T’ronto as the Locals Say it!

The city of Toronto seems a city of many small areas. I failed in my period here to find what can be categorised as an actual Downtown. Instead, I spent my time discovering several individual villages within the central Toronto area, as well as beyond. Among these were yet another Chinatown. I seem to have become quite used to the idea of Chinatowns by now, and I must admit that it no longer excited me. I quickly continued onwards to hippie commercial Kensington Market which though pleasant didn’t catch my fascination for long. It seems filled with the same India inspired hippie stores as you find anywhere in the Western World. However, it should only be fair to mention that these were mixed with a few second hand and vintage stores and some trendy and not so trendy cafés which gave the area a more unique look than had it just been Indian hippie stores.

On the map I had bought I also realised that I passed through the fashion district and the designer strip and other strange names which highly likely were given to these places because of the general shops they contain, and as an attraction to tourists.

Finally after a trip by the invisible and covered up waterfront and my first Second Cup since Edmonton, I arrived at Lawrence Market and the Distillery District. Both were very nice. While Lawrence Market seemed similar to other such places from my trip, with groceries, jewellery makers and the likes, the Distillery District was a little cobble stoned escape from the usual American city. It is a place for the posh and artistic as well as tourists who dream to be. Here are galleries and sculptures everywhere, and though the prices are high the craftsmanship is unique. Or… In one shop I saw a children sized copy of the Egg by Arne Jacobsen. Now, I know that there is no copy right protection on this design in North America, since it is an old masterpiece. However, while they might sell cheap Chinese produced copies in diverse fashion stores, I disliked the idea that in a place such as the Distillery District made to promote the unique work of new Toronto designers, salesmen don’t respect a designers products. With or without copy rights. And then they had the audacity to claim in a little note on the chair, that they had made it out of respect for the original designer. It seems wrong to sell knock-offs at such an otherwise original and inventive place.

I don’t know if it was because I stayed with a friend out in Richmond Hill and only went in to Toronto by day, or if I had the wrong guidebook, or it was the lack of a local guide as my friend was extremely busy, but I end up leaving Toronto with a feeling that I didn’t really get to see it. Though I saw some of the areas, I didn’t end up at that cosy bar or restaurant. I didn’t have that experience that made Toronto stand out. And that is sad, because I heard a rumour that there are tons of such bars and restaurants in Toronto, and that it is one of the most exciting cities to visit on the North American continent. So well, it seems I will have to return one day.

Zofka

Detroit, the Motor City

Here I am, finally! In Detroit…
For more than a year I have had a dream of exploring this city.

Throughout my Amtrak travels, for every community meal I have had in the dinner wagon, I have had to explain to yet another white middle class, middle aged couple, why Detroit. Why this dangerous and empty city?

My interest derives from some of the same issues as my love for Eastern Europe. I am deeply fascinated by industrial cities in decay. Cities that no longer can survive on their main production industries. This interest is manifold. Firstly, it is visual. There is a particular rawness to half empty houses and ruined buildings. Secondly, it is sociologically fascinating to meet the people that stay, and discover their extend of hospitality. Thirdly, a place such as Detroit or the Eastern neighbourhoods in Berlin after the wall fell become attractive to artists and creative minds who seek cheap accommodation and space to unfold their ideas.

So how has Detroit lived up to my expectations, and can you even have expectations about a city such as Detroit?

As a human being I connect knew impressions to already established ideas and thoughts.

So after three days in Detroit, I have come to the conclusion that Detroit is a good mix of Berlin, Eastern Europe and Italy.

It is Berlin with its underground creative and artistic environment, which it takes much more than 3 days to become acquainted with. The city is drawing young people from around the US and the world by the new options for partaking in something that is breaking from the surface, a Detroit cultural boom.

It is Eastern Europe with it’s lost industry, with the left over buildings as proof of a time when this city was vital for the industrial America. Like much of the former Soviet Union’s industry, it is crumbling under the ghosts of the magnificent industrial past.

And then, it is Italy. Exchange the Bella Donna of a Mediterranean guy with a Hey baby, how are you from a black American guy. The similarity exists in the casual attitude that guarantees that this is said out of respect. Like in Italy it seems a customary way to greet women, making them feel special. A world far apart from the weird looks on the Minneapolis buses.

Corktown

The hostel I stay at is placed in Corktown which is the eldest residential neighbourhood in Detroit. It is supposedly also the one experiencing the most growth at present mostly due to being the base for many of the new and creative minds moving to Detroit. In the particular area of the hostel every other house is a ruin and barred up, furnitures and suitcases have been left in the street and the pedestrian path has been taken over by grass and weed. It is a ghost town, where some streets don’t even have street lights in the night. So many young homeless men sit at the street corner near the local gas station hoping for work, while so many houses around the corner stand empty in their decay.

But only a few blocks out, the houses are inhabited and well maintain and it looks like yet any other American neighbourhood.

