Moses Lake – Sep 2017

Those of you that have been following my Washington series will know that last time out on the blog I rounded off my time in the city of Spokane. After one night solo in Spokane it was time for me to move on and visit another new place: Moses Lake!

“Oh my god, at last!”

Alright readers, calm down! I suppose one of the downsides to not blogging “in the moment” and doing so two years after the trip (oops), particularly in a series such as this, is some of my ‘audience’ tend to know what the story is building towards. Last week I had one binge-reader (hi mum) unhappy with the one-post-a-week schedule as she was keen to read the next chapter because, of course, awaiting me in Moses Lake was none other than Haleigh!

“Who?”

Oh come on! For those unfamiliar with the story (“get with the times!”) you can catch up here but long story short, Haleigh’s my girlfriend and this particular portion of the trip was the first time we’d ever really spent any time together. We’d briefly met on Sunday but the bulk of that was spent on a car journey, alongside our friends Maddie and Cassie. We’d been apart since then so consequently I was excited to be leaving Spokane on Wednesday but also a bit nervous about how things were going to go.

I don’t know if spoiler is the right word given it’s obvious how things panned out, particularly given I even wrote this piece announcing I’d be living in Moses Lake for 3 months in 2020 but still; here’s how that nerve-wrecking first encounter went and similarly what I did on my first visit to Moses Lake.

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Moses Lake, Washington

I say first visit, I had actually passed through it on my journey from Ellensburg to Spokane. Perhaps fortunately so because it left me somewhat prepared for the reality that Moses Lake’s Greyhound “bus station” is in the middle of nowhere.

Seriously, it might not surprise the American readers as much but for my fellow Europeans used to a relatively good standard of public transport I suppose I’d liken it to being dropped off at a service station. “You want a bus to London? Cool, our London bus stop is somewhere on the A1 – enjoy!”

Essentially if you’re getting a Greyhound bus to Moses Lake, you’re going to want a car when you arrive.

“A car? After getting off a bus? If you had access to a car would you not just drive there yourself?”

Thank you friends! The logic was lost on me too. Being completely realistic you need to either have someone picking you up or you’re going to want to order a taxi as soon as you arrive. The downtown area of this, fairly small town, is around 3 miles away from the bus stop, which is ultimately just a petrol station car park.

Haleigh was working when I arrived so I personally had two options. My first was actually to walk rather than take a taxi. It was a nice day, I had time to kill and it was “only” 3 miles. Why pay for a taxi?

Alternatively I could just wait it out, I think I got in to Moses Lake around 2 and Haleigh would be home around 4 and be able to pick me up on the way. The one perk to the ludicrous location / service type feel is that it’s at least located next to plenty of restaurants / fast food places. It’s a pretty popular spot for truckers who want somewhere convenient to stop along the i90 and on this occasion was convenient for me to grab a late lunch. I decided I’d eat at Denny’s.

Unfortunately it was actually pretty mediocre, I think this was my first Denny’s experience since childhood trips to Florida and I’ve clearly romanticised them a bit too much. I’m convinced they were brilliant when I was younger, perhaps this was an off day, but it spoilt this magical opinion I held of Denny’s from my youth.

I think I finished up eating just before three which left me in that limbo position where it felt a bit too long to just hang out in Denny’s but barely long enough to justify walking in to Moses Lake. Whether I waited or walked I was probably still going to get in to town around the same time. In the end I took the less awkward option, not wanting to loiter in Denny’s I decided to walk.

The last hurdle to overcome with this ridiculous location was that a good chunk of the route isn’t actually pedestrianised. Where’s your “sidewalk” America? It’s bad enough your only car-free option from the bus stop is to walk three miles but you then have nowhere to actually walk. I ended up having to walk along gravel on the side of the highway whilst dragging my suitcase along behind me.

“Why’s that guy dragging a suitcase along the A1?” – it was a tad ridiculous.

On the plus side, it is a pretty straight walk at least. Although I suppose the A1 is too for the most part and I’m not proposing walking that any time soon. Anyway, eventually I reached a “sidewalk” and it’s a pretty smooth walk from there – a lot of it downhill infact.

About a mile from town I got a message from Haleigh and realised I’d actually walked too far, obviously after the point the walk had started heading downhill which meant I had to turn back and walk uphill. I’d almost reached Haleigh’s apartment when she pulled over and picked me up which saved me a few hundred yards.

After dropping my things off at her place we headed out so I could get my first proper glimpse of Moses Lake. Haleigh had only recently (Aug) moved here infact so it was a good chance for us both to have a bit of a look around the downtown area, I think Haleigh had driven through plenty of times but never really parked up and looked around.

The downtown area was small but a little cute too, it definitely had that small town feel to it which I haven’t really experienced much of when visiting the US. We popped our head in a few shops before closing, mostly independent little businesses rather than big chains. One of which had a cool little area where you could actually pay to do artwork/pottery and similar stuff which Haleigh’s been back to since a few times. There was also a couple of cool murals and statues throughout the downtown area which I was fond of.

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Having appeased our curiosity we made our way over to dinner and visited Moses Lake favourite ‘Rock Top. It has become a regular place for us to eat out but this was essentially our “first date” I suppose. It was quite a nice day and they had a few outside tables so we decided we’d eat outside rather than inside, seemingly the only people in a busy restaurant to do so which was nice and that little more romantic being just the two of us.

However it was also rather cold! It might have been a nice warm day with the sun bearing down on you but under a bit of shade it felt rather breezy and it quickly became clear why nobody else wanted to eat outside haha.

We made the most of it though. It was a little more intimate which is an added bonus on a first date. I can only speak for myself but I was nervous going in to dinner. We’d spent a little time together by this point but that had still either been with Maddie or Cassie, or even in exploring Moses Lake earlier we had something to distract us or catch our eye. “Hey! Look at that cool mural!”

Dinner was different because it’d just be us, literally given the setting, and that meant a focus on entertaining or engaging the other person. Conversational skills or social situations aren’t my biggest strength and there was definitely that fear that I’d bore Haleigh or that things just wouldn’t go well. It opens up the possibility of an awkward or uncomfortable end to the trip. You can get to know people to an extent online but it’s no substitute for actually spending time together in person and you always hope that step in a friendship or relationship or whatever goes smoothly.

Any fears or nervousness quickly disappeared. It instantly felt like I was having dinner with someone I’d known for years. It was easy and effortless and I think as far as first dates go, it was really enjoyable. I found Haleigh incredibly easy to spend time with and there was a natural chemistry there rather than having to force it. I definitely left dinner thinking there was a future for us and it set the mood for the rest of the evening. After eating we were able to just relax back at the apartment and watch a bit of Netflix before bed.

Sadly Haleigh still had to work on Thursday so the next day I was left to explore Moses Lake solo. I looked online for a little inspiration or ideas on how to spend my day but there seemingly isn’t much in Moses Lake, I’d arguably seen most of it already.

I made the first stop of my day at one of the standout points of interest – the Japanese peace gardens in the city. They were so peaceful infact that I think I startled the man cutting the grass. There was nobody else here which made it nice to wander around, it’s only a small gardened area and isn’t somewhere that’s worth going out of your way to visit but it’s a nice little addition to Moses Lake. Plus it’s free so it was definitely worth having a look and I grabbed a handful of photos before moving on.

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Japanese Peace Garden, Moses Lake

My next stop was at “Mason’s Place” – a small independent owned coffee place downtown. This has also become a bit of a regular haunt for me as it’s cosy and it’s also nice to support a local business in the process. I grabbed myself a tea and a seat at the window to “people watch”.

It turns out people-watching isn’t actually much fun in America. Everyone drives everywhere, they have drive-thru’s for literally everything. I’m not sure I saw a person outside of the coffee shop infact, plenty of parked cars but I don’t know where all the people who own those cars were. Bizarre and also quite boring – stick to people watching in Europe haha.

