In venturing out and about to look at colleges, I visited the three largest cities in Oregon: Portland, Eugene, and Salem. Remarkably, even if you add the population of the three (counting their metro areas), you’re nowhere near the size of Singapore. In fact, just over 4 million people live spread out over Oregon’s 255,026 square kilometers, while about 5.5 million people are squished into Singapore’s 719. That’s remarkable to me.
Eugene is home to the University of Oregon, whose mascot is the Duck.
The campus is also home to The Pioneer Man, who looks proud and successful …
… and The Pioneer Mother, who looks tired and worn.
It looks to me like it would have been a lot more fun to have been a pioneer man.
Eugene is a college town, small and livable. My University of Oregon host took me to dinner in the now-hipster Whiteaker neighborhood, where I had an meal at Izakaya Meiji. They specialize in Japanese small plates, and their salmon misoyaki is to die for. I stayed in a wonderful Airbnb apartment not far from the university and then went out hiking early the next morning.
Spencer Butte makes for a quick hike if you choose the steep trail (though the hike is longer if you lose the main trail and then have to make an even steeper route of your own). At 7:00am, the top was very cold and very windy.
A thick fog had settled over the town itself …
… and there were low clouds hanging below in all directions…
… but you could still see the nearly-full moon up in the sky.
I scrambled down the butte — on the actual trail this time — and then made the drive an hour north to Salem, the state capitol. While I loved Willamette College, Salem is not particularly charming; its wide streets look nearly deserted and the state buildings all feel designed for bureaucracy. But I did find several redeeming features. The first of these was the Riverfront Carousel, built in 2001. Volunteers continue to design and build animals, and you can watch them at work. I rode Blackberry the fawn (she’s the result of 1,275 hours of carving and 211 hours of painting):
I love carousels! I love riding …
… and I love the tiny painting and carving details …
… and I love the individual characters that make each handmade carousel distinct:
Other things worth seeing in Salem included The Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge…
… signs on old buildings…
… and the fact that there were still a few dahlias in bloom:
I spent the next three nights in Hillsboro at Oakwood Gardens, just outside of Portland, on an alpaca farm!!!
The Airbnb owner lets you feed the alpacas, and they all come in a big mass when you shake the feed bucket.
I just loved looking at them (though I was sad to learn that they do not like to be touched on top of their very fuzzy heads).
It’s the west, so I often feel like my photos should look like this instead (especially when the alpacas have vanished from the field to get out of the rain):
Oakwood Gardens may be the most spectacular Airbnb place I’ve ever rented, because the owner has made formal gardens out of about five acres of the property. This was the view of the kitchen garden just a few steps from my cottage door:
You can walk trails and farm roads:
And while it’s clear that the garden has been put to bed for the winter, there were still a few flowers in bloom:
I spent too much time in traffic staring at taillights driving into Portland every day for work, but it was worth it to stay in such amazing surroundings. This was the view down the driveway in the early morning:
Portland itself mystifies me somewhat — I’m still trying to understand why so many people want to live there when it’s cold and rainy and grey from November through April. People don’t seem all that interested in central heating; I found that customers tended to keep their down jackets (Patagonia, of course) on throughout their restaurant lunches). It’s not really a cozy city — if you’re in a lot of the main parts of town, it feels pretty boxy and industrial, like a city that went up quickly in the early 1900s (which it did).
That said, people are friendly and outdoorsy and down to earth. It looks like everyone is about to go out for a hike or a run. The city has a lot of wealth and a lot of goodwill (with a lot of homeless people as evidence of the latter). And I found an excess of food carts, craft brew places, and old-style video arcade games as I drove around town.
Portland is rightly famous for its food scene — I can recommend Ned Ludd (try the fabulous whole roasted trout and a bourbon drink called the Hunting Vest), Andina, and the Irving Street Kitchen. The cocktails are out of this world. Here’s the bar at the Sapphire Hotel, where I had a hot drink called a Tom and Jerry:
Portland did impress me in one other way: it has my second-favorite airport in the world (after Singapore’s Changi, of course). The airport has two branches of a great women’s shoe and clothing store, cc McKenzie, whose slogan is a well-earned, “worth missing your flight for.” I also had a surprisingly wondering lunch of biscuits with homemade jam and a kale salad at The Country Cat. If you’re going to have a flight delay — and I did — this is a good place to do it!