Michigan Ave

Not so far away lies Michigan Avenue which is the main road to Chicago. This street shows the same charm as Corktown. The buildings are canvasses for colourful decorations as well as old advertisements. Several places in the proximity of Rosa Parks Blvd are famous and cosy dining places.

My first visit to this strip was at Slows Bar BQ where I had some huge pieces of delicious beef served with all sorts of sauce as well as a side dish of Mac’n Cheese. The place is overcrowded, it is lively and it seems that everyone knows everyone here. On game nights or concert dates it is not uncommon to experience two hours of waiting time.

My second meeting with the Detroit cuisine was O’blivions also on Michigan. It was late morning and the waitresses were still getting ready for the day to come when I came in. They were quite a lot of women for no customers, but I expect the place gets run over later in the day. They were talking and joking while I ate my delicious apple pie. They looked so young but as I got caught in the conversation I gathered that some of them had teenagers at home. These were the women that make out America, the hard-working full time low paid job women who still show an abundance of good humour and laughter. These are women I admire. After enjoying their talks on the sideline and after having been questioned by them as to my stay in Detroit, I ended up leaving the place with my very own O’blivion t-shirt and a promise to the waitresses that I would take a picture of myself wearing it on my return to Copenhagen.

A parking lot near Tigers Stadium

It is game night. Baseball, I think. Suddenly, Downtown Detroit is full of middle-class white people. Young couples and families, all hanging out with their big new dog-trucks on the parking lots near the stadium. They drink and have fun. They picnic or BBQ and they meet friends. Trail heading. And then they walk to the stadium. Huge groups moving as herds towards the sound of the match. When it is all over they return home to their suburbs and Detroit Downtown is left to the poor and mainly black population that has its everyday life here.

My dislike of suburban isolation has never been bigger than here in Detroit. How can this once powerful city be crumpling. Why are so many places in Downtown in shackles, dirty and alone, while people live a life of ignorance in gated suburbs. I prefer Downtown to any suburb. The hustle and the bustle and the sounds of life around you. The meeting of people and cultures. And I like Downtown Detroit. The hardened kindness of the people in the street. The lack of Starbucks and 7-Eleven. The rawness of it all. And I hope for Detroit that it will once again find its footing, not as a motor-city but as an innovative and creative city. Perhaps another Portland.

Too many pictures

I am normally pretty bad at limiting myself when taking pictures on travels, but this time I can’t choose between them either. It is not because I suddenly began taking marvellous pictures, but because I just was so amazed at everything Detroit had to offer. I’ve added a bunch of posts with photos from Detroit. If you dare to, you can check them out: Corktown, A sunny stroll down Michigan Avenue and Getting lost in Downtown Detroit.

Zofka

My Kind of Town, Chicago is

After my initial meeting with Chicago, I have spent two days walking around. My swollen feet are proof of my sightseeing. On my first day, I spent nine hours looking around Chinatown, The Loop and the Magnificent Mile as well as had another adrenaline kick from getting up into the Hancock Tower. The second day I spent on a boat ride, where after I visited Old Town and the historical museum.

I think I have become somewhat used to Downtowns and financial districts full of skyscrapers by now, yet what makes Chicago stand out from the earlier cities, is the amount of old and incredibly beautiful skyscrapers. I dare say that I hardly need mention the unbelievable Wrigley Building (yes it is named after the chewing gum) or the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower. In fact, Chicago was home to the first ever steel framed building, later termed a skyscraper; the Home Insurance Building from 1885, though it was sadly demolished in 1931. However, today the city can boast of three of the five tallest skyscraper’s in America: Willis Tower (Sears), Trump Tower and Aon Center.

Tribune Tower

But returning to the Tribune Tower. Walking around it, I felt a bit appalled. Tribune Tower is most known, not as the old headquarters of the Chicago Tribune, but because of the lower façades myriad of exotic and historic rocks and stones. Here are pieces of stone from the Great Wall, The Giza Pyramid, Elsingor Castle, The Parthenon and Taj Mahal, among others. Some of these buildings, which are important historic landmarks, are already crumpling. The Taj Mahal is fighting against a backdrop of pollution while the Parthenon remains an issue of diplomatic tension between Britain and Greece. How come then that this insignificant place (relative to many of the buildings represented on the wall), the headquarters of a private media company has the audacity to show off stones and rocks from these places. I am sure that governments around have accepted this in past times, yet I think it is horrendous and only a proof that we have not yet passed many of the issues of colonialism and imperialism. As I am sure any teacher would say to a child: What do you suppose happens if everyone wants a piece of the Notre Dame or the Angkor Wat? Would any be left to amaze the generations to come? But off course the tower was build long ago in 1925, in a time when it was much more acceptable to send home ship loads of exotic and historic artefacts from places such as Egypt and Greece. Moreover, except from this museum of stones and rock represented on the lower wall, the Tribune Tower is definitely a marvellous architectural building. Together with the Wrigley Building it establishes a fantastic panorama which is visible from the Chicago Riverwalk on the opposite side of the Chicago River.

