City of Roses

Gardens, culture and fun help make Portland, Ore., a jewel of the Northwest

Posted: Thursday, July 07, 2005

For at least 15 years, my husband, Don, and I have visited the City of Roses, Portland, Ore., at least once a year. We usually time our visits to coincide with huge gun or antique shows that are held several times a year in the Expo Center.

The Expo Center hosts a great variety of shows such as a recreational vehicle show and sale, the Northwest Quilting Expo, the Rose City Cat Show, the Fall Home and Garden Show, a car show and swap meet and a Christmas bazaar.

When there is not an antique show, we usually spend a day in Aurora, (Highway 99 East) that has several large antique malls and a number of shops. Aurora is a small town where all the locals know each other and the sidewalks are not overrun with shoppers.

Portland is famous for its roses and gardens. Washington Park includes the Japanese Gardens and the International Rose Test Garden as well as dramatic views from West Hills. The roses bloom in June and the month-long Rose Festival includes parades, an air show, and the Festival of Flowers.

Our favorite garden is the Portland Classical Chinese Garden, Garden of Awakening Orchids, on the edge of the Chinese district at Northwest Third and Everett. The Chinese Garden is the most tranquil place we have ever found in any city. The materials for the garden arrived from Suzhou, China in 1999. According to a visitor's brochure, "it took (only) 10 months to assemble this authentic Ming Dynasty garden."

The garden includes a lake, pavilions, bridges, the Celestial House of Permeating Fragrance - which houses the Scholar's Study -and the Tower of Cosmic Reflections, which is a teahouse where visitors can sip authentic Chinese teas and teacakes. Each of the gardens appeals to the five senses and each has a story. The gardens include Knowing the Fish Pavilion, Reflections in Clear Ripples, Flowers Bathing in Spring Rain and Painted Boat in Misty Rain.

Volunteers guide visitors through the Chinese Garden. On my first tour, the volunteer focused on the gardens' stories. Last January, our guide focused on the plants. At 10 on a sunny winter morning, there were just three of us. A small group greatly enhances the Chinese concepts of harmony and tranquility.

In sharp contrast to the Garden of Awakening Orchids is Powell's City of Books on West Burnside. I will never forget the first time I entered Powell's; I was handed a map of the store. Powell's is several stories high, fills a city block, has a parking garage and a coffee shop that allows customers to preview books they are considering for purchase as they sip mochas and Chai tea and munch on scones and cookies. The rooms are color coded. Travel is in the Red Room and literature is in the Blue Room. New and used, hardback and paperback of the same title are side by side on the shelves. If you haven't been there, you must experience Powell's City of Books.

Portland has a wide variety of shopping experiences. The Lloyd Center Mall includes an ice skating rink. In "Best Places: Northwest," Northwest 23rd Avenue is described as posh, the Pearl District as arty, and Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard as a counter-culture must-visit. In the downtown area under the Burnside Bridge, the Saturday (and Sunday) Market features crafts and food stalls.

Just a block or so from the Saturday Market is Tom McCall Waterfront Park along the Willamette River. The park is popular with walkers, joggers, bicyclists and folks walking their dogs. The park is a great place to unwind after a busy day of shopping at the Saturday Market or in the downtown Pioneer Courthouse Square area. Actually, downtown Portland is a great place to stroll because of all the public art. I especially like the sculptures of the man with the umbrella (featured in a famous poster) in Pioneer Square, and the beavers and ducks on the sidewalks.

The Portland Art Museum and the Oregon History Center are outstanding museums. Every time we visit PAM, the art museum has on exhibit significant works from all over the world. When we visited in January, "Impressionism in the West" featured Childe Hassam, who made several trips to Oregon to paint the Harney Desert and Mount Hood. This summer, "Great Expectations: John Singer Sargent Painting Children" is on display from June 18 through Sept. 11.

travel tips

the portland big deal

• phone: (877) 678-5263, toll free.

• web:

favorite restaurants

• jake's famous crawfish and seafood, southwest 12th avenue, portland - we celebrate special occasions at jake's although just eating at jake's is a special occasion. the restaurant is more than 100 years old, the menu is long and the service is impeccable. reservations are highly recommended. reservations: (503) 226-1419.

• mccormick and schmicks, 235 sw first ave., portland - all the mccormick and schmicks restaurants are busy. reservations: (503) 224-7522.

In January, we only had time to see the permanent exhibit, "Oregon, My Oregon" (which is the title of the state song) at the Oregon History Center. The exhibit tells the history of Oregon from its earliest peoples to foreign explorers, the Western Movement and the present. Current exhibits include "Historic Vehicles in Miniature" and "A Fair to Remember," the 1905 Lewis and Clark exposition.

For a number of years, we stayed at bed and breakfasts. However, our two favorites are no longer welcoming guests. Lately, we have been taking advantage of The Portland Big Deal and staying in downtown hotels at discounted prices. Several times we have stayed at the Mark Spenser in suites that include a living room with kitchenettes, a separate bedroom and large closets. However, the breakfast part of the deal is not tasty. Don and I walk two blocks to the Whole Foods store for breakfast. Ask for a courtyard room; street noise can be a problem.

Our greatest sleeping experience was at the McMenamins brothers' Kennedy School. The McMenamins brothers are highly respected in Portland and Oregon because they buy old, neglected public buildings and convert them into hotels. They have saved the Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, the Hotel Oregon in McMinnville, the St. Francis School in Bend, and the Olympic Club in Centralia, Wash., where we stopped for lunch on our last trip.

The McMenamins have taken great advantage of the old Kennedy School's facilities. The school cafeteria is now the Courtyard Restaurant that serves pub fare. One of the McMenamins' breweries is on site. Movies and a full calendar of events take place in the auditorium. Several of the classrooms and the library are used as meeting spaces. The Detention Bar allows smoking. The Honors Bar is nonsmoking and has an extensive selection of fine Scotches. We slept in half of the woodworking classroom. Our room was the Bird House room, and the other half of the classroom was the Boat Room. Kennedy School is near the airport.

Visitors to Portland do not need a car. Within the past few years, TriMet, Portland's light rail system has connected the airport to the rest of the system. MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) is easy to use.

The City of Roses is a beautiful city located between the Willamette and the Columbia Rivers. The parks, the restored and preserved buildings and neighborhoods, and the public art make Portland a joy to visit.

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