The big 3-0: Day one – Chicago bound

Well, things are “back to normal” on the blog. Whatever normal means in the current Coronavirus era. Last time out on the blog I rounded up my time in Washington State, reluctantly announcing I’d be returning to England four weeks early. I’m sad to be home but I’m pleased to at least say I made it back safely. So I’m “back to normal” and blogging in England after a number of weeks blogging Stateside.

Before I get on to today’s topic, I suppose I’ll answer the question that’s on your lips. What is it like flying during the Coronavirus pandemic?

I might actually do a blog post in much more detail about this but it’s obviously pretty weird. With so many travel restrictions and flight cancellations right now, everything about it was much quieter but also smoother. Ironically aspects of it were perhaps even more preferable than usual.

Heathrow Airport
Heathrow Airport, as busy as ever!

I’m not suggesting to book a flight somewhere and go travel right now but there were definitely perks to traveling at this moment in time. It’s probably a better social-distancing exercise than something like grocery shopping with countless people in close confinement haha.

Anyway I’ll leave that story for another time. My Washington trip may have come to its conclusion early but that’s not to mean that there is going to be a decline in USA-related blog content, the opposite infact!

I promised my upcoming posts would be dedicated to my BIG summer trip of 2018. Long time readers will remember various posts in anticipation of my “Big 3-0” trip, which finally saw me settle on a rough itinerary in this post here.

For those yet to read it, let me summarise the plan for you. I would be spending 30 days in the USA. A trip that would see me visit six states, celebrate two friends getting married and also celebrating my own 30th birthday, hence the title of “The Big 3-0”.

I was leaving England on July 28th as a 29 year old and landing in England on August 27th as a 30 year old. The wait for July 28th was excruciating! For a month long trip it was worth it but I’d not stepped foot in an airport since February!

One hundred and fifty days ago to be exact, not that anyone was counting. Five painstakingly long months for this spoilt little brat who wasn’t used to going so long without a “proper holiday”. Short trips to ManchesterLincoln and Lille had fed my fix of wanderlust but finally my “struggle” was over. It was time to return to Heathrow for my flight to Chicago!

My journey to Heathrow felt reminiscent of my journey to Heathrow five years earlier. On that occasion I was flying to Sydney and embarking on my first real adventure, a solo adventure at that. I was a rookie traveler going in to 2013 and it’s amazing to see the contrast in such a short space of time.

I’m credited with being an experienced traveler now but just five years earlier I was incredibly nervous and unsure of myself going to Sydney. I didn’t believe I could do such a trip, certainly not by myself and it took me so long to find the courage to even book that trip.

Pre-Sydney
A nervous Jason departing for Sydney, February 2013

That journey began with me waving off family and my dad then driving me down to Heathrow. My dad got a photo of me outside Heathrow before waving me off and, looking back, it’s noticeable how nervous I look in that photo (see above!). I was going to bloody Australia by myself – a million miles away or close to it at least. Google suggests it’s “only” 10,000ish.

Here I was five years later and reminiscing. I waved off the family and me and my dad got in to the car for this, now, all too familiar journey. Unlike Washington’s mountain views or California’s gorgeous Highway 101 drive, this was a bog-standard trip down the A1 I’ve done countless times. There’s nothing to look at, nothing remotably interesting about the drive down to Heathrow. We made a pre-airport stop off at McDonalds which kicked off my American trip in proper fashion.

Shortly after I was saying my goodbyes to my dad at Heathrow, this time with no nerves. As I said, the contrast in five years was mind-blowing in many ways but at the same time this was now what I did. I was the traveler of the group – be it family, friends or colleagues. I’d done this countless times now, Heathrow itself was becoming all too familiar and a little busier than normal. The fact it was the first weekend of the summer school holidays probably played a part.

Nevertheless I was soon “on the other side” and through security before submitting to typical “British etiquette” of any holiday – off to the nearest Wetherspoons!

Forget tea and crumpets with the Queen, if you want a real insight in to English or British culture then the affectionately named “Spoons” is the place for you. The bar is inevitably always the busiest place in a British airport and I wasn’t about to break tradition and have my passport revoked. I ordered myself a second lunch, accompanied alongside a pint of Brewdog’s finest.

The next however many hours passed by with little to tell. It was a standard flight, the only real memorable point was watching the film ‘Black Panther’ on board. Eventually we’d landed at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and I prepared myself for another round of “fun and games” with the US border control.

This was, at the time, my 10th visit to the US and you never really know how the experience is going to go. Sometimes it’s a breeze, other times you’re being whisked off for interrogation because you’ve failed the first round of testing with border control.

This experience went smoother than some of my other visits. Although the officer looked just about ready to stamp and return my passport to me before he caught me off-guard and asked how long I was visiting for. I obviously advised him I was here for 30 days.

“30 days..?”

and there it was. Hesitation! I knew 30 days was a long time for a holiday so I was now bracing myself for another round of the border control hospitality. However it seemed to be my lucky day and despite a raised eyebrow he sent me happily on my way. I’d escaped unscathed!

It was about 7pm by the time I’d got through and collected my luggage. I didn’t want to waste any time in exploring, given my limited amount of time in Chicago, so I made a quick exit and hopped in a taxi to take me to my hostel.

Chicago Sunset
I’d arrived in Chicago!

My first sight of Chicago was a beautiful sunrise peering through the window of the taxi. However my first real impression of Chicago was the noise on the road and the endless honking that followed us.

Admittedly that might have been a one off and purely because traffic laws seemed to be somewhat of an inconvenience to my taxi driver as we repeatedly weaved from one lane to the next effortlessly and with little notice. I tried to focus less on the honking following us and more on the sunset before he pulled up outside of my hostel – to his credit, still in one piece!

I quickly checked in and then pondered where I could grab dinner. One place I was keen to visit was Navy Pier and I was hopeful that in being by the water it might have good food options. I thought I’d see on Google Maps how far it was from where I was staying. Fortunately it didn’t look too far to walk. Better yet, flashing up on the map was notice of a firework display at Navy Pier tonight!

NavyPier
A view of Navy Pier in Chicago, July 2018

Anticipation of my visit to Chicago was so high that they’d arranged a firework display in honour of my arrival! Or, you know, it may have been completely coincidental (psh!) but either way it had cemented my plans for the evening.

I walked down to the pier area and there was definitely a bit of buzz in the air. My search for food however was a little less promising. I either couldn’t find anything that took my fancy or the queues were so long that I was too impatient to wait. I figured I’d enjoy the fireworks first and worry about eating after.

The welcoming committee turnout for the firework display was quite large. People were finding a comfortable viewing point to admire the imminent fireworks to light up the sky. All jokes aside, it appears that during the summer months there is a firework display on every Wednesday and Saturday at Navy Pier. It was just good fortune on my part that I knew nothing of this prior to visit so it was a nice last minute surprise for me.

Chicago Fireworks
Fireworks over Navy Pier, Chicago – July 2018

The firework display itself was actually pretty short. I think I timed it at around 10 or 15 minutes but it was still enjoyable to watch and also a good way to kick off this trip. I couldn’t have wished for a better start or welcome to America.

Everyone dispersed from Navy Pier pretty quickly following on from the fireworks, all heading off in their own direction. I personally decided to just head back to my hostel and call it a night. I was a little resigned to not eating before bed and just getting a good start to the next day. However across the street from my hostel I discovered a “Shake Shack”.

Shake Shack hasn’t really taken off in the UK (yet, but surely will?), with only a handful of UK stores so for anyone not familiar with the fast food chain they specialise in American classics such as burgers or hot-dogs. I’d only previously been to Shake Shack once, back in New York City in 2016, but reminiscing of the good food on that trip was enough to tempt me in and get a late night burger and a milkshake.

After eating I was tempted to swing by the hostel bar and attempt to make some new friends. However it was probably around 11pm by this point, effectively 5am UK time as far as my body was concerned so I was flagging a bit.

Had I been in Chicago longer I might have made a different decision but I wanted to ensure I got an early start the following morning and a hangover wasn’t going to help me do that. I sensibly headed up to bed, feeling excited to get a proper look around Chicago tomorrow.

More on that to come in day two! Stay tuned!

Jason

Living in the USA: month two!

Welcome back dear readers! Those of you following for a while will know I’m currently Stateside! Back in September I announced on the blog some big news!! I was leaving my job to spend February, March and April in Washington State for a sufficient amount of time with my girlfriend.

You can catch up on how month one went here, but if you didn’t read that post then I guess I’d sum it up by essentially saying I’d grown accustomed to being unemployed. I’ve contemplated writing a blog post about this previously but one word that I think describes me pretty aptly is “unambitious”.

Society’s definition of ambitious is one I struggle to align with. Ambition is associated with progress in your profession. If you’re a window cleaner or road sweeper or whatever you’re nothing compared to the CEO’s of the world and the concept has always bemused me.

Why can’t ambition be to become a parent or to travel the world or to own my own house or to fall in love? I’m not suggesting it’s impossible to have both but society seems to judge your ambition or your importance dependent on your profession. It’s not okay to just float along in life – “What do you want to be when you grow up? Where do you see yourself in five years?”

My ambition was to become one of those “skilled workers” the government talk about. I wanted to be an accountant and once I got my foot in the door, I realised the accountants I was aspiring to be were sending me emails at 11:30pm on a Wednesday night or 5:30am on a Friday morning or spending their weekends working.

