The big 3-0: Day twenty one – San Francisco begins!

Welcome back my dear readers! We’re in to the final third of this trip which has seemed a little never-ending haha. I’ll be quite pleased to actually write about somewhere other than the USA but I’m glad you’re still enjoying this series!

Anyway, those of you following along will know this was a 30 day trip in the summer of 2018 which coincided with my 30th birthday. On day 20 myself and Haleigh had driven down from Crescent City and finally arrived in San Francisco!

Much of this trip was flexible but San Francisco was somewhere that I was determined to visit on this trip so I was excited to get our first proper glimpse of it. We’d arrived the previous night but not really seen anything beyond the neighbourhood we were staying in.

We had a pretty relaxed start to our morning which is definitely one of the perks to staying in an AirBnB. Our host had kindly left out some sort of home-made bread for us to enjoy before we set off for the day.

We were staying a little outside of the central area of San Francisco but the public transport in the city is pretty good so that wasn’t a problem. Our nearest BART (San Fran’s subway system) station was Balboa Park so we made the walk over to the stop and got ourselves a couple of tickets to get us in to the heart of the city.

Pretty much all Americans drive so Haleigh hadn’t previously used any underground train network. I think it’s easy to get a little frazzled by some of the subway systems around the world and I’d love to say I helped Haleigh master San Francisco’s in preparation of one day tackling London’s famous tube system.

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However the reality is San Francisco’s is probably the easiest subway system I’ve come across on my travels so didn’t require the greatest mind or navigational skills to get around. Unless you’re leaving the San Francisco area, it really doesn’t matter which train or line you jump on. All trains go to the same stops making it particularly easy to avoid getting lost.

We traveled as far as ‘Powell Street’ which takes you in to the heart of the city. The reason we’d opted for Powell Street is because it’s home to San Francisco’s visitor centre and we thought we’d pop in for some recommendations, pick up some 72 hour travelcards and maybe a map to help get our bearings with where things were in the city.

After picking up our travelcards we had a wander around Powell and Market St which is a pretty busy area, popped in a few of the shops in the area before heading on over to the street car which would take us to Fisherman’s Wharf.

San Fran Streetcar
Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

Unfortunately the street car is one of the San Francisco checklist items to do on a first trip and visiting in mid August meant every other tourist in San Francisco had the same idea. The queue was so long that we scrapped that plan for today and instead walked over to the nearest tram stop which would get us over to the pier much quicker.

A short while later we’d arrived at ‘Pier 39’ and were ready to see what all the fuss was about. It was pretty close to lunchtime by the time we’d arrived at the pier and it was inevitably busy. Admittedly this is probably one of San Francisco’s biggest tourist hotspots but in all honesty, this just seemed to be how San Francisco was.

With the exception of the BART which was woefully under-used, it was just busy wherever you went. Hordes of tourists, overcrowded transport leading to long queues, a million cars on the road – it was unavoidable!

That said, we wanted to temporarily avoid it haha. Before tackling pier 39 we decided we’d grab lunch and although the area had a huge range of food options, conveniently right where we’d stopped was San Fran’s very own Hard Rock Cafe!

HRC San Fran
Hard Rock Cafe, San Francisco

Long time readers will know I enjoy visiting the HRC’s around the world and this happened to be in the perfect location to tempt me! All that was left for me to do was persuade Haleigh it was a good idea, who’d yet to visit a HRC herself.

In contrast this would be my 19th HRC and the second of this trip after finding time to visit Chicago’s too! Fortunately it took little persuasion skills and Haleigh was more than happy to have lunch there!

Following on from lunch we wandered down to the pier and admired the views stretching over the bay and over to Alcatraz. It was a beautifully sunny day so we looked to see what boat tours they had on offer and were enticed by a tour for $15 which took us out on the water and a little closer to some of San Fran’s best sights.

It was a fun excursion. Our captain told us a few interesting stories whilst we passed by the famous seals of the pier and then got a closer look at Alcatraz, plus some cool views of the San Francisco skyline behind us.

San Fran Seals
The seals of San Francisco

The boat dropped us back at Pier 39 and we strolled among the busy crowds, popping in and out of shops along the way. It’s definitely a bit of a tourist trap but I feel like you could spend a good chunk of time there and still keep yourself amused. Haleigh ended up buying some fudge to take back to Washington, whilst I settled for nothing more than some window shopping.

The shops and promenade seemed a little less crowded and hectic on the upper deck so we headed up the stairs for a look around up there, which also provided an opportunity to get some nicer photos.

Pier 39
Pier 39, San Francisco

Perhaps going up there was my fateful mistake! We wandered along enjoying the atmosphere below us whilst basking in the gorgeous weather when I suddenly felt a small dropping hit me..

“Please be rain!”

Rain? I looked up and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky – just sunshine and bright blue skies.

Nevertheless whatever had dropped was on top of my head so I needed Haleigh to confirm my fears and sadly she did. Some bloody bird had crapped on me! I’d been dreaming of visiting this city forever and on my first full day in this city I get crapped on!

I don’t know how regularly this happens for the rest of you but I’ve been quite lucky in that I can only remember experiencing this on one other occasion – down in Florida!

Both times in the USA? Really!? Those pesky American birds!

So after a quick detour via the public restrooms, we were back on the move and wandered down towards Fisherman’s Wharf which was equally busy. Rather than spending too much time there among the crowds we marched on towards Ghiradelli Square which Haleigh was keen to visit.

There was a much more relaxed vibe here than there had been at Pier 39 / Fisherman’s Wharf. There was still a bit of a buzz in the air of course with people mingling and chatting away, whilst others played a round of ‘Cornhole’ but it was far less hectic and a much more enjoyable place to wander and look around.

Moving away from Ghiradelli Square we meandered down to the beach and just sat and admired the view for a while. It was a perfect spot and I think if I lived in San Francisco I’d frequent this part of the city on many occasions. I could have stayed there for hours I reckon but time was flying by.

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Prime suspect?

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You could easily spend an entire day in the pier 39 area I reckon if you were to combine it with other attractions and excursions. Having had a good taste of things in San Francisco we tried our luck again with the street car. There was a long queue again but we were feeling much less rushed heading back to our AirBnB and it was something we wanted to experience at least once in San Francisco.

Whether you have the patience for the queue is an individual choice I suppose but I’m really glad we did it. I think it’s worth traveling on at least once and had it not been for such long queues I’m sure we’d have rode it more frequently throughout our trip. It’s a great way to see the city as you travel up and down San Francisco’s hilly streets.

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Soon enough we were back at Powell Street and jumped back on the BART in direction of our AirBnB. We relaxed for a bit and then freshened up before deciding what to do with our evening.

We contemplated going back in to down town San Francisco and finding something fun to do. However in the end we decided to stay local and grabbed dinner at a bar just around the corner from our AirBnB.

The upside to not staying in a touristy area was that it felt like we were probably the only out-of-towners in the place with everyone else seeming local and friendly with eachother and in weekend mode given it was a Friday evening.

We took two seats at the bar and ordered ourselves a burger each, accompanied with some drinks which went down equally well. In addition to the good food and good beer, there was also a live band playing which provided the perfect entertainment for the evening.

It was a really nice way to round off our first full day in San Francisco. Aside from the unfortunate bird incident it had been a pretty positive introduction to this wonderful city.

After a couple of drinks we called it a night and headed back to our AirBnB, excited to explore again tomorrow. Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

P.S – if you want to catch up on previous posts from this trip you can do so below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!
Day nineteen – California pit stop!
Day twenty – San Francisco bound!

The big 3-0: Day twenty – San Francisco bound!

Welcome back my dear readers! I suggested last time out on the blog that I’d try and “up my game” a bit and get two posts out a week going forward. It hasn’t happened haha. Nevertheless I’m determined to get back to posting once a week so I’m cracking on and posting another day of the “big 3-0” trip.

Those of you who haven’t been following (have missed 19 posts!!) will not be aware that this was a 30 day trip in the USA coinciding with my 30th birthday in the summer of 2018.

One of the places that was a must visit on this trip was San Francisco and we were close! Myself and Haleigh were slowly making the drive down from Washington and had just spent the night in Crescent City in Northern California. After a good night’s rest it was time to hit the road again!

We said goodbye to our AirBnB and hopped in the car – heading Southbound once again. One of the reasons we’d stopped off at Crescent City was its proximity to the famous Redwoods and it wasn’t long before we were surrounded by trees towering over us on both sides.

Northern California Scenery
Surrounded by huge trees!
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Northern California

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I think I spent the early part of the morning just glued to the window, taking photos and videos to look back at someday. On the other hand, all I could think was “what a place to die..”

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some suicidal thinking on my part but with the winding roads, the fog, the towering trees it created that perfect horror-like setting. It was beautiful of course but just a few minutes in to the drive I felt so far removed from civilisation and the rest of the world. You couldn’t help but feel that any minute we’d break down on the side of the road and some axe-wielding maniac would pull over asking if we needed any help.

“No.. no, we’re okay thanks!”

Fortunately the car was showing no signs of failing us so we kept plodding along until we came to the “Trees of Mystery”. I’d read about this attraction when looking for things to do in and around Crescent City and discovered it was home to a 30ft “Paul Bunyan”.

Haleigh was familiar with the tales of Paul Bunyan but the name meant nothing to me. His fame doesn’t appear to have made it over to our side of the pond but it seems that he is a famous lumberjacker in American folklore and travels around with his trusty companion – “Babe the Blue Ox”.

Paul Bunyan
Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue Ox, Trees of Mystery, California

The giant lumberjacker was difficult to miss on the side of the road so we pulled over and got close up for a few photos of our new friends Paul and Babe. The trees of mystery attraction itself seemed to offer a few trails for hiking but we were content just making it a fun and quick stop.

We got back in the car and as we drove through the forest, the trees just seemed to get bigger and bigger – we were truly in Redwood territory now.

Travel has a way of making your place in the world feel very small but I’d say particularly so here. I was in complete awe of the Redwoods and the surrounding scenery. Even in the midst of forest fires ravaging the West Coast, nature still seemed to be thriving and left me mesmerised.

We passed a sign highlighting the scenic route, which would add a few miles on to our journey, and couldn’t resist the temptation to get off the main highway. We were quite happy to be rid of the traffic and aggressive drivers pushing us to zoom along the winding roads.

True to its word, the scenic route was just that – breathtakingly scenic! We pulled over at one point just so we could properly admire them up close. They’re just incredible! It’s hard to imagine too many other places such as this which really leave you speechless and humbled.

We passed a few other parked cars and consequently a few people who’d seemingly had the same idea we had. Fortunately it meant myself and Haleigh were able to get a photo of the both of us as a nice souvenir and reminder of our time passing through the Redwoods.

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Some kids we’d walked past were less enthused by the experience with one retorting that “it’s only a tree..” and clearly not happy that their parents had forced them out of the car. It left me and Haleigh amused and made me realise that sometimes you don’t really appreciate these things when you’re younger.

I envisaged a scenario in the future where the kids would want to return and being mockingly told by their parents that “it’s only a tree..”

