July 25th, 2011
Once again I found myself at the dingy Seattle Greyhound bus terminal for an early morning departure, this time to spend four days in and around the city of Portland, Oregon. Thankfully the bus left on time for the 4 hour trip (including stops). Breakfast consisted of a $0.99 breakfast burrito at a truck stop in Centralia, Washington…..not the greatest option, but perhaps also the highlight of the bus ride!
Arrival in Portland was right on time. Interesting to note that the Greyhound terminal in Portland is worlds apart from Seattle’s – it is larger, newer and cleaner…..was it really owned by Greyhound??? My first task was to redeem my breakfast. I headed over to the nearby Chinatown and found salvation in a restaurant called “Louie’s” something or other. I got a great $6.95 lunch special – hot and sour soup, massive Chinese omelette, with sides of an egg roll (like a spring roll), wontons and fried rice with a pot of tea!
I spent the rest of the day exploring this quirky and fun city. A sign painted on a wall downtown sums it up beautifully “Keep Portland Weird“. Portland has the usual homeless/street people, junkies and the modern day busking hippies in their unusual khaki/brown hand crafted “uniform” they all seem to wear in the Pacific Northwest; who are all on the prowl for a hand out, but they don’t bother you too much.
It is a relatively low rise city with old buildings and lots of cafes, restaurants, bars, micro-breweries, shops etc, a nice waterfront park along the river (dotted with many big bridges). One thing I really liked was the abundance of street food vendors (mostly open for lunch, but some at night) where you could get delicious and affordable food from all over the world ranging from the usual fare of hot dogs/burgers and BBQ to Mexican, Cuban, Brazilian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Indian and more! Most meals range from $6 – $10. These vendors in semi-permanent little vans/trailers are dotted around the city in large groups usually on the edge of car park lots. Seattle lacks this, they have a few vans here and there but due to some local bylaw they are limited in number (apparently Seattle city is looking to change this – I hope so!).
I have to mention “Voodoo Doughnuts (the magic is in the hole)” a very popular doughnut store (its open 24 hours 7 days a week!). Similar to Top Pot Doughnuts that I have mentioned before here in Seattle, but weirder (its opposite the “Keep Portland Weird” sign)! They have traditional doughnuts and cake doughnuts like Top Pot, but then they go off on a tangent with all sorts of custom doughnuts such as the Voodoo Doll, Captain My Captain (vanilla frosting covered in Captain Crunch cereal), The Loop (vanilla frosting covered in Froot Loops), Dirt Doughnut (icing with Oreo cookie on top), Marshall Matters (icing with M&M’s), Texas Challenge (massive doughnut equivalent to 6 normal ones)…..the list goes on! Check them out at Voodoo Doughnuts Menu.
I visited “Voodoo” on two occasions, both times there was a queue outside waiting to get some doughnut action. Many people would buy a box with a mixed dozen, they even had an option to buy a small wooden coffin full of doughnuts for $100! Prices were very reasonable from $1 to say $5 depending on what you were buying (i.e. how big, how elaborate), but I would say most were on average about $2. My first visit I had an Arnold Palmer (I was curious as to what it was more than anything) – a plain cake doughnut with vanilla icing with lemonade/ice tea dust and a froot loop on top (had quite a tangy taste and was pretty good)! The second visit I had something that sounds gross, and I guess it kind of was….a bacon maple bar (normal doughnut yeast, with maple icing and 2 strips of bacon on top). All in all great doughnuts, but for me Top Pot still reigns supreme, but a walk on the weird side was a welcome diversion!
A visit to the local multiplex cinema lead me to seeing the new “Captain America” movie in 3D. Good movie (Aussie Hugo Weaving as Red Skull was great!), but the 3D really didn’t add much to the experience, and I am not going to bother with it much more unless the movie has been shot specifically in 3D like Avatar. It’s just not worth paying the extra for, you don’t feel totally immersed in the movie, and having a few things fly at you now and then is not enough! See the movie and enjoy the mighty shield action, but save your money and watch in 2D (by the way, there is extra footage at the end of the painfully long credits too).
July 26th, 2011
Mount Hood & Columbia River Gorge
I picked up a hire car for a couple of days and headed east to the Mount Hood National Forest. The day started off cloudy, but ended up a perfect sunny day about when I arrived at the Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood (a massive ski lodge). Beautiful scenery awaited me at the south face of the mountain, but also the surrounding mountain ranges and forest. It was strange standing in snow with skiers and snowboarders going past me in the middle of summer! I had planned to do a hike out to Zig Zag canyon, but a number of trails are still closed due to heavy snow! It’s summer!!! Had to be content with a shorter trek instead.
I then took the car to another location called Coopers Spur for a view of the north face of Mount Hood. The paved road stopped and I set off on a dirt track, it was a bit rough and rocky but the little hire car made it to the top of the winding road ok (I did have a flashback to blowing out a tyre and severely damaging another in my old work car on a stinking hot day in the mountains near Mansfield in Victoria, Australia…but luck and slightly more sensible i.e. slower driving was on my side this time!). I stopped at a place called Inspiration Point, then walked down this steep slope to the edge of a rocky cliff for a spectacular view of the mountain and a river bed in the valley below.