My sister got married on October 5th last year and whilst my job role was a very different job at that moment in time, in the back of my head there was this little voice screaming “Quarter-end”. I’d already made my mind up on coming to Washington by that point but I could just envisage this alternative lifestyle of the “ambitious accountant”..

The first Saturday of October? The first after September? It’s quarter end, I’ve got to work.. “Sorry Natasha but..”
“BUT IT’S MY WEDDING JASON!!”

WeddingPhoto
Me and my sister at her wedding, October 2019

How many ambitious professionals have missed something of significance because of work commitments? I quickly learnt that I didn’t want to be that person. Over the last few years I’ve watched my sister get married, I’ve celebrated New Year’s in Paris and Edinburgh, I’ve attended countless games of football in multiple countries, I’ve bar-hopped in Nashville, danced in the streets of New Orleans, fallen in and out of love, laughed, cried and most importantly lived..

I know I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent but that brings me back to the original point. The morale of month one was happiness. I made the point in that post that, finance-permitting, I could happily never work another day in my life. Just give me more of this life. Drinking tea in coffee shops, walking by the lake, watching football in a bar, spending my time visiting museums, date nights, catching up with friends. If being ambitious means sacrificing all of this, I don’t want to be ambitious! Work just isn’t that important to me (P.S – if you’re reading, please employ me!).

TheEasyLife
Tea and a good book, what more do you need?

Anyway, I published my month one post on March 3rd and a few things have changed since then. I think the cruelest thing about my first four weeks here was truly appreciating time and freedom. Time seemed to stand still for the entirety of my first month here and it was bliss having the freedom to just enjoy the simple things in life. I don’t think I’ll ever be a “small-town” person but I was certainly appreciating the perks that come with it and living somewhere like this.

The last couple of weeks in particular has often been described as “this is the new normal” but I’d only just escaped the restraints of “the old normal”. So it has been an interesting second month, I’m not sure it’ll read as fun as the first month here but there have still been some highs and noteworthy moments that I hope you enjoy hearing about. I plan to go in the same format, week by week, as month one. Here goes!

Week five
I call this FA Cup week. Whilst not working certainly has its merits, the lack of routine certainly makes tracking the days a little trickier. Haleigh’s work schedule helped of course but I’ll be honest and say the football was probably one of the things helping me keep on top of the calendar – “what game is on today or this weekend?”

Week five was FA Cup week with games on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Unfortunately the FA Cup isn’t shown on TV out here but fortunately is on the ESPN app that is sold with the Disney+ bundle which meant Haleigh’s family were already subscribed to it. At the very least I’d pinpointed Wednesday as a “day at home” to watch Tottenham’s FA Cup game v Norwich.

FootballAtHome
Even away from home, I still need my football fix!

I thought about what else to do this week and I decided it was going to be a bit of a recovery week as far as my bank balance went. Week four in particular had been a little spendier than I’d anticipated and I didn’t want to blow all of my money halfway in to this trip, I didn’t want to be financially dependent on Haleigh whilst I was here so this was a week to cutback a little.

Tuesday I spent at home, watched the FA Cup football and popped to the apartment complex’s gym afterwards to work off some of the beer from week four’s Brews and Tunes festival haha. I then spent the evening relaxing with Haleigh.

As I’ve already alluded to, Wednesday was Tottenham’s FA Cup day so one I intended to spend at home. The FA Cup was the one remaining shining light in this shit-show of a season for Spurs. It has been a disaster but if we could win the FA Cup, for the first time since 1991, for the first time in living memory for me (born in 88), then this season could still go down as a memorable one.

Sadly Spurs were dreadful. We took a fortuitous lead and then spent the next 70 minutes sleeping instead of trying to cement the win. Our manager’s complaints for weeks had been how the injuries were taking its toll on the squad and instead of ensuring we avoided an extra 30 minutes of football we sat back and waited for the inevitable Norwich equaliser late on which took us to extra-time.

From then on we tried to win the game, 80 minutes too late and ultimately got what we deserved for our negativity by losing the penalty shoot-out. I’ve joked all season that I couldn’t have wished for a better season to have pissed off for 3 months and this was the “cherry on the top” – another pathetic display and result in this shambles of a season.

I am missing the football but one thing I can credit the virus for is in ridding me of having to watch this Tottenham team. I’m sure for any Liverpool fan the prospect of a cancelled season is agonising but there will be celebrations long in to the night on Tottenham High Road if we void this season and start over.

It was another football-inspired mood-changer on this trip. Four games without a win and I’d only been here just over four weeks at this point. Ridiculous. Fortunately Thursday was less football-filled and consequently a positive day haha.

Two of Haleigh’s co-workers wanted to meet up and the invitation stretched to me to impose on a “girl’s night out”. As it was, one of the colleagues wasn’t able to join us so it just ended up being myself, Haleigh and Kristi. We went along to one of the restaurants I’ve mentioned previously on the blog, Michael’s on the Lake, it’s a nice place that unsurprisingly is situated along the lake.

Michael's On The Lake
Views at Michael’s On The Lake, August 2018

We chatted over drinks and good food before saying our goodbyes. It was nice to spend a little time together, Kristi kindly paid for us, refusing any notion of us contributing towards dinner. We promised to do it again before I went home with us returning the gesture.

Thursday had been the one thing I’d budgeted for this week so with a cheaper night than expected I decided to get out and wander in to town on Friday. I re-visited my usual favourites. I kicked off my morning with some tea and a book at Mason’s Place which has become one of the nicest ways to pass the time here. It’s a cosy and friendly place in town. In the home state of Starbucks I’d still much rather visit and support little places like this, even if Starbucks is to an extent a “local business”.

Moving on I went to grab lunch and popped in to Midway Pub. I usually only visit when there’s football on but in spite of there being no football, it’s still a nice lunch spot and again just friendly to visit. Oddly enough the previous week I’d got chatting to a barman I’d yet to see in there, who just so happened to be leaving Moses Lake and moving to Seattle in the imminent future. Today I got talking to a barmaid I’d yet to see in there, who was leaving Moses Lake and moving down to California. Two born and bred Moses Lake barstaff moving out of town – bizarre! She was friendly though and offered a few recommendations of local things to see and do before I left Washington.

MidwayPubMosesLake
Midway Pub, best in Moses Lake!

I headed home before Haleigh got back from work. Friday has typically become our date night so we went out to Rock Top for the first time on this particular trip. It’s become a bit of a regular for us, it was the place we had our very first date back in September 2017, but oddly we’d yet to come here after almost a full five weeks in town. I don’t know why but I was really in the mood for a burger and surprisingly opted for my first ever Veggie burger.

I appreciate vegetarians and vegans who impose that lifestyle for a number of reasons, and perhaps this just wasn’t a great veggie burger, but those kidding themselves they’re a substitute in taste for a meat burger are mistaken. As I said, perhaps it just wasn’t a great veggie burger or perhaps I was just consciously aware that it was a veggie burger but I felt like there was a noticeable difference in taste. That said, it was still enjoyable. I had no complaints with the burger itself but it was no substitute for the “real thing”.

Following food we tried our luck at going bowling, we’d talked about going a week earlier but when we phoned they suggested all of the lanes were fully booked so we decided against it. We had better luck this week so went along for a couple of games. I bowled pretty well, particularly in the first game, but I found myself mesmerised by the guys in the lane next to us.

LakeBowlMosesLake
Date night at Lake Bowl

I’m guessing they participate in a bowling league of sorts and were getting some practice in but it was entertaining to watch. I’ve no doubt they knew what they were doing, partly as I used to watch my parents play bowling in a league every week, but I’d just watch them seemingly aim for the gutter on each throw and watch the ball do its magic and swerve back inwards and see all of the pins drop. As I said, mesmerising bowling!

The rest of the weekend was pretty relaxed. I don’t think we really did much other than hang out. We’ve spent most of our time at home either watching Netflix, watching movies on Disney+ or playing CTR on the PS4 haha.

Week six
Ah, the last week of normalcy out here in Washington! The first thing I did this week was unsurprisingly football related again. I’ve been trying to get out at least once a week but generally aiming at twice a week. With midweek football being a frequent occurrence at this time of the season I’ve generally been able to squeeze in a pub trip most weeks.

This week Tottenham were playing their second leg of their Champions League tie against Leipzig. Ironically after all my complaints of visiting Germany too frequently in recent years, if I’d not been in Washington I would likely have been in Leipzig for this fixture. It’s a German city I’ve yet to visit but heard good things about.

Leipzig are one of those football teams that cause a little controversy due to their ownership, particularly in Germany where football clubs are generally majority owned by fans (supposed to have a 51% majority even with other investors). Leipzig are owned by Red Bull and have quickly risen through the German football ladder which makes them quite unpopular amongst football “purists”.

Their quick rise in football also means they’re relatively inexperienced on the big stage so my hope was, with a manager familiar with the “dark arts”, that overturning a first leg defeat in London wasn’t impossible. However so it proved, we were comfortably well beaten by a really good footballing team. It was hard to be bitter about a team beating us that played the kind of football I could only dream of watching us play.

Before the week was even out pretty much most European football had been suspended so this was the last game I’ve been able to watch out here. Although as I alluded to above, now on a winless run of six I feel blessed that the football has been placed on hold. I don’t know what the solution is for the remainder of the season to be completed but Tottenham’s season essentially ended at this defeat anyway. Removing this season from the history books would actually be welcomed by me haha.

