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

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

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

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

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

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

Tillamook Creamery
Tillamook Creamery, Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tillamook gift shop

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

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

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

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

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

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

Depoe Bay
Depoe Bay, Oregon

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

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

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Depoe Bay, Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Bean

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Francisco Road Sign
San Francisco – here we come!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wait, this is the evergreen state?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls, Oregon – August 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The view from Mo’s, Lincoln City

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned,

Jason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walla Walla – Nov 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on that to come soon! Stay tuned!

Jason

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls, Oregon – August 2018

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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!


The big 3-0: Day eleven – the actual 3-0!

Hello my dear readers! I am well and truly back in to the swing of things now so I thought I’d get back to “the big 3-0” series. For those of you that missed the start of the series I’ll leave links at the bottom for you to go back and read but I’ll quickly catch you up!

In August 2018 I was invited to a wedding out in Washington State, two days before my 30th birthday. A wedding in another country and a big birthday left me with a huge temptation to celebrate BIG. So I planned a 30 day trip exploring various parts of the US.

Day 10 had seen me and my girlfriend (now fiance!) Haleigh arrive in Portland after a drive down from Washington. We hadn’t really done much other than settle in for the evening. We were staying with Haleigh’s Uncle Rob and Aunt Gina so it had just been a night of good food, good company and playing some games.

So day 11 was going to give us our first proper glimpse of the Portland area. As it was, day 11 happened to be the actual day of the big 3-0! In all honesty I felt like the trip as a whole all just blurred in to one celebration. I didn’t feel like today was any more special than any of the other 29 days in the US. I’m not really one to make a huge fuss about my birthday but nevertheless, I’d arrived in Portland a 29 year old and woken up as a 30 year old.

It ended up being a relatively chilled start to the day in truth. Rob and Gina both had the day off work so we’d agreed to spend the day together. However they’d got up early to pop out and look at buying a new RV which left me and Haleigh to have a slow start to the day which was nice.

I’d say it was a quiet start to the day but we were keeping one eye on our four-legged company, or perhaps it was the other way around as they were still pretty bark-happy. Particular Buster who’d set off again any time I moved, almost as if he’d temporarily forget I was in his company and indeed his home.

“Wait.. you’re still here!?”

Four legged friends

A little while later Rob and Gina had returned, unfortunately following an unsuccessful purchase, and quickly freshened up before the four of us headed out together. We kicked things off by finding a place for lunch. We ended up visiting some local Hawaiian place which was really nice. They had some cool artwork up on the walls that I think we’d all have been happy taking home with us but we settled for just enjoying the food haha. Haleigh kindly treated me to lunch by way of celebrating the birthday which was also nice!

As I said above, I’m not one to make a huge fuss about my birthday but continuing with the theme of the day we thought we’d go do something a little more fun that all four of us could enjoy. Within close vicinity of the restaurant was a bowling alley so we decided to have a couple of rounds of bowling.

The bowling ended up being perhaps the part I remember most from this day. With bowling balls and shoes at the ready, the local (Rob) was far better prepared than Haleigh or myself for this little outing and gave the impression that this was “serious business”.

With that in mind I was keen to give a good account of myself on the lanes and see how I could fare against the pro! I was expecting Rob to cruise to victory but things didn’t quite go to script!

Haleigh bowling

Employees of the bowling alley had recently oiled the lane in an effort to sabotage Rob’s game and disrupt his bowling rhythm! Those of you less inclined to believe in conspiracy theories might suggest it was coincidental rather than personal. Additionally some may argue that we were all subject to the same bowling conditions but the slippery lanes took its toll on Rob as he shared his frustration with anyone willing to hear it.

I have to say, I found it quite hysterical. Rob was NOT happy and I was struggling to contain how amusing I found the situation. I grew up watching my parents participate in a weekly bowling league so I appreciate the technique and routine that goes in to bowling but Rob was struggling to adapt to the conditions and his competitive nature meant he was pretty miserable. From a personal viewpoint, I think watching someone so competitive have such a miserable game is inevitably uplifting haha.

The conditions had leveled the playing field and culminated in a birthday victory in the first game! Rob’s fortunes picked up in the second game and as a result he ended up cruising to a pretty comfortable win in the end but I was content to have won one game at least.

The win perked Rob up a little bit but we didn’t stick around for a third game and decided to head in to the downtown area of Portland. One place that has to be visited in Portland, particularly for someone as book-obsessed as Haleigh, is the famous Powell’s Books! It’s a huge bookstore in Portland and was somewhere we were both keen to visit whilst in town.

Powell's Books

Powell’s Books lived up to its reputation as a dream for any book-lover. There are an endless number of books to browse through and I’ve no doubt it’s somewhere you could spend hours in if you wanted to. We split up in to two pairs and wandered around for a while – Haleigh trying to resist the urge to buy every book in the store! She did a pretty good job and made it out without bruising the bank balance too badly. We did stop off at the in-store cafe though and all had something to drink – tea for myself obviously.

We didn’t do too much else after leaving Powell’s Books, we had a little browse through Portland before turning our attention to dinner. We ended up visiting some quirky bar which I think was part of the McMenamins chain. It was a nice way to round off the day, I tried a couple of beers and then just enjoyed the good food and good company.