I safely made it down the spur back to the highway and headed for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The gorge has been formed by the massive Columbia River – very wide and long, a highway runs along its length from Portland. The route is dotted with mountain forest, state parks, waterfalls, scenic view points and various small towns such as Hood River, Cascade Locks etc.
I stopped at Multnomah Falls (the highest waterfall in the gorge at 620 feet), it cascades down on 2 levels, and I took the zig zagging hike to the top which was awesome – great views but also a beautiful forest and creek to explore at the top. I visited 2 more falls – Latourell Falls (a tall water drop, with strange entablature rock jointing which forms columns on the cliff face) and Bridal Veil Falls (a nice scenic walk to 2 level falls). Well worth a visit to this scenic area if you are ever in Oregon.
July 27th, 2011
Less than an hours drive south of Portland is the town of McMinnville and the Evergreen Aviation Museum. Apart from having an excellent collection of military, civilian and space aircraft, the museum is home to the famous Hughes H-4 Hercules the “Spruce Goose“.
Howard Hughes designed and built in the 1940’s what was to become the largest ever flying boat and it still has the longest wing span of any aircraft to date (97.5 metres). The Airbus A-380, Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental (transport) and the massive Russian Antonov AN-225 Dream (a one off aircraft, built to transport the cancelled Russian communist era space shuttle Buran – I was lucky enough to get inside the Buran shuttle a few years back, but that’s another story!) are all longer aircraft (the H-4 was 66.6 metres long, the A-380 is 73 metres, the 747-8 is 76.4 metres and the AN-225 84 metres long).
The H-4 was built to the requirements of a WW2 contract to build a transatlantic transport aircraft that would avoid the needs of sending war supplies by ship (which at that time were being sunk by German U-Boats) and not use materials such as aluminium that were required for the war effort. So the aircraft is 95% made of wood, hence the somewhat sarcastic nickname of “Spruce Goose” given by its critics (ironically it was mainly built from Birch wood). Howard Hughes hated that nickname. By the time it was finished the war was well and truly over and the aircraft was no longer required.
Strangely the H-4 was kept flight worthy at a cost of $1 million per year until Howard Hughes died in 1976 at the age of 70 (up to 300 people were employed to maintain it until the early 1960’s when this number was reduced to about 50 people)! He was a rich man (one of the wealthiest in the world) and this was his baby.
Although the aircraft wasn’t a success, the design did influence future large transport aircraft such as those previously mentioned and many more. The Hughes legacy lives on.
After 1976 the aircraft went through numerous hands and was on display in California until 1988 (then owned by Disney). A new owner was sort over a number of years until finally it was sold to Evergreen Aviation and was transported by sea to Portland, Oregon in early 1993 (after 138 days at sea!) and then to McMinnville where the rebuild and restoration began. This must have been a massive job. The building alone that holds it is huge!
Standing beneath the “Spruce Goose” and walking around airframe you can’t help but be in awe of the size it! Also having read so much over the years about Howard Hughes the business magnate, aviator, engineer and film maker (and his sordid sex life, eccentricities, fear of germs, near fatal air crashes etc.) it was a real highlight to finally see the machine that was so much a part of his life. You are also allowed to go inside the fuselage where you can see from behind glass the cargo area. They have the flight log book on display, only one entry recorded of course!
For a fee of $25 you can go up into the cockpit and have a photo taken (in a Howard Hughes like pose – they even have a hat to wear, but I declined that offer), for $50 you can get a tour of the cockpit etc and take photos of that area. I went for the $25 photo option, but I used a bit of Aussie charm whilst up there to get to take some photos of my own and also get to go into the restricted tour area and see inside the wings (big enough for someone to stand up straight in)….didn’t have to pay the extra though!
July 28th, 2011
Allure of the Automobile
An exhibition at the Portland Art Museum displaying 16 classic cars from the 1930’s to 1960’s celebrating their artistic lines and motoring design perfection. Manufacturers included Bentley, Bugatti, Mercedes-Benz, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Porsche, Jaguar, Chevrolet, Plymouth and Tucker (remember that movie with Jeff Bridges?). These were some seriously beautiful cars! To be honest I didn’t see anything else in the museum, these cars have been immaculately restored, waxed and polished to the point of gleaming! A fantastic exhibition.
The 1957 Jaguar XK-SS Roadster on display was once owned by legendary actor and king of cool Steve McQueen, but I think my favourite car was the spotless silver 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster. A powerful work of art on wheels!
There is one other major art work in Portland worth mentioning. Portlandia is a massive copper statue on the side of the Portland Building downtown (it is over 34 foot high or 10.6 metres). She sits above street level in a relatively narrow street. It is apparently second only in size in the US to The Statue of Liberty in NYC (for this type of copper work).