Friday, August 15, 2008

Portland!

We're baaaack! We had a GREAT time in Portland! Here's what we did:

Wednesday: We woke up early on Wednesday and had a lovely breakfast at La Provence, a charming little bakery in Lake Oswego (a suburb of Portland). It was decorated like a French bistro, but with a wonderful lit case of pastries and baked goods on offer as well. I had the banana-pecan french toast (a HUGE portion, served the creme anglaise), and my sister Grace got the ham and cheese croissant (completely decadent - buttery, gooey, warm). Service was a bit slow at first (the dining room was packed), but it picked up as some of the diners trickled out.

The food was absolutely amazing, so good that we stopped by the bakery counter on our way out and picked up a bag of pastries to eat during the week. We chose the pain au chocolat, the lemon turnover, and plain croissants. They were delicious heated up for a bit in the microwave, even days later. It was a bit pricey ($25 for two breakfasts plus a bag of treats for later), but I thought it was good enough to warrant the cost.

After that, we headed to the International Rose Test Gardens (pictured at left). Things grow like crazy in Portland (probably because of all the rain), and there were alot of botanic gardens on my sightseeing list. We really enjoyed our trip to this one. First of all, admission is FREE! The garden features some 7,000 rose plants, spread over several acres. There is a gorgeous variety of specimens, and all of the gardens were very well-maintained. We spent about an hour there, strolling among the blooms. Clay had huge fun running around the Shakespeare Garden within this attraction, too, because it had bricked walkways and nice, flat turf. (An FYI - Part of the garden is wheel-chair/stroller accessible; steps must be used to access other areas.)

Following that outing, we decided to stop by the Portland Japanese Garden, which is absolutely gorgeous. To enter, you can either walk the short (but steep) .25-mile trail up to the garden's entrance or take a convenient shuttle. Guided tours are available at specific times, but we chose to enjoy the garden on our own, with a handy brochure to help us identify important features. We loved the zig zag bridge, set among iris and ending in front of a beautiful waterfall. Statuary throughout, along with lush moss, ferns, and the artful arrangement of natural stone, make the gardens particularly striking.

My only complaint is that a good portion of the garden is hard to navigate with a stroller (which also means that patrons in wheelchairs can't enjoy most of the gardens. Boo. Hiss.). Soooo, that meant that Grace and I had to either forego seeing most of the garden or tote little man around. We chose the latter, and we ended up carrying him aloft as if he were an emperor up and down steep stone steps. I kept saying "peace and tranquility, peace and tranquility" over and over to myself. But still, this is an awesome botanic garden, and not to be missed. Admission was $8 each for adults.

After that, we decided to let booger stretch his legs for a bit. We headed to one of the playgrounds at Washington Park, where he got a big kick out of running around with the other kids and just generally getting all his ya-yas out.

We stopped at Bijou Cafe in downtown Portland for lunch. YUM! We had a 5-minute wait for a great table, and our waitress quickly came over to take our orders. I thought I'd try the famous oyster hash, which, I must say, lived up to the hype! Large, fresh-tasting oysters, breaded in cornmeal and fried to a turn, along with onions, potatoes, and parsley. YUM! Grace chose a smoked mushroom panini, and our hungry toddler was accommodated with a fresh fruit plate, some whole wheat bread, and some cheese. Service was speedy, and though our waitress did seem less than happy to see us sit down with a 1-year-old, other staff members got a hoot out of kidding around with the tyke.

After that, we went back to the apartment and collapsed in a heap! We tried to combine sightseeing with some downtime, both for us and for the baby.

Thursday: Grace had to work on Thursday, so Clay and I rented a car and headed to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. What fun! They had a dinosaur exhibit up, with casts of dinosaur skeletons, animatronic models, and some actual whole-skeleton fossils. It was amazing to see. While the museum was busy, we did not find it overcrowded. For us, the highlight of the facility was the Discovery Playground, an interactive indoor environment where kids 6 and under roam free. Clay LOVED this place. There were stations where kids could play with playdough, learn about how water powers things (complete with waterproof smocks and little rubber boots so the kids don't get dripping wet), a puppet theatre with puppets the children can play with, tables with legos and other toys, and tons of other stuff. While we also enjoyed the rest of the museum (some cool areas that teach you how turbines are powered, some life sciences exhibits about human development, etc.), the Discovery Playground was wonderful because it allowed booger to blow off some steam and play with other children.

Friday: Hubs met up with us. We started the day with a visit to Portland's Chinatown to check out the Classical Chinese Gardens. (Our last botanic wonder, I swear. But the weather was good, and we decided to take advantage of it.) This was my favorite botanic garden in the Portland area, and, considering how many gardens Portland boasts, that's saying something. The vegetation is amazing, and the structures in the garden are beautiful and provide countless opportunities for spectacular views. There are gorgeous specimen plants in addition to mossy green ponds, and even the gift shop is cool. The garden is completely ADA-accessible, so we had zero problems pushing Clay's stroller around (which was great, because he slept through the first half of our visit).

But what put this attraction over the top was the teahouse located in the midst of the garden. Operated by the Tao of Tea, this was a WONDERFUL place to stop for fine tea and a delicious snack. The selection of teas, is mind-boggling, but the helpful staff will be happy to recommend something you'll enjoy. They brought us pots of three different teas, plus a plate of almond cookies. It was delicious. Clay woke up while we were in the teahouse, and we used this opportunity to feed him his own little snack. Afterwards, we enjoyed the rest of the garden.

For lunch, we decided to check out a food festival, called Bite of Oregon, that was being held in Waterfront Park. Restaurants from all over the state had set up tents, and you could sample (or order whole meals) from them. We paid our admission, and we each decided to pick up lots of small plates instead of eating big meals, so that we could try more of what was on offer. Then, we each shared a bite or two of what we got with each other, so that between the three of us, we probably sampled a fair percentage of what was being sold.

And it was GOOD. We first had seared chicken with creamy macaroni and cheese. Then we tried kobe beef chili, hot dogs, and slider burgers. We also ate some spicy soft tacos, some lobster ravioli, some great marionberry pie, and a strawberry shortcake. We washed it all down with rasberry lemonade. I really loved this festival. There was live music, there were kids and families everywhere, even the portapotties were clean. It was very well-organized, and everyone seemed to be having a great time eating tons of great food.

More later . . .

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