Having had my fix of tea I wandered down towards the lake which the town inevitably gets its name from. The water looked incredibly enticing and I can recall, at the time, uploading a photo to social media proclaiming its beauty and my temptation to jump in. Here’s said photo! Not bad right?

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Moses Lake, Washington

Ironically I saw an article quite recently advising people to avoid swimming in the lake as it’s toxic! I don’t think this was the case when I took this photo but probably just as well I didn’t jump in! Maybe settle for just walking alongside the lake and admiring the view instead which is what I ended up doing.

I wandered up towards a restaurant called “Michael’s on the Lake” which as you might guess is a restaurant offering lakeside views. It’s quite a nice restaurant, it was only after sitting down and looking at the menu that I realised they were part of the same company who own Rock Top. Purely coincidental in terms of me coming here but interesting given I’d visited Rock Top the evening before.

For the purpose of this coming story I’m going to actually name my waiter ‘Michael’, fitting with the restaurant’s name. Maybe Michael Jr would be better actually. ‘Michael’s’ service has stuck with me for the last two years and it’s a difficult one to try and fairly describe but the way I continually think of it is he essentially wasn’t a waiter.

He was this young guy, friendly, helpful but he lacked all of the typical waiting mannerisms. Don’t get me wrong, he was completely professional but I can only think he must have been relatively new at the job because he just didn’t come across as a waiter. Not in the sense that he didn’t know what he was doing, it was a good service, but he didn’t seem to have picked up those waiting traits or habits I suppose. I can recall a few occasions which are hard to describe but tickled me in a way.

As I said though it was actually a really good service, a little more personable I guess and I held out the hope I’d come back and see a different ‘Michael’ somewhere down the line. I’ve been back to the restaurant twice and not seen him, I hope if he has left that he’s gone on to better things!

Following on from a long lunch (I really did enjoy the service and stuck around for an extra beer or two), I made my way back towards Haleigh’s apartment, leaving time for one last detour. There’s a small (and free) museum in Moses Lake so I thought I’d go and check it out. One of the main pieces was some local artist’s work which was quite cool to see, it was a good way to pass some time too.

Back at the apartment I chilled out for a bit until Haleigh made it home. On Friday we were getting the whole “gang” together, joining Maddie and Cassie and spending the weekend in Seattle. So we had the option of either driving to Ellensburg in the morning or heading there Thursday night. We wanted to make an early start towards Seattle so decided to drive over to Maddie and Cassie’s that evening and stay at theirs overnight.

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Driving to Ellensburg!

It was a pretty drive back to Ellensburg with the sun setting. I think every car ride or bus journey has been the same whenever I’ve visited Washington, I just have my face glued to the window and try and resist the temptation to take 1,000 photos. It’s such a pretty state.

Soon enough we’d reached Ellensburg. As I explained in my Ellensburg post here, Ellensburg is a college town and at the time Maddie and Cassie were both working on campus. Consequently we took a little trip over to Central Washington University (CWU).

It was an opportunity for me to have a little glimpse in to ‘college life’ in America. It was interesting to look around and seemed like a good size college. Haleigh gave me a little tour of the grounds before we checked in on a couple of Haleigh’s old friends from college which also helped kill a bit of time.

Having spent a little time looking around we wandered back to Maddie and Cassie’s and chilled out for the evening. We agreed a time to kick off the morning trip to Seattle and got ourselves a good night’s sleep. More on Seattle to come next!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Spokane – September 2017

After a fun couple of days in Ellensburg it was time for me to move on. Those following the trip will know I was in Washington State visiting Maddie, Cassie and Haleigh. I was obviously excited to see all three of them but I thought it might also be wise to break up the trip with a day for myself. It was no reflection on the company, it was more a case of learning lessons from trips in the past with other people. There are pros and cons to solo travel and likewise with group travel. I’m a bit of an introvert and enjoy my own space so I saw it as an opportunity to re-energise ahead of a busy end to the trip.

Consequently I was considering where in Washington I could feasibly go for a day. Washington is such a beautiful state so I wasn’t short of choices but in the end I opted for convenience as much as anything. I was leaving Ellensburg and would soon be visiting Haleigh in Moses Lake, both of which sit on the Greyhound bus route. Another city on that route was Spokane. It essentially meant I could get from Ellensburg to Spokane and then Spokane to Moses Lake pretty effortlessly.

So after Cassie dropped me off at the bus station in Ellensburg, I was on my way to a new city in Washington. It’s a nice journey from Ellensburg to Spokane, not as picturesque as Seattle to Ellensburg but still scenic enough to enjoy. My only concern was I’d left blue skies behind in Ellensburg and as we inched closer to Spokane the sky was beginning to turn very grey!

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Driving towards a miserable Spokane!

By the time I got to Spokane it was probably around 3/4pm. The plan was to quickly go and check in to my hotel and then start exploring the city. Unfortunately I’d done little to preserve my phone life in the morning and then I spent probably too much of the bus journey taking photos of the view, by the time I reached Spokane my phone was dead.

I thought I had a good idea of where my hotel was, in relation to the bus station, but it turns out I didn’t have a bloody clue. I wandered for a bit but I’d arrived to a very wet Spokane experiencing a bit of a thunderstorm, not the best timing and I was drenched pretty quickly. With no way of locating my hotel I asked a couple of locals for some directions but with no success. I’d lucked out in Dallas a few months earlier in a similar situation but in wetter conditions it was time to abandon the “wing it” plan, instead I seeked shelter in a nearby bar!

My hope was they’d help me one way or another. Either I’d be able to charge my phone somewhere (I did) or they’d be able to offer me some directions. Allowing time for the former I grabbed a beer and took seat at one of the stools in this relatively small bar. By the time I’d finished my beer I had a better idea of where I needed to go and luckily the storm seemed to have passed.

Moving on, I went to find my hotel which ended up being pretty straight forward. More frustratingly I’d actually passed it on the bus and not noticed. There were some eye-catching murals on the side of the hotel building that I’d thought “I’d like to find those later..” and not realised that was where I was staying haha.

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Beyond the cool murals, the hotel appearance itself didn’t fill me with much confidence. It had a sketchy vibe about it and the actual reception for checking in felt about as big as a garden shed – it was tiny! The receptionist was pretty friendly though and I figured it was only for one night. Given I went in with little confidence, the room was actually nicer than I’d anticipated. It was a nice room with a decent sized (and comfy) bed.

Having chilled out in the room for a little bit I went on the search for some dinner, I had a little scour of my options on Google Maps and decided to check out this place called ’24 Taps Burgers and Brews’. It had good reviews and, upon approaching it, the side of the building was lined with some more cool pieces of street art. Spokane was setting a good first impression on the street art front. Inside was essentially a sports bar and a bit of a casual hangout, I imagine at the weekend it’d be a lot busier but on a Tuesday it was pretty quiet.

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24 Taps Burgers & Brews, Spokane

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I ordered one of the burgers on the menu and likewise one of the 24 beers available on tap. On the TV directly above me they were showing the (Seattle) Mariners game, I knew we were seeing the Mariners in a few days time so I thought I’d try and pick up a few of the complexities of baseball (it’s just hit and run isn’t it?).

It’s not really a sport that is taken seriously in England if I’m being honest, partly as it’s likened to ‘Rounders’ which is primarily associated as being a game for kids here. The upgrade to Rounders is typically Cricket which shares some fundamental rules (hit and run) but is a different sport from baseball/rounders. I tried enjoying the game on TV but wasn’t yet sold on the baseball experience (stay tuned for my live experience in Seattle!).

Partway through my meal I realised that the place actually sold ‘beer flights’ or tasting menu. I picked up a beer menu and feeling a little intrigued thought I’d try a few more West Coast beers, choosing four from the 24 (well, 23 as I’d had one already) beers on tap. I think I ended up trying two from Washington breweries and two from Oregon breweries, with the latter being equally enjoyable!

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Working my way through the 24!

