The big 3-0: Day twenty three – Alcatraz!

Welcome back my dear readers! I hope you’re all doing well and feeling some optimism that there’s an end in sight to this crazy past 12 months.

Last time out on the blog I’d talked about more of my time in San Francisco and it’s time to continue with the “big 3-0” story as it nears its conclusion. Those of you that have been following along will know I was in the USA for 30 days, celebrating my 30th birthday, back in the summer of 2018.

We’d now covered a bit of ground in San Francisco and seen a few of the main landmarks in the city but there was one “must see” left for us to experience – Alcatraz!

Alcatraz sign

I’d heard mixed reviews from people about Alcatraz but it was something myself and Haleigh were both keen to visit and see for ourselves. I’d sneakily bought tickets for Haleigh’s birthday which was a little tricky because everytime Haleigh hinted at buying tickets I was coy about doing so – “we’ll get it booked after the next payday..”

Alcatraz unsurprisingly sells out well in advance so it was one of few pre-planned attractions on this trip – along with the Chicago Skydeck which some of you will remember was a disaster and an attraction I ended up missing out on in the windy city at the start of the trip. I was hoping today wouldn’t be similar!

Anyway, we kicked off our day as we had so many times on this trip – fairly relaxed and without too much rushing around. For whatever reason we decided to take a different route in to the heart of San Fran today, deviating from our tried and tested journey on the one day we had concrete plans. Clever, right?

In hindsight it probably wasn’t the brightest idea we’ve had. We’d left our AirBnB in good time before heading over to Alcatraz but our spontaneous route put our plans in jeopardy a little. We stood waiting at this particular tram stop for an age.

Our wait did mean we got chatting to another couple at the stop but after a little small talk the discussion swerved to whether this tram was ever going to arrive! Eventually one came along but then kept going and whizzed by us – too busy on board to make a stop to pick people up – ahhh!

The minutes ticked by and ticked closer towards missing our Alcatraz boat! Eventually we had to accept we’d have to improvise further and get ourselves to the pier asap! We parted from our new friends who were heading elsewhere and managed to grab a taxi over to the pick-up-point.

The next dilemma was the tickets. I’d booked in advance, through the official website I’ll add, but their strange system had me feeling a little uneasy. For whatever reason you book your tickets online and they then need to send you two confirmation emails, the second once payment has been processed which for whatever reason isn’t instantaneous – unlike just about any other booking system on the planet.

They’d emailed me one confirmation and they took my money a little while after the actual booking which was of some relief but I’d envisaged some scenario where they’d deny all knowledge of my booking at the ticket office – which was only exacerbated further by the Chicago Skydeck debacle. I’d winged most of the trip – were the only two plans I’d really made both going to fall through?

The woman at the desk seemed frustrated that I was unable to provide the second confirmation email – as if it was somehow my fault and that this stupid system wasn’t the bigger cause of the confusion. However fortunately the details we had were seemingly enough for her to print our tickets and she seemed a little friendlier after locating them.

We took our tickets over to check in and were soon being waved on to our ferry. It slowly started filling up and then we were off!

As we inched closer and closer to Alcatraz I began to appreciate just how far off the mainland it actually is. It’s visible from San Francisco but it’s still a little way on the ferry – this island isn’t the quickest to get to and it starts to sink in how difficult it must have been to even think about escaping from. Good luck swimming in the cold and harsh waters of San Francisco Bay!

Each arriving boat to the island gets a little introduction and a welcome before you’re then left to explore at your own leisure. We grabbed a few photos from the outside before heading in.

First look inside

Assuming that, like us, you start from the bottom one of the first rooms you’re likely to encounter are aimed at educating on the history of the island. It might purely be ignorance on my part but I don’t feel like Alcatraz’s past gets much coverage beyond its prison days.

It was fascinating to discover that people lived on the island at various times in its history with Native Americans notably occupying the island for almost two years in protest against the US government. It was really interesting to learn about and in one of the rooms there’s an educational video that plays in this dark room which we both watched.

As you explore more of the island you see homage to those days with graffiti and other landmarks that date back to their occupancy.

Indians welcome..

Today it’s part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is managed by the National Park Service which allows millions of people to visit every year. The luxury of being able to explore in your own time meant we could slowly admire the views from the island and check out a few points of interest before making our way up to the prison and undoubtedly Alcatraz’s biggest attraction.

View from Alcatraz

Once you enter the prison area you’re handed a little device offering an audio tour. These rarely hold much interest for me and I usually abandon them pretty quickly and end up exploring without one.

However I have to say that I found that the audio tour really added to the experience. Throughout the tour you’re exposed to the history and various stories from Alcatraz and it really brought the prison to life for me – it’s remarkably well done I think and I’m glad I stuck this one out. As you walk around I couldn’t help but visualise what life behind bars would be like – see for yourself!

Behind bars inside Alcatraz prison

As my sad-faced-selfie shows, it’s not a life for me!

The tour takes you through a number of different areas within the prison. Towards the end of the tour you get taken outside for breathtaking views of San Francisco’s skyline which felt like a pretty apt way to round things off and really help transform you in to the life of a prisoner and how tempting it must have been having the city in plain view.

I thought the tour was incredible and worth every penny, or cent rather. Everyone has their own preferences of course but I have to say the mixed reviews I’d heard really surprised me. I couldn’t recommend it any higher and it’s a must-do on any trip to San Francisco in my opinion.

Inside Alcatraz

The view of San Francisco from Alcatraz Island

We popped in to the gift shop for a look at what was a wealth of merchandise and reading material from Alcatraz before slowly making our way back down the island and towards the ferry point. Fortunately we’d timed it pretty well and it was pretty much ready to board by the time we’d arrived.

The mood on the ferry back seemed a bit more pensive than the buzz and excitement that there had been when going to Alcatraz. Perhaps that’s just because it was later in the day and people had had enough adventure for one day but I think there was that added appreciation to be heading back to the mainland.

We’d escaped Alcatraz and were heading back to “the land of the free” . It felt nice knowing our time in Alcatraz had only been temporary. I think as a prisoner of Alcatraz I’d have preferred to have been more remote than the island actually is.

It is a bit of a journey on the ferry but to be that close to freedom and see it every day? That would be so agonising for me. I’d spend my days in envy knowing people were living such normal lives just across the water. I’m feeling pandemic envy as it is seeing people in NZ and Australia for example having a blast whilst we’re in day four billion of lockdown, sod that being a permanent feeling!

We made it back to sunny San Francisco and I do feel like I let out an illogical sigh of relief. Even with the stupid selfie, there was never a part of me that felt imprisoned but Alcatraz is its own little island and consequently very much a bubble. Even for a few hours its easy to forget that there’s a busy city in the backdrop.

After our Alcatraz adventure we decided to grab an early dinner. Our proximity to Pier 39 made it a convenient place to grab something as although a little touristy, there’s a good range of places to eat.

Unfortunately it seemed we picked rather poorly. I don’t know if it was just an off evening in the height of summer because the restaurant seemingly rates pretty highly in Google reviews. That certainly wasn’t our experience though with terrible food and the worst service I’ve suffered anywhere in the US – possibly anywhere altogether!

We’d pondered what to do with the rest of our evening but the unexpected extension on our meal time scuppered our plans a little bit and limited our options. It did dampen what had otherwise been a nice day.

San Francisco dungeons attraction
San Fran’s scariest attraction?

In the end we decided to visit the ‘San Francisco Dungeons’. I’ve seen these in a few other cities – notably London, Edinburgh and Amsterdam but as yet had not visited any of them so I wasn’t 100% sure on what to expect.

It was surprisingly a lot more enjoyable than I’d anticipated. You’re led through a series of rooms where actors play out a number of different scenes depicting various locations throughout San Francisco. There’s a fair amount of audience interaction which makes it quite enjoyable and I’d say pretty family friendly too – albeit a little jumpy in parts.

Towards the end of the experience we were taken “back” to Alcatraz – just as myself and Haleigh thought we’d escaped that pesky island!! The penultimate room then saw everyone interrogated by a prison guard.

I’d managed to avoid all audience interaction up until now so as the guard did his final roll call, row by row, I had to reveal my identity and additionally reveal my accent to all which sent shockwaves around the room as they realised there was a Brit amongst them! I’m sure some witty comment from the guard followed at my expense but I can’t recall what it was now.

The final room saw us escape Alcatraz and head back outside. Overall it had been a surprisingly fun attraction and is something I’d consider doing in other cities – even if only in the UK.