MosesLake
Another nice day to go out in Moses Lake

Moving away from the football, I decided I’d go out on Thursday too. I think signs of the panic setting in were really starting to show by this point. It only seemed a matter of time before Washington followed measures being placed elsewhere in the world and in the States. Likewise the signs of hoarding was already clear to see on shopping trips.

As usual I visited Mason’s Place to kick off my day however with the uniqueness of some in-house entertainment. One of the customers was sat with a guitar and practicing a few tunes which created a really nice atmosphere whilst I sat down and read for a little while.

I decided to go and check out somewhere different in town today for lunch. I’d not really noticed it until recently but this little building, that looked like a bar, was placed across the street from Safeway and having looked it up online actually looked bigger than it’s outside appearance suggested. I made my way over to “The Ripple Tavern” and sat down at the bar.

Ripple Tavern
The Ripple, Moses Lake

I was really surprised to see how busy it was. There was no sign of any fear amongst the locals here but more importantly, I was just surprised at how busy it was for a Thursday afternoon. I’d go as far as saying this is the busiest place I’ve been to during the day in Moses Lake across multiple trips here and just multiple weeks on this trip alone.

It seemed largely full of regulars but it was still a surprise to me. I ordered myself a beer and some food, the beer I wanted was this mango-flavoured delicious beer that I got a small taste of but seemingly they ran out of so I ended up with something else. The food was good, the staff were friendly enough and it was nice to discover a new spot in town. That said, I didn’t really see it as a regular haunt.

RippleTavern
Grabbed a picture after it had quietened down in The Ripple

Not that it mattered too much, that proved to be my last outing in Washington for the foreseeable future. Before heading home I popped in to Safeway, I knew we needed a couple of bits so thought I’d pick up some stuff for breakfast and things. I also knew we were running low on toilet rolls so I was hoping a daytime afternoon trip might be a good opportunity to get some. The aisle was inevitably sparse but I at the very least managed to grab a pack of four which I figured would keep us going without a need to start getting creative! It’s just as well because we would have run out before we were next able to find any!

Earlier in the week, I’d said to Haleigh not all of our dates had to be about going out and spending a tonnes of money so we agreed to have an “at-home” date on Friday night. With the benefit of hindsight maybe we’d have done this Friday night differently but we decided to stay in, get some food (pizza I think) and just hang out with a couple of movies. Haleigh introduced me to ‘The Great Race’ which was a fun little comedy released back in the 60’s. It wasn’t a film I was familiar with but one I enjoyed nonetheless.

MosesLakeSnow
More snow on the complex!

It snowed overnight on Friday so we didn’t really do anything over the rest of the weekend. They announced school closures in Washington on Friday which meant, after Monday, Haleigh would be off work for the next few weeks. We were both excited at the prospect of more time together, ultimately the reason I’d come here in the first place.

However on Sunday night the governor of Washington imposed further measures and ordered the closure of most, non-essential, businesses. Restaurants and bars could only operate a take-out or delivery service whilst most other retail and leisure businesses shut down. Those measures would take effect immediately for King County (the Seattle area) with further detail announced on Monday morning for the rest of the state (us!).

Week seven
Being honest, I was hoping the lack of clarity in Sunday’s statement might mean I could squeeze in one more lunchtime outing on Monday. I don’t think everywhere in the town actually closed but the ones I’d intended to drop in on had made it clear on social media channels that they’d be closing immediately so it scuppered any hope of going anywhere on Monday. I just stayed at home and prepared myself for “the new normal”.

Washington’s closures were for an initial period of two weeks to help “flatten the curve”, so I apologise if weeks seven and eight feel a little boring in comparison to the previous six but I guess we’re all in the same boat right now. Although there were still memorable moments of course. Just spending more time with Haleigh was nice enough and we’ve been able to do more at home together.

The week was plodding along nicely before reaching Friday – date night! Obviously this was another one spent at home but wouldn’t go forgotten! We had dinner together whilst watching whatever on the TV. Following on from dinner we tidied up a little and I made a point of heading outside to dispose of the trash – on somewhat of a secret mission!

MosesLakeSunset
Sunset views from our apartment complex

After ridding myself of the rubbish I took a little detour and swung by our mailbox we’d neglected over the past few days, anticipating a little package inside that I’d had confirmation had been delivered. I’d ordered it under very different circumstances, expecting Haleigh to be working and also under the premise that we’d be free to do as we pleased but the restraints and closures scuppered my plans somewhat.

After collecting my little box I returned to a confused Haleigh, pondering why it had taken me so long to walk to the skip and back. I was expecting this to come so had pre-planned my excuses!

I mean, obviously, I’d just wanted a little fresh air and walked to the skip all the way on the other side of the complex to stretch my legs.

“Alright, you weirdo..” – buahaha! My secret mission had gone without too much suspicion!

I got myself back in to a relaxed state, returning to the pyjamas that myself and Haleigh had been wearing all day before conversation led to the fact today marked exactly two and a half years together – a nice little landmark in our relationship. Of course there was cause for this direction in the conversation, that little package I’d gone to collect was an engagement ring.

I can’t say I’d pictured any engagement being in our pyjamas on the sofa during a quarantine of sorts but it felt like a meaningful date to do it and just so happened to be the date the ring arrived too – I was so pleased they’d not come to the door to deliver it and spoil any sense of surprise.

I shamefully didn’t go down on one knee, as I said nothing about the scenario really went quite as pictured but even in the circumstances I think it came across as sweet and more importantly came as a surprise to Haleigh who, even with my lengthy trash-taking outing, hadn’t anticipated a proposal was coming. I’m pleased to say the proposal was met with a yes so some good news to share with the world during these extraordinary times!

WallaWalla
Walla Walla, February 2020

The next day we took a daytrip to Haleigh’s home town to share the news, and show off the ring, with some of the family. We did restrict who we visited because of the measures in place and made it as socially-distant a trip as we could. There was obviously nothing to do in Walla Walla either but it was still nice to briefly see the family and share the happy occasion in person. Breaking the news to family and friends back home went down equally well, although was obviously something we weren’t able to do in person. It rounded off our first socially-distanced week nicely though.

Week eight
Further sanctions were imposed going in to week eight. On Monday the UK government advised all nationals currently abroad to head home at the earliest possibility, which was somewhat ironic because on the same day the governor of Washington added further measures and placed a “Stay At Home” order on all of Washington’s inhabitants for the next two weeks.

With no mention of restrictions entering the UK, nor any sign of my flight being cancelled I’ve been a little reluctant to cut this trip short. Ultimately does it matter too much where I’m isolating? I’ve largely adopted a “wait and see” policy to this trip.

So this week kicked off as relatively normal as possible in the circumstances. We really needed supplies for the week. I think a week earlier we’d tried to do a meal plan for the week and found we couldn’t actually find half of the stuff we wanted so it was a bit of a redundant shopping trip. So going in to this week we decided we’d wing it and just shop dependent on what was available.

Surprisingly this was a rather successful shopping trip. It seemed the crazy had balanced out a little and we were able to actually get much of what we wanted. The most encouraging sign for us was seeing other shoppers with toilet rolls in their trolleys – “does that mean..?” – after weeks of looking we found a store with toilet roll in stock! Not much admittedly but enough that we even have a very limited choice of which brand of toilet roll we wanted. We grabbed a pack of 12 and rejoiced in a successful shopping trip!

Friday’s proposal was undoubtedly a highlight of my time here but perhaps, in the circumstances, this could be considered a close second! No need to find dodgy toilet-roll-sellers on the black market!

After shopping I Skyped with the parents for a bit to have a post Mother’s Day and post-engagement catch up. It was nice to have a proper chat.

The rest of week eight has been largely non-eventful – which was disappointing because it was probably set to be one of my more sociable weeks here. I’d agreed to co-host a little Twitter-based chat on Wednesday with a friend (Eric) based in nearby Union Gap.

We’d also agreed to meet up so he could show me the local area and some of the ‘sights’ so I was going to head over there on Tuesday. The aim of the chat is to spread and promote tourism, plus engage with other travelers and Twitter users, so it’s always fun and I was quite excited at the prospect of meeting up. Eric had even set up a radio chat for us on the Wednesday morning which was both exciting and nerve-wrecking haha.

Thursday was then going to be the opening day of the baseball season so myself, Maddie and Cassie were going to head over to Seattle to watch the Seattle Mariners. I figured I could spend Tuesday night in Union Gap, see some of Union Gap (and maybe Yakima), do the chat, spend Wednesday night in Ellensburg and then drive out to Seattle with Maddie and Cassie on Thursday.

Seattle34
Home of the Seattle Mariners, September 2017

I already knew the baseball had been cancelled but then myself and Eric sensibly agreed to postpone meeting up, which was prior to the “stay at home” order which would have taken the decision out of our hands anyway. With nothing open it just didn’t seem worthwhile.

So Tuesday was uneventful before doing our little chat from our respective homes on Wednesday. It was quite fun and certainly kept me busy for a good hour or two in responding to all of the different people engaging on Twitter.

Not content with just one day of Twitter engagement, another friend (Ian from England), asked if I’d submit a little recording for his podcast. He was doing an episode on people who specifically traveled for sporting events and I, unsurprisingly, sprung to mind. We’d met up in England just shortly before my trip to Madrid in June so I was one of a few people that sprung to mind. It was only a short piece, one of several to contribute, but Ian’s episode went live over the weekend. For anyone interested in my podcast debut, you can listen here!

