West Coast Day 1: PDX

Today was the first day of our two-week West Coast tour.  We are here to visit my cousin in Portland (PDX), my aunt in Eugene, and are spending some time with my brother, who lives near Seattle.  My mom will be joining us here tomorrow night.

We did a version of this trip two years ago, last time we visited my brother and aunt/cousin out here.  On that trip, we flew into SEA and did a train ride down to PDX.  This time, we flew into PDX.  We will do some train sightseeing and fly home from SEA two weeks later.

Our flight connected through Minneapolis (MSP) and was very smooth.  We only had a one-hour layover, which is great when (a) your first flight is on time and (b) your connection is not in a different terminal, like when we flew to Europe last year.  Fortunately, both of those things worked in our favor.  We did hustle to get to our second gate, but still had a few minutes to wait until it was our turn to board.  We took a lesson from our past flying experience and flew Delta for both legs of our trip.

When the kids were younger, we were very careful to try to get three seats together and a fourth seat in either the aisle position of the opposite side of the row, or the aisle seat directly behind our three together.  That way, one parent could sit with both kids, who would not bother anyone if they got a little restless.  The other parent could recharge or, in DH’s case, get some work done or take a snooze.  We would set up a little “play camp” in our seating area.  The girls would often end up kneeling on the floor, facing the seats, and using the seats for their coloring books or toys or whatever.  Now that they are bigger it’s hard to do the play camp.  But they are also big enough to use the tray tables now, and are also very interested in the things coming off the beverage cart, so we have started to use the “divide and conquer” theory: each parent takes a kid, and we sit in pairs of seats within a few rows of each other.  It keeps the fighting to a minimum and lets us each concentrate on one munchkin and her carryon.

Speaking of carryons… I would just like to brag a moment about our packing prowess.  Ever since we started dating back in the late ’90s, my husband and I have traveled lightly.  We did check bags once or twice; maybe on our first Europe trip, and probably the first time we went out west in ’00 because we took a lot of backpacking gear in addition to our regular luggage.  But since then, and especially since 9/11 when the luggage restrictions became much tighter, we have opted to go carryon only.  We take one bag each, plus a technical bag (laptop/camera, etc).  The kids each get a backpack, which they carry, and they have learned to self-regulate when it comes to what toys they drag along because they know how heavy it can get.  This saves so much time and headache; it’s bad enough for an adult to lose her luggage, but can you imagine the meltdown if your kid lost hers?  It also really helps when your trip involves moving around to different locations, like the last few we’ve done.  Most important, it makes your trip about the place you’re going and not about your stuff.

MSP

I went ultra-minimalist on this trip, even more so than usual- and it was AWESOME not having a heavy pack to lug around.  It was a hard decision for me, who is one of those prepared-for-anything people; but with some well-chosen items and some planning ahead I didn’t miss any of the several pounds of things I would have otherwise considered taking.  I took a lot of good tips from Lady Light Travel and OneBag, and might add my own trip packing notes at the end in case it could be helpful to someone else.  Suffice it to say that I thoroughly enjoyed having one light backpack and a camera bag as we made our way through the airport.  While one pair of ladies struggled with SEVEN SUITCASES between the two of them, we nimbly hopped off the airport tram and whizzed through security before they even got to the terminal. It was great having just a small bag to worry about getting into the airplane overhead bin, as our second flight was completely full and space was seriously limited.  When we made our connection in MSP and had to jog to the second gate, I really appreciated our gazelle-like mobility: we could get off the first flight quickly, and it was much easier getting to our second flight since we didn’t have to haul all kinds of suitcases along with us.  I will freely admit to feeling unabashed pity for fellow travelers loaded like so many pack mules in the airport terminal, and caught myself mentally comparing my light and fast pack to everyone else’s heavy, clumsy, metal roller bags.  And yes, I felt superior.  Guilty as charged.   😉

Anyway, we got to PDX in the late afternoon, feeling like we had conquered the travel game.  Between a nice connection and extra cookies on the flight, we were on top of the world.  The icing on the cake was when some nice couple heading to the airport handed us their MAX rail day passes as we got to the transit platform, so we just had to buy day passes for the kids ($3.30).  We hopped on the Red Line to get to our hotel, and that was that.  Easy peasy.

We stayed at the same Comfort Inn on NE Wasco that we stayed at in ’11.  It is right off the MAX line and also close to a couple different bus stops, so making this our home base for two nights in PDX was a logistical no-brainer.  After checking in, freshening up, and getting our bearings, we decided to venture forth and get some dinner.  We opted for Clyde’s Prime Rib Restaurant and Bar, and hopped a bus to take us up 82nd and a few blocks down Sandy Blvd.

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Insurance ad campaign sign at the bus stop. We saw several of these throughout PDX. The kids thought they were funny.

Clyde’s was an interesting establishment; depending on your temperament, it is either hip and vintage or dated and musty.  I felt more inclined to the latter due to the omnipresent odor of mildew – a scent that did not recede even after our food arrived.  However, it was not an unpleasant dining experience.  I’ve just had a lot better, and in much more aesthetically pleasant environs.

Clyde's Prime Rib Restaurant and Bar

But the food was tasty, it was reasonably priced for what we received, and the service was excellent.  So YMMV.  Surprisingly, DH did not go for the prime rib, which is hand carved table-side from an ostentatious silver cart by a cheerful man who seems to have several positions at Clyde’s in addition to his carving duties.  After dinner, DH and O7 shared a big ice cream sundae for dessert, and I got the cranberry bread pudding and gave its accompanying ice cream to S9.

With our bellies full, we decided to walk part way back to our hotel.  We followed Sandy a few blocks west to 53rd, then strolled south to Halsey St.  The neighborhood was absolutely lovely.  Every yard, small by our suburban Ohio standards, was impeccably kept.  The gardens were impressive.  Nearly every house had some type of rose blooming and a variety of other Northwestern plants on display.  I wanted to take pictures but that would have been uber-touristy, not to mention creepy.  I refrained.

As we headed back on Halsey, the neighborhood gave way to a more industrial section of town and the sun started to go down.  The kids were also getting tired, so we hopped on a bus and took it the last stretch of the way (about 10 blocks) back to our hotel.  It let us off right at the corner.  We took a quick dip in the pool and soaked in the hot tub before heading back to our room and getting some much-needed sleep.

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Fortunately, my family’s penchant for late nights means a reasonable bed-time when we’re in a time zone 3 hours behind. The kids went to bed with no argument. Tomorrow: a day in PDX and a visit with my cousin B.