After having been here for 3 weeks, we were overjoyed to sign the apartment lease papers for our first apartment in Portland! We had done lots of searching while still in the Basque Country but ran into the problem that all of the apartments were available for move in NOW, which isn't so good when you're still an ocean away. So, when we arrived we hit the road running and head to Portland, Oregon to search for our perfect place.
The first place was nice, but small and the windows looked right into the neighbor's windows. I mean, I could just ask the neighbor to make me a coffee and pass it over. Not my cup of tea...err coffee. It was dubbed a 'vintage' place which in my thinking means old but fashionable and nice. Apparently, 'vintage' as we learned at this place just meant old. We passed.
The next place we looked at was a place we didn't even get the chance to look at! We were pretty hyped about it and the listing said there would be an Open House, where you can do a walk-through of the apartment, at 1pm on the day we happened to be in town. We arrived about 15 minutes early and the open house had already started and 2 applications had already been received from the 20-something people that were there. The owner stated that it was basically already rented but if we wanted to take a gander we were welcome. We figured there was no use in wasting time seeing a place we weren't going to get so we headed to have lunch and prep ourselves for the next place in this cut-throat renting market!
Having lived in NYC I knew that renting a good place could be pretty brutal but in laid-back Portland I wouldn't have expected it. The third place that we saw was the place we eventually signed the paperwork on, but it took a bit of skill to get it! We arrived early for the Open House and saw two other couples (one married and the other two friends) that had happened to be at the previous Open House. We knew they were obviously interested and this was our cash cow - the one we really wanted!
We had chosen to look in the NorthEast part of Portland thanks to some tips from some high school friends I have that said that it is the 'it' spot right now. Areas like Mississippi and Alberta are adorable up-and-coming areas that used to be a bit dodgy but now people are really working on making them more invitable and exciting. With hip bars, concert venues, tasty restaurants and lots of parks and an equal amount of shops, it reminded us a lot of the Kreuzberg neighborhood in Berlin that we so fell in love with. Our first day in the US (after a long sleep) we came down to Portland wandered around the neighborhood and just agreed that it was the place for us.
Built in 1910, this Craftsman house had been divided into a top and ground floor units. We were looking at the top floor unit which had lots of windows and a private entrance. The 14 steep steps to the top were a bit to make us catch our breath, but when we got in the apartment, Joseba and I just fell in love with it. The living area was combined with the dining area which connected to the robin's egg blue kitchen with new appliances. The bathroom was nice-sized and had a great shower head and tons of storage space. The bedrooms, there were two, were great and perfect for what we were looking to use them for - one for sleeping and one for Joseba's music studio. The heating was gas and heck there was even a washer and dryer, which we didn't seem to have much luck finding included in the price in other places we'd searched out.
Seeing as we weren't the only people seeing the place, and figuring everyone else was liking it as much as we were, I slyly asked the landlord if she could show me the washer and dryer and where they were located. I wasn't SO concerned with seeing if it was a front-loading or top-loading washer, but really just wanted to get the landlord to ourselves so we could tell her that we wanted it! She took us down the scarily vertical stairs again to our own basement with ample storage and the W/D units. I saw them real quick and then went out to the driveway with her as the other people peered in the basement. It was then that Joseba and I made eyes, speaking without words that we HAD TO have this place, and I told her we'd like to start the application process! We'd done it! The other people looked a bit deflated that we had gotten our interest in first and headed out and we headed back upstairs to do a mountain of paperwork to get the renting process started.
Here, to rent, they do criminal checks and background checks - a process the landlord can charge anywhere from $25 to $50 per application (aka $100 for us together) to check into all this stuff. We even had to give our past landlord references and our landlord called them in Basque Country to confirm that we were the amazing tenants we promised her that we were!
We were so excited about submitting the application that we went to a bar down the street for a celebratory beer at a place called Kenny & Zuke's, just a stone's throw from our place. We fell in love with the neighborhood right away. So many little cafes and restaurants dotted the streets that were lined with massive maple and oak trees. The leaves had just started falling and although it was sunny you could feel the crisp air coming in. The waitress was incredibly friendly, people whizzed by on bicycles and we toasted to hoping this became our everyday.
When we finally got the ok that we got the apartment we were in Seattle (another blog about that another time) and celebrated with my Dad, Stepmom and Bro with a glass of wine - well my brother didn't have a glass but he celebrated with us anyways. We were so relieved! The funny thing is that this apartment is one that we fell in love with when we were still abroad and actually emailed our landlord stating our extreme interest. We basically told her, we would take it sight unseen, but she responded saying there was too much interest and it wouldn't be available by time we made it to Portland. Luck have it, when we arrived in Kelso we saw the ad posted again and forwarded her our previous email saying that we still were interested in the place. Turns out that guy who was going to rent it didn't work out in the end and the place was available! The landlord told us that she thought that our previous email was a scam - one of those, oh my business associate will collect the money because I happen to be overseas sham. It wasn't, just us :)
We got the keys about a week later and started Operation Furniture. In the Basque Country apartments come relatively if not completely furnished a lot of times. Here that is pretty much out of the question unless you're looking to pay a hefty extra fee. So, IKEA, Target and even Wal-Mart became our destinations of place after some serious second-hand shopping on Craigslist.com.
IKEA is always a blast until you get to the checkout but we ended up getting everything we needed and shoved it all in the basement and headed off to Ashland, OR (again, another blog to come) for our last week before becoming official Portland residents.
And here we are! Every house has it's weird things though. Our house seems to slant in a U - like in the kitchen the wine bottles roll east but in the living room the table tilts west. But, the light that flows in the windows, the wine boxes with flowers falling out of them and the lovely group of girl neighbors downstairs more than makes up for it.
We have only been in the house about five days and have mostly everything set up. The stairs make for a workout bringing things up to our apartment, but it's great to watch our first place come together. Unpacking the massive boxes I saved at my Grammy's house while having lived abroad, it is quite comical the things that I felt were super important to save for my return. I have DVDs that I have no desire to see again, lots of sheets but not so many pillow cases, a George Foreman grill that I could probably buy for something like $10 now, scrapobooking stuff for a hobby that never took off and probably never will, and more.
We've made it to the knick-knack stage, having passed the big furniture stuff already. It's all in the details! And, we have an air mattress already, so are happily accepting guests in Hotel Amanda & Joseba - Portlandiapartment. Free locally brewed beer (another blog, lots to come) and live jam sessions byJoseba included and maybe a banana bread by Amanda if you're lucky!
If you want our address, shoot me an email and I'll send it over! Will post more pics once we have become a bit more organized. We are so excited to have a homebase to share our new experiences in this gorgeous city with you.