Hancock

But enough about old skyscrapers. There are as mentioned also the newer taller additions to the incredible Chicago skyline. Amongst these is the Hancock Tower at the end of the Magnificent Mile. After my first climb up the old Smith Tower in Seattle , I felt absolutely certain that I was now an experienced skyscraper visitor. That was at least until I was in the elevator. The elevator of the Hancock Tower which takes you to the observation deck, is, which a female voice on the ride kindly informs the passengers, the quickest elevator in North American. The elevator speed is 549m per minute, and it therefore takes 40 seconds to climb the 94 floors according to the lady on the speaker. 40 seconds later, I was at the top among a new crowd of tourists getting on to the observation deck, taking the mandatory bird perspective pictures of Navy Pier, the lake shore and Downtown, while walking around the deck.

Chicago

After two days of walking around in Chicago, I am impressed. This city is unlike any I have ever seen before. It seems a movie set, an unreal background. So compact and so full of tall old buildings.

However, the fact that Chicago has one of the longest and most astonishing skylines in the world, also means that there are no real green spots in Downtown Chicago. Off course there are the major parks outside the Loop such as Grant Park, but the streets in Downtown are completely demote of anything living, unless it wears a suit and speaks in a mobile phone. All the trees, and there aren’t many, have iron plates surrounding their roots. Perhaps it is this more than anything which makes Chicago feel a bit like La cité des enfants perdus; futuristic and mysterious, foggy and windy. Especially in the evening when the lights are turned on.

Exciting as I have been about seeing Chicago, I think I would go crazy in the long run. I think Rachel, my host, is right when she says that though Chicago is great there is nothing there except the lake and flat land. No sea, no mountains, no places for nature recreation. And as much as I am a city dweller, I like variation, I like the chance to get out and about. So, Chicago my dear. Though you captivated me, and while I hope to return one day again to discover more of you, you and I will stay a brief, yet beautiful romance.

Zofka

Futuristic Chicago

I arrived in Chicago from Minneapolis with battle fatigue. I was tired and exhausted and really didn’t feel like seeing another North American city. After half an hour at Union Station trying to find my way out, I thought that I had arrived at the most unfriendly and busy place in the world. I was close to tears and could hardly formulate my question when I finally found someone who was willing to tell me where to go to reach the orange line.

But whatever I felt then has changed. As soon as I got off the station area, and crossed the bridge to the Loop and Quincy station, I knew that I had to discover this place; that it was not just another North American city and that I was going to love it. At Quincy, the attitude of people had changed too. I decided that it was probably the stress of the Amtrak station with constantly late trains and weary passengers that had created the mood at Union Station, and that it was not at all a general trait of the Chicagoans.

I was heading for Ashland where my host was living, and I quickly realised that going from Quincy and out I would get the pleasure of driving almost the entire Loop. Now I didn’t even know about the way the railway is elevated and the trains drive on a level above the cars in a circle around the inner city. Neither could I ever have imagined that in a modern day big city a train station could have been build and kept all in wood. Quincy station was the perfect starting point for a first meeting with Chicago and the following trip around the Loop had my eyes pop further and further out of my head. Forgotten was the exhaustion and the homesickness and weariness. I was in Chicago

The Loop

Now the Loop which I refer to is the actual elevated rail which encircles the commercial part of Downtown Chicago. This area, however, is also named the Loop, which again might be because of the railway.

There were elevated railways into Downtown Chicago before the construction of the Loop, but it was this circle construction which connected Downtown to several outer areas. In my eyes and after more than a month in the Western parts of Canada and the US, the amazing thing is that the construction of the Loop dates back to 1895-97. It is quite a brilliant idea and due to its age and, hence, design, it also brings a lot of mystery and futurism to Chicago. The shiny steel trains, though of much younger date, adds to this feeling of being in a sci-fi movie, or perhaps just Batman Begins.

Quincy station, I realised later, is remarkable as it is the eldest and only original platform left on the Loop. It dates back to the time of the construction of the Loop in 1897, and standing on the platform you feel as if you are somewhere in the wild west. At least, I couldn’t get ‘Once upon a time in the West’ out of my head.

So with all these movie references popping around in my head, I began my journey around. It was 7 PM and the light had been turned on in Chicago. Most of the theatres which are visible from the Loop, such as Chicago Theatre and Oriental Theatre show enormous sparkling neon signs – sings that are world famous as landmarks for the city of Chicago. They light up the city and brings it to life in the evening. Driving the Loop, you see the streets of Chicago with their neon lights from a higher vantage point than when you walk the street, and to me it seemed as if for each street the train passed, I saw another evening scene from a distance. It was magnificent, and I was almost sad when the train moved off the Loop and headed towards Ashland. Yet, I have two full days in Chicago and I plan to make the best of it.

