So, some stories about what we did in the US... Photos from O still to come, though on his site
he's put up a photo or two from the trip already. I have a lot of restaurants to rave about, but I'll do that on my Virtual Tourist page, at some point.Chicago
- In terms of typically touristy things, here's what we did: Millennium Park, boat tour on the Chicago River and the lake, Shedd Aquarium, Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain, up to observation deck of the John Hancock Building, a lot of wandering around the Loop, and walking up and down Michigan Ave more times than I'd recommend any human being doing.
- We went to Wired's Nextfest, which was on Navy Pier. It was a cool exhibition of expensive toys and things that might one day make our lives easier - or just remain too-expensive pipe dreams. The exhibit was divided into areas like space exploration, transportation, medical, entertainment, etc. Some of the cool things I remember: a game that used 6 people working together, blowing into a cup equipped with a fan, to make a hot air balloon move around in a game; a game where two people faced each other across a table and strapped on headbands that measured certain brainwaves and the person with the quieter brainwaves won (a ball rolled across the table toward the person with the higher brainwaves, and you lost when it reached the goal in front of you) (I was crap at it and lost 3 times to O); a NASA guy talking to someone about the airplane he had a hand in designing that was meant to fly around Mars (I just found it amazing to hear directly from someone who was actually designing something like that about the obstacles they'd had and have and about how it worked, etc.); a young guy, who'd lost 1 arm and both legs, demonstrating his high-tech artificial limbs that were more human-like in response than ever. I found one section of Nextfest pretty funny: a place where supposedly forward-thinking products were shown that are already available to the general public. I found it funny because one product on display here was the Senseo machine, all touted as being all the rage in Europe, heh. Also on display was a Smart car, with a similar "popular in Europe" announcement. All the Americans were probably wondering what the hell you'd want with such a small car.
- We went one day to a tourist office to get a transport card for unlimited use of the buses and El. We were helped by this young Hispanic guy with long hair who didn't hide his boredom with working in the quiet office on a Sunday. But after helping us, he noticed O's shirt
with a panda under attack and asked in a suddenly sad voice why they were throwing bombs at the panda and just kept looking at the shirt and going (in a rather girly, high-pitched voice) "awwww. Poor panda." It was hilarious.
- We hung around one afternoon at the Millennium Park fountain which was swarming with mostly kids finding some relief from the heat. I usually am peeved at kids, but this time I just felt really happy watching them frolicking about, being happy for a summery day, standing there looking at the skyline of Chicago in front of me. The fountain consists of two really tall rectangular pillars that project video of faces of random Chicagoans. It goes through a cycle of being calm, then suddenly a massive jet sprays out of the pillars, looking as if it's being spit out of the mouth of the face being projected, then it stops only to be replaced with water pouring off the top of pillars. The brave kids pile around the bottom of the pillars waiting for the water to coming pouring out, which looked very forceful, I'd imagine like standing under a rather tall waterfall. For the less adventurous, or those not seeking to get soaked, the area between the pillars is covered with a layer of water. I took off my shoes and padded about in there. Various kids however splashed through there or rolled around in the water. Some adults rolled around with them. I loved watching two 50-something grandparents with their little granddaughter, who was at a just-walking age. The granddad was running around after the kid, I think hoping she wouldn't fall into the water and get all wet, and the grandma was standing at the side with the stroller laughing her head off.
- We salvaged a hot afternoon when we went up to bum around Wicker Park but got too hot to walk more than necessary. We saw a 7-Eleven and stopped in for slurpees, then went over to the actual park of Wicker Park and found these bear statues in the playground that sprayed water into the air. A slurpee to my forehead (and a bit of an ice cream headache) and a blast from those bears: Lovely.
