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!

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 here living in Washington and Tuesday being the four week / one month landmark seemed a suitable time to do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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Mountain views in Walla Walla!

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

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

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

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!

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Downtown Walla Walla looking pretty, Feb 2020

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

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A roadside sign offering a brief history of the Whitman Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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Cool dragon mural in the Tri-Cities, Washington State

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

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

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

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

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

Jason