Who are we
We are a family of 3 who took a break from our routine. Usually we live in Scotland but February to the end of July 2011 we were on the road in North America for 6 months. We are Mark (also known as Dad), Rachel (also known as Mum... and a whole bunch of other names... my usual at-home blog is here) and little h (10/11 years of age during the trip).
Saturday, 18 June 2011
Washington – the last state (for us)
On Monday 6th June we left Oregon at about midday and entered our last U.S. state of this trip (Washington). This was our 26th state (not counting the other Washington – D.C. – because it’s only a district). Some total in 3 months!
We drove up Interstate 5 a little while – noticing straightaway that this state seemed a little less affluent than the last one (well, from what you can see from a highway anyway) and then we turned off east to take a little look at Mount St. Helens (the volcano that last erupted in only 1980). The scenery was dramatic (as you might expect) – snow-capped peaks, wide river valleys, lots of forest (some planted since the eruption – lots of information on that along the route). We were heading for the Forest Learning Center (the best of the crop of visitor centres so we read… and not too far out of our way as really we were heading north to Seattle for the night). Unfortunately it turned out that our information (for once) was not reliable and this visitor centre was still only open at weekends. It was a bit of a disappointment but the lady in the gift shop (yes, that was open – aren’t they always…) was delightful and thrust upon us many pamphlets and bits and pieces to make up for this blip in the itinerary. And then we went and just looked at the views… and did our best to imagine what this oh so peaceful scenery would look like in the middle of a volcanic eruption.
On our way back down the highway (most of it built specially since the eruption – the old road had been destroyed) we stopped for lunch in a friendly place with lovely riverside views and elk burgers on the menu. They hunted the elk themselves so I’m not sure you can get more local meat than that (sorry veggies). Mark ate the elk (after a slow start he is perhaps the most daring eater out of the three of us) and he said it was very tasty, not as heavy as beef. I didn’t try it (I’ve had venison several times in Scotland and always find it overrated – Mark says it was better than venison) and h, still not ready to eat Bambi or anything even remotely along those lines, had yet another grilled cheese (cheese toastie to those at home). Our entering Washington and close-to-Mount St. Helens photos are here:
Then we left the countryside and headed north to Seattle. It’s not very far and we got there just before rush hour (just as well as their rush hour is pretty huge from what we saw later). We’d booked a place just out of the main downtown area alongside Lake Union (very pretty, lots of sailing boats) but partly because it was just a really good deal (free breakfast, free parking, free shuttle to downtown… all good for a city place). After a short settle-in however we went out into what was a lovely sunny evening and found the centre of downtown – Pike Place Market. There we soaked up some atmosphere (it seems a lively, watery, very good-humoured city) and got a great fishy dinner in the restaurant that’s right at the market. As we got back to our hotel the sun was setting over the various lakes and coasts that surround this city (cruise ships aplenty docked all around – many heading to Alaska, some to Canada) – it was really very attractive. If we stuck our head out of our hotel window we could even see the famous Space Needle landmark lit up for the night. Though none of the series was ever filmed in the city and there is absolutely zero Frasier-related tourism available we still felt we were close to the great man. Goodnight Seattle indeed.
On the 7th June we took the free shuttle along to the Seattle Centre (museums, the Space Needle, convention centres etc.). Mark headed straight to the “Battlestar Galactica” exhibition at the EMP/SFM (Experience Music Project & Science Fiction Museum – huge place aimed fiercely at the teens and evergreens). Meanwhile I took h to the Children’s Museum nearby. It was a small corner of the giant centre (and tiny and creaky compared to the fantastic Play Museum we visited back in Rochester, NY) but it was friendly and gentle and not too busy and she still enjoyed it very much. We learned quite a lot about life in Japan and the Philippines (all things Pacific feature heavily in Seattle) and h had fun playing in a kids’ theatre in one part of the museum with some of the other little visitors. They put on a quick production and she did a very convincing dying dog.
After that we joined Mark in the EMP for a soupy lunch and then a long look at the Nirvana (and all things even remotely related to Seattle, grunge and the local music scene) exhibit. There was also an “Avatar” section to the museum, a Jimi Hendrix section (he was born in Seattle), a giant movie screen showing all sorts of clips and then a really fun area where you could try your hand at guitars and electronic drums and recording in a studio and so on. We were in EMP pretty much till it closed at 5pm – lots to do and see. Noisy too.