- We're big fans of Threadless
t-shirts (I have about 3, O though has like 9) and their office is in a suburb of Chicago, which we got to visit so O could exchange a shirt that they sent in the wrong size. Actually, we'd already met some of the guys at the Nextfest cuz they had a contest for shirt designs for Nextfest, so they were there selling the shirts. But it was cool visiting their office and seeing all the people we recognized from the modelling photos on the website. We first stood near the door as Jef (the big guy) got O's correct shirt and got me the adorable Pillow Fight
shirt. But then Jef said to us that if we were interested, we could have a look through the shirt warehouse and take any shirts we wanted, for 10 bucks as opposed to the $15 price when you order through the website. Awesome. I didn't get any other shirts, but O came away with two more. It was great though to see where they store and pack up the shirts, and to listen to the Threadless crew as they worked, someone particularly talking about the trip he was planning to Las Vegas. How cool it would be to work there (and they're now hiring!).
- I loved Chicago, esp all the water and the architecture, both new and old. But it did seem a bit stuck-up and rich, at least where we were in the downtown area, esp being so near to all the posh shopping on Michigan Ave. Nothing but luxury cars wherever you turned. And limos! Every other second you saw another goddamn limo. It became a joke between O and I; we'd see a limo and say, in a very bored, droll voice "oh look, a limo." Cuz when I first saw one when we arrived, I did point it out in an excited kind of way, which I felt lame about later when we saw that half of Chicago has one.
- When we went up the John Hancock building, we planned it so that we could see fireworks from up there that were being set off from near Navy Pier. That was awesome to watch, having a totally clear view of them all, and being so far away and in a building, but still slightly hearing the booms of the fireworks going off.Portland
- I got most of what I wanted to do and see in Portland done. The most important stuff at least. I did a shed-load of shopping. I bought games, CDs, books, a nice light snowboarding shell jacket that was half off, and the requisite food-you-can't-get-here. Well, ok, I didn't get that much food, really, not as much as in times past. The time in Portland felt a bit long in the end, I could have done with a day or two less. But after not being back for 2 years, you think that 9 days can't possibly be enough. Once you get there though, it feels like all the catching up gets old and tiring. I think the only thing to do is be there for less time and have just a taste of the city again, or be there for weeks and really live it. The latter is less likely, so I'll try to stick with the former in the future.
- Our flight from Chicago to Portland just headed directly into the airport from the east, taking us along the Columbia River in the last bit. We weren't on the side of the plane to see the river, but we got a much better view: flying right past Mt Hood on a perfectly clear day. It was so fucking awesome. I swear we could have seen Timberline Lodge from there if we were on the right side of the mtn. And we have nary a photo of it because O's camera was up in his bag in the overhead bin. =P But it was unforgettable.
- Our rental car was interesting: a bright blue PT Cruiser, heh. And this was just from Budget, the cheapest type of car they had. Ok. I could have done with a less visible car, but it was good for a laugh. And I liked its blue.
- It was so beautiful when we got out to my parents' house. We went to the end of their driveway and it was great being out in the country, it was so quiet, except for the occasional car, and the weather was perfect, about 75, clear, actually-blue sky. It smelled good too. We weren't at my parents' long though; because their house is so messy and dirty and smelly, plus they have cats now and I'm allergic, we moved out after 3 nights into a motel that was near both them and Portland. It would have been nice to have stayed in the country, though it would have been far to drive to Portland a lot. And our motel was on a shitty 4 lane boulevard filled with car dealerships and mini malls. But I couldn't stay any longer in their house, and it was nice to be only 20 mins from downtown Portland and have a space of our own.
- We had drinks with a couple of my college friends, and O got hit on by this insane, talkative, loud woman sitting at the table next to us, with a shih tzu that she was very proud of (at one point she was saying it had the cutest butt and made her friend take a photo of the dog's butt). Somehow she and O got talking in French for awhile, then O explained that he wasn't from Portland and the woman said "why do all the cute men end up not living here?" then he pointed out that I was his girlfriend, so she might want to watch out. She then was all apologetic and smiled big at me and shook my hand and said she didn't realize... Too funny. One of my friends had her boyfriend there and he got hit on as well, but by a guy (at that same table). Apparently my friend's boyfriend is often assumed to be gay...