Admittedly those kids weren’t wrong. They are “just” trees at the end of the day but as spectacular as you’ll see anywhere. In the company of trees that have stood for hundreds of years, it was impossible to feel anything other than small and insignificant. They’re a must see on any trip to Northern California!

Redwoods

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After getting plenty of photos we got back in the car and continued with our journey, leaving the scenic route and returning to what was still a pretty scenic highway. I can’t really remember much else of the drive, I presume we stopped for lunch somewhere but I couldn’t tell you where so it was probably just some fast food of some kind.

The only other memorable stop we made was as we passed by a little roadside shop which had loads of these wooden hand-made bears sat on the side of the road. They were pretty cute and available to buy along with a lot of other hand-made items and art.

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Cute bears and a cute Haleigh too!

It was an interesting little stop. We took some photos with the bears and I also found Pinocchio who told me I was the coolest kid around – I couldn’t understand why his nose was so big though?

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Me and Pinocchio, best buds!

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful. The thing that really struck me was how quiet the roads were in this part of California. At times it felt like we were the only people on the highway which surprised me – particularly in the summer months but it seems that all of that famous California traffic is reserved for the big cities such as Los Angeles.

The roads started getting busier as we got closer to San Francisco, particularly around Santa Barbara, but even then a good chunk of the highway has a carpool lane which you only need two people to take advantage of so we were flying past all of the single-drivers on the road. Soon enough we were seeing signs for San Francisco and then the golden gate bridge!

San Francisco Road Sign
San Francisco – here we come!

We hadn’t really hit any traffic all day but as we approached the tunnel which leads to the Golden Gate bridge things started slowing down and we came to what was almost a stand still. It probably wasn’t the ideal time for us to be arriving in to San Francisco, albeit unavoidable. That said, I have a feeling that the traffic in to this part is probably always like this.

Not that the locals seemed to have the patience for it – the car honking was endless! Puzzling too, where exactly do you want us to go? In to the back of the car in front of us?

“Hit the pedal Haleigh!!”

Oddly enough, Haleigh was unwilling to partake in a game of road rage and smashing in to all of those who blocked our path. Instead we crawled along at a snails pace – which was actually fine by me!

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First glimpse of the Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco

At the end of the tunnel I could peek my first glimpse of the golden gate bridge! I was so pleased that we were traveling in over the bridge itself – even better that we were slow-moving and I could really take it in and appreciate it in all of its glory.

This was the Sydney Opera House, Eiffel Tower, Big Ben “pinch me” moment of San Francisco – there was no doubt as to where we were! We’d made it! We’re really in San Francisco!!

Golden Gate Bridge
Driving over the golden gate bridge

I managed to grab a bunch of photos before we eventually escaped the bridge, however there was no sign of the San Francisco traffic easing up. I don’t know why you’d want to drive in a city like San Francisco, much like New York City or London you have to question if it’s even worthwhile being on the road.

Karen, our handy sat-nav, guided us to our AirBnB where we parked up and awaited for our AWOL host to arrive. As it was, she was only in the back garden so not too far away and was quickly letting us in to show us around. We had no intention of driving whilst in San Franciso so swapped the cars around – putting Haleigh’s car in to the garage whilst our host moved hers in front of the garage.

It had been another long day of driving so we didn’t really have any plans for our first evening in the city. Had we been closer to downtown San Fran perhaps we’d have gone and explored but we just settled in to our AirBnB and familiarised ourselves with the local neighbourhood.

In essence we were staying in an unofficial Chinatown. The area was full of restaurants offering Asian cuisine, with a Sushi restaurant on the corner of the street we were staying on. It was far enough away from touristy San Fran that it felt very local and is undoubtedly one of the perks of AirBnB life – this being only my third AirBnB stay – all three of which were on this trip.

We went and checked out a nearby Chinese restaurant which had some good reviews on Google. On appearance it’s probably not somewhere I’d have walked in to, more reminiscent of your typical kebab house you’d stumble in to at the end of a night out.

Nevertheless, appearances can be deceiving and the food was really good. Although I’d originally ordered a duck-dish and they were then out of duck, not that I could complain about my second choice. If there was to be any complaint it would be that there was just too much of it!

Both me and Haleigh struggled to finish our meals and agreed we could easily have shared a meal between us – it felt a bit of a waste to leave so much unfinished. Brilliant value though as it was not only delicious but pretty cheap too.

Following on from dinner we had a wander through the neighbourhood but didn’t go too far. It was beginning to get dark and for the first time this whole summer, it was cold!

Whilst San Francisco was warm by day, it quickly became apparent that you’d need a jacket in the evening as it got quite chilly. Having had a small glimpse we headed back to our AirBnB for a relaxing evening and started making plans for tomorrow – our first full day in San Francisco!

Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

P.S – if you wanted to catch up on previous posts on this trip, see below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!
Day nineteen – California pit stop!

The big 3-0: Day nineteen – California pit stop!

Welcome back my dear readers! Thanks to those of you that played along with my recent photo challenge. It was a bit of fun that has helped get me back in to some sort of blogging groove. We’ll see how things go but I’m going to attempt to try and squeeze out two posts a week going forward – certainly whilst we’re in this lockdown era!

Anyway, it’s back to the “big 3-0” trip this time round. Those who have been following this 30 day trip will know that myself and Haleigh were slowly making our way from Washington State down to San Francisco, California!

After a couple of nights based in Lincoln City on Oregon’s coast it was time for us to hit the road again. We still had another 650 miles ahead of us before we’d reach San Francisco so whilst there was still some distance to go, we were inching ever closer!

We effortlessly checked out of our AirBnB in the morning and as a first-time AirBnB experience it had been a positive one. I’d always been a little hesitant to use AirBnB but I’d been somewhat converted – somewhat because I can’t say I’ve used AirBnB since this trip but I’m more open to doing so for future travels.

We said our goodbyes to Lincoln City and started heading South – next stop California!!

California.. I feel like I perhaps do this too often already but I’ve not yet reached that point where the travel opportunities I’ve had don’t still blow my mind a little. In all honesty, I hope I never get to the point where it’s something I take for granted.

My parents did a lot for us growing up and we got fortunate to visit places like Orlando, Florida as kids which not everyone gets to do but I’m very much from a working-class background. A holiday like that took years of savings and sacrifice to make happen.

I digress a little but my point being that if I have a habit of romanticising places a bit too much it’s because deep down, I don’t know that I thought I’d ever visit these places. California always had this allure about it when I was growing up. It was some faraway land that epitomised what I considered to be cool and the pictures of it just looked sensational. To think I’d ever get there in my lifetime was some pipe-dream.

and yet, here we were. In the car and driving South, inching closer and closer to “the golden state”. Ugh even that sounds incredible, doesn’t it?

The drive down was stunning. Winding lanes along the coast offering sea views and a wealth of scenery that is just a dream as a passenger. There’s a ruggedness to the landscape and the fog just added to the atmosphere as we drove along – I truly felt a million miles away from home. I have so many photos on this drive that I couldn’t even tell you where we were but the scenery just left me in total admiration for the West coast.

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Don’t mind me, just admiring the view

Highway 101

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Somewhere along Highway 101

The perk of driving of course was that we could stop as and when we wanted to. We wouldn’t be in San Francisco until tomorrow so we were in no big rush and could stop for the numerous quirky roadside attractions that the US is famous for.

The first instance of this were some 20-30 foot roadside dinosaurs that immediately caught our eye. We quickly pulled over for a closer look and made sure to grab some photos. The dinosaurs were part of the Prehistoric gardens attraction in Oregon. We didn’t check out the entire area but checked out the gift shop and managed to grab a few cool photos before hitting the road again.

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Making friends at Prehistoric Gardens, Oregon

Dinosaur

We continued our journey South along highway 101 which took us through a host of cute cities and towns. I think my favourite we passed through was Coos Bay.

We stopped for lunch somewhere along the way, however we didn’t want to slow the journey down too much so stopped off at McDonald’s for something pretty quick.

Now, having become quite accustomed to temperatures between 30-45C (85-115 F) all summer, we were quite unprepared for our brief stop at the Antarctic! I don’t think I’ve ever walked in to a colder restaurant / bar! I’d love to visit London’s ice bar for some comparison, although I suspect it’s a few degrees warmer than this McDonald’s was! Even anticipating a quick stop, Haleigh ran back to the car to grab herself a jacket! I decided to brave the arctic conditions but was hoping McDonald’s would live up to its reputation as “fast food”.

With fuller stomachs it was back on the road but more importantly, back out in to warmer climates! The scenery continued to impress and soon enough we were approaching the state line – I had to get a photo!

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Oregon – California state line

Admittedly it’s not the greatest effort but in a moving car I thought it came out well enough. It was a landmark moment! State number 3 with Haleigh, state number 6 of this trip and my 12th visited state in total! 12!!

The latter sounds so weird to me, three years prior the only state I’d been to was Florida and now I’d been to twelve!? That doesn’t include the likes of Wisconsin, Arkansas or Maryland either which I’ve only really traveled through rather than stopping anywhere. How have I been to twelve states!?

Anyway, we were here! We were actually in California! We wouldn’t be in San Francisco itself until tomorrow but only had another 25 or so miles until we were in our stop for the night – Crescent City.

It wasn’t a city I knew anything about but it was a good resting place between Lincoln City and San Francisco. Soon enough we’d arrived at our home for the night – again opting to stay in an AirBnB.

After checking in and dropping our things off we took a little drive to see what was in the city itself. We parked up down by the pier and admired the views but there wasn’t too much in the area – other than a fun-looking children’s park which had a few kids playing.

Crescent City
Crescent City, California

We popped in to the nearby visitor’s centre but it was fairly late in the afternoon by the time that we’d arrived so whilst there’s probably a lot more to do in Crescent City if you have a full day in the city, there wasn’t a huge deal open at that time of the day to make it worthwhile visiting.

The big attraction of Crescent City was its proximity to the Redwoods which we knew we’d be passing through on our drive tomorrow so in the end our only takeaway from the visitors centre was having overheard discussions about some food options for the evening.

We decided to grab dinner at some brewery called Seaquake. The food wasn’t anything special but I was pretty pleased with the beer selection and particularly intrigued by the ‘Citra’ as I often drink a beer of the same name at my favourite pub back home.

After dinner and a couple of drinks we contemplated what else to do with our evening in this sleepy city. We remembered that we’d passed a bowling alley earlier which was close to our AirBnB and felt like that could be a fun way to spend our evening. Sadly it wasn’t actually open for whatever reason so slightly scuppered our plans.

In the end we decided we’d just head back to our AirBnB for a relaxing evening. It’s not like we’d come to Crescent City for something in particular, it had just been a convenient stopping point for the night so an evening relaxing seemed pretty appealing.

Our AirBnB was nice too. We had a decent sized space to ourselves and found some rubbish TV to watch in-between all of the commercials. It was a nice evening and set us up perfectly for another South-bound journey tomorrow – San Francisco via the Redwoods!

Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

P.S – if you want to catch up on previous days of this trip, you can do so below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!

Ten day photo challenge – behind the scenes!