From the Seattle Centre we took the monorail (transport of the future – very quick, pretty high, good views) into the centre of downtown and did a bit more wandering. We spent the last of our Starbucks card (thanks Jeanne Iris!) in their first ever store down by the market and then walked along the waterfront (cruise ships, hotels, a not very pretty stretch but still dramatic in its way). We looked at the Olympic Sculpture Park (mixed feelings – nothing very wow), got a not very special pasta meal and then went back to the hotel. We had not seen all of Seattle downtown by far (we didn’t get to the Pioneer Square area – sorry, Seattle) but this was our umpteenth US major city and I guess our tourist energy levels were running on reserve. Even so we had seen enough to know that we liked the city quite a lot – lots to do, effortlessly cool – and that was even taking into account the roads which were pretty bad (busy, mainly tied up in hefty roadworks). There were lots and lots of English people around (some on holiday, some residents) and we could definitely see the attraction. Our Seattle photos are here:
The visa clock was ticking louder now so on the morning of 8th June we set off north for our last night in the USA. We had thought we might drive by Microsoft for Mark (as we did by Apple and Google in California) but it is slightly east of where we were heading (in Redmond) and we just weren’t in the mood. Instead we headed straight up the (very busy) 5 and north. We stopped for lunch in little Mount Vernon (just a regular little town – nothing touristy) and had our last all-American lunch in an all-American kinda place (the sign said “Bill’s Diner – awesome food, friendly atmosphere” and it was right on both counts). It was quiet and late (on this trip we always seem to eat both breakfast and lunch some time later than our industrious US cousins…) and we chatted with yet another pretty, smiling waitress. It all reminded me of a Charles Bukowski poem I posted at my other blog just before we came away (it’s the second youtube poem “Nirvana” on here). Maybe we could just stay in this diner forever, I pondered… drinking coffee, eating French fries…
Well, no. We couldn’t. And I’m glad we didn’t because in fact we got back in the car and carried on north, stopped at Fairhaven (“historic Fairhaven” – part of the small city of Bellingham) and had a most splendid afternoon. The sun was shining and we found a haven (good name!) of great bookshops, lovely cafés (we were too full of diner of course to try these but they looked great), a farmers’ market (with music) and the friendliest, funniest people all around. Mark needed a haircut, for example, so we entered the local barbershop and there met Diane (and her dogs). I think we were in Diane’s place about 2 hours (and he doesn’t have that much hair!) but it was great fun – many stories, chatting locals, tales of Fairhaven’s nightlife and beyond. Many times on the trip we’ve asked ourselves “I wonder what it would be like to live here?” and I should think Fairhaven (and Bellingham) are as good as it gets. The city seemed packed with local businesses doing good things (a veggie drive-thru, co-ops all over the place) and they have the ocean and the greenery and possibly the relief of living in a forgotten little corner of a big country where you can kind of get on and just do your own thing. One of the locals said to me “people in the North West don’t realise how good they have it”. Maybe so. Maybe so. Our Bellingham/Fairhaven photos are here:
After the time in Fairhaven we drove through Bellingham to our hotel on the north-eastern side of the small city (I think we would probably call it a town). We had our last US dinner in a nearby diner-type-place (pie mainly – gotta go out on a pie) and then we just went and slept. The next morning after breakfast we got ready for another slow border crossing (back into Canada) but it was not to be. As it was we were at the border within about 15 minutes and straight over and out of Washington before we could so much as say "see ya later”. It was weird after all this time (3 whole months) to just leave the state and the country so quickly and quietly like that. After so many adventures (the tornadoes! The deserts! The city after city!) I felt like there should be, at the very least, a large crowd to wave us off or something. But no…. no such drama. Just a Canadian border sign (once more with the bilingual signs…), a quick look at the passports and a there you are, back north once more. Bonjour Canada, au revoir Les États-Unis. It felt weird.
We’ll be back shortly with a “thoughts on the USA” post… and then, eventually, with our adventures in British Columbia (just don’t mention the ice hockey…). Phew.
Posted by Rachel Fox at 22:52