2021 travel roundup

Hello dear followers!

2021 wasn’t the best year on the blogging front. It’s almost like not being able to travel so frequently sucks out some of the motivation for travel-writing, who’d have thought?

Nevertheless, every year for the past few years I’ve done a round-up of the years travels and despite another year of travel uncertainty I still managed to squeeze in some adventures. So here’s your annual roundup of 2021!

Firstly though, if you wanted to see previous efforts you can do so here:Β A 2017 summary ,Β 2018: A travel round-up ,Β 2019 travel roundup &Β 2020 travel roundup

Anyway, on to 2021!

June 2021 – Eastbourne
The start of this year was a bit of a write off with lockdowns and more restrictions and so much travel uncertainty. It was quite a while before I felt like I could book a trip of any sort and decided I was going to just stick to somewhere in the UK.

With restrictions, testing and so many other things to think about I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of going abroad. Six months in to the year and it somehow seemed even more restrictive and uncertain than traveling in 2020 had been.

My first proper trip of 2020 had been a coastal retreat to Norfolk and I was tempted to do similar over a weekend this year. I booked myself a long weekend away on the South coast and decided I’d visit Eastbourne, which I’d likely tie in with visiting somewhere else nearby.

Of course having waited just over five months for my trip, a week or so beforehand the hotel emailed me to say they wouldn’t be open at the time of my visit – disaster!

Fortunately I hadn’t booked any trains yet so wasn’t out of pocket but it spoilt my first travel plans of the year. Alternative accommodation prices didn’t look great (I’d found a great deal on my hotel) and the weather also looked miserable closer to the trip so I decided to pass on heading South and not spend the weekend anywhere.

June 2021 – Bury-St-Edmunds
Eastbourne didn’t happen and the late cancellation (on their part!) meant that it just wasn’t worthwhile trying to sort a break away at the last minute.

That said, I wasn’t about to waste a day of annual leave. It might well have been a quiet weekend but I had the Friday off work and I figured I should make the best of it and take a daytrip somewhere.

From Peterborough there were a few obvious options, fortunately the train links are quite good from the city and I pondered how far I could realistically go in a day (Edinburgh’s probably a tad too far!). London, York, Cambridge and Ely all jumped out at me but I decided to wing it and Bury-St-Edmunds seemed a fairly cheap day out, fairly local journey and also meant visiting somewhere that I’d never been to before.

Bury St Edmunds
Abbey Gardens, Bury St Edmunds

The verdict? It’s surprisingly nice. I don’t quite know what I expected from Bury-St-Edmunds but it was better than I’d anticipated it being. The weather was miserable and therefore not the best day for exploring but I hopped on an early train and made the best of a few hours in a town I knew very little about.

It had lots of independent shops, a nice museum, some lovely pubs and was a really nice place to walk around. ‘Abbey Gardens’ was probably the jewel in the town and somewhere I could see myself spending many an afternoon if I was a local, a bit of a shame about the weather on the day I visited mind you.

All in all I’d recommend it as a nice day trip if you’re ever looking for a daytrip in the region.

July 2021 – Lancaster
There were several motivations for this particular trip. First and foremost a friend moved up to Lancaster and I’d not had a chance to visit since he moved up there. Then of course I’d budgeted for a weekend-long trip to Eastbourne which became a cheap daytrip in Bury-St-Edmunds so I was financially better off as a result.

The one area of doubt was big plans in September. I knew that the closer we got to the big wedding in Washington, the more frugal I would have to be with my earnings.

Sadly Covid wreaked havocs with those plans and we postponed until April of this year so I thought sod it, I’ve got longer to save and I really needed a break. So I committed to visiting my friend up in Lancaster for a weekend – only one night but a train up on the Saturday morning and returning Sunday evening.

Lancaster would probably go in to the same category as Bury-St-Edmunds – not somewhere I’d really ever given much consideration to visiting and wasn’t that fussed about but having a friend to visit was a good excuse to check it out.

Lancaster
Sunny Lancaster

Unlike my June daytrip, the weather in Lancaster was glorious. There were minimal restrictions left in England by this point but the weather made the few restrictions still in place much easier to manage with the luxury of being able to eat and drink outdoors.

Lancaster itself was full of charm and is definitely somewhere I’m glad that I visited. It’s a nice town and probably a good base for a trip to the Lake District too. We didn’t have time for that on this visit but it’s something I’ll definitely try and make time for on the next trip up North.