I could quite happily have stayed there for the evening but during my Google search another bar had caught my eye – “Baby Bar”. It had really good reviews, was just around the corner from where I was staying and I’ll be honest and say the name caught my eye too. Baby bar? Okay, Spokane..

Anyway, off I went in search of it! It wasn’t actually that easy to find. I was wandering in its general proximity and yet there was no clear sign of it. Google Maps suggested I was in the right spot but there was nothing here. I easily found the restaurant next door which suggested I was in the right place but this Baby Bar seemingly didn’t exist.

I joked in my post on Salzburg at the absurdity of Flo suggesting we go “next door” to get in to this bar. Well would you believe it, I took the crazy Austrian’s advice here in Spokane. With no sign of this bar anywhere I thought I’d peer my head in the restaurant next door didn’t I?

You’d have been forgiven for thinking this restaurant was closed too. The sign on the door read ‘open’ but it was incredibly dark if it was open for business. Maybe that’s the mood or whatever they were going for but it wouldn’t have been a place I would have walked in for food. After peering my head in something drew me towards the dark corridor at the back of the room – almost in a possessed manner.

I didn’t even ask the staff in the restaurant for guidance. “Oh hey, is this bar here?” – No, I just floated towards the darkness. Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking. Was I just following intuition? I don’t know but the image was essentially your classic horror story moment.

“Don’t do it Jason! Turn around..”

Watching at home you wonder how the characters find themselves in these horror-laden scenarios and yet here I was wandering down this long and dark corridor. At the very end was this mysterious door which I’m convinced just seemed to get further and further away as I walked towards it. This was it. This is how and where I was going to die, typically miles from home in a place no-one would think to look for me. I eventually reached this door in baited breath and pushed.

On the other side of this door was a cosy little bar – Baby Bar! I’d actually found it! Now you might think I’m exaggerating the story and often when it sounds absurd writing it down I end up doubting my memory. So I thought I’d google Spokane’s infamous Baby Bar and found this amusing little excerpt from The Spokesman Review

With room for five taps and 25 people, Baby Bar is incoherently cosy. Hidden away in plain sight, it also sort of feels like a secret. There are no windows. The ceiling is painted black. And there’s only one way in and out; through a single door that leads down a darkened hallway.

It was the perfect hideaway bar, it had that speakeasy kind of feel to it that if you didn’t know of its existence you’d never see it. As the review above suggests, there are no windows, only one way in and yet it had an incredible warmth to it the second you arrived. The lighting and the atmosphere just made it seem homely and instantly you could see why Baby Bar was so highly rated. I loved it!

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Baby Bar, Spokane!
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Baby Bar, Spokane

I took seat at the bar and ordered myself a beer. It had been worth the effort finding it. The barman was friendly and I knew it would be a frequent hangout for me if I was a Spokane local. After my third beer I called it a night. I was a tad drunk having already had the earlier beers and so sensibly, for once perhaps, knew it was time to head back to my hotel and sleep. I asked the barman if I could settle my tab – “$9 please..”

Wait, nine? Did I hear that right? I’ve had three beers? Am I only paying $3 a beer here? It was cheaper than I’d expected it to be. I settled my tab for the first three, tip included, but ended up ordering a fourth at the same time. “Last one..”

Halfway in to my pint I realised that was a mistake. This was just one beer too many and any more I’d be throwing up either tonight or tomorrow morning. I sensibly walked away and let it go to waste and wandered back to my hotel which luckily was only on the next street over. I think within 5 minutes of leaving Baby Bar I was asleep, crashing the second my head hit the pillow.

On the plus side, my sensibly timed departure meant I wasn’t suffering the next morning. I’d got settled in to Spokane a little later than anticipated so all I’d really done thus far was eat and drink. I was keen to see a bit of Spokane at least before catching my lunchtime bus.

I kicked off my day with a visit to the ‘Satellite Diner’. It was surprisingly busy given I visited in ‘working hours’, it must have been about 9-9:30ish on a Wednesday morning and Spokane didn’t come across as a tourist hotspot so I thought it might have been emptier. The busy-ness gave me some comfort that it’d be a good place to eat though. I pondered the menu and really fancied pancakes – plural, obviously. One of the items on the menu was a pancake.

“Singular?”

You could say that’s a bit weird, right? You could also possibly call it a sign. I ordered the ‘two pancakes’ option and as my plate was placed in front of me I realised why they sell singular pancakes. They were bloody huge! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a bigger pancake infact. I probably should have taken a photo (FYI, I’d make a terrible food blogger). The guy at a nearby table was equally amazed at its size. I gave it a good go but (I think) it bested me. I couldn’t finish it. On the plus side it was a filling start to my day and explorations.

I hadn’t really researched things to do in Spokane which inevitably meant I didn’t really find much to do with my last couple of hours, I’m sure there is more to do in Spokane but I just ended up winging it a bit. I thought I’d kick things off by wandering over to Spokane’s Riverfront park. It’s a peaceful spot, nice to walk through and is also home to a few interesting things.

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Spokane, Washington State!

Feeling a little conscious of venturing too far from the bus station I wandered back in to the downtown area, there didn’t seem to be too much of note but I popped my head in to a few shops to help kill a bit of time. Soon enough it was time to check in and catch my bus. All in all it had been a nice trip to Spokane, albeit most of the fun was spread over the evening.

It’s somewhere I’ll possibly go back to and explore a little further, I’ve since read of other people who’ve visited including fellow travel blogger Sarah who went recently and shares a few other ideas and actually makes me want to go back but it had been a good introduction to this small and charming city.

Up next? Moses Lake.

Stay tuned!

Jason

Ellensburg – Sep 2017

Following on from my last post (read me), I was finally making my way over to Washington State for the first time! It’s an incredibly beautiful state but the motivation for my trip was the company and the opportunity to finally meet Maddie, Cassie and Haleigh. I was both excited and nervous!

I kicked off my Sunday morning waking up in London. Tottenham had been playing over at Wembley on Saturday evening and it didn’t seem worthwhile going all the way back to Peterborough just to fly out of London on Sunday morning. With that said, with Tottenham playing at Wembley I decided I’d just book a hotel for the night near Wembley Stadium and I found that it’s such an inconvenient part of London to try to get to Heathrow from.

In fairness I think if you take the ‘Heathrow Express’ train you can get there quickly and quite conveniently from Wembley but I’d rather save money by taking the tube which meant going back towards Central London to then come back out again towards Heathrow. Beforehand I’d envisaged getting a bit of a lay in or a more relaxing morning but between the long tube journey and a Sunday service I’m not sure my day would have started much differently had I just gone home for the night instead. Oh well, lesson learned I suppose (Wembley’s a pain!).

Anyway, eventually I was arriving at Heathrow and breezing through security. I decided I’d find somewhere to get some breakfast in the airport and found a place with pancakes on the menu which seemed the perfect way to kick off the American adventure!

Soon enough I was on the way to Seattle – that city all the way over on the West Coast of the USA – I think it’s something like 4,500 miles away. It was my longest journey since flying to Sydney four years earlier and when you look on a map they couldn’t seem further apart. You’ve got Sydney sitting down in the South East corner of the World and Seattle sitting up in the North West. With England somewhere in the middle both cities feel so far away!

Fortunately unlike Sydney, you can at least fly directly from London to Seattle so the journey didn’t seem too bad. I kept myself amused with the in-flight entertainment and landed in Washington at around 3:30pm local time I think (11:30pm UK time).

Maddie, Cassie and Haleigh were all waiting for me at Seatac airport with a surprise welcome sign to greet me. Unfortunately for them they weren’t waiting at the same section I came out of. I came out of security with no idea where they were and the airport Wi-Fi wasn’t being too co-operative so I couldn’t drop one of them a message.

Instead I figured I’d just walk for a bit and hoped I’d either see them or find a better Wi-Fi spot in the airport. It ended up being the former, I hadn’t walked too far when I spotted the three of them and started approaching them. Amusingly though they had their backs to me so they ended up getting the surprise rather than the other way around. Oops! Haha.

