Never Say Die! Oregon on 2 Wheels

Goonies Ride 9
Not long after my last trip to the Oregon coast, I was back with my pack of lovely moto-babes, the Rainier Ravens.  It was roughly-themed as a “Goonies” ride because (although I had neglected to recognize the landmarks or remember this fact on any of my prior trips) large parts of it are filmed there. The ‘Goon Docks’ home that the kids were trying to save is in Astoria, as well as many of the street scenes, and I don’t know how I didn’t recognize Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach from the end of the film… there aren’t many like it.

Goonies Ride 8
But as much as I loved the film as a kid (second only to Gremlins), I wasn’t there for nostalgia but rather for the road and spectacular scenery, to be enjoyed by motorcycle. It’s long been a dream of mine to travel down the coast to California by bike so I jumped at the chance to take a trip at least part of the way down the coast.

Ducati
We met at Dick’s Drive-in and, after a series of communication debacles, got on the ferry at and filled up with some of their awful coffee in Styrofoam cups. The ride down was nice but uneventful until we got to the coast. The first sight of the ocean always takes my breath away, even though I haven’t lived or worked more than a few blocks from the sea in quite some time. Coming around the corner before Astoria and seeing the white caps on the water, then from the monstrous bridge is just amazing. For a few of the new girls, it was the longest they had ever ridden so we took it easy and it ended up being a bit of a long day. Eventually, though, we arrived in Manzanita where we were rewarded with gorgeous sweeping vistas of the sea, a dip in the pool, and dinner and drinks at the local watering hole.

Manzanita
The next day we were meant to meet more Ravens at a roadside restaurant but we had some time to kill so we rode along the beach and then up through Astoria (where we could hear the sea lions!), through all the beautiful long curves and seaside vistas until we reached our turnoff and just as I – bringing up the read of our group – made the turn I caught sight of a group of women coming down the hill towards us…more Ravens! It was an amazing experience as we all joined rank together then piled into the restaurant parking lot, giddy and excited at the timing. It could not have been more perfect.

Goonies Ride 7
I’ve been riding motorcycles for a long time…15 years or so, but to be out riding as part of such an amazing group of women was just amazing.

Cannon Beach
We were all excited on the ride back, cruising through the forest-flanked twisties, up into the mountains and then as we approached Seattle it was like any of the 80’s cult movies – Breakfast Club, Stand By Me, Karate Kid, Goonies –  where an epic summer adventure ends and each individual peels off with a wave towards home.

Manzanita

Far Rockaway (Oregon)

Rockaway Beach

Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made. ~Roger Caras

When we started this process of closing up our company and moving to Seattle, there were so many setbacks and so much starting and stopping that I said to Matt we either needed to get me a dog or I was going to take off and go travelling for a while. In many ways, I think I should have done that – made my way slowly down the spine of the Andes or across India because now that we have a dog (and jobs, and soon a house) those kinds of trips have become even harder to fathom. But we did get a dog and there aren’t many days that go by where I don’t think that she is the absolute best thing ever.

Riley

She is never very far away from me, both in terms of love and an innate need to protect me; she is always happy to see me whether I’ve been away for a weekend or just to take out the trash, she curls up on my feet when we’re at home, and we have been on so many adventures together. It’s gotten to the point where her joy is so infectious that I want to get up early and spend my Saturdays taking her hiking, or camping, or swimming, or just for ice cream, because I have so much fun by proxy.

Oregon Coast

So when we were deciding where we should go for a weekend away, I suggested we go to the Oregon Coast so that Riley could run around on the beach. Because the beaches in Oregon are massive and they are all dog friendly.

Rockaway Beach

We armed ourselves with audiobooks and crossword puzzles for the drive to Rockaway, and Riley entertained herself by sticking her head out the window and letting her jowls flap around like laundry on a line and soon enough we were pulling into one of the hundreds of bare-bones seaside motels that road-trippers, parents, motorcyclists, and dog-owners adore.

