Monday, 25 March 2013

Seattle minus the insomnia (and Portland too)

Happy springtime one and all.
Life is pretty sweet at the moment (as always when you are travelling and not working) and this post comes from the very spring like San Francisco and to be exact the front room with a view of my good friend Miss Rachael Moore - who I am now spending time with in my sixth country after meeting on the night train from Mumbai to Goa back in Nov 2010.

We have now been in the USA for 10 days and I like this country a lot - a big surprise for me and for those of you who know me best although immigration had nothing to do with my positive experiences to date.
We took the overland route into the US on the Greyhound from Vancouver and before we could even attempt to pass through immigration we were kept waiting for an hour on the bus because it was lunch time; therefore no staff present to process us! I expect that sort of deal in India or Thailand but not this sort of tardiness from the world superpower.
When we did finally disembark we found ourselves near to the front of the queue - but the bus was left waiting for us by the end of the process.
From the outset I got the feeling that the immigration officer wasn't completely on my side - which I know is part of their job but I think the whole 9/11 thing still bears far too much precedent to proceedings and "9/11" did come into our dialogue.
An example of how the exchange took place is as follows:
Immigration: "How long are you staying in the USA"
Me: "3 to 4 weeks"
Imm: Do you have a job to fund your stay?"
Me: "No, I quit to travel"
Imm: "Well, how are you funding this trip then?"
Me: "I worked to pay for it"
Imm: "You said you didn't have a job"
Me: "I don't, I worked to save up to travel and then I quit"

Each one of my answers seemed to result in more questions and me heading further towards being denied entry and I really began to get worried once Arancha and my immigration officers got together to confer. At one point Arancha's asked the other if he was going to let me in; his response was "Hmm, I haven't decided yet".
Eventually he did back down and agreed to let us in but only after giving me earache about backpackers not usually being allowed access as they were a security risk and more than likely going to go AWOL in the US and try to stay as illegal aliens unlike Sting.
It's all good fun!!

By late afternoon we had arrived into our first American city, Seattle. We had already sorted out some accommodation but upon our approach to the city centre we reviewed our choice and decided that it was too far out of the downtown area so we needed to rethink.
So with that in mind we literally got off the bus, headed into the nearest Starbucks, got online and found a deal on For an extra $10 a night we managed to bag ourselves a room including its own siting room in a lovely boutique hotel next to the infamous Seattle Space Needle.
All that was left to do that day was to eat and fortunately our hotel was located in a great area of bars and restaurants.
I can't say that I ever thought that I would have a Mexican enchilada smothered in chocolate chilli sauce but let me tell you; it's a winner.

We headed downtown the next morning to see the sights and our first impression of Seattle was of the sheer number of homeless and drug fuelled bums that littered the streets. We have since seen that this is a nation wide problem with the States. Now I have seen real poverty and on a wide scale in parts of Asia but never have I seen such numbers of complete loony tune individuals that really need some help and support on the streets of the country that promotes itself as the land of the reachable dream and saviour of everybody else.
When I say these people were mentalists I clarify this statement by saying that we saw people in full on conversations with themselves, a woman in her seventies doing a drug deal with a girl in her twenties at the bus stop and a guy prancing around in front of a reflective window with his trousers pulled down so he could watch his arse jiggle about - there were office workers behind this reflective glass.
But I digress. So the first touristy thing that we did was to visit the Pike Street Public Market - home to the infamous Pike St fish throwers and the world's first Starbucks Coffee. To say that Seattle is proud of their Starbucks is an understatement; try 1 store on every block corner for size.
As for the fish throwers the deal is that once a punter purchases a fish the fishmongers throw the said fish across the stall to the pleasure of the snap happy tourists (us).

Part of the excitement of venturing into the States was for the food and to date it has not been a disappointment. Venturing into one supermarket I have never seen food displayed in such an attractive and simply mouth watering way plus the sheer volume and variety of goods on offer combined with the fact that the price of living in the US is stupidly low and it all tastes so f*cking good I can understand why obesity is a problem.

