My taxi driver from the airport gave me a grand tour of Portland. In 10 minutes I had the low-down on Portland’s current state of affairs. What was playing at the State Theatre. Restaurant recommendations. Directions (unasked for) to the marijuana dispensaries. And, commentary on the local frustrations about Brooklyn hipsters moving to the City for a more authentic hipster experience. It gave Portland an instant quaintness and charm.
Portland has the typical northeast old seaport look: Old brick manufacturing buildings, artsy restaurants and clapboard houses. After five years in New York any other City seems small and quiet and charming. But, until you step out of New York, it’s easy to forget that the 24-hour city is something you only come across in a few places. I knew from friends and family and co-workers that Portland was quirky and funky and lowkey. At 8:30pm on a Wednesday we struggled to find anywhere open other than Whole Foods to grab some ice cream. Two nights in a row we had dinner at the only two places we saw open later than 9pm. The City gets very very quiet, and as we walked home we spoke at a whisper along the empty streets.
There was something therapeutic about the simplicity. In two days we basically had walked the entire City. And, the quiet, though a bit eerie, was completely relaxing. On my first day I walked to the Eastern Promenade and just sat for two hours watching the water and the boats, smelling the fresh air.
And yet, even with the quaintness there’s a rough around the edges feel to the City. For such a small and quiet place, there’s a noticeable homeless population and more than a handful of rehab centers. I point this out because it was unexpected, even if it shouldn’t have been. Big cities often get a lot of attention for their problems, but small cities have their own share of issues that are sometimes more shocking since they’re crammed into such a condensed area.
A city’s problems don’t make it any less special. In three days I had some of the best food I’ve ever eaten—including Poutine with a duck egg on top from a place called Duckfat, mussels and a goat cheese, beet salad, and a potato based donut (a Portland delicacy apparently). I walked many miles, along cobblestoned streets. I enjoyed spectacular views of Casco Bay and took a ferry to Peaks Island. And, mostly I just refreshingly took things slower.