Northwest: Portland, Seattle and Vancouver BC

After a long day of delays and travels, we finally arrived at the Seattle-Tacoma airport and rented a car from Alamo. We drove to Portland immediately and arrived at our hotel at 3am local time (6am EST), exhausted but glad we made it without a scratch.

Weeks prior to our trip, I'd researched and spoke to people about things to do, see and eat in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver BC. I made a list of places to eat from various Internet sources. I must say is a powerful tool.

Our first meal in Portland consisted of our hotel's continental breakfast, kindly arranged by our friends who were bound to marry over the weekend. Relief that we rented an intermediate rather than my usual preference of economy cars, my friends and I climbed in the new Ford Focus car and set off to downtown Portland. Our first stop was Peet's Coffee & Tea, a Bay Area company, to grab some hot coffee and chocolate. Next, we visited Powell's City of Books bookstore which claims to be the largest independent new and used bookstore. I was utterly impressed by the sheer size of book shelves and wished I could spend a whole day in there.

We made our way to Chinatown which appeared to be rather quiet. We walked passed Lan Su Chinese Garden and stumbled on a block of street vendors. After we decided to forgo Pok Pok, a Thai restaurant that appeared on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, I hurried to the Indonesian stall Wayang House and ordered Nasi Uduk in my rusty Malay. Nasi Uduk is steamed coconut rice served with fried chicken, tofu, tempeh (fried soybean cake), shredded egg and spicy sambal. Dinner that evening was at the bride's parents' place, an hour south of Portland. I looked forward for dessert and it was a delicious raspberry pie. After bidding goodbye to the couple, we met up with more friends at McMenamins Kennedy School for drinks. The building is a converted elementary school and now triples as a movie theater, hotel and restaurant. We wrapped up the night at another popular establishment called Voodoo Doughnuts. It is opened 24 hours and specializes in eclectic donuts such as voodoo doll, bacon maple bar, dirt doughnut and the loop. I like my friend's comment "Eating these donuts is like having a heart attack and diabetes at the same time!"

On Saturday morning, we had breakfast at a local diner called Biscuit Cafe and caught up. It was my first time having sweet potato pancakes. My friend ordered biscuits that were smothered with gravy. We bought beers and snacks before we headed back to the hotel and changed into our formal attire. The wedding was held at St. Agatha and the reception was held at a community center. After dinner and dancing, we returned to the hotel and had a nightcap of local beers while flicking through pictures from the wedding.

The next morning, our Seattle hosts joined us for breakfast at the hotel and we drove to Seattle in two vehicles. The drive was scenic with trees lining the roads and mountains standing from afar. We dropped our baggage at our friends' swanky apartment in the heart of Bellevue before we set off for Seattle. We had a quick snack of falafels at Aladdin and late lunch at Thai Tom. Eating in this hole in the wall is an experience because the chef cooks in various woks on eight burners simultaneously and hands off the woks and turners to his sous chef who grabs the tools and transfers to the dishwasher next to him. The sous chef also prepares all the ingredients for the chef. I ordered basil chicken with heat level of 4 out of 5. I think I drank at least 4 glasses of water that meal.

After the lunch, we drove to Pike Place market overlooking the waterfront. We wove through the throng of people, spotting the original Starbucks, fish mongers throwing fish at each other and street performers. I introduced Chinese fried sesame balls to my buddies and they seemed to like them. We boarded the ferry to Bainbridge Island and took pictures of Seattle skyline. The ferry also carries vehicles so it was quite fascinating to watch the passage and movement of loads. My favorite part was watching cyclists departing the ferry. They looked like they were competing for the Le Tour de France. We visited our hostess' Microsoft workplace in downtown Bellevue. Since her office is on a high floor, we got a bird's eye view of Seattle and the surrounding landscape. It was beautiful and I wished my office was like that. We had a light dinner and desserts at Black Bottle Postern. I ordered kimchi pork belly. My Indian friends claimed the chola batura eggplant potato chickpeas were more authentic than the ones from Indian restaurants.

We had a bagel breakfast the morning and left for Vancouver, BC, Canada. The drive was 3 hours long and scenic. The border was surprisingly light on the entering side but busy on the exiting side. I assume most Canadians work in Seattle or vice versa. We checked in at a Lake Trout B&B that I booked at The host was not there but his daughter received us and showed us the room and bathroom. We dropped off our things and walked towards the Skytrain station only to realize that it was the further of the two stations. We purchased our daily pass tickets and hopped on the trains. We learned later on that the Skytrain is a great way to get into the city but has limited stations in the West and North sides of Vancouver. Riding the train is an honest based system since there is no ticket machine to punch in and out of the station. However, there are an occasionnal conducter who walks by to check tickets and police officers who randomly picked people to inspect their tickets.

We got off the closest station and walked to Meat & Bread, a DDD recommendation. The place was packed with people. Ordering is simple, the menu board is not complicated and serves a few sandwiches, soups and salads. We met up with Justin there. Justin and I ordered their popular pork belly sandwich while Jeff ordered the lamb sandwich. Chopped pork and crispy skin bits were stuffed in a freshly baked bun and topped with a delicious green sauce and mustard on the side. So yummy.

After bidding farewell to Justin, we set off to Chinatown in search for bubble tea and baked goods. We stumbled on the statue of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, founding Father of the Republic of China and discovered a garden beyound the walls. Traditional Chinese garden and brick skyline were sharply juxtaposed. I bought buns, mooncakes and an egg tart from New Town Bakery & Restaurant. We headed north for Gastown and spotted the Steam Clock and the Gassy Jack statue. We then walked along the waterfront and stopped frequently to explore Vancouver's conventional centers, boardwalk, sky planes and finally the Olympic torch.

We took the train back to rest and freshen up before dinner. Hoping to skip the long line at Peaceful Restaurant, also featured in DDD, we sought for Shao Lin Noodle Restaurant per Justin's recommendation. The old and new stores were closed so we ended up waiting in line at Peaceful Restaurant. The restaurant is known for hand made noodles. I was hoping to see how they stretch the noodled but the viewing area was blocked. We ordered soup and fried versions and the dishes tasted good.

Stanley Park was the first stop in the morning. Parking here is expensive, $3 an hour. We parked and visited the Rose & Flower Garden, Klahowya Village- an Aboriginal area with totem poles and activities, salmon stream and Third Beach. The tide was low and waters were cool. We then drove to Miko Sushi on Robson street and had lunch there. We were walking up and down the streets before I learned that Keurig was giving out iced and hot drinks. I stood in line and was the last person before they had to wrap up for the day. Then we had frozen yogurt before we decided to leave for Seattle earlier than expected.

The wait at the US border entry was not too long and next thing we knew, we were about an hour to Bellevue. We rejoined the group and rested before the trio of us had to catch our flight later that evening. We ate dinner at Ivars' Seafood Bar where all of ordered various version of seafood and chips. We grabbed bubble teas to go, loaded our baggage in the car, bade goodbye to our hosts and drove off. We splitted ways at the shuttle bus and checked in our flights. We made it just a nick of time before boarding as there were surprisingly many red eye flights that night.

Overall, I had a great time in the Pacific Northwest. I was not looking forward to coming back but I could not be away from reality for so long. The trip truly reenergized me and I got to explore cities that I have never been to and hanged out with friends I have not seen in ages.

Modified date: July 20, 2012