Hey dear readers! It’s me again! You must be bored of me by now, right? I think this is the first time I’ve ever posted more than two days running! Haha.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed following and playing along over the past ten days. Now it’s time for me to reveal why these were “favourite” photos and the story behind picking these particular ten.

To be honest, I followed the favourite objective a little loosely. These aren’t necessarily Instagram-worthy or being printed to go up on my bedroom wall any time soon but they bring back good memories for one reason or another. In a lot of cases they’re favourites purely for the story behind the photo.

Forewarning – this is likely to be a long post. So if you’re only interested in the answers and not the stories behind them I’ll list the locations above each photo.

I think the initial “no explanation” part to this challenge was only implemented for people such as me who have to ramble on and on and on!

Anyway let’s get on with the stories shall we?

Day one – “I’m really fucking here!!” – Sydney, Australia

Hostel View

Truthfully, this wasn’t the photo I would ideally have used for this particular story. I wanted to share my first photo from this trip but it clearly had the name of the city in the photo so it wasn’t particularly suitable for the challenge haha.

This one seemed to have you all stumped! Interestingly Nick was the first to play along and made the observation that they’re “driving on the wrong side of the road”. The photo might therefore be a little misleading but the Aussies actually drive on the left like ourselves in England!

The Travel Architect suggested this was Big Ben’s little brother but the guess of Walla Walla, Washington was way off the mark!

This building is actually Sydney’s Central train station and the photo was taken from my dorm room at Sydney Central’s YHA hostel. Not a bad view right? The alternative photo had the name of the hostel and ‘Sydney’ was clearly visible so wasn’t much use.

Those of you following me on Instagram will have already had some insight in to the story for this one. On the 9th of February 2013 I was embarking on my first ever solo trip! On the 11th of February 2013 I’d landed in Sydney, Australia.

I was so fucking nervous. See Instagram for my “excited at Heathrow” photo before leaving. Sydney was one of those bucketlist destinations for me. The seed got planted in to my head about going to Sydney in the near future and shortly after I picked up Bill Bryson’s “Down Under” book which only tempted me further.

I started considering it and floated the idea with a few people – “I’m thinking about going to Sydney..” – and the feedback was pretty positive. I spoke to my parents about it, I booked the time off work, I had the money in the bank and nothing..

I just couldn’t find the courage to book the trip. I had everything planned out! I was going to Sydney on the 9th of February and come mid January I still hadn’t booked the flights or the accommodation.

It was really last minute but I’d finally done it. It was booked! There was no turning back now!

The rest was history. I stepped out of the train station, walked down the stairs and right in front of me was the hostel I was staying at. I was really in Sydney! Fucking pinch me! I checked in to my hostel and this was the view greeting me from the dorm window.

That trip changed everything. I’d got the bug! Travel stopped being a luxury and started being the priority. I don’t think the majority of the trips that followed would have happened had it not been for this trip and this experience.

Day two – “Disney of the North!” – Helsinki, Finland

Jason Fi

Some interesting guesses on this one. Finland enthusiast, Marion, I knew would get this one instantly but she refrained from giving the game away and kept schtum on the correct answer.

The Travel Architect came up with Greece as her best guess so was on the right continent at least, meanwhile Salsa World Traveler went for something a little more vague and guessed “somewhere cold” – you weren’t wrong! It was Tanja however that came up with the correct response – Helsinki in Finland – an impressive guess given she’s never been to Helsinki!

Funnily enough, I almost went with a train station photo for this one too but then I started looking at day three and didn’t want to post three train stations in a row haha.

I’ve not actually blogged about the Finland trip yet but this was another bucketlist destination for me, albeit for very different reasons on this occasion. My grandmother was Finnish and she lived with us throughout my childhood up until she died. I’d always felt such a strong connection to Finland and those roots and it has always given me a huge desire to see Finland for myself.

It was only as the trip got closer that the realisation hit me that I might not actually like Finland as much as the place I’d built up in my head. I’d convinced myself that Finland was perfect. What if this trip crushed every fairytale I’d created in my mind?

In the days leading up to this trip the nerves really hit me. There was suddenly pressure towards this trip. I’ve always felt that Finnish connection and I’ve clung to it as best as possible since my grandma died but I couldn’t brush off this doubt. I was DESPERATE for this trip to live up to my ridiculously high standards.

The day of the trip came and this was it! I landed at Helsinki airport a little while later and it was pretty smooth, it’s a really nice airport. I followed directions towards the train platforms and then bought myself a ticket heading for the centre of Helsinki.

My first real memory of Finland was this little girl sitting on the train, with what I assume was her dad, and singing some nursery rhyme which just sounded heavenly. I then got off the train, stepped outside of the station and it was snowing! There was no snow in the forecast for the weekend!

“Are you kidding me? This place is magical! Sod Disneyland, this is Disney of the North!”

I was instantly swooning over Finland. I can’t adequately describe what I felt that weekend. I went with such high hopes and it was infinitely better than I could have ever imagined.

I’m not saying that’s necessarily the reality, Finland probably isn’t for everyone but the trip somehow strengthened my love for this country. I’m itching to go back and probably would have returned in 2020 had it not been for Covid.

This particular photo was on the day I arrived. It was still lightly snowing and I saw Helsinki cathedral for the first time and I was blown away. I’d seen photos of it online but it somehow seemed even more remarkable in the flesh.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to judge Finland objectively, it might purely be the Finland-tinted glasses on but I felt a belonging and at home in a place I’d never been to. Magical!

Day three – “I know your language!” – Köln, Germany

TheEnd

“Hauptbahnhof” was your big clue for this one, or the DB and S train services that run throughout this country! Translating Hauptbahnhof from German in to English would give you the main or central (haupt) train station (Bahnhof) so if you understood Germany or had been to Germany you might have been able to narrow this down a little!

I’m not sure how recognisable this train station is but this proved the easiest photo challenge so far. Tanja and The Travel Architect were able to narrow this down as far as Germany.

Fellow bloggers Little Miss TravellerWhole lotta RosieLiving in KarolingstonOur Crossings and Handstands Around The World were all much more accurate in their guess of Cologne – this being Cologne’s main train station!

I first visited Cologne in 2013, a few weeks after coming back from Sydney. I told you I’d got the travel bug! I was itching to go somewhere and Easter weekend was the perfect opportunity for some travel.

Well not perfect! My last minute planning meant my options were relatively limited as far as my budget was concerned and I ended up booking myself a train to Cologne – not a city I’d ever cared about visiting, nor a country I really had much interest in visiting.

That trip was the first time I truly felt like I’d been abroad. I didn’t know the language, I was all on my own, the Germans didn’t seem particularly welcoming. My hostel was lonely – a very different vibe to my first hostel experience in Sydney. I was still an inexperienced traveler and all of the comforts of Sydney were lacking here.

I still enjoyed Cologne but I wasn’t sad to be going home at the end of the Easter weekend. So I was happily sat waiting for the train back to Brussels (and then London) and some bilingual, seemingly homeless, person approached me asking for money.

A bilingual homeless beggar! I brushed off his pleas in German, playing the ignorance card and he trumped me!

“No worries mate, I can ask you for money in English..”

What!? That backfired! For what it’s worth, I hadn’t refused the first request because I’m some heartless soul. I’ll happily help anyone but it’s difficult differentiating between someone who’s genuine and needs help opposed to someone who’s just a chancer and taking advantage of people’s kindness.

Nevertheless, asking me in two languages humbled me a little bit and he ended up walking away with a few spare euros in his pocket. That experience has stuck with me ever since.

Fortunately in 2016 I returned to Köln (not Cologne!) as a German speaker and it felt like a sign of personal growth. I’m not fluent by any means but it was hugely satisfying to be able to speak the language of the locals.

I’ve been to Köln four times now and whilst I hadn’t ever anticipated visiting that many times, the subsequent trips have been much more satisfying than that first trip was. No matter where I travel now I try and learn a few phrases because it can transform your entire experience. I’ve grown a soft spot this city and I’ve been to many other parts of Germany since too.

This particular photo was taken in 2016 on the way back to my hotel – I’m sure that ‘Hauptbahnhof’ sign was always there but it was more noticeable on this occasion and I had to get a photo.

Day four – “The big 3-0!” – Chicago, USA

River Il

This one was seemingly too easy for many of you! MarieJessMarionSalsa World TravelerThe Travel ArchitectTanja and Diana were all able to correctly identify this as Chicago!

Of course this inclusion shouldn’t be a surprise. How could I not include at least one photo from this trip? I could have probably found a hundred photos from this trip to have used but I really wanted something from the first stop on this trip – Chicago! My only regret is not making it harder for you! Haha.

This is genuinely a favourite photo from that trip though. As you’ll know, I’m still in the process of writing about this trip on the blog but it was truly an unforgettable trip. To spend that length of time on one trip, seeing so many places, creating so many memories – just wow!

It’s another trip that humbled me. Thousands of miles, six states, an entire month traveling the USA – I’m not sure I’ll ever take another trip that’s quite that grand and I’m really appreciative that I had the opportunity. It was the best way to celebrate turning 30.

This particular photo was one of my last in Chicago and I was just in awe of its beauty. I was sad I’d had such little time in the city and needed the memory of this view to take home with me before heading on to Minneapolis.

Day five – “snap me while you can!” – Paris, France

July 2019

I had more success in making this difficult for some of you. Marion had no idea, meanwhile The year without Wimbledon and The Travel Architect were only able to narrow down their guesses to Europe with Budapest and Vienna for answers.

Fortunately some of you were able to come up with the correct response. AivaMarieSalsa World TravelerTanja and Sarah knew this was in Paris – the balcony of the Musee D’Orsay to be specific!

This was an interesting choice because I’d say “favourite” photo loosely. Admittedly this was one of the better ones from the 20 or so photos I managed to take on this particular weekend. A chunk of those however included one of the most famous landmarks in the world, The Eiffel Tower, so I couldn’t use those for this challenge either haha.

This trip was somewhat of a throwback to the “good old days..”

“Erm, Jason.. I know you’re 30+ now but you’re not that ancient..”

I know, I know but this trip afforded me the luxury of something I haven’t experienced for a number of years. There’s perhaps even some readers who’ll never have experienced travel like this but what you might call “off the grid” travel.

I’d charged my phone before work on Friday morning. Following work, myself and Haleigh would be catching the Eurostar to Paris! Now I’m 99% certain the Eurostar has charging points but I hadn’t been worried all day – my phone battery would last long enough for us to reach our hotel.

I’ve not written about this trip yet but after a hectic ride we finally arrived at our hotel, I plugged my phone in to charge and nothing!

Tried Haleigh’s phone – success. Tried mine – nothing!
Tried Haleigh’s charger – nothing. Tried Haleigh’s phone with her charger – success!

My phone had decided it was taking the weekend off! “Sorry Jason, you can’t expect me to work in Paris..”

It was mind-boggling. Three days later, I arrived back in England and it charged like there’d never been a problem. I’m using that same phone and charger 18 months later and it works perfectly fine but on this particular weekend? No chance!

So it was a race against the clock really. I was preserving my phone life as long as possible but by Saturday morning my phone was dead! I was in Paris off the grid! I was unreachable. I had no idea where we were, I had no idea what time of day it was anymore, I had no idea what was going on in the world.