Having said our hello’s we quickly made our way over to the car park to get out of Seatac asap! Although I’d flown in to Seattle, we wouldn’t actually be spending any time in the city until Friday. I was spending my first couple of nights in Ellensburg with Maddie and Cassie where the pair of them lived.

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Welcome to Ellensburg sign!

Ellensburg’s a college town, a town which both Maddie and Cassie went to college in (and Haleigh did previously). It’s a couple of hours away from Seattle which sits on the West side of the mountains, with Ellensburg sitting on the East side of the mountains. Consequently that meant driving through / over the mountains to get back to Ellensburg.

Before leaving the Seattle area we made a quick stop and dropped in on Cassie’s family, Cassie had something she needed to pick up and take home so it was a nice opportunity to be introduced to some of her family before we headed back. We then picked up some pizza for the drive home and were on our way.

I think I pretty much spent the entire journey with my face glued to the window. It probably doesn’t help that I live in such a flat part of England but the mountain views just had me in complete awe. The funny thing being that due to the current climate the view was nowhere near as good as it usually is.

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Washington – April 2019

The above picture was from a spring visit this year but for this particular trip Washington was still suffering the aftermath of forest fires in the region. The day that I arrived was actually the first bit of rain they’d had in a while and it was much needed. Despite a little rain the sky was still a bit hazy, the air quality was awful and the smoke, oh my god the smoke..

Theoretically it wasn’t even that bad, this was essentially post-fire-smoke lingering in the air and yet I still found the smoke unbearable. I dread to think how bad the air quality was whilst the fires were going on.  Even with the windows of the car closed all I could taste was smoke in my mouth, my throat felt awful for a good 2-3 days after arriving in Washington.

Soon enough I’d unstuck my face from the window because we’d arrived on the other side of the mountains and we were finally in Ellensburg. Sadly Haleigh was teaching on Monday morning so couldn’t stick around to spend the evening with us.

Myself, Maddie and Cassie relaxed for a little bit but soon went out to get a couple of beers at one of Ellensburg’s bars, forgive me but I can’t remember the name of it. It was cool though and also nice to have my first Washington beer. I always enjoy trying the local beers and seeing how they compare across the globe.

We weren’t out too late which I was quite appreciative of, the eight hour time difference is a bit of a killer. I think it was about 4-5am UK time by the time I’d got myself to bed. It had been a nice start to the trip but I needed a good night’s rest to set me up for the rest of the trip.

The next morning I was up at a fairly reasonable time. I don’t know if I was the first one awake but first one downstairs at least which seemed to please the four-legged housemates, particularly the dogs. Hamilton and Olivia were both friendly and didn’t seem fazed at having me around. Olivia in particular was constantly seeking attention so I’d quickly made a new friend in her. The cats were a little less curious although did come and sit with me at various points of my stay which was nice and I managed to sneak in a few photos before they ran off.

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As suggested further up, Ellensburg is a college town and consequently not really somewhere that tourists tend to visit. Nevertheless I was personally looking forward to seeing what Ellensburg had to offer, it can be nice getting away from the big cities and seeing a different side to the US. With the sheer size of the country you quickly see how diverse it is from place to place.

Maddie wasn’t feeling particularly great so we didn’t do too much with our morning other than relax. For lunch we went out to some teriyaki chicken place. It’s not something I’ve ever really seen here so I guess isn’t as popular in the UK, by all means feel free to correct me but it was the first time I’d tried it anyway.

It was enjoyable but the portion was way too big, I think the sauce grows sickly after a while too so it’s something I could eat again but not something I could eat a lot of if that makes sense?

Following on from lunch we ventured over to the Kittitas County historical museum. It was small but worth a visit, free admission too which was a bonus! I can’t expect they get many English visitors so I made sure to sign the guestbook after having had a look around the museum. It was interesting.

We popped in to some shop afterwards and then made our way back to the house. Cassie had to work and it was a good opportunity for Maddie to get a little rest before making evening plans. I took it as a chance to catch up on the happenings back home and keep the four-legged ones company.

In the evening we went out to “the Tav” – an Ellensburg favourite which is a nice little sports bar in town. I’ve been there a couple of times now and it has had a nice atmosphere on both occasions. I’m sure it’d be a good place to go and watch a big sports game too although my visits have only ever been on a casual basis so I’m just speculating haha. We met one of Maddie’s friends again, grabbed some food and had a couple of beers before moving on to a bar called ‘Shooters’.

Shooters is essentially a gaming bar – a mixture of video and board games which cover all of the classics plus modern day favourites. It’s quite a small place but that makes it cosy too.

Again it had a friendly atmosphere, a good range of different beers to try and then you can play a variety of games depending on what you’re in the mood for. The three of us ended up playing a bit of Star Wars Monopoly before calling it a night, such is the length of Monopoly I don’t think we got near finishing it so ended without a winner haha.

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Star Wars Monopoly

We grabbed some food on the drive home which gave me another ‘first’ – my first ever churro! I’d say if you’re going to try your first churro perhaps save it for Spain rather than Washington but they were still good and it was welcome timing to try them too given I was going to be in Madrid a month later.

Cassie finished up work around the same time so we rounded off the evening eating food and chatting before heading to sleep. The next morning I chilled out a bit before Cassie kindly dropped me over at the bus station as I made my way on to my second destination of this trip.

Ellensburg had offered a fun start to my time in Washington. After so many years of friendship I’d finally got to spend some time with Maddie, Cassie had made me feel equally welcome in their home and of course I’d made a few new four-legged friends too. It was a good start to the trip but I was excited to see what was yet to come. I’d be seeing Maddie and Cassie again before heading home but for now it was time to bid farewell to Ellensburg. I boarded my bus and was heading for Spokane!

More on that next! Stay tuned!

Jason

Hamburg – May 2017

It’s no big secret that I’m quite the fan of Germany. It’s a country I’ve now been to nine times and don’t be surprised if subsequent trips follow soon. I love the people, I love the culture but first and foremost it has some wonderful places to visit.

In Köln, Berlin and München I had already been to three of Germany’s four biggest cities which left one major German city to visit: Hamburg.
It was a city I was keen to visit but I didn’t really envisage it happening as soon as 2017.

However I started looking for potential destinations for a bank holiday getaway and Hamburg jumped out at me with some reasonable flight prices given the timing. Three days in Hamburg sounded pretty tempting.

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Hamburg, Germany

Before I could enjoy Hamburg I had to escape the madness of Stansted airport. I’m not a huge fan of Stansted because it just always seems to be busy; this is largely down to it being the budget airline favourite airport.

The pros of the budget airlines definitely outweigh the cons but the busyness of this airport is certainly one of the cons.
Any time of year you visit it tends to be busy but throw in a public holiday making it a three day weekend and this particular Saturday morning was just crazy!

There isn’t much to do at Stansted so you’ll always find one of the busiest areas is the Wetherspoons bar – a bit of a reflection of the UK. With a full menu and lenient trading laws it proves to be a popular breakfast/lunchtime/dinner option accompanied with any beverage of your choice.

By this point many are in holiday-mode and a breakfast beer combination always seems to go down well amongst our drunken little nation. As I was traveling solo I found myself a little two-seater table to not take up too much room which is normally fine but on this particular morning you could see the vultures circling for any free space – vacate your seat, lose your seat!

With one free seat spare at my table a fellow solo-adventurer asked if she could join me. Of course I agreed however with an “order at the bar” policy she was soon having to disappear (although you can now order at your seat using an app on your phone).

I agreed to save her seat because I didn’t foresee any problems occurring. There was a bit of a queue at the bar and a few minutes passed with no return – “not a problem”. Five minutes go by and I’m unfazed by it.

Ten minutes pass and there’s still no sign of this woman returning. After fifteen minutes I start wondering if she’s even still in the queue, she is coming back right? I’m hoping she’s hidden in that crowd of people at the bar somewhere.

