We spent last weekend in Portland, Oregon, as my husband Darren ran in the Portland Marathon on Sunday morning. I had never been there before and didn’t have a lot of time to research what to see and do. I thought I would use this as an opportunity to rely heavily on my iPhone and my free apps (by design I don’t have but a few paid apps) that I have downloaded for assistance. Before we left I spent a few minutes using the Internet at home to get some basic lay of the land. I researched the public transportation options from the airport to downtown and downloaded the pdf map to my phone so that I had the light rail map handy. I used an app called MetrO to give me an idea how long it would take to go from the airport into the downtown area. I also bookmarked the address of the hotel so I could easily find it in Google Maps on my phone.
When we landed in Portland late Saturday morning, I found that the airport had excellent signs that took us right to the light rail system. As we soon found out, Portland has one of the best public transportation systems in the country. We bought day passes and as we made our way to downtown on the train, I went into Google Maps on my iPhone, turned location services on and watched our progress toward our hotel address. When we got off, it was an easy two block walk to the hotel.
Once we checked in, we had Saturday afternoon free for some sightseeing. I looked in the hotel magazine and at the free city map that I received and then used the iPhone to determine where the sightseeing options were in relationship to the hotel, how to get there via public transportation, and the cost / hours of operation. We opted for a trip to Washington Park and the Japanese Garden there, which was beautiful and peaceful. Back at the hotel in the late afternoon, we pondered some dinner choices. Using the Urbanspoon app, I searched on several options I had seen, again noting proximity to the hotel, dinner hours and cost. I was able to read reviews, learn about the restaurant specialties and even see the actual menus on my phone. We had a great dinner and also enjoyed a stroll around town before getting to bed early for the marathon start the next morning.
After watching my husband start the marathon race the next morning, I wanted to find the nearest Starbucks for some breakfast. I used the Starbucks app to pinpoint the exact location of the closest one and could even see if it was actually open or not. After getting a warm cup of coffee, I was able to find a great riverside walk to take. I listened to several podcasts and took some great skyline pictures, including the one below, while walking. I was able to receive occasional texts from Darren while he was racing and I tweeted those to family and friends, using the phone, so that they could follow his progress.
Once the race was over we had the afternoon to relax and explore downtown. We used the iPhone to find a sandwich place for lunch and a pub for a celebratory dinner. We found the Nike, Columbia and North Face stores and enjoyed our time there. We also visited a great independent bookstore called Powell’s City of Books which filled an entire city block and was by far the biggest book store I had ever seen. We also saw the historic old town, Chinatown and the train station before we flew home on Monday.
In all the weekend was a success. My husband ran his personal best for a marathon, we had a nice mini-break and were able to experience a new city. The iPhone made it all so easy. We could easily find a wealth of things to do and places to eat and we never had to worry about getting lost. I could have even written this blog entry using the free WordPress app on my iPhone, but that will have to wait for another time.
I have been told that there are paid apps from the likes of Lonely Planet that provide all their guidebook functionality adapted for an iPhone platform. I will have to break down and try one of these at some point. If it really works as advertised then the days of toting maps and guidebooks to places will definitely be a thing of the past.