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Welcome to Portland airport where our most important connection is you.

the cute airport announcement said. Free wifi and an artist singing and playing guitar selling his CDs in the waiting area. I was pretty sure I was going to like this place. I was just surprised by how much I did eventually.

 

The first thing I notice about the city is that its beautiful. It manages to look elegant in spite of the fast pace and its just really green. The interesting art on the street slows you down if you are watching.

 

The public transport system might seem intimidating for someone coming from California (because we don’t have much of a system here) but one ride and you will get the hang of it. A bus driver I ask for help tells me about the transfers I have to take, makes me recite the entire trip and drops me off on the side of the road next to the transfer station. Compare this with (some) drivers in SB who close the doors in spite of seeing people running in front of them to catch the bus. See what I mean by happy place?

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The people are also very creative and amusing. Don’t miss out on the Saturday market (which I first mistook for a farmer’s market). The things local artists bring over to sell are pretty cool even if not always worth buying. This is also the perfect place to get all your hippie shopping done.

I see a ‘recycled’ skirt made out of an old worn out shirt in one of the stalls, with the collar and buttons still on, running across its length. I want to buy a dozen because they do look aged and cheap. But they cost around $70 due to their high hippiness quotient. Meanwhile, the food trucks sell ‘free range chicken’ meals for 8 dollars. The place definitely has a character.

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The Conference bit

Meanwhile I find the best single serve coffee I have had in a while in the hotel I’m staying at. Peet’s coffee pods, straight from California. A money settling session with bunch of Europeans leaves me (intentionally) with quite a few euros, pounds and francs.

The Italian says

 I’m sure someone is losing money in this, I just don’t know who..

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The magic in the hole

Not a big fan of donuts myself, I go to Voodoo donuts because that’s what you do when you visit Portland. The place looks worn out and intriguing. I see the longest line I have seen for donuts. I get donuts with names such as butterfingering and triple chocolate penetration, not bothered to read the flavors. They are actually quite nice (though arguably over-hyped), especially the ones filled with Bavarian cream.

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City of roses

I get to visit the Portland rose parade which has been happening  for over 100 years now. I’m beginning to love parades because they are great for local people watching. The most excited people watching the show aren’t children or tourists. Old nostalgic people seem to be having the most fun.

The Washington Park is a great change from the fast pace of the city. I see my dream house. In the middle of a wonderful city but surrounded by woods. Then I see bigger and more lavish dream houses.

The Rose Garden in the park is a must see. There is also a small Japanese garden next to the rose garden but I resist my overachiever urge and stick to the roses. And they are so lovely, you can spend all day strolling and seeing all the variations.

 

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The park has a free bus service. The buses run every twenty minutes but that’s fine because the place is beautiful! I don’t mind waiting in the middle of tall firs and chirping birds. I hear the bus before I see it. I have to get this one or wait another twenty minutes. I envy the dandelion seeds taking their sweet time floating through the park.

Seen in Washington Park. Question: What are these mesh bags filled with wood chips doing on the side of the road?

Seen in Washington Park. Question: What are these mesh bags filled with wood chips doing on the side of the road?

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The IKEA conundrum

I end up in IKEA accompanying my host. In the long wait at the home delivery station after the cash registers, I notice a bag of straws appear out of nowhere on the bench I’m sitting on. Already paid for, no one to claim. Should I leave it to IKEA to put it back for sale, let someone else have it, or take it myself? I really need straws. Not really, but I can figure it out. If you know me, you will know what I did.

stolen treasures

stolen treasures: lucky penny or shop lifting?

Then on the way back to the airport, I meet a half homeless full hippie woman on the MAX line who is telling me and anyone else who is listening about an iPad she found on the street which she isn’t planning to return. Some folks tell her about tracking systems on tablets which will link to her, trying to change her mind. But she won’t have it. And while I’m trying to take a picture of the street behind her, joking that I’m not taking her picture instead, she gets too paranoid and gets off early. Yeah, someone isn’t getting their forgotten iPad back. I feel a little better about my two dollar IKEA straws now.

