Eugene, Oregon

Our reason for visiting Eugene was tenuous – it happens to be Alaina’s middle name. As such, we really didn’t know what to expect, and I made only the briefest of research for what would be the briefest of visits: locating a hotel near the station, and noting the river as likely a pleasant spot for a bike ride or stroll. We imagined we might tick off some stereotypically American activities – eat at a chain restaurant, shop at a Walmart – before backtracking to more notable pursuits in Seattle.

All of which is to say we completely underestimated this charming place, and visiting was easily one of the highlights of our entire holiday. It’s actually Oregon’s second largest city, but Portland had thoroughly eclipsed Eugene in our awareness. Still, much of the quirkiness and alt-cool we expected (but largely failed) to find in the more famous sibling was instead supplied by its little brother.

Eco-friendly cafes offered up vegetarian food, excellent coffee and staff who were happy to take the time to chat. The cinema on broadway featured a roster of indie movies, with our chosen film – Hearts Beat Loud – screened in a 17-seat auditorium after a roll of delightfully local adverts for nearby businesses. Early afternoon tickets were $6, you could take in a beer, and we appreciated the air conditioning almost as much as one of our three fellow patrons, who nodded off before the credits. A multi-story car park had been enriched with augmented-reality theatrical scripts; nobody minded that we were getting in the way by reading them. As in Seattle and Portland, even the churches were keen to portray themselves as welcoming spaces for all.

Better still, by dumb luck our visit coincided with the downtown visual arts festival; this turned out to have a large street-art component, the 20×21 project. Our home town of Bristol can probably claim to be the street-art capital of the UK; not only do we have dozens of world class pieces, but many of them are nonetheless painted over each year as part of Upfest. 2018’s event fell whilst we were away for this trip, so it was great to find a substitute so far from home.

One piece in particular grabbed me, as much for its canvas as its style. On my Seattle to Los Angeles Coast Starlight journey I had snapped a picture of an unusual building, although I had since forgotten where. I rediscovered it now in the parking lot of a bouldering gym (another reason to wish we had a longer visit – not one but two climbing walls!), where it had apparently also caught the eye of a local artist who had since given it an excellent makeover.

Sawdust silo as spotted from the Coast Starlight in 2015…

…and much-improved today

The city is also satisfyingly nestled into nature, and although the weather and our limited time conspired against long-distance biking or trekking up one of the ‘Buttes’, we did spend some time wandering along the bank of the Willamette.

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A straight-shot down Willamette street from Eugene station will get you to the edge of downtown in five minutes of walking; four will get you to the Hilton Eugene, which was thus ideally located for our short stay. Staff were friendly, and had clearly enjoyed our special request (but I’ll discuss that later!). The room wasn’t particularly fancy, but an upgrade to an Executive level meant we could spend our time in the lounge instead. That occupied a loftier floor and thus afforded great views north to Skinner Butte and Day Island. These we enjoyed with an assortment of snacks in the evening, which I also raided for a breakfast on the go the next morning. Another argument for taking this detour is that room rates were barely half those in Seattle or Portland – probably covering the train fare from the latter!

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A few non-street art photos: