2 Days Away Portland, OR, Christmas 2014

I had no intention of blogging about this trip. Taking the holidays off. Then about five hours in, I realized this was a short-stay and a great get-away that should be blog bound. What the heck was I thinking…So away we go:

Amtrak Cascades from Seattle to Portland was what we choose to make this get-away on…newish trains shuttling between Vancouver BC and Eugene, Oregon. Three hours to while away leisurely instead of a straight and boring freeway auto-cruising of radio blaring and avoiding texters on the road. For $200, Jon, Em and I left the car behind, packed our carry-ons and some word searches, Christmas gifts, magazines, and hopped the train. There are train fare specials and book 2 weeks in advance and get 25% off!

We took the Amtrak headed for Portland, Christmas morn at 6:30am, to visit our Portlandia family: son-Jacob, daughter-in-law-Audra, and the grand-kids Veda and Ursa. Dropped off by my brother, at the station we did not have any parking worries. (Here is some parking info Amtrak provides though – never used it so no guarantees; but, FYI)

The station was renovated by the City of Seattle and it is beautiful. What for many, many years had been a deteriorating dark and grimy space is now re-done and back to original glory, the days of old-fashioned train-days splendor. Beautiful!

Jon and Em ready to go – they still look sleepy!

We planned a take-along Christmas breakfast: instant blueberry-banana oatmeal, small honey crisp apples, tangerines, hard boiled eggs, thick-cut bacon (pre-cooked in the microwave before we left), breakfast snack bars, sugared almonds, peppermint cocoa and hot tea. All we needed was hot water and for Jon a cup of Jo. $3

We had on our twinkling Christmas-light necklaces and enjoyed our breakfast. We got seated at a table for four. Request what you want when getting tickets. We enjoyed the space to spread out our breakfast and to write and read. I got a whole side to myself and it made for easy napping. Jon was less comfortable. Em did alright and got some snoozing and crosswords done.

We read, walked the train, looked at the views and made our way into the Portland Station another vintage restoration – a little older and more worn than Seattle’s.

Union Station in Portland…a little more worn now.

When we arrived at the station, we walked to the Portland’s well-reputed MAX (Metropolitan Expressway) Station going South, to catch a short ride to our hotel. There were a lot of homeless congregated around the Station. Portland is a city that is tolerant of street people. They are mild-mannered and friendly to each other. They have dogs and carts and sleep in doorways. Some sing or play instruments for money; some just sit with a sign. We walked to the substation bought our tickets and were on our way to the Embassy Suites Downtown Portland, a few blocks away.

We got a great deal on this room. (In fact, I had booked it through Amtrak with a lower price guarantee and found it on Booking.com for $37 dollars less. It was just easier to cancel the Amtrak reservation than go through there price submission process for a refund of the difference. So, that is what I did). We got the room, with breakfast and afternoon reception, a two room suite with 2 queen beds for $150 a night. Sweet deal at the Embassy Suites! We arrived at around 10:30am and were given a room right away. We had requested top floor and that’s what we got.

I love Booking.com. This was my second experience with them…they have a great cancellation policy, notify you of upgrades, have friendly people to talk to if you must and make requests for special things you may want. The first time I ended up cancelling at the last minute with no repercussions. Look into this website when you need a hotel!

The hotel was at first not that attractive – little worn around the edges. But, we grew to love it for several reasons. While it is in a less affluent part of town, it is conveniently located to Chinatown and Downtown. Close to the train. It has been recently redone and though not really to my tastes it was interesting and the décor grew on us. The historic aspect of the hotel is amazing, it has been a hotel for 103 years is on the National Landmark Register and has many fun features.

The breakfast and reception room is in the basement. Large and spacious…that is where you find out just how many folks are staying there! A lot! One woman on the elevator said she had come every Christmas for 20 years! It is relatively quiet and non-crowded in the other public spaces. The lobby was festive and I loved the wrapping station the hotel provided: paper, scissors, scotch tape and other supplies to wrap any presents you bought for gift-giving. This is a destination hotel for the holidays…we saw families gathered, kids in pj’s, doors propped open for easy access to friends and family. Lots of fun stuff going on that had the potential to bother; but, just was sweet and added to the holiday feel.

They had a historic scavenger hunt brochure to introduce you to the Hotel and one for the city as well! The room was spacious, beds comfortable (we immediately tried them out for a mid-day nap) and the room had a refrigerator. This in this case, was great because I had brought polenta, homemade mushroom sauce and sausages for our Christmas dinner.

After our nap, we called my son and he picked us up for a relaxing evening of sitting by the tree and enjoying family. My daughter-in-law made a super salad to go with the polenta, her lime dressing was great!

Polenta, sausages and a wonderful arugula salad!

We ate, gave each other presents, got lessons on joining Instagram and went home by 10. We slept in the next morning…another Christmas present in itself!

We had not seen the breakfast room (7-10am for the holiday season) and WOW! Everything you could want…oatmeal with chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, or flax seeds (so Portland!)…pancakes, scrambled eggs, fresh OJ, cranberry and a great citrus peach juice. Hot blueberry/banana and cranberry/nut muffins. Almost everything breakfast. But, most popular of all was the fresh omelet bar. Run by a Bosnian women, Rajma. (She reminded me of the Soup Nazi; but, nicer…).

