All this talking about and planning for a massive trip around the world has, ironically, got me thinking about one place in particular: home. Those who know me are well aware that I’ve had many homes over the last 14-or-so years since I left Colorado and went away to college in Seattle. In fact, one of the reasons I chose Portland this time around was that I had already lived in the Pacific Northwest and remembered it being a nice place to live. I had even somehow forgotten about all the rain.
*Disclaimer here: While I love both Portland and Seattle equally, I do have to say that my current, more southern city of residence actually gets a bit less rain and a bit more sunshine. A bit.
We actually do get gorgeous blue skies from May to October…
The most frequent question asked of me when I told people I had moved from New York, a world metropolis with 8 million people, to Portland, practically a village in comparison at a mere half-million, was “how was THAT transition?” I’ve always been an honest person, so my answer was always an honest one: TOUGH.
Strangely though, the tough transition had more to do with personal reasons than the smaller, less cosmopolitan surroundings I found myself in. I managed to end up in a bad relationship pretty much the second I arrived, followed by a bad breakup, and that combined with a death in the family and medical problems for another family member, all while being thousands of miles from the friends and family to whom I’m closest, was a challenge greater than anything I had faced to that point in my life. I found it very easy to mingle with my fellow Portlanders, but very hard to actually make the kind of friends you want to turn to in tough times like these.
So while I acknowledged that Portland was not to blame for my woes, I longed to leave. I had actually planned to take my grand round-the-world trip this year (2013), but in the end I decided that I wanted to wait a year, in part to be sure that I wasn’t traveling to run away from the bad, but rather to run towards something great. And I couldn’t be more glad that I did, because in the meantime, I’ve ended up in a great relationship, found my bearings and overcome my challenges. Portland is now home and a place I’m excited to return to in a year.
Off to see a few of these places, then I’ll be back
For starters, this is a different city from any other in America and is certainly not the America you hear about in the news. The people here are some of the friendliest and most down-to-earth in the world. We locals are very proud of our city’s live-and-let-live vibe.
Mother Nature Network ranks it the greenest city in the U.S., and globally it even makes CNN’s list of “Cities Blazing a Green Trail”. Some of the cities on these lists are not literally green – they get high marks for being environmentally friendly but look more like concrete jungles than actual ones. Portland, on the other hand, ideally situated on the Willamette River between Pacific Ocean beaches, the Cascade Range of mountains and the Columbia River Gorge, is a stunning place to be. It’s no surprise that so many Oregonians are active, outdoorsy and in far better physical shape than you might find in other parts of America.
Cherry blossom trees on the riverfront in the spring
Beautiful coastline just an hour’s drive away
I don’t own a car, nor do I have any desire to ever buy one, so one of the biggest deal-breakers in leaving NYC and finding a new home was walkability. I can’t stress enough how much of a wonderful resource Walk Score is for anyone looking to sell their car and move to a place where they don’t need it. My neighborhood in Portland is considered a “walker’s paradise” with a score of 95 (the same as my previous neighborhood in Queens). While most other neighborhoods in Portland don’t score quite this well, they’re still very easy to navigate without a car, whether it’s by foot, bike, bus or tram.
If you’re looking to get a bit more exercise and to get around faster, you’re still in the right place. One of my favorite features of Portland is that, aside from the Netherlands, this is the most bike-friendly place I’ve ever been. It comes as no surprise to anyone that the city topped Bicycling.com’s list of America’s Best Bike Cities in 2012. For me personally, it’s not even the 180 miles of bike lanes and 79 miles of off-street bike paths or the near-absence of giant, exhausting hills. It’s the amazing, unparalleled harmony in which cyclists and motorists coexist, even when we cyclists use regular ol’ driving lanes. As of this writing in November 2013, I’ve lived in Portland for a year and nine months and the number of times I’ve been honked at while on my bike: 1. I’m constantly reading Facebook-bickering about cyclists fed up with nearly being run off the road by motorists, motorists sick of cyclists taking up their lanes (an odd complaint I must say, since we cyclists alleviate traffic for you drivers, but I digress…). That simply doesn’t exist here, and it still blows my mind.
Finally to one of the greatest aspects of Portland: food. On a recent trip to San Antonio I had a taxi driver ask me what kind of food Portland is known for. Boston has its clam chowder and cream pies, New York and Chicago have pizza, Texas has barbecue, she explained. She seemed really disappointed when I told her Portland has nothing specific to Portland. I did try to explain, rather ineloquently, that Portland nonetheless is just about the best place to be when your stomach starts growling. For a city with admittedly little ethnic diversity compared to your New York, L.A. or Chicago, you can find any kind of ethnic food here. Some of the cuisines I’ve tried beyond the usual Italian, Mexican, Chinese and Indian fare include Vietnamese, Cuban, Iraqi, Turkish, Thai, Lao, Cambodian, Ethiopian, Brazilian, Peruvian, Egyptian, Polish, Russian, Greek and American southern/soul food. It’s like getting one of the most enjoyable benefits of world travel without leaving home. If you ever find yourself here, don’t spend all your time in restaurants; check out the city’s massive offering of cheap and delicious food carts. They’re everywhere and generally don’t move, so they’re not hard to find.
In short, Portland is a great place to visit and an even greater place to call home. And yes, it is a lot like the show Portlandia. Frighteningly so, but in an unapologetically wonderful way.
I’d be glad to offer recommendations for anyone planning a trip or a move here.