Not much to report. Travelled four hours by train back to NYC. As before it was very difficult traversing the city to get to JFK. Eight hours back to Europe.
Day 86 – Helsinki
Jetlag. My old nemesis. Been through the mill today with it. Landed about 10am Finnish time, headed into the city centre on the very efficient and well priced train. Oh how nice it is to have efficient transport again! Weather is about 12 degrees cooler too, raining too. Couldn’t check in so headed to the art museum til I could, would not normally go to a gallery feeling like this, does not help with the concentration!
I was actually so jet-lagged I went to the wrong gallery and only realised it was wrong when I was half way round! It was still nice tho. Main gallery is the Finnish National Gallery. I only know one Finnish painter, a print of whose I have hanging on my wall, Akseli Gallen-Kallela. It was interesting to see the history of painting here. It was only after the 1917 Russian revolution that Finland finally declared independence. A lot of this history of reflected in the art, finding an identity, getting over the war.
I had to force myself to walk around to stay awake so I strolled by the harbour area, stumbled across a big beach volleyball tournament, watched people swim in the sea and sat on the steps on the parliament building and had dinner. And it stopped raining and the sun came out too. Seems like a very nice city, though small.
Russian orthodox cathedral, Helsinki
Day 87 – Helsinki
Started out with a wander around the shops, so many cool designs and fashion places. Spent an hour at the history museum, hadn’t realised how politically connected Russia and Sweden were to Finland. Finland only has a 100 years of independent history. Checked out the cathedral, which is situated on a hill and dominates the skyline.
Using your metro card you can use the ferry network too, so I headed across to a nearby island called Suomenlinna, which has a big fortress on it, cannons, museums, restaurants and lots of nice walks, and views. Only a ten minute ride, highly recommended.
Cannon on Suomenlinna island
Submarine on Suomenlinna island
Me sitting on a cannon
Really like the quirky public art and statues here. The train station has four domineering men holding lights.
Day 88 – Helsinki to Tampere
Checked out my hotel and walked south down to Kaivopuisto park. A lovely spot looking out across the Baltic. I had coffee a lovely cafe and walked back into town through the area of Kaivopuisto, with views across lots of interesting looking islands, not sure of they are private or public.
Jumped on the train in the afternoon and headed two hours north to city of Tampere. I wanted to see somewhere other than Helsinki and my friends Jenni and Charlie live here, both of whom I know from Brighton. I say live here but actually it is in the sticks in a lovely rural area where they built their own house, where they live with their two boys Axel and Eliel.
Had a nice walk around the area and the sun came out too so we had an ice cream. Jenni made me try her liquorice ice cream, which was one of the most disgusting things I have ever eaten! It made me cough it was so grim. Finns are obsessed with liquorice but ice cream should not be combined with it IMHO.
Day 89 – Tampere
Headed forty minutes into the nearest big town to where I am staying, Tampere. My first stop was the Moomin Museum! You might possibly think that it would be just for children, but it was actually a great museum for adults too.
If you don’t know, the Moomins were a series of books created by Finnish author Tove Jansson, in the 1940s to 1970s. The books were made into a TV series and quickly became a hit. I remember watching them a child so it was great seeing lots of the original artworks, tv programmes and stories behind the characters. It was a really interactive museum, highly recommended.
I then headed to Tampere cathedral. It is famous for having a some macabre skeleton frescos but it was also has some other beautiful frescos by the artists Hugo Simberg and Magnus Enckell. The cathedral last has some beautiful stained glass windows too, a very unique and peaceful place.
Spent the rest of the day wondering around the city, watched a Finnish rock band who had designs of being the next Rolling Stones and ate some blueberry pie (Finns are obsessed with blueberries).
In the evening I went with Jenni to watch one of her kids in an athletics competition, went to some Finnish shops, met some Finnish people and and played with some Finnish children. Finish.
Day 90 – Tampere to Helsinki
My last full day on my trip and a nice round number to end on. 90 days away. Currently on a train back down south to the capital for one more day in Helsinki.
I looked around the Russian Orthodox Cathedral called Upenski Cathedral, with it’s fascinating gold and green exterior.
I then walked all the way around the harbour back to Cafe Ursula where I went earlier this week and chilled out there with coffee. In the evening I watched a huge choir perform in Senate Square as part of the opening night of the Helsinki Festival. Ended the day by doing some essential Moomins shopping! I have developed a liking for them so bought a Moomins spoon and two Moomin towels!
As I prepare to leave Finland, some general thoughts on the country and the people. It certainly has been a nice five nights here, everyone seems very friendly, it’s very organised and easy to get around. With a population of just a few million people it is also very quiet and has an easy pace of life. Definitely would recommend coming here and also getting further afield than just Helsinki.
