I wouldn't normally visit a hotel restaurant just for the purpose of having a sandwich. But this is the second restaurant by Vitaly Paley, one of Portland's most beloved chefs, and I'd been told it was a good place for lunch. I hadn't guessed that most of the menu would be sandwiches, and I have to admit to feeling a little disappointment when I saw it.
I shouldn't have. The Dungeness crab Reuben was a flaky, fish marvel, while the heirloom tomato salad I had with it was a perfectly pert accompaniment. The home-made cream soda, meanwhile, was as sweet and delicious as anything in an Enid Blyton novel, and had me suppressing the urge to exclaim "How jolly!"
Anyway. That's just me. If you like a sandwich, I think you'll probably like these.
Because you won't regret it.
Whatever Amtrak's reputation, this has to be one of the best train rides - and the best train services - in the USA. We actually started our rail journey in Vancouver and made our way, haltingly, down the West coast line, but it was the 19-hour stretch after leaving Portland that really astonished us.
From the moment you leave the city and head out through the farmlands and small towns of Oregon, the surprises never stop. A spacious and restful observation car gave us the chance to watch the ever-changing scenery go by - hills, woods, even volcanoes, before heading up into the mountains for the spectacular lakes and forests of the Cascades.
Once the sun had gone down, and we'd enjoyed a sociable dinner in the dining car, we got a really decent night's sleep in our two-person roomette (bunk beds). But it was breakfast the next morning that proved the greatest...
OK, we didn't exactly go far for dinner. We were staying in the Ace Hotel, just two doors down, but we were jetlgged and we were hungry. We had seen many people hunched over enormous sandwiches through the window of this traditional-style deli at lunchtime, and we were surprised to see they were still open at 7.30pm.
So we went in. We liked the simple, homely decor. We liked the smells emanating from the kitchen. We liked the fact that when we decided not to have sodas, the matronly server told us "nah, you don't need them honey, I'll just keep the water coming".
We looked at the menu. We ordered two hot dogs, and a side order of pastrami fries. The waitress looked at our innocent little faces and told us we'd only need a half portion, as a whole portion of pastrami fries was "pretty big".
Our hot dogs arrived. They were delicious, and stacked with home made relish. Our fries arrived....
Going to Powell's City of Books in Portland's Pearl District is a bit like finding yourself back in the college library. It's so big that books are categorised not by shelf but by room (Purple Room, Green Room, Pink Room, etc etc) and you keep coming across young people slumped on the floors of the book stacks, their legs splayed in front of them, their eyes focused on an improving tract.
Portlanders are rightly proud of Powell's and its ongoing ability to stay open when so many bookstores are falling victim to Amazon. It took only one trip to fall in love; by the second, we were making completely unnecessary purchases (including merchandised soda) just to make sure we were doing our bit to keep it alive.
Go, browse, read, buy. There's no way you can go into the USA's largest independent bookstore and fail to find something you like. That's a promise.
The title really said it all. We just popped into this arthouse theatre because we'd seen the advert for Sleepwalk With Me on its sign. We knew it must be a hip joint because a) it's in Portland's Pearl District and b) there were lots of young people drinking cocktails at the bar inside.
But it was when we sat down in front of the screen that we decided we'd like to live here. The seats were all armchairs. The bowls of popcorn were ceramic, and twice the size of my head. And the people in the front row were actually being served their dinner during the trailers.
And the cost for a ticket? $9. As a Brit used to paying upwards of $20 for a grim blockbuster experience at her local cinema, I was stunned. Then I found out that ticket prices go down to $7 before 5pm and a ludicrous $5 on Monday and Tuesdays.
Living Room Theaters? If I was a Portland resident, I would definitely be living...
This is simply the best value hotel breakfast I have ever found. For $10 at the Ace hotel, you can help yourself to a generous spread of eggs, breads, pastries, granola, yoghurt, fruit and any number of yummy local jams and chutneys. Tea is from local connoisseur blender Steven Smith and coffee is from the famed Stumptown Coffee roasters next door. It really was an unbelievable spread on a relatively modest budget. It's served in a small room on the second floor - the only downside is that it can reach capacity fairly quickly.
Sure, the Ace hotel is currently a super trendy place to stay in Portland, with its faux-military khaki chic and its super-hip bar and restaurant (Clyde Common) next door. But don't let that sway you. Go for the breakfast.
We came across this little area of Portland's Nob Hill by chance - we were on the hunt for ice cream. But we were charmed by what we found—a really beautiful run of shops, five or six blocks long, that evolved over the course of the road from new age-y hippie shops to second hand vintage stores to smart designer homeware and clothes. Favorite among them was a small branch of the Goorin Bros hat shop (pictured) but there was plenty to keep even a modest shopper occupied, and lots of nice local restaurants and cafes to fuel you along your way. All in the pleasant environs of Portland's leafiest, most elegant residential area.
Apparently the Loden was one of the first boutique hotels in Vancouver. I don't know what template they used, but it works very well - smart, modern, huge rooms and a really good level of service.
What's particularly nice about it is the Tableau Bar and Bistro, its restaurant. Unpretentious but really good food, and a new house cocktail each month. It's between downtown and coal harbour, so it's a good option outside the usual Gastown haunts, and the mushroom on toast is to die for.
The Steelhead Diner was recommended to us by Charles Finkel, the owner of the Pike Pub and Brewery. He had a good reason for liking the place—one of the best dishes on their menu is fresh fish fried in Pike ale batter, and after eating it we were mighty pleased he sent us there.
