If you have been reading my website at endlessroaming.com you would be aware that I have been blogging and photographing my 8-month road trip around the world in 2019. This is the final leg, my 4 week journey in the USA starting with the Pacific Northwest. I hope you enjoy the read.
The USA is my favourite country to travel, I have three reasons for this (there are many more), FIRST I love road trips and whilst there are many countries to drive about including my own Australia, in my experience there is nothing comparable with the roadways crossing the USA whether its the famous Route 66, Highway 1, the Blue Ridge Parkway…. the list goes on. SECOND the National Park Service, there are so many national parks and the NPS make these easily accessible, there is also so much diversity of parks whether it’s the Grand Canyon, Smoky Mountains, Palo Duro Canyon or Yosemite, all very different and a driver could spend years in the USA and not cover them all. Last but not least my THIRD reason, the USA is a great place for solo travelers. Now for its size the USA has a relatively small hostel network, they are available but mostly are located in more popular cities or near larger national parks, however you don’t need to socialise in hostels when American bars are very friendly. No matter where you are if you feel like a conversation and a laugh just head to a bar and chat with the friendly bartender and locals that frequent the establishment. American’s are hospitable and I have almost always felt welcome whenever I go bar hopping. Anyway, these are my reasons and now back to Americas Pacific Northwest.
My first destination was Seattle in Washington State with a flight time of 10 hours or so from London. The highlight of the flight was flying over Greenland, the air was clear and I managed to take a few cool pictures of the glaciers which I was quite chuffed about. Upon arrival I cleared customs with relative ease and caught the Shuttle Express from the airport to Seattle’s downtown area. TIP if flying in don’t bother with UBER or a taxi, just get the Shuttle, it’s a train that goes through various areas of Seattle and is a good way to some of the different parts of the city, its also very cheap. I arrived in Pike Place Market and checked into my hostel. Pike Market is in the centre of Seattle and I consider the best area to stay for a short time, in my case three nights. After checking and taking a quick shower and jet lag, it was time to hit the streets.
It was my second visit to Seattle so there are certain tourist sites I would not be visiting that I had seen previously. The reason for this was the strength of the Australian dollar against the US Dollar, this was my fourth visit to the USA and unlike the previous three where the dollars were relatively comparable, this was not the case this time around so. The good thing about Seattle is a lot of cool activities are free or cheap. First was heading into Pikes Market and if you read my previous blog on London Markets then you will know how much I love spending time in these places. Established in 1907 Pike Place Market is one of Americas oldest continuously running farmers markets and overlooks the Elliot Bay Waterfront. Built on the edge of a steep hill there are also several lower levels full of shops containing antiques, comics and restaurants. Up top are fishmongers singing and engaging tourists selling their produce as well as fresh produce and flowers. There are plenty of neon signs on display and the market is full of tourists from all around the world traversing the maze, it’s a fantastic experience.
Within market is the worlds first original Starbucks established in 1971, it isn’t the original location but is the original business, and there almost always is a huge crowd planted here. As I was on a budget and could not be bothered waiting to get inside for a few minutes to buy a relatively expensive coffee I went to one of the café’s in the area and had a nice sit down and a cup of non Starbucks quality coffee. I then headed to the famous Gum Wall, a tradition started in 1993, the wall is an alley covered on both sides with bubble gum making for a rather odd tourist attraction. As I was budgeting instead of contributing, I took a piece of gum, started chewing and headed further down the alley. The market then opens onto the waterfront where ferry terminals are located to the outer islands, there are also a series of wharves containing more restaurants, antique and tourism stories. I jumped on the Bainbridge Island ferry which is a short 40-minute ride to the island. This an excellent and cheap way to experience a ride to the islands, taking in Seattle’s amazing skyline and spend a few hours walking around the charming town of Bainbridge with its thriving art scene, restaurants and more quality coffee.
I spent most of my stay in Seattle jet lagged and in the market place, this involved a few other activities including walking to the Space Needle but not going up it, Id been up the needle previously and the cost of going up this time I could not justify. I did an underground tour in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, a series of underground tunnels and the guide included detailed history tour on the development, the devastation during the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 and the cities redevelopment. Me being me this also involved Seattle’s bar scene. Being budget conscious, I went to a few dive bars in the local downtown area meeting unique local characters and spending nights listening to live rock music. I also played plenty of video games in the bar which seems to be a popular past time between drinks. Seattle was a good way to get past my jet lag, drink plenty of coffee, enjoy the hustle and bustle of Pike Place Market and down plenty of Paps Blue Ribbon beer with friendly locals.
After three nights I jumped on a Greyhound and headed to my next stop, Portland. This was my first experience on the Greyhound and unlike my previous trips to the USA where it was all flights and driving, I was now budgeting, and honestly after the Greyhound I wished Id saved more money. The Greyhound is for the budget conscious, the bus was of an indistinguishable age, the toilet overflowing, the windows didn’t open and it was damp, dark and almost moist inside. I also was nursing a PBR hangover from the night before and had forgotten my credit card at the bar. Fortunately for me after ringing the bar from the bus the they sent my card via UPS to my forwarding address in Portland. I was very lucky as cancelling my only credit card while in the US could have caused me major problems. After about 6 hours on the Greyhound and panicking about my credit card I arrived in Portland,,,, and all my concerns dissipated.
