New York · Philadelphia · Travelling · USA

Days 79 to 84 – Philadelphia and New York City

Day 79 – Seattle to Philadelphia

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.

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I love Philly

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.

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Monet and Van Gogh at the Philadelphia Art Museum

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!

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Asian art from the Philadelphia Art Museum

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.

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The Liberty Bell, 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.

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‘The Houses of Parliament’, 1903, Monet
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‘Dolce far niente’, 1907, John Singer Sargent
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‘A morning snow’, 1925, George Wesley Bellows

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.

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Manhattan skyline

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.

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‘Roses’, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890
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‘Bridge over a pond of water lilies’, 1899, Monet
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‘Water lilies’, 1919, Monet
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‘Mrs Hugh Hammersley’ (right) and ‘Lady with the rose’ by John Singer Sargent
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‘Madame X’ (right) and ‘Mr and Mrs I.N. Phelps Stokes’ by John Singer Sargent

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.

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Central park lake

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.

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Not the real statue….

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!

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World Trade Centre
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Empire State
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UN
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Chrysler Building

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.

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.

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Triptych, ‘Crucifixion’, Francis Bacon
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‘Jeanne Hebuterne’, 1918, by Ameddo Modigliani
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‘Landscape with rolling hills’, 1910, by Kandinsky
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‘Dominant curve’, 1936, by Kandinsky
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‘Josh’, 2007, by Catherine Opie

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.

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New York Public Library

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.

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Manhattan sunset

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!

Oregon · Travelling · USA · Washington

Days 71 to 78 – Washington and Oregon, USA

Day 71 – Port Townsend, Washington

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.

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Gay pride flag in Port Townsend
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Totem pole in Port Townsend
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Port Townsend lighthouse
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Goat yoga in Port Townsend

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.

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Me in Olympic National Park
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Olympic National Park
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Olympic National Park
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Olympic National Park

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.

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!

 

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.

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Rockaway Beach

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.

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.

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!

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Wicked

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.

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Views of Portland, Oregon

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.

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Mount Washington, Oregon

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.

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The Three Sisters, Oregon

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.

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Lava Bute in the Lavalands National Park, Oregon
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Lavalands National Park, Oregon
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Lavalands National Park, Oregon
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Lavalands National Park, Oregon

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.

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End of the day in Drake Park, Bend, Oregon

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.

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On the cable car heading up past Mount Hood
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Mount Hood, Oregon
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Mount Hood

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!

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The Columbia River Gorge, on the Washington/Oregon border

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.

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Olympia capital building
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Olympia capital building
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Olympia capital building and harbour

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.

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The Washington seal
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Olympia harbour

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.

Australia · New Zealand · Travelling · USA

The end…

The end is upon me. I have been back in the UK now for two days. Just wanted to end this series of blogs with a few reflections.

I never thought I would go travelling again, so I feel I deserve to pat myself on my back for all that I achieved during my time away.

  • I travelled for many weeks completely by myself
  • I planned and organised the whole trip myself
  • I drove the entire way around New Zealand single-handed
  • I crossed continental US
  • I returned back to where I used to live in Melbourne, Australia
  • I caught up with lots of good friends
  • I felt the fear and did it anyway.

It wasn’t always easy. Far from it. I did not take well to hostel life, which made the trip more expensive. I found eating healthy vegetarian food challenging at times. I felt lonely at times. But I also had some wonderful experiences.

  • I delighted in the unbelievable beauty of the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand
  • I was heartened by the resilience of the earthquake-stricken people of Christchurch
  • I retraced my steps through beautiful Melbourne
  • I made Laguna Beach and Orange County my second home
  • I was blown away by the sights and sounds of New Orleans
  • I was fascinated by the museums and galleries of Washington DC.

Anyone who has been travelling will always tell you coming home is hard. And it is. But I would not have changed it for a thing. YOLO as the youngsters say…..

Here are a few of my favourite photos from my trip.

 

California · Laguna Beach · Travelling

Week 4 – California love

I’ve been away for four weeks now, and the relax button has well and truly been pressed. Took me a while to get into the travelling mode, but I’m there now. It has made me realise how in my everyday life I am always looking for something to do, somewhere to be, whereas now I just wake up and think, what will I do today? Nothing? Ok then.

California love

So I admit it. I’m having an affair. It’s been going on for years, but I finally have to tell you. I am in love with California. What’s that you say? You knew already!

It’s not just because my bestie lives here. Though that helps. I just love the lifestyle, the weather, the people (particularly my new pal Jody!), the beaches, the mountains, the rivers, the lakes, the food, the wine, the sunsets….shall I go on?

I am here for two more weeks then I come back again for Christmas 🙂

Here are a few photos from my last week in the golden state.

Well I can’t see it, can you?
Pumpkins, big & small – Halloween is coming!
Laguna art walk
Laguna sunset
Sunset on West Street beach, Laguna Beach
On the beach with Liz!
Sunset on Thalia Street beach, Laguna Beach
‘Enjoying’ my mud pack…
Liz & I covered in mud

 

MacDonald sculpture garden, Laguna Beach