(Photo: Car driving along street in Portland, Oregon)
It was difficult leaving Chicago for Seattle. Leaving li’l Harry and Alison and Jonny behind, not to mention seeing Cathal off on his return trip to Ireland. It was inevitably going to be just that, and so by the time we reached Seattle I wasn’t much fun to be honest. I’m not sure if that melancholy mood that I was in when we arrived colored my view of the city, and while I really enjoyed the whole hippy vibe going on in the the markets, I was, if I’m perfectly honest, not wholly impressed. Now given that we were less than a week in Seattle, it might be unfair for me to reach such a conclusion, but nah, I was just as happy to be boarding the train for Portland after our stay there. One word of advice to anyone visiting Seattle – stay away from the Space Needle! It’s pretty much the main attraction advertised in the city and a total rip off. In my humble opinion, it’s a big mistake to keep it open and charge tourists while huge construction work is going on there. Now I get that you might kinda feel that if you don’t do the famous Space Needle that you’ve missed out on a major part of Seattle. Well, even if you do the tour, you still miss out! So, save yourself $22 and buy some hippy items from the markets in Pike Place which is a wonderful experience and in total contrast to the Space Needle. You see, the trip to the top of the Space Needle is in an elevator where a nice tour guide tells you all about the construction work that’s taking place as the elevator ascends, just so you feel that you haven’t been ripped off I guess. That same tour guide abandons ship once you leave the elevator to make your way to the viewing deck. There are no guides or information boards or leaflets explaining to you what you are seeing as you look out through the small six foot by six foot space that remains as the viewing deck, alongside all of the construction scaffolding. The most interesting thing I saw when I was up there was one of the construction guys suctioning a huge piece of glass on a suction machine…the glass, not the guy girls 😂. I swear…I might as well have been looking out across Galway Bay for all the information that was available to tell me about what views I was looking at from 520 feet up.
Every cloud has a silver lining however and on the last night of our stay in Seattle, we happened upon some really fantastic people at a Brewery called Perihelion. A quirky bar where we met two “guys”, one of whom was from California and who stayed on after the friend had left. We hung out together for the evening doing as you do in a Brewery, some beer tasting. As it turned out, this person was one of the most interesting and brave individuals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. “He” you see, is becoming a “She” with medical rather than surgical intervention. She has struggled for many years to reach the point where she now, at 22 years old (with the maturity of a much older woman might I add) is making the necessary changes to be the person she truly feels she was born to be. The result of this is that sitting before me was a beautiful looking woman, albeit, born a man. She explained that she felt she was a female trapped inside a male body from birth. We hit it off straight away and she was a breath of fresh air! I was so delighted to be in the company of a sincere, intelligent, courageous and honest woman, (which are the kind of women I hang out with anyway), but you know what I mean! How lucky was I to have had such an encounter? So you see the trip to Seattle, Washington wasn’t in vain after all.
Other than that, the only other item worth a mention is that the original Starbucks is based right beside the fantastic hippy markets at Pike Place. The queues outside for a regular cup of coffee however really don’t justify the wait, unless of course you are an absolute huge fan of Starbucks coffee and have a thing about seeing your name on your cup. I personally popped around the corner to yet another Starbucks (there’s tonnes of them in Seattle) and bought one which was in my cold paws in less than 5 minutes. I did however take a photo of the outside of the original shop, just to have on record that I did indeed see it. Sure you’d have to when you’ve travelled that far weshhht. 👩🌾
And so, on the morning of Thursday 29th March, we packed up our bags and left Seattle on the Amtrak Coast Starlight train for the start of our wonderful trip down the west coast of the USA. The city of Portland, (some four hours of a train journey away) was our next stop. The train ride down was not so much breathtaking as rather interesting and I guess, reflective of life that goes on between Seattle and Portland. And that is mostly to do with the automobile industry! There were, what seemed like hundreds of car graveyards, piles of scrunched up cars in mounds being fed onto conveyor belts and subsequently spat out in smaller piles of metal shards. There were trailer parks with trucks made from all different car and truck parts, some with huge wheels that looked totally out of proportion to the body of the vehicle. Now I’m sure there’s a very legitimate reason for this of which I am totally ignorant, but to someone who knows very little about cars, these patchwork pick up trucks looked hilarious!
With absolutely no clue as to what to expect of this city of Portland, Oregon, we arrived at our destination to beautiful warm sunshine! At last! After a quick bite to eat we made our way to our Airbnb accommodation which was literally only a few stops away by tram from the city, and then for a stroll down one of the main streets nearby. And as we walked, people were smiling and happy and greeting us with waving hands and some “high fives”. I was thinking to myself…Jeez… these are the friendliest bunch we have encountered yet and they don’t even know us?!!! What on earth? Until we discovered that in fact while they are naturally a very warm and welcoming bunch of people in any event, that cannabis is entirely legal and that 50% and more of the population smoke/eat it for recreation purposes. So the high fives and the aromas we were encountering as we strolled along explained the chilled out happy individuals we were meeting along the way! (I have to admit that given that I had stopped smoking cigarettes over three years ago, and was too afraid to try it out for fear of going back on the fags again, I might have been tempted).