Then on Friday I’d also been invited to co-host another day-long Twitter chat which gets a hell of a lot more traffic than the one earlier in the week. It was also a lot of fun but rounded off a really blog and Twitter heavy week. Aside from being fun to engage with other travelers, one of the perks is it helps promote your own profile and it’s of no surprise that my Twitter and blog traffic soared this week.

You’d be forgiven for thinking I’ve spent all of my time on the internet and neglected Haleigh but I promise we’ve still been enjoying eachother’s company too haha. We’ve made small and early steps towards wedding planning, continued watching Disney movies and binge-watching Supernatural, read and just generally basked in all of the time together. The circumstances certainly aren’t ideal and we’re probably suffering a little cabin-fever but there’s nobody I’d rather spend this quarantine era with haha.

Month three?
Sadly it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. On Sunday Trump did a press conference which suggested these social-distancing and stay-at-home measures would be extended until April 30th which has made me a little more wary.

I was due to fly home on May 1st which felt just a little too close for my liking. I’d personally have no issue about staying here longer but I’m here on a 90 day visa and I’d pushed this trip to the limits. I think May 1st is something like 88 days in the country so a last minute flight cancellation would really cause some problems.

As I said, I’m not personally opposed to staying longer but unfortunately the USA don’t treat visa breaches with the same attitude. I’ve seen suggestions you can be banned from returning to the country for up to 10 years which would bring a host of new problems.

I planned on phoning the British embassy in San Francisco on Tuesday to see what my options were. Unfortunately they’d seemingly decided to close! I was on the phone with this automated message telling me what the opening hours are but they’d closed irrespective of those opening hours. On the 14th of March Trump banned all Brits from visiting the country so I don’t know if that played a part in the closure, perhaps they thought nobody would require assistance if nobody was visiting but it scuppered any hope I had of extending my visa a little longer.

It did make me chuckle somewhat though, it’s the first time I’ve ever felt the need to phone the British embassy on my travels and they weren’t available! That’s encouraging for the future!

I did a little further online research but nothing that suggested it’d be easy for me to stay any longer so I reluctantly phoned my airline (Virgin Atlantic) to see if they could change my flight for me. They were able to but they didn’t have a single direct flight for the entirety of April, I didn’t particularly fancy transiting anywhere, certainly if somewhere like New York City was going to be my best option.

Annoyingly Virgin weren’t able to offer me a refund either, I’m guessing I’ll have to wait and see if that flight is cancelled to claim a refund. They did suggest they’d be able to offer me flight credit so at worst I might take them up on that or move the flight to later in the year and re-use it as I’ll certainly be returning to Washington at some point.

However my more immediate concern was getting a flight home with their competitor, British Airways, who still seemed to be offering direct flights. I succeeded so it’s with a heavy heart that there will be no post on month three in Washington.

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Views of the West Coast from the sky!

I’ve made the difficult decision to fly back to England early and I fly home on Sunday evening. I wouldn’t change anything about the whole experience, I’m so pleased I came out here but of course I’m also sad that my trip has been shortened due to circumstances completely out of my control.

It wasn’t how this trip was supposed to end, I feel like I still have a bit of unfinished business here. I’m very much a laid-back individual with a “go-with-the-flow” attitude but this stings a bit. Yet that’s the unpredictable nature of travel I suppose, even as somewhat of an experienced traveler sometimes things don’t go as planned.

On a more positive note it will be nice to go home and see familiar faces from a socially acceptable distance. I’m also optimistic that my flight home will be largely empty, I’m crossing my fingers for an upgrade (are you reading BA?) given there will presumably be space on board!

Anyway, hopefully you enjoyed month two in spite of the difficult circumstances. Fortunately the coming posts will feature much more to talk about as I’ll be kicking off my big summer trip of 2018. If you want a little taster of what’s to come, here’s a pathetic summary of that trip.

I’ll be sharing a day by day telling of “The Big 3-0” trip to the USA. 30 days celebrating my 30th birthday in 2018. Next up is day one of that trip! Stay tuned!

Jason

Lille – June 2018

As my last couple of blog posts indicated, my wanderlust was hitting me hard in 2018. I’d planned a huge summer trip spanning 30 days, six states, several cities but a big trip like that leaves you little wiggle room for the rest of the year.

After visiting Washington in February I had no other option to go gallivanting across the globe, I was very much restricted to weekend travel which is why I jumped at the opportunity to visit Manchester and Lincoln. I needed a travel ‘fix’ to get me by until the summer.

The most recent of those trips was Lincoln at the start of May. I came back from Lincoln and the big birthday trip at the end of July still felt so far away, call me spoilt, right? I felt like I had to squeeze in one last adventure before flying out to the USA for a month.

Unfortunately my conflicting issue was that as much as I was itching for adventure, that 30 day trip had its own drawbacks. I was trying to save money and the sensible option was to stay put. Yes, it’s a ‘long time’ to wait to go on holiday but saving my pennies had its own merits, I’d reap the benefits in the summer.

It was no good, I figured I had to compromise. I ‘needed’ a mini-getaway but I was determined to restrict myself to a daytrip. I couldn’t book accommodation so wherever I went in the UK would have to be doable in a daytrip.

I planned out various possibilities, weighing up the suitability of each destination as a day trip. How costly would it be? How flexible were the travel times? I don’t drive so was restricted to public transport, which isn’t only expensive in the UK but doesn’t always run as late as you hope it would do.

I wasn’t having too much success in finding somewhere that tempted me enough to visit. The most tempting places seemed to cost a fortune to get to on public transport and the cheaper options weren’t appealing enough for me to visit or were places I frequented often enough to not give me any real sense of adventure.

Something I did ponder was a trip on the Eurostar. They’d been peppering me with continuous adverts by email – “Hey Jason, we have a sale on right NOW..”

Would that work? Could I pop over to the continent for a day? They’re not ideal to visit in a day but I’d been itching to return to Paris or visit somewhere new in Belgium like Antwerp. Of course, one of the struggles with weekend travel on the Eurostar is its appealing to many other people too. Even if you can find one leg of the journey at the sale price, you can’t always tie it in with the other half of the journey..

Travel to Paris for only £0.04, return same day for £609.86..

I’m exaggerating obviously because it’s not that bad but it just wasn’t possible to find a cheap daytrip to places like Paris and alternatively it just felt a bit too far to go to somewhere like Amsterdam in a day. I was just about ready to give up when I thought I’d have a quick look at prices for Lille and voila!

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London to Brussels, via Lille

I managed to find an early Saturday train from London to Lille and a late return train, both priced at £28. Additionally I had a £5 voucher to use which reduced my overall fare price to £53 which I thought was decent going. Some of the places / trains I’d been looking at within the UK were equally expensive, if not more so and I much preferred an excuse to flee the country for a day.

Soon enough it was June 30th and I was on my way, hoping for no delays to the Eurostar as I already had a limited amount of time to explore Lille.

Other than being somewhere in France, I can’t say I knew much about Lille prior to booking tickets but my minimal research indicated that Lille was perhaps a little more of a Flemish/Belgian city than French. My only other real experience of France had been in visiting Paris so I was intrigued to see a very different type of French city.

That Paris trip in 2016 had been in a very different climate. I found a scattering of snow and endless fog which meant I couldn’t even see half of the landmarks I’d been excited to see. I was perhaps the only person in history to have been to Paris and not to have seen the top of the Eiffel Tower, I’ve since been back and seen it in all of its glory but it’s a little underwhelming when you realise the top is hidden somewhere in the fog.

In contrast, I stepped out of Lille’s train station and the weather was beautiful. It was a perfectly sunny day to be exploring a new city. I strolled towards Lille’s city centre and kept my eyes peeled for anything eye-catching, I had nothing planned so was just winging it a little bit.

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Gorgeous church in sunny Lille

It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon this stunning church. It was beautiful and no less impressive on the inside either. The bonus of the weather also meant I had it largely to myself and it was surprisingly empty for a Saturday. The French and locals seemed to be making the most of the sunshine!

Having had a decent look around I moved on, passing an infinite number of shops along pedestrianised streets which were proving popular for Lille’s locals. I darted up, down and across various little streets before eventually reaching one of Lille’s main squares. The square was made up of a number of impressive buildings and pieces of architecture plus a host of outside tables with seating from the many nearby restaurants and cafes in the square.

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Cafe culture looking good in Lille!

Suddenly it felt a little more French. The cold weather meant I hadn’t fully experienced the French café culture in Paris that I’d imaged in my head, however it was in abundance here in Lille. Perfect for people-watching and watching the world go by, I wanted nothing more than to sit and join them. However I knew time here was limited and I wanted to see more of the city.

As I continued exploring I soon stumbled upon one of Lille’s other cathedrals. I’d seen a photo of this on Instagram, in which the Instagrammer in question called it a particularly ugly building and I disagreed. I thought its uniqueness actually looked quite nice.

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Hideous cathedral in Lille

Seeing it in the flesh however completely changed my mind – it was hideous and I couldn’t help but laugh. Maybe all those editing tools such as photoshop do a great job of making it prettier on the eye when you see it online but I was unimpressed.

Although inside was absolutely stunning and I’d certainly recommend visiting. Its beauty was breathtaking and I couldn’t stop myself taking plenty of photos. It was a good reminder that you shouldn’t judge a book (or cathedral) by its cover. I’m glad I hadn’t let its ugly exterior put me off going in.