Spent the majority of the day travelling. Caught the 11am train to Boston. Four and half hour journey, train was pretty good compared to most in the USA, relatively quick too. Arrived at the hotel and then headed out to walk round the old part of town.
Massachusetts state building
The Old State House, Boston
Headed up to Boston Common, past the Old State House and the new one too. It’s pretty steamy here like NYC but immediately it feels nicer. Less honking. Less screaming. Less grime. The metro works too. I have been here before, but that was in winter, and my overriding memory was never wanting to go outside so I don’t think I did very much!
Hotel is pretty cool, it’s called Citizen M and it has only been open two days. It is a ‘smart’ hotel, so you check yourself in on a computer and everything in the room is controlled by an iPad, including the heating, lighting and blinds. There’s loads of free movies too. It’s a pretty small room, good for one, but loads cheaper than most hotels in Boston, which seems to be very pricey.
Day 86 – Boston, and art
Boston is blessed with two amazing art galleries and I visited both today. The Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum, both within five minutes walk of each other.
The Museum of Fine Arts is truly world class. They have a huge collection of Monets, some fantastic 19th and 20th century American art, some beautiful Asian pieces, all in a modern, sleek, well presented gallery space. I spent three hours there, highly recommended.
The Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum began life from a private collection she started with her husband. They created an Italian style mansion, over four floors, which they inhabited the top floor and the rest was opened to the public, in 1901. She died in 1924, and the entire collection was left to the public, with a stipulation that nothing could be changed. The museum is very unique, unlike any I have visited. It is like you are wondering around someone’s beautiful home.
Because nothing could be moved it can be difficult to see some pieces, as they hang on the sides of walls and you have to crane your neck to see them. Also some were stolen in 1990 but as nothing can be moved the empty fames remain, as they have never been recovered. They included a beautiful Vermeer and some Rembrandts. Overall a fabulous museum!
In the evening I stumbled across a great soul band performing outdoors (in video), so I sat and watched for an hour which was very enjoyable!
Day 87 – Salem
I jumped on the train this morning and headed north to the town of Salem, famous of course for the witch trials. I did learn however that the town was actually at times in its life the largest port and the richest town in the USA. A lot of trade from Asia came through the town. This led to the establishment of what is now the Peabody Essex Art Gallery. I had not intended to visit but I stumbled across it.
For a town the size of Salem if is remarkable to have such an amazing gallery. The focus is on both American and Asian art. Super friendly, great exhibition space, highly recommended. It never ceases to amaze me how that so many US cities have such fabulous art galleries with fabulous collections of world class art.
Of course the major reason for visiting the town is the witch trials, that happened here in 1692. Mass hysteria and paranoia led to many residents of the town to be accused of witchcraft, and also people living across the entire area. As you walk through the town there are many artefacts of what happened, including a graveyard and also a memorial listing each victim. There is also a tackier side, with witch this, vampire that, monster shops, etc.
It is actually a really nice town, compact enough to walk around, a nice harbour, a great veggie restaurant called ‘Alive’ too where I had lunch.
In the evening I saw a great film at the cinema called ‘The Farewell’. It is mainly in Mandarin, partly in English. Very interesting study of cultural Aandgenerational differences.
Day 88 – Boston
Last day here. Did some boring work things this morning, reality is looming! Then headed up to Bunker Hill, in the area of Charlestown. It is a large obelisk monument marking the Bunker Hill battle from the revolutionary war in 1775. You can climb 294 steps to the top for fabulous view across the city. I did just that and in 30 degree heat and massive humidity it almost ended me.
I also walked around the harbour area and saw the USS Constitution. Named in 1797 by George Washington, she is the oldest naval commissioned vessel still afloat.
In the afternoon I got the metro across to Back Bay, lots of posh shops here and also a Trader Joe’s my favourite shop, so I stocked up on supplies! I walked back via Boston Common to the cemetery where some of the earliest settlers of Boston are buried. This includes two co-signers of the declaration of American independence, Samuel Adams and Robert Treat Paine, as well as that revolutionary hero on horseback, Paul Revere.
I have enjoyed Boston, lots to do here, nice people, easy to walk around, great art galleries, come visit!
It is my last full day in the US today, flying back to Europe from NYC tomorrow. Have been in the US since I entered into Honolulu way back on 19 June! I always love visiting these lands, and have enjoyed getting to know new parts like Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. Til we meet again… See you in Helsinki.
Not much to report today almost entire day was spent travelling. Jumped ahead three hours. Staying in cool rented apartment with a separate lounge, washing machine and everything.
Day 80 – Philly
I headed out early to get to the Philadelphia Art Museum as it opened at 10am. Before you go in you walk up the famous ‘Rocky’ steps’. If you haven’t see the 1980s film it is where old Sly does a thing where he runs up and cheers or something. Can’t remember. There’s even a statue to him here as well! Bit OTT. Loads of tourists posing for photos impersonating him outside.
