Over Easter, we travelled to Oregon and were very generously hosted by Paul and Lauren Schneider. We stayed at their breathtaking midcentury home, in a residential part of Portland and a ten minutes drive from their amazing store, Twist.
How better could we discover the charms of Portland?
Oregon’s largest city no longer is a well-kept secret , it has all the cultural advantages of a major city, but the feel and affordability of a small town. But little old Stumptown is growing up, in many ways.
You may know this pacific Northwestern city from Portlandia, The TV sketch show that satirizes the strong on idealism, low on ambition lifestyles of the locals, for whom the 90s “when people were talking about getting piercings and tribal tattoos” never ended. “Portland, says one of the main characters is where young people go to retire. Portlandia gets just about everything about the city dead right, apart from the weather, although we were fairly lucky with sunny spells and rather mild temperatures. It does seem though that despite the damp weather, locals are friendly and cheerful. Everyone you meet in this hipster enclave, the Dalston or the Bushwick of the Pacific Northwest, seems to be high on life. Perhaps it is the constant caffeine rush, or all that endorphin-generating cycling. Maybe there is some kind of amphetamine in the vinegar: the city has bear-hugged the artisanal food movement and the pickle is its mascot. If you can eat it, they pickle it. We even had the best ever pizza in Portland. We loved that there’s a coffee roastery and a craft brewery on just about every block. And the food carts – more and better than ever.
Lets mention too that Portland has an almost unfair abundance of natural beauty – perfect parks, leafy trees, vibrantly flowering shrubs lining pretty residential streets, the Willamette River meandering through town, and Mt Hood on the horizon. We travelled for two days to Timberline Lodge on Paul’s recommendation and what a treat ! Go and see it for yourself
The open-minded, appealingly off-kilter vibe of the place – that whole ‘Keep Portland Weird’ thing – certainly vowed us. We indeniably fell in love with Portland for its liberal, off-beat , relaxed atmosphere where everybody can be “a little weird in the open”!
As Gus Van Sant, a long-time resident says: “It’s a place that’s isolated from the rest of the country, so everyone feels abandoned together.”
These are a few places I wanted to recommend if you ever feel like spending a few days or who knows the rest of your life in Portland.
Places to shop
For jewellery by independent designers and for cool, fun, unique objects, accessories, ceramics, homeware, the carefully curated store, Twist, owned by our hosts. They have another location in Seattle. They carry the best of the best, from commercial & easy-to-wear,easy-to-style jewellery pieces to one of a kind, more artistic pieces by the likes of Sevan Bicaczi, Bibi Van Der Velden..etc and the customer service is attentive, respectful and informed. Check their online store.
Twist | 30 NW 23rd Place , Portland 97210
What can I say about Una? I have followed Giovanna, the owner-buyer of Una on instagram for some time now and I knew I would likely shop at her store. Beautiful space, welcoming vibe, great selection of wares and lovely objects. Giovanna is definitely passionate about her store, as a customer it gives you confidence and joy. She does not follow trends, she does her own thing and this really is what I loved about Una. I could not help it, I left with two dresses and a pair of pants, I also found a textured metallic glazed vase, by a local artist for my bedroom. Una Portland is a MUST ! There are not so many soulful stores that offer a personal curation around.
Una | 922 Se Ankeny Street , Portland 97214
This legendary Portland shop is the world’s largest used book store – the jewel in the crown of what is claimed to be the largest independent chain of bookstores on the planet. Powell’s even provides a map for customers. “It is amazing! It is a whole city block with several floors of books. Unlike ordinary bookstores, Powell’s has a huge selection of every book imaginable. We took my Paloma there there and spent the entire rainy afternoon reading books. It also has a cafe and a selection of antique computers. It is an absolute paradise for bibliophiles!
Powells City of Books | 1005 W Burnside Street , Portland 97209
Places to rest and meditate
The Japanese garden
Tucked into the scenic West Hills of Portland, above Washington Park and near the International Rose Test Garden, the Portland Japanese Garden is a haven of meticulously maintained, tranquil beauty. Proclaimed one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan, the 5.5-acre (2.2 ha) space includes an authentic Japanese tea house, meandering streams, intimate walkways and an unsurpassed view of Mount Hood.
The lush Tea Garden is focused on a stone walking path designed to help visitors shed the concerns of the outside world. The Strolling Pond Garden would be a display of wealth in Japan, but in this case reflects the rich landscape, with a bridge zigzagging through beds of iris by a waterfall. The Natural Garden is full of leafy trees and plants, deliberately placed to show off their changes through the seasons. Designed before Zen Buddhism became popular in the U.S., the Sand and Stone Garden uses the elements as focal points for quiet contemplation. And the Flat Garden, which can be best enjoyed from the garden’s pavilion, is reminiscent of a landscape portrait, combining various elements into a serene, four-season tableau.