From here we made the slow journey back to our AirBnB. We took a small detour somewhere to grab some food after the disappointment earlier in the day but that was pretty much it for San Fran – our final day in San Francisco was over!

Final night in San Francisco

Tomorrow morning marked the beginning of the goodbyes, the adventure was nearing its end. It was time to say goodbye to San Francisco and California and head back up North.

I’d said plenty of goodbyes on this trip already of course. Goodbye to Chicago, goodbye to Minneapolis, goodbye to friends in New Orleans but every one of those was different as more adventure beckoned.

This time it was different, the faint cries of reality were calling. Haleigh had to be back in Washington for the start of the school year, soon after I’d be heading back to England and time was sadly finally beginning to catch up with me.

Tomorrow we’d be saying goodbye to San Francisco and onwards to..

Well, we didn’t actually know. We knew we wouldn’t get all the way back to Moses Lake but we hadn’t actually booked any accommodation for the next night. Perhaps there was still some adventure left in this trip after all?

I guess you’ll have to stick with this series a little longer if you want to find out! Stay tuned!

Jason

P.S – if you want to read other posts from this trip, see 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!
Day seventeen – Back to Oregon!
Day eighteen – Exploring Oregon’s coast!
Day nineteen – California pit stop!
Day twenty – San Francisco bound!
Day twenty one – San Francisco begins!
Day twenty two – San Fran continued!

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.

BartMap

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.

TheBig30-Redwood

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.

West Coast
Don’t mind me, just admiring the view

Highway 101

Highway101
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.

Dinosaurs
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!

Welcome to California
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!

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!


Gibraltar – Oct 2020

Hello my dear readers, welcome back to another post! Can you believe it? I’m posting twice within a week – incredible!

After a little hiatus, last time out on the blog I provided a little update and promised that I’d post about my recent trip to Gibraltar! Here’s that post!

I’d never been to Gibraltar before, nor had I really had that much interest in going to Gibraltar. Of course I want to visit everywhere in the world but I definitely feel like it ended up being a Covid-influenced decision. As I explained in my last post, with so many travel restrictions currently I found myself torn between staying in the UK, visiting Turkey or visiting Gibraltar with my few days of annual leave.

I’ve been itching to visit Turkey for a little while now but something swayed me towards Gibraltar instead. A few days after booking my trip Turkey went on the quarantine list so that was a big relief.

As for the UK.. well, the less said about the Covid situation in the UK at the moment the better. Ironically a trip to Gibraltar seemed safer than visiting anywhere within my own country – ridiculous!

Once everything was booked my excitement did start to build. It had been six months since I’d been abroad and indeed six months since I’d been to Heathrow. I opted to stay in an airport hotel on the Wednesday night and then fly out of terminal 5 at around midday on Thursday – not too early so I got a bit of a lay in on Thursday morning.

Heathrow was inevitably a bit busier than my arrival back in April but was still far from normal capacity. I passed through security pretty quickly and went on the hunt for breakfast. My usual pre-flight spot is at Huxley’s with some pancakes and a pot of tea but they were seemingly closed – I’m hoping this is just temporary but in the meantime I had to settle for breakfast at ‘Spoons’. They had a few screens up between tables and table service so adhering to the Covid measures in place. In fairness to Wetherspoons, they’ve actually encouraged ordering via an app for a long time so have been a little “ahead of the game” on that front.

Anyway, a short while later it was time to fly. Boarding was pretty smooth and done from the back of the plane by row order, I lucked out on the way to Gibraltar with an aisle seat and nobody sat in the middle. However it was generally a full-capacity flight and most rows had every seat full, just worth keeping in mind for anybody pondering how busy flights are at the moment – masks were mandatory and there seemed to be no fuss on that part at least.

I landed in Gibraltar a few hours later. Before you’re allowed to enter Gibraltar you have to complete a passenger-locator form. You can do this online once you’ve checked in for your flight, it surprised me how many hadn’t done this before arrival. They check every single passenger so you’re better off doing it beforehand rather than stood huddled together filling out a form in the arrival hall.

Anyway, I’d finally arrived in a very warm and sunny Gibraltar. You can get a taxi to your accommodation or there’s a bus stop not too far from the airport that will take you in to the centre of the country but with glorious weather I decided to walk to my hotel.

First sight of Gibraltar

The very Northern point of Gibraltar to the very Southern point of Gibraltar is about 6 kilometers in length so it’s a really walkable country. The airport is in the very North of the country so you want to head South, in direction of that big ol’ rock, to get in to Gibraltar. You’ll know which way you need to go because the border crossing in to Spain is right in front of you when you come out of the airport and the rock is behind you and unmissable haha.

Interestingly to get in to the main part of Gibraltar you have to cross the runway which you’ve just flown in on. It’s quite unique and they’ll stop crossings when a plane is due to land or depart.

I walked in direction of the rock and even getting a little lost I’d soon arrived in what I considered to be the heart and soul of the country – Casemates Square. The square had a bit of a buzz and life to it. Additionally it’s in a really picturesque location so my first impressions of Gibraltar were good. I already felt like I was going to enjoy Gibraltar.

Gibraltar Casemates Daytime
Casemates Square

I think it was about 4-4:30 when I landed so by the time I’d walked in to Gibraltar I was ready to check in to my hotel and drop my things off. A friend had recommended a couple of places and I opted to stay at the Elliott Hotel which proved to be a good decision as it was a lovely hotel and in a really good location in relation to everywhere else in Gibraltar. I dropped my things off, relaxed for a little bit and then freshened up to head out and find some dinner.

I decided I’d stay pretty local. A friend over on Instagram lives in Gibraltar at the moment and had kindly sent a bunch of recommendations over to me – one of those was ‘The Skull’ which was just around the corner from my hotel so seemed particularly ideal on my first night given I’d yet to get my bearings with where things were.

Gibraltar The Skull
The Skull, Gibraltar

True to its name, everything at this little bar was Skull themed! Skull designed flooring, skulls lining the bar, skull-shaped lightbulbs, skull-inspired artwork and even skull-themed dishes. My chips turned up in a skull-designed glass, as did my cocktail that followed dinner haha. It was a nice little place and a good spot for my first evening. It was pretty empty though which surprised me a bit given England and Wales were playing eachother in the football and this particular bar were televising the game – admittedly another incentive for me to visit on my first night.

There’s no curfew in Gibraltar, unlike the UK currently, but because there were so few customers they didn’t stay open late. I was assured it’d be a bit more lively on Friday evening but with an early kicking-out time I had a little wander through Gibraltar to see what else was local to where I was staying.

In all honesty I was aiming for the waterfront but after little success finding it I admitted defeat. I didn’t really see anything else of particular interest on my wander so just headed back to my hotel and called it a night, ready to explore and get a proper glimpse of Gibraltar in the morning.

Gibraltar Sunset

I woke up on Friday morning to darkness which was quite confusing. I thought it must still be early in the morning but even at 7, 7:30 in the morning it’s dark outside. The sun didn’t rise until about 8:30 in the morning which I found a little unsettling and also a little demotivating to get myself up and raring to go. I reckon I’d have been up and raring to go a bit earlier but instead I rolled over and went back to sleep, I wasn’t heading out to explore whilst it was still so dark.

Unfortunately this became a bit of a ‘bad habit’ if there’s such a thing on holiday. As much as I’d want to get my day going I just couldn’t drag myself out of bed before the sun was up. It was probably closer to 10 or 11am by the time I’d left my hotel and it felt like such a waste of my morning. I went and found a place to grab some breakfast but the slow start had set the tone for the rest of the day.

It ended up being a really relaxed day. There were a few things I wanted to do whilst in Gibraltar but none set for any particular day, I was largely winging it and just seeing where things took me.

Gibraltar1

Ultimately Friday just became a familiarisation day that allowed me to get my bearings with where things are in Gibraltar. I’d not had much chance to do so yet but I kind of used it to earmark where I’d spend the next few days. By the afternoon I’d wound up at the popular ‘Ocean Village’.

I wouldn’t call it a village as such but it’s where you’ll find a lot of the nightlife in Gibraltar. There’s a host of restaurants and bars floating above the water, joined by a variety of boats and yachts including the impressive ‘Sunborn’ which you can stay on and is also home to a casino.

I liked Ocean Village but it probably does cater more towards the tourists. That said, I was a tourist so found myself an outside seat at one of the bars and refreshed myself with a beer or two. Keen not to stay in one spot all day I did drag myself away from the temptation to just sit in the sun all afternoon and wandered back through the streets of Gibraltar before making my way back to Casemates Square.