Well. What can I say about this museum. Fantastic! I spent three and a half hours perusing their collection and I loved it. Apparently they are expanding the museum in conjunction with a design by Frank Gehry. The bulk of the collection is European, Asian and American. They also had an impressionist exhibition on, all from their own collection, pretty amazing to see all in one place, including some beautiful Monets.
I particularly love Chinese, Korean and Japanese art and the gallery has some fabulous buddhas and early Chinese sculptures. They even had some Chinese tomb guardians that were virtually identical to a pair I saw in Tokyo. The American art collection was great too, particularly some fine portraits by Whistler and Singer Sergent. I am off to New York tomorrow and have already planned the four galleries I am going to see, so excited!
In the afternoon I visited the oldest part of the city. This included the Liberty Bell. I knew it was famous. I just didn’t know why. A guide explained they think it was rung after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but was not called the Liberty Bell then. It was more around the time of the civil war, when abolitionists used the symbol of the bell as a rallying cry against slavery that it more popularly became known by the name we use today. As for the crack, it happened about 150 years ago and has never been rung since. Next to the bell hall is Independence Hall, where the declaration was signed in 1776.
Independence Hall, Philadelphia
George Washington statue outside Independence Hall, Philadelphia
Independence Hall, Philadelphia
The other place I visited was the Museum of the American Revolution. It was very interesting and I learnt lots about the war that I had not known. For example, I did not know that it was the alliances with France, Spain and other European countries that ultimately won America the war. Before those countries became involved, Britain was close to defeating them. It was interesting seeing some of the oldest US flags ever made, learning about why the colonists had such a disagreement with the British and how a nation was ultimately formed. Great museum.
I ended the day treating myself to a great vegan meal at a restaurant called ‘Vedge’, highly recommended if you are ever in Philly!
Day 81 – NYC, Williamsburg and the Brooklyn Art Museum
Started the day by taking a train north to Penn Station in New York, pretty quick journey at 1 hour 20 minutes. Expensive though at $78, and considering the poor state of American trains and train services.
I opted to stay over in Williamsburg, next to Brooklyn, I last was here six years ago and stayed in Manhattan but fancied a new area to explore. Williamsburg is what you might call ‘up-and-coming’ or ‘in the process of gentrification’. Walk down the street and it is vegan bakery, drug den, macrobiotic greengrocers, brothel, locally-sourced shoe shop etc, you get the idea. My hotel is just to the north of the gentrification and is what I would call a ‘seedy’ area, but seems safe enough.
In the afternoon I explored the Brooklyn Art Museum. All museums here seems pricey to get in, think this one was $16 but I guess coming from a country where nearly all museums are free it would seem like that. The gallery is pretty modern and has some great pieces in its collection, including some nice Monets, a few Singer Sargents and a Picasso or two. As it is off the tourist trail it was also mercifully quiet.
In the evening I explored Williamsburg, heading down to the regenerated waterfront and watch the sun set. You can see some great views of the Manhattan skyline, it was a great way to end my first day here.
Day 82 – NYC, The Met and Central Park
As was yesterday, it was baking hot and hideously humid today. The NYC metro is NOT the place to be on a hot day. It is like Satan’s lair. Add to the fact that the whole network needs about $1 billion invested in it, it is a pretty horrendous experience using it quite frankly. Plus there was engineering works!
Anyway, I did end up getting the ‘L’ to Manhattan and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met). It is quite a collection, it rivals the National Gallery in London or the Louvre in Paris for its diversity and depth. Again pretty pricey at $25 but you can use the ticket for three days running. Not that you probably would want to face the queues again! It is VERY popular.
However, that aside I spent over four hours there. The American galleries are superb with some fantastic John Singer Sargent portraits. There are also a series of rooms from houses across the last couple of centuries, showcasing the extravagant homes Americans built for themselves. The highlight was a lounge designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for a home in Minnesota from the 1920s, it was simply stunning.
The European collection is vast, with a number of Van Goghs, Monets, Turners and more. The Egyptian, Roman and Greek galleries are very popular too. It really is a fabulous place to see the development of world art, from many hundreds of years ‘BC’ right up to the present day.
The other gallery I visited was the ‘Neue Gallerie’ just up the road on Fifth Avenue. It has a focus on German and Austrian art, and on paper it looked good, as I visited an Austrian art exhibition in Japan and loved it. The gallery, not so much. Expensive, brief, uninspiring. No.
After all the art I needed to rest headed to nearby Central Park. I strolled along by the joggers round the lake and chilled on the Great lawn before heading with to the WB.