Had Trump declared war on North Korea over Twitter? Quite possibly but I had no way of knowing, I was unreachable, I was.. free!

I’d missed this way of traveling. As an American, Haleigh also didn’t have the luxury of roaming data to use so we were solely reliant on those ancient travelers methods such as picking up a paper map to find our way around or god forbid, asking somebody!

Ironically, one of the reasons I hadn’t done this style of traveling for so long is due to being in a long distance relationship! There are very few people I feel a need to be at constant beck and call with but it’s hard to just disappear and have no communication when you’re in a relationship that’s heavily dependent on online access.

So for this to happen on one of those rare occasions we were traveling together was incredibly convenient, fate-like even. Nothing outside of Paris existed for a weekend and I was with the only person that I needed to be with. Admittedly Haleigh could still use the Wi-Fi as and when she could use it but it was in short supply – we were in Paris and effectively off-the-grid.

What a city for such a luxury too! It was so, so nice. I’ve missed this style of travel a lot and I hate that it has been “so long” since I’d previously traveled that way, I’ve not done it since either. Haleigh is a convenient excuse but I’m looking forward to being together someday soon and being able to travel off the grid more frequently.

This was one of the few photos I managed to grab before my phone died. The photo itself is fine but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a favourite – however it aids this story and I’m looking forward to writing about this trip in more detail at a later date!

Day six – “My second home” – Moses Lake, Washington

ML Mar 2020

The American flag was a little hint here because I thought it unlikely anyone would guess this one otherwise. As it was Salsa World Traveler came closest with a guess of Southern California having recognised those clocks from somewhere!

I don’t know that they’re unique enough that they couldn’t potentially be in other states but I’ve seen them throughout a few towns in Washington State so on the right coast at least!

This particular one was in Moses Lake, Washington which perhaps won’t come as the biggest surprise to long time followers of the blog (or other social media) who will know that I have spent a significant amount of time in the last three years visiting Washington State.

Moses Lake, Washington has become somewhat of a second home for me. I’d dare say I’m probably fonder of Moses Lake than Haleigh who lives there currently but it’s just a place that holds a lot of good memories for me and the locals have always made me feel welcome.

I’ve always been a big city person but I’ve spent many an enjoyable day in this little town. It only felt right that it was a “favourite” that I included among the photo challenge. This particular spot is opposite the small independent little coffee shop in the downtown area and has quickly become a favourite spot on my frequent visits to Moses Lake.

Unfortunately Covid robbed me of a proper farewell last April and although I’ll definitely return to Washington in the future, I’m not sure Haleigh will still be living here by the time I next get to visit.

I’m not sure I’ll have any real reason to go back in the future so it may be that I’ve actually visited Moses Lake for the last time – we shall see! Nevertheless, this photo brings me some joy and memories of living here and many other visits prior to that.

Day seven – “the growth of Weetabix Boy” – Bruges, Brussels 

Moules Frites

I was a little hesitant to share any indoor photos because it makes the challenge particularly difficult and dare I say impossible? However I also said that each photo had some story behind it and I’m not sure any other photo would have had the same meaning behind it.

As is quite clear, the story here was food related and given this dish is so synonymous with this country it seemed an acceptable exception for the challenge!

Little Miss TravellerThe Travel Architect and The Red Phone Box Travels all correctly predicted this was somewhere in Belgium. Nobody guessed this was in Bruges but given the lack of identity in the photo that’s understandable. Salsa World Traveler anticipated a trick question and opted for an out-of-the-box guess in New Orleans but this was as obvious as it seemed so no cruel trick from me on this occasion!

Anyway, on to the story!

I mentioned in a blog post recently that I don’t really eat cheese and how that’s just a long-time habit more than anything. I know that I’d in all likelihood enjoy cheese now but there’s no huge incentive for me to “find out”. For instance I could order the cheese burger instead of just a regular burger in any restaurant but why? I’m equally content eating a burger without cheese so if I’m going to have a burger then I’ll do that.

Admittedly that’s not the greatest example as far as cheese was concerned but the point is I was a fussy eater as a child and it has been difficult to kick those habits as an adult. I’m just an incredibly predictable person – which was best summarised in my “Weetabix boy” post.

Nearly three years on from writing that post, I can guarantee you I’ve probably had Weetabix 500 times for breakfast – at least! Realistically it’ll be many morning’s more than that number.

FYI – I’ve yet to receive notification of any Weetabix sponsorship or ambassadorial role but maybe this will serve as a timely reminder? Weetabix’s CEO reads my blog, right?

Anyway, the overall point being that in many ways I’m too predictable for travel but this photo served as proof that I’m better than I was twenty, ten or even five years ago.

I first visited Belgium back in 2013. We’d gone to Brussels for a friend’s birthday and ended up taking a day trip to Bruges. We stumbled upon the main square in Bruges and I remember the smell from the food market hitting our 3 person-party – Belgian waffles!

The other two were inevitably drawn towards the smell of food but as someone who is the complete opposite of a “foodie”, I was a little more sceptical. Do I even like Belgian waffles? Am I going to part with my euros to find out? What alternatives are there?

I can’t actually recall if I stumbled up the “courage” to try them or wherever I skipped out on lunch entirely due to my fussyness but it’s funny for me to look back at and think just how safe my food choices were when I first began traveling.

I’ve been to Belgium a few times since that first trip. Whether it has been Brussels, Bruges, Gent or Liege – you don’t have to go too far to find mussels on the menu – it’s the “biggie” as far as Belgian cuisine is concerned.

However despite several trips I’d always excused myself from taking the leap as far as mussels were concerned. I’ve eaten waffles and seeked out other famous Flemish dishes in both Belgium and Lille but I’d always found an excuse to bypass mussels.

Six years after that first trip I found myself back in Bruges and enough was enough. I told myself that I couldn’t leave Belgium without trying the famous “Moules Frites” and consequently you have your photo!

Undoubtedly a minor accomplishment for many of you but it wasn’t a dish I ever thought I’d “give a go”. Accompanied with some wonderful Belgian beer, it was a little tick for “Weetabix Boy”.

Day eight – “this isn’t Leeds?” – Florence, Italy

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I had a feeling this might be one of the easier photos to guess the location for because if you’ve been to Florence, it’s an unmistakable view. If nothing else the Duomo is one of the most easily recognisable buildings amongst this skyline that I think it’d be impossible to confuse with anywhere else. So it proved with the guesses!

SarahMarionAiva and Ellie all correctly guessed this was Florence – with some very specific guesses naming exactly where in the city this is! It’s safe to say that Salsa World Traveler has yet to visit this wonderful city with a guess of Spain – hope you get there soon!

Again this particular photo probably wouldn’t have been my “favourite” from this trip but I’ve posted many Florence photos on the blog already so I thought I’d go with this ‘happy’ photo instead which I don’t think has ever seen the light of day anywhere other than on Facebook!

Unlike any of the other photo choices, the unique thing about this particular photo is that it theoretically shouldn’t exist! I wasn’t actually supposed to be in Florence at this moment in time, I was supposed to be in Leeds!

I’d booked flights to Italy with the intention of flying home on Friday morning, in anticipation of joining a friend at a gig up in Leeds on Friday evening. As it turns out my flight home wasn’t on the 27th of February (2015), it was on the 27th of April!

“How did that happen!?”

I still have no idea to this day but of course it was a last minute realisation. The night before flying to Italy I wanted to check in for both flights and discovered that I had no flight home on the Friday! With a “fuck it” attitude I figured I’d sort it out once I got to Italy – I’m going regardless, I’ll work out how or when I’m getting home later.

The upside is that my mistake meant I stayed in Italy an extra night and I spent my extra 24 hours in Florence seeing beautiful spots such as this: the Piazzale Michelangelo.

The other reason this trip was a little special is because it was probably my last off the grid trip – ironically to the detriment of this particular moment. The atmosphere here was wonderful with dozens of people sat on the steps waiting to watch the sunset. There was a little stall selling beers and snacks and all I wanted to do was to tell my friend to meet me here so we could enjoy a beer together and watch the sun go down with everyone else.

However sadly where “off the grid” travel had its perks in Paris, this was one of the occasions where you remember it’s not all glamour and has its inconveniences too. The only way of meeting up with my friend whilst in Florence was with a specific pre-arranged “meet here at this time” plan.

We’d already agreed to meet up outside the Duomo that evening and the only way to make a change of plans was to hunt him down in this huge city and try and do it quickly enough to get back here for sunset. Inevitably it didn’t happen and I made my way back down with a heavy heart – jealous of the people I was leaving behind at Florence’s prettiest view!

Nevertheless, every time I see this view it reminds me of the time I got an extra 24 hours in Italy so I can’t say it was all bad!

Day nine – “the quiet before the storm..” – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Moura Day Selfie

I was a little worried that this might have been an easier one so I was pleasantly surprised to see that I’d stumped AivaMarion and Anita with this one! Marie and Leighton however were more successful in guessing this was Amsterdam, with Leighton going one step further and narrowing this down to being Dam Square! Great job!

I’ll be honest, one of the first things I thought after picking this photo was “I clearly need a new jacket..”

Somehow this jacket found its way in to three of the photos on display in this challenge! Needless to say, it’s a well travelled coat! Although admittedly this and the Helsinki photo were at least taken in the same week so perhaps it’s a little more acceptable?

and what a week it was! I’d flown to Helsinki on Saturday, I was determined to prolong my weekend in Finland as long as possible so I flew home on Monday evening.

I didn’t have time to dwell on my disappointment at leaving Finland behind because no sooner than I was home, was I off again! On Tuesday morning I woke up to go to work and on Tuesday evening I made my way down to Victoria to hop on an overnight coach to Amsterdam to get me in to the city early Wednesday morning!

Consequently this photo was probably taken close to 6am which is why one of Amsterdam’s busiest squares looks like a ghost town. Unless you’re up at the crack of dawn, you’re not going to see Dam Square look like this when you visit!

Now you might be wondering why there was such a quick turnaround between trips and why I’d take an overnight coach trip to Amsterdam – what a hassle!

Admittedly it wasn’t planned that way! The Finland trip was planned months in advance, along with a number of other plans in 2019. However Amsterdam hadn’t been one of them!

Yet my beloved Tottenham Hotspur decided it was this year that they’d give the football thing a crack and, against the script, somehow found themselves playing in a Champions League semi final in Amsterdam!

As a hypothetical I’d told myself I wasn’t going to travel for a Champions League semi final. Of course I’d go for the final but Dortmund was my European trip for 2019, I wasn’t going to the quarter finals or semi final. More than one European football trip wasn’t in my budget for the year.

The quarter final was easier to commit to, particularly as the “European” adventure would only have taken me as far as Manchester but that hypothetical semi final became a genuine semi final – our first at this level since 1962!

“I’m not going.. I’m not going.. it’s my mum’s birthday.. I’m not going..”

By the time the foolishness had subsided I’d paid the price for my indecision. It was a Champions League semi final, how I could I not go!? This may NEVER happen again!