As I said above, it really is the heart and soul of Gibraltar in my mind. You’ve got tourists and the locals intertwined and it makes for a really nice atmosphere and is also perfect for people-watching!

I must have arrived sometime between 3pm – 4pm because there was a huge collection of school children running around enjoying themselves whilst the cafes, pubs and restaurants were slowly filling up for the evening.

Due to a late breakfast I’d skipped lunch and found myself in that peckish dilemma of “is it too late for lunch / too early for dinner?” before eventually deciding I was too hungry to wait. I took a seat at the Italian restaurant ‘Tramonte Ristorante’ and treated myself to a pizza which ended up being pretty good!

The rest of my day was pretty uneventful, I didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy but I felt a lot more comfortable with where things were and the quickest ways to get around. I ended up getting a rather early night, particularly for a Friday, keen to make a better go of exploring on Saturday.

A few people knowing I was in Gibraltar had asked if I’d “seen the monkeys yet” and I’d decided going to the top of the rock was my plan for Saturday. However I sensibly took a look at the forecast and whilst warm, it looked like it was going to be a cloudy day and I thought better of it so instead I decided I’d head on down to ‘Europa Point’ at the Southern tip of Gibraltar.

With a bit of a walk ahead of me I kicked off my morning at this little cafe down the street from my hotel. Having missed out at Heathrow I ended up getting some pancakes which was the perfect way to start the day. I was then off on my journey “down South”.

The walk was a little over 2 miles, nothing too strenuous and most of it is coastal too so I’d definitely recommend walking it rather than hopping on a bus. There isn’t too much traffic so it’s a decent walk and offers some really pretty views of the coast and Spain to the West.

Cool little beach area with a pool

Along the way I stumbled upon public outdoor pool areas, some interesting historic buildings and structures and even a little waterfall which I really wasn’t expecting. It’s not a particularly long walk but it’s definitely easy to get distracted along the way which might slow you down a bit haha.

Eventually I reached this long dark tunnel which you have to pass through (coming this route anyway..) which seemed to go on for a bit longer than I was expecting.

As soon as you come out of the tunnel you’ll see a gorgeous mosque on your left. Unfortunately it seemed to be closed so there wasn’t an opportunity to take a look inside but I made sure to grab a couple of photos from the outside.

Gibraltar Mosque

By this point you’re pretty much at Europa Point and the lighthouse on the Southern coast of Gibraltar.

Europa Point was probably my favourite part of Gibraltar. I think it just really resonated with the traveler within me. Just across the water was the North African coast and it just left me mesmerised!

Gibraltar Europa Point
You can vaguely see the outline of Africa, much more visible on a clear day!

On a clearer day it’d be so much more visible, my photos don’t do it any justice but Africa was right there! It’s one thing crossing state lines or country borders but to be stood in Gibraltar with Spain on my right and Africa in front of me – wow!

It was mindblowing in some ways. I came here fully aware of that fact so it’s not like it was a surprise but I couldn’t help but transport myself to historic times and put myself in that mindset. I just pictured being stood in Gibraltar with the curiosity and mystery of “hey.. what’s over there?” – “that’s Africa..”

Even now, with the world so accessible and with so much knowledge of other places Africa has that mystery. It was my hope to get to Morocco this year and it obviously didn’t pan out, much like Turkey, so this is the closest I’ve come to stepping on African soil. You can get a little closer in parts of Spain but realistically I knew this was as close as I’m ever likely to get to Africa without stepping in Africa.

I have a habit of romanticising travel, perhaps too much at times, but I was stood there looking across the water and definitely had that “pinch me” moment. There’s so much I don’t know about Africa and I think those of us from the Western world in general are guilty of that.

I found myself completely swept up in the lure of Africa. There’s not a huge amount in the vicinity of Europa Point but I think I could have just sat there all day day-dreaming. It’s a sight and experience you have to make time for in Gibraltar.

Also at Europa Point you’ll find a lighthouse and then a university. The university seemed very sports focused and it’s probably of little shock that I found myself drawn to the Europa Point stadium. It’s in such a stunning location with the rock and its surroundings providing a gorgeous background. Again, I think if I was ever playing on that pitch I’d just get lost within the scenery.

“Jason.. what are you doing? You’ve just let them score!”

Gibraltar Europa Point Stadium
Europa Point Stadium, Gibraltar

Gibraltar Coast

Dragging myself away from Europa Point I embarked on a coastal walk. The sun was beginning to make an appearance and it’s just a beautiful place to go for a wander. I stopped every so often to take photos of the views but my intended destination was Gorham’s Cave Complex – a World Heritage site.

This was a bit of a last minute decision. I’d only considered it once I realised how close it was to Europa Point. My lack of preparation meant I didn’t know that it was closed at the weekend so I arrived to find locked gates and subsequently no opportunity to see the cave complex on this particular trip. I turned back and took a slow walk back in to the heart of Gibraltar, via Europa Point again of course.

With the sun finally shining I did ponder whether I could squeeze in a trip up to the top of the rock and tick off both landmarks in one day. However in the end I took a more relaxed approach and decided I’d leave the Rock until tomorrow.

Thinking that it might be time to find somewhere for some food I made my way over to ‘Queensway Quay’ which is a gorgeous little harbour-like area with a handful of restaurants overlooking the water with numerous yachts and pretty boats parked on the docks.

Gibraltar Harbour

This was somewhere that you’d probably be less inclined to just stumble upon unless you were actively looking for it so it felt a little less touristy than somewhere like Ocean Village. I found myself a table sat outside, ordered some beer and grabbed myself a late lunch whilst overlooking the harbour.

By this point I was pretty smitten with Gibraltar and I’d returned to day-dreaming, this time as a boat owner living the dream life in the sun. Sod going back to Corona-land, I was staying here.

Essentially this was the “South of France..” or “retire in Spain..” lifestyle but with the added boost of a common language. I sat people-watching and this cute couple were sat just infront of me seemingly making the best of their honeymoon. The, socially-distanced, table to the right was an older couple and it wasn’t long before the four of them had become acquainted and friendly and spent the next hour or so chatting.

There’s only one way I’d know that so no need to guess how I spent the next couple of hours. People-watching, sunshine, beers, pretty views, no responsibilities.. what more could you want? It felt almost like living in an alternative reality – “this is what life looks like in a country tackling Covid effectively..”. I was equally bliss and resentful. I was in no rush to leave Gibraltar and just wanted to soak up this feeling.

Eventually I opted to have a wander elsewhere and just get lost within the old town. Despite the huge rock that towers over Gibraltar, it’s such a walkable country and it’s nice to just wander aimlessly and see what you stumble upon. After a while I returned to the hotel to freshen up and relax for a bit before pondering where to spend the evening.

Gibraltar Casemates Square Evening

I decided I’d go and grab dinner around Casemates Square and find myself a nice spot to soak up the atmosphere. It’s a lovely spot to watch the sun go down and do some more people-watching. For a Saturday evening it wasn’t overly busy which surprised me a little but there was enough of a buzz that it kept me entertained.

I wasn’t in a rush to call it a night but fancied a change of scenery so thought I’d take a better glimpse at Ocean Village’s own nightlife. Again it wasn’t swarming with people but a little busier than it had been when I passed through on Wednesday. There’s a number of restaurants / bars that you can grab a drink at.

I started off at one bar that had been recommended to me and also had cheap cocktails. I was only going to grab the one cocktail but with a 2-for-1 offer it seemed silly not to have two. I was a little disappointed however that you couldn’t mix-and-match which would have allowed me to try two different cocktails. The bar in general wasn’t really my kind of place either, not solo anyway and it just wasn’t the vibe I was after.

I finished off my cocktails and swiftly moved on. Unlike in the UK currently, there’s no curfew in Gibraltar so I wasn’t having to glance at the clock for a 10pm close. I wandered over to another bar in the Ocean Village which I’d heard were really good for craft beers / ales.

That’s the one possible disappointment and, dare I say, gap in the market as far as Gibraltar is concerned. I decided early on in the trip that I was buying a boat and opening a brewery in Gibraltar because it stuns me that there are no breweries in Gibraltar – not one!

You won’t find locally-made beers in Gibraltar, they’re all imported and generally your options are San Miguel or Heineken in most places you visit – I generally opted for San Miguel but with how popular craft beers are right now it really surprises me. With the weather and dining-out style culture it is the perfect country for better beers and Gibraltar is seriously lacking in that department.

