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

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

Seattle – Sep 2017

Alright my dear readers, we’ve reached the last part of this Washington series. Those of you following along will know that so far I’d been to Ellensburg (staying with Maddie and Cassie), Spokane (solo) and Moses Lake (staying with Haleigh). That left just one place to visit: Seattle.

Seattle is undoubtedly Washington State’s best known city and, of the four places I visited, the one I’d expect you to be most familiar with. Consequently when I made plans to visit Maddie, Cassie and Haleigh this was also the city I was most excited to visit. I’d heard a lot of good things about Seattle and the four of us were off to enjoy the weekend there together.

First things first though, we kicked off our Friday morning pretty early waking up in Ellensburg. We’d agreed to make an early start so we could get going as soon as possible. As I explained in my Ellensburg post, Ellensburg sits on the East side of the mountains, Seattle sits on the West which is a couple of hours away.

I spoke about how impressive the view was when we drove to Ellensburg on day one of this trip but with the smoke, the haze and the air quality I couldn’t appreciate just how pretty Washington was. Don’t get me wrong, I was still in complete awe and had my face glued to the window but that’s partly because I don’t see mountains very often and it just blew me away.

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Washington State, April 2019

It was only on the journey back to the West side of the state (and mountains) that I really got to appreciate the views and just how beautiful Washington really is. Blue skies, fresh air, mountain views and greenery everywhere – it’s a perfect drive and as scenic a journey as I’ve been on. After a while we began our approach in to Seattle.

We kicked off our time in Seattle with a visit to the affectionately named ‘MoPop’ museum (Museum of pop culture) which I really enjoyed. It’s spread over a few floors and has exhibits on various different things. At the time there were sections dedicated to the Seattle Seahawks, David Bowie, Star Trek, video games and much more. It was interesting and definitely a place you should visit on any trip to Seattle. You could feasibly spend hours there as some of the exhibits (such as the video games room) were interactive too. I even got treated to a live show from the unlikely trio of Animal, Miss Piggy and Elmo – played by the three girls.

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What a band!

Afterwards we went and grabbed some pizza for lunch in a cool little make-your-own pizza type place. It seemed to be a chain in Washington as I saw a few of them dotted about but I can’t remember the name of the company off the top of my head, it was good though. Maddie had a quick photoshoot planned with some friends so we made a little time for that before heading over to our hotel for the next couple of nights. We checked in, chilled out and then made some evening plans.

We were staying in the Tacoma area, just outside of Seattle, so it made sense to make plans nearer to Tacoma rather than drive in to Seattle. We met up with some of Cassie’s family and a couple of friends at some little fast food / diner type place to grab some dinner. Moving onwards we headed over to Dorky’s which was a fun little arcade / bar. It was somewhat similar to ‘Barcadia’ in Dallas and made me wish we had more of these places in the UK.

Dorky’s was a little more arcade-game focused than the bar vibe of Barcadia but it was a fun place to hang out, play some games and enjoy a couple of beers – no pickleback shots on this occasion haha.

I played a few classics and also discovered a couple of games I’d never played before. Attention then turned towards Mario Kart. I’d been in Washington a few days now but still not actually spent that much time with Haleigh yet and even less so just the two of us so this was a good/terrible bonding activity.

I say terrible because it’s definitely one of those games where friendships/relationships just go completely out of the window. Was this potential romance going to crash and burn at the hands of Mario Kart? Maybe but a risk worth taking! We both took our seats in preparation of our imminent battle. It’s here where some people seem to take pity on their opponent – “if you like her you should let her win..” – those people are weak!

I had no intention of letting Haleigh win! I was here to crush her! As it was, that didn’t materialise at all. Haleigh comfortably won the first race and then the rematch. Hoping to restore a little pride we agreed on one last race, I’d obviously lost any best of three but if I could end on a high, I’d go away feeling somewhat content. With the finish line in sight I was happy to have at least won one race and BAM!

Sabotage! Something caused me to crash and made me stumble over the finish line, split seconds behind Haleigh who’d somehow pipped ahead of me in the final moment and snatched victory away from me. Unbelievable! We called it quits after that, probably for the best on my part!

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Would I fare better at mini-golf?

Shortly after we all made a move and decided to go and play some late night mini-golf elsewhere. It was a fun way to end our night, plus we managed to squeeze in before they closed the bar so a few of us ended up sharing a jug of beer between us.

I don’t think we really tracked our scores whilst playing but me and Haleigh went round together and were pretty much on par with eachother, I think she might have (again) just pipped me on the final hole as my putting skills seemed to desert me but as we weren’t tracking we’ll call this one a tie – unlike the brutal Mario Kart thrashing!

All in all, it had been a first fun day in the Seattle area. We popped through the McDonald’s drive through on the way back to our hotel and quickly crashed in to bed ahead of day two in Seattle.

Day two, Saturday, was pretty much all about the baseball! We were off to see the Seattle Mariners and I was set to experience my first live game of baseball.