In fact the Steelhead is one of the most popular evening destinations in downtown Seattle and almost everything on the menu has something to recommend it, not least because the food tends to be locally sourced ("nothing east of Idaho, nothing south of Oregon") and much of it will come from the Pike Place market mere meters away. Certainly, if you want to try the black cod or the Dungeness crab that the Pacific Northwest goes nuts for, this is as good a place as any, and their wine list also reflects the huge popularity of Washington county's vineyards.
If you enjoy drinking cocktails, you'll like the Teardrop Lounge. If you enjoy seeing them made, you'll like it even more. It was pure fluke that when we arrived, the only seats remaining were the two barstools next to the wait-station, and we took them willingly, because we'd heard good things about this place from a gin-distilling friend in London. Talking of gin and tonic, this place makes its own tonic water from scratch, and it's a million times better than the anaemic stuff that comes out of a soda stream.
What was supposed to be a place to kill some time before the cinema turned into an hour-long entertainment in itself. The mixologist was kept on his toes - the bar was at capacity and the orders just kept coming - and we didn't see him slow or stop for a second. From Tom Collinses to Negronis to Long Island Iced Teas, not to mention the raft of house cocktails that the Teardrop...
I was on a cruise in Italy when I heard about this place. I'd mentioned that I was heading to Portland, and a fellow cruiser, a native of the town, had told me that if they had one recommendation it would be the ice cream at Salt and Straw.
What she didn't tell me was that the flavors are not your usual vanilla, chocolate, and raspberry ripple. In fact, the first thing I tasted at Salt and Straw was their new "Bollywood" recipe, which included carrot custard and cardamom, which sounds almost sensible when you considered that some of their most popular flavours include prosciutto and goat's cheese.
There was a huge line, even on a Friday mid-afternoon, but it was worth it for the almond brittle with salted ganache, not to mention the apple pie with real chunks of cheddar cheese. They're doing their best to 'Keep Portland Weird' here...and it tastes good.
Look, I'll be honest. I'd heard the Spur was a great place to eat and drink, but when we got there, the prices on the menu did scare me a little ($30 for lamb, $12 for artichokes). Then we realised that, thanks to jet lag, we had turned up early enough for happy hour.
A small but smart bar-cum-bistro in Seattle's trendy Belltown, the Spur has a good reputation for cocktails but we went instead for the Old Seattle Lager which was served by the knowledgeable and genial barman. As soon as he spotted us poring over a map he was keen to make sure we knew about all the other good bars in the area too.
But best of all were the snacks. We ordered the sliders from the Happy Hour menu and they were literally melt in the mouth - not a surprise, since they contained Wagyu beef. The wasabi aioli had a lovely kick to it, and the fries were crisply delicious.
You really can't ask for fresher beer than they serve at the Pike. This huge pub is actually built around the equipment that is brewing the next batch as you drink. It's the brainchild of Charles Finkel, whose passion is evident in this glorious shrine to beer, with his collections of bottles, ads and vintage merch covering every square inch of the place.
When we visited, he was actually putting up some beer-themed stamp collections on one of the few remaining patches of uncovered wall; we got chatting, and in his enthusiasm he insisted on taking us down to the basement for a tour of the workfloor. Charles just adores what he does and you can taste it in the microbrews, a selection of lovingly crafted beers that you'll struggle to find outside the Pacific Northwest. I loved "Naughty Nellie," a golden ale that slips down rather too easily, but there's more than a dozen types to choose...
The ferry over to Granville Island had been a fun experience in itself - hoisting our bicycles onto the tiny Aquabus and crossing the "False Creek" for the price of a couple of bucks. The island itself is best known for its market, which didn't disappoint; all manner of food was there, from butchers and fishmongers to grocers and fruiterers and a chocolate-nut vendor who branded their wares "Better Than Sex" (well, they were pretty good). There's a food court that serves all sorts of healthy options like quiche and salad and noodles but we wanted the real Canadian experience so we ordered the poutine - chips, cheese curds and gravy - which proved as gloomy and delicious as it sounds. I made up for this desperate unhealthiness by later purchasing a beautiful handbag made of all-vegan materials. That counts, right?
It's what all the locals will tell you to do when you visit Vancouver—rent a bike and cycle around Stanley Park, the extraordinary nature site that makes up a considerable square footage of the city. Of course, once you're on the paths you'll be able to spot the difference between visitors and Vancouver citizens immediately. We visitors were the ones wobbling slowly around the seawall path, stopping frequently to take snaps, while the locals whizzed down the roads on their super speed racing bikes. There was lots to see—from the huge bridge that spans the bay to the "lost lagoon" that is a special conservation site for birds. But my favourite moment was running into the little guys above, a family of raccoons who were happy to pose for pictures.
Portland is not short of parks and gardens – I've heard the Chinese garden in the Pearl district is a stunner - but I highly recommend the Japanese Gardens in Washington Park if you're ever visiting. Portland's a relaxed place anyway, but the Japanese gardens - said to be the best example outside Japan itself - are a change of pace entirely, a shaded haven of trickling streams and artful horticulture. The day we visited there were a number of other visitors, some of them a little boisterous, and I was worried that we weren't going to get the full calming effect, but there are enough paths and Zen sculpture gardens that you can find your own spot to sit and contemplate. Don't forget to take a warm jacket though.
It's 22km long, but you don't have to do all of it. We started at the and walked a short section from Cardero Park to Canada Place, and in that time we saw a dozen sea planes take off and land, not to mention a cruise liner head off on its way to the Alaska. It's hard to believe, looking out onto the peaceful still waters and the mountains in the background, that you're still standing in one of Canada's foremost cities. But maybe that's because the walk is so calming and surprisingly underpopulated (there were joggers, but not too many). It's also a great way to learn some local history - plaques along the wall commemorate many important and intriguing moments of Vancouver's past, from the gold rush to unionization.