Category Archives: Urban

Not always probable, or likely

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Alis volat propriis

It’s a fifteen minute walk from my sister’s to Fred Meyers, that bastion of Oregonian grocery stores. Each day I go there, I pass squirrels jittering across the street, crows cawing from dead winter trees, rusting basketball hoops and evergreen trees. There are signs of modernity for sure–two different ganja dispensaries, a hip coffee shop filled with people on their laptops, an escape room. This is the Oregon of hipsters and yelpsters, of Portlandia fans and transplants so fresh they pronounce Couch Street like it’s furniture.

But most of the area around my sister’ house probably hasn’t changed for decades. The weathered auto repair shop, with the name spelled out on the door with fragments of duct tape. An appliance store. A combination Chinese restaurant/dive bar with a sign advertising their 5 dollar breakfast special. Burly men in baseball caps who probably wouldn’t ever be the inspiration for a Portlandia character. This is the Oregon of the past, of small towns and farmers and descendants of those who came over on the Oregon Trail. These things–even though they’re in the same city, are found next to each other on the same block–belong to a different, slower world than the modern Portland.

It’s probably true that Portland is no longer a little big city. It has grown up and grown out and grown across and is now just a city. Perhaps it’s not just any city, but most long-term residents agree that it has lost most of that je nais se weird that defined the city for so long, left with the dichotomy of small town, blue collar detritus floating beneath, partially supporting, the decadent layer of hipster institutions.Sure, she flies with her own wings but it’s not just her up in the sky anymore.

What does this all mean? I’m not sure, other than as a reminder that it’s not very useful to stereotype or generalize. But it’s interesting to me, to see these two oregons, these two times, blending together. Does that happen everywhere? Regardless, I think portland has reached the end of an era. And yet the older era is still here.  There’s a lot to think about, but my fifteen minutes is up. I have reached my destination and so thoughts on the nature of reality can wait until next time.

 

 

 

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A Quick and Dirty Guide to the City of Roses

I wrote this for a friend of mine who was visiting Portland, but I thought it was worth expanding on. And so here is a quick introduction to Portland, OR.

The 5 quadrants

The 5 quadrants

Portland is basically a four part grid, with the Willamette River and Burnside Street splitting it into 4 quadrants– Northeast, Northwest, Southwest, Southeast. (There’s a fifth part, called North Portland, but I haven’t been up there much and as it’s not walkable from everywhere else, it sort of doesn’t count.)

Each area has something to be said for it.

Brewery Sampler
Northwest is the home of the Pearl District–lots of outdoor stores, cafes, parks, etc. It’s a bit yuppy, a bit corporate but a nice place. Lots of the “big” stores in Portland are here. Powell’s Books is the largest bookstore in the world, and you could easily spend an entire day (or more) there. Deschutes and Rogue Brewhouses are both nearby, and both worth some sampling.  More breweries are opening all the time, or you could just go to Henrys and sample over 100 beers on draft.

 

Downtown

Southwest is basically downtown–which is not the highlight of portland. It’s worth walking around, visiting Pioneer Square as well as all the food carts. The waterfront is very nice in the summer but might be rainy and chilly in winter. You can get food from about anywhere in the world for not too much money.

NE

Northeast is a huge area, but streets like Mississippi and Alberta are some the best in Portland. Lots of cool places to eat, drink, shop, people watch, etc. The Bye&Bye is one of my favorite pubs, but you can’t really go wrong anywhere.

SE
And then Southeast is sort of the portlandiest part of Portland. Hawthorne, Belmont, Division, Clinton, are all close together and have more bookstores, pubs, microbrews, teashops, brew and views than you can shake a stick at. Apex Brewpub on Division has a lot of tasty beers and you can get cheap & tasty mexican food from the place next door.

That’s a pretty basic overview. Biking is easy–you can bike just about everywhere. There are a couple of bike only trails as well; these will be easy to find.

More importantly, hiking.

URBAN.

Washington Park

You can take the bus or max to WASHINGTON PARK, which connects you to more than 30 miles of trail in Forest Park. It’s nice up there, and there is a tree arboretum with redwoods and other cool stuff.

Mt. Tabor

In SOUTHEAST, it’s an easy climb up to MT. TABOR, but it’s one of the greatest places to view the city.

There are quite a few urban hikes available–the city is half forest and it can be quite easy to get out of civilization.

OUTSIDE THE CITY.

Portland has three great outdoors areas within an hour drive.

Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast is beautiful and the town of Astoria (where Short Circuit, Goonies, etc were filmed) is great. There are tons of great hikes out there; some flat coastal, some mountain climbing, giant wandering elks, misty mountains.

Columbia Gorge

Even better than the Coast is the COLUMBIA GORGE. The famous destination here is the Multnomah Falls (which could very well be frozen over in the winter). But there are hundreds of hikes in the area. All of them are at low enough altitudes that you can hike them year round. Salmon Creek is nice, and Latroull falls is as well, to name a few.  Take the old highway and just stop at any hikes that look nice. A lot of them are pretty much the same–some climbing through forests, some waterfalls, and then loop back to the parking lot.

Mt. Hood

But the best place to hike in the Portland area, in my opinion, is MT. HOOD. The hikes here are out of the world. However it might be too snowy to get up in the winter. Nonetheless, a visit to TIMBERLINE LODGE (exterior shots for the Shining) would be a great day.

