Saturday, August 15, 2009

Arrival in Portland

I've been asked repeatedly: why did we choose Louisville, Kentucky as the first place to live in the USA upon my return from Germany, and why didn't we stay there?

I moved to Germany in 2001 from Austin, Texas, and while I love that city oh-so-much, I did not want to move back: it's too hot for too many months, it's much too congested with cars, and too many beloved music clubs are long gone. It will always be special -- but it's no longer home.

When Stefan and I decided to move back to the USA, I knew that the first thing we had to find was some place to land -- literally. Where would the plane land, and then what would happen? Would we walk off the plane and into a hotel? How would we get from the airport to the hotel? And then what?

In thinking about these questions, I chose Louisville, Kentucky as the place we would stay initially in the USA, for several reasons

  • The Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Airport is less than two hours from Louisville, and there is a direct flight from Frankfurt, Germany to that airport. I did not want Albi to be transferred at any point during the flight, as this is how dogs get lost.

  • A friend from college wrote to say that there was a short-term rental available right next door to him in the Highlands, the legendary neighborhood of Louisville. Having a place to stay immediately upon getting off the plane was a huge draw.

  • I have a lot of friends from many years ago in Louisville, and I hoped this would be a good chance to reconnect with them and have an immediate social network.

  • I have a brother and sister-in-law in Louisville, and the rest of my immediate family is less than two hours away in Henderson; I was ready to play the family card if needed for transportation and other help, and the family said they were ready to help (and they were).

  • I have really liked Louisville when visiting it over the years. I thought it would be interesting to really get to know it.
Louisville turned out to be wonderful. It was everything I wanted to be and more. The Highlands is surrounded by terrific restaurants and services within walking distance, and is surprisingly dog-friendly. It's also a neighborhood -- as are several of the surrounding neighborhoods -- where lots of people walk and bike-ride to get from point A to point B. Public transit is surprisingly good for downtown (but until there are at least three buses an hour, it will never be as successful as it could be). The houses are lovely, and people are incredibly friendly, greeting you as you pass. There are tons of things to do in Louisville: eat, go watch the minor league baseball team, eat, visit the various sites in and around town, eat, go to a concert, and eat. There are LOTS of arts events, music events and farmer's markets. You can drive just a little ways and be out of town on country roads and passing beautiful farms. And it was wonderful spending so much time with long-lost friends and new friends (Todd and Julie, you two are unbelievably wonderful), as well as my beloved grandparents. Our pictures from our time in Louisville say it all.

So, why not stay?!?!

A lot of reasons. Mostly because of the weather. My husband and I are wimps when it comes to intense, humid heat. We can vacation in such conditions, but not live in them. And as we are ATGATT adherents, that means there would be several weeks every summer we couldn't ride. It was very tempting to stay in Louisville, but for this and other reasons, we decided it would be best to try elsewhere.

We thought somewhere in the Northern USA might suit us better. And everything we've read online over the last three years has pointed to one place: Portland, Oregon. Because of the weather, the rankings in terms of walking and bicycling and micro-brewing, the likelihood of getting jobs, the political climate, and on and on.

We left Louisville on July 27 and, after 11 days of camping and seeing various sites along the way, ended up in Portland.

It was not a good arrival. We spent the first three days wondering if we'd just made the biggest mistakes of our lives.

Portland is a city that doesn't give up its merits obviously or quickly to outsiders. Those green, walkable, bike-friendly, funky neighborhoods with adorable houses you hear oh-so-much about are here, but they aren't easy to find amid some very trash-strewn, unattractive neighborhoods with streets-packed-with-cars and where houses look like run-down double wide trailers (Stefan's observation, and I agree). We initially stayed at a hotel in Gresham, because that's where I got the best deal, and that was a huge mistake; the hotel was fine, but the neighborhood was horrific. Sorry to all you Gresham-ites, but your city needs a huge attitude adjustment. After two days of walking Albi around the neighborhood and being terrified of her stepping on a hypodermic needle, I was ready to head back to Louisville.

After two days of not liking anything we'd seen of Portland, we drove to a dog park in Hillsboro that was highly rated on, and after not being able to find a real downtown amid all the shopping centers, we gave up and drove down to Salem. As soon as we got out of metropolitan Portland area, our spirits rose. And in Salem, we were enchanted. We had great food from a terrific little diner called The Sassy Onion and walked the beautiful grounds of the state government and Williamette University. At last, we saw the charm of Oregon and were glad we came.

So, we decided we would find a month-to-month rental and take 30 days, even 60, to visit Eugene, and then to find a small town outside of Portland or Salem or Eugene to live in long-term. After wading through endless numbers of scams and misleading ads on Craigslist (it's almost useless because of such), a friend found a great deal at an ExtendedStay in Hillsboro. And that's where we'll be, through at least early September.

And since we've moved here, we've found the neighborhoods and charm that have made Portland famous. Stefan has, at long last, found a German bakery that makes decent bread (something he never did find in Louisville). We visited a motorcycle shop and were floored when the salesmen told us that dual-sport motorcycles were his best-selling bikes (certainly not the case in Louisville). And Stefan applied for his first job in the USA! (but understands the likelihood of him getting even an interview for the very first job he applies for is... not great).

We've eaten at a dog-friendly restaurant almost every day (that's pretty much any restaurant that has an outdoor place to eat that can be reached from outside, without walking through the inside of the restaurant), and been to a few different dog parks (there are oh-so-many here), leaving Albi oh-so-content (though, as we've discovered, she's happiest camping).

Make no mistake: Portland is a BIG city -- there's no small town feeling about it. But once you know where to look, there's lots of great places to see, and maybe even to live.

So, our goal now is to find a small town with a volunteer fire department, where we would love to rent a place for a year and from which we can easily commute for whatever jobs we land.

Email me if you need a mailing address in Portland for us; we won't officially move here, however, until some time in September or October. Or just email me to give me some words of encouragement -- or job leads (even better!).

And so a new chapter begins...

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