Unfortunately by the point the penny dropped, the sensible Spurs fans had already taken advantage and booked up the flights and Eurostar journeys to Amsterdam. Now I wanted to go but costs had skyrocketed which made a cheap Amsterdam trip impossible! I compromised and booked a return overnight coach – cheaper and two less nights accommodation!

This particular photo was essentially the calm before the storm. Those already in Amsterdam were happily sleeping, the rest would be following throughout the day to watch the English completely take over Dam Square for the day.

I still can’t put in to words what followed. I’d go as far as saying this was probably the best night of my life. From 3-0 down Lucas Moura put away a hat-trick to send us to the first Champions League final in our history!

From 3-0 down! In a Champions League semi final! In the 95th minute! Away! In Amsterdam! What the fuck just happened!!!?

I spent the evening bawling my eyes out – tears of joy, tears of disbelief. I hugged hundreds and hundreds of fellow Spurs fans who were equally delirious in Dam Square. A complete contrast to the silence and emptiness of that same morning!

The only thing that could have topped this night would have been winning the final three weeks later in Madrid but this night will live long in the memory. For it to have come barely 48 hours after being in Helsinki made this a truly unforgettable week. Two contrasting experiences but WOW!

Day ten – “Africa, it’s right there!” – Gibraltar

Mosque Rock

I wanted to end this challenge with somewhat of a challenge so this is another I wasn’t sure anyone would get, with the exception of Marion who visited even more recently than I had! Hannah however also correctly guessed that this was the wonderful Gibraltar!

Whilst I do like this photo, I actually blogged about Gibraltar quite recently so many of my favourite photos from the trip were only posted recently and I didn’t want it to be too easy for you. Those of you following me on Instagram or Twitter may also have seen a few other photos so I opted for this one.

I have to say that Gibraltar was somewhere that wasn’t too high on my list to visit really. I live in the fantasy that at some point I’m going to visit every country in the world so I’ve always had the intention of visiting Gibraltar someday but the reality is, Covid pushed Gibraltar towards the top of the list to visit.

It was one of the few countries you could visit last year with minimum fuss. Low covid cases, zero covid deaths (at the time of my visit, sadly no longer the case) and because it’s an overseas British territory I was pretty confident Gibraltar wouldn’t be banning UK citizens from visiting any time soon.

Whilst my visit was largely due to limited options, I can safely say this is somewhere you should be making an effort to visit! Gibraltar is lovely. I touched on it more in my blog post on Gibraltar and Marion went in to even more depth on her trip here but wow! I did not expect to like Gibraltar quite as much as I did.

I don’t know what I was expecting but Gibraltar had the best bits of European and British culture with the added bonus of Spanish weather – what more could you want!? I absolutely loved it, I could easily see myself living in Gibraltar and walking by my company’s Gibraltar office only aided that temptation.

“Could I keep my job but work from here!? Please?”

This particular spot was undoubtedly one of my favourites in Gibraltar. Had 2020 been a normal year I’d hoped to visit Africa for the first time last year, probably starting off with Morocco which has jumped towards the top of my list to visit.

I’ve been to some wonderful places in the world over the last few years but I’m conscious that I still haven’t been anywhere too far outside of my comfort zone. I’m determined to explore Africa, Asia and South America in the coming years but obviously any hopes of getting there in the immediate future have been disrupted by the worldwide pandemic.

So there was an element of awe about ‘Europa Point’ in Gibraltar! I could see Northern Africa! I felt like I could almost reach out and touch it!

“It’s right there! That is Africa!”

It was spellbinding. I found myself a spot to sit and just really take it in. Even in a digital age, Africa has an element of mystery and wonder about it. This is probably as close as I’ll ever get to Africa without setting foot on African soil and it was really, really cool to think about in that way.

I’ll 100% return to Gibraltar but I’m hopeful it’ll be under better circumstances because I’d love to just catch the ferry over to Morocco next time. Africa was right in front of me, Gibraltar and its famous rock behind me and Spain to my right – what a feeling!

Anyway, I think I’d best wrap this up! Thanks for playing along over the past eleven days! I imagine next time on the blog it’ll be back to the “big 3-0” trip but I guess we’ll see!

Stay tuned!

Jason

The big 3-0: Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!

Welcome back dear readers! Last time out on the blog I hinted at getting back in to the groove and therefore the posts would start coming thick and fast!

Consequently, you’re getting no big introduction this time! If you don’t know what happened in the first 17 days of this trip you’ll just have to go back and find out, won’t you?

On the previous evening myself and Haleigh had arrived in Lincoln City on Oregon’s coast and we were ready to explore! Other than go for dinner we hadn’t really done anything since arriving on the coast so it was our first opportunity to see what there was to do locally.

Or my first opportunity anyway. Haleigh had been to Oregon’s coast a few times on family holidays growing up but for me, this was my first trip where I’d really been able to see any of Oregon. With Haleigh’s knowledge of the area a little better than mine we hopped in the car and drove up to a little place called ‘Tillamook’.

Tillamook is a small ‘city’ with a population of 5,000. I don’t know what rules there are that determines city status but a lot of places I’d consider towns in the UK refer to themselves as cities over there – who am I to argue?

Tillamook Creamery
Tillamook Creamery, Oregon

Anyway the main attraction of Tillamook, and the reason we were visiting, is the “Tillamook Creamery” which is open to the public. As we began approaching the site it was clear it had changed quite a lot since Haleigh’s previous visit. I’m guessing they’d expanded to some capacity but it was much bigger than Haleigh remembered.

In what was quite a busy car park we eventually found a spot to park up and then made the walk in to the heart of the creamery. It’s free to visit which was a nice little bonus.

The building is split in to three main sections. The first area we visited was the more educational part of the place. Having been in business for more than 100 years you get the opportunity to see and learn about the various processes that help create their products with a little behind-the-scenes look at the production line. It’s not a particularly big area but it was interesting nonetheless.

The next main area and undoubtedly its most popular is its cafeteria type room. Specialising in cheese and all things dairy, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the big attraction is to “sample the goods”. With a range of lunch options to tempt us we decided we’d both get something to eat.

As a fussy child I grew up “not liking” cheese. I’m much less fussy now and I’ve no doubt that I would eat some cheeses today but it’s generally a habit that has stuck with one exception – pizza of course!

Fun fact – I was horrified when we made pizza at school one time and discovered we were using cheese to make it!

“Mum..? The pizzas we eat don’t have cheese do they?” – shockingly they did!

Anyway, I digress! The point being is that I’ve never been too cheese-adventurous so whilst Haleigh’s lunch options were a bit more vast, I played safe and ordered their cheese-inclusive-pizza.

I can’t remember what Haleigh opted for but we both enjoyed our lunch choice. The last area to take a quick look at was its gift shop. Neither of us ended up buying anything but it was nice to have a look around and see what they had on offer.

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Tillamook gift shop

Before making our getaway we returned to the “other side” of the restaurant area where they specialise in another dairy product – ice cream! We couldn’t leave Tillamook’s creamery without seeing how their ice cream held up against their other products so we joined the queue and licked our lips at all of the different flavours on offer.

Haleigh, again, had much more difficulty deciding which flavour she wanted with all of the options on display. Ordinarily I’d go straight for the strawberry but I thought I’d mix things up (like the crazy kid I am, right?) and opted for their huckleberry ice cream – a wise decision! Although I’m sure I’d have enjoyed their strawberry too!

With much fuller stomachs we said our goodbyes to Tillamook and its wonderful food and hit the road! It’s probably not going to prove a hugely popular attraction for the vegetarians and vegans but we’d enjoyed our visits.

We made our way back to Lincoln City, zigzagging through the one lane roads surrounded by greenery and had soon arrived back to familiar surroundings on the coast. Pondering what to do next we had a little look around before Haleigh suggested we visit Lincoln City’s ‘famous’ Christmas Cottage.

Unbelievably it was August and I found myself visiting my third Christmas store of this trip! Myself and Haleigh had already been to one in Oregon City a week earlier, meanwhile myself and Crystal had also popped in to one down in New Orleans in the first week of my trip! Would I be all Christmas’d out by the end of this trip? It’s not even Halloween yet!

After some more Christmas-browsing we hopped back in the car and decided to make the short drive down to Depoe Bay – supposedly home to the world’s smallest harbour!

Depoe Bay
Depoe Bay, Oregon

I don’t know how accurate that statement is but Depoe Bay is certainly a small little place. We parked up on the main street and then wandered towards the harbour Depoe Bay is ‘famous’ for.

It’s a pretty little place but I can’t say there was a huge amount to it. It’s apparently the whale watching capital of Oregon but I can’t say that we saw any whales either. We spent the bulk of our time browsing the small little independent stores lined along the main street. Haleigh made sure to pick up some treats to take home with her too including some saltwater taffy – America’s answer to a stick of rock I suppose.

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Depoe Bay, Oregon

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Content we’d explored all there was to do here, we snapped a few more photos and then made the short walk back to the car with the intention of returning to Lincoln City. It’s a nice drive, particularly with both Depoe Bay and Lincoln City being coastal cities. It wasn’t long before we’d found our way back and popped in to our AirBnB for a little relaxation before dinner.

Although Lincoln City has plenty of restaurants and places to eat, as we were only in town for two nights we decided to return to Mo’s. I decided I’d get a different main on this occasion (still seafood) with some chowder on the side which went down as well as it had the previous evening.

Mo's, Lincoln City
Mo’s in Lincoln City, Oregon

A relaxing night followed on from dinner which rounded off our time on the Oregon coast perfectly. Oddly enough we hadn’t actually spent much time in Lincoln City itself but it had been the perfect base for us to explore locally.

Whilst very different from British seaside towns, Lincoln City still had that charm and it’s a place that I’d like to return to. I could see why it had proven to be a family-favourite destination for Haleigh and her family.

In the morning we’d be saying farewell to Lincoln City and heading further South. Next up we’d be crossing the border and heading in to California! Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

P.S – if you want to catch up on previous days of this trip, see the links below!

Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day 12 – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!

The big 3-0: Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!

Welcome back dear readers! After slacking off a bit in 2020, I’m trying to get back in to the blogging groove this year. Consequently posts for the rest of this trip should start coming thick and fast!

I feel like I need a Netflix-style recap option on WordPress and similarly a “skip recap” option for those of you bored of the story but for any newcomers to this story (go back to day one!) then let me catch you up for the umpteenth time!

Two friends were getting married in Washington State just days before my 30th birthday in the summer of 2018. With two reasons to celebrate and a big birthday, I wanted to celebrate big! So I planned and mapped out a 30 day adventure in the USA! This was going to be by far the biggest adventure I’d ever taken and proof of that is this story!

I say that because we’re only just passing the halfway point in this adventure and yet I felt like I’d done and seen SO much already. Arriving in Chicago on day one seemed such a long time ago – “that was on this trip? Wow..”

Chicago Bean

After running around five different states in the first couple of weeks, last time out on the blog I’d actually managed to slow down a bit! Myself and Haleigh had spent a long weekend in her hometown of Walla Walla, Washington.

The halfway point on this trip just so happened to coincide with Haleigh’s family’s annual BBQ – a perfect opportunity to slow down, enjoy the company, get to know Haleigh’s family a bit better and just spend some time in one place with very few plans.