9 Reasons Why Going Back to Seoul is Kind of Exciting

When I left South Korea in 2012, I was pretty happy to be out of there.  Mostly because I was about to embark on the trip of a lifetime, but after 2.5 years (with a year break)when I had to go back to work, it would be time to head somewhere new.  Somewhere like Japan, Vietnam, Turkey, or a country in South America mayhaps.

Flash forward almost 2 years exactly and now I have an undeniable hankering for Korea.  It’s hard to explain why exactly, but here are nine reasons why I’m looking forward to going back.

1. The Students

Work isn’t always fun, but with goofy kids learning English with surprising speed, it’s usually great to see them.You call this work?

 

2. The Subway

Yes it’s ridiculously cheap and runs oh-so frequently, but the stations themselves are minor malls with clothing stores, mini-marts, food carts; you can buy thousands of things here.

Subway

3. Hiking and Climbing the Mountains

This list isn’t in order, but if it was this would easily be number one.  The mountains–all of them –are beautiful all seasons and it’s a great place to share a smile or a snack with Korean hikers.

Hiking in the Winter

4. The Han River and Biking Along it

You can bike for days and days along this beautiful river (on free bikes naturally) or walk along from Jamsil to Itaewon or further.

Biking on the Han River

5. Olympic Park (Especially in Autumn)

Spring, Summer, Winter-it’s all really nice here, but Autumn takes the cake.  There’s room to walk, bike, explore, or play games–this park is one of my favorite in the world.Olympic Park - Autumn

6. Namsan

This cool little mountain is pretty much in the center of Seoul and it’s super great for little urban wanders.  It’s quick and easy to get to the top and the views from up here can be super pretty.

The Mighty Namsan

7. Neon Jungle

Row after row of bars, hofs, pubs, noraebongs, restaurants, and who else knows what else….this is Seoul incarnate.

Seoul's Urban Jungle

8. Palaces

Another kind of place with a lot seasonal variance, the palaces in Seoul (though rebuilt in the last 50 years) are great little oases of calm in the big city.  There is quite a lot of history here too, if you read the little signs. Seoul's Palaces

9. The Random Factor

Whether it’s a lovely stream connecting two great areas of the city, a LARPfest at the park, or any of a near infinite amount of possibilities, you can never really predict what you’re going to find.

Downtown Seoul

Urban Yeti : The Outstanding (yet overpriced) City of Oslo

Old Oslo

Oslo has a reputation as an expensive, rather boring city.  Even travelers I met in Stockholm and Copenhagen (hardly cheap places themselves!) were largely avoiding the place.When I mentioned I was traveling to Norway to other travelers in Asia I would get wide eyes and sympathetic head shakes.  And it’s true that Oslo is the world’s most expensive place to live so it’s not exactly foolish to avoid.  A pint of beer starts at 11 euros (over 14 USD).  An hour train ride to the airport (which cost, for instance 2.5 USD in Portland) costs 45 USD in Norway.  Hell, even the Prime Minister thinks it’s too expensive.

Old Oslo

Thus I was very fortunate to be staying with my friend Eldar, an Azerbaijani Russian I met in Australia who has lived in Norway for half his life.  He lived very close to the city center and met me at the bus stop as I returned to civilization after visiting the Land of the Giants.  That night was the World Cup Final, and we both went to support Argentina in the outdoor Kontrasjæret.

Old Oslo

The next day was our big Oslo day.  While it doesn’t have the historic buildings of Stockholm or the charming energy of Copenhagen, Oslo has a stately grandeur.  Not to mention that fearsomely bearded Vikings once lived here in great numbers.  The city center is small and construction with oil money does mean a lot of new buildings, but it’s still Europe.  The refined buildings of yesteryear adorn the city.

The coolest part of Oslo has to be Frogner Park–the most popular tourist attraction in Norway, with between 1 and 2 million visitors a year.  It’s not everywhere you can statues of men kicking babies or women suckling goats, but the 80 acre Vigeland Sculpture park, located inside Frogner Park has 212 sculptures with just such illustrations.

The sculptures were designed by sculptor Gustav Vigeland from the 1920s until the early 1940s.   He was actually given a home in the park (now a museum) and he created the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist.  You could spend hours and hours here.  We didn’t, however, as we still had more of Oslo to see.  We did have time for this, however!

There are quite a few museums in Oslo but A) they’re expensive and B)they are closed on strange days.   We made our way out to the Kon-Tiki museum–of which I only knew the bare facts.  The story of Thor Heyerdahl is fascinating, and it’s worth watching some of their footage for those interested in exploration and amateur sociology.

We then headed to the marina and the Opera House–a semi-ugly building built on a bloated budget but in a rapidly expanding part of the city.  The so-called lego buildings are not popular with Oslonians, but I thought they looked kinda neat.

Ibsen and the National Theatre

We stopped at the greatest part of Oslo–Grønland.  As a multicultural melting pot, the area has kind of a bad reputation amongst Norwegians (crime rates are higher here) but it’s close to the T-Bane station and has some of the most affordable prices in town (beers are down to about 8 dollars a pint, for instance.) Grønland is one of the most multicultural places I’ve ever seen–more so than New York even. Citizens from all countries are united here by their love of budget blueberries, cheap celery and affordable avocados.

I left Oslo that night, sure I was coming back and eager to see more.  Because of the snafu with British Immigration, that did not work out.  But I’ll be back to see the rest of the beautiful city, sooner hopefully rather than later.  There’s more to see, including swimmable fjords and the Munch museum.  I just have to figure out how to get more money.  Now I know why those Vikings kept going to raid other countries so often!