My attention starts switching to the clock, I don’t just want to abandon her possessions, nor surrender her table but how long do I wait before I have to leave to catch my flight. As each minute ticked by I become more agitated. Perhaps her manners matched my own but even with how busy it was I don’t know how it takes that long to get served – “after you!” and again and again?

Eventually at around the 20 minute mark she returned, hugely apologetic which was nice but I didn’t stick around for pleasantries and made a dash to the nearest departure screen to see what the latest on my flight was.

My eyes scanned across the screen to find Hamburg, only to see in red the words “LAST CALL”

What?! There was still a decent bit of time before my flight so why they were closing boarding so early I don’t know but immediately I headed in direction of the gates to see a sign suggesting mine was 10-15 minutes away! You’ve got to be joking!

I ran a good chunk of the way which was a great reminder as to how unfit I am, I was cursing myself most of the way for having been too polite rather than abandoning the table earlier.

“Well done, you idiot. You’ve probably missed your flight!”

I arrived at my gate out of breath to still fortunately find a small queue with a couple of guys close behind me. I say fortunately but why Ryanair send their passengers into panic mode if they’re still boarding people ten minutes later I don’t know? Thanks for that!

On the plus side it restored a little faith that I was right to wait – I made my flight and the young woman kept her table – win-win!

Anyway, as with so many Ryanair flights I arrived at my allocated seat to find someone sat in it – “can we swap?”

In all honesty I don’t usually mind but I found it baffling to then see him sat with his headphones on for the whole flight. I can understand wanting to sit with people because you want to sit with people but if you’re going to ignore eachother the whole way why insist on swapping? Baffling. Nevertheless we were soon arriving in to Hamburg and my fun could begin!

Arriving in to some places I think you just know you’re going to like it, Hamburg was one of those places. Perhaps the clear blue skies were a factor and maybe my love of Germany meant I wasn’t too objective but stepping out of the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) had me feeling optimistic about three days in Hamburg.

The perk to early morning (European) flights is that you’ll arrive in to your destination pretty early too which meant I was in Hamburg mid-morning on the Saturday. I now had the best part of two nights / three days to enjoy.

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Hamburg’s Kunsthalle

Given its proximity to the Hauptbahnhof I kicked off my trip by visiting the Kunsthalle (Hamburg’s art museum). I’d heard good things about it and even from the outside it’s quite a stunning building. I enjoyed the museum but I anticipated being there slightly longer than I was. I was trying to ignore it and enjoy the art but my stomach had other ideas and was rumbling its way around the museum screaming “feed me!”. I obliged and cut my museum time short to find somewhere for lunch.

I found a restaurant nearby and was soon appeasing my hunger with some good pizza – that’s German, right? Okay, not the best of starts but I did accompany it with one of Germany’s better known delicacies – the beer! The warm weather made it a much needed refreshment!

Following on from lunch I had a wander through Hamburg’s famous Speicherstadt district. It’s not the prettiest on the eye, although the canals help, but this is Hamburg’s warehouse district and it attracts a lot of tourists as its a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was interesting to walk through and I could see why it’s often likened to Manchester.

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After killing a little time I went in search of my hotel to finally check in and drop my things off, however I got a little lost on route so ended up taking a rather scenic route through some park and via what felt like a motorway. In terms of actual traffic it felt abandoned but there was so much construction going on road-side. Eventually I got back on track and checked in to my hotel.

My evening was pretty uneventful, I explored the city a little bit but I was keen to get an early night. I’d looked for things to do before the trip and fellow bloggers and Instagrammers were all suggesting to attend Hamburg’s Fischmarkt (fish market) on Sunday morning. It opens early and is the must do if you’re ever in Hamburg on a Sunday!
I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about so set an early alarm and got to sleep soon after, missing out on any wild Saturday night in Hamburg.

Backtracking quickly, on the way to Stansted on Saturday morning I’d seen this stunning sunrise and it left me pondering why this was such a rarity for me? Why don’t I see more sunrises?

On Sunday morning I remembered why – I love my sleep. As my alarm started going off I questioned how desperate I was to get out of bed for the smell of fish. This Hamburg “must visit” just didn’t happen. I hit snooze thinking maybe I could set off a little later and still catch some of the market atmosphere but there’s only so many times I could hit snooze before accepting my fate and enjoying more sleep.

Hamburg is a city I’ll definitely return to and I’m telling myself I’ll catch the Fischmarkt next time but I think when I’m faced with the actual reality of getting out of bed I’ll probably take the same approach. Oops!

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Hamburg’s Rathaus

Anyway, after sabotaging my own plans and getting off to a late start I decided I’d make Hamburg’s Rathaus (town hall) the first stop of my Sunday instead. I don’t know why but town halls in Germany are always absolutely stunning.

Hamburg’s Rathaus was no exception and perhaps even my favourite I’ve seen so far. It was HUGE and definitely another of the “must visits” in Hamburg. Trying to get a photo of myself with the whole building in was a bit of a challenge but here was my best effort!

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Following on from the Rathaus I started looking for brunch options in the nearby restaurants overlooking the water and contemplated what else I should do with my day. My friend Nicole had recommended the “Minitaur Wunderland” museum and other things I’d read endorsed that recommendation further.

It’s a fascinating museum with models creating miniature sized cities, venues and locations from around the world. I think the miniature sized Hamburg sets were my favourite. From the famous Speicherstadt to Hamburg’s very own football stadium, the level of detail that goes in to such a museum is quite incredible. Some of the displays are interactive too and you see the models come to life which was really cool.

I would recommend visiting and it’s definitely one for the kids too but a consequence of that was that it was also quite busy. Maybe avoid it at the weekend if you can visit during the week instead.

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Hamburg’s SpeicherStadt, Miniatur Wunderland

Moving on, one of the other things Hamburg is also well known for is its role in the theatre industry. Hamburg hosts a number of big plays and shows and I was a little tempted to go and see one on Sunday evening. I passed a little box office to see what was on. From memory there were a couple of Disney shows on such as The Lion King and Aladdin.

I noted how much tickets were but decided I’d make a decision later in the day and come back if needs be so went off to explore a little further on foot. I didn’t really do much other than walk, passing by the odd church and eye-catching pieces of architecture. The day was quickly getting away from me so I went looking for somewhere to grab food ahead of any potential show in the evening. I was particularly on the hunt for a favourite of mine in Germany (and Austria) – schnitzel! It’s always a must! Haha.

Typically when you’re actively looking for something it seems to be impossible to find. A few months after this trip I was trying to find a pub in Edinburgh and seemed to be in the only neighbourhood in Scotland lacking a pub!  A similar fate occurred here where all I was looking for was somewhere with schnitzel on the menu and I seemed to get lost in the Portuguese district of the city with every passing restaurant bizarrely only offering Portuguese or Brazilian cuisine. Eventually I stumbled upon a place with what I was after and I washed it down with a couple of beers.

Still a little undecided on my evening plans, I was torn between trying to see a show or checking out the famous St Pauli area and Hamburg nightlife. My indecision meant, in the end, I didn’t really do either. I didn’t go see a show and by the time I’d made that decision I was on the other side of the city and didn’t fancy a journey back across town to St Pauli.

St Pauli is littered with bars and restaurants whilst also being home to Hamburg’s Reeperbahn (red light district) so is a popular evening spot whilst in Hamburg, whatever your intentions. The latter is perhaps one of the most famous red light district’s after Amsterdam’s very own. I believe it’s the second biggest in Europe but don’t quote me on that!

Nevertheless St Pauli’s nightlife will have to wait for a return visit. On the plus side I had heard from a couple of friends on Instagram about this bar that had some really great beers on tap that also had beer flights on offer which meant I could try a few different beers. I figured it’d be a good alternative spot to enjoy my evening – particularly as it was much closer to my hotel than St Pauli.

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Whilst I quite liked this particular bar itself, it was surprisingly dead. It wasn’t on a main street and perhaps missed a lot of the tourist trade and being a Sunday night perhaps wasn’t going to attract too many locals either. It did mean though that I could sit at a table outside, admire the view and finish my night with a few beers.