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Beautiful interior!

Coming back out of the cathedral I strolled down a few nearby streets hoping to find a spot to grab some lunch. As some of you will know from posts such as Weetabix Boy, I was quite a fussy eater as a child. So I’ve tried to be a little more adventurous the last few years and was keen to try a local Lille delicacy – the Potjevleesch – which I’d read about online.

I found a nice little restaurant that had it on the menu and figured I’d put it to the test. It was enjoyable enough without me needing to pretend it’s my favourite dish. I am glad I tried it and I’d have it again if I returned to Lille but I’m not sure it’ll ever be catching on elsewhere. However accompanied with a beer it was a nice lunch.

Whilst enjoying my lunch it hadn’t gone unnoticed that there was now a bit of a buzz and excitement in the air. The streets were suddenly noisier, French flags kept passing me as I looked through the window and cars were honking as they drove by. Something was happening!

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The beautiful streets of Lille

That something was football! I’m very much a “club football over international football” type of fan – that’s a whole other story but consequently it meant that when I was booking my tickets to Lille in May that it hadn’t really crossed my mind that a June trip would overlap with the football World Cup in 2018.

As the beginning of the World Cup approached it dawned on me and I had to take a look at the schedule, it just so happened that dependent on France’s progression in the tournament that there just might be a scenario where they’d be playing on the afternoon I was in Lille. “Could you imagine..?”

By the time the trip came around I knew that France would be playing Argentina (in Russia) whilst I was in the city and that I’d have the unique opportunity of experiencing the French supporting the French.

Now I’ll be honest here, I’ve never really credited French football with that same prestige or glamour as its European counterparts. It just doesn’t have that same history and I’ve often been quick to dismiss it as a serious footballing nation.

My point being that watching football in France has never had a huge appeal for me – I’d sooner go to Germany, Spain, Italy or even the likes of Turkey or Serbia where you might run in to more unwelcoming scenes but you at least appreciate they are football crazy in those countries!

To offer some merit to my beliefs, France’s most successful football team are Paris St Germain, who were only founded in 1970! They’re younger than my parents and yet they’re France’s most successful football club! It severely lacks the history that football has throughout the rest of the continent. English football had been played for more than 100 years at this point so as I said, I’ve always been quick to dismiss France as a “proper” footballing country.

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The French love their football!

This trip went some way to making me stand up and take notice. After leaving the restaurant I’d had lunch at I strolled down the street and found this cosy little bar decked out in flags in preparation of the game. There was a sea of red, white and blue filling the place up and I could feel the atmosphere building.

I’d been in two minds about watching the game, because I wasn’t in the city for long, but the fans were already singing and the atmosphere drew me in. Better yet, Lille’s Flemish influences means that the city is home to some great beer so I ordered a delicious sounding beer at the bar and found myself a spot to stand and watch the game and enjoy the atmosphere.

It was a small bar so was already standing room only but as the minutes passed and we got closer to kickoff the crowd of people soon spilled over in to the streets trying to peek any glimpse of the TV. The songs kept coming and soon enough the players were walking out on to the pitch.

Shortly after La Marseillaise (France’s national anthem) was belting out of the TV and the rest of the room joined in unison. I’m sure I’ve heard the French national anthem countless times before on TV but hearing passionate French locals singing at the top of their lungs was a special moment to witness and one that will stick with me for some time. Have a listen below!

The game kicked off and the noise settled a little bit, although some of the inhabitants regularly attempted to get some songs going. “Messi, Ciao, Messi, Ciao, Messi, Ciao, Ciao, Ciao..” was ringing in my head all afternoon with the locals offering an optimistic outlook that Lionel Messi and his colleagues would soon be heading home following defeat.

There was a huge part of me that wanted nothing more than to stay there all afternoon. A bit like my desire to do the same earlier this morning, there’s something about French culture that is slow. You’ve just got to sit back and enjoy the experience and what was the rush to leave this blissful little bar?

However my view of the game was actually quite minimal, trying to squeeze a glimpse between multiple backs of heads of French people wasn’t easy and I felt a little guilty that there were probably locals behind me having their view blocked by someone (me!) with no real passion for either team.

Similarly I knew my time in Lille was pretty limited and what better time to go and explore, safe in the knowledge that the majority of locals were preoccupied with the football.

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Exploring Lille whilst it’s quiet!

The streets were certainly a bit quieter, up until I passed any bar anyway. Every one seemed to have hordes of people trying to get a glimpse of the action. I continued to stroll through the streets, not looking for anything in particular but happily wandering. Every now and then I’d hear a huge roar and a loud groan and pondered what was happening throughout the game.

As I continued to wander my eyes drifted towards this little passageway that had caught my eye and led me in to this beautiful little plaza-like place that was currently home to a book market. It was such a pretty setting and had a handful of people browsing the collection.

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Beautiful place to browse for books in Lille!

With time going by far too quickly, I walked through another passage which led me back to one of Lille’s main squares and I wanted to take some souvenirs home with me – a handful of postcards and I was also tempted to take a couple of local beers home with me to try (proved to be delicious!).

Having bought a few bits, I made my way over to some little park which was rather peaceful. There wasn’t really anyone around and it was a nice shaded spot to escape the sun bearing down on me. It was far away from the noise of some of the bars and showed me a small glimpse in to a different side of the city.

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Peace and quiet in the parks of Lille

Unfortunately my afternoon was disappearing far quicker than I would have liked and I had to keep one eye on the clock to ensure I made my train home.

In all honesty I wasn’t ready to leave. I’ve never had a huge fascination with France but my winter trip to Paris in 2016 had won me over a little bit. However despite the Flemish/Belgian influence, Lille felt like a France I’d always heard a fuss about but yet to actually experience. In the glorious summer sunshine this felt like the “real France” and one I’ve quickly begun to appreciate.

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Lille quickly won me over. Easy to see why!

Perhaps the bonus of a football-fanatic city and good beer helped sway me but even prior to that Lille was pretty on the eye and had left an impression on me.

I slowly started drifting back towards the train station, keen to find a good dinner spot en route and it quickly became apparent who had won the football. I needn’t have seen the game to know France had won. The French were celebrating deliriously in the street and you could hear cars honking in the streets for miles. France had clearly been successful.

Bitterly it turned out to actually be probably the most exciting game of the entire tournament. France had beaten Argentina 4-3 and I’d, unforgivably, decided to give it a miss – in France of all places!

I grabbed a quick meal before saying my goodbyes with a heavy heart. It was perhaps fitting that I was leaving a happy and celebratory city behind, I’d really enjoyed Lille after all, but I also felt a little bittersweet. I didn’t want to be saying goodbye, I wanted to be staying one night at the very least.

After visiting the city myself I then read about a fellow blogger, Dylan at Shoot From The Trip, who visited Lille for a little longer and it just added to my regret that I hadn’t stayed for longer.

It was a wonderful place to visit for a daytrip and if you get the opportunity to visit I’d fully recommend it – just visit for longer if you can! It’s somewhere I’ll definitely return to.

Anyway, that wraps this one up! What’s coming up on the blog? Lots of USA content including that incredible 30 day trip! Stay tuned!

Jason

Lincoln – May 2018

Welcome back dear readers! I hope you’re all keeping well in a crazy environment but it’s business as usual here. It’s Thursday which means another blog post!

I said last time out it’s rare for me to have blogged about England and then here there are two English destinations on the bounce. In spite of a little staycation up in Manchester in the March, I was still itching for some adventure and with no annual leave to use and pennies to save towards the summer I had to look to my own country for inspiration.

Fortunately the football season keeps me occupied to a point between August and May but with the football season nearing its conclusion I was desperate to make the most of a free weekend and a city I’d been meaning to visit for a while was Lincoln.

It’s not too far from my home in Peterborough and yet I’d somehow never visited the city. It’s only about an hour away on the train so actually really easy for me to get to. Therefore on the first Sunday in May I decided I was going to go. It turned out to be a gorgeous day for a daytrip too. A surprisingly sunny bank holiday weekend, who would have thought?

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Lincoln castle and Lincoln cathedral

Anyway I hopped on the train mid-morning and a little while later I was arriving in to Lincoln. On a daytrip I figured there were probably two must sees in Lincoln – the castle and the cathedral. If I saw anything else whilst in the city I considered it a bonus.

I left the train station with no real clue which direction to go so I figured I’d just walk until I saw some signs. If you leave the station and walk straight the first thing you’re likely to stumble upon is Lincoln’s shopping district. You’ve got a shopping mall here and then a bunch of exterior shops too. Given it was a sunny Sunday and mid-morning it was inevitably crowded.

I quickly saw and followed signs towards the castle and cathedral. For anyone else that’s visited Lincoln you’ll likely know what this entails but I’d liken it to my struggles in climbing to the view point at Kerry Park in Seattle – it’s an uphill struggle! You know what the prize is at the top, beautiful architecture and history but it looks like a long way up when you’re at the bottom of the hill – aptly named ‘Steep Hill’ – they’re not joking!

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Steep Hill, Lincoln

On the plus side it is a beautiful walk up there at least. The streets are cobbled and there’s pretty and old buildings along the way – most of which home to shops or businesses of some sort that provide perfect shelter or respite from the climb.