So I was looking forward to finishing off my evening by visiting somewhere that prided themselves on their craft beer selection. Sadly it doesn’t matter how good your menu is if none of the beers are in stock! I was bitterly disappointed. In the end I took my chance on a fruity gin. I’ve never really drunk gin but when better to try it than on holiday? It went down alright and I’m probably more pro-gin than I was before the trip. It was a beautifully decorated bar too so was a nice way to end the evening.

Gibraltar Gin

Sunday morning started like the two before it – pitch black! I’d continually wake up raring to go and the lack of sunlight ends up being so demotivating – back to sleep! I woke up a little while later and got myself ready to go up the rock.

I repeatedly debated whether I should climb it by foot or cheat and take the cablecar up. I unsurprisingly opted for the latter and I can’t say I have any regrets. It’s just so much more convenient haha.

At the top you’ve got 360 degree views overlooking the entire country and beyond. It’s definitely the ‘must-do’ of any trip to Gibraltar. It’s also where you’ll find the only wild monkeys in Europe!

I’ll be honest, I thought there’d be much more of them based on stuff I’d read. There were a handful fooling around but not that many. I was one of the earliest people to go up though so perhaps they’re more prominent later in the day when there are more tourists to steal goodies from. Not that I minded too much, I was happy they kept a good distance from me haha.

Gibraltar Rock
The rock of Gibraltar

Gibraltar Rock View

The views are spectacular and there’s a few other attractions dotted around such as the ‘Skywalk’ or the Windsor suspension bridge. Rather than take the cablecar back down I decided I’d walk down and tick off a few of the points of interest.

The area I probably spent the most time exploring was the ‘great siege tunnels’ in the lower part of the Rock area. It went in to a bit more of the history of Gibraltar which was interesting to read about. It was still pretty early so I had it pretty much all to myself so I could take a bit more time and get some fun photos too!

Gibraltar Friend

Outside of the tunnels there’s a couple more cool viewpoints but it was pretty much all downhill from there. I’d definitely recommend going early in the day, it was slowly getting busier on my way down than it had been when I’d first gone up.

By the time I’d made my way down the steps in to the old town I was feeling a bit peckish and I was really hoping to find a decent Sunday roast somewhere. I ended up going to ‘The Clipper’ and it was really, really good. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in Gibraltar on a Sunday, it was really good value too for the quality and quantity of food they served up.

After stuffing myself with food I wandered back over to where I’d started the day. Right by where you ride the cablecar is the botanical gardens and I was keen to have a wander through the gardens, I probably should have done so before I’d rode the cablecar up but I hadn’t really anticipated walking back down haha.

The botanical gardens are free to visit and definitely worthwhile visiting for that reason alone. I was expecting it to be a little busier given it was a Sunday afternoon by this point but it was still pretty quiet. Again, I wasn’t going to complain. It just meant I could enjoy a peaceful wander through and admire how pretty it is. I’m sure if I was a local I’d spend many an afternoon here and it wasn’t long before I’d found a bench to sit back, relax and admire the surroundings.

Gibraltar Botanical Gardens
Gibraltar Botanical Gardens

The gardens aren’t particularly huge so eventually I’d covered pretty much all of it and went back to wandering the streets of Gibraltar. By this point I’d pretty much seen all of Gibraltar that I’d wanted to, it’s worth remembering it’s a pretty small country and I’d ticked off the two big things I wanted to see in terms of the Rock and Europa Point. The rest of my Sunday was pretty chilled.

Sunday was my last night in Gibraltar so I wanted to end it by enjoying what felt like my “last taste of freedom”. I think Gibraltar is the kind of destination that I’d enjoy in normal circumstances. I think it had the perfect balance and feel of being a European destination but with a nice dusting of British influence on it that made it really appealing to me. Boat jokes aside, it’s somewhere I could easily see myself living.

Gibraltar Ocean Village

That’s in normal circumstances of course. The irony wasn’t lost on me that I was lucky enough to have been able to escape for a few days but perhaps unfortunate enough that it had given me a taste of normality. Gibraltar had been perfect but left me feeling more resentful of what I was going home to.

I really liked Gibraltar but there was definitely a part of me that pondered how could you not in a pandemic? This was as normal as life had felt in a long time and I was desperate to cling on to that feeling of normality.

I treated myself to a steak on the last night in a restaurant over in Ocean Village. It proved to be a perfect spot to watch the sun go down accompanied with a beer. It was a world away from life back in England. I moved on to another bar, had another couple of cocktails and was trying to enjoy this final night for as long as possible. I even stayed out beyond 10pm – wild!

Sadly, it eventually it had to come to an end and was time to call it a night. Monday morning was really a struggle. The only part of Gibraltar I hadn’t really explored was its East coast and I had contemplated going over to Catalan Bay beach which the barman on my first night had said I’d have to visit.

However I just couldn’t drag myself out of bed. Luckily I didn’t have to check out until midday but I just wasn’t ready to go, to leave this false life and return to the normality of a pandemic. My slump wasn’t helped by the fact I knew the UK government were implementing new lockdown measures today and I was fearing the worst.

That’s not to say I didn’t think those measures were needed but to be in a relatively Covid-secure country and returning to a country that was spiraling out of control was difficult to accept on this particular occasion.

Regardless of how gloomy I felt about returning to the UK, what was the alternative? I checked out as close to noon as possible and figured I’d just go grab some lunch somewhere. Catalan Bay would have to wait until a future visit to Gibraltar, I only had a couple of hours left and didn’t want to go too far out my way.

Gibraltar OceanVillage

Ocean Village’s proximity to the airport made it an ideal lunch spot and location to soak in the last few rays of sunshine before I had to say goodbye. Ordinarily I’m a “get-to-the-airport-early” kind of traveler but I did hold back a bit on this occasion.

Admittedly I knew Gibraltar’s airport was pretty small and that only one flight was departing Gibraltar so there wasn’t going to be a huge rush at the airport but the reality is I was still clinging on – just one more beer..

I slowly made my way back to the airport, again opting to walk. It’s only about 10-15 minutes from Ocean Village on foot. My later departure meant I got stopped at the runway crossing as we had to wait for a flight to land before they opened up the road to traffic and pedestrians – a nice little novelty experience to round off the trip.

The flight home was full on this occasion and soon enough I’d landed back in a wet London, Gibraltar’s sunshine was a distant memory.

As for those UK measures I’d been concerned about? The good news is they were much more lenient than I’d anticipated. I’d really feared the worst and I was surprised to discover that as far as my area of the UK was concerned it was “business as usual” and the measures in place were unchanged. It perked me up a little bit from my mood that morning.

The bad news? Well.. the measures were much more lenient than I’d anticipated. It was in equal part good and bad news. There was an air of inevitability about what had to happen to get this virus under control again in the UK and unbelievably it seemed that memo didn’t quite get as far as Downing Street.

As much as I loved Gibraltar I’m left pondering when we’re ever going to reach that point in the UK where life can resemble some form of reality again. Gibraltar was a wonderful trip but also a difficult one as it took me back to happier times and I wasn’t quite ready to give that up.

Anyway, I’ve rambled plenty so time to wrap up this post! I’m sure Gibraltar is a place I’ll return to but next time on the blog I’ll be continuing on with the “big 3-0” trip.

Stay tuned!

Jason

The big 3-0: Day eight – Exploring Poulsbo!

Welcome back my dear readers, I hope you’re keeping up! I appreciate it has been quite the whirlwind start to this trip. Here we are at day eight and I’m already in my fourth state of this trip! I promise this pattern will change and the next three weeks will all be in the same region at least and only consisting of three states!

Firstly, let me catch some of you up as you might not know anything about this trip! Back in the summer of 2018 I decided to celebrate my 30th birthday by spending 30 days in the USA. That was just one motivation of course because realistically I could have spent my 30th birthday anywhere in the world. Why the USA you might ask?

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The wedding of the year!

Well my friend Maddie had invited me to come over for her wedding in Washington State and there was no way I was going to miss it! So I planned out a HUGE trip to celebrate properly.

Only a week ago I’d woken up in London and yet I’d already been to Chicago, Minneapolis and New Orleans. I’ll put links at the bottom of this post for anyone wanting to catch up, however back to the ‘present’.

After a late night flight in to Seattle, I woke up in day eight back on the beautiful West Coast, alongside my girlfriend (at the time, now fiance!) Haleigh who I’d finally been reunited with. The next few weeks would see us spend time together in Washington, Oregon and California but it was inevitably in Washington that our adventure began.