Riley

The rest of the day was spent running up and down the beach, inspecting the bottle-blue jellies strewn across the coastline, finding all the best sticks and drinking Sofia Coppola minis until the sun set and our dog was drunk on adventure. So much fun! I can’t wait to go back.

Rockaway Beach

Austin

Austin
One of the great things I love about our temporary US home is how diverse it is. Last fall we went on a road trip through pelting rain and evergreens, forests of yellow and green Aspens, geothermic landscapes, the view from 11,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, red sandstone for days, ancient Pueblos, more than one amazing canyon (as well as the Grand one), the suburbs of Las Vegas, from 230 feet below seawater to the hot desert heights of Death Valley, the cool granite and forested landscapes of Yosemite and finally back to the rain and evergreens. We saw moose, a Grizzly, a herd of Pronghorn antelope, a whole lot of Elk, deer, chipmunks, Bison, and met a lot of cool people too. And that was only the western states. With my birthday coming up I wanted to do a quick city break with my sister and we narrowed it down to Savannah, back to Denver, or Austin. Since Savannah was a bit too far for a weekend and I had just been to Denver, we were soon on our way to Texas.

Austin
Austin is adorable and so fun. I only knew it from Slacker and SXSW and from my friend Mel who lives there now, but America has a thing that Canada does not, which is a relatively even spread of people and culture across the country, and inhabitants that move around between cities. So even a college town can seem larger than life when in fact it is about the same size as Ottawa. In a matter of hours, we had seen the lake (actually a river), the grassy knoll that rises above the town, the party district and, well…I don’t really remember much after that.

If someone asked me what there was to do in Austin, I would have to be honest and say “drink” with maybe some eating thrown in for good measure. We did walk up to the Capitol building one day and Mel suggested stand-up paddle-boarding on the lake but we mostly explored various restaurants and bars.  If Austin had a theme it would be “cocktails and music” which are basically two of my favourite things and it kind of blows my mind that what I consider real jobs seem like an afterthought here. We had an AMAZING time but this was definitely a case of needing home for a rest.

Austin
Our weekend started off in East Austin with dinner at Qui. We were late because our taxi driver didn’t speak French and so took us to Key Bar, a raucous, divey looking thing on a party street. My sister looked alarmed and the taxi driver asked me if I was sure when I said we weren’t in the right place but soon we were speeding off in the other direction and sitting down to an amazing dinner. I would go back to Austin just to go to Qui again but from there we walked back to the hotel, hopping through cocktail bars and food trucks, and ended up at the East Side Show Lounge where a trio featuring an incredible vocalist was playing. I adore live music and I know that Seattle has a lot of it but there is something about just stumbling upon it happening that makes it that much better.

Food trucks
The next day we went for brunch and I tried to untangle the local vernacular for bodies of water (lake, river, swimming holes, etc.) over a Caesar and then a series of patio bars for the afternoon. Our dinner plans at Wink turned into a whole evening affair when the sky opened up and a thunderstorm took out the power. We were one or two tiny courses into a tasting menu so we worked on our wine. Eventually, the rest of dinner arrived and we carried off on some further adventures.

Austin
Sunday we spent on Rainey Street at the recommendation of one of the locals. It’s a street of converted houses where each house has a different theme – one is a sports bar, one is a cocktail bar, one has a crazy amount of sausages, one has hammocks to chill out in…many have live music. It’s a great place to spend a day and Austin was a great place to spend a weekend – especially as I don’t get to see my sister nearly enough these days and spending days listening to music and drinking cocktails was the perfect way to catch up.

Degan and Stacie
Next trip we’re thinking Nashville. I can’t wait.

New Mexico Redux

New Mexico
My mom had airline tickets to Albuquerque and I had travel points so we set off after Christmas for a few days. Matt and I had been to New Mexico for the first time on our road trip last October, travelling through Taos Pueblo, Farmington and Chaco Cultural Centre to see the ancient pueblos. We were mesmerized by the landscape and the history so I was excited to see what Albuquerque and Santa Fe were like.

