This piece was originally written for and posted at The Wayfarer, a new independent online travel magazine started by a friend. It hasn't taken off yet, but I liked this article so much, I wanted to share it here. You'll notice it's a bit different from my usual posts, but perhaps a refreshing change. Bookmark The Wayfarer for future updates!
We all need and deserve a getaway once in a while. Stress builds up in our lives and we need to unwind, let our worries go and find inner peace. That was my goal over a long layover in laid-back Portland, Oregon, where people are friendly and individuality is celebrated. What better place to take a step back from everyday struggles and take care of yourself? I figured out some points along the path to inner peace that worked for me, and are adaptable for anyone else. They can be done in any order you like, wherever you are, and in whatever way is comfortable and convenient for you.
On the journey to inner peace, you have to put yourself first. Drop as much baggage as you can and just focus on yourself. I had to start my day with some positive energy, so I attended a yoga class at Yoga on Yamhill, a donation-based yoga studio. Though I’m just beginning yoga, I felt comfortable borrowing one of the provided yoga mats and following the transitions from downward dog to warrior II.
Our instructor, Molly, emphasized constant, long breaths and reminded us to “be here physically and mentally.” If you have a goal in mind, you want to commit to what you’re doing. Don’t waste your time doing things half-heartedly. “The way you handle challenges on the mat reflects the way you handle them in real life,” she said, which I truly believed as I wobbled on right hand and left knee, the other hand and leg extended. My life may lack balance for now, but with some discipline, I can get it back on track.
I wanted to really unwind with a nice cup of tea, and I found a sanctuary at Red Robe Tea House and Cafe. Established in 2011, this Chinatown tea house specializes in high quality traditional loose leaf teas that can be brewed in a tea infuser or traditional Gong-fu style. For the whole authentic experience, I opted for Anxi Tie Guan Yin tea, Gong-fu style. Pearl, one of the owners, brought out an assortment of tools and walked me through the proper way to brew my tea – rinsing the leaves, warming the cup, warming the pot as the tea steeps, all to bring out the best flavor of the tea. As her name suggests, I found her an absolute treasure, so friendly and helpful. She reminded me to smell the tea before drinking it – it relaxes you and enhances the flavor. I would have loved to try a few different varieties, but at $6 a pop and filling my stomach with tea and lunch, one would suffice. I took my time sipping the vibrant tea from the little cup, enjoying the warm, peaceful atmosphere.
There’s something nice about wandering, getting lost, and discovering things that pique your interest. I checked out Lan Su Chinese Garden, just a block down from Red Robe, paid the admission fee ($9 for adults, $7 for students), and meandered the well-kept grounds. I admired the extensive details, as 65 artisans from Suzhou lived in Portland for 10 months to create the garden, which was completed in 2000. Most of the building materials came from China, and it is considered the most authentic Suzhou-style garden outside of China. “Between lake and mountain lies true meaning,” reads the front of the pamphlet.
To keep that positive energy going, I wandered the Portland Saturday Market. I broke my vow not to spend money needlessly by buying a t-shirt with a cute design and the inscription “In love with life”. I really liked the shirt, and its message beckoned me close. There’s so much see and do in Portland and in the world – how can you not be excited? I find Portland a particularly good place for positive vibes. I crossed paths with a group of free huggers and had a random, fun conversation with a spice vendor at the market. I can’t say anything bad about the people here.
Find your happy place, and take some time to treat yourself to something you enjoy! For me, I wanted to try Cacao's drinking chocolate. Made from melting high-quality chocolate into milk and cream, drinking chocolate is Cacao's specialty. I came for the drinking chocolate flight, a $6 deal that gets you three 2oz shots of three different kinds of drinking chocolate. There was the Rivoli, a blend of dark and milk Ecuadorian chocolate, there was a spicy chocolate drink, and my favorite was the cinnamon drinking chocolate. They were sweet, rich, and delicious. Having a variety and small portions made it impossible for me to tire of it.
I also treated myself to a single Earl Grey truffle, at $2.50. I confess, that truffle was the single most amazing confectionary I have ever had in my life. When I bit into it, the world flashed before my eyes in a way I’d only seen on television and didn’t think was real. But the chocolate was so smooth, and the Earl Grey flavor was so strongly infused in the most remarkable, wonderful way. It was my first time at a boutique chocolatier, and I might be ruined forever. Once you’re introduced to this world of life-changing chocolate, I don’t think you can go back. I could not have found a better treat.
At the end of the day, I thought I made great use of my time in Portland. I hope these experiences offer ideas and inspiration for your own personal day. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to take good care of yourself and to let your hair down once in a while. We are important, so we must treat ourselves well. We must surround ourselves with good people and do fun things, things that will make us happy and increase the positive energy in our lives. We need to build up shields to protect ourselves from the negativity and stress from everyday life. Let’s continue to search for inner peace whenever it starts to fade.