Monday offered me half a day more to explore Hamburg before making the trip back to London. I wanted to take a good walk along Hamburg’s port / waterfront area as this is another thing Hamburg is best known for with so many boats (of all varieties) traveling through it daily. I spent a good amount of time people-watching and boat-watching before deciding to pick up some souvenirs to take home with me.

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Hamburg’s port area

Knowing this would be my last opportunity on this trip I decided I’d have my lunch at one of my guilty pleasures when traveling – the Hard Rock Café (HRC). If I know they’re based in a city I’ll often try to visit and tick another off my list.

Of the three I’ve been to in Germany (Köln, München and Hamburg) this was probably my favourite of the three. The experience, as ever, lived up to what you expect from a HRC and it was nice to squeeze in the visit before heading home.

 

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First one of these I’ve seen!

An added bonus to lunch at the HRC was that it was within walking distance of St Pauli so I thought I’d take a little detour through the neighbourhood. I didn’t venture over to the Reeperbahn because, much like Amsterdam, I expect it has a very different vibe to it during the day. However St Pauli as a whole seemed a nice area and it’s a shame I didn’t get to spend any proper time in the area. I admired the street art and took a quick glimpse at St Pauli’s football stadium before catching the train towards the airport.

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Outside St Pauli football stadium!

Hamburg’s definitely a city I’ll go back to but I’d probably stay a little closer to St Pauli next time as although I liked my hotel, there wasn’t too much in the area and personally I’d rather something a little more lively. Both the nightlife and the fish market would have been a bit less of a trek and maybe I’d have been able to experience both, rather than missing them. Nevertheless it was a wonderful trip and another part of Germany I can say I’ve visited!

I’d fully recommend a trip yourself and given I fully intend to return, please feel free to offer recommendations! Anyway, that’s it from me.

Next up on the blog? Thessaloniki!

All the best!

Jason

Dallas – Days 3 & 4 – April 2017

After a late night the day before (catch up here) I was in no rush to get out of bed on Friday morning, despite being my last full day in the city. It looked like I probably wouldn’t be seeing Amber again on the trip, which was disappointing, but it gave me a day to do whatever I pleased.

Not that there was much I particularly wanted to do, with the exception of going up Reunion Tower I’d seen much of what I wanted to in Dallas. I figured I’d go and check out a museum or two in the city. I made my first stop of the day the Dallas Museum of Art which was about half a mile away from my hotel. It meant I got a nice little walk in the Texas sunshine on route.

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Dallas Museum of Art

Soon enough I’d arrived at the museum and made my way in. It was quickly apparent that I’d be sharing the museum with a school group so I let them determine which way I’d be going. You’re all heading off to the right? Great, it looks like I’m going left then!

FYI: kids are loud! This wasn’t exactly brand new information I’d only just come to realise but dare I say it – kids from Texas are particularly loud. I don’t know if they were extra hyped because it was a Friday and the weekend was close but it didn’t take long for the screaming and running teenagers to find me despite my best efforts to repeatedly escape them. I’m pretty sure they were duplicating along the way as they just kept popping out from nowhere.

Company aside, I quite liked the museum itself. Some of the art and exhibits were cool and it was a fun way to enjoy my morning. It’s not too big as some museums are either, you can definitely spend a decent amount of time looking around but still feel like you’ve seen most of the museum’s contents in one trip. Content that I’d seen all I wanted to, I moved on and attempted to escape the hordes of school children.

Close to the museum was Klyde Warren Park which I’d heard was a pretty nice spot within Dallas. I imagine it probably could be, however on this particular Friday morning it was ridiculously busy. It’s not the biggest park, it’s pretty small actually, and it just seemed like every patch of grass was occupied by somebody doing something. Kids running around, people doing yoga, people throwing a ball around or something. It wasn’t a spot to take a breather and relax so I didn’t really stick around for long.

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I promise it was busier than it looks!

By this point Amber had messaged me, suggesting she would be free after all and perhaps we could go to Reunion Tower in the evening along with her family. I wanted to see Amber and I wanted to visit Reunion Tower too so it was a no brainer – of course! It did somewhat change my plans though. Originally I’d figured I’d go see Reunion Tower earlier in the day and then spend my evening visiting some bars I’d had recommended to me.

With a change of plans I figured I’d wander over to those bars now and pick up some lunch at the same time. The two places I’d had recommended to me were both in the Lower Greenville area, about 3 miles away from where I currently was. I’m sure there are better means of transportation to get yourself there but I’m of the belief the best way to travel a new destination is on foot. It might seem crazy to some people perhaps but I decided to walk it.

It might have been a three mile walk but there was actually very little to catch my eye. This was as mundane as most walks come. It was nice to see more of a real side to Dallas, opposed to the touristy downtown views but I can’t say the walk had really been worthwhile. Nevertheless I managed to find the odd landmark or building that peaked my interest, took a quick photo and before I knew it I’d arrived at the bar I was particularly intrigued by – “Truck Yard”.

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Dallas’ Truck Yard! Brews, Grub, Tunes!

It was instantly apparent why this place is so highly rated. The place was quirky and full of character and somewhere I quickly adored. Outside was just a jumble of mess really. You had a little lighthouse and long benches, a stage with a guitar hanging from the roof, an old Chevrelot which doubled up as a table to sit at. It reminded me a little of Szimpla Kert in Budapest but with a bit more American feeling to it.

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I picked up a beer menu, ordered one of the (many) beers that sounded particularly tempting and I found myself a bench to sit at outside. Also outside were my lunch options! At the back of the ‘yard’ were a bunch of food trucks, adding a bit of substance to the name of ‘Truck Yard’. There were a few different options and I think I ended up grabbing food from at least two of them in my afternoon there.

After finishing off my lunch and my beer I contemplated what else to do with my day and came to the conclusion there probably wasn’t anything I really wanted to do. As I said in my day one post, Dallas isn’t really a touristy city. Reunion Tower was the last ‘must see’ for me and that was already scheduled in for later so I decided to stay put. There wasn’t much left of my trip before I had to go home so why not soak it up and enjoy it? It was a beautifully sunny day, I had a nice spot to sit and relax and that beer menu also looked particularly tempting for an afternoon of drinking.

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Enjoying a beer or few.

The bar was surprisingly busy for a Friday afternoon, aided by about a dozen people in their 20’s walking in who’d just finished some charity event and presumably wanted to celebrate with a beer.

So far today I’d experienced a museum full of school kids, an overly crowded park and now a collective of fellow day-drinkers. It did beg the question if anyone in Dallas is actually productive on a Friday? Is anyone in school or work or whatever?

It seemed not! After a few beers I decided I’d better head back downtown, again choosing to walk the few miles to my hotel. The walk was a good way to sober up, in addition to stopping for a snack somewhere on the way.

Back at my hotel I dropped Amber a message to see what time she wanted to meet up, I had a bit of a wait so decided I’d just chill out at my hotel and temporarily “rest my eyes”.

I was quite conscious that with a few beers in me I might fall asleep, so I sensibly set an alarm just incase I dozed off. However it did little to avoid the inevitable happening and I woke up to darkness and a combination of a number of messages and miscalls from Amber – oops!

Fortunately I was staying close to Reunion tower, within walking distance infact, so a short while later I was apologetically arriving and meeting up with Amber and the family who’d made their way in to Dallas for the evening.

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Dallas by night, mid thunderstorm!

Reunion tower offered 360 degree views overlooking Dallas. I’m quite glad it ended up being one of the last things I did in the city, even better seeing it at night and in the midst of a thunderstorm. The lights of the city and the lightning flashing over it made for great viewing.

Unfortunately my afternoon nap had somewhat scuppered / delayed our dinner plans so following on from our fun at the tower we made our way out to dinner at some place with ridiculously sized meals. The added perk to eating here was that it was family friendly and there was a little play area, a little arcade like, so it kept Amber’s little girl (Blakely) amused and we found a few things to enjoy too!