So after a relatively laid-back weekend, I woke up on Monday morning feeling recharged and ready to go! We’d had a nice weekend but it was time to get back on the road and back to adventuring!

When this trip first came up I anticipated that it would be my first trip and possibly even only trip (HA!) to Washington and the West Coast so I was adamant that other than the wedding, the one place I HAD to visit was San Francisco. I couldn’t go all the way to the West Coast and not visit San Francisco.

As it turned out, this ended up being my third trip to Washington but nevertheless that thought-process remained. I had no idea who I’d be spending this trip with, I had no idea where else I wanted to visit on this trip but San Francisco was non-negotiable. Fortunately Haleigh was more than OK with that plan and so a roadtrip was formed.

We said our goodbyes to Walla Walla and hit the road – San Francisco, here we come!

San Francisco Road Sign
San Francisco – here we come!

Well, in a few days anyway. Walla Walla is up in central-ish Washington and San Francisco was more than 750 miles away so we had a long way to go. Worse yet, I don’t drive so I’m a pretty useless roadtrip companion. With multiple drivers doing the journey in shifts it might have been doable in a day but with just Haleigh at the wheel it made sense for us to make it a relatively slow drive and to stop off at various points along the way.

Today we were heading for Oregon’s coast. Oddly enough it had only been a week earlier where we’d done a similar journey. Somehow on consecutive Monday’s we found ourselves leaving Washington State in the direction of Oregon.

A week ago the wedding festivities were over with so we said goodbye to Poulsbo, Washington in search of Portland, Oregon. After a few days in Portland we came back to Washington for the family BBQ and then after a few days in Walla Walla it was back to Oregon.

Admittedly the back-and-forth was a little inconvenient but we wanted to make the best use of our spare days between the two events. In an ideal world they’d have either been closer together (back-to-back) or further apart so we could have traveled more inbetween.

On the plus side, we were really getting to see a lot of the two states! Usually when I leave Walla Walla it’s to return to Moses Lake or to head further West and on to Seattle which is a particularly scenic drive as you pass through the mountains. Those drives usually take you North out of Walla Walla, this time we’d be heading South and across the border.

The scenery in this part of Washington is really unlike the Western side of the state. It’s desert-like and long-time readers might recall my fascination at the deadly tumbleweed on a trip here six months earlier. There’s no sign of the “Evergreen state” in these parts so in addition to enjoying Haleigh’s company, I spent a good chunk of our drives snapping photos.

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Wait, this is the evergreen state?!

Soon enough we were back in the Dalles, we’d stopped off here for lunch on day 13 and taking essentially the reverse journey back to Oregon it made sense to stop off here again. We returned to the family-favourite restaurant, Cousins, and enjoyed a decent lunch before getting back on the road.

Those of you that read day 13’s post might recall our disappointment that we’d not been able to stop off at Multnomah Falls as the carpark had been full. Well luckily our back-and-forth itinerary meant we were presented with a second chance and this time we were in luck!

I don’t know if it makes a difference what direction you’re heading, what day of the week it is, what time you arrive but traveling from Portland to Multnomah Falls on a Thursday morning had proven unsuccessful. Traveling from The Dalles to Multnomah around Monday lunchtime had proven a little more successful so my advice would be..

I don’t know. Travel East to West maybe? I imagine most of Multnomah’s visitors are coming from Portland so perhaps the carpark stays open going the other way?

It certainly wasn’t any less busy in the carpark. It’s probably one of Oregon’s better known sights and its proximity to Portland makes it a particularly popular one. We could already see it from the carpark but obviously we wanted to get closer to see it in all its glory.

It is stunning! It was busy, probably inevitably so in August, but it is definitely worth paying a visit to if you’re in the Portland area. I think forest fires, among other things, mean some of the trails are no longer accessible but even those of limited mobility can get close enough to get some decent photos and enjoy it up close. I got a fair few, including probably one of my favourites of the entire trip.

Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls, Oregon – August 2018

We didn’t hang around for too long. There’s a little gift shop and I think cafe that you can stop at if you’re feeling peckish. I picked up a couple of postcards but we didn’t stick around too much longer as we were hopeful of trying to beat the Portland rush hour traffic.

Surprisingly I didn’t think Portland itself was too bad but we started hitting traffic once we’d got to the South side of the city. Even once you start getting away from the Portland traffic and on to the highway, we seemed to hit a traffic light what felt like every 100 yards and you could be damn sure they were red on every single occasion.

I was feeling sympathetic towards Haleigh as we’d already been on the road a while by this point. Between the excessive number of traffic lights and the constantly changing speed limits we didn’t really seem to be getting anywhere – there can’t be many slower highways around!

Slowly but surely we were creeping towards Lincoln City and the scenery was getting prettier by the minute. Much like Washington, Oregon is bloody gorgeous! So green too! I was selfishly quite pleased that I can’t drive and that I could just sit back and admire my surroundings.

Oregon greenery
It’s so green and pretty in Oregon!

Once I saw a sign for the infamous Mo’s restaurant I knew we couldn’t be too far from Lincoln City and so it proved to be! Soon enough we were driving through this pretty coastal town with shops, restaurants and hotels lined up along the main street of this small little place.

Our trusty friend Karen (our Satnav) guided us to our AirBnB and we were quickly being greeted by our host for the next couple of nights. Despite all of my travels I’d never actually stayed in an AirBnB before. I’ve always been a little bit sceptical and I’ve heard enough horror stories, including from people I personally know, to steer clear.

That said I’ve obviously heard plenty of good stories too and if they were that bad, AirBnB wouldn’t have had the success they had. Whilst I’ve always been a hotel or hostel traveler, AirBnB was a good option for Lincoln City so I was just hoping for a good first experience. The fact our hostess was home to show us around was a good start at least!

It was a nice place, close to the actual coast and with an outdoor patio with sea views! After dropping off our things in our room we stepped outside to enjoy those views.

Mo's, Lincoln City
Mo’s in Lincoln City, Oregon

It was early evening by the time we’d arrived so we didn’t really plan on doing much. Haleigh had obviously had a fairly lengthy drive so we both just wanted a relaxing evening. Our only plan was to go out for dinner and experience Mo’s “famous” clam chowder!

I’d never had clam chowder before but I’d heard enough about Mo’s to suggest this was the place to have it. Whilst it was my first time in Lincoln City, Haleigh had come here on many occasions for holidays at the Oregon coast with her family and Mo’s was a particular favourite so had acquired somewhat of a legendary reputation!

We made the short drive from where we were staying and found the queue leading out of the front door! We had a bit of a wait but it was a pretty good sign that Mo’s reputation was justified. If nothing else, it was situated in a stunning location overlooking the beach and the sea.

Mo's Restaurant
The view from Mo’s, Lincoln City

Mo’s is a fairly decent sized restaurant so the queue moved pretty quickly and we were soon seated. We both went for the clam chowder, I was intrigued to see what all of the fuss was about.

It was pretty good and I’d certainly recommend stopping off at Mo’s if you’re ever in Lincoln City or passing through. As ever, I don’t think my reaction at the time gave any impression I’d actually enjoyed it. Haleigh was unconvinced I’d liked the chowder but I’m just really bad at portraying my enthusiasm I suppose haha, I insisted I had!

So the clam chowder had won my seal of approval, even if it hadn’t looked particularly clear that was the case. Although even as a new chowder fan, I don’t think it’ll be replacing fish and chips on the menu back home any time soon.

Still, it had been a good start to our time at the coast and I’d finally experienced the legendary Mo’s! After finishing our food we headed back to our AirBnB and just wound down by watching some Netflix which was definitely a perk of staying here rather than a hotel.

Every time that I’d been to Washington up to now I’ve tried to impose some British comedies on to Haleigh. Having successfully converted her as a fan of a few different shows, such as Black Books, I was intrigued to see what else we could find to watch.

I think in the end we settled on Fawlty Towers which I’d not actually seen myself. We watched a couple of episodes which kept us a little amused before we turned our attention to making a plan for tomorrow. We were both excited for the fun to start but you’ll have to wait for the next chapter of the story.

Stay tuned,

Jason

P.S – if you want to catch up on previous posts in this series, see the links below!

Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!
Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!

The big 3-0: Day sixteen – the Vegas finale!

Welcome back my dear readers, I hope your 2021 is off to as best a start as can be in the current circumstances.

It’s back to the “big 3-0” trip on the blog today with us entering in to the second half of the story! Those of you not familiar with the trip (get caught up!), it was August 2018 and I’d turned 30 years old. As a means of celebrating I planned a 30 day trip in the USA which coincided with two friends getting married in Washington State just days before my birthday!

Anyway, in the last blog post of this trip I’d been enjoying family traditions and specifically the big annual BBQ that Haleigh’s family host every year. It had been a great success with lots of food, wonderful company and plenty of fun throughout our Saturday.

Sunday ended up really being the slow farewell as the stragglers that hadn’t yet left town could get together for one last hurrah before heading home and in their separate directions.

Myself and Haleigh woke up at a decent time in order to go and join the breakfast festivities at the grandparents who’d served up the American favourite – “biscuits and gravy”. This may seem a peculiar combination for any British readers out here but don’t worry, it’s not what you think! They aren’t actual biscuits.. so no digestives required here!

Ironically Wikipedia suggests that ‘biscuits and gravy’ emerged just after the American Revolutionary War. Now I don’t want to suggest that war started over the meaning of the word biscuit and that the subsequent tea-spilling was caused due to disagreements on whether a biscuit should be tea-dunked but can the timing be purely coincidental? I’ll leave you to be the judge.

Anyway, back to breakfast. It was nice and a good way to round off the weekend together, this would likely be my last visit to Walla Walla for some time so I appreciated the opportunity to have somewhat of a ‘farewell’.

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Walla Walla, Washington

We moved away from breakfast and on to the living room where we relaxed ahead of the weekend’s big climax! Much of Saturday’s entertainment had revolved around tournament play of a game called ‘Vegas’.

Five players, five rounds, five winners. Each winner would qualify for the “grand final” in the hope of claiming family bragging rights for the weekend. Unfortunately one of our finalists was long gone, resulting in one of the hosts of the weekend – Haleigh’s grandpa! – taking up an honorary seat at the final table.

With four finalists ready and raring to go, the race was on for finalist number five (Haleigh’s brother, Ben) to retain his place in the grand final! Threats of forfeiting due to late arrival were banded about but luckily Ben arrived shortly after the scheduled 12pm start time! It was gametime!

Sadly I’d failed to qualify for the big finale and could only look on as an intrigued spectator, seeing who could hold their nerve in this high-pressure tournament and take home the family bragging rights.

Perhaps the long wait had caused some nerves among the other finalists because the late arrival, Ben, was crowned champion! Controversial perhaps given a delayed start but there was no question it was a deserved victory in a truly impressive final performance.

After the game fellow finalist Gina went shopping with Haleigh, leaving me in the company of her family. More importantly it meant a seat at the table had been vacated, another seat opened up quickly after and allowed myself and Rob to swoop in on one last game of Vegas this weekend.