Zofka

The Twin Cities and the 10,000 Skyways

I don’t know why but for some reason I feel less safe in Minneapolis than I have in any other place on my travel. Perhaps it is because my first experience in the city was seeing a woman being arrested at the bus terminal of Mall of America, or perhaps that she was very loud and angry. Or maybe it is all the attention that I get from men on the bus. I seem to be a magnet in Minneapolis for weird guys who either really want to know where I am from and what I am doing, or who just like to stare. One guy who looked a whole lot like Steve Buscemi, spent half an hour on a bus asking me random questions, seemingly unaware of my resistant and single syllabus answers. The bus seems to be a hub for unique personalities. One woman in a bus in Downtown Minneapolis in the midst of a long loud chat with the bus driver, turned to me and said; ‘look at those dark Communist clouds, going to Saint Paul!’ I think I prefer trains to buses.

I arrived really late, on an Amtrak train that was 4 hours past schedule. My hosts who had waited all morning had gone out when I came. Being so extremely tired, I fell asleep in their garage. My hosts live in Bloomington near Mall of America. They are a mid-60’s couple. Retired and with so very many electronic devices and virtual spaces in their house that I am sure they know more of this sort of stuff than I ever will. They have two cats. Maisy and Daisy. Maisy in particular is perhaps the most attention seeking cat I have ever met. Sweet as she is, it is impossible to get any sleep when she is around.

But even with the comfort of my host families house, I can’t seem to find the same excitement in the Twin Cities as I have the other places I have been. This is perhaps something I share with the locals, who all mention Mall of America as the top thing to see. And when a consumerist hell becomes the number one attraction of a city, it’s really sad. In this way Minneapolis seems a whole lot like Edmonton, known because of a gigantic mall rather than itself. Moreover, as the Twin Cities are extremely cold in the winter time, just like Edmonton, they too have walkways connecting the buildings. Here they call them skyways and you can see most of the city by passing from building to building, by skyways. They are made for the comfort of the citizens during the cold winter months, but unfortunately they seem to also be in heavy use during the summer. The streets therefore seems deserted, dead. Neither are there any shops on street level as they all hide away inside the different buildings. Minneapolis seems a ghost town in many places.

But here I am complaining about the Twin Cities, which is unfair, because there are good things here too. Hidden away is a nice city. In between the modern skyscraper is an old house and a bit of history. In particular, Saint Paul has a few things worth noticing. In fact a few rather large things. Here lies the impressive Minnesota State Capitol and the huge Saint Paul Cathedral, which surprise surprise has found inspiration in the Saint Peters Basilica in Rome. The area in between the two stately buildings is a huge boulevard. It would be quite majestic in my view if it featured more trees to shadow it from the intense heat of a Minnesota summer, and if it didn’t have to cross above a hwy. But it seems as in all places I have been, except Vancouver, a big fat ugly and noisy hwy has to run in the middle of the city destroying the connectedness and intimate feeling of the place. This however is not a critique of the Twin Cities, but North American cities in general, build for the comfort of the car driver rather than the biker or the pedestrian. On the contrary, as I discovered when I was in Portland, Minneapolis is the number one biking city in the US. Countless bike routes criss-cross the lakes and connect them to each other.

Another building occupy the huge boulevard with to few trees. The Minnesota History Center. With limited time I made it though the permanent collection which featured small exhibitions of countless of Minnesota citizens, companies and events. A lynching, a bus company, a politician who died to young. And my favourite, Princess Kay of the Milky Way. Now for those not familiar with this famous Minnesota based tradition, let me enlighten you. Princess Kay is a title given to the winner of the Minnesota Dairy Industries annual Princess program. She is crowned at the State Fair, and … this is the best part… sculptures of the 12 finalists, who have been chosen to compete at the State Fair, are carved out of butter. 90 pounds of butter is made to create each princess. Ha ha ha, that is so original!

Now I am sure you wonder, whether I took the advice of the locals and went to see that number one tourist attraction. Yes, is the answer. Yes, I did. I went there in the pursuit of a bobble head. I have this dream of getting Madeleine Albright as a bobble head figure. Unfortunately I think I am a decade or two late. And perhaps a few years early on purchasing a Michele Bachmann which would have been my second choice. I could only find Sarah Palin, and she is soooo last season!

Zofka

Do Not Lose Your Goldfish!

The crowd is roaring as the two teams are presented; Blowfish and the Shookers. The teams get into position. Straw in hand. Head bent. Fish cup on the go. One, two, three, go. And the goldfish race has begun.

It is East Glacier Park Montana. It is Blackfoot country. And I am at the only saloon in town. The Trailhead Saloon. The place is jam-packed as one of the most exciting events is taking place. The goldfish race has gathered more than 20 teams which all compete to blow their goldfish over the finish line first in a long run of elimination matches. If the goldfish doesn’t win, you eat it.

That night a lot of goldfish ended their days in the stomachs of hungry contestants.

East Glacier Park is a small four block wide town on the Empire Builder line. On the one side of the train tracks stretches out the four blocks and on the other, the majestic mountains of the Glacier National Park are hidden in the darkness of the Montana night. Most people who happen upon East Glacier come to visit the Park, either for work or recreation in the summertime. while in the winter the place can boast no more than 400 inhabitants.

