks really clean and pretty with loads of flowers in bloom and handing baskets everywhere. They would definitely win the Town in Bloom competition.

We stroll around and find that there are quite a few holiday makers here – largely US but quite a few Japanese (not sure if they’re are Japanese Americans now or from Japan?). The beach one block away is a large expanse and looks good. However the weather clearly diminishes the scene as we see photographs showing the beach as quite colourful and dramatic when the sun is out. It’s has a good crowd of visitors despite the coolish weather and plenty of families on the beach.

We find a neat little spot for food away from the main street – where all the prices seem slightly expensive. It’s sandwiches at Seasons Café (lamb with the juice to dip in – awesome - and Clam chowder) with a California Amber Ale to wash it all down.

CB has the most colourful and imaginative sign for a Public Library – makes you want to go in and read or look around. Libraries around the world pay attention. After a couple of hours we decide to head on up the coast.

Astoria

The drive to Astoria is pleasant but the weather is pants. We get there late afternoon. It’s situated on the mouth of the Columbia River (famous for its wild salmon) & the entry to the Pacific Ocean. The approach to the town is by bridge (which winds off for 4.5 miles across to the Northern side). This used to be the centre of tinned fish production which is recalled in all the dustbins around town which look like large retro fish tin cans. Quite nice really!

We are booked into the Norblad Hotel/Hostel in Downtown – 2 blocks from the seafront. It’s pretty smart and the décor is minimalist and the rooms look like they have been furnished at IKEA. They are clean, modern and comfortable. Unfortunately the kitchen is only small and you can’t use their utensils – so we are lucky as we have all our camping stuff with us and eat in when we can.

The town itself, reminds us of many once illustrious seaside towns which have fallen on harder times - this could quite easily be in England or Scotland. The main drag is Commercial Street where there are many eateries and cafes. The residential part of the town is on the hillside overlooking the bay.

We see the home of Captain George A Flavel who was a Columbia Bar Pilot who made his fortune guiding ships through the River and built an enormous and quite impressive Victorian Mansion in the town which is now a Museum, a street up from the main drag and by the town’s jailhouse which operated there till 1979.

There are also the remnants of the harbour front with many eateries and a brewery. It’s a good stroll to see what was once a thriving fishing port. But the weather is grim and it starts to rain late evening so we don’t get to see the sunset the town is famous for.

Along the pier we pass a sign that explains the industry of this area. The workers in the fish canning factories along the river front were largely Chinese and there is a quite lovely ‘Peace Garden’ that commemorates the contribution of the Chinese community to this part of the US. It’s opposite the City Hall building. Further north from Astoria is an area that has more of a Scandinavian feel to it. These are the remains of the homes of folk that ran the Tanneries that packed the fish for export and local sale. Even today there are many local establishments with Scandinavian and Chinese names.

Unfortunately, next morning the weather is no better and we stay in catching up with our blogs and various emails. We have a Face Time session with Sarah re: her flat letting & budget which is pretty productive. She’s looking forward to her new adventure and life in Winchester with Simon.

We then head off to the harbour area where the Coastguard are based and the Maritime Museum. There are some nice pics to be had but it’s really not as nice as Newport.

For dinner we head to the Wet Dog Café, a bar/eaterie near the harbour. The food is pretty poor but hey ho!, we tried.

It’s odd but the Oregon coast has turned out exactly not what we expected!! The coast is fantastic in places such as Yaquina Head, but the weather can be pants; fishing ports like Newport are more than you can imagine whilst other “historic” areas leave us cold. Whatever, it was a lovely place to visit.



Next morning we head off to Seattle, Washington, and the last part of our USA part 1 adventure.


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