Our own reasons for exploring the subject of food were to partake in a Man vs Food challenge along the way, or at least dine at the establishments features in that particular city's episode.
For those of you who do not know what I am talking about, Man vs Food is a tv programme where the name pretty much tells you all you need to know. In each episode the presenter will take you around the legendary eateries of a particular American city / town with an eating challenge of mass proportions being the culmination.
By the way the presenter is a Spurs fan and he was featured in a pre match video at the ground taking a stadium tour and breaking down into tears when he saw the pitch - crazy Americans!

The great thing about technology these days is that you can Google Map Man vs Food restaurants in your chosen city and it will all be there for you in an instant. The internet was invented purely for this reason.
Man vs Food restaurant number 1 of the American west coast tour was The Crab Pot - a restaurant famous for its Sea Feasts - a tub full of sea food steamed to perfection and then literally poured out over the table. The diners are given a  bib to eat their feast with.
Unfortunately I am not the biggest seafood fan so we didn't partake in the signature dish, plus it wasn't exactly in the backpacker price range but we still devoured an entire Dungeness Crab and Calamari and were able to tick off the first restaurant.

We felt as though we had let ourselves down a little by not having the Sea Feast so the next day we ensured that we did the M vs F properly.
Man vs Food restaurant number 2 was Beth's Café; a greasy spoon located a good 30 mins north of the city (we are dedicated to the cause) and known for its 12 egg omelettes.
I can assure you that attempting to finish a 12 egg omelette accompanied with a bed of all you can eat hash browns and 4 slices of toast is no mean feat; and we shared it! We decided to have American cheese, ham and jalapenos as our filling and whilst we waited we were given crayons and paper to draw pictures with to add to the rest that decorated the walls.
We were a little taken aback when the omelette was placed before us; it was massive. I expected shredded ham like something back home but this bad boy contained sliced up ham chunks from a sausage - it was a beast!
We got our heads down and ate - I reckon I got through 7.5 eggs and Arancha the remaining 4.5 - too much. We ate at approx.11pm and I could only manage a small meal by 9pm - it stuffed me.
Tick number 2.

For our final day in Seattle we just bummed about in our glorious room which I forgot to mention had a rocking chair! As the sun set on the day we noticed that the light was the best it had been since we had arrived so we rushed out and climbed to the top of the hill next to which we were located. From there we had the perfect view of a) the sun setting behind the Rocky Mountains to west and b) the last of the failing light spreading across the skyline of Seattle; a skyline that was so stereotypically American - huge glass skyscrapers bunched together with the Seattle Space Needle in the foreground looking every part of its 51 years but lit in a way that perfectly gave off that shiny metallic futuristic look that was synonymous of the exciting pictures you would associate with the USA back in the sixties.

Our next port of call was Portland, The Rose City. The Greyhound would again be our chariot but this time we had Van the bus driver (how ironic). Van introduced himself to us all with a southern drawl (think male Dolly Parton) and delivered all sorts of amusing ditties in between losing his line of thought and having the odd word with a passing driver or himself.
I have never known the use of cannabis to be as prevalent as it is here in North America (US and Canada) and it is in fact legal in the state of Washington (Seattle) for medical use. I think a few people on our bus must've had had bad backs because you could certainly smell it and this did not pass Van by. As we approached a service station he came onto the tannoy to announce that there would be a small window of opportunity to gets some food and "For all of you who have the munchies and I think there are a few of you this is the place to get your burgers, fries and cherry pies".
It sounded so American, we loved it.

We arrived into Portland just after midday and I doubt I have yet to come across a city that is so easy to navigate around. The city itself is split into 4 quadrants which are unofficially Downtown, University, The Young Hipster and The Edgy Indie sections. The bus arrived into Downtown and it was simply a case of jumping onto the electric tram which passed through the entire length of downtown and dropped us into the university area in a mere 15 minutes.
We ventured out to explore the city and immediately felt at ease in a city that emanates a complete openness and relaxed vibe. There were all sorts of life congregated together on the streets milling around the street markets and enjoying the festivities of the complete over the top St Patrick's Day celebrations. The architecture of the city was a perfectly combined mix of old historical builds meets new modern shiny structures and the old town where the major drinking takes place was probably more full of edgy young alternative types as opposed to image conscious twenty-somethings; being both in my thirties and scruffy, I was at home in the crowd.
The north-west of the US is also birthplace to a lot of good music (depending on your taste) with such names as Nirvana, Foo Fighters and Jimi Hendrix hailing from Seattle and that influence had spread south into the state of Oregon and the city of Portland.