Pike Place
Pike Place, Seattle

September 2021 – Washington State
This was the big trip of the year! This was what much of 2021 was budgeted around and then it didn’t happen. The US border seemed like it was just going to remain indefinitely closed and as September inched closer and closer we eventually came to the decision that we were unfortunately going to have to postpone our wedding.

Very frustrating because it seemed like if I could get to Washington the venue itself would be fine to host it but it’s not much of a wedding without a groom and my hopes of getting there were dashed so we made the hard choice to postpone.

Somewhat fortunately the border didn’t open up until November. I think I’d have been sick had they opened a couple of months earlier and we needn’t have postponed.

Anyway, wedding or not – I wasn’t able to visit in September so crossed my fingers for Thanksgiving as the next best time to visit!

September 2021 – Ireland
One consequence to postponing a wedding was now what do I do? I’d been stringent on my annual leave all year so that I could enjoy four weeks out in Washington State, only to then have to postpone. I now had four weeks off work with nowhere to go!

It didn’t make sense to stick with four weeks off. I debated spreading it over the last four months of the year but in the end cancelled just the one and enjoyed a three week break from work. However I didn’t want to spend all of that at home sulking about a wedding cancellation.

One consideration was to see if me and Haleigh could go somewhere else together instead? Sadly she started a brand new job in September so it would have been hard for her to sneak away for a few days.

Still determined to not sit and cry in my bedroom for the next three weeks, I decided that I was going somewhere regardless of the circumstances. If seeing Haleigh wasn’t a possibility then I’d just have to adventure solo for a little bit.

With ever-changing travel restrictions, testing and an endless number of hoops to jump through I struggled deciding on where I could go.

Unlike earlier in the year I really wanted to go abroad but where to? I debated a few ideas, I also debated taking more than one trip to separate destinations over the space of the three weeks but a degree of sensibility kicked in and I decided that I’d only travel for a few days and take a trip to Ireland. Not too far to go but surprisingly a first time visit to the country.

Dublin Boat
I didn’t go by boat though..

A tad ironic looking back with the benefit of hindsight but I was actually due to visit Ireland in 2019. At the last-minute I buckled and decided not to go. I was burnt out with a wave of social activity in the early months of 2019 – both internationally and domestically.

I felt like I hadn’t stopped for weeks with busy weeks and busy weekends one after another and another and another and it was too much. I’d got to the point where I just needed one weekend for myself, one weekend of doing very little and with upcoming trips on consecutive weekends – Dublin or a Champions League final in Madrid – one had to go. Needless to say the latter wasn’t an option!

MadridSpurs

The idea of voluntarily skipping a trip now is ludicrous of course but the night before flying to Ireland I just couldn’t face the idea of going. I woke up and decided I wasn’t going to the airport. I know I would have enjoyed it had I got to Dublin but I decided it’d probably only be to the detriment of the roadtrip to Madrid a few days later.

I still stand by the decision to not take that Dublin trip in 2019. It was the right decision at the time but did leave me feeling like I had “business” to settle with Ireland. So getting the opportunity to finally visit (for the first time!!) was pleasing.

The plan was to visit for longer than the original 3 day trip in 2019. I decided to make the best of it with 6 days in Ireland – split between two cities. Dublin of course and then Galway was singing my name – “come and visit Jason, please!”.

Sadly, Galway was stupidly expensive and I just couldn’t justify spending that much to visit. My accommodation to stay in Dublin was cheaper than Galway looked to be and I couldn’t find any rational reason as to why so instead I decided I’d pop down to Cork for a few days.

Live Music

Dublin
If I’m completely honest the one thing that really appealed to me about Dublin, particularly at this moment in time, was the idea of sitting in a pub, listening to Irish music and not having to think about work or anything.

I said I wasn’t going to sit and cry in my bedroom for weeks but I’d reached my point of Covid fatigue – sick of restrictions, sick of sticking my life on hold, sick of no apparent end to this way of living. So if I was going to be glum anywhere, why not with a beer in an Irish pub?

Ironically Ireland actually had more restrictions than England at the time but it felt like there was a degree of freedom for the vaccinated and that’s all I wanted – much likeΒ Gibraltar a year earlier – a taste of something normal (apparently Guinness on this occasion!).

I would love to say I planned a trip to Ireland for the castles, the culture, the history and the adventure but more than anything I just wanted a holiday – a break from the same four walls.

On that front, I can happily say Dublin didn’t disappoint. Even having to wear a mask and supply proof of vaccination upon every pub, restaurant and attraction it still felt nice that I could then just enjoy it on the other side.