One thing I really dislike about NYC I am afraid are the people. It is the rudest most impatient city I have even visited and it drives me mad! People working in shops, cafes, restaurants are surly, rude and don’t smile. Drivers constantly honking their horns and screaming at each other. Why is everyone so unhappy? I’d genuinely like to know! I’ve spent time in other big US cities like LA and Chicago and it nothing like this.
Day 83 – Battery Park, the UN, Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station, Freedom Tower
Still not loving NYC but bits of it are good! Still boiling, everyone still grumpy and rude. Decided to look around the UN building as I read they do tours. But not on Sunday apparently. It’s Sunday. Wondered around what I think is ‘mid-town’ saw the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station, well the first two just from the distance. It’s quite hard to see them as there is always another skyscraper in the way!
Headed down to Battery Park, right on the southern tip of Manhattan. I was living my Madonna in ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ fantasy! I went to where they filmed the scene where Roseanna Arquette knocks her head and loses her memory. That film was such a big part of my young life, I watched it countless times and it was part of my growing obsession with Madonna. I used to be be such a big fan I cannot even tell you! Down at the southern end of Manhattan you can also see the new ‘Freedom Tower’ which replaced the WTC after 9/11. I am not visiting the memorial as have done that before and was a pretty harsh experience.
The volume of tourists there however was astonishing, all queuing to get on both to see the Statue of Liberty. I just watched from afar. Back to the museums tomorrow, planning on visiting the Guggenheim and the Museum of New York, hopefully will be on safer and familiar territory there!
Day 84 – The Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, New York Central Library
Back on more familiar territory today with art and that makes me happy. Got to the Guggenheim at 10am so was pretty quiet looking around. It really is a stunning building. Opened in 1959 and designed by world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, it is one of the most famous galleries in the world.
The Guggenheim, New York
I read the best way to view the art was to get the lift to the top floor and work your way down. It really is the easiest gallery to navigate, as you walk down one massive spiral staircase all the way to the bottom. I was a little apprehensive that I would not enjoy the art, as it nearly all post-1950 and I struggle with abstract and surrealist art. However I actually really liked it. They had a great Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition, some beautiful Kandinskys and a fantastic Francis Bacon triptych.
Afterwards I headed to the Museum of the City of New York. I found out lots about the history of the city. Starting in the early 16th century, Manhattan was settled by the Dutch, and was called New Amsterdam. It was claimed for the Dutch East India company by explorer Henry Hudson (who the Hudson River and Hudson Bay were named after). However, in 1664 the Brits rocked up and said, ‘er we’ll have that thanks’ and just took it over! How bold.
It was then renamed New York, after the Duke of York. It is a very interesting museum, exploring in separate exhibitions subjects such as the history of activism in NYC and the Stonewall riots. New York rapidly became the second biggest city in the world, after London, and then proceeded the build innovative skyscrapers, building the Empire State Building which beacame the tallest building in the world for forty years.
I also headed to midtown and looked round some shops, then looked around the New York Public Library, made famous by Ghostbusters! I generally had a better day today, party because more people smiled and were nice to me! Maybe the weekend people were just having a bad day. Ended the day watching the sunset back in Williamsburg on the river.
My last day in New York today, moving on to Boston tomorrow. Had quite a weird time here, some great highlights in amongst some boiling weather and horrendous transport. Wouldn’t rush back here but would recommend the art galleries!
After three weeks in the sunshine of southern California, I finally left on the next stage of my trip. Destination – Washington and Oregon.
I have always wanted to visit the area, particularly the green and mountainous side of both states. I flew into Seattle but am not staying in the city as I have been there before. I picked up my hire car and headed north, right up to the Canadian border, and stayed in a small town called Port Townsend. I love little towns like this, it’s real small-town America at its best. Lots of independent shops and places to eat, lovely old buildings, friendly people and great views. The town is based on a cliff, with lots of Victorian buildings overlooking the harbour.
Apparently for years the town was down on its luck, very run down and un-visited. However, now the place has lots of tourists and seems like it’s on the up. It even has a fab looking independent cinema in an old Victorian building. I found a fab looking veggie restaurant – closed Tuesdays. It was Tuesday. I resorted to pizza.
Day 72 – The Olympic Peninsula and Ocean Shores, Washington
I left Port Townsend and headed west, to the huge Olympic National Park. As with all National Parks you pay an entrance fee and then explore. The park has lots of easy trails to follow. summer is a great place to visit, as everything is out to greet you! Beautiful meadows full of colourful flowers, marmots dipping in and out of their burrows with their young and deer roaming the paths.
At 6,000ft the views are stunning across the snow-capped mountain ranges. The air seems so clean and crisp. It was quite a departure from semi-desert California. Leaving the park I headed to nearby Port Angeles. Similar to Port Townsend, it is a small harbour town, recently made famous by the ‘Twilight’ vampire books. It had a fabulous health food shop with great veggie options. I also stopped briefly in ‘Forks’, which is the town the books are actually set in. Lots of Twilight tours still on offer, many years after the books and films were released.