We headed back to the house and finished the evening by watching a movie – The Big Lebowski. Whilst bowling it had been mentioned and had caused shock that neither myself nor Haleigh had seen this “classic” movie.

It’s an odd film. I don’t know how myself and Haleigh found ourselves watching it alone but we stuck with it until the end. Not that I could really tell you what the plot of it is, to the point that the film largely revolves around a bowling tournament that they don’t even reveal if they won it or not!

It was a bizarre end to the day but rounded off a nice birthday which was pretty relaxed and spent with good company. We hadn’t done a huge amount thus far in Portland but we packed plenty in to day 12 so stay tuned for that!

Jason

P.S – you can catch up on previous entries for 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!

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.

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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 seven – Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Washington

and just like that it was day seven! For those wondering about the first six days, where have you been? You need to catch up – asap!

I’ll leave links at the bottom of the post for you to do just that but to get you up to speed with everyone else, in the summer of 2018 I turned 30 and celebrated by spending 30 days in the USA. So far I’d been to Chicago, Minneapolis and was now in New Orleans!

After a late night dancing in the streets of the French quarter on day six, I didn’t rush myself out of bed the next morning and enjoyed a little bit of a lay in. Once I’d freshened up I arranged to meet Crystal down at the lobby for our last few hours together before we went our seperate ways. Crystal would be returning to Florida and I’d be heading to near enough the opposite end of the country – up in the Pacific North West.

Before thinking about that we were once again off on foot in the streets of New Orleans. The day before we’d tried to visit one of the Lafayette Cemeteries in the city and found it was actually closed by the time we reached it, so with that in mind it seemed a good place to return to and start our Friday morning.

Lafayette Cemetery
Lafayette Cemetery No.1

After a bit of a walk we’d arrived and fortunately found the gates were open this time. The graves and headstones make this cemetery somewhat of a popular ‘tourist attraction’. I’d snapped a couple of photos from outside the locked gates on Thursday, such as the one above, and figured when I returned that I would end up taking a countless number of photos as we walked around.

However that didn’t actually materialise. It is quite unique as far as cemeteries go and I can certainly understand why people enjoy visiting it but in the moment I just didn’t feel right to be taking photos and just settled for admiring the beauty in what is a rather morbid ‘attraction’.

That said it’s not the first cemetery I’ve explored on my travels, which is weird because it’s certainly not something I’d ever think to do at home.

I always find them to be peaceful places and I’m always left feeling a little humbled. With so many people and so much history in this place I could only wander through it feeling reflective of life and appreciating how valuable life is – hopefully a lesson people are currently appreciating too!

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Lafayette Cemetery No.1 – closed at the time!

Myself and Crystal did a full lap of the cemetery and it is a remarkable place. There’s more than one in the city, I’m not suggesting you spend time seeing them all but I’d recommend going to at least one and seeing it for yourself. I thought it was worthwhile visiting anyway.

Having appeased our curiosity we took a slow walk back in to downtown, again admiring all of the stunning buildings and houses in this part of town. We found a place to grab some lunch at and then had one final stroll through the French quarter.

It was a last chance for us to look around, pop in to a few shops and look for some souvenirs. I think Crystal picked up a couple of bits but I didn’t end up buying anything. From there we ventured over to the famous Bourbon Street as we’d somehow avoided it so far.

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Musical Legends Park, New Orleans

It was a cool street with a number of bars and despite being quite early in the day, there was still a bit of atmosphere in the air that suggested this was the “place to be” as far as New Orleans was concerned. We also stumbled upon ‘Musical Legends Park’ here that had a number of cool statues dedicated to New Orleans famous music scene and nightlife.

Overall Bourbon Street felt a bit more touristy than Frenchmen Street had, which is where I’d spent Thursday night, but I can’t imagine either disappoint after dark. New Orleans is definitely a city that, if for nothing else, I would return to for its nightlife.

Sadly I wasn’t going to be getting another taste of it. My time in New Orleans was rapidly coming to its end. Crystal was leaving mid-afternoon and I wasn’t sticking around much beyond that.

We took a slow walk back in the general direction of our hotel and just wandered the streets of the city. It’s by no means my favourite city in the USA but I’d got past my first impression and was now able to actually enjoy the charm of the city.

There is a lot to like about New Orleans, which perhaps wasn’t apparent if you read day five, and we just spent the next hour or so wandering and admiring some of the squares, architecture and artwork throughout New Orleans. Overall it’s quite a nice city to get lost in.

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Mural showing off the famous Natchez boat on the Mississippi

New Orleans Art
I adored this mural of New Orleans!

There wasn’t much either of us particularly wanted to do before we left, nor did we have a huge excess of time, so in this spiritual city we looked to the heavens for inspiration.

Alright, perhaps not but the sudden downpour on the way back to our hotel made it easier to persuade Crystal in to a bar on route for one final beer in Louisiana. It was a cool-looking bar and it was a chance for us to have a chilled farewell before going in our own direction.