Portland is a very pedestrian friendly place. Pedestrians don’t heed much to the road signs and cross roads whenever they feel like it. And just as I get used to this freedom its time to leave. Doing this in California will get you the most unfriendly stares.

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I guess the only annoying thing about the place is the slow free way traffic. If you want to pull your hair out diving behind a Prius going at fifty miles per hour in low traffic in the fast lane, this is the perfect place for it. Second is the smoking! You are sitting in the park admiring the roses and breathing in the fresh air when you sense that familiar stink and see a perfectly fine looking person smoking here too. Not in McDonald’s though.

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There are many more touristy things to do in the place. I found the Pittock Mansion quite interesting especially since I have been on this spree of visiting historic houses wherever I go. The Lan Su Chinese Garden is peaceful and cute. It complements the laid back pace of the city.  Usually an obsessive person, this city gently slowed me down and kept me curious at the same time. Every place I went to was great and the people just happy.

We land in SB on a cloudy day. I’m happy with the sense of familiarity I get when I come back home. Similar to the one I did walking in the brown tiled corridors of Sharav. SB is home.

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So its been a while since I blogged and I’m delighted to try out the new WordPress editor! Unlike most Google updates, I actually like this thing. It’s uncluttered with fewer and more useful tabs on the left, unlike its old self.

Moving to more topical issues, I have decided to check out some local coffee shops in the new place I’m at. The first stop is at Dana Street Roasting in Mountain View. This is a cute little coffee shop but a little too hippie for me and not in a good way. I pick a corner spot and find a treasure trove in the crack between the floor and the wall.

dana coffee roasters

lots of power outlets and free wifi etc

No gum stuck to the bottom of the table. Check.

Although I have decided to try a gooey drink (which I categorize as everything except plain coffee), they have some very good collection of coffees I might want to try out some day. I ask the owner if the almond latte has coffee. That’s how little I know about gooey drinks. He is a little surprised but goes on to explain, yes, it does indeed have coffee in it. After making the difficult choice between almond milk and almond syrup while discarding rice milk as being a real possibility, I finally get my latte, woohoo. And its really good (do remember that I have nothing much to compare it to).

 dana coffee roasters

The place also has an old coffee roasting machine. It would really do much better with air-conditioning instead. Other than that, the art is really so-so. The cookies and bars on the counter look questionable but that’s another area I have not ventured into. You could eat them and live for all I know.

dana coffee roasters

They also have a unisex bathroom so don’t miss this spot if you particularly fancy putting toilette seats down. What I definitely love is their choice of music. Good mix of indie and more indie. I’m coming back for sure because its so close to home.

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I usually feel very sad when I am on my way home from a holiday. When I was little, me and little R would even sob a bit on the way back from Matheran (this touristy but really cute place near Mumbai), at the prospects of seeing our mom leave home every morning to go to work, again.

But the plus side of this vacation was that I was returning back to the bigger vacation that I was on. And the way back was long!

We visited Gettysburg in Pennsylvania which is an important place in civil war history. A visit to Hershey was disappointing and so was Millersburg in Ohio. But by this time, we were enjoying being on the road. Stopping for too long felt unnatural even. When we came back to (my) vacation, I wished the house had wheels so we could keep going ahead, maybe all the way back to California.

The end.

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Richmond was warm and humid but beautiful and looked multiple times better from the comfort of M’s car. We walked along the canal near the James river and visited the Capitol.

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Our next stop was Washington DC which was a big shift from Virginia. It is grand and glamorous, but in a subdued way. Outside the Union Station, which in itself is beautiful, the rains had decided to stay for the day. Statues outside the supreme court were majestic, the Capitol right across the street.

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The library of congress was our first stop in Washington DC. The building looked stunning from the outside.

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The Library of Congress is more than a hundred years old and is built in the Italian Renaissance style. A guided tour focused on the architecture among other things. This place is a must see when in DC.

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The Smithsonian museums in the Mall are all lovely and we could barely see a few. We were almost half way through our trip and had one more day left in DC. to be continued.