If anything it was more preferable this way. I’d reached a point of Covid-fatigue but was also quite nervous about the no restriction free-for-all taking place in a pandemic-free England. This felt like more of a happy medium that let me enjoy living without feeling reckless doing so. It’s all I needed.

Temple Bar
Temple Bar, Dublin

Temple Bar was unsurprisingly a highlight. I can only imagine that it’s much busier in non-Covid times but Ireland were slowly reopening their economy with live music for example only recently reintroduced in to pubs (table-service only). You could see how appreciative many of the artists were to be performing their first act on this side of the pandemic – live music back in Ireland – as it should be!

Admittedly a table service experience isn’t quite the same. My best Irish jigs were restricted to my seat but nevertheless just being able to enjoy a Guinness, some live music and a nice atmosphere was glorious.

Malahide Castle
Malahide Castle, Ireland

Dublin wasn’t all (but mostly) drinking Guinness of course, I did check out a few of the big attractions and made a trip up to Malahide Castle which was a great recommendation from a friend (John, aka CarpeDiemEire). Infact we even met up which was lovely, it’s always nice connecting with fellow bloggers and travelers that you’ve crossed paths with online.

I’ll blog more about Dublin at a later date but it was a good first introduction to Ireland.

Cork
Cork, Ireland

Cork
I can’t say what it was but I remember myself stood overlooking the River Liffey and thinking to myself “I don’t know how I feel about Dublin”.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like about Dublin and I did enjoy my time there but I also posed the question to myself if it was somewhere I could see myself going back to or whether I’d be content having visited Dublin once and swaying towards the latter.

In all likelihood I will go back to Dublin because it’s so close, the nightlife ticks all of the boxes and Haleigh may well want to visit herself one day so I’d be incredibly surprised if I don’t go back at some point. However unlike other one-tiime-destinations that I’ve been to, I think I’d be OK if for whatever reason I didn’t return to Dublin.

So rather ironically I woke up on the Friday morning and pondered staying in Dublin. Was it worth getting on a train to go all the way down to Cork or should I just stay in Dublin over the weekend? I hadn’t booked my trains yet and despite my hotel being just around the corner from the nearest station, I couldn’t drag myself away from Dublin.

I was torn between the convenience of staying where I was and the lure of exploring somewhere new and then wouldn’t-you-know-it, I discovered my new favourite spot in Dublin. I’d decided I’d ponder my plans over a spot of lunch and this place just oozed atmosphere.

I don’t know if it was a case of it being a Friday lunchtime and people were starting to wind down for the weekend but there was a buzz about this place. The friendly chatter and noise that as I write this now I think fondly back to but the memory also becomes somewhat of an epiphany moment.

This lunchtime outing was one of my favourite in Dublin and I think perhaps the biggest thing Dublin had lacked was people. Essentially, we were still living through a pandemic and I hadn’t had too much of a taste of *this* Dublin.

I couldn’t drag myself away, Dublin finally had me swooning so I ordered another beer and another and.. I reluctantly left Dublin after taking a look at the hotel prices over the weekend (not cheap!).

English Market Cork
English Market in Cork

In the end, I’m glad I did. Cork was smaller, much smaller actually but certainly had its charms. Whilst I ticked off a few attractions in Dublin, I did nothing in Cork for two days. The English market is an absolute gem and a must-visit when you go to Cork but beyond that, it was a chilled couple of days with a further Guinness or two.

It was a nice way to end the Ireland trip before heading back to Dublin a couple of days later. My flight home was from Dublin so I got to enjoy one final night in the capital before bidding an end to my first trip to Ireland.

Walla Walla Sign
Welcome to Walla Walla, Washington

November 2021 – Washington State!
I wrote a while back, it might possibly have even been my last post, that I’d either be spending Thanksgiving in Washington or Slovenia dependent on the border situation and the USA finally opened their sodding borders – at fucking last!

After more than 18 bloody months I was returning to Washington. It had been long overdue and I was so excited to be spending Thanksgiving out in the US!

That excitement was mixed in with a “why even bother traveling?” range of emotions that I’d up to this point managed to avoid.

Whilst I’ve traveled overseas during the pandemic, this was the first trip where the stress and hassle of all the things you need to think and worry about become apparent.

I miss the days of booking a trip and then just taking a trip. I’m not a travel-worrier, things go wrong on trips and you learn to deal with them. I’ve made multiple mistakes or had unforeseen circumstances crop up and it is what it is but Covid.. bleurgh!

I think the thing I hated most about this trip was everything was out of my control. Will the UK react to the latest Covid numbers, will the US react to the latest Covid numbers, have I booked the right Covid test, will it come back positive or void, will the results come back quickly enough and on and on and on and on and on.

