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Green clean city in the American North West

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Portland, Oregon, is one of the USA’s select destinations. It went green long before the environment was fashionable. The writer explores this courteous, compact city in northwest USA bursting with superlatives and found the world’s biggest bookshop, beavers on the riverbank, free trams and some of the best streetfood outside Asia. Picture of Portland by the writer, Oct 09.

Eco warriors

The original settlers battled through many perils to reach Oregon from the eastern USA. The Oregon History Museum tells their story admirably. It’s across from the Art Museum, full of NW landscape paintings to make your heart soar. Since the 1970s, Portlanders have applied this pioneering spirit to the environment. Symbolically reversing Joni Mitchell, they tore up a parking lot and put up a Chinese Garden, built by hand to a 200 year old blueprint. (All this calm is catching – this year [2009] the city’s courteous citizens were named the least likely to fly into a road rage.) Half Portland’s power is from renewable sources, All traffic signals are energy efficient LEDs. And. It has the largest number of top rated green buildings in the USA. I took the self-guided Walking Tour off Sustainable Sites -

Car-free city

My trip began with a glorious run down the NW coastline from Seattle on Amtrak’s Cascades train. Portland’s helpful public transport system took over at the handsome Italianate Union Station. I rode the brand new MAX tram 12 blocks to my hotel - trams are free downtown. The Monaco also reimburses guests who ride the MAX from the airport. If you book their “Carless Vacation.” (Includes free bikes for two, and the Historic Downtown tour.) The Monaco, in a grand old 1912 building, is all whimsy and luxury, recently redesigned to the Anglo-Chinois style in a cheerful warm persimmon and periwinkle colour scheme, with deep chocolate furnishings. They entertain guests with a free glass of wine every afternoon at 5 p.m in the lounge, with free coffee in the morning to take up to your room with the paper before breakfast. How civilized.

Spin city

We parked our bikes alongside the wide Willamette River in downtown Portland. “Guys, what are you trying to catch?” my guide Todd Roll asked two fishermen. “Sturgeon” was the unexpected reply. For a city, this is a rich, wild river - Todd, who runs Pedal Bike Tours, taking in the US’s most bike-friendly city's main attractions, saw a bald eagle the other day. We cycled on. Todd indicated more clues to flourishing nature, a tree stump neatly gnawed by a beaver. We made the obligatory coffee stop at Stumptown Coffee (Todd also runs a Coffee Crawl). But no time for the 8 mile long Forest Park, or the new Aerial Tram – take your bike aboard and freewheel 500 feet down from the university.

Book worm

We might start to like banks again if they were all set out in the grand neoclassical style like the First National Bank building (built 1916), with traditional old tellers’ windows, cathedral-high ceiling and acres of space. Security probably won’t let you linger long. But in my other favourite city centre building you could easily browse for a month, in thrall to the power of the good read. Powell's City of Books, possibly the world's largest independent new and used bookstore, coverts an entire block. Things turned terribly nostalgic as I found volumes I’d read years ago. But there’s nothing fusty about this place – Powell’s launched on the Internet in 1993, when Amazon was only a river. And 540 solar panels on the roof produce a quarter of the building's electricity.

Beer cheer.

In a nation of big, bland brands, it was pure joy to sit in a bar faced with such a daunting choice. Stuck on Black Bear XX Stout, Dusty Trail Pale, Desolation IPA, Precious Pils and Blue Heron, I settled for Hammerhead, the deep brown of best Oregon chestnuts. Portland has 32 breweries, more than any other city in the world. This brewing abundance stems from the pure glacial water flowing off Mount Hood – it also feeds the USA’s only saké brewery, www.sakeone.com. (The wine is very good too; Pinot Noir is the state’s signature grape.) There are so many good places to drink beer, but I particularly liked the “Brew ‘n View” cinemas. In the Bagdad [correct – no “h”] Theater and Pub I took a glass of Terminator Stout – “Black as the darkest night; rich as the most decadent dessert”, with a slice of pizza to my seat, to watch Cabaret.

Cart cuisine

Portland runs New York City close for the top spot for street food carts. The city lets smart enterprising caterers who can’t afford permanent premises operate from over 400 trailers along entire city blocks (weekdays are best, http://foodcartsportland.com). Try the
carnitas burrito at Chopollos; anything from Ziba’s Bosnian food cart and the hot variations on a cheese sandwich from Grilled Cheese Grill, serving from a yellow school bus.
On my visit the city’s more permanent restaurant scene was bustling at the official end of the USA recession. One of the hottest tables is Departure Restaurant, high above Nines Hotel. Our waitress let us carry on ordering street food-style Chinese and Japanese appetizers on small plates until we were full.
The new Beaker and Flask serves good cocktails made with local spirits. I enjoyed the maple braised pork belly, creamed kale, delicata squash and apple relish was good.

The writer travelled to Portland from Seattle by Amtrak (about 3 hours

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