You know that feeling when you fall in love? You know…your senses are heightened, food tastes better, the air feels crisper and your knees feel weak. I didn’t think I could feel this way again, especially since I am wading through the pain of the recent breakup of my marriage. But lo and behold, my heart started beating hard with joy and an ecstasy began percolating in my gut. It wasn’t for any wonderful guy that I had met though. It was for the city of Portland.
I went there for a visit last week and it changed my life.
The first day I was there was a Sunday. My friend Kirby Hoyt had raved about Voodoo Doughnut, and around noon on Sunday seemed like a perfectly legitimate time to try it out and have some donuts. So I punched the address into my phone and found that it was a short walk from the condo in which I was renting a room which was situated in the River District.
I got to Voodoo and there was quite a long line of people waiting to order their donuts snaking around the adjacent sidewalk, just like Kirby had described. Because I have a short attention span and I was intrigued by all the activity and people on the street, I decided to hold off on the donuts and keep exploring.
I quickly came upon a crowd of people standing around some street musicians. It was a lively bunch, full of kids, families, not-families, singles, friends, couples, pretty much everyone.
But that wasn’t the end of the fun. I noticed there was even more activity just beyond these street musicians and there seemed to be an arts fair with tents and people selling hand-made goods. I wandered through this wonderful little market happening in the courtyard between buildings. As I walked through this market, I noticed there was even more activity across the street, so I followed my nose and kept going.
This is where all the food stands were and there was a huge tent set up with tables underneath for people to sit and enjoy the food. There was a stage in front of this tent with musicians setting up to play. By this time, my stomach was growling and I went and found some Thai food, my favorite, from a couple that was running a stand nearby. (It was VERY good!).
I sat on the steps and ate my yellow chicken curry on a bed of fluffy white rice while I soaked in all of the goodness around me. There were SO many people out, people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, economic statuses, ages and styles. (side note: strangely, the diversity of people didn’t extend to ethnic backgrounds because almost everyone was white!) I kept thinking to myself – wow, if we had a single day in Phoenix where this kind of public gathering would happen, I would be happy. Apparently this market and this level of vibrancy happen every weekend in Portland as part of the Portland Saturday Market.
At this point, my stomach was satisfied, but my curiosity wasn’t. So I kept following the throngs of people and came to another arts and crafts market under a bridge, which transformed the space from a left-over, forgetten and potentially scary place into an intimate outdoor shopping experience.
Beyond the bridge I came upon this idyllic river-front park on the Willamette with plenty of shade trees and people sitting or laying down under them. I decided to take a rest and found myself a tree to sit under. Again, I took the opportunity to soak in my beautiful surroundings. I saw people using the boardwalk in front of the river, jogging, biking, walking, talking and enjoying themselves. Here’s a short video of what I saw:
And then it occurred to me that all of these great experiences were connected. I never once felt like I needed to get into a car to experience these things because it was easy to walk from one to another. In fact, I was able to walk from where I was staying to all these places and not break a sweat. Moreover, there were no gaps in the activity, like empty lots, and I was able to navigate very easily from one thing to the next.
Last Sunday, was the beginning of my love affair with Portland. I will tell you more in part II of Why I Fell in Love with Portland.
Photo credit: All photos and video by the author.Tags: food stands, open air markets, pedestrian connectivity, phoenix, portland, portland saturday market, public spaces, street musicians, urban vibrancy, voodoo doughnut, willamette river