Before ending up at the Trailhead Saloon, I have spent two days enjoying some of the spectacular views of the National Park. Unfortunately, the park is expensive to navigate without a car and distances are far. But an expensive shuttle bus leaving from the Swiss looking East Glacier lodge has taken me to see both Two Medicine and Many Glaciers.

Two Medicine and Many Glacier

In Two Medicine where I went on my very first day, I went for a short hike beyond the camp-ground to the North shore. However, being on your own in bear country is not the smartest of ideas. I therefore, ended up singing ‘Old McDonald had a farm…’ all the way. At some point I got so tired of my own lack of musical talent that I turned around and back to civilisation. But the surroundings of Two Medicine was so beautiful and full of wild flowers in all the colours imaginable.

Having had a taste of what the National Park offered but knowing the limitations to my mobility, I decided to join a Red Bus Tour around the park. The bus was scheduled to leave at 9 AM, and yet when I arrived it had already left. Arghh. I will never get used to changing time zones so often. Devastated that I missed a day of seeing the park, I felt pretty bumped. However, the very friendly and compassionate lady at the information immediately re-book me for the same tour the next day and then spent half an hour suggesting me other things to do. I ended up taking the shuttle once more all the way to Many Glacier. It blew a whole in my money purse, and yet when I look back I am really happy that I decided to go to Many Glacier and join a boat ride on Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. Not only is this area one of the most iconic in Glacier National Park, but we also happened upon a rather brown black bear. Fortunately, we all got on the boat before he came too close, but what a treat. Now I can say that I saw both grizzlies and black bears. But more than seeing a black bear, I was surprised to see a man walking around in lederhosen. I mean what on earth is the folk costume of Bavaria doing in an American national park. The guy wearing the lederhosen was a valet, and it was a part of his uniform. Auch, no harm meant to German traditional costumes, but I am can think of a whole range of other uniforms would have been preferable to lederhosen. Even a potato sack. Anyway, the guy told me it was a part of the original planning of the Many Glacier lodge as well as most of the park lodges. Apparently back in the 1910’s Bavarian traditional dresses and Swiss Alp huts were very attractive to the upper class American. Hmm. So in order to attract this segment to hold their holidays back home in the national parks rather than in Switzerland and Bavaria, the area was constructed to look as the European Alps. This might all be very good for the newly weds and nearly deads of American tourists who frequent these parks, but it is pretty sad for the European traveller to go cross the Atlantic and find a replica of back home. I would have preferred tipis seeing as this is ancient Blackfoot land.

I suppose that is why I jumped at the opportunity to join some workers for the Trailhead Saloon. Except for the high concentration of season workers, it doesn’t get more local than this. Just the fact that it is a saloon and not a bar makes me excited. And that it moreover happens to be at an Indian reservation is just absolutely amazing, since I already have met the cowboys at the Calgary Stampede.

Blackfoot

I knew absolutely nothing of the Blackfoot Indians when I arrived, but I will admit that I have read a bit about them and been told a few stories and legends by some of the people working in the park. Of what I have understood, the Blackfoot Indians are historically a very aggressive tribe, and was quite the scare for the white settlers. They are a proud people with rich historical tradition and closely connected to the Rocky Mountains. Today they are living to the East of the Glacier National Park. The park used to be their land and holds many their sacred places, such as Two Medicine. It seems that every mountain is enchanted by some Blackfoot legend or story. If I had had more time, I would have loved to become more acquainted with the history of the Blackfoot Indians.

Red Bus Tour

On the day after the goldfish race I woke up very early, scared that I would once again miss the Red Bus Tour. I was standing in the lobby of the East Glacier lodge an hour before departure. And yet only ten minutes to departure I realised I had forgotten my park pass in the cabin. I therefore once more was late. However, this time they knew and waited for an exhausted me panting with loss of breath and with my park pass in hand.

The tour was worth it. I came to see both the West side of the park, the Lake MacDonald and off course the scary Going-to-the-Sun road. For as long as we stayed on that road, I didn’t blink. What a long way down. However, I took so many pictures that my four GB of memory was full long before the end of the trip, and I hate deleting pictures from the camera. I hope that the pictures I kept and post here will give just a bit of a reflection of the marvels of Glacier National Park, as well as the fun of the local goldfish race.

Enjoy,

Zofka

Keep Portland Weird

Portland is not only about establishing a green image. With a young and vibrant population and with roots in the West coast 70’s, Portland has its share of wacky and weird. Something which the city unlike many other places does much to preserve. Therefore, one of the most famous slogans is ‘Keep Portland Weird’. In this blog, I’ll write a bit about the ‘weirdness’ in Portland and about some of the quirky things that I’ve seen.

‘Keep Portland Weird’ means that Portland already is weird. Historically speaking, Portland can boast with a history similar to that of Seattle and Vancouver. It started as a settlement in 1843, where Asa Lovejoy and William Overton bought a piece of land that later became Downtown Portland. Records show that they purchased the area for 25 cent. And rumours has it that Overton borrowed the money from Lovejoy and never paid back. He then sold his part of the area to Francis W. Pettigrove and moved on.