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We started from Urbana on a sultry weekend afternoon. I am unusually excited when I see corn fields. People don’t get it kind of excited. I like the uniformity and the green and light blue go so well together. But its different when you drive through corn fields for five hours straight.

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A stop at Columbus broke the monotony. An unexpected turn of events resulted in sleeping in the car and eating left over pizza for breakfast.

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We finally reached West Virginia next day in the morning. Also known as the ‘mountain state’, it was fun to drive across complete with ups and downs and blind turns. The trees got taller and greener before the Monongahela national forest.

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We stopped at a restaurant with a view of Seneca rocks and also got gas because it was inexpensive like most other things in this state. A detour to see the Spruce Knob area lead us to a small village where its a custom to waive to every passing car. People waved at us from their porches and from the sidewalks.

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West Virginia was raw and close to nature. The people were friendly. We continued on our way to the east and when we finally reached Richmond, Virginia at nightfall, we were thoroughly exhausted. And thirsty.

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The nearby Walmart was the only place open in the suburb where we were staying with the most hospitable hosts I have encountered. We rushed to an attendant in the store, looking for alcohol.

Me: Where can I find some beer?

Attendant: We don’t have any beer.

Me: What? No beer? What do you mean?

Attendant: We don’t sell beer after 12 in the night.

Me: Like in Walmart.. or ..

Attendant: No alcohol is sold in the state of Virginia after 12 in the night.

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He later elaborated on how all stores, gas stations, really everything you can think of, except restaurants which were all closed, wouldn’t have any alcohol at this hour. We later encountered places which sold no alcohol on Sundays, but this was a shock for starters. Its magnified when you are exhausted from driving for 10 hours straight and badly need a drink. But we had a relaxing few days ahead of us. To be continued.

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urbana – dc – urbana

Like I have said before, I am an obsessive planner. But I have never planned for an eight day long trip covering 2000 miles. Unlike R, who finalizes everything before hand, even deciding which parking lots we are going to use, M is rather chilled out. To give you an idea, he is one of those people who decide what they want to eat and then get into the long line at the restaurant. If you don’t get the joke, congratulations you are not obsessive.

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my planning at work

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But the most fun we had on our road trip from Urbana to Washington DC and back last week was on the road and because of lack of planning. Everything panning out according to your plans is hardly fun. Besides, you have the rest of the month for that kind of stuff.

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We went through big cities and small towns. Different accents and time zones. Architecture and road signs. One thing remained the same, the sun was roasting all the seven states and the capital with matching enthusiasm. The good old P supported us all through our journey.

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M at mile 8: Do you want to stop for a coffee soon?

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Our first stop was the forests in West Virginia. But that was after we cruise controlled through long straight patches of freeways in Indiana and Ohio. To be continued.

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It was my first time being out of India. An IT professional I had met in Bangalore, on a direct flight to Paris assured me- France is a great place to visit for the first time out of the country.

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But I was totally unprepared for any kind of travel, let alone to a developed country with no ‘coolies’ and cabs I couldn’t afford. After a super cool (yet to see it matched anywhere) smooth connection from the airport to the small local railway station in Lozere, I landed on a bridge, with a long flight of stairs in front of me.

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lozere, paris

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No escalator in sight.

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Flowing skirt and high heeled shoes designed just to make things more difficult, I couldn’t even pick up my heavy suitcase. So I dragged it down the stairs, stopping it with my knee after every step. And before I could claim to have been tired, a handsome African man came to my rescue, picked up my suitcase and placed it at the end of the staircase. .

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When someone does that in India, they are usually planning to steal your stuff. So I hurried and followed him. And there it was, my suitcase, safe and sound. The man had left before I could even reach it. Lost in the crowd.

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I was almost taken aback by this kindness. It was new to me. I revived my mind for the French word for expressing gratitude, for the next time someone did something nice to me.

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I ended up using it a whole lot. Out of courtesy as well as genuineness.

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Have you ever lost an opportunity to thank someone? Have you ever wondered if they were aware of your gratitude?

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