Today consisted of a LOT of driving! I think about five hours+. On the drive from Forks to Ocean Shores I stopped by the stunning Ruby Beach. Hundreds of logs have washed up on the beach, now bleached white by the sun. Quite a sight! The beach has a backdrop of the stunning rocky outcrops marooned in the ocean.
Ruby Beach, Washington
Ruby Beach, Washington
Ruby Beach, Washington
My resting place for the night is a casino hotel! It is a place called Ocean Shores. I have just visited the casino. Very good people-watching opportunities! As with all casinos it seems you can still smoke, so the pungent sting of tobacco smoke on my eyes drove me out pretty promptly, but not after I won $4.82!
Me in Ocean Shores
Day 73 – The Oregon coast
Leaving Washington state behind me, I crossed over into northern Oregon. My first stop was the lovely town of Astoria. Sitting on the Columbia River, you enter the town crossing a cool bridge with great views all around. The border between the two states is actually halfway across the river. Like a lot of towns in these parts, Astoria was once down on its luck, but seems to be turning itself around.
The old wharves which previously served ships now are being renovated to serve tourists. Two big breweries have set up shop, with tasting rooms and restaurants. The town also has some great Victorian architecture and generally has a laid back vibe and friendly people. I then headed south to my next stop, which was Cannon Beach. The beaches here are very different to California. They seem to be very wide, very windy, very shallow too so not great for swimming. However they are very spectacular. I set up camp for an hour or two and chilled on the beach, after having drive en about 500 miles in three days! I also briefly stopped at Rockaway Beach, above.
Me on Cannon Beach
Cannon Beach, Oregon
My last stop and my bed for the night was in the small town of Garibaldi. No connection to the biscuit. I love little towns like this. No-one around. Great views across the harbour. Peaceful. I found an American diner and ordered the one veggie thing on the menu! The town was en-route for a series of steam trains full of tourists and it was fun watching them steam through the town all evening.
Day 74 and 75 – Portland, Oregon
Leaving the coast I headed inland to the largest city in the state, Portland. I had heard that the city was similar to my hometown of Brighton & Hove and indeed it is. Not geographically similar but definitely in terms of culture, liberalism and attitude. It has a large LGBT population and is known as a radical city of politics, left-wing thinking and environmentalism. It also seems to have a huge homeless population, a problem that is also shared with my hometown.
‘Nature’s fan’, 1881, by Willian-Adolphe Bouguerau
‘Liz’, 1962, Andy Warhol
Chinese buddha head, 560
‘My patron saint’, 1903, Louis Welden Hawkins
‘Pons’, 1898, Albert Marquet
‘Fenale dancer with long sleeves’, 2nd century, China
‘Mount Hood’, 1908, Childe Hassam
On the Friday I headed straight to the wonderful Portland Art Museum. I have craved some art for a while now and Portland did not let me down. The museum has a great variety in its permanent collection. I particularly enjoyed the Asian art collection, with some wonderful Chinese artefacts from the first, second and third centuries. There is also a European impressionist collection and they also had an exhibition entitled ‘Paris at play’, which highlighted artworks from early twentieth century Paris. Fabulous.
In the evening I went to the theatre, to see ‘Wicked – the musical’. I saw it in London a number of years ago, and this production was equally great! I entered a lottery system they have each day to secure last-minute tickets, and got myself a front-row seat. For a fraction of the seat price!
I started Saturday at the river front and spent a couple of hours wondering around the Saturday market. It’s a place for local artists and restauranteurs to sell their produce, pretty huge too, a great place to spend a morning. I also visited the Oregon Historical Society museum, and learnt all about the history of this huge state. The Oregon Territory was created in 1848 and it became the USA’s 33rd state in 1859. It had of course been settled for many years by the native population, and the museum explains how white settlers colonised the state, pushing the indigenous population aside.
The area was contested by both the US and Britain before the Oregon Treaty between the two countries was signed in 1846. It is a place of immense beauty, and tomorrow I head further inland, to explore both the area around the city of Bend and also the Colombia River Gorge, and Mount Hood, the highest mountain in the state.
Day 76 – Round the BenD, Oregon
A three hour drive east of Portland is the city of Bend. It is a lovely drive to get there, heading through the Deschutes National Forest and past sights such Mount Hood and Mount Washington. All around the area there were thousands of dead-looking trees, which was puzzling me, until I found what had caused it. Way back in the 1990s. two lightning strikes hit the area and burnt down the majority of the trees. Lots have grown again but lots still look like they were burnt yesterday. Interestingly the reason why the fire was so bad was due to modern forest management.