Later in 1845, the citizens of this new townhood became increasingly weary of the place not having a name. Apparently a dispute ranged between Lovejoy and Pettigrove about what should be the name of the town. Both wanted to name it after their home city, because that is as original as it gets out here. In the end and by pressure from the citizenry they tossed a coin with best out of three, and this is why the city today is named Portland, Oregon after Portland, Maine and not Boston, Oregon after Boston, Massachusetts.

Named Portland the city was well on its way, but unlike many other American cities, it didn’t feature a landmark. Therefore the city asked artist Raymond Kaskey to produce a sculpture depicting the woman from the Seal of Portland. In 1985, this became Portlandia, the second largest copper repoussé in North America, second to that statue which the French brought over and placed in New York. However, the sculpture never really has become the landmark it was intended to be. The reason Portlandia is rather unknown is partly because she, in spite of her size, is very well hidden on the side of the Portland Municipal Services Building on SW 5th Ave. Moreover, Kaskey has claimed the intellectual property rights of her, meaning that you can not find any postcards or key hangings with replicas of her.

It is also for this reason that I suggest that the city of Portland find another landmark or icon to represent the city.

My favourite would be Voodoo Doughnuts. Already known throughout the Pacific Northwest and highly likely all over the US, this place can boast with enormous queues of people who stand in line to get that delicious Voodoo doll or the unlikely Bacon Maple Bar. Or perhaps the Cock-n-Balls which is shaped like a particular male organ. Or what about one with cereals on it; the Loop, Captain My Captain, Triple Chocolate Penetration or the Gay Bar (rainbow coloured Fruit Loops). No matter which one people stand in line for, it is a matter of fact that everyone knows Voodoo Doughnut.

But should you be in need of more stimulating food, Portland holds approximately 600 food vendors throughout the city, many of which are gathered in groups. Walking between SW 9th and SW 11th and SW Washington and SW Adler, dozens of food vendors fill the square selling food from all corners of the world. After my visits to Vancouver and Seattle, I have become increasingly aware of the food vendor tradition, but nothing beats Portland’s multitude of food vendors. A man selling fish and chips tells me that the trend only recently caught on and my host Mike confirmed that it has happened within the last two to three years.

Foodwise, I do wish to make a bit of advertisement about a local Portland place. As fascinating as the food vendor syndrome is, I found my favourite place to be an establishment that sells some of the most delighting pizza slices. It is a long time since I had as good a pizza as I did at Pizzicato. It is a local chain which according to the very charming and smiling cashier, is well known in Portland, though not beyond.

Another well known place is the Tin Shed Garden Café where people line up in the weekends, drinking coffee and chit-chatting while waiting for a table. Mike brought me here on the last day. The place was really nice and the staff friendly, as all the Portland people I have met this far. However, as pleasant as it was, my enjoyment was cut short when a waitress walked past with a receipt pin stuck in her wrist. Being scared of needles, that image still hunts me.

It seems there are several food options when reconsidering the landmark of Portland. But while Portlandia is hidden away and the city has to wait another 70 or so years for the artist rights to wear off, the most prominent contestant has to be the rose. Named the Rose City, Portland shows them in the dozens. Every branch of the city administration, be it water supplies or electricity or signing features a rose. Moreover and perhaps as inspiration, at the outskirts of the city in Washington Park lies the Chinese Rose Garden, which flashes hundreds of different kinds of roses. All of which smell and look amazing.

Portland is really a fresh and vibrant city that does its best to limit its CO2 fingerprint and to increase the options of public transportation and biking. It is a city where the confused tourist is offered a free ride on the bus. It is a city where people enjoy nature be it sea, forest or mountain. And it is a city that I hope to one day re-visit.

Cheers,

Zofka

Green Portland

Sitting in the train that will take me away from the West coast and inland to Montana, I have ample opportunity to write a bit about a city that has gone directly to my heart. Portland, ladies and gentlemen, is by far a beautiful and relaxed city, where green energy and the love of nature surpasses consumerism and advertisement. That is except from the fact that Portland, as a city in the state of Oregon, has no sales taxes, wherefore many come to the city to shop cheaply.

But except from the occasional shopper, Portland has a certain free spirited vibe about it. I suspect the development of this down to earth West coast city has something to do with the beautiful and lush nature of the region, not unlike Seattle and Vancouver. Portland which is not directly out to the Pacific, but placed near the meeting points of the Columbia and Willamette rivers, has to its east the majestic Cascades. The snow peaks of both Mount Hood as well as Mount St. Helen (on a fortunate day) are visible in the horizon. Mount St. Helen is particularly known for a major volcanic eruption on May 18, 1980.

Many people in fact move to Portland in order to get closer to nature. One of these is Mike who was so polite as to host me through CouchSurfing for my three nights stay. Originally from Delaware, Mike moved to Portland four years ago so that he could hike, bike and be closer to nature than what his home town would allow.