Sadly with a little one our evening had to come to an end and as did my adventure seeing Amber. Amber drove me back to my hotel where we said our goodbyes and she headed home. It had been long overdue finally meeting and I was sad it had gone by so quickly.

I’d hoped to end my evening with a few drinks with our other friend Lanie, however it didn’t really materialise and we ended up taking a rain-check. Luckily only postponing things until the morning where we squeezed in a quick breakfast date before I left Dallas. We ended up going to some place that specialised in donuts so maybe not the healthiest breakfast but an enjoyable one! Haha.

It was nice to hang out again before I left Texas and we ended up having a good chat over a donut or two. Lanie kindly offered to drop me off at the airport which was also a good opportunity to listen to the end of Hamilton and also see how the other half lived! Our little detour on the way to the airport took us through what was a rich neighbourhood of fancy houses and mansions – vastly out of our price range but fun to look at all the different houses nonetheless. I didn’t get any photos but trust me when I say, some of them were beautiful!

Sadly I had to leave eventually. It had been a lovely end to my time in Dallas but like the night before, over far too quickly.

Overall I’m not too sure how Dallas rates as a city in its own right. I don’t feel like I did that much and additionally I don’t really feel like I missed out on anything else I’d wanted to do. It was fine as a city break but not somewhere I’d ordinarily feel I needed to visit again.

All that said, I have a fondness of Dallas and certainly think back fondly on this portion of the trip. It was a fun place to go out, there was cool street art throughout the city and given it’s a big city it doesn’t really have that touristy feel to it. I’ve no doubt most of the people I encountered were locals which makes it a worthwhile place visiting in my book.

On a personal note it was undoubtedly a highlight of my 2017 and I know it’s a city / state I’ll be returning to in the future. The company made it a wonderful few days and I’m craving a return to see some of my favourite people! Thanks again to Amber, Lanie and Macie for making it such a memorable first visit to Texas.

Sadly Dallas was the last of my three stops on this particular trip. I was asked a few times on my return what my favourite place had been and you really can’t compare the three. DC, Nashville and Dallas all offered amazing memories but they’re all incredibly different cities and nothing alike – once again showcasing how diverse the USA is. I’d recommend all of them for vastly different reasons and I’m likely to go back to all three at some point.

However as far as this trip is concerned it’s done and dusted so I’ll wrap this up here. Next up on the blog? Exciting news regarding my 2020 plans!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Dallas – Day Two – April 2017

Day one hadn’t really involved much. I’d planned to get in to Dallas around lunchtime and a police stop added about an hour on to our journey, by the time I’d checked in and stuff it wasn’t worthwhile doing much else before grabbing dinner with Amber and Macie before a few drinks followed. You can read more about that here.

Anyway, the next morning allowed me a chance to get my first real glimpse of Dallas and find my bearings. From a tourist point of view there isn’t huge amounts to do in Dallas so I didn’t have any major plans for my time in the city, my visit was based around visiting friends.

One of the few things I did know about Dallas was that it was the location of the famous JFK assassination so I decided I’d start my day with something JFK related and visit the JFK memorial.

Don’t bother!

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The JFK memorial. No, seriously, this is it.

Everybody interprets art differently but I just didn’t “get it”.. It’s an eye-sore and walking up to it you wouldn’t have a clue what it’s a memorial for. The USA has some incredible memorials but this isn’t one of them and I found it a real shame. I’d gone to see the memorial and instead my eyes were drawn to a pretty building across the street. The memorial was such a disappointment!

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Am I missing something?

My plan afterwards had been to visit one of the museums which had been recommended to me – the 6th floor museum which overlooks Dealey Plaza where JFK was assassinated but I’d had enough JFK disappointment for one day and decided I’d have to have a re-think. In the end I opted to go to Dallas’ aquarium instead.

The aquarium was busy, I think there were a few school groups on a day out so I felt like I spent a chunk of my time there trying to hurdle children. It was alright but not the best aquarium I’ve been to. When I visited Atlanta a year earlier, its aquarium proclaimed itself as the best in North America and I’d have to agree Atlanta’s was better than Dallas’. It’s still a good day out for the kids though.

Following on from a bit of time at the aquarium my attention switched to lunch. For those that have followed my travels you’ll possibly know that I’m a bit of a Hard Rock Café fanatic and in close vicinity of the aquarium was Dallas’ own HRC so it seemed a good lunch spot.

Unfortunately the HRC had other ideas, they were closed to the public due to a private party! I didn’t even know you could do that! Consequently it meant I wouldn’t be adding Dallas to the list of Hard Rock Café’s I’ve been to, I suppose it gives me an additional reason to return to Dallas though!

Seeing as I wouldn’t be eating at the HRC I contemplated where else I could go and decided I’d try find somewhere close to where I’d had dinner last night as there seemed to be a few places in the area.

On route I passed one of Dallas’ weirdest points of interest. The good thing about exploring on foot is you tend to see a lot more and I was taking in all of the views when I felt like I was being watched! Something on the opposite side of the street caught my attention – a massive eye ball!

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Dallas’ eyeball

I’d only passed it by chance but had to cross the street to get a better look, you can’t get particularly close to it but it was interesting nonetheless. Swiftly moving on eventually saw me arriving in to the Dallas area known as “Deep Ellum”. I passed the bar we’d eaten at the night before which was perhaps on the outskirts of Deep Ellum because once you get in to the heart of the area what you’ll find is street art everywhere!

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Deep Ellum!

It was quite the surprise! The whole area is full of art covered walls and murals. I was in amazement at the amount of art in the area on street after street after street. It’s an area you HAVE to visit in Dallas, particularly if like myself you’ve got an interest in seeing street art when you travel. I allowed myself to get lost for what felt like ages – every time I thought I was finished admiring it I’d spot another mural on the next street along.

My favourite piece was probably the proposal. I spotted a wall with “I LOVE YOU” written in massive writing and then on the corner of the wall a sweet little message asking the girl to get married. I thought it was such a clever idea and hopefully wasn’t wasted with a rejection! If anyone knows, please tell me she said yes? Haha.

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My street art admiration had completely distracted from my original intentions which were to find food! Eventually I stumbled upon a pizza place called “Serious Pizza” and it felt a pretty apt name. This was a serious pizza! The size of the slices were huge! I ordered a slice and it was still bigger than I’d anticipated! Two hands definitely needed!
Serious pizza wasn’t just serious about its food, the local area had obviously offered some inspiration and the walls were covered with their own murals which I thought were pretty cool! My favourite being the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles inspired piece.

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Having spent my afternoon trawling the area admiring the food and the art I popped in to one of the bars in the area for a drink to kill a little time before meeting up with Amber later on. The plan for the evening was a quick trip to Oklahoma!

Something that had come up in conversation at dinner the night before had been that I’d never been to a casino! They’re not common in the UK, I’m not sure why really as you can place a bet on just about anything here. Going to a casino sounded fun but the UK wasn’t the only place with a lack of casinos, gambling laws prohibit Texas from having them so we were contemplating driving up to Oklahoma or over to Louisiana and in the end we found ourselves driving up to Durant, Oklahoma.

It wasn’t a huge drive, an hour or so perhaps. Amber and another friend, Lanie, came and met me in Dallas and then we made the drive up together. It was fun to go on a mini road-trip together and cross the state line too! The car ride included Lanie introducing us to the famous musical “Hamilton”.

I knew of it but I’d never listened to it so we spent our trip up to Oklahoma listening to the first half of it and it won me over pretty quickly. It is something I’ve listened to a LOT since coming back from Texas and I’d definitely go and see it live so thank you Lanie!

Soon we were arriving in to Durant’s big casino. I always anticipated I’d visit a casino some day but it was always more likely to be Vegas if anywhere. Vegas I expect to be wild, big, noisy, lively. This had a very different vibe to it and felt more family-focused.