As mentioned, it was St Pat's weekend and the town was awash with green and live music. There is not much more to tell of this day except that we enjoyed the live music and Irish dancing and found a pub that sold a pint of Guinness and Gin & Tonic for $6 (£4) and had pub game classics such as PacMan and wooden bowls for 25 cents (17p)!

The Sunday was spent doing the sights of which there weren't that many - Portland is really more of a 'take it easy and just chill' type of place as this list testifies:
1) Powell's City of Books - the world's largest book store covering an entire city block and storing over 1 million titles
2) Lunch from one of the many street vendors - every type of cuisine, cheap and scrumptious (yes I did just type scrumptious)
3) Portland Central Library - the building itself felt very palatial with high ceilings, spiral staircases, chandeliers and oil paintings and just to top it off there was a live recital from an orchestral quartet which was simply delightful, oh yes
4) Checking out the rest of the city such as the Courthouse and Federal Bank

Our final day though was the day that counted - Man vs Food Restaurant number 3.
We had attempted to visit Voodoo Doughnuts on both the Saturday and Sunday but the queue to get in honestly stretched around the block. I cannot imagine what this gaff is taking in considering that the place is open 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.
Even at 11am on a Monday morning when the population of Portland should be at work or school there was still a queue but it was doable.
Voodoo Doughnuts is a fat persons nirvana and a chunky person's wet dream - a choice of 60 different doughnuts all on display in revolving glass cases and each one less than $2 each.

Now it would be unfair of us just to taste 1 or 2 because then we wouldn't be able to give you a fair opinion of the joint so we took the calorie hit and ordered 6; they were:
1) Portland Cream
Raised yeast doughnut filled with Bavarian cream. Topped with chocolate and two eyeballs, representing the vision of our great city

2) Triple chocolate penetration
Chocolate cake doughnut with chocolate frosting and coco-puffs

3) Marshall Matters
Plain cake doughnut with vanilla frosting and mini M & M's

4) Tangfastic
Plain cake doughnut with vanilla frosting, tang and three marshmallows

5) Voodoo Doll 
Raised yeast doughnut filled with raspberry jelly topped with chocolate frosting and a pretzel stake

6) Bacon Maple Bar 
Raised yeast doughnut with maple frosting and bacon on top

Now I can tell you that they were all good but the Bacon Maple Bar was a revelation, the salty bacon mixed with the sweet doughnut was perfect.
No matter how hard we tried we couldn't make all 6 disappear in one sitting so we were able to take the doughnuts away in the signature pink voodoo box that declares "All good things come in pink boxes". Amen brother Voodoo!!
The rest of the day was idled away looking around the artistic quarter and observing statues of Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt whose nickname unbeknown to me was Rough Rider - hello sailor!

I hadn't realised until I had updated my FB status that we were in Portland that a travel friend of mine who I had met in a bar in southern India and had spent a couple of days with actually lived in Portland so it was a very pleasant and welcome surprise that she had made contact and we had arranged to meet that evening.
We met in a downtown bar and then via a great move on Alicia's part to whisk us over to the other side of the river to a diner specialising in chicken wings we spent a great evening catching up on travel stories as well as learning more about the city and country that we were sat in.
Alicia, as iterated at the time, once we finally settle in a chosen country you are cordially invited to stay with us!

And with that meeting with travel buddy number 2 we reached an end to our time in Portland and the US North West. Now it was time for the sexy stuff - San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles but that will have to wait until the next post.
I think the next post will be worth reading based upon my time so far in San Fran and only if you read it for our flight there and being in the middle of an enthusiastic American crowd with nowhere to escape to.

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