Eventually after jumping through many hoops I hopped on a plane and was on my way to Seattle where I could relax in the knowledge that I’d soon be seeing Haleigh US border control – shit! Here we go..

Funnily enough, it was pretty pain-free. I don’t know if the whole Covid process meant they weren’t as interrogative as they usually are but I was waved on through pretty quickly after barely more than a couple of questions – hurrah!

Now I can relax!

Walla Walla
Walla Walla, Washington

It was so good to be back in Washington, I’d missed it. I’d missed the people, I’d missed Haleigh but I’d also missed the USA. The last time I’d stepped foot in Seatac it was deserted so it was nice to be back and see some normality.

Beyond the company, the other thing I was particularly looking forward to on this trip was the change of scenery. Up to now, every time I’d come to Washington Haleigh had been living in my “second home” – Moses Lake.

However with the whole can we, can’t we limbo situation around the wedding.. Haleigh had to make a decision on whether she was going to renew her apartment lease and also extend her teaching contract another year and didn’t so is now back in her hometown Walla Walla!

I’d been to Walla Walla a few times before, popping ‘home’ to visit Haleigh’s family, but it had always been trips based around the same few points of interest and also spent close to 24/7 in Haleigh’s company.

I’m not complaining (“jeez Jason, you’re not even married yet!!”), I love spending time with Haleigh of course but I was also excited to discover “my” own Walla Walla. Unlike trips to Moses Lake, I hadn’t had opportunity to explore Walla Walla of my own accord. It was nice, really nice actually.

I’ve always enjoyed my trips to Walla Walla but I think exploring somewhere solo gives you a new appreciation for a place. Additionally the thing Walla Walla is most famous for is its wine and Haleigh doesn’t really drink so up to now we’d both avoided the wineries. In contrast I’m not opposed to a bit of day-drinking on holiday and when in Rome (Walla Walla) do as the Romans (Walla-somethings?) do, right?

Winery 1

Winery 2

Thanksgiving of course was another highlight of the trip, my second Thanksgiving and I’ve already booked the week off work to return in 2022. The only downside was the trip seemed to fly by..

Having previously said that time to myself was a nice perk to this trip, on the flipside I feel like myself and Haleigh barely had two minutes together and I was already heading home. Thanksgiving family-shenanigans over the space of a few days had occupied a lot of our time and that was it.. trip over!

To top things off, whilst I was in Washington Boris announced that anyone entering the UK from overseas would now have to isolate. I hadn’t planned for that!

The news unsurprisingly sent a lot of people in to panic as they rushed to get themselves new flights and get home before this new isolation deadline was imposed.

I went in the opposite direction, sod it.. let’s stay in the US a few more days! I ended up extending my trip by five days, still not long enough in the grand scheme of things but I figured I might aswell make the most of my time here before Boris puts us in to another Christmas lockdown (he didn’t in fairness to him).

The few extra days were perfect, I got to enjoy a little more of life in Walla Walla and more importantly got to spend a few extra evenings hanging out with Haleigh before having to say goodbye again.

Although it was goodbye to Haleigh, it wasn’t quite yet time to say goodbye to Washington. I had a lengthy layover in Seattle which meant I had roughly 12 hours to spare – plenty of time to make a day of it in the city.

The perk of a layover in a city you know relatively well is you don’t have to spend time finding your bearings. I was out of Seatac airport and in to Seattle before 7am, before sunrise even, and knew roughly where I wanted to be and how to get there.

Chihuly Glass and Garden

The undoubted highlight of my layover was a trip to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibition. People rave about this place and I’d been meaning to visit a few times. I’ve joked that it never rains in Seattle because I always seem to get glorious blue skies when I pop in to Seattle but this was a stereotypically miserable day and a perfect one for a mostly-indoors attraction.

I have to say, the hype is warranted. I was blown away and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It was a great final day in Washington in one of my favourite cities.

Sadly I had to leave eventually and that was my final trip of the year.

Peterborough
I don’t think I’ve ever done this before on any of my annual wrap-up’s but it would be negligent not to give a mention to Peterborough this year.

2021 was perhaps the year where more than any other, I really embraced living here. I’m London born-and-bred and London will always be the city that holds my heart more than any other but Peterborough is somewhere that I’ve grown to proudly call home.

Peterborough River Nene
Peterborough, England

Peterborough has probably been home to many of my highlights of 2021. I’ve been living on a bit of a Peterborough ‘high’ and some of you will know that I’ve even been quite active over on Instagram running a page dedicated to all things Peterborough.