New Mexico
The immediate answer is that it is cold. Much colder than we expected. We looked out the window and saw the sunny courtyard so walked out in sweaters…then promptly headed back to the hotel for jackets, toques and gloves. The sunshine was nice but at -4 degrees it was significantly warmer in Seattle! Historic Albuquerque is beautiful and was still all decked out for Christmas with wreaths and ribbons and a creche at the church. The red chiles hanging everywhere are surely not seasonal but if you want a mix of red and green on your enchiladas you ask for “Christmas”.

New Mexico
We took the train to Santa Fe and that was a beautiful ride through the state and up to 7,000 feet elevation. Needless to say, it did not get any warmer and the plaza in the Old Town district was still covered in snow – gorgeous against the sandstone pueblo architecture. We walked everywhere, ducking into art galleries and boutiques, finding little cafes to warm up in and eventually sitting down to a beautiful lunch at the historic La Fonda hotel. We saw the Georgia O’Keeffe gallery but there’s not much there; we were more impressed with the light and the landscape, the architecture and the Puebloan craft markets. It’s easy to see why so many artists have found themselves here, and how so many beautiful things have come out of this area.

New Mexico
Here are some photos from the trip:

New Mexico

New Mexico

New Mexico

New Mexico

Experience Your America (Our NPS Tour)

Olympic Peninsula

After we got a new truck, we went to Dick’s Drive-in to celebrate, and then Riley and I went to Mount St. Helen’s for a mini-adventure. I had never been (neither had she, obviously) and it planted a bug of wanting to explore more National Parks. She and I went on a mini road trip around the Olympic Peninsula to see the Hoh Rainforest, Hurrican Ridge and Rialto Beach, and we also visited Neah Bay, Cape Flattery, Ruby Beach and Grayland before heading back home.

When it came time to plan a vacation for the fall, Matt and I were still enjoying being local and didn’t want to leave the dog behind so we decided to road trip it down to the Grand Canyon through Montana, Yellowstone, Colorado, and New Mexico. On the way back we went through Death Valley and Yosemite, then home through Oregon. It was a great way to see so much of the western states, as well as so many parks (and wildlife), but we weren’t equipped to camp and many of the trails either didn’t allow dogs or it was too hot to take her for long, so it was a good sample tour of places I now want to go back to. I collected a lot of stamps for my National Parks passport, but didn’t write much but here are some photos.

Road trip

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK

Hoh Rainforest

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK

Mammoth Caves

Yellowstone

Bison

En route through Wyoming

Farmland

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Colorado

Elk

TAOS PUEBLO

Taos

Riley

CHACO CULTURAL NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK

Chaco Cultural NHP

Arizona

CANYON DE CHELLY NATIONAL MONUMENT

Canyon de Chelly

Arizona

HUBBLE TRADING POST

Hubble Trading Post

PAINTED DESERT / PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK

Painted Desert National Park

Sunset

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

Death Valley

Death Valley

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

Yosemite National Park

And finally home.

4468 miles, 9 National Parks and monuments, 10 states. My favourites were Yellowstone, Hubble Trading Post (how I wish I could afford some Navajo weaving!) and Canyon de Chelly. Matt’s were Chaco Culture NHP and the Petrified Forest. Riley liked the dog parks, jumping on hotel beds and sampling sticks in all locations. And the Xterra held up exceptionally well. In fact, we christened it Wade Davis, after my favourite explorer.

Sand & Sea Adventures

Grins

OREGON

Most of July was spent on unpacking and setting up our place in Seattle, hanging art and preserving fruit – because the farmers market is only a block away and I can’t seem to help myself. But I have picked up the Washington State Visitors’ guide and made all kinds of notes in it in preparation for exploring. I thought that would happen on my own, later, so it was kind of funny that my sister came down to visit and right away suggested we go to Oregon to ride dune buggies.