The new complex, designed by Kengo Kuma was unveiled just days before our visit, it contains three pavilions – a Village House, Garden House and Tea House – made of steel and glass. The program includes galleries, a multipurpose room, a library and a gift store. The buildings are wrapped with wood battens and topped with overhanging, tiered roofs that recall pagodas.The project also entailed the creation of three new gardens: a moss hillside garden, a bonsai terrace and a tea flower garden. Highly recommend a visit on a clear-sky day, we were so privileged to visit on a rather sunny morning.
Places to eat
Kackha was our very first array in Portland’s food scene. The real life of a restaurant extends far beyond a line cook’s shenanigans or the number of covers turned each night. It’s the happily tipsy regulars, the vivacious playlist,the backstory of the iconic dish. At this lively Russian eaterie, they are looking at the big picture — and the small ones:minute by minute, dollar by dollar, vodka shot by vodka shot. Kachka’s menu delivers on what they describe as the “Ruskie zakuski experience”: a parade of mostly cold appetizers, smoked and pickled all manner of ways, plus classics like pelmeni and vareniki dumplings, and other former-Soviet culinary icons, all washed down with plenty of vodka. And I ordered quite a few shots of my fav’ vodka, the house horseradish infused vodka. I think I will always remember setting a foot at Kachka and hearing an unknown song by my childhood singer, Joe Dassin, whom Bruno finds super naff! Joe Dassin and Horseradish vodka in Portland
Kachka | 720 SE Grand Avenue, Portland 97214
Luce is a lovely Italian restaurant owned by Una – Giovanna’s husband and it ended up being one of our favourite eateries in Portland. It is an intimate space with large windows and an extensive wine selection. They carry a small selection of Italian provisions such as lemon olive oil, polenta, Italian cannellini bean…
The food is simple, freshly cooked and tasty. We both loved the roasted cabbage! All their pasta is freshly made, and their vegetables purchased from local organic farms. The olive oil cake was divine as was the panna cotta. And again the service was just right!
Luce | 2140 E Burnside Street, Portland 97214
For our last night in Portland, we invited Paul at Lovely Fifty Fifty,
Lovely’s pizza, always good, was to us enchanting, idiosyncratic, and complex. After nearly seven years, the blessedly untrendy North Mississippi Avenue restaurant’s evolution from bashful locavore to bold auteur of the Portland pie is complete. Stumptown has plenty of great Italian/East Coast pizza, but Lovely’s has something else: a near-spiritual connection to Oregon’s most adventurous farmers and seed breeders. That relationship traipses through the entire menu. You’ll find yourself eating things you have never heard of, or digging into combinations that would be considered tantamount to war crimes in a Jersey ’za shop. A pie of roasted apricots, fresh fenugreek greens, and pink Echinacea flowers ? It sounds like a B-12 shot, but it tastes fantastic: alive, unexpected, and so full of flavor. That unorthodox sourdough crust locks in the beauty. The sourdough will be remembered forever!
Ice cream, Lovely’s other half, is scooped at the counter or dished at the table, often by one of the business partners, her mom, sister, or daughter—no doubt, this is a gal’s house. To miss dessert would be a crime, for Lovely’s stands as one of the last reminders of what real ice cream tastes like, with no branding, no bacon; all old-fashioned deluxe creaminess and seasonal flavors so ripe they seem like they just fell from a tree. Boysenberry. Fig maple. Come winter, owner and chef Sarah Minnick is determined to perfect sprouted barley with raisins. They make only six flavors, forty gallons a week. A must or you will regret it!
Lovely’s Fifty Fifty | 4039 N Mississipi avenue , Portland OR 97217
Places for fun
A last recommendation if you travel to Portland with kids and look for fun activities, we stumbled across Mimosa Studios with Paloma and spent two consecutive afternoons painting bright owl plates, rainbow unicorn vases, sweet bird dishes etc …Mimosa’s doors opened in 2001, welcoming everyone, no matter what skill level, to experience the fun of painting your own pottery. The studio is a place where both kids and adults discover the joy and pride of painting something all their own. Pottery, paint, instruction, and friendly personal attention is provided. We just had so much fun and are now waiting for our creations to be shipped by Paul from Portland to London.
Mimosa Studios 1718 NE Alberta St , Portland 97211
I almost forgot…
For the best ice-creams, try Salt and Straw, I asked for the pear and blue cheese ice-cream. It was a scrumptious experience.