Having reached the top myself and feeling the need for a reward of some kind I couldn’t help but tempt myself to an early lunch. I’d passed Brown’s Pie Shop, which I’d heard good things about, so figured it would be a perfect place to fill my stomach before any further exploration. The food was great, it’s somewhere I’d recommend visiting if you’re ever in Lincoln and was a worthy reward for my climb of Everest (Steep Hill).

I made the castle my first proper stop of the day. I hadn’t done any prior research so wasn’t sure what it would cost to visit, however as it turned out I’d timed my visit perfectly. There was some event on which meant entry was free to the public today. Ordinarily there’s an admission price of £14 plus a further fee if you want to walk the walls so I’d saved myself a good chunk of money by visiting today.

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Lincoln castle grounds

On the grounds was a tent set up for some artists performing live music. Further in to the ground were old planes set up on the grass which were pretty cool to look at. It’s a little pricey if you visit ordinarily but I still think I’d have been pretty content had I paid an admission, rather than getting a free visit.

The grounds are absolutely beautiful and that’s before you tackle the medieval wall walk. This is particularly worth doing as you can walk the walls of the castle at your own leisure and get incredible views over the city.

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Exploring the beautiful castle grounds!

I took so many photos, some of which I think are the best I’ve ever taken. Admittedly the clear blue skies added to them but I could have spent so much longer exploring the castle. My only surprise was that it wasn’t busier given the free admission. For all of the castles you’ll find in England, I’d say this is one of my favourites I’ve been to so far.

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Lincoln Castle – one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken!

Opposite the castle is the cathedral. Inbetween were a host of markets selling little bits and pieces. I’m not sure if this is just a Sunday market or regular market but it was nice to have a quick look at some of the things on sale.

Escaping the market crowds I made my way over to the cathedral which is impressive in its own right. Like the castle it was surprisingly quiet too, the market inbetween the two seemed the busiest part of this area of the city. I enjoyed looking around for a little while, both interior and the exterior of the cathedral grounds. It’s worth a visit but there is an admission charge for the cathedral.

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Lincoln cathedral

The castle and cathedral had taken up a bit of time between them and I was content I’d seen the main things I wanted to see in Lincoln. However I figured I’d also squeeze in a visit to the Medieval Bishops’ Palace.

I have to say, I actually found this a little underwhelming and wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it. I had a brief look through the ruins but the highlight for me was probably some of the views of Lincoln’s cathedral from the gardens. That said, as disappointing as it was, it appears to be under renovation currently so perhaps wasn’t at its best on my visit. I’d be tempted to go back and see what has changed and if it’s improved at all.

Having seen all I wanted to I made my descent down the steep hill, feeling some sympathy for those heading upwards. At the bottom I decided to have a little stroll along the river which took me past the shopping mall, also aptly named ‘Waterside’. However I wasn’t really looking to do any shopping so made it a brief walk and headed back to the train station to enjoy my Sunday evening back in Peterborough.

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Lincoln train station, time to go home!

It had been a fun few hours in Lincoln. The cathedral was impressive but the castle is undoubtedly the highlight of the city. The grounds are stunning but the views from the walls blew me away, just the luxury of being able to walk the walls make this a must visit I think.

I’d definitely recommend Lincoln as a daytrip, it’s a great place to spend a few hours. However if you find yourself tempted to visit for longer and want more ideas on what to do, I’d suggest checking out one of my favourite fellow bloggers for more inspiration. Marion recently spent three days in the area and wrote about it here.

Lincoln’s a university city so I’d be tempted to stay for at least a night next time and experience some of that ‘famous’ nightlife. I say famous, I just know a lot of people who’ve been to Lincoln University but still.. I’d like to go for longer next time!

Anyway, hopefully you enjoyed my first visit. I’ll wrap this one up! Next on the blog? Here’s a sneak preview of where I’ll be writing about next!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Manchester – March 2018

Despite being an Englishman with 30 odd years living in the country, England is a destination that hasn’t frequented the blog too often. I wrote about the likes of London, YorkCanterbury and even Peterborough in my early blogging days but they’re generally posts I don’t look back on and enjoy reading.

I’m not suggesting they’re badly written or they’re even particularly bad posts but I look back at them and I couldn’t tell you who wrote them. Everyone has their own blogging style and I won’t knock anyone else but I quickly learned that the “5 reasons to visit Canterbury” style just wasn’t for me. It might be what people want to read but it wasn’t what I wanted to write. I had no motivation to write those sort of posts and if I’m not enjoying it, why bother, right?

So I might go back and do those cities justice at another time (I did with London) but this will be my usual ramble-y type nonsense that I don’t really know why you lot keep coming back to read.

For my American readers, not so familiar with Manchester, it holds a reputation somewhat similar to Seattle. It is supposedly the one city in England where you can always expect rain. So why would anyone visit?

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Photoshopped or actual blue skies in Manchester?

Well, like Seattle it’s also quite a fun city. Manchester is nowhere near as pretty on the eye as Seattle. It’s very much an industrial-looking city and has a history that backs that up but it stakes a claim as “England’s second city” and is probably the unofficial capital of the North.

Surprisingly Manchester wasn’t a city I’d actually spent much time in. I’d twice visited the city to watch my beloved Spurs – once at the Etihad and once at Old Trafford – two of the bigger football stadiums in the country.

I’d also briefly visited on another occasion as I was joining some Northern-based friends on holiday and we’d decided to fly from up North. However the reality is I’d not really seen anything of Manchester outside of a couple of pubs or a couple of football stadiums.

With a big summer trip planned I knew opportunities to travel in 2018 were going to be limited. So when my friend (and gig buddy), Lucy, suggested possibly going to see a band on their tour it made sense to look at what the best dates were. A weekend date seemed most suitable and as I scoured the options a Saturday night in Manchester stood out. It was near enough for Lucy in Sheffield to travel to and was a good opportunity for me to squeeze in some UK travel and spend some time in a city I wasn’t too familiar with.

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So one Saturday in March I left a snowy Peterborough behind me and headed up North towards Manchester. Given the rubbish weather I wasn’t too hopeful it would be a smooth journey. It usually doesn’t take much more than a puddle on the tracks for the rail system to catastrophically break down, such is the unpredictability of UK train travel, but to my surprise I arrived in to Manchester in good time around lunchtime.

Lucy wasn’t joining me until later on in the day so I figured I’d try and get my bearings with the city. It’s a city I don’t know well at all so I left Manchester Piccadilly station with no real direction in mind. I had a bit of time to kill and if all else failed I’d revert to Google Maps so I just wandered on foot and figured I’d see where I ended up.

I wanted to head in the vague direction of my hotel but despite following signs in the city towards Deangate that didn’t seem to go particularly well. I ventured through the Northern Quarter of the city which has a number of bars, shops and other independent businesses. I vaguely recognised a Wetherspoons from a previous visit to the city but it was pretty busy (due to some game being on tv) so I decided to keep going in my search for lunch.

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Manchester town hall

 

In an effort to get back on track towards my hotel, I stumbled upon Manchester’s rather impressive town hall. It’s certainly one of the standout pieces of architecture, I grabbed a few photos and then settled on a nearby pub to fill my stomach and get something to eat.

Feeling less hungry I made the relatively short walk towards my hotel (a Premier Inn). Having checked in I didn’t really see much point to doing too much else before Lucy’s arrival in the city. I chilled out for a bit and then wandered back towards Piccadilly station, now having got my bearings a little, and waited for Lucy’s train to arrive from Sheffield.

We had a quick catch up and then caught a taxi out to the venue for our gig. I was a bit surprised how ‘out of town’ the venue actually was, I figure it would have been fairly centrally located but it wasn’t really walkable – certainly if we wanted to catch the first band of the night.

Despite the rubbish location, it was quite a nice venue (Manchester Academy). It was a decent sized venue, I’m not sure if it was a sell out but it didn’t feel overcrowded either. It was pretty quick getting a beer at the bar and we also had a decent view of the bands for the evening (The Dangerous Summer being the main band we’d come to see).

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Manchester Academy, March 2018

After a fun evening of live music we caught a taxi back to central Manchester, Lucy caught her train back to Sheffield and I ventured in the direction of my hotel. I was tempted to go and enjoy some of Manchester’s (famous) nightlife but wasn’t particularly sure where was best to go. There was definitely a bit of a buzz in the city, given it was a Saturday night, but nowhere that drew me in to have a couple of beers. I figured a night out in Manchester could wait until another occasion and instead took the sensible option, hoping to make the most of my Sunday in the city instead.

I woke up pretty early Sunday and after checking out of my hotel decided I’d just wander initially. Oddly, the first experience of the day was partially-witnessing a mugging. I say partially because by the time I’d realised what had happened I was too late to stop it.

Some young woman was half running / half screaming at some cyclist who whizzed by me at speed. I could see she was upset so crossed the street to check if she was okay, it turned out he’d snatched her mobile phone out of her hand and rode off in to the distance. So I kicked off my Sunday morning on the phone with Manchester’s police and reporting a theft. Not the best start to the day!

By the time we’d finished with the police her boyfriend had randomly turned up (I’m assuming he must have attempted chasing after the thief but I hadn’t seen him earlier?) so I felt a little happier leaving the shook up local with a familiar face and we went our seperate ways.

I soon stumbled upon a Sunday market of some sorts. It wasn’t particularly big but locals were browsing through the few stalls on display and I had a little look of my own for anything that might catch my eye. Content I wasn’t going to buy anything I wandered towards the Northern quarter which is home to some beautiful buildings.