Oregon Coast

I was thinking that we would tour around the Woodinville wineries, maybe go for a bike ride and check out a new neighbourhood but I am always down for both a road trip and an adventure and both together is just not something that I need to be convinced of. My friends, knowing that I love adventure, took me snowmobiling for my staggette and I’d been ATVing before (and of course I ride my motorcycle on a regular basis) but neither of us had been in a dune buggy or on a sand dune, and Ally hadn’t even been to Oregon! So we were very excited.

Oregon Coast

We took Highway 101 for maximum coastal scenery, through such funny little towns as Centralia, Pe Ell and Lebam, past a hundred antique shops and drive-through espresso booths, and stopping at every third pull-out so that I could take a photo.

Cannon Beach

Of course, we stopped at Cannon Beach, and I was agog at the size of it. I had visited about 10 years ago – long enough ago that I was not surprised to see how much the town had grown – but I was surprised that I had so drastically misremembered the size of the beach. It’s the kind of beach that makes you want to play; run and do giant leaps across the sand or twirl or fly a kite just to try and consume a little bit of it. When I was last there it was winter and no one was on the beach but my boyfriend and I bought toy airplanes and ran around throwing them until they were destroyed and we were freezing.

Cannon Beach

The other thing that surprised me is that it’s not even close to the most beautiful part of the coastline. I guess the last time I was there we just got back on the I-5 and didn’t think much of it, but there is a Long Beach in each province and state on the Pacific Coast and (with few exceptions), it seems like it’s really just one long beach from Canada to Mexico, twisting and rolling through amazing pockets of scenery that can only be described as spectacular. I am definitely going to have to go back and do it again on my motorcycle.

Newport

We crashed in a beachside hotel in Newport and woke up in a cloud – there were people on the beach but I could barely see them. Even so, it was wonderfully peaceful and the kind of thing I used to dream about when we lived in the city. Sitting outside drinking my coffee and listening to the waves would have made the trip amazing for me all on its own but we were only an hour away from the dunes so the day just kept getting better!

Oregon Coast

Oregon Sand Dunes

I probably don’t have to tell you that the Oregon Sand Dunes are ridiculously fun. We were a little dismayed that they wouldn’t rent us a dune buggy (too expensive for them to maintain as rentals) so we hired a professional driver who took us out on the dunes for an awesome ride and then we rented an ATV and went back and did the whole thing over again ourselves. I’m glad we did both and I’m also glad that they hadn’t rented us a dune buggy. We told them we wanted to go fast and so they let us take their sole high-powered machine (and I suddenly had flashbacks of the high-powered snowmobile ending up in a ditch) and even so we still managed to almost fly over a sand cliff AND get stuck. I think when the operators give their fast machine to two women they assume it’s going to be babied. Not in this family!

Ready to rock

HOOD CANAL

We were barely back in town when it was time to go on the next adventure – a combination camping, diving and crabbing trip. I have been bugging Matt to go camping with me and Riley for a year now and I’ve been trying to go crab diving for way longer than that.

Shine Tidelands 1

We drove down to a place outside of Sheldon in Hood Canal – about 2.5 hours south of here and camped in a state park and it was pretty fun – Riley LOVED the tent – but we were literally closer to our neighbours than if we had camped in our backyard, which I thought that was pretty funny.

The next day we drove up the peninsula to Shine Tidelands State park to meet some divers and get some crab.

Diving

Crab

I managed to catch some females and a few males that were too small but came back empty-handed for the barbecue. Luckily the others had better luck and we had a wonderful feast of crab, clams, mussels, foraged blackberries and cold beer. Ah, summertime!

Crab

Up next: Mount St. Helen’s, a loop around Olympic park, some more visitors, sailing, then Japan.

Hawai’i: Maui and Kona

Flying

Hawaii was nice. How can Hawaii not be nice?! Unlike Kiev and Prague, this trip has been on the books for a while – it was Matt’s pick after we got back from the