The funny thing is this was intended to be my first trip to Washington. When I first decided this trip was happening I figured I’d spend a little time in Seattle but that was on the assumption it would be my first time on the West coast.

It just so happens that this was my third visit to Washington as I couldn’t wait until the wedding to meet Maddie, Cassie and Haleigh properly. Consequently I’d already spent a little time in Seattle on the previous two visits and it wasn’t a priority this time around. So I’d arrived in to Washington fairly close to the actual date of the wedding. Unless things went disastrously, I knew I’d be back in this state many times in the future anyway.

We were planning on leaving Seattle straight away and driving a little further West. First things first, we needed breakfast and opted to visit an iHop (International House of Pancakes for anyone that doesn’t know) near our hotel. It was a great place to start our day, and indeed our adventure, as we filled up on pancakes!

Feeling sufficiently fed we hopped back in the car and drove over to a small town called Poulsbo, which is on the other side of the water and to the West of Seattle. As ever, it was a scenic drive through Washington. The state is known as the ‘evergreen’ state and it sure looked it with blue skies and greenery in every direction.

Washington Views
Blue skies in the Evergreen state, Washington

Eventually we’d arrived and parked up at our hotel. I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to check in early or not but we thought we’d try our luck and to our delight they were able to check us straight in!

From there we went our seperate ways. After waiting six months to be reunited, me and Haleigh were saying our goodbyes. Haleigh had been asked to join the wedding party for some last minute bits and pieces that needed doing. The invitation had been extended to me too but I didn’t want to intrude on the girl’s fun and took it as an opportunity to familiarise myself with the town and also enjoy some more ‘me time’.

I’d spent the first week ‘solo’ to an extent but I’d met up with Kayla in Minneapolis, made new friends in Minneapolis and then seen Andy, Rox and Crystal in New Orleans so only the short time in Chicago had truly been solo. I knew there wasn’t going to be much solo time over the next three weeks either so embraced a day by myself.

I didn’t know anything about Poulsbo before this trip. It’s not somewhere I’d ever heard of and I imagine few, if any, readers have heard of it either. It really is a small town on the West coast, it’s picturesque though. The town is sat by the water and is a beautiful looking place.

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Poulsbo, Washington – August 2018

I wandered towards the heart of the town and on route passed this cool-looking brewery.

“Oh, I see how it is Jason. You get one day to yourself and spend the afternoon drinking!”

Admittedly day eight is going to read a little bit like that but that hadn’t been my intention when I set off. I kept walking past the brewery.

No, I genuinely kept walking past it. I turned back at least once in temptation. Do I? Don’t I? It’s a gorgeous warm sunny day, perfect weather for a Saturday lunchtime beer.

Western Red Brewing
Western Red Brewing, Poulsbo, Washington

I couldn’t resist the temptation! So my first stop in Pouslbo was this adorable brewery. It was still pretty empty, I guess the locals have a little more willpower and weren’t drawn in by its lure that had a hold of me. The only other people were a scattering of women with a baby sat at the bar – I guess they start drinking at an early age in these parts!

I do love trying local beers when traveling so decided to get myself a ‘flight’ and taste a few different beers before getting back to actually exploring. It was a great place with great beers and kick-started life on the West coast in the perfect way.

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A flight of beers to start my day in Poulsbo

Not wanting to spend all afternoon there (shocked?), I ventured back outside and set off to see what else this little town had to offer. It’s a charming little place. I arrived at what appeared to be the main street in the town and was greeted with beautiful colourful buildings all the way along.

Most of them were a shop or little restaurant of some sort. One of the oddest things I saw along this street however was a red telephone box. How many beers had I actually had? How far have I actually ended up walking?

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A peculiar red telephone box in Poulsbo, Washington

I don’t know the history, nor reasons, why it’s there but it left me feeling a little more at home in this unknown place. I wandered down towards the harbour and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Just to my right I could see a small little canopy and what appeared to be a wedding party all gathered, seemingly this was the place to be this weekend!

I had a stroll along the waterfront, grabbed a few photos and just gazed out in to the harbour. If you were to look at a map you’d see Poulsbo isn’t actually that far from Seattle but the big city felt a million miles away here. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon so there was life in this town but there was also a peacefulness and I felt bliss. In that moment I couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else.

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Perfect little Poulsbo in Washington State

After a little day-dreaming I wandered back up towards the main street of the town and had a further look around. There were a couple of cool murals in town which quickly caught my eye.

Poulsbo Mural
A really cool mural in Poulsbo, Washington

A number of people were out visiting the little stores, with not a known-brand in sight, and I poked my head in to one or two of the places too.

Eventually I stumbled upon this really small maritime museum. It’s probably one of the smallest museums I’ve ever visited to be honest but it was still nice to have a quick look around and discover a little more about the history of the place.

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the only Poulsbo in the world!

Following on from a quick museum visit I figured I’d go grab a late lunch. I wandered back down to the waterfront and found a quirky pub with views of the port and all of its boats. It was a nice spot and had a friendly atmosphere, I’m sure it’s popular with the locals (and tourists).

I’d covered most of the things to do in the town. There was another museum in town but it was only open until 4pm and I wasn’t sure I’d really have enough time to look around and enjoy it. There wasn’t anything else of note to do, it really is a small place, so I rounded off my afternoon with another brewery visit.

Oddly enough there are a lot of breweries in Poulsbo. I joked earlier that the baby meant they start young here but given the number of breweries in town there might actually be some truth to that. A quick Google search suggests there’s four independent breweries within a two mile radius, the population of the town is roughly 10,000!

Poulsbo doesn’t need four breweries, which excludes the various other pubs and restaurants in the area. Nevertheless, who am I to complain? I popped in to the ‘Slippery Pig’ and ordered myself a beer or two.

I didn’t want to get too drunk and figured Haleigh would probably be heading back soon anyway so stopped after a couple and wandered back uphill to my hotel.

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Pretty Poulsbo, Washington State

I have to say, Poulsbo had left a really good impression on me. It was a cute place and I found myself smitten with it. Perhaps coming here after spending time in three cities was ideal and a good change of pace to this trip. I adored this little gem in Washington and I’m glad the wedding had brought me here.

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Port of Poulsbo, Washington State

Speaking of the wedding, the plan for the evening was to meet up with Maddie and Cassie and have a fun evening with various wedding guests before the big day. However those beers had taken their toll and Haleigh arrived back at the hotel to find me zonked out on the bed.

In the end we bailed on doing anything and just had a relaxed evening together, which was nice as we’d not really spent any real time together as yet. It was nice to just hang out, it was also nice being back in Washington. Poulsbo had got the weekend off to a great start but tomorrow, well that was the day of the wedding!

Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

P.S – if you want to read about what else I’ve got up to on this trip you will find 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

The big 3-0: Day six – The real New Orleans!

Hello my dear readers, we’re back with day six of the adventure! Well, I say that we’re back but I guess that is dependent on whether you’ve chosen to forgive me following on from my last post! Perhaps you’ve not come back to read day six! Haha.

For those of you just joining the adventure, in the summer of 2018 I chose to celebrate my 30th birthday by spending 30 days in the USA. I’ll post links to each day at the bottom of this post so you can catch up if you choose to, but to quickly recap day five had seen me arrive and get my first glimpse of New Orleans.

Sadly I was rather underwhelmed by that first taste of the city. New Orleans is one of those places that everyone seems to love and it did feel that last time out on the blog I’d committed a case of “travel treason” in being so critical of it; hence the need for forgiveness!

However I make no real apologies for it. Ultimately that was how I felt come the end of day five, it was perhaps harsh but honest too. I did promise a more positive day six and in order for that to happen I had to be willing to give New Orleans a second chance to win me over. It might not have been the best of starts but day six (Thursday) was to be my first full day in the city and I was optimistic things could only get better.

So I woke up with a fresh outlook on New Orleans, I was ready to explore and experience “the real New Orleans”. This city has to be held in such high regard for a reason, so let’s try and find out why! I freshened up and once again met my friend, Crystal, down at the hotel lobby. We quickly set off on foot and wandered towards the heart and soul of the city.

After about 20 minutes of walking from our hotel we’d arrived at the ‘famous’ Jackson Square where you’ll also find the pretty St Louis Cathedral. The area was surprisingly not too busy but there was still a bit of a buzz about the place, there was life to it.

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Jackson Square, New Orleans

Me and Crystal climbed some steps on the outskirts of the square which was a great photo spot overlooking the square with the cathedral opposite us. We snapped a few photos individually and then thought we’d try and get one together. There was oddly a lack of people around in that very moment which gave us limited options.