It was still fun but most of the other visitors seemed of an older generation. I took out about $20 I think and that was pretty much my limit. For me it was really the equivalent of playing the 2p machines you get at seaside resorts in the UK. You put your money in until it’s gone and that was pretty much my thinking here – spend the $20 until it’s all gone.

Had I won huge I wouldn’t have complained but I pretty much stuck to the $0.01 machines so there weren’t exactly huge rewards anyway. It was a fun time and I’m glad I’ve had my first casino experience. Vegas is still very much on the list but I think the need for more casinos in the UK isn’t something that would particularly bother me.

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Choctaw casino in Durant, Oklahoma

After leaving the casino we made the slow drive back to Dallas, taking a little detour through some more rural parts of Northern Texas. Amber gave me a little tour of where she’d grown up, went to school and even the town she worked in now. It was pretty late and consequently dark but it was still cool getting to see this small part of Texas and putting an image to the places I was vaguely familiar with because of Amber.

By the time they dropped me off at my hotel it was pretty late, silly o clock in the morning so I made my way up to my room and we said our goodbyes. It left me with just one full day left to enjoy in Dallas. Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

Dallas – Day One – April 2017

If you read my last post (here) you’ll know that reaching Dallas was quite an ordeal but I was finally here! I was in Texas, probably five years too late but I’d actually made it. It felt a bit surreal. I didn’t really know much about Dallas in truth but I was here to finally see a friend (Amber) of many many years!

I arrived in Dallas with a dead phone after 15 hours on a bus so arriving at my hotel was firstly an opportunity to charge my phone but secondly to just enjoy a little bit of comfort. I’d done nothing but ‘relax’ and sit on a bus for hours but it felt nice to be away from that environment and in a comfy hotel room. Eventually my phone was back on and I was keen to see Amber as soon as possible.

I hadn’t really seen anything of Dallas yet but we arranged to meet for dinner at a nearby part of town, along with Amber’s friend Macie. This was a three-city-trip spanning Washington DC, Nashville and Dallas. One of the first impressions I made of DC was that the architecture in the city is stunning, my first taste of Nashville was hearing music absolutely everywhere! In contrast on my walk to our meeting point my first impression of Dallas was one of confusion – “why are there so many damn roadworks?” I don’t know what was happening in the city but they were everywhere and a bit of an inconvenience walking around too haha. Dallas was not off to the greatest of starts!

Anyway, I arrived at this little bar before Amber and Macie and couldn’t help but notice on the front door there was a sign reading something along the lines of “no guns permitted”. It astounded me! Did this need clarifying? Is America that gun crazy that you have to clarify that you’re a gun-free bar?

Maybe it’s the crazy European in me but would this put people off eating or drinking here? “I can’t take my gun to dinner? Forget it!”

Why would you need a gun with you? If that had read “guns welcome” instead would people legitimately have felt safer going in?
Don’t like your service? Shoot the waitress! Someone accidentally knocks your drink over? Blow their brains out! Maybe it’s just me but walking in to a bar full of guns (particularly adding alcohol in to the mix) would have me on edge if anything.

Anyway moving on from my own bemusement, Amber and Macie had soon arrived to join me and in we went (without guns obviously). I don’t really know how to explain the feel of the bar, it felt a little run down but in a charming way? I really liked the character of the place and I guess it felt a little more me – I’m not one for high-end cocktail bars haha.

Having browsed the menu I decided I was going to get a burger but wasn’t prepared for the judgment of all of Texas (slight exaggeration) that was coming my way.

“How would you like your burger?
“Well done please”
“You’re not from around here are you?”

Amber and Macie sat opposite me were both amused. My welcome to Texas had been a prolonged drug and gun search and yet I’d somehow committed a bigger Texan crime here!
“Well done?!!! In Texas? Time to rethink that no guns policy!”

I’d only been in Dallas five minutes and I’d already offended the locals. Dinner was good though and it was so nice to finally be spending time and chatting in person after such a long friendship.

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Barcadia – Beers and arcade games, what more could you want?

After dinner we moved on to a nearby bar called Barcadia – a bar with the added bonus of a number of arcade games you could play. They had a bunch of the ‘classics’ which proved to be fun along with some drinks. Unfortunately it was only the two of us drinking, Macie was sadly the designated driver for the evening but “kindly” suggested that me and Amber do a “pickleback shot”. – whatever the hell that was!

Up for a drink and a little intrigued I went up to the bar, ordered myself a beer and then two pickleback shots. The pickleback came accompanied with one of the following. There were three choices, I can’t remember exactly what the choices were but it would have been one of the following four: Tequila, Sambuca, Vodka and Whiskey.

I have the feeling Amber decided on whiskey. I say whiskey because I was dreading it and I don’t think I would have with the other options! Whiskey usually results in me being sick immediately so I was expecting the worst but given how rare this opportunity was to enjoy the company I figured I’d drink whatever.

We’ll go under the premise it was whiskey. Irrespective of the choice, I still didn’t really know what a “pickleback” shot was, nor how you took it as she poured two drinks – the other being pickle juice. Was it like a Jagerbomb? Whiskey and pickle juice in one? Do you drink it seperately? What’s the deal?

I enquired with the barmaid who advised that you take the shot of whiskey and then follow it up with the pickle juice to “take the taste of the whiskey away”. It doesn’t sound too bad, right?
I don’t think pickle juice is all that common in England so it wasn’t something I’d ever had before – I don’t know what the consensus is across the pond but I hear the word juice and I’m expecting something nice! Something kids would drink, you know?

We get back to our table and I get ready. I’ve got one hand on the whiskey, one hand on the pickle juice. I’d already braced myself for the sickening taste of the whiskey so I had a firm grip on both glasses ready to wash down the taste with the pickle juice as quickly as possible. “Go!”

I downed the whiskey (or whatever it was) – “bleurgh”. It was everything I expected it would be– awful! Fear not though, here comes the pickle juice to save the day!

“BLEURGH. What the fuck is that?” I nearly gagged. My reaction had Amber and Macie in hysterics – I’d responded worse to the demon juice than I had the whiskey. There’s a reason pickle juice is not commonly consumed in England – it’s bloody awful!

Want to do a pickleback shot in Texas? Down the pickle juice and then have yourself a whiskey to take the taste away! I’m so glad I’d ordered a beer at the same time just so I had something to rid myself of the taste of the pickle juice. That pickleback shot still haunts me! Perhaps it’s karma for all of the times I’ve inflicted Jagerbombs upon people?

All that said, for some reason Amber loved them and kept going back for more. I stuck to the beer from that point on rather than attempt any other crazy concoctions of shots. After a few more pleasantly tasting drinks we decided we’d move on to our next bar –  which just so happened to be home to a mechanical bull!

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When in Texas..

 

This bar had a few more people there but still wasn’t overly busy, probably because it was a Wednesday night. We ended up having a couple of beers and then attention focused to the bull – “when in Texas..”

I’d needed the few beers to get to a point where I was comfortable of making a fool of myself. I don’t think it went terribly, not that I stayed on for majorly long but it felt like an alright first attempt. It’s probably something I’d do again but maybe with a little focus on trying to enjoy it more, I think you get so wrapped up in concentrating on trying to stay on that you don’t enjoy it fully. Maybe that just comes with practice though.

We didn’t stay much longer after that. Amber was a little drunk and the pair of them still had a bit of a drive home so we called it a night. It’s a shame Macie hadn’t been able to have a few drinks with us but overall it had been a fun first night in Dallas.
Macie kindly dropped me back at my hotel before they headed home. On the drive I couldn’t help but admire night-time Dallas, much prettier on the eyes when lit up with the lights of the city.

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Me and (half of) Amber! Blame the photographer! Haha

It was a fun first evening in the city and we managed to get a couple of photos to mark the occasion, although hopefully next time in Texas we get some better ones and some with Amber’s whole face! Haha.

Anyway, early impressions were that I was going to enjoy my time in Dallas. Stay tuned to read all about the rest of my trip!

Jason