- We went to my aunt's house to get together with the family, and driving there involved going down all these backroads I hadn't been on in years. One or two places had the most amazing views of Mt Hood. First of all, it was a brillant day, like the day we arrived: clear, blue sky, just warm enough. So the view was about as perfect as it could be. Besides the mountain, there was this big valley in front of us that was filled with green, first fields, then so many pine trees and the foothills leading up to the mountain. It was hard for me to keep my eyes on the road. I wanted to go back with O and explore and take photos, but we never found the time, nor was the weather as good as it was that day.
- The 4th of July was a lot of fun. O and I went into Portland around 7 to get a spot on the east side of the Willamette to watch the downtown fireworks. It wasn't too packed yet, and we got a great spot on a little dock right next to the Hawthorne Bridge, on the other side of which the fireworks would be launched. It was different being down at the water level, and out in the river a little bit. We got free beers when a girl came down to the dock carrying a couple crates of beer and asked if we could watch them while she went back to get more. Her friends picked her up in a boat and she went off, wishing us a happy 4th. (How fucking American were we, drinking Bud Lights on the 4th...) Our little dock got more crowded as time went on, of course, but no one around us was annoying or obnoxious, so it was a good area. The weather was again brilliant, and it was so great to watch the sun set behind the Portland skyline across the water from us, and then the lights all coming on. And the fireworks were awesome, so loud sometimes!, you could hear them echo through the downtown buildings, and so close, just above the bridge.
- We went to a cool vintage arcade place called Ground Kontrol. They had all the classics: Frogger, Pac Man, Ms Pac Man, Pole Position, plus a ton of others and a whole section of just pinball machines. I like pinball more since it's a bit more real and physical which I think I do better with, heh, though I did pretty good playing a Simpsons video game as Homer, hehe. My quickest quarter: Frogger. I absolutely sucked.
- I know the 23rd and 21st area can be so overly hipster, but I still like hanging out there, esp since it was one of the first places I discovered in Portland and I have a lot of good memories of going up there. And I still had fun there. We went up one evening, one of those good evenings with everyone out at sidewalk tables, and we went to the 23rd Music Millennium that I've not been in for too long. It was as good as always, esp at that time of night, not long before closing. The employees are getting giddy, the music they're playing is just good (in this case, I was enjoying the Tom Petty greatest hits they were playing), it has that incense smell... I love 'em. I love their CD dividers that, as often as possible, has hand-drawn band logos or silly little drawings. One band's CD had a bat on the cover and they'd redrawn the bat, but then added the bat saying "I'm a fruit bat!" It was too cute. The dividers also cross reference other bands that members of this band are in, or solo projects, etc. They put quite a bit of time/thought into it. I bought a used Minders CD I found, plus a couple of these cute buttons of various animal characters, complete with little bios on the animal, like favorite film, music, actor, etc. I bought one of a scorpion (cuz I'm a Scorpio) and one of a meerkat that loves The Shins. =) We walked out, me with a smile on my face saying that I wanted to give Music Millennium a big hug.
- I finally got to experience Voodoo Doughnut. What an awesome little place, so Portland. We popped in not so late on a Saturday and took away a half dozen doughnuts with us. Unusual ones we got included the voodoo doll doughnut, filled with jelly (blood) and stabbed with a pretzel stick; the Blazers Blunt, shaped like a joint with maple and red sprinkles at the end; and the apple fritter that's "as big as your head", as their website says. All so yummy. And the girl helping us was all patient and helpful and sweet. I made the mistake of asking what was good that had chocolate; she started naming off every single thing they had with chocolate, which was a substantial amount. Every combo of chocolate doughnut and glaze and other chocolate-y things (sprinkles, Oreos, Rice Krispies...) that you can imagine. And we got to see the precious huge doughnut that got stolen one night and is now missing a chunk.
I'll post word when the photos get put online. Hopefully we'll make it back to the US next year so it's not such a big gap again between visits. We already know what we want to do the next time: fly to San Francisco and see it for a few days (I've been before), then drive up to Portland, stopping a couple of times on the way up, see Northern California (I've driven through before, but didn't really visit anywhere, and we drove through probably the prettiest bit in the dark), finally go to the Oregon Vortex, and then spend less time in Portland, maybe get to the coast this time... Already looking forward to it.