I’d actually caught a bit of baseball earlier in the trip as they were showing the Mariners game on a TV in a bar I’d gone to get some food at in Spokane. My limited knowledge of baseball was that it was essentially the American equivalent to the game we call Rounders, a game fundamentally aimed at children and simplistically put is little more than “hit and run”.

I’d hoped watching a little might have enlightened me on more of the complexities of the sport but I was left unconvinced – it was pretty much a game of Rounders that you might see in any park or school field in England (during the summer months obviously). As a professional sport it’s not something I’d say has too much appeal over here, although with that said they have started hosting MLB games in London so maybe I’m harshly judging it.

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Home of the Seattle Mariners!

Despite my overall scepticism I was quite excited to experience it live as its one of those iconic American pieces of culture that you see so often in movies and TV shows. Baseball is undoubtedly one of the great staples of the USA and I was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. I was also a little curious about how the matchday experience would compare to one of our own staples of the UK – my beloved football.

On our approach to the stadium we drove past some preacher raving about the sins of homosexuality among other things. I instantly wanted to make that comparison to the football back home because even as backwards as football can be, I think he’d have been run out of Tottenham if he’d tried preaching something similar on a matchday down at the Lane – particularly at the old stadium.

Swiftly moving on from the idiot disgracing himself we parked up and were soon making our way in to the stadium where we received a pop figure of ‘King Felix’ – the Mariners legendary player Felix Hernandez. It was a nice little souvenir to take home with me from my first baseball game.

We’d arrived pretty early and it’s a little surprising to see that difference in culture. Football very much has a ‘turn up five minutes before kickoff’ type culture about it whereas baseball was a bit more family friendly and about making it a day out as much as anything. There was plenty of pre-match entertainment, places to eat or drink and likewise photo spots that were a bit of an initiation process for me and confirmed my place as a baseball fan.

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The Mariners gang together!

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Washington

We took some photos to commemorate the occasion and then made our way to our seats and watched the atmosphere slowly build. I cemented my visit by grabbing a hot-dog which for me was just that little piece of the culture you often hear about in the movies or tv shows. You’ve got to have a hotdog (or popcorn or pretzels or..) at the baseball right? I washed it down with a beer which was a welcome improvement over the football. I can drink a beer in my seat? Such a novelty!

It’s a noticeable absence from English football due to outdated and quite frankly ridiculous laws that prohibit English football fans ever enjoying themselves.

Oops, let me get back on track before I go off on a tangent. Kickoff was almost upon us, I was ready to go which ultimately caught me a little blind-sided as suddenly everyone stood up around me. What’s happen.. oh, of course – this is America, time for the national anthem!

Any game, any event, any occasion is a good excuse for a bit of American patriotism and despite being well aware of that I still find myself unprepared for it. I don’t think anywhere quite does patriotism like the USA and whilst I’m sure it doesn’t faze Americans, if you don’t come from somewhere like that it is an obvious cultural difference. It somewhat surprises me they don’t have the national anthem blaring out in the airport upon arrival to the country.

It’s easy to make fun of of course but it’s also a little endearing and heart-warming. It’s a complete contrast to the English philosophy of “England’s shit but it’s our shithole..” – I do think there is still patriotism here but it’s a little less in your face and with a bit more self-depreciating humour I suppose. Unless it’s a major sporting event you don’t really see the country get swept up in English fever.

Out of respect I stood alongside everyone else and as the anthem played I did ponder if I actually knew more words of this than our own (sorry Queenie), you hear it so often in so many settings that it’s hard not to be familiar with the US national anthem.

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Let’s go Mariners!

After our daily dose of American patriotism we were ready to go! Baseball has a unique tradition in which there is a ceremonial first pitch – it has no bearing on the game but is a nice little touch I think and involves a celebrity or randomer of some sort to throw the first ball. From there on it’s left to the professionals.

There’s a lot to admire about baseball as a whole. As a live experience I think it’s a great day out. It’s fun, there’s a community spirit to it, you can enjoy a game with your friends, family, loved ones or whoever but from a competitive viewpoint I’ll be honest and say I found baseball incredibly frustrating at times.

I had it in my head that baseball was a relatively high-scoring game, partly due to the fact that America generally doesn’t like a draw (tie). There are sports which are determined by a winner of course but they’re not fond of the concept and they like a winner. I don’t think American culture really appreciates a good 0-0 or the “good point away from home” mentality which is a bit more common in popular British sports such as football.

Additionally it’s a “hit and run” sport so I was expecting that to be a predominant feature within the game and instead it felt a little more like the equivalent of a really bad penalty shootout with the thrower (kicker) repeatedly missing the target. I found the inconsistency infuriating when ultimately if you’re a pitcher it must be all you train on.

I obviously found myself willing the Mariners to victory but by the start of the sixth inning (of 9) I was just willing them to score anything as the scoreboard still read Mariners: 0

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Five innings, Mariners zero!

