Portland offers global flair in cheap weekend getaway

25 Oct

For those bitten by an international travel bug but stuck with a modest budget, a weekend trip to Portland could be the cure.

Some may call it a city with a laid-back pace, but in reality Portland pushes its guests to be open to new adventures from savory Thai dishes to the Japanese Gardens.

The first pick for my group of friends was to have dinner at a Thai restaurant called Pok Pok, rated one of the top three places to dine on Yelp. However, the wait time was two hours, so we opted for our second choice, another Thai restaurant, called Khun Pic’s Bahn.

The entrance of the family-owned restaurant looked like a fairytale house. Once you step in you find yourself under an umbrella of leaves and branches and surrounded by small, colorful tables dotted with candlelight.

The husband, who waited the tables, welcomed us. I can honestly say it took longer than we expected, but it was definitely worth the wait. The food was mesmerizingly delicious and the service was outstanding.

The Rose Garden provides a breathtaking walk through an international display of flowers. Across the street, the Japanese Garden boasts the most authentic park outside of Japan. (Photo by Jon Biehler)

We haven’t made it to Thailand yet, but this place helped us get one step closer.

It didn’t take us much time to realize that in Portland everything is easily accessible. The locals are extremely friendly and the time just flies by.

The next day we spent some time exploring the neighborhoods and the local attractions, such as the breathtaking Rose Garden and neighboring Japanese Gardens.

Created in 1907, the Japanese Garden is known as the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan. Nested in the west forests of Portland, these two attractions alone are enough to satisfy any tourist’s curiosity about the hidden treasures of “The City of Roses.”

Later that day, a Peruvian restaurant, Andina, grabbed our attention and dinner reservations were made. Once you enter, the first thing you see is the busy kitchen, the first thing you hear is the live band and the first thing you smell are rich aromas flowing around the exquisitely decorated room.

Andina serves up genuine Peruvian fare from a double rack of lamb to marinated roasted pork. (Photo by Harold Hollingsworth via Flickr)

We arrived earlier, which I think was an incredibly important aspect of our dinner experience.

Taking time to observe the surroundings allowed us to adjust to the genuine Peruvian atmosphere. Once we were seated, I will admit, we ordered more than we could handle.

There is nothing more dangerous than the combination of delicious aroma, culinary perfection and hunger.

However, from the appetizers to the dessert, every single bite was worth it. In addition, this restaurant’s amazing presentation was topped by the work of the bartender, who was swiftly splashing Peruvian cocktails.

And yes, once again we felt one step closer to another unconquered destination on our checklist.

It was time to go back home. But before we left, we drove outside downtown, observing the unique architectures of Portland. The skyline reminded me a lot of the baroque style, from the home designs to the detailed columns of the bridges.

Driving by the sign “Leaving Portland” created, only after two days, a sense of nostalgia.

Even on the ride back to Seattle, we had a nice surprise when stopping for dinner. We found a place via Yelp called La Tarasca in Centralia, Wa.

The author, Simona Trakiyska, right, poses with Mercedes Zaragoza, who heads La Tarasca. This family-run restaurant is well worth planning for on a return trip from Portland to Seattle. (Photo courtesy of Simona Trakiyska)

The streets were lonely, the stores were closed and we didn’t see anyone. Once we arrived we realized that everyone was in the restaurant.

It was packed. People were waiting to be sited and no one seemed ready to leave. The entire family helps run the restaurant headed by Mercedes Zaragoza, the daughter of the owner Margarita Ayala.

La Tarasca, definitely caught us off guard. The Mexican cuisine in this restaurant is not your typical tacos and nachos.

The focus is more on the authentic taste from the west region of Mexico, Michoacan. Moist carrots and salsa replace the traditional tortilla chips. No burritos, but rather slowly cooked meats covered with richly flavored sauces.

The restaurant’s décor is unique, including framed newspaper articles, flags, the colorful chairs and traditional plating. You can feel the Mexican culture as it revolves around you while dining. Our experience there was warm and every customer seemed to be treated as part of one big family.

I have to admit, after my trip I felt ignorant to what’s right under my nose. As someone who travels thousands of miles away to experience cultures, I have learned a lesson.

You don’t have to fly for hours to experience the world; you just have to be aware of your surroundings, including neighboring cities. As world travelers and international Seattleites, we can find a lot of what we’re hungry for right here in the Pacific Northwest.

(The article was first published at the Common Language Project)

Simona Trakiyska is a journalist, freelance writer and a world traveler with a global mindset. She is based in the Pacific Northwest and her focus is on international affairs, political issues and human rights. She is passionate about ethnic equality and global respect.
You can contact her on Twitter @Simonatrak.

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