With the actual final over with, the pressure was now off and all that there was left to play for was personal pride. Perhaps I’d benefited from a spectator’s role in the final to really hone in on each player’s weaknesses but I really came in to my own in this game. I ruthlessly blew away the opposition and finished with a weekend high-score, showing little mercy to the family I was supposed to be impressing this weekend!

Oops..

Some light-hearted threats followed with Haleigh’s great Aunt in particular suggesting that perhaps a phonecall to immigration was in order? I’d overstayed my welcome and it was about time I left the country!

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Banished and on the next flight home!

All jokes aside, I felt that I’d mingled with Haleigh’s family pretty well and hadn’t made a terrible impression. It was satisfying to end the family-filled weekend on a high and with a win under my belt too.

The afternoon wound down pretty quickly. Everyone began saying their goodbyes and heading off in their own direction, hopeful that it wouldn’t be too long until the next family gathering.

Myself and Haleigh had already made our own plans with another member of the family, Casey, who we’d yet to see this weekend.

We picked up Casey and drove over to this bar across town to grab a late lunch at. I’d already met Casey back in February when we’d gone to lunch with her and fiance (now husband!) Daniel. Sadly Daniel wasn’t in town this time around so it was just the three of us but it was still a nice afternoon and good to catch up with Casey before leaving Washington.

The food itself was good and the service was decent too, the waiter seemed enthused to have a Brit in town and as ever left me feeling like somewhat of a celebrity when visiting the smaller towns and cities of the USA.

After dropping Casey back off at home we returned to Haleigh’s home and just relaxed for a few hours before one final outing on this Walla Walla adventure. Myself, Haleigh, Ben and Haleigh’s mum went out for dinner. It was a nice way to end what was a really lovely weekend.

It ended another chapter on this trip. I was really excited for what was coming next – me and Haleigh would be making our way down to what was a dream bucketlist destination for me personally – San Francisco!!

That said, despite that excitement I was also sad to be leaving Walla Walla so soon. I wasn’t sure when I’d next be back but knew it’d be 2019 at the earliest which felt like a long time without seeing my second family and second home. It was a bittersweet feeling.

Nevertheless, the adventure had to go on! On day 17 we were hitting the road! Stay tuned for that!

Jason

P.S – if you wanted to read about the rest of the trip, you can find links to all posts below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla
Day fifteen – The family BBQ!

The big 3-0: Day fifteen – The family BBQ!

Alright, it’s time to get back to the big 3-0 trip! As you should know by now, back in the summer of 2018 I embarked upon a 30 day trip in the USA to celebrate my 30th birthday!

So far on this trip I’d done some pretty cool things from firework displays on Navy Pier in Chicago to watching two friends get married on the West coast and much, much more but today felt like a big day on the month-long itinerary!

Every year Haleigh’s (my fiance!) family host an annual summer BBQ and get the whole gang together in the lovely city of Walla Walla in Washington State.

For someone with a pretty introverted personality I’d be lying if I was to say huge social gatherings are an environment I’m particularly comfortable in. Throw in the fact I’d be spending it with the significant other’s family, some of which I’d only be meeting for the first time, and it perhaps wouldn’t surprise you if I said I was dreading this day of the trip.

Yet oddly it was one of the things I was most looking forward to. I was excited, honoured even, to be invited in to this precious family tradition as an outsider. I had some nerves too of course because it was still early enough in our relationship that I wanted to make a good impression upon Haleigh’s family but it was mostly excitement.

Whilst I don’t particularly excel in social situations, that’s not to say I dislike them. I was really looking forward to a day of good weather, good food and good company. Fortunately I’d visited in February already so I hadn’t been thrown completely in to the deep end and I’d already visited Walla Walla and met a few members of Haleigh’s family previously.

Anyway on to the events of the day! I can’t quite remember what time we left but before heading over to Haleigh’s grandparents, hosts of the big day, we quickly went shopping to pick up a few bits and pieces for the BBQ. We then made our way over and were soon parked up outside the grandparents home.

Walla Walla – Nov 2019

Inside were a few people scattered around helping prepare the mountain of food required for such a large gathering, outside people were mingling and getting ready to kick off the fun and games.

The game of the weekend appeared to be some tactical dice game called Vegas, requiring a little luck with the objective of the game to be the one with the most money at the end of it.

It was a five player game and I was quick to jump in on the action and make sure I was in the first round of the competition. Partway through the first game it had been decided that there would be five rounds with the winner of each round qualifying for the grand final and an opportunity to take home the family bragging rights!

Sadly I fell just short in game number one, losing by $10,000 which is the smallest margin you could lose a game by – so close! The winner, Gina on this occasion, vacated her seat in order to allow a new challenger in to the ring.

Two games later we had three finalists before there was a break in play – it was time for the feast! Out came all of the food from the kitchen and it was spread out across this long table in the “yard”. Guests were then split between the “adults” and the “kids” of which me and Haleigh fell in to the latter – all but one of the kids table were genuinely children but it was a large party and too many people to fit to one table.

There was a happy mood in the air, everyone was in good spirits and enjoying themselves. For my first American family get-together it was a great experience and one I hope to enjoy many, many more times in the future. Good food and good company, what more could you possibly want?

It was nice getting to know Haleigh’s family a little better. After stuffing ourselves on food most of “the kids” moved back inside and were quickly playing some fun group games that you played on your phones.

At some point the games switched to a drawing / pictionary-like game which was my time to bow out – not my forte. I have no artistic talent so I was happy to sit this one out.

As it was Rob was keen to get some more games of Vegas going so tournament play resumed with two spots in the final up for grabs! I was keen to make the final cut but frustratingly lost another game by just 10,000. I think the competitive spirit and sabotage-tactics cost both me and Rob a place in Sunday’s grand final. The nature of the game means you can reap the rewards of others battling it out, swooping in and claiming the money for yourself.

Our wonderful hosts were keen to get a family photo to mark the occasion before the sun went down, so we made our way outside and obliged and that really signalled the winding down of the evening. People slowly started saying their goodbyes and were all heading off in various directions.

I haven’t seen any photos from the day and personally didn’t get any of my own, hence this is a post severely lacking any photos. I was just content to enjoy the day and appreciate the opportunity to partake in this special annual family tradition.

Sadly we missed it in 2019 as Haleigh was visiting England and obviously no plans really panned out this year but fingers crossed there’ll be an opportunity to get together for another family BBQ in 2021. I guess we’ll see.

Anyway, that rounds up the big family BBQ. Whilst the main event had come and gone, there was still one more day of family fun in Walla Walla to come before the big roadtrip could commence.

More on that to come soon! Stay tuned!

Jason

P.S – if you want to catch up on previous posts in the series, you can do so below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
Day twelve – Oregon City and Portland
Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!
Day fourteen – Walla Walla

The big 3-0: Day thirteen – Walla Walla bound!

Welcome back dear folks! For those of you who haven’t been following along with the “big 3-0” trip, I’ll leave links to all of the previous posts at the bottom of the post. However for those of you who have been reading, you’ll recall last time out I was rounding up mine and Haleigh’s time in Portland.

We woke up on the Thursday morning, gathered our bits and pieces together and were saying our temporary goodbye’s to Haleigh’s Aunt Gina and Uncle Rob who’d kindly put us up for a few days. It had been great having somewhere to stay whilst in Portland and it was also lovely meeting more of the family ahead of the weekend shenanigans.

On Saturday would be the “famous” annual family BBQ in Walla Walla so whilst we were heading ‘home’ on Thursday, Gina and Rob would be driving over on Friday after work to join us in Walla Walla. 

So we said our temporary goodbyes and then began our journey to Walla Walla. Walla Walla is over on the East side of Washington State so we had a bit of a drive ahead of us. We wanted to make an early start as we were keen to stop off at Multnomah Falls along the way. I’d seen a few photos online and it looked breathtaking so we were both hoping to see it.

Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls, Oregon – August 2018

Multnomah isn’t too far from Portland so it’s easy to link in with a trip to Portland. Unfortunately the car park for it was closed / full and we’d already passed the earlier exits where you can get a shuttle. It didn’t seem worthwhile turning back and we knew we’d be back in Oregon later in the trip so were hopeful we’d get another opportunity to visit.

We were still keen to stop somewhere and a little further along we started seeing signs for Bonneville Dam which seemed like a good alternative to our original plans. The Bonneville Dam was a huge project on the Colombia River that seperates Washington and Oregon. It not only helped flood-control in the area but it created a huge number of jobs in America through the ‘Great Depression’.

Bonnevilla Dam Panorama
Bonneville Dam, Oregon State

It was a cool place to stop at and the visitor centre had plenty of information on how it had shaped American history, plus the benefits for the cities and states that sit along the river. One of the cooler things you can witness is the ‘fish ladder’ that was built that allows various fish to pass on through the dam.

After a little time at the dam and a few photos we got back on the road. We were feeling a little bit peckish so started thinking about grabbing lunch somewhere. We stumbled upon a town called ‘Cascade Locks’. We stopped at the first road-side restaurant we came to. However it wasn’t really what we were looking for and had more of a cafeteria / buffet type feel to it where you picked up a tray and queued so we passed on this place and moved onwards.

Bridge of the Gods, Oregon
Bridge of the Gods, Oregon State – August 2018

Before getting back in the car I couldn’t help but grab a quick photo of this cool bridge. I didn’t know this at the time but a Google search tells me that this is called ‘The Bridge of the Gods’. I’m not sure what the significance of the name is but it looked cool.

We hopped back in the car and quickly found another restaurant which looked to be linked to some hotel and thought we’d take a look. It had an absolutely awful stench as we walked in and unsurprisingly the place was empty. There were also no staff to greet us as we entered which wasn’t too encouraging. Even on a relatively busy highway they clearly weren’t anticipating any custom so we skipped out on eating here too.

Deciding this town was a bit of a dud we just hit the road and decided lunch would wait until we arrived in ‘The Dalles’. We ended up visiting a place called ‘Cousins’ which Haleigh had visited on previous family trips to the Oregon Coast. It was a nice little family-friendly place offering the typical American favourites and the food was decent too.

The weather was scorching though and a sign of things to come in Eastern Washington. We stepped out of this nicely air-conditioned restaurant and the heat hit me instantly smack in the face. Temperatures were in to the low 40’s (celsius obviously) so it was just ridiculously warm. Fortunately we were quickly back on the road and in a lovely air-conditioned car. I remember checking the temperature at one point and well, see for yourself! Welcome to a summer in the Pacific North West!

The Dalles Weather
42 degrees!!

The rest of the drive back to Walla Walla was pretty uneventful. We got stuck behind some slow-moving vehicles, typically on single-lane roads, that slowed us down a little bit but soon enough we were crossing the Colombia River and heading back to the familiarity of Washington State.

I’d only been to Walla Walla once at this point, for a few days back in February, and the one thing that had blown me away on the approach was seeing the mountains as you drive in to the city.

“Oh.. we’re THIS close to the mountains?” – on that February trip we were staying with Haleigh’s grandparents and you could see the mountains from their yard or kitchen window or whatever.