I love Portland, this was my third visit to this fantastic city and Id booked 5 nights, a considerable amount of time in my four-week holiday. I was staying at a lovely hostel in the Northwest area of Portland, the same place Id stayed at previously and I had a full 5 days off activities planned including going to a Portland Timbers game, visiting the Rose Garden, seeing a concert, vintage clothes shopping, drinking beers and getting a tattoo.
After check-in I headed to the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park. There are over 10,000 rose bushes and approximately 650 varieties or so, it was the first time Id been to Portland in June and all the rose bushes were in full bloom. Ill attempt to describe the park, all the roses were multi coloured and the smell was like being inside a perfume bottle. I cant describe really the sensation properly except to say I had a constant grin and was very content spending time in a large colourful display delighting the senses… I am not a particular fan of flowers generally but the experience was amazing. After snorting a few roses, I then headed into Washington Park itself, 410 acres and 24kms of trails with a variety of tall trees and including other features, a Japanese Garden (which cost to much to enter so I didn’t go), arboretum, amphitheatre, war memorials among other features. The park merges into the suburb itself, the houses mostly huge in size and built to look like part of the forest, I spent most of my first day in the park recovering from the Greyhound bus.
After a late night of locally brewed beers and ciders I spent the following day by Willamette River which runs through the centre of downtown Portland and was about 20 minutes’ walk from where I was staying. As I walked over a bridge into the downtown area interstate below had been blocked off and hundreds if not thousands of people were riding their bicycles, most of the downtown area also had people riding bikes instead of driving cars. I headed past Powell’s bookstore which claims to be the largest independent bookstore in the world and purchased myself donuts and Portland’s famous Voodoo Donuts. While in the store I briefly met a famous Australian singer who was going to perform in Portland later in the week, Dean Lewis. I then headed to the Sunday market and looked at the various arts and crafts on display. After a few hours there I then headed to the Hawthorne District to check out Portland’s vintage clothes area. There are vintage clothing stores all scattered all over Portland (and the USA generally) and I spent a few hours going through a few of these huge stores with seemingly endless racks of clothes and purchased a few discount items including t-shirts and a sheep skin jacket which id get no use from as it was the height of summer in Oregon.
Now one of the reasons Id come to Portland was to get a tattoo,if you aren’t aware already Portland (and Seattle) is essentially the birth place of the modern-day hipster. Hipsters are people that wear vintage clothes, sport facial hair (well the men do), are possibly vegetarian, ride bicycles, are tattooed and usually come from an affluent area which is all very Portland. Whilst I don’t identify as a hipster, I’m in my 40s, completely bald and I love eating chicken, I do share some traits such as sporting a full beard, the love of wearing flannel shirts and of course having tattoos. I’d been through Yelp (TIP Yelp is your friend in the USA, when in doubt Yelp it for a recommendation no matter what it is YELP it) and I found the most highly recommended parlour in town and booked myself in. In the past Id designed the tattoos myself, whether its a picture from a magazine, the sun, birds, however this time I wanted the artist do the design himself. My tattoo would be Poseidon God of the Sea, indicating love of the ocean and travel, well at least in my head this is what Poseidon means. After about 3 hours in the chair, good conversation and some pain, I walked out of the parlour with my new tattoo, very pleased with myself. Travelers often have a reminder of a place by buying postcards, taking Instagram photos, writing a blogs, I went for a tattoo, like I say I love Portland.
Portland had a really decent nightlife scene, whether it’s the hundreds of dive bars some of which brew their own beers and cider (there are 75 breweries in a city populated by 650,000 people yum), the large amount of strip bars located in the downtown area, sports bars scattered everywhere and of course restaurants, vegan and otherwise. When I wasn’t in a bar playing a video games, watching sport, eating buffalo wings or chatting with tourists, hipsters and locals, I enjoyed other nightly activities. As Id written earlier Id met Dean Lewis in Voodoo Donuts, after that I purchased a ticket to go see him live at the Wonder Ballroom. I met plenty of locals in a bar beforehand and went to the gig with a group of people, I think they enjoyed the novelty of hanging out with an Australian at an Australian concert and I enjoyed people buying me beers, Dean was excellent live. Another night I wen to see the Portland Timbers football (or soccer team) playing at Providence Park. The game was close to a sell-out, the beer was $5 and the most enjoyable thing was the crowd participation, in particular the Timber Army which kept bellowing all through the game. A funny highlight was when Portland scored a lumberjack behind the goal would switch on his chainsaw and cut through log mounted behind the goal. The game was wild and Portland beat those Chicago posers 3 2. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the Portland Thorns, the female and just as popular football team, maybe next time.
Well this was my eight days in the two of the biggest cities in the Pacific Northwest. I had a lot of fun in Seattle hanging about the market, spending some time in Bainbridge, walking around downtown, listening to music, drinking coffee. I’m not comparing Seattle with Portland however Portland is the place for me, if I was allowed to emigrate there I would and there aren’t too many places in the world I can say that about. Unfortunately, without a Greencard, a marriage of convenience to an American woman (anyone want an Australian visa???) or skilled migration visa Ill just have to settle on being a tourist. With its unique culture, many different distractions, wonderful nature, vintage clothes…. I find Portland a never ending source of amazement and think anyone who has the opportunity to visit Portland, Seattle and the Pacific Northwest should. Anyway next up its time to hit the road, picking up a rental car for a two week road trip over the next few weeks and see whats out there, hope you enjoyed the read….