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Manchester is home to some gorgeous architecture
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More beautiful architecture in the city

Nearby is also Manchester’s famous shopping ‘mall’, the Arndale, which provided the perfect location for an early lunch! Long time readers will know I’m a frequent visitor of Hard Rock Cafe’s around the world and having been to both the London (only one at the time) and Edinburgh HRC’s I was keen to complete the UK set by visiting Manchester’s too. Although they’ve annoyingly since opened a second HRC in London so I’ll have to give that one a visit at some point too.

Surprisingly, Manchester’s HRC is one of my favourites. At the very least it’s the best of the three I’ve been to in the UK. The service was to its usual good standard and the memorabilia fun to look at as always.

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Manchester’s Hard Rock Cafe

Having ticked off another HRC and appeased my hunger I visited a museum just around the corner. Manchester, surprisingly not London, is home to the National Football Museum and was a must for me.

I was going to say it’s free to visit (if you wish), however don’t quote me on that! Firstly let me tell you why I was convinced admission was free! At the time of my visit that actually was the case, free admission for all visitors! However they encouraged visitors to pay a voluntary fee which would entitle you to a couple of souvenir experiences – see below.

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I’ve got my hands on the Premier League and FA Cup!

Personally I decided these little extras were worthwhile to contribute towards the running of the museum but it also left a somewhat bitter taste for me given this was the national museum of the national sport – a multi billion pound industry in England. I felt it was a travesty that organisations such as the Football Association have turned a blind eye and left this museum to essentially self-fund itself. It’s a wonderful museum if you’re a football fan and something that organisations such as the above should be contributing towards.

However without such funding, it turns out, later in the year the museum introduced admission charges for anyone that wasn’t a Manchester resident. So I apologise, this is no longer a free museum. Despite the billions in English football, if you want any insight in to the history of football in this country you’ll have to dip in to your wallet (unless you’re a Manchester resident).

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“Football was created here” – P.S – but we’re not supporting museums like this!

Back to my story, having made the conscious decision to contribute a fee I did still feel it was good value for my visit. There’s some great memorabilia in the museum and it’s definitely worth taking any football fanatic along to – of any age as plenty of it is interactive too.

Content I’d got my football fix for the day I went and checked out the nearby Manchester cathedral – this actually is free to visit (donations welcome obviously). It’s nowhere near the biggest cathedral I’ve visited but still has a pretty exterior and the inside was impressive too. It was definitely worth visiting.

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Inside Manchester Cathedral

My next stop was a somewhat unusual one. I wouldn’t ordinarily go out of my way to visit a specific pub but with the promise of a free beer I couldn’t help but tempt myself! I don’t know what the reason was but Scottish brewers ‘Brewdog’ had promised to give away 1 million pints of beer over the next few weeks and I knew that there happened to be a Brewdog in Manchester. Knowing I probably wouldn’t get another opportunity before the campaign ended I went and hunted down Manchester’s Brewdog bar for a quick and refreshing pint of their Punk IPA.

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Brewdog, Manchester

I did only have the one though! Having replenished I went back and explored Manchester for a few more hours. It’s a city that reminds me of Hamburg in some ways and for some it’s probably a comparison you’ve heard before. Neither are the prettiest on the eye, Hamburg probably moreso, but both undoubtedly have their charm and share a similar culture too. I could see why this city staked a claim to being England’s “second city”.

Before catching the train home I popped in to a pub and grabbed myself some dinner. They claimed to have award-winning pies so I couldn’t resist grabbing some pie and mash whilst catching a bit of the Manchester City game being televised.

Sadly my time in Manchester quickly came to an end. It’s definitely a city I think I could have seen more of but the 24 hours or so I had in the city definitely endeared itself to me. It’s a city I’ll hopefully return to soon and enjoy a bit of the nightlife next time too.

However with work the next day I couldn’t stick around and called an end to my staycation up North. Next up on the blog? Another quick visit to an English city: this time Lincoln!

Stay tuned!

Jason

 

 

Walla Walla – February 2018

It’s unusual for me to blog twice in a week but I wanted to offer an update on my time here living in Washington and Tuesday being the four week / one month landmark seemed a suitable time to do it.

My usual weekly Thursday posts have recently been covering my trip to this state two years ago and I’ll be rounding that trip off in this post. I split this particular trip in to three parts. For those following along you’ll know I spent a night in Seattle before visiting Haleigh in Moses Lake which was the main reason I was in Washington State.

I first visited Washington State in September 2017 where myself and Haleigh really hit things off! However we’d had such little time together just one on one – little more than a day together so although it was a trip that really began our relationship, we definitely needed more time together to see how successful our future might be.

Perhaps a little selfishly, I really wanted to see how things went before I started planning my big summer trip to the USA so I decided to head out there in early 2018. The reason I visited in February is because it was a typically quiet month for me at work and additionally Haleigh teaches and she had a “Winter break” fall within February so it seemed a perfect time to visit.

It meant we’d get the best part of two weeks together and a long weekend where she wouldn’t have to work – we decided to spend that winter break in the city of Walla Walla!

Why Walla Walla? Well although Haleigh lives in Moses Lake, her hometown is Walla Walla so this was an opportunity to also meet some of Haleigh’s family for the first time – daunting!

Next question! Where is Walla Walla? Well, you’ll find Walla Walla down in the South (Central/East-ish) of Washington State. It pretty much borders Oregon. Infact we even crossed the border briefly as her grandpa worked in Oregon at the time so we took the five / ten minute drive across the state line and back. I didn’t count this as an Oregon visit mind you, probably helped by the fact I knew I’d tick Oregon off properly later in the year.

Anyway, that’s a little introduction for you. Here’s how that trip went down!

After spending the previous day in Moses Lake & Ephrata we woke early to go and make the couple of hours drive to Walla Walla. We kicked off our day first by grabbing breakfast at Bob’s Cafe – a popular little spot just off the busy i90. It’s always busy at Bobs! I also always make the mistake of ordering the pancakes, they’re very good but far too big a portion for me to ever finish (I think I have once out of countless visits).

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Bob’s Cafe, Moses Lake

With our stomachs filled we were on our way via a little detour. On route Haleigh showed me where her school was so I got a little tour of her classroom and a proper look at the American school set up.

Having had a little glimpse in to Haleigh’s work life we got back on the road and drove onwards to Walla Walla. This side of the state is a little more desert-like than the West side of the mountains with all the (supposed) rain Seattle receives. It’s not a Sahara-like sandy desert but pretty dry and mild.

One of the surprising moments of the drive, for me at least, was seeing tumbleweed in the flesh for the first time. Perhaps I’m in the minority here but my experiences of tumbleweed was limited to cartoons and such up until this trip. I’d not anticipated tumbleweed being quite so big, essentially a huge ball of mess causing a hazard in the road.

I vividly remember jumping out of my skin at one point as I was looking out of the window to my right at the (minimal) scenery and suddenly there was a loud bang as this huge ball slammed in to the front of the vehicle (aided by the wind).

It felt like Haleigh spent various moments of the next few days playing her own version of Mario Kart as she attempted to avoid and drive around the tumbleweed rolling in our direction. It was comical in some respects, until you remember this is happening on largely single-lane roads at relatively high speed. I’d love to see some statistics regarding tumbleweed-related car accidents. Forget the current Coronavirus outbreak in Washington, it’s that damn tumbleweed that will get you!

You think I’m joking? I was curious and this was the first result / headline I saw on Google: 30 foot tumbleweed pileup traps 5 cars and a semi-truck on Washington highway

So after a successful ‘race’ of Washington’s version of Mario Kart we’d reached the outskirts of Walla Walla and BAM!

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Mountain views in Walla Walla!

Don’t worry, not tumbleweed this time but mountain views! It was such a pretty sight to see, helped by the fact it was February and there was snow up on the mountains. We inched closer and closer and I could only admire and envy what it must be like to live this close to the mountains. We parked up at Haleigh’s grandparents, who we were staying with, with the mountains still in sight. It was perfect.

The first afternoon / evening was spent getting acquainted with various members of Haleigh’s family including her mum, brother and both sets of grandparents. After running around all over town we went out for dinner and then settled in to our place for the evening. I’d hoped to have made a good first impression with the family.

Over the next few days I got to enjoy spending time with all of the family. The grandparents hosting us were kind enough to provide us some home-cooked meals too, which with Italian-heritage meant delights such as home-made meatballs or lasagne in addition to American favourites such as “biscuits and gravy”. All of the food we had at ‘home’ was delicious!

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Thanksgiving, November 2019. An example of the good food on offer with the grandparents!

Whilst getting to know Haleigh’s family was lovely, I was also here to get to know and explore some of Walla Walla. It’s a city I can’t say I’d heard of prior to being introduced to Haleigh.

Walla Walla is ‘famous’ for a couple of things. Firstly “sweet onions” – so much so that it’s the official state vegetable of Washington. Secondly Walla Walla is well known for its wine and that’s certainly shown in its downtown area with winery after winery after winery. Haleigh doesn’t really drink and I tend to drink beer more than anything so I can’t really back up how good any of these wineries are but if you like wine then it’s probably not a bad city to include on any Washington road trip!