Inventive Portland

As an old seaport (old is relative), Portland used to be dirty and naughty, just like Seattle and Vancouver. I will write more on Portland’s bad-ass past in my next blog, but for now I want to concentrate on what really made Portland stand out in my eyes. And that is how this dirty seaport with 15 men to each woman, and seamstresses enough to supply the American navy with … shirts, has become a truly amazing example of how a city can implement and focus on developing green and low energy solutions. My favourites were the solar run parking ticket machines and the new solar run trash cans, which compress the garbage that mostly consist of Starbucks paper cups these days, into a third when it gets full. This it does three times, with help from a censor, until it is completely full with a compact mass of garbage. Then it sends a notification to the city administration saying that it is full. Not only is it using solar energy, it also cuts down the collecting of garbage by 80 %. That solar energy can contribute in this way in a generally cloudy city like Portland, is in itself an achievement.

Portland also has placed strategic energy hotspots throughout the city for free use (until the autumn when it will start to cost a bit of money) for the use of LEAF car owners. Many citizens of Portland drive around in energy cars, which they can load throughout the city while running errands. In general, cars do not fill that much in the city landscape. Many of the major parking garages have been constructed so that they look like houses and hence do not destroy the generally pleasant view of the downtown. At the same time, downtown is covered by a free rail zone, which means that it is free to use all public transportation that drives on tracks within the centre of Portland, while it in areas is illegal by city law to cruise around in a car at certain hours without a specific purpose. The public infrastructure is very well developed and the stops are not far apart and pleasantly looking. The intersections are very cleverly constructed. I even met a guy from Montreal, Canada who was in Portland to study the structure of these intersections. He claimed, he could stand for ten minutes or more and gaze at the share beauty of the way the intersections and the many cables were placed.

Both the bus stops as well as the invisible parking buildings are part of a Portland vision to have the city look open and friendly. The idea is called Clear Vista and generates that from each intersection, you shall be able to view at least five blocks in each direction. Except from the glass bus stops and the invisible parking buildings, this also results in a strict sign law, which however seems to be broken on several occasions. It is stated that no neon signs are allowed and neither any signs that hang further out than the fire escape on the front of the buildings, except on Broadway. Most of the buildings are painted in light colours which adds to the pleasant feeling of the city.

Being so focused on reducing energy usage, Portland has also done much for the promotion of biking as a way of commuting. 10 % of the cities population bike to and from work, which makes Portland the second-most biked in city. First price goes to Minneapolis, and as a tour guide dryly stated, if they in Minneapolis can stand biking through the Minnesota winter, then they deserve to be number one. I suppose I will see for myself the biking culture in Minneapolis when I stop there. But first I will spend a few days exploring the wonders of National Glacier Park.

Lots of green thoughts,
Zofka

Famous Seattle

Days in the company of Lee, Hendrix, Cobain and President Roslin

Though I spent an entire blog The Seattle Spirit> on Seattle’s early history, it was not really what drew me to the city. In truth, I never really imagined to go here nor had any visual idea of where in the US, it was. However, I have always known Seattle to exist; not because of Starbucks, McDreamy or that rather bad movie with Hanks and Ryan. No, I cam to know Seattle as many others of my generation by the central role that Seattle’s music scene played in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. I knew the city because of Kurt Cobain singing and sipping tea on New York Unplugged and the beauty of Chris Cornell’s voice on Superunknown.
– Music I grew up with and music I came to know later in life, and music which still today touches something deep inside of me.

Good fortune would have it that at the hostel, they have a dead people’s tour. This tour brought me to places I had never imagined I should ever see.

We began the tour by stopping at a sculpture which looked surprisingly a lot like a huge black donut. Or perhaps, a Black Hole Sun. Many speculate that the sculpture was the source of inspiration for Soundgarden’s major and classic hit Black Hole Sun. What a treat.

Afterwards, we visited the last resting place of martial arts master Bruce Lee and his equally talented son Brandon. I will here admit that though I have seen The Crow, it never occurred to me that Brandon Lee was the Crow and that he actually died during the filming of that particular role. Please don’t tell anyone.

Then we arrived at a major house and an over painted bench. The place for one of the biggest artistic losses of the 1990’s. The house in which Kurt Cobain killed himself, or was murdered, and the bench on which he sought inspiration. WOW. When I think about it, I actually remember the house from a documentary I saw once about all the evidence that pointed towards Courtney having killed Kurt.

Finally, we took the long ride on to the hwy, ending in Renton at the last resting place of legendary Jimi Hendrix. Apparently, his memorial had been moved at some point from the entrance of the Memorial Park, since the visitors and fans constantly blocked the entrance to the rest of the Park. Now it stands centrally, and I was told that today it is possible to buy a gravestone for yourself next to Jimi through eBay (I think it is just an urban legend, though).

I am not sure whether seeing such places will be of any great value to me as a person, but I am sure it will be great stories to tell back in Europe when the conversation yet again turns to Club 27.

In order to complete the celebrity tour, I went to the EMP (Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame) Museum at Seattle Center on my final day. Here I spent half the day walking through the museums current exhibitions, one of which was Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses. What better place to exhibit the story of Nirvana than in the city where it all started. Slowly pacing the exhibition with an audio guide by Krist Novoselic in my ears, I came to know and see a whole lot of Nirvana and Seattle back in the days.