Fortunately by the time we left the rain had pretty much disappeared and I waved Crystal off on her journey back to Florida. I didn’t have much time left myself so figured I’d go and find somewhere to eat before I left. I stumbled upon a nice restaurant not too far from my hotel which was enough to tempt me in.

From there it was time to say goodbye to New Orleans. I’d liked New Orleans but I’d be lying if I said I loved it. Ultimately I think it was a victim of its own reputation, I went with such high expectations for New Orleans that I don’t know how it was supposed to ever really live up to them. I still think it’s somewhere I’d go back to and I think I’d actually enjoy it more next time with more measured expectations.

I swung by my hotel and picked up my case, fortunately there was a taxi already sitting just outside the hotel which saved me a job of having to find one. We hit a bit of traffic on the way back to New Orleans airport but I’d left early enough it wasn’t really an issue. Soon enough I’d been dropped off at the airport and was making my way through security.

I have to say I remember very little of the airport. I can therefore only assume it was an uneventful wait for my flight. Soon enough Alaska Airlines were inviting passengers to start boarding. They’d split the boarding process up in to various groups (A, B, C.. etc) and first up were group A.

“All passengers in group A.. A for Alligator”

Wait, what? Oh, hang on.. we’re in Louisiana.. Alligator, very clever!

Next up was group B, B for Bourbon Street of course! As the ‘Crawfish’ group C passengers started boarding I was eagerly anticipating my own category. I was next! Group D, D for..

“Don’t have a bloody clue..”

I didn’t catch what she said, her cursed accent was indecipherable! She repeated it again over the PA and I still couldn’t understand what she’d said. I don’t have many regrets from this trip but not asking at the gate as I handed over my boarding ticket might be one of them! Why didn’t I ask!?

I Disappointedly Departed for my Damn flight pondering all of the Damn D words in the Dictionary that could also have some relation to Louisiana or New Orleans but it left me Defeated! I’ll never know.

So if you happen to frequently fly through this airport, happen to be a Louisiana Native or happen to work for Alaska Airlines please give me your input. The rest of you can play along too of course!

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Bye New Orleans, hello Seattle!

Anyway, it was time to go. The first chunk of the flight had my brain eating away at me to answer this riddle! The rest of the flight was uneventful and I’d eventually landed in Seattle, Washington! I quickly picked up my baggage and was hoping to make a quick escape to my hotel where I’d find Haleigh waiting for me!

Sadly escaping Seatac airport wasn’t as smooth as I’d hoped it would be. On my first visit to Washington I had the girls pick me up from the airport, on my second visit to Washington I got the Link in to Seattle and spent a night in the city before catching a bus to Moses Lake.

This time around I was staying in a hotel near the airport and theoretically I ‘simply’ had to get a shuttle over to the hotel two minutes away. Perhaps it didn’t help that it was a late night arrival so all I wanted to do was get to my hotel but everything about it felt like an ordeal.

It wasn’t simple finding exactly where to get the buses from. It then isn’t particularly clear if these are public buses, private shuttles, hotel shuttles or any other combination of bus / coach service. Nor was it clear which stop I needed to go to.

The reality is there’s no organised system in place. Unlike many airports that have specific stops for specific hotels (Heathrow for example) and then have buses running at regular interals, it’s a free-for-all here. The buses come and go as they please, stop at whichever ‘checkpoint’ they want and it just felt chaotic.

I eventually discovered you have to phone the hotel to ask them to bring a bus to you. Maybe the hotel picks up the phone, maybe they don’t. Maybe the bus is on its way already, maybe the driver is on a cigarette break. Maybe it’ll come to your stop, maybe it’ll pick up at another point because it’s a Friday between the minutes of 22:01 and 22:04. I’d love to say any of it makes sense but it doesn’t. So my recommendation would be to never use a hotel shuttle at Seatac! It’s a nightmare!

Eventually a bus arrived to pick me up at, let’s say checkpoint one. I was seemingly the only passenger for our hotel so once I boarded the bus we were whizzing off.

Well, for ten yards anyway because the next passengers at checkpoint two were ready to pick up. Ten yards later we stopped for the next batch of passengers and the little patience had at that time of night was draining from me. How many times do we have to do this before we even get out of the bloody airport car park?

It must have taken close to an hour in total for me to reach a hotel two minutes away. Even with Seatac not being particularly pedestrian friendly to walk out of, I still would have been better walking to my hotel.

I reckon it was around 11pm by the time I’d finally reached the hotel. Fortunately Haleigh had already checked us in so I didn’t have to join the queue of tired-looking guests at reception and we wandered off to our room.

It was nice to be reunited with Haleigh. The length of this trip meant I had little annual leave throughout the rest of the year. Consequently we hadn’t seen eachother since February (now being August) so a long six months!

Additionally it was nice to be back on the West coast. I was going to be spending the next three weeks, accompanied by Haleigh, exploring the West Coast and I was really excited to kick-start this portion of the trip. Starting tomorrow of course! The first plan of action was to sleep, Washington would have to wait until the morning.

Stay tuned for that! Next up on the blog: day eight.

Jason

P.S – If you want to catch up on the rest of the trip so far 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!

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.

JacksonSquare
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!