Given there was so few people around I figured I’d ask this guy who’d just been loitering and it was one of those occasions where as soon as the words left my mouth I then second-guessed myself and wondered if I would have been better waiting and asking someone else. There was an oddness about his demeanour I guess.

He seemed really hesitant at first but agreed so I handed over my phone. He struggled a little with the concept of taking a photo but after a little help figured it out. He handed my phone back to me and before I’d even really had a chance to look the photos over..

“Two dollars..”

Hang on, what? You want two dollars for agreeing to take my photo on my phone? Nice try mate but no! That’s not happening!

Jason Crystal
Me and Crystal, courtesy of our ‘professional’ photographer.

For what it’s worth, the above photo turned out as the best of the three taken.

Perhaps other tourists are a little more kind-hearted (naive) but I walked away and couldn’t help but feel he’d missed a trick. Firstly, he could have negotiated a fee up front in exchange for a photo. I would have told him to get stuffed but if you’re going to try and charge for the convenience of taking someone’s photo, you might have better luck before the photo rather than after.

However secondly, and perhaps more importantly, why rush to hand my phone back to me? “Two dollars and you can have your phone/camera back..” would have given him a better chance at receiving two dollars. Admittedly there’s a confrontational risk in taking this route but I doubt I was intimidating in any way for that to have been a concern for him. I chuckled and walked away with photos, phone and dollars in tact.

Jackson Square Jason
Me in New Orleans, August 2018

Anyway, we swiftly moved on and did a quick lap of the square which felt a little more like what I’d been anticipating from New Orleans. It was picturesque, it had character and dotted around the square were various things to attract your eyes or ears for that matter.

On one corner there was someone selling various bits of art, just outside the cathedral was this band playing some live music and the place suddenly had more of a “New Orleans” atmosphere about it. Or rather less of the “this could be anywhere in America..” vibe that I’d experienced the day before.

We popped in to the cathedral for a quick look around. It was a little busier inside than it had been outside but was nice to take a look around still. It was only a brief visit though. Soon enough we’d headed back outside and ventured in to the numerous streets of the French quarter.

FrenchQuarter
Exploring the pretty French quarter

We’d vaguely passed through on day five but didn’t really explore it properly. Today however we were both keen to explore it properly and in that mindset it’s easy to see why this part of New Orleans is so highly rated. It is just oozing in character with its colourful and old buildings.

I think you could easily spend a full day in the French quarter alone. The buildings are breathtaking and I couldn’t tell you how many photos myself and Crystal ended up taking. I felt like I was endlessly snapping away for the next couple of hours. Along the way we popped in to a few of the shops, art galleries and small independent businesses that are dotted around everywhere.

FrenchQuarter4
Lots of cool little independent shops in the French quarter

I vividly remember at one point snapping away and suddenly this old man was to my right singing whilst playing on a piano in the street. It’s moments such as that where you really see the French quarter in all its glory. It’s full of charm and I struggle to think any visitor would not fall in love with this part of the city, New Orleans was beginning to win me over.

The French quarter in its entirety probably isn’t actually that big in size but I do feel like we spent ages wandering its streets and even then could have seen more of it. We eventually managed to escape its hold on us, only to coincidentally find ourselves just outside of the French Market.

French Market NOLA
You can just see the entrance to the market on the right

Given it was right there it made sense to go in so we had a look around. We ended up finding a stall selling snow-cones. It was a great refreshment on a rather warm day in New Orleans and a good chance for us to give our legs a rest after a morning full of walking.

After a quick stop we ventured back along the Mississippi river in the general direction of our hotel. The riverside walk again gave us a few good opportunities to get some photos but also took us by some points of interest. The first was the Holocaust memorial which I thought was rather well done. It looks different at every angle you see it from so is a little unique in that respect.

NOLA Holocaust
New Orleans Holocaust Memorial

NOLA Holocaust 2

NOLA Holocaust 3
Another view of the Holocaust memorial

Further down the river you’ll find the aquarium. We didn’t pop in but there were some more pieces celebrating New Orleans big birthday of its own. The big 3-0-0! We grabbed a few more photos and then popped back to the hotel quickly, for two reasons.

Nola 300
There were a few of these NOLA 300 things around the city

Firstly I’d forgotten to pick up my sunglasses this morning and with blinding sunshine I thought they’d be useful for the rest of the day. The second reason was the main reason though and was in relation to our lunch plans.

Two of my friends from England, Andy and Rox, were also in New Orleans with similar intentions. Rox was celebrating her 30th the day before me and they’d decided to have a US tour / celebration of their own. It just so happened we’d be in the same city at the same time so we agreed we’d have to meet up. Our plans had fallen through the night before so we agreed to grab lunch together today.

New Orleans!
Back to the French quarter!

It ended up being quite a late lunch actually but we agreed to meet, back in the French quarter, at a place called Coops Place. It was somewhere I’d already heard of so when they suggested it I was more than happy to check it out. It’s actually a pretty small place, so much so that me and Crystal were told we weren’t able to take a table until our full party was here and ended up waiting up at the bar until they arrived.

Once Andy and Rox had turned up we took our seats and ordered ourselves some food. Feeling adventurous I ended up getting myself a bowl of the rabbit and sausage jambalaya, which proved to be a good decision. I think myself, Andy and Rox all went for the same actually.

Ignoring the food, the highlight was obviously the company. Bizarrely I hadn’t seen Andy and Rox since we were in Berlin together back in 2014 – the friends I seemingly only meet in foreign countries (we did actually meet again, in England, a few months after this trip). It was great to catch up with eachother, plus hear about how their own adventure was going. I think Crystal appreciated the extra company too and it ended up being a really enjoyable lunch.

We said our goodbyes but only temporarily. Myself, Andy and Rox were all keen to meet up later in the evening and have a decent night out so we said we’d see eachother later. In the meantime we had the rest of the afternoon to do our own thing.

Me and Crystal were strolling back in to the downtown area when Crystal spotted a Christmas store and suggested we had a look around. You might think it odd that we’d visit a Christmas store in August, yet ridiculously this was only the first of THREE Christmas stores I ended up visiting on this trip! Three! Haleigh also convinced me to visit a couple later on! Bizarre!

Anyway after a quick look around we left and found a stop for the tram, streetcar, trolley or whatever it is they’re called in New Orleans. I think of them as trams and this was New Orleans equivalent. We decided to visit one of the Lafayette cemeteries in the city which are one of the more popular ‘attractions’ if you can call them that.

Lafayette Cemetery
One of the Lafayette cemeteries in New Orleans

Unbeknownst to us it wasn’t actually open. We had a short stroll once we got off the tram and found the gates locked and no way to enter. It wasn’t a wasted trip though, rather than get back on the tram we decided to walk back in to town.

The area is full of a number of grand and beautiful houses that we could only dream of owning. They were stunning and it’s a really nice part of the city to wander through. The number of photos we stopped to take slowed our walk right down but it was worth it. By the time we’d wandered back in to town the afternoon had pretty much gone.

New Orleans House
Just one of many stunning buildings in this part of New Orleans

Despite my best efforts I wasn’t able to convince Crystal to come out for the evening so we headed back to the hotel and went our seperate ways. I found somewhere to grab a quick dinner from and then relaxed at the hotel for a bit whilst waiting to agree on plans for the evening.

It had been a lovely day so far. Decent food, great company and I’d finally seen New Orleans at its best. I have to say it was winning me over and had eradicated some of the disappointment from the day before.

One area I had no concerns about was in New Orleans nightlife. I’d not had a chance to enjoy it yet but I was confident this side to the city couldn’t possibility disappoint and so it proved.

I was bored sitting around in my hotel room so decided I’d wander back to the French quarter before I’d agreed to meet Andy and Rox. I figured I’d easily find somewhere to have a couple of beers and soak up the atmosphere and there really is no shortage of options.

Even for what I’d perceive to be quite early in the night, the place is just buzzing. There’s a seemingly endless number of bars with people wandering the streets looking for a good night. Many of the bars have live music on offer and I expect you could walk in to 90% of them and likely enjoy yourself. It had me reminiscing of my trip to Nashville the year before – perfect!

The first bar I visited was along the lively Frenchmen Street and had a reggae act performing. I took one of the stools at the bar and ordered a beer and enjoyed the atmosphere of the place. It had a bit of an older crowd but was a great place to start the evening.