I was looking forward to the weekend as a whole but I was also looking forward to that approach back in to Walla Walla. It never gets old seeing that view and it is the one that makes you think.. yeah, I’m home now. I do have a real soft spot for this piece of Washington.

WallaWallaMountains
Walla Walla Mountains – Feb 2018

Sadly on this particular trip nature had other ideas and denied me the luxury of that view. I’d been daydreaming about that view for weeks, if not months, but Washington, Oregon and California had spent much of the summer on fire. I hadn’t really experienced the effect of that so far on my trip but from here on out I was going to have to get used to hazy skies.

Disappointingly there was no sign of the mountains as we arrived in to Walla Walla. It was still warm but the views were lacking, haze was the only word on the weather report. The sun was somewhere up there but who knew where.

Anyway, Halegh had soon parked up the car outside of her family home where we dropped off our things and swiftly headed back out of the door. We went and paid a visit to the first set of grandparents we’d be seeing over the next few days. It was nice to see them again and hear how’d they been.

A little while later me and Haleigh headed out for dinner with Haleigh’s mum and brother. We returned to what is a popular restaurant in town called ‘Clarettes’ which I’d visited previously. Again, it was a nice family-friendly place with good American dining options on the menu.

The rest of the evening was pretty relaxed. We didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy and just crawled in to bed ahead of another day in the familiarity of Walla Walla. More on that next time!

Stay tuned!

Jason

P.S – You can read previous posts on this trip below
The big 3-0: Day one – Chicago bound
The big 3-0: Day two – exploring Chicago
The big 3-0: Day three – Minneapolis
The big 3-0: Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
The big 3-0: Day five – New Orleans!
The big 3-0: Day six – The real New Orleans!
The big 3-0: Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
The big 3-0: Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
The big 3-0: Day nine – Wedding day!
The big 3-0: Day ten – To Portland!
The big 3-0: Day eleven – the actual 3-0!
The big 3-0: Day 12 – Oregon City and Portland

The big 3-0: Day 12 – Oregon City and Portland

Welcome back to another post in the “big 3-0” series. Last time out on the blog I talked about the start to my time in Oregon. Myself and Haleigh had had the opportunity to see a little of Portland but were looking forward to exploring properly on day 12.

I promised that day 12 would be a little more eventful, so much so that we actually split our time in two different cities! We’d spent day 11 with Haleigh’s aunt and uncle but with working life resumed, me and Haleigh were left to explore by ourselves. Rather than head in to Portland we actually decided to kick off our Wednesday morning by making the short drive over to Oregon City.

Oregon City’s only around 10-15 miles away from Portland so it wasn’t too far for us to go. Oregon City was the first city in the state of Oregon and subsequently was the capital of the territory of Oregon at one point.

Home of Oregon City
Oregon City – Oregon’s Hometown

It’s a little hard to believe when you get there because it’s a pretty small city – not much larger than your average town if I’m being honest. The population is less than 40,000 and it felt very compact, particularly coming from the Portland area.

We parked up on one of the streets in the downtown area and thought we’d go find somewhere for some breakfast. However not much seemed to be happening in this sleepy little city, we walked along Main Street and there didn’t seem to be many options for breakfast and the few that were hadn’t opened their doors yet.

In the end we settled for grabbing something from a Dutch Bros whilst walking along the Willamette River which runs through the heart of the city and alongside Main Street.

One of the cooler landmarks, if you can call it that, in Oregon City is the ‘Municipal Elevator’ which connects Main Street and the downtown area with the higher areas of the city. The elevator is free to ride so we took a journey up. It’s mostly a residential area but there’s a pathway that you can walk along that offers some pretty cool views of the city and Willamette Falls in the distance.

Elevator Street
Elevator Street, Oregon City

The pathway stretches for a few blocks so we decided to walk along and take in the views, plus get a few photos. However it’s a narrow pathway and we weren’t quite prepared for the unavoidable sprinklers. We ended up getting a little wet whilst walking along. The path goes so far but is essentially a dead end so we had to turn back for round two of a sprinkler-soaking but fortunately it was a warm day and didn’t take long for us to dry off. It was worth it for the views.

We took the elevator back down to street level and had a wander through the small downtown area of Oregon City. Haleigh suggested we popped in to some Christmas shop, oddly enough this was the second Christmas store I’d visited on this summer trip – having had Crystal take me in to one in New Orleans too!

Oregon seem to have timed parking zones so although we were able to park for free, we were only allowed to park where we were for two hours. Feeling a little time-conscious and having seen much of the downtown area we decided to move the car and find somewhere to get some lunch.

Oddly enough there was a Scottish pub in town which caught our eye and offered the usual British pub favourites along with some American classics. It seemed like a good place to grab food and I was instantly drawn towards the meat pies – craving a good steak and ale pie which are severely lacking stateside.

Oregon City Pub Food
Enjoying some good pub food!

Haleigh opted for the Mac and Cheese but I made sure she sampled a bit of my pie (which she enjoyed) and also introduced her to the concept of “chips and gravy” – the only thing missing were some mushy peas!

In addition to the food I was intrigued to see what beers they had on the menu and was initially delighted to see Scottish craft-beer favourites ‘Brewdog’ were on the menu. The $13 dollar price tag on a bottle of their Punk IPA quickly put me off though!

Brewdog have quickly grown throughout the UK and are seemingly trying to break in to the international market with branches opening across the world and even a beer hotel on the horizon (it might be open by now) but I’m not sure how they’ll ever conquer the US if they’re charging $13 a bottle in a country that has no shortage of good craft beers available. Admittedly in this instance I’m aware the pub itself have priced it up and probably have the added novelty of proclaiming themselves a Scottish pub to try and justify it but it was a little mind-blowing – $13!! Hopefully that’s a one off and not a price you’ll find for Brewdog beers elsewhere in the US.

As it was I don’t think I opted for a beer anyway, I was just curious about the menu. We enjoyed a good lunch and then Haleigh started looking at dessert options, I asked if “Sticky Toffee Pudding” was a common dessert in the US before pointing her in that direction. It went down well so in addition to the pie tasting the British food was leaving a good impression on Haleigh!

Willamette Falls
Willamette Falls, Oregon
Oregon History Photo
Me and Haleigh in Oregon City, Oregon

Opposite the pub was another viewpoint of the Willamette Falls and river so we took a quick look. Also here was a statue of John McLoughlin (the “Father of Oregon”) and also a sign of Oregon City detailing the history of the area. We grabbed some photos and then pondered where next? We’d seen most of Oregon City already but thought we’d make one final stop at the Museum of Oregon Territory.

Unfortunately there were roadworks and seemingly nowhere to actually park within the vicinity of the museum. Our only option was to park miles away so we cut our losses and made our way out of this small little piece of Oregon and made our way in to Portland for the afternoon.

We really wanted to visit ‘OMSI’, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, which is home to various exhibits, a planetarium and even a submarine that sits on the river!

You have to buy tickets to enter and have a choice of a variety of package options ranging from single-attraction options to an “all in-one” ticket. We wanted to visit both the planetarium and the submarine so bought ourselves a ticket that covered those two options.

USS Blueback
USS Blueback, Willamette River, Portland

We started with the guided tour of the ‘USS Blueback Submarine’. Like many people I suppose, it was my first time on a submarine so I found it really interesting and tried to imagine how difficult it must be spending so much time confined to the limited space in a submarine. You learn quite a bit about the history of this specific submarine and I thought it was definitely a worthwhile tour doing. We both left with it being a highlight of our time in Portland.

Next up was the planetarium show which was also something I’d never done before. Our particular show focused on seeing the various stars and planets over the Portland area which was really cool. It went by really quickly though, I think it was around 30 minutes in length but I think myself and Haleigh both would have been happy sat there for much longer. It’s definitely something I’d do again and ‘OMSI’ had a number of different shows on that you could pick between so you could easily squeeze in a couple in to one day at ‘OMSI’.

We didn’t see everything at ‘OMSI’, there was definitely stuff left to check out on a future visit but I’d thoroughly recommend a visit. Having spent our morning in Oregon City and our afternoon at OMSI our attention switched to evening plans!

A friend of mine (Ryan) lives in Portland and I knew whenever I finally got around to visiting we’d have to try and meet up. Ideally I figured it’d be for a Portland Timbers (men’s football) or Thorns (women’s football) match but neither schedule overlapped with my time in the city so instead we arranged to grab dinner and some drinks with Ryan and his husband (David).

I think we left OMSI at around 4-4:30 and were meeting up at 6 so we had a bit of time to kill but not enough to really go and do too much. I think there was a feeling that with the drive over and rush-hour that it’d take us a bit longer to get across town but that wasn’t the case at all. We left OMSI and were in what felt like this relatively hip neighbourhood not much later.

There was definitely a buzz about the place with a number of independent shops, restaurants and bars lining this long street (SE Division). Our only real problem was trying to find somewhere to park, it probably took us a good 10 minutes going up and down the street and circling blocks before finally pinching a parking spot. We lucked out as it just happened to be right outside of where we were eating.

We were still far too early so decided we’d take a bit of a wander and popped our heads in to a couple of shops. Next to our restaurant was a shop called ‘Citizen Ruth’ which felt reflective of the area (and Portland as a whole really) and had a number of liberal and feminist-inspired products on sale. The guy manning the store was really friendly and Haleigh picked up a book and a couple of bits to make it a worthwhile visit.

Further up the street I’d noticed we’d driven past an ice-cream stop that I’d heard plenty of buzz about and was seemingly pretty popular in Portland amongst the Instagrammers, bloggers and travelers of the world. I hadn’t actually intended to visit on this trip at all so this really came about by chance more than anything. However as it was within walking distance of where we were we decided to check out ‘Salt and Straw’ and see what all the fuss was about.

They had a good range of unusual flavoured ice creams on the menu so we were pondering which flavours we should try. The woman behind the counter piped up and seemed content in handing us a number of free tasters which were delicious and was sufficient in offering us our fix of ice cream. Had it not been right before dinner we’d definitely have bought something but as they were open pretty late we suggested we’d return after dinner (we didn’t!).

Soon enough it was time to meet up with Ryan. Unfortunately David was running a little late so was going to skip out on dinner and catch up with us for some beers but managed to catch up with us whilst we were still eating our tacos before ordering his own.

It was really cool to finally meet Ryan in person after a number of years chatting online. It was also nice having both of our significant others to keep the conversation flowing nicely – a fun little double date!

Following on from dinner we moved over to a bar down the street, Haleigh wasn’t drinking but they had some good beer options which kept me happy and we spent the next hour or two just chatting away. It was a really nice evening. We’d all had a good time and it was definitely a highlight of my time in Portland and indeed the trip.

It didn’t end up being too late a night, we called it quits after 2-3 beers as the guys had work the next day and this was our last night in Oregon so we wanted to make an early enough getaway in the morning.

It had been a great way to end our time in Portland, tomorrow we’d be heading back to Washington! Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

P.S – if you want to catch up on previous posts on this trip you can do so below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!
Day five – New Orleans!
Day six – The real New Orleans!
Day seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington
Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!
Day nine – Wedding day!
Day ten – To Portland!
Day eleven – the actual 3-0!