In years gone by fires would have broken our naturally, sporadically burning the trees and thinning them out, making way for stronger trees spread further apart. Because forests are now more managed, the growth of the trees had become more dense, leading to a great destruction of wildlife as there were no breaks in the tree-line to stop the fire spreading.
Another mountains range I saw on the way to bend were the Three Sisters (in my video I accidentally call them the Seven Sisters!). They had originally been called Faith, Hope and Charity, but the name The Three Sisters became more popular and stuck. The mountains are very famous round these parts and seem to have become a symbol for the area.
The first place I stopped at after reaching Bend was the city centre. There is a lovely place by the river that has been dammed to created ‘Mirror Lake’ that sits within Drake Park. After recovering from the drive, I headed slightly out the city to visit Lava Bute. It sits within the lava lands park and is the what’s left after a volcano erupted, leaving a huge mound of cinder, hence the conical shaped Bute. You can get a shuttle bus to the top and walk around, with great views across the lava fields and across to other dormant volcanoes.
In the evening, as it was still gloriously sunny, I bought myself a picnic dinner and headed back to Drake Park. It was lovely and quiet, and I had the riverbanks to myself to watch the sun set and think how lucky I am to be here.
Day 77 – Hood River and the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
I drove north from Bend, up through some spectacular scenery. At times it felt as if I was in the Wild West. Amazing soaring rock formations and plains as far as you could see. I imagined what it must have been like when the first European settlers saw these sights! It must have been overwhelming, frightening and awe-inspiring. My first stop was Mount Hood Meadows.
This is a popular ski area in the winter but in the summer you can get a chair lift up the mountain (not all the way as it is extremely high!). There are lots of hikes you can do, admiring the beautiful summer flowers and the views across to Mount Hood. It was very quiet with very few visitors which I was not sure why as it is so beautiful but I appreciated it all the same.
I then arrived in Hood River (the town) at lunchtime. The town sits confusingly on the Columbia River, but is named after a tributary of the much largest river. The Columbia River has carved a huge gorge out of the mountains and created some amazing scenery. I drove down the river to the slightly depressed town of The Dalles which could not have been more different to Hood River. Lots of closed up shops and deserted streets, whilst Hood River is thriving and affluent. No idea why the two towns are so different!
The river divides the two states so I drove there on the Oregon side and drove back on the Washington side. The area is also insanely windy. Unbeknown to me this is apparently the windsurfing capital of the world! I sat by the river and watched a huge number of windsurfers and the others ones that do that thing with kites fly up and down the river, with no desire to join them!
Day 78 – Olympia, Washington
Olympia is the state capital of Washington, and was named after the nearby Olympic Mountains I visited last week, which were previously named after the same mountains in Greece. Get it? It is very small for a capital, the main parliamentary buildings dominate the skyline. I went on an hour guided tour to find out more, every capital I have visited in the US does these tours, and they always free and very interesting.
Washington was the 42nd state to be admitted into the union, in 1889. Olympia was one of four towns on the shortlist to become the capital. It was originally going to be called Smithsville but luckily for everyone they went with Olympia. The main domed building is very impressive and has the largest masonry dome in the western hemisphere, so we were told.
Olympia is a nice small town, with a lovely waterfront and lake area, which I strolled around to get my 10K steps! Like a lot of smaller towns up here however, there are many closed down businesses and homeless people, a sign that not every city has recovered from the economic downturn.
I partly chose Olympia to stay in tonight due to its proximity to Seattle airport. I head off to the east coast tomorrow. The north west part of the US has lived up to my expectations. Soaring mountains, deep blue lakes and pine trees for as far as the eye can see, nature dominates the landscape here, with some cool cities too. Hopefully one day I will return to explore further.
This blog is a bit different from the others. Partly because I haven’t done a huge amount! But mainly because my computer was in for repair and I only just got it back.
My time here in Laguna Beach was always going to the downtime in the middle of my trip and so it has come to pass! As I am minutes away from the beach, with great weather and good company, it really is a great place to unwind. I have done a few things however…
Balboa is a small area north of Laguna, technically I think it’s part of Newport Beach. It was created in the late 19thC by dredging the sandbars to create a holiday destination island. There is a small ferry that carries a maximum of three cars plus passengers on the three minute journey to the island. It’s really nice wondering through the lanes of the island looking at the beautiful and undoubtedly multi-million dollar homes. One of them was flying a ‘Trump 2020’ flag! Urgh.
This whole area is dripping with money. This is the real OC. It does however have its contrasts. I mainly use the bus to get around and that’s when you see the real wealth and ethnic divides in California. I usually am the only white person on the bus, and there is usually a number of homeless people using it too. When I got off at Newport there were homeless people camping in the bus terminal, right next to multi-million dollar homes.
