July 24, 2013, Portland, Oregon: Right out of the gate, driving south along Interstate 5 and across the Morrison St. Bridge into the city, our first impression is that it looks like Canada. Then we catch a glimpse of Athens in the hills behind the neighborhood. Then we see Sydney in the high bridge at the end of the road. Chicago waves hello from shiny new condominiums. For a second, we notice New York in a gritty hotel, where a fan, lamp and hanging clothes clutter an open, second-story window.
First impressions of Portland are that this place is a mish-mash of lots of locations we love. But we know better. Portland is its own scene. We just haven’t had time to discover it yet.
A walk through the city on a picture perfect summer night is the optimal way to begin. Getting a lay of the land and unraveling a new geography is one of my favorite pastimes, and doing so in Portland feels immediately comfortable. Portland feels good and natural, and maybe it shows: a woman asks us for directions we can’t help with as sunset bounces off the old water tanks atop the buildings that surround us. The industrial buildings of the Pearl District are marked up with beautiful old signage that remains though they’ve since become someplace new. It’s an odd observation, but this place has great fonts.
Ice cream and donuts have been recommended by every person thus far who has provided tips about the city, and I take their guidance as evidence that this is my kind of place. We see a pick-up basketball game through the windows of a street-level gym and sit in a busy splash park after dinner to enjoy our Cool Moon Ice Cream before calling it a day.