I think one of the biggest causes for this was ironically Moses Lake. In early 2020 I went out to Washington to live with Haleigh for three months and the idea of living in such a small town for such a long amount of time terrified me – particularly being unemployed for the trip. What am I going to do in a town where I know no-one and the one person I do will be working a good chunk of the time I’m there?

As it was I knew very early on that I’d have to go out of my way to find things to do whilst I was in Moses Lake. Find new places to eat, drink, see what events are happening (if any) and it worked. Moses Lake is small and there is only so much a town that small can offer but one of my most vivid memories of 2020 was watching a rock band, with a beer in hand, whilst stood in a carpet store.

“A carpet store..?”

Carpet Store Beer

Yes! Plus an art gallery, real estate office, yoga studio, farmers market kind-of-store and so on. This little town didn’t really have the venues for a beer and music festival (12 breweries, 12 venues..”) and yet the community came together and made it work. So there I was with beer in hand watching a rock band in.. a carpet store. Crazy but such a vivid memory.

It’s one of those days where the message I took home was if such a wonderful event like this can happen in Moses Lake, surely there’s more going on at home? That was one of the biggest lessons from that trip – don’t go back to Peterborough and fall back in to the routine of go-to-work, eat, sleep, repeat.

Work is a necessary evil (I don’t think you’ll ever convince me there’s a dream job out there for me.. ) but I could still make the best of home-life outside of work. It was something that played on my mind constantly in Moses Lake and then unfortunately I came home to a pandemic where I couldn’t even go to work (“work from home please, unless it’s a party that looks like a work event”).

However as travel continued being a shitshow and domestic restrictions slowly lifted I really, really made 2021 a Peterborough-focused year. I could sit here and write about all of the things I did locally in 2021 and I’d no doubt still forget things.

Peterborough isn’t the best for advertising what’s going on but it seems that if you’re willing to look for it, you’ll quickly find there’s quite a lot going for it.

Peterborough Cathedral
Peterborough cathedral, Peterborough, England

I’ve climbed Peterborough cathedral, been to countless exhibits at the musuem, embraced small food festivals, cultural festivals, visited new restaurants and pubs around the city, returned to old favourites, been to comedy shows, theatre, gigs, sports events and on and on and on.

2021 wasn’t the best year for travel. I still found good reason to travel and had some wonderful trips but really Peterborough was probably the big winner of the year.

2022?
Weddings, weddings, weddings! 2022 promises to be a year of the W word and the USA I suppose.

Our 2021 September postponed-wedding will in all likelihood be happening. I’ve even got as far as booking the flights this time. On the 9th of April I will be getting married in Washington State!

JasonHaleigh

Then on the 30th of April one of Haleigh’s cousins is getting married so having barely got home, I’ll be flying back to the US and this time heading for Salt Lake City! I’m really excited to visit Utah – particularly as we’d planned to visit around Easter in 2020 and it obviously didn’t happen – our first travel casualty of the Covid era.

and all good things come in three’s right? Another friend has asked me to ‘save the date’ for a wedding in Virginia in October so it looks like there’ll be 3 international / American weddings to look forward to this year. There are no concrete plans for that trip yet but I’m pretty excited to visit Virginia and Haleigh’s never actually been to the East coast so it’s inconceivable that we don’t try and make a good trip out of that!

Ending the celebrations, I’ve also booked off Thanksgiving week so finance-willing, we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving in Washington again.

I won’t lie, I kind of wish my annual leave and travel plans weren’t all US-based but on the plus side I’m visiting a couple of new states this year. I’ve also got a couple of annual leave days to spare so perhaps we’ll get another short weekend away somewhere if possible.

Anyway, this was a rather long and ramble-y post. I haven’t posted much at all over the last 12 months so consider this a year’s worth of posting all wrapped up in to one! A tad incoherent in parts but at least I got a blog post out, right? Hopefully I’ll get back in to the blogging groove this year and actually tell some more travel stories of yesteryear.

Until next time!

Jason

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’.

WhitmanMission
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!

TheBig30-Journey
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

Walla Walla – February 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BobsCafe
Bob’s Cafe, Moses Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WallaWallaMountains
Mountain views in Walla Walla!

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

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

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

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

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

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

WallaWalla
Downtown Walla Walla looking pretty, Feb 2020

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

WhitmanMission
A roadside sign offering a brief history of the Whitman Mission

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

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

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

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

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

DragonMural
Cool dragon mural in the Tri-Cities, Washington State

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

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

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

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

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

Jason