A friend of mine had recommended one bar in particular that I decided to check out next. To my disappointment I was stopped by a bouncer who advised there was a $15 entry fee. I don’t know if this is because it was a ‘special’ live act or whether this is actually common, surely not the latter though?

This street in particular is packed with bar after bar, all offering live music with free entry. I was sad to not discover this recommendation but it was senseless paying to enter anywhere for an unknown act when this street had so much more to offer. I moved on and found somewhere else to enjoy my next couple of beers.

TheSpottedCat
The Spotted Cat, New Orleans

I was conscious not to stay too long so that I wouldn’t be late meeting Andy and Rox so moved over to the bar we’d agreed to meet at – the Spotted Cat. This bar was somewhere I’d already heard good things about so was excited to visit. It’s a nice bar with music acts set up in the corner by the entrance.

Unfortunately I hadn’t timed it too well as by the time I’d ordered a beer the act had finished their set and there was a lull in any music being played whilst waiting for the next band to come on.

After waiting a little while a solo Rox arrived, with no sign of Andy at all. They’d both been distracted by a band playing in the street and suggested we abandoned this bar and returned to join Andy.

New Orleans Nightlife
We spent most of the night dancing in the street to this band on the corner

I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony. There were countless number of bars along this street and here we were dancing in the street to this band playing on the corner. It wasn’t just us either, this band had drawn a growing crowd with many others also in the street to the frustration of the traffic trying to pass (I was quite surprised the roads were so busy here).

They were really good and played for a decent length of time so a good chunk of our night ended up being spent outdoors in the street. If nothing else it was a sign that New Orleans nightlife didn’t disappoint. Even without a beer or a roof over our head we were still able to have a brilliant time.

We did eventually move on to a couple of bars, including a return to the Spotted Cat where we’d initially intended to visit. After the second bar we visited started closing up we decided to call it a night. I guess it must have been 1:30-2am by this point. We weren’t drunk and had enjoyed a brilliant evening so sensibly made our way back to our respective hotels.

We got an Uber back to Andy and Rox’s hotel, mine wasn’t too much further so I figured I’d just walk it from there. It was a pretty straight walk and along pretty well lit streets too so I felt pretty safe walking through the city.

I did spot a couple of guys on route who were just loitering. I was hopeful I’d pass by without drawing unwanted attention to myself.

I don’t know if I was just a little more paranoid because I’d had a few beers but it felt like no sooner than they’d spotted me had they seperated with one of them scarpering down a side street – a little dodgy.

That paranoia was probably a good thing on this occasion though because it kept me alert to my surroundings. I think I’m pretty sensible when wandering a city after dark anyway, as I said it was a well lit area so it wasn’t like I’d stumbled upon two figures lurking in the dark. I was fully aware of my surroundings and sober enough that I had my wits about me.

So keeping that paranoia in mind my first thought was on the guy who’d suddenly disappeared. Where are you wandering off to? Am I getting ambushed further down the road?

That sudden disappearance left, what I considered to be, the least threatening of the two. Not that I particularly fancied my odds if he wanted to attack me but I wasn’t anticipating that situation arising. I figured I’d just keep walking, avoid eye contact and hopefully pass with minimal fuss.

“Hi there..?”

Of course.. Why couldn’t you just let me keep walking without trying to engage me in conversation? I don’t want any human interaction at this time of the morning..

Safety is, rightly, one of the much talked about topics of travel. I’m not going to pretend there’s any particular rulebook that you should follow, there’s many mitigating circumstances that means this isn’t the same in every destination nor for every individual. I’m fully aware that I’m privileged to be able to choose to walk alone after dark in most cities and still feel safe. That said, my only real advice would be to trust your own instincts.

Applying that here, I entertained his greeting with my own curiosity. What do you want? Money was my best guess so I was a little unprepared with what came next. Keeping in mind it was probably 2:30 am by this point, my new friend wanted to talk about..

Jesus!

Seriously, now? No, we’re not doing this at this time of the morning. I mean, ideally we’re not doing this at any time of the day but I particularly don’t want to be having this discussion at this very moment. Preaching hours are closed! I just want to get to bed.

“Can I pray for you?”

Honestly, knock yourself out but I’m not going to be here for it. I was already politely bidding him farewell when he asked “Can I touch your shoulder..?”

What, no, Why? The paranoia kicked back in. I don’t know if the earlier guy had been another target of this guy’s preachings or if there would be an impeding ambush somewhere. “Go after the guy with a red X on his shoulder, I’ve marked him as an easy target..”

I was done. I’d entertained him, and my own curiosity, long enough. I swiftly moved on and didn’t pass anyone else on the way back to my hotel. Two minutes later I was tucked up in bed and completely zonked out.

FrenchQuarter3
A much better day in New Orleans

Weird ending aside it had been a much better day in New Orleans. I’d finally got to see all of New Orleans charm during our day exploring but if that’s not enough it’s truly in the evening where the city comes to life. I think there are very few places, certainly that I’ve been to, that can offer that sort of atmosphere after dark. This night dancing in the streets of New Orleans was not just a highlight of this trip but one in general and something I will remember for a very long time.

I still had a little time left in New Orleans before flying over to the West coast. More on that to come in day 7.

Stay tuned!

Jason

P.S – If you want to catch up on the other posts 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!

The big 3-0: Day five – New Orleans!

One of the great things about my blogging method is that I’m always telling stories of historic trips, opposed to more recent adventures.

Of course that has some drawbacks, for instance I can quickly forget some of the little interesting things that happened on the trip two years ago. However it does have its perks too and means I’m well equipped to tackle a period, such as now, where travel is so restricted. I feel sympathy for those more “up-to-date” travel bloggers who are now scrambling to try and find things to write about.

Those following along on this particular story will know that back in the summer of 2018 I traveled out to the USA to spend thirty days celebrating my 30th birthday. I’ll leave links to each of the previous days at the bottom of this post, for anyone interested in catching up, but as a quick recap day four was a football (and beer) filled day in Minneapolis.

I woke up on day five (Wednesday) ready to say goodbye to Minnesota and head on to my 3rd state of this trip: Louisiana!

Incidentally, Louisiana was going to be the 10th state I’d visited so a nice little landmark on the quest to eventually visit all 50 states.

The city I was most excited to visit on this particular trip was San Francisco, which had long been a bucketlist or dream destination of mine.

After San Francisco it was probably New Orleans that I was most excited to visit. I’d heard so many good things about New Orleans, its culture, its nightlife and all of the photos you see online make it look like this almost un-American like bubble within the country. I was excited to see a very different side of the USA, America’s little slice of Europe.

New Orleans history
The history of New Orleans

First things first though, I had to say goodbye to Minneapolis and I was sad to be saying goodbye so soon. I’d clicked with Minneapolis in a way I just hadn’t anticipated doing so. I was wondering if I’d come to regret visiting Minneapolis for football and instead it ended up being a real highlight of this trip.

I checked out of my hotel, hopped in to a taxi to the airport and the driver did little to help the “Minneapolis blues” that I was suffering. The driver was super chatty and friendly and there was definitely a part of me contemplating ripping up the itinerary and staying in town longer. I could scrap New Orleans and find a different way to Washington later in the week, right?

Had I not had friends awaiting me down in New Orleans I might have been a little more tempted to do just that. However, like Chicago, I knew I could always return to Minneapolis some day and it was time to move on to my next destination. At least I was going somewhere new and exciting, I’d have been much unhappier had it been a flight heading home.

I didn’t find security at Minnesota’s airport to be the most efficient but as ever I’d made sure to arrive with plenty of time to spare so it wasn’t a major issue. Soon enough I’d passed through and found myself a little restaurant in the airport to grab some breakfast and some tea before boarding my flight.

The flight was about three hours in total, leaving Minneapolis at 10am and getting to New Orleans just before 1pm which still gave me a good amount of time to get a first glimpse at the city before the day was out. After picking up my luggage I hopped in a taxi at the taxi rank within the airport.

I have to say I was happy to find a fixed rate with the taxis. I suspect the fare may have risen in the last couple of years but a taxi from the airport to anywhere in New Orleans (or vice versa) is a fixed $25.

I don’t always get a taxi from (or to) the airport but it’s nice to know exactly what you owe before getting in. I’ve found some cities (such as New York City) are reluctant to even give you an estimated fare which I find frustrating and is also probably why companies such as Uber have proven so popular. So credit to Louisiana for implementing such an easy system for everyone.