California generally has a very scant public transport system, as most people who can afford cars just drive everywhere. There is a bus that goes up and down the coast but really it is almost impossible to use public transport to venture inland.
Anyway, back to Balboa. Once you venture off the island onto Balboa Peninsula, you are greeted with miles of golden sand beach and two piers to explore. It reminds me of Victorian British seaside towns, with amusements, candy floss and piers. Very cool.
I heart Encinitas 🙂 Liz and I have been coming here for years. It is a small town about one hour south of Laguna. It’s very laid back, lots of surfers, hippies and vegetarians – what’s not to like! We always eat at this great veggie restaurant called the Lotus Cafe. It is connected to the nearby ‘Self-Realisation Fellowship’ temple and gardens.
The gardens are perched on the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean and they’re spectacular. The temple was founded in the early 20thC by Paramahansa Yogananda. The original building fell into the sea but the gardens remain. There is a newer temple here now and you can come and stay at the retreat.
Sawdust arts festival
The Sawdust arts festival happens in Laguna twice a year, during the summer and at Christmas. Laguna has a long history of art, as I mentioned in my previous post, it was established in the early 20thC as an artists colony.
This artistic legacy led to this festival being established in 1965. It is a place for local artists and craftspeople to display and sell their pieces. You pay a small fee to enter and then you can wander around the stalls, and listen to local bands sing, and buy food from local restaurants and cafes. What a great idea!
My main reason for going this year was to buy some specific artworks. There is a local artist in Laguna called Hedy Busan who mainly works in impressionist art styles. I saw her work at the festival last year but didn’t buy anything and regretted it. So this year I bought three original pieces from her. I can’t wait to hang them in my art gallery at home!
For the second year in a row I got to spend a special day with my special friend Liz. Her 45th birthday. Yes. 45. We drank the finest French champagne on the cliffs overlooking Treasure Island beach with good friends. Ate an inordinate amount of crisps. We then ended the evening at a nearby asian restaurant called ‘Starfish’. Happy birthday my lover! X
Temecula is a small town about 90 minutes inland from the Californian coast and the centre of an emerging wine growing industry. I visited three vineyards there – Calloway, Leoness and Weins. You pay a fee and then get given a card allowing you to taste any six wines. Good job I ate lunch before I went because I (and Liz) felt rather merry by the time we were onto our 13th and 14th glasses hahah!
The scenery in the area was very reminiscent of the Mediterranean and with good reason – the area was chosen because the climate is virtually identical to the Med and therefore excellent for grape-growing. Whilst not as large or well known as other areas in California, such as Sonoma and Napa, it is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
Tomorrow I fly north to Seattle, to spend eight days driving around Oregon and Washington states, which I am looking forward to immensely! I will however miss my second home and my best girl Liz too 😦 Until we meet again X
After ten days in the beautiful islands of Hawaii, I headed to Kona ‘International’ airport to fly east to California. First a quick word on the airport…..quite the weirdest international airport I have ever flown from! It is ‘international’ due to the one flight a day to Japan. The entire airport is a series of sheds joined together. I was surprised there weren’t chickens running around departures. Hilarious.
Anyway, after five hours in the air, I touched down at LAX. The landing was amazing as we came into land during a fantastic sunset and had the best views I have even had across LA. My best girl Liz was there to greet me and whisk me south back to Orange County and my second home, Laguna Beach.
Day 47 – Laguna Beach
So I am staying here with Liz for three weeks. As many people who know me may recall, I have been here a few times! I regard it as my second home, so after seven weeks on the road, it is fabulous to be able to unpack my suitcase and chill for a while. After a morning spent nattering and catching up, we headed down to the beach and caught up with some good friends. West Street Beach in Laguna is a glorious stretch of ocean. I jumped in the sea, and whilst not quite as warm as Hawaii, it was great to be back! I also caught up with my friends Jody and Damien. Damien has been unwell and it was so nice to see him looking much improved and to see Jody’s ever smiling face too!
West Street Beach
Me and Liz on West Street Beach
We ended the day with dinner at a favourite dining spot called ‘La Sirena’, which does fantastic Mexican food. It has been so lovely slipping back into familiar routine with good friends.
Day 48/49 – Hanging out
Combining these two days as haven’t done very much! Liz worked all day Monday so I was flying solo again. I did some exploring in Laguna to what had changed. Mainly a few new houses being built and unfortunately a few businesses gone under too. I think the shop rents here are very expensive and some local businesses can’t afford the rents. Quite a common story.
There is a great library-run bookshop I always visit, to look for bargains. Partly because I think it is the shop that someone recently bought a first edition book that appeared on the Antiques Roadshow and sold for £100,000s! So I intend to find such a book myself. Still looking…
Also been hanging out at the beach and swimming, though the water here is very different to Hawaii and the waves are a lot bigger with additional rip-tides so I have to be careful. It is now in full summer mode here so it is very busy. However where I am staying is up in the hills so it is nice and cool and devoid of tourists!