The Mariners did offer some hope in the 6th innings as they finally scored! Hurrah! However the 7th, 8th and 9th were then a mismatch and it ended up being a comfortable away victory for the Cleveland Indians. I think the game ended 11-4.

Despite the lack of any real competitive edge to the game I was won over. I don’t think it’s a sport that I could ever enjoy watching on TV but as a live experience and a “day out” it does deliver. I haven’t yet been back to the baseball but it’s certainly something I’ll hope to do in 2020.

After a fun day of baseball we headed in to central Seattle and visited the famous Pike Place market. It’s definitely a tourist trap but it’s a part of Seattle I’m quite fond of. We checked out a few stores and then I had my first sushi experience, where better to enjoy it than right by the coast? I couldn’t tell you what I ate, Maddie offered me a piece of something she’d ordered. I don’t know what I was expecting but the initial taste took me by surprise, however after the initial shock I quite liked it (whatever ‘it’ was). It was another ‘first’ on this trip but I haven’t had sushi since so can’t pretend to say it’s something I feel is lacking from my life.

After a little time wandering through pike place we wandered over to Seattle’s famous ‘gum wall’ nearby – a wall covered in chewing gum. It sounds horrific but it was something I was actually quite keen to see on my first visit to Seattle so I was actually rather disappointed they’d seemingly scraped the majority of the gum off ahead of my visit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely disgusting but I was of the opinion that if I’m going to see it I wanted to see it at its most disgusting haha.

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Love sticks!

Sadly all that was left was a ‘cute’ little heart shape on the wall so we grabbed a couple of photos to take home with me. Fortunately I’ve been back since (Feb 2018) and was ‘pleased’ to see it covered in gum once again, although I suppose slightly horrified too as to how quickly it had filled up in the space of 4 and a half months.

We grabbed some food and then made our way back to the hotel before planning out the rest of our evening. As it was I think both myself and Haleigh just completely crashed and scuppered any evening plans. In Haleigh’s defence she’d just gone through a week of school as a new first year teacher, I’m not really sure what my excuse was but we ended up getting an early night instead.

The next day was our last together. We’d talked about doing a boat ride which we all thought was a good idea so made our first stop of the day this boating place in Seattle. I’d obviously misunderstood in the planning stages of this idea because I’d wrongly assumed that we were taking a little cruise or ferry along the water. What actually materialised was a little wooden boat with paddle in hand – “oh.. that sort of boat..”

We booked up a time slot and then made our way over to the ‘Space Needle’ – a huge tower overlooking the city and looks a bit like a UFO up in the sky. We didn’t go up but had a little look around and met up with one of the girls friends called Haley, not to be confused with Haleigh. I say not to be confused, it inevitably did cause confusion haha.

“Haleigh?”
“Yes?”
“No sorry, I meant Haley..”
“Oh..”

Anyway, the five of us wandered around the Space Needle and popped in to the Seattle centre which was a good spot to pick up some lunch as it’s home to a number of different fast-food type places, somewhat similar to a food court I guess. After a little time we wandered back to take our boat ride.

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Boat time!

I think the boat sat around 12-15 ish people, I can’t quite remember but consequently meant we were paddling alongside strangers. I was seemingly sandwiched with one young kid in front of me and one kid behind me which didn’t work out too well for me. Their timing wasn’t quite in sync which wasn’t unexpected but I also ended up getting fairly wet in the process. Overall though it was a fun little excursion, nice to be out on the water and inevitably scenic because, well if you hadn’t realised by now that’s just Washington all over. Despite my initial scepticism it had been a fun idea and a good way to round off our time together.

Sadly being a Sunday the girls wanted to drive back to Ellensburg / Moses Lake so they dropped me off at my new hotel, I figured it would be more convenient being close to the airport now that I’d be without a car. We said our goodbyes which was sad, it had been a nice first trip to Washington and was somewhere I knew I’d be back to next year for the big wedding in August 2018. As it was I got back there prior to that but you’ll have to wait for that story.

For now it was time to go our separate ways. I could have probably popped back in to downtown Seattle on Sunday evening but instead I just chilled out at the hotel. On Monday I flew home and reflected on a lovely trip. It had gone every bit as well as I’d hoped, I got to visit four wonderful places and meet a bunch of wonderful people (and four-legged friends) along the way.

I was sad to be going home already but on the other hand I was also quite excited. There’d definitely been a feeling of romance whilst in Washington but I knew that a month later I’d be traveling once again at the expense of Haleigh’s biggest love rival.

For those of you now invested in mine and Haleigh’s relationship and currently feeling a little protective, fear not! My trip to Washington had me feeling confident about our future and I’ve since offered assurances that there is room for Haleigh alongside this other lifelong love of mine: Tottenham Hotspur of course.

I was said to say goodbye to Washington but three weeks later my beloved Spurs would be playing in Madrid! That trip is next up on the blog!

Stay tuned!

Jason

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