The taxi ride was smooth and uneventful. I spent much of it peering out of the window for any sign of the New Orleans I’d pictured in my head. I figured the “real New Orleans” would eventually jump out at me the closer we got to my hotel. Alas, that wasn’t the case.

The drive took us along a highway with its huge roads and huge lanes. We continued passing fast food chains and high-rise buildings and even then on the outskirts of city-life there seemed to be no change. I remember passing this huge Mercedez “Superdome”, which turned out to be the home of NFL team the New Orleans Saints, and I half-wondered if I was in the right place and my driver hadn’t misled us.

I have to say, my first real impression of Louisiana and indeed New Orleans, is that it felt so.. American. I single out that Mercedez Superdome building because it felt representative of my first glimpse of life in New Orleans – where’s this famed European-style city?

We parked up at my hotel, itself situated in a square of more high rise buildings, and I half expected the receptionist to welcome me to a Hampton Inn somewhere in Texas – “Oh sorry, your driver must have gone West rather than East from the airport..”

One sign that I was at least in the right city was that my friend, Crystal, had quickly found me on arrival and welcomed me to New Orleans. Crystal is one member of the “penpal trio” and the “penpal curse” as I like to call it had struck once again. Myself, Crystal (from Florida) and Samantha (from Alabama) are all mutual penpals and have on a number of occasions, unsuccessfully, tried to meet up.

Back in 2016 I visited the neighbouring state of Georgia and both Crystal and Sam made the journey over to Atlanta, however I ended up having to bail on our plans and so our first attempt proved unsuccessful. A year later I visited Nashville and proposed meeting up once again. Long time readers might recall that myself and Sam successfully met up but Crystal wasn’t able to make the trip.

For a third successive year we tried to meet up as I squeezed a Southern destination in to my itinerary, New Orleans instantly appealed when suggested by one of the girls, and it looked like all three of us would finally meet at the same time. Alas, this time Sam was unable to join me and Crystal so we’ve all met at various times but yet to do so at the same time haha.

So in spite of an underwhelming first impression of New Orleans, I did at least appreciate seeing a familiar face. I quickly checked in, freshened up a little and then met Crystal back at the lobby to go and explore the city for the first time.

We had no particular plan so just decided to wing it and get our bearings with where things were in relation to where we were staying. The first thing we encountered was actually something I was really fond of!

Hurricane Katrina Memorial
Memorial for Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina Memorial

This wasn’t something that I knew was in New Orleans and isn’t something you’d really have any chance of discovering as it’s a little off the beaten path I suppose. However it just so happened to be located in the square outside of our hotel. The memorial is in honour to those who lost their lives to hurricane Katrina in 2005. Due to its location we passed it daily and I liked it because it stood out and was eye-catching. I find that the US are usually pretty good when it comes to memorials.

Hurricane Katrina
Honoring the people and remembering the events that occurred August 29, 2005 – Hurricane Katrina

After a couple of photos we continued onwards and soon stumbled upon what felt like the “heart of downtown New Orleans” – Poydras Street and then Canal Street – and were greeted by further high rise buildings, casinos, hotels, souvenir shops and the kind of tat that you generally try to avoid on holiday.

I hate to use it as a criticism, it’s not intended as such, but again it just felt so “American”. I use it as an adjective here because I think for overseas readers it does paint an image of a certain type of place; big and loud and potentially even overwhelming for some people.

You look up and find eight lanes on the roads, big cars, loads of traffic and then you’re surrounded by towering buildings that make you feel tiny. American feels an apt description for me because, with its casinos, I had visions of what I imagined Las Vegas to be like.

Poydras Street in particular is essentially this long strip that goes on for miles, incidentally taking you right past the Mercedez Benz Superdome if you walk far enough, and it just felt such a contrast to everything I’d read and heard about New Orleans.

Downtown New Orleans
New Orleans like you’ve never seen it!

We made our first stop New Orleans police department, which is tucked away along Royal Street within the French quarter. Crystal had prepared a little gift-package for the department that she wanted to drop off so I got my first, and hopefully last, glimpse of the police department in the city. They were appreciative of the sweet gesture, thanked us and happily sent us on our way as free citizens.

We had a little wander through the French quarter. I can’t recall being blown away. I said in day four that I couldn’t offer a logical explanation as to why I’d loved Minneapolis so much but it seems I’d yet to discard those Minneapolis-tinted-glasses because I just wasn’t feeling New Orleans at all.

Truly in the heart and soul of the city now, we wandered over to the famous Bourbon Street and by chance the first thing we saw was the Hard Rock Cafe situated on the corner. Long-time readers will know I’m actually a big fan of HRC’s in general but I think it just added further disappointment.

This was THE street that you HAVE to visit in New Orleans, a street so famous, a street so unique to New Orleans and the very first thing we see is a Hard Rock Cafe? Bloody hell..

I was desperate for New Orleans just to offer me a little bit of hope that it warranted its high reputation, so it was one of those occasions where I didn’t want to see something you get in pretty much any big city.

Looking back I think that first day was probably a lost cause. I’m sure I probably passed a million places of genuine interest or places that were unique to New Orleans. I no doubt passed HUGE flashing signs reading “Hey Jason, we have authentic Cajun food here” and my eyes instead found themselves drawn to the McDonald’s across the road.

The French quarter is actually delightful, full of quirky little stores and art galleries but my eyes were instead captured by the Wallgreen’s and the Bank of America’s and whatever else just to add to my disappointing first impression of the city.

We abandoned the busier and touristy parts of downtown and eventually managed to find a few quieter streets with cool buildings and a few nice-looking murals and things but the overwhelming feeling, for me at least, was that I’d yet to see the best of the city.

We took a detour towards the Mississippi river on our way back to the hotel which took us via New Orleans mall, relatively small by American standards and particularly so having just been to the Mall of America in Minnesota, but it was nice to have a quick wander through. The real appeal however was the riverside location with views overlooking the Mississippi river.

Mississippi River
Mississippi river, New Orleans

Having had a chance to at least get our bearings we returned to the hotel before figuring out evening plans. In addition to Crystal’s presence in New Orleans, two of my friends from England (Andy and Rox) were also on their own USA summer / 30th celebration tour and just so happened to be in New Orleans at the same time so we’d talked about trying to meet up.

Enjoying the nightlife had little appeal for Crystal so we ended up doing our own thing in the evening. I sent Andy and Rox a message to see if they fancied meeting up somewhere later. After waiting a little while Rox came back to me and said they had plans already and perhaps tomorrow lunchtime would work out better, so I decided to go find myself some dinner.

I found a restaurant called Mulate’s not too far from my hotel and took a seat up at the bar. The place was possibly a little touristy, I’m not sure given it wasn’t overly busy, but it had a nice atmosphere and there was some live music up on stage at the back of the restaurant which added to it.

Mulates New Orleans
Nice atmosphere at Mulate’s, New Orleans

On the menu was a scattering of local and Southern cuisine but the prospect of Alligator was the dish that tempted me most and what I ordered alongside a beer. Both the beer and the alligator were delicious, the latter tasting very similar to chicken and something I’d happily eat again.

Alligator New Orleans
Eating Alligator in New Orleans

It wasn’t particularly late after dinner but I figured I’d head back to my hotel, relax for a bit and then head out solo a little later for my first taste of New Orlean’s famous nightlife. Perhaps that would go some way to restoring a little faith in this city.

As it was I got back to the hotel and I think the miles on this trip so far had caught up with me a little. This might have also contributed to my apathy towards New Orleans so far because I was suddenly exhausted and was actually quite content to just relax for the evening.

Typically, now that I’d accepted I was staying in for the night, Rox and Andy sent over a message saying they were finished with their plans earlier than anticipated and consequently extended me an invitation to join them for some drinks tonight.

I felt a little bad postponing but I was so relaxed by this point. I was readying myself for a nice bath and happened to find Lion King on television in the hotel which had its own appeal haha. I politely declined and suggested catching up tomorrow was still good with me. Perhaps for the best as I’m not sure I’d have been the greatest company that evening anyway.

You’ll be pleased to hear my experience and feelings towards New Orleans did improve over the course of the next couple of days. Whilst it hadn’t been the best of starts, I’m always an optimist and I was still hopeful that New Orleans could yet live up to the heights of Minneapolis (said no blogger ever!!) and rid me of those Minneapolis blues!

Coming in day six: a much more positive write-up of New Orleans! Stay tuned

Jason

P.S – you can catch up on the previous days of this trip below!
Day one – Chicago bound
Day two – exploring Chicago
Day three – Minneapolis
Day four – Why I visited Minneapolis!