As the Museum is also known as the Science Fiction Museum, I felt it would be sad if I didn’t indulge in a bit of Science Fiction. Staying clear of a large children oriented Avatar exhibition, I directed my footsteps towards Battlestar Galactica: the exhibition. After pacing through looking at several spaceships, I dare calling myself a bit of an expert on that series now.

Zofka

The Seattle Spirit

I have arrived in the US and though my first meeting with Americans was the unpleasantness of the land border crossing from Vancouver to Seattle, my general impression is that Americans share the hospitality of their Northern neighbours.

Seattle is most commonly known to be the home of McDreamy, Starbucks (463 in greater Seattle metropolitan area) and a celebrated 90’s chick-flick starring Ryan and Hanks. But it is also home to 1700 homeless people on any given night. Downtown Seattle which in the daytime is jam-packed with American and Asian tourists becomes a ghost town by night time, where the corners fills with homeless men and women.

A truck stops.

On the side it reads ‘Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission – Men’s Shelter – Search and Rescue Van’.

Two people get out and turns to the elderly homeless woman at pier 58.

They talk to her, bring her food, water and supplies.

In the van sits other homeless who have been picked up.

They look so tired.

While bringing supplies to the homeless woman, the driver of the van tells me that it is a privately funded organisation and that they drive out voluntarily 3 times a week. My shock that so many homeless people rely on the share goodness and charity of their next is mixed with a profound respect for the people who voluntarily three times a week leave the comfort of their own homes and families in order to provide a little bit of comfort and conversation to those unfortunate creatures of the street.

Quirky Seattle history

Seattle has surprised me a lot. As Vancouver, Seattle can boast of a quirky and fascinating history based on clever individuals, unfortunate events and dirty secrets. The first white settlers arrived in the Seattle area in 1851. One of the main reasons that pioneers who crossed the Oregon trail to the West, ended up in the later state of Washington and city of Seattle was, according to the guide at the Underground Tour, that the federal government feared that the English would claim the area for themselves. This is particularly funny after having been told by the guide in Vancouver how fortunate it was that that city got the railway or it and the rest of British Columbia would most likely have been American today. I trust the border drawing turned out to everyone’s satisfaction in the end.

But the first decades of Seattle’s existence were filled with stupid decisions and negligence of the problems it was to build a city in the middle of a swamp. The worry was to construct the city rather than to consider sanitary issues as well as the continuous surprise of the tidal waters. But as our comedian guide at the Underground Tour said, it was these early years that laid the foundation of what has later been known as the Seattle spirit.

Seattle Spirit: Even though you realise your decision is monumentally stupid, you stick with it

However, the citizens of Seattle have also proven to be rather clever at times. In the 1887 occupational survey of Seattle, it came to the notice of some that there seemed to be quite a few seamstresses in the city. Within a 6 block stretch around Occidental Street and the entertainment district, 2500 seamstresses worked. This was as an old amused man remarked especially astonishing as only two sewing machines existed in all of Seattle. Immediately afterwards, the city of Seattle decided to introduce an entertainment tax of 10 % on saloons, bars and off course seamstresses. Until the end 1890’s this tax stood for 85 % of the city’s revenues.

Another clever idea of the citizens of Seattle was in relations to the gold rush of 1897. Though no gold has ever been discovered in the state of Washington, Seattle became central in the turn of the century gold rush. The gold rush was based on findings in Alaska and Yukon and Seattle so happened to be the last American ‘outpost’ before the goldmines. And Seattle decided to take advantage of that by mining the miners as it was notoriously named. This happened in two ways. First, when the hopeful gold diggers were heading to Yukon. Due to the Canadians weariness of rescuing yet another young eager American who had been surprised by the harsh climate of the White North, the Canadian government had made a list of items that any gold digger going to Canada should carry with them. And Seattle’s merchants were there to supply every last item. Second, for those fortunate souls who struck gold, Seattle’s entertainment district and many seamstresses were more than happy to help spend it.

It seems that the West coast is full of stories from brothels and saloons about scandals, corruption and sex. I am sure that Portland will be no different.

But then what shall be the most memorable to my stay in Seattle? What is that one thing that can be crossed off the before-I-turn-30 list? In Vancouver, I met Missy and what can possibly be as frightening as holding a snake in your hands? Well, if you are scared of heights like me, then the visit to a 35 story skyscraper might jut do it for you. For the first time in my life did I get up into an actual skyscraper, the Smith Tower from 1914, and went out to the open air observation deck. Now 35 stories is not that tall when comparing to what is build around the world today, and I have been at the top of the Eiffel tower once when I was a kid as well as several East European radio towers. However, as a kid I wasn’t as afraid of heights, observation decks of radio towers are inside and I really don’t care how tall the tallest buildings are. I was in a skyscraper, and I almost did pissed my pants.

Cheers,
Zofka