Sunday, May 15, 2011

Discover Portland! Car-free Holiday No. 1!

We first went to Portland a year and a half ago, just before Christmas, when Amtrak was having a $39 seat sale. We took up their offer and took the family (including 2 teenage boys) down for a long weekend. We had a really good time.

Now, more people have discovered this awesome getaway.

For starters, my colleagues at work are starting to use the Amtrack Cascades train (from VCR to Portland) for business trips. I work in the pulp and paper sector, and there are several mills in the environs of Vancouver (WA) and Portland (OR). So, rather than rent a car and drive down, we now get on the train, and pick up a rental car at the other end to get us to the mill. The train has several huge advantages over driving:
  • the customs are in the Vancouver train station: the lineups are much shorter and the border services staff is much friendlier than what you'll find at the Peace Arch (a big bonus when you're going down for work, with a visa in your passport...)
  • the train has WiFi (at least, the Amtrak Cascades does), so you can actually do some work while travelling (OK, it's not super speedy, but adequate for email and some limited surfing)
  • there's a buffet car with food and a bar, so you can get a beer on the way back home (which is a late train)
  • the train is actually quite comfortable - built to European standards, not some ancient North American rolling stock
Of course, you have to get yourself to the station by 6:15 am to catch the train...but on weekdays, I can get the first SkyTrain from Sapperton station and be there in plenty of time. On weekends or holidays, it's harder - we have to either take a cab, or use our Modo (car share) membership to pick up one of their Main/Terminal vehicles the night before, and drive ourselves back early the next morning.

Anyways, we took our teenage sons down to Portland for the Easter long weekend recently. The train was packed! There's lots of accomodation options in Portland, but we like the Inn at Northrup Station, a funky boutique hotel with fully functional kitchenettes. The hotel is a good 30 min. walk from the station, but it's on the tram line and in a funky neighbourhood with lots of restaurants and a Trader Joe's nearby for all your gastronomic requirements. Do try the Urban Fondue. And there's also the Slabtown BBQ restaurant, for good ole' southern BBQ (with 2 teenaged boys, this is a must-do for us).

 There's a very lively "Saturday Market" along the Wilamette river (pronounced "wil - AH - met"), tons of boutique shopping in a very, very walkable city core. Lots of great bike shops. Tons of brewpubs - although I must say, I prefer our own BC microbrews; I find the Portland beers all a bit too hoppy. And, of course, there's Powell's Books, a fantastic bookstore that both my sons will spend HOURS in. For us, this is a dangerous shop...

The history museum is worth a visit, you might even get a personal tour like we did from a decidedly left-wing guide. The forestry center is interesting. There's an art museum as well, and a zoo, neither of which we have yet checked out. And if you're into music, there's lots to be had on that front also!
In short, well worth a visit (or two...three...)!

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