You line up and are summoned to the bar in due time. She makes eggs over easy as well! I had a spinach, mushroom and tomato omelet and loved it. You can really relax over your breakfast here and enjoy the scene. Kids and parents, grandparents…all excited by the holidays!

We tried it all and loved it all!

We walked to Macy’s for the post-Christmas sales and enjoyed our finds and the not in-a-big-city feel of this downtown. We took in the decorations of several of the hotel lobbies, stores and malls. We decided on a movie: (Big Hero 6 already had been seen by our son and grandson – giving it rave reviews.) Night at the Museum: Secret at the Tomb, was the only kid-friendly offering on our time schedule. I didn’t hate it like I thought I would. It is Robin Williams last picture and that seemed bittersweet. A sort of perfect role for his good-bye. 2 1/2 stars from Jon and I, Em slept through it; but, Jacob and Ursa enjoyed it immensely…it appealed to the little boys in them…the special effects and gags.

Then, we were off for more walking around town. We headed for the edge of the Pearl District the newest gentrified area and to Deschutes Brewery for their well-reputed happy hour and beer. It is fun to walk the streets of this city which was dedicated to building recycle and restoration, public art and the food truck scene before it was trendy.

On our walk: interactive sculpture and Portland’s famous food carts.

The place was hopping – appealing “northwest” décor and full of people having a noisy grand time. Kids and adults. I particularly loved the beer bottle Christmas tree! I could just imagine Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein doing a whole scene on the making of it for their quirky true-to-the-bone show: Portlandia spoof of this city.

The bad news was the happy hour had been suspended for the holiday…but, we didn’t care. It fit the bill for fun, good food, regardless; and, a couple of good brews to boot.

We waited about 10 minutes for a table. And, then the fun really began. If you are gluten and dairy free, a health food nut or on a diet this is the city to dine-out in. This is the restaurant to do it!

Beautiful hand-carved wood all around and a wonderful gluten-free menu!

We had both kinds of food intolerances in our group and the kind of ordering that commenced would have given any ordinary wait staff a migraine. “Hamburger –between medium rare and medium, no-gluten bun, no cheese, can I have avocado instead? And, change the burger to a free range, no antibiotics chicken breast, instead of fries, may I have a side-salad lightly dressed with lemon and extra virgin, imported olive oil and sea salt, noooo make that kosher salt…well, actually, I changed my mind. I would like to try the sweet potato fires in the child’s portion, just how greasy are they though?”

OK, I exaggerate…barely! The gluten free menu is great and they are hyper vigilant for dairy if you tell them. Our waitress that day served six of us and our foody quirks with aplomb and even harder to believe enthusiasm.

The choice of food items eclectic and intriguing. They specialize in large small plates! The portions were generous. And, the beer selections lend themselves to the same kind of ordering…”Do you have a medium light brew, a little yeasty but with sweet highlights, brewed locally but not more than 3 counties away, on tap…no, I mean in a dark glass bottle…” You get the point. This is the place to be crazy like that…and, even understood, you may even get respect!

My first chicken and waffles and clams, no butter, olive oil only please!!

I had the chicken and waffles, my first ever. I am hooked on that sweet and savory thing and loved it. The presentation was great! Burgers are huge and delicious, the manila clams in olive oil (no butter!) were also good…sweet potato fries were the talk of the table. Several brews were tasted and deemed worthy; but, you are on your own for that experience. I did get the happy hour menu to take with me and will be back after the holiday ban and reinstatement! $5 wings, $4 baked bacon Mac and Cheese,$3 Pub Fries (my son loves them!) and $3.50 for ½ liter of the special daily brew.

Sights along the way! Famous Powell’s City of Books – Portland street scene.

We walked back to the hotel in the dusk and arrived in time for the happy hour reception. If you have checked out and have luggage stored ask if you can attend as we did. Or, bring your card key with you. It was a happening scene – a hundred or more family folks and couples enjoying wine, snacks and mixed drinks. Each person over the age of 21 gets one complimentary alcoholic beverage of choice- this night the special was a candy cane martini. Jon had that and I opted for hot cocoa bar and added a shot of peppermint schnapps and a free offering of a shot of cream de cacao. The snacks were great…a popcorn machine working away, extensive bar , veggie and dips, finger snacks and hot cocoa fixings!

We spent a half an hour enjoying ourselves and off we went hot cocoas in hand, to collect our luggage and jump on the MAX to get to the station for our evening train. Truth be told the MAX came before we had time to purchase our tickets. Thank you Portland -for everything that is so singularly you and your city! More days away here for sure.

Note: All information presented in this blog was correct at the time of publishing and changes are not the fault of the author.

2 thoughts on “2 Days Away Portland, OR, Christmas 2014

  1. Nice work, Monica! Excellent, informative photos highlight your fine descriptions and tips for the traveller. Now we’re on to your San Francisco trip…..Thanks!

    • Glad you are enjoying it…San Francisco is your stomping grounds…send more ideas or suggestions! Love that city!

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