Portland, my friends, was everything and more that we wanted from this journey down the west coast. It really has to be experienced to be believed. There is a mix of a cool hippy vibe and a 1950’s/60’s and rock and roll vibe rolled into one. I friggin loved loved loved it! The motto of the city is “Keep Portland Weird”! I think that explains it in a nutshell. People are quirky and unique and there’s a whole sense of fun about the place. It is up there as one of the top 5 cities in the world for the best place to live and where residents are the happiest and it doesn’t surprise me one bit. I would move lock stock and barrel to live here in the morning if I could. I can’t put my finger on just one thing that stands out that gives this city such uniqueness. It’s a whole combination of things I believe. The down-to-earth, warm, quirky, arty people who chose to live there. The bright arty street graffiti that has been painted on almost every wall; or the reaction of people when they realized we were tourists from Ireland and the enthusiasm with which they welcomed us. The yoga class that the host of the Airbnb invited me to attend as she was teaching it on the morning after we arrived; or the tour of the submarine at the local museum of Science and Industry, the list goes on and on. It is a city full of wonder and excitement and fun. The only downside of our trip was that we didn’t book to stay longer. It is one of those places that you visit where you wish everyone you knew and loved had an opportunity to experience. So folks…if you’re thinking about visiting the west coast of the USA, you absolutely must include this city on your itinerary.
Sadly our time in Portland came to an end too quickly. We boarded the Amtrak Starlight Coastal train again five days later and headed for Sacramento, California. The train journey was a long one. We boarded at just after 2 p.m. on Monday and didn’t arrive in Sacramento until Tuesday morning at 6.00 a.m. Having breakfast in a diner in Sacramento at just after 6.00 a.m. was a small bit strange and we were pretty tired having only slept for a few hours along the way. The train journey was spectacular as we climbed the Cascade Mountains between Portland and Sacramento. Hours of beautiful jaw-dropping scenery that we watched from the viewing car of this huge train that slithered along the tracks through the mountains like a giant cobra. We climbed so high into the mountains, there was miles of snow without so much as a footprint from any living creature evident. We milked the last piece of daylight out of the viewing car before heading to the dining car for dinner and then attempted miserably to get a few hours shuteye.
The stop in Sacramento for us was purely to break the long train journey and get some time in the sun by a pool. So a brief stop on our way to our Airbnb at the fabulous old city of Sacramento was as much as we got to do during our stay here. The old city consists of wooden buildings, preserved from long ago, and saloons that we are all familiar with seeing in the old cowboy movies. Sitting on the bench outside one of the saloons I had visions of cowboys with stirrups and fringes involved in a brawl being thrown out onto the cobbled roadside through swinging saloon doors. Horse drawn wagons full of children dressed in the old-style costumes adorned the streets and it was just fabulous to witness. A real sense of being in America during the whole Cowboy and Indian era. I would have loved an old rocking chair on the wooden decking that we were sitting on. Instead of a sign saying “Annie get your gun” that there’d be one saying “Granny on the Run” 😂.
And on to our Airbnb where we were greeted by the most wonderful hosts, Vivian and Brian. Stepping from our cozy room which was a small annex to their main house, out into what I can only describe as a “fairy garden”, full of trees with hanging colored ribbons and twinkling lights. A fabulous swimming pool catches our eyes immediately. Floral garden furniture with a pit fire in the centre of the garden. And the coolest thing ever. A “Love Shack” they had built many years ago at the back of the garden! Vivian is an artist and Brian is also involved in the arts. Two real life true hippies with so much warmth for us and all of their guests. This is what the whole Airbnb experience is also about for us. Meeting all these fantastic different people as we go. We spent such wonderful evenings with Vivian and Brian around a log fire that Brian had kindly built for us by the pool. We stank of smoke when heading into our beds but we didn’t care. It was just wonderful! What a fabulous experience and we have vowed to keep in touch with each other and hopefully we can host them when they take their trip to Ireland and we eventually return home. The rain came on the day we left Brian and Vivian for San Jose. It kinda felt like that too, a bit sad to be saying goodbye but exciting all the same as we continued our southward journey to San Jose in Southern California. The train journey to San Jose took just over three hours. Uneventful to begin with until a few stops into the journey a petite gentle beautiful Japanese woman boarded the train and asked if she could sit in the vacant seat beside us. I of course explained that it was free and so she sat in and began chatting as the train took off again. Before we knew it, she and I were engrossed in conversation, sharing our respective stories with each other. She, Naomi J. Williams was a successful writer/novelist who had her first novel published called “Landfall” and was working on her second. Such an interesting lady and I naturally had no idea how famous she was until she disembarked from the train and tweeted:-
Thank you Naomi J. Williams for your wonderful company on that train journey down south. 😘
And so we are now in San Jose, where the weather is fabulously warm and sunny. Our accommodation at this Airbnb is great and has its own pool, sauna and gym. We are settling in well as you can imagine! We have had short bursts in the places we’ve visited to date along the west coast and haven’t really “peeled the onion” fully so to speak in these cities so far. The reason for this is that we wanted to get to the Southern California area as soon as possible to get the most of the warmer weather within the time restrictions on our Visas. Our stays at each place from hereonin will be longer. But let me save the San Jose, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Venice Beach piece for the next blog! Things are about to heat up for sure….we’ve bought the sun cream, we have already got our white bits, and lets just say there’s no doubting where we come from when we lie by the pool 😂😂😂. Although we have been tempted to respond to questions like “where are you folks from?” with “What d’ya mean? We’re locals!” 😂😂😂
And onwards we go! 😀