Haven’t done much else! Mainly reading and swimming in my hammock. it is a hard life. No, it is.
Days 50/51 – Drag shows and Independence Day
Wednesday’s highlight was going to the weekly drag show! I never really see much drag at home but seem to much prefer it here. Was a great show with five performers, my favourites being Wilhelmina Caviar and April Showers! Everyone here lip-syncs whereas UK performers tend to sing live.
I also walked up to the the gorgeous Heisler Park. Considering the value of land around here, it is is nice that there are still some great sports on the coastline to sit and admire the view. There is also a 9/11 memorial in the park that I always find very moving to see, as it is a part of the girder of one of the towers.
Thursday was Independence Day. I had often heard that it was a big holiday where everyone goes to the beach, well at least here in California that is, and they weren’t wrong! The photo below shows the volume of people down on the sand! However, the day started with a jolt and I experienced my first earthquake. Was a pretty surreal experience, we were sitting outside on a wooden deck, on stilts, overlooking a canyon and the ground started shaking! Not the safest place to be perhaps! The house shook side to side for about 6-8 seconds. The epicentre was up in rural California, east of LA, so even though it was a 6.4 magnitude it wasn’t felt particularly strongly here.
After that, I slipped into my stars and stripes vest and headed down to West Street Beach with Liz. After finding a small square inch of sand, we settled down for the day with our towels and picnic. We must’ve appeared very amateur compared to others who had bought huge tent constructions, sound systems, cool-boxes, you name it!
The waves were huge so unfortunately I could not swim. However because quite a few people were drinking, lots of people did attempt to go into the water, and that caused many headaches for the lifeguards, who had to keep stopping people from going in. In fact one person got into trouble and a helicopter had to land on the beach to rescue them.
In the evening we went to see some more drag and watched the fireworks on the beach. In the US, every city has their own display, and they all coincide at 9PM. Sitting on the beach, looking up and down the coast, you can see multiple displays at once which was pretty cool. There is certainly a huge amount of patriotism here, way more than you would ever see in Europe. At times it does seem pretty OTT, but it is very much in the American psyche that they are the best country in the world and that they should celebrate its, which I guess isn’t such a bad thing. It certainly was an experience to witness it!
Days 52/53 – more earthquakes, a trip to San Clemente and art
Friday I jumped on the bus with the other losers and dropouts (who doesn’t have a car right?) and headed south down the coast to the small town of San Clemente. It is similar to Laguna, a nice seaside town, with a pier, lots of surfing and local shops. As rubbish as the public transport system here is, at least it is cheaper, it was $2.00 for a 45 minute journey on the bus, at home it is about £5 for a return to town.
San Clemente pier
San Clemente beach
In the evening I scored a free ticket to ‘The Pageant of the Masters’. I went last year and it was amazing so was glad to go again. The premise of the show is that famous paintings are recreated on stage using real people. It is difficult to explain and you can’t take photos, but it truly amazing how they present these paintings that look incredibly realistic. The theme was HG Wells’ ‘Time Machine’. A couple travel back through time using Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebook as a guide to visit paintings through history.
The evening however started with another earthquake! Still focussed up in rural California and this time a 7.1 magnitude quake. I was at the theatre at the time and you could see the lighting rigs shaking. Let’s hope that the end of them!
I also got some great shots of the local hummingbirds feeding at dusk. People put out sugar water for them and they go crazy for it!
Saturday was art day. I realised I hadn’t been to a gallery in weeks! Withdrawal. There is a great gallery called the Laguna Art Museum here in town. Laguna is famous as an artists colony, dating back into the early twentieth century. Artists relocated here, predominantly from the east coast, to take advantage of the light and surroundings and to paint ‘plein air’ (outdoors). The ‘Laguna Beach Art Association’ was formed in 1918, with the art museum following in 1929.
The museum has a great collection of American impressionism, with William Wendt and Anna Hills two particular favourites. Both artists were instrumental in establishing the art colony and the museum.
I then headed down to ‘Treasure Island’, perhaps not as exciting as it sounds however! There is a huge hotel here called The Montage, surrounded by public beach and gardens, which is Treasure Island. It’s a nice place to hang out, people watch and look across the Pacific.
‘Treasure Island’ Laguna Beach
‘Treasure Island’ Laguna Beach
My final thought for the day is fruit! Now I like a smoothie, as anyone who knows me will tell you. The fruit here in California is so amazing, and tastes so great in a smoothie. The grapefruit and oranges are so sweet, and luckily a friend of Liz and mine called Jody recently delivered a huge box of assorted goodies so we have been working our way through that!