February 13, 2004 -- "It's not easy being green" is the slogan of Portland, Oregon's favorite destination for travelers. And yes, they have had to work many years to make the city so attractive, starting with a pleasant location, good weather and the ability to grow anything throughout most of the year. Over the past four years, Portland has been lauded by several magazines as "one of the best cities in which to live" (Money), "reaching new levels of cool" (Travel & Leisure) and in the "top 25 art destinations" (American Style).
Portland has been "The City of Roses" for a long time, and today, you can visit their International Rose Test Garden (open since 1917) to see some 9,000 roses of 590 varieties on just a four-acre spot. There's much more to see and do here, of course, and twice a year they roll out a "Deals" program to make it less expensive than at the regular prices, moderate enough to begin with. The two programs last all year.
From October through May, they have the Portland Big Deal (now in progress), while Cool Summer Deals is the program covering the months of June through September. We've reported about both in past issues here. Special hotel rates are established, and Shop Portland Discounts offer 15% off your first purchase of $25 or more at participating retailers. There's also tax-free shopping (since the state has no sales tax), and more. For information, visit www.travelportland.com or phone 87 PORTLAND (same as 877/678-5263).
Their new streetcar system is nice to see, with Euro-designed cars following a nearly five-mile loop through downtown, the art gallery-filled Pearl District, and Nob Hill (home to many restaurants and upscale shops). Moreover, there's a 330-block area called "Fareless Square," in which passengers ride free on the streetcar and other forms of transport. You can also get day passes, an especially popular one is the three-day Adventure Pass, costing just $10. Check out www.trimet.org for details.
Getting to Portland isn't difficult, with 16 passenger airlines flying into the airport, and service by Amtrak or bus. The Union Station is right downtown, and the airport is only 20 minutes away by car or 38 minutes by the Airport Max light trail service.
Once you've seen downtown Portland, head for the Rose Garden, which is located in Washington Park. Come during the Rose Festival (May 29 through June 22). Most interesting of all Portland sights, I think, is the Japanese Garden, said to be "the most authentic Japanese garden outside Japan," a claim I am ready to support until proved otherwise, though I have seen most of my Japanese gardens inside Japan, so I can't be sure. Portland is a sister city to Sapporo, Japan, lending weight to claim. This 5.5-acre bit of heaven includes a teahouse, five beautiful garden styles, and commanding views of the city and Mount Hood (it can stand in for Mt. Fuji). There's a free shuttle from the entrance to the admissions gate, running about every 15 minutes, except in winter, when it operates less frequently. There are five distinct gardens (tea, strolling pond, natural, sand & stone, and flat), all opened in 1963. Admission $6.50 ($1 less for seniors, $2 less for students), and it's open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Public transportation is available on Bus 63 (phone 503/238-RIDE for schedule). More information can be had through the Japanese Garden Society of Oregon, phone 503/223-1321 or visit www.japanesegarden.com.
Next on your list should be the Portland Classical Chinese Garden, a walled city block featuring the work of more than 60 Chinese artisans who spent about a year designing and laying down the intricate patterns of the place, building nine structures and organizing 500 tons of rock imported from China. Also a sister city to Suzhou, the garden opened in 2000. Ponds, bridges, colonnades, walkways, a teahouse and rock groups, help depict its name, Lan Su Yuan, the Garden of Awakening Orchids. Make the experience even more memorable by having a tasting in the tea house. Unlike the Japanese tea ceremony, it features several blends, with little munchies on the side. Tea alone is available all the time, and costs from $3 to $5, but serious tasting (involving three to eight types) runs from $15 to $35 and should be ordered in advance. The "tea ceremony" runs $10 per person. Admission to the garden is $7 ($1 off for seniors, $1.50 off for students). Garden contact information: www.portlandchinesegarden.org or phone 503/228-8131. More information on The Tao of Tea can be had from Veerinder Chawla, who sometimes conducts the tea ceremony, at www.taooftea.com.
Stay, Eat, Drink, Sleep
You may as well stay at a superlatively cool hotel, designated "one of the 80 best new hotels in the world" by Conde Nast Traveler magazine, the Hotel Lucia, unarguably minimalist, and right in the center of downtown. Supporting its hip image, the hotel has a Thai restaurant, and black & white photos of famous people in unusual poses (e.g., President Nixon playing the piano) line the hallways and other public areas. Rates run from $115 to $210 per room. Located at 400 SW Broadway; phone 877/225-1717 or 503/225-1717; fax 503/205-2051; website www.hotellucia.com. (As we went to press, the hotel's site was down; however, a representative stated that this was only a temporary situation and would be remedied soon.)
At the less expensive end of the scale are some of the 67 Best Western hotels in Oregon, four in Portland itself, five more nearby. Rates at the Portland Inn at the Meadow run about $69 per room this spring. More information at www.bestwesternoregon.com or at 866/340-4876.
For the best dining out in town, consider Paley's Place, serving dinners only to an appreciative clientele. A typical entrée might be braised lamb shank at $22 or Chinook Salmon at $26. The cook, Vitaly Paley, began his career as a concert pianist in the former Soviet Union, but became a chef at New York's Union Square Café and Chanterelle before moving to Oregon. Ruth Reichl in Gourmet called the Portland area "the Burgundy of the north," and raved about Paley's in 2001. Contacts: www.paleysplace.citysearch.com or phone 503/243-2403.
Other good eateries include a few in the hot and new Northeast dining quarter, in a neighborhood of urban renaissance. I especially enjoyed Tabla, a Mediterranean bistro open since about mid-2003, where the mushroom blinis ($7) and duck confit ($11) are exceptional (200 NE 28th Avenue, phone 503/238-3777). You couldn't do better than to have dessert at the Noble Rot, which also features entré es like salmon, halibut or duck leg at $9 or $10 (2724 SE Ankeny Street, phone 503/233-1999, www.noblerot.biz). Less innovative, but with plenty of atmosphere, were Taqueria Nueve (serving big portions) and Navarre, an Italian spot at 10 NE 28th, phone 503/232-3555.
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