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Downtown Walla Walla looking pretty, Feb 2020

With wine-drinking not really on the “to-do” list whilst in Walla Walla we decided to go and check out the history of the area instead. The main place we went to visit was the Whitman Mission national historic site – the Whitmans being missionaries who came to the area in the 1800’s. Following conflict they were later killed and it seems this is a site to commemorate their arrival to the area. It was an interesting place to visit and nice to learn more about the history of the place aswell as Walla Walla, it also offered some great views of the mountains so definitely worth a visit haha.

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A roadside sign offering a brief history of the Whitman Mission

Away from Walla Walla we also spent a day with Haleigh’s brother visiting the “Tri-cities”. The three cities that make up the tri-cities (Kennewick, Richland and Pasco) are all in close vicinity and have a bit more to offer for locals in this area of Washington.

The three of us ventured out to the tri-cities with the intention of doing a little shopping (or window shopping in my case) as its home to a fairly good sized shopping mall with a bunch of brands and stores you can’t get in Walla Walla (or Moses Lake).

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Pretty views along the river. Haleigh and Ben pokemon-hunting in the distance whilst I admire the view

However our first stop in the tri-cities was in a park that runs along the Colombia river. It was a pretty place, and whilst I expect its busier in the summer, it was pretty peaceful too. After having a little wander we popped in to this small store which seemed to specialise in artwork for sale. It was a nice little spot with friendly staff.

We soon moved on to this comic store that Ben and Haleigh were keen to check out. On the side of the building was this little dragon mural that I thought was pretty cool. Inside was a huge range of comics and other memorabilia and things to buy – good fun to look around and tempt yourself if interested in comics and superheroes and other popular movies and tv shows.

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Cool dragon mural in the Tri-Cities, Washington State

Our next stop was the main shopping mall which had huge well known department stores such as Macy’s plus some other stores that I was less familiar with. One that has proven a popular must visit on such trips to the Tri-Cities is the chain bookstore ‘Barnes and Noble’. It’s a good sized store, more Waterstones than W.H.Smiths for my UK friends and family who perhaps aren’t familiar with it.

After popping in to a number of places we grabbed some lunch and pondered what to do before heading back to Walla Walla. We decided to pop in to the East Benton County Historical Society Museum. It was pretty interesting and had lots of displays focused on the history in the local area and collections from local people throughout time. I don’t remember it being particularly expensive, the website suggests it’s $5 for admission, so a worthwhile visit if you’re in the tri-cities.

That had killed a bit of time before returning to Walla Walla for the evening where we then spent the next couple of days. It’s a city I’ve grown quite fond of, mostly due to the people based there that I associate it with, but I can’t say we did anything particularly noteworthy or memorable for the rest of our break. It’s somewhere I think I’d be content enough living in but it’s not somewhere that is a must see in Washington State, nor the USA, but a nice stop if you’re driving through or near the area.

The rest of our time was just spent with good people and eating good food before saying our goodbyes and returning to Moses Lake. A few days later it was time for me to say goodbye to Washington completely as my two weeks up Stateside was over with. It was a wonderful trip and one that cemented my plans to spend most of my big summer trip with Haleigh.

More on that to come soon but next up on the blog? A bit of UK travel, starting with a weekend trip to Manchester! Stay tuned!

Jason

Moses Lake – February 2018!

Welcome back to this little Washington series! Those of you following along since last time out will remember I’d spent a night in Seattle, largely due to the irregularity of the Greyhound buses.

I’d enjoyed getting to spend an evening in Seattle but this trip was all about spending a proper amount of time with Haleigh, who lived on the East side of the mountains, in the small town of Moses Lake.

Let me say, from a relationship point of view this was a big step forward and was going to offer a better indication as to how suited we were to eachother. The best part of two weeks in eachother’s company, some of that period Haleigh would be working and some of it we’d be in close confinements 24/7. As an introvert and someone who likes their own space that was a daunting prospect.

Ignoring the relationship viewpoint, from a tourist viewpoint I also had the other problem of what I was going to do in Moses Lake to entertain myself for multiple days whilst Haleigh was working. I consider myself a ‘Londoner’, London born and bred, and I’m very much a person that feels most at home in a big city.

Moses Lake is not a big city, it’s not even a big town – its population is about 20,000! It’s a place I’d largely seen most of in just a day a year prior to this trip. Without being harsh, it’s not a place you’d ordinarily plan long term travel for and it’s not a place (or country) that is particularly focused on public transport. So much so that when you arrive by bus in Moses Lake you need a car to get anywhere – as I joked about in my previous post on Moses Lake here!

Nevertheless I am an optimist so I was positive I’d avoid boredom over the next couple of weeks. I arrived in to Moses Lake on the Tuesday afternoon which was pretty chilled, hanging out with Haleigh after work and getting some good sleep after a long day in Seattle.

The next morning I decided to go out and explore and see what else I could find that I hadn’t seen first time around. Greeting me outside was snow! I talked about the need for a car to get anywhere in the US but the beauty of that is that when it does snow, so much of it is untouched snow. No footprints on the “sidewalk” – just beautiful untouched white stuff – it’s pretty to see!

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Clear roads, untouched snow! America in a picture!
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A snowy Moses Lake, February 2018

I find it particularly pretty because we don’t get huge amounts of snow in England. This was a rare snow day for me so nice to wander through and nice to see the contrast from my previous end-of-summer trip. I wandered the few miles in to downtown and popped in to my favourite little independent coffee shop to grab some tea and watch the world go by.

After warming up with a good cuppa, I ventured over towards the lake. It’s always pretty quiet by the lake, you get the occasional dogwalkers or runners but it’s pretty peaceful and probably moreso on days when you’ve got snow and ice on the ground. It was nice to have a wander before hunting for some lunch.

A good option seemed to be the Midway Pub along Broadway which has become a bit of a favourite on my visits. This was my first visit but has since become a bit of a regular. The atmosphere is nice and they’re always happy to put the football on for me, Tottenham had played the day before so I settled for watching the Liverpool game.

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Midway pub, Moses Lake

I like this bar because it’s usually pretty quiet at lunchtime. Americans seem to live by the “it’s 5 o clock somewhere..” mantra so, unlike the English, seem reluctant to pop in somewhere for a pub lunch as it’s considered unacceptable culturally before 5 I guess.

Additionally to it being quiet, the staff are always friendly – I only popped in once on this trip but they still remembered me six months later when I returned which was nice.

After a convincing Liverpool win, some good food and a couple of beers I moved on and decided to give the museum a visit. I’d been before but long enough had passed that I figured maybe the exhibit had changed and so it proved. It’s only a small museum but killed a bit more time before heading back to the apartment in time for Haleigh getting home and us spending the evening together – Valentine’s Day infact!

We decided to stay in, opposed to going out, and made our own pizzas! A joint effort which was definitely one of the perks in getting to spend a bit more time together and being able to do things such as this. Better yet, the pizzas actually turned out really well! What do you reckon? Not bad for a first joint cooking effort, right? It was a nice first Valentine’s together too!

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Pineapple belongs on pizza!

One of the big reasons for making this trip in February was that it happened to coincide with Haleigh’s spring break (as a teacher), so it meant I could visit whilst she actually had some time off from school! The next morning we had a bit of a lay in before deciding to visit the nearby, and even smaller, town of Ephrata (population 8,000ish).

There was two reasons we thought a trip to Ephrata would be nice. The book addict (Haleigh) wanted to check out a book store in town, secondly there was the Grant County Historical Museum (which Google Maps will advise you opens at 10am) which looked like worth checking out.

We grabbed some breakfast in town before heading on over to Ephrata. The book store in town wasn’t actually open for some reason with a sign in the window / door suggesting to come back in the afternoon. Fortunately further along the street was another cute little bookstore so we settled for visiting here instead and Haleigh still managed to find a book to satisfy her need for more books!

Further along what I’m assuming was Main Street (every American town has a main street, right?) was the museum. We decided to just leave the car and walk up and after half a dozen blocks we’d reached what felt like the end of the town – there was very little activity, nor business around and it felt like there was very little to this tiny town.

Worse yet, the museum was closed for the season! If you look on Google today you’ll still see it’s supposedly open today too but once you go to their website you’ll see they’re only open between May and September! Worth noting if you’re ever in the area (not recommended!). Our two sole reasons to visit were both a bust so after the disappointment of finding a closed museum we decided to head back to the car.

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Cool mural in Ephrata, Haleigh looks tiny in comparison

On route we did at least spot this pretty cool mural on the side of a theatre / cinema! It’s one of the very few highlights of Ephrata but had otherwise been a wasted adventure. We made our way back in to Moses Lake for the rest of the day and chilled out, before packing for the weekend’s adventures in Walla Walla. That was a fun weekend but you’ll have to wait until next week to hear more on that.

After a few days in Walla Walla we came back to Moses Lake, in time for Haleigh’s return to work, which again left me to explore the town solo during the daytime. It’s a town I’ve grown fond of, perhaps because it’s familiar and does have that small town feel to it. You continually see the same faces and even if unfamiliar to you, you know someone else knows that person. You go in to certain establishments and know it’s full of regulars.

I’ve quickly established my favourites in Moses Lake but with each passing visit try and seek out a new place to grab lunch at or have a quick beer. The rest of this trip was pretty relaxed, embracing the company more than anything and it assured me that any length of time spent together on my big summer trip would be fine.

That just about wraps up this part of the trip. Next up on the blog? Well, I’m actually planning to squeeze in a bonus post next week so you’ll have two coming very shortly! I hinted at one of those above (Walla Walla) but you’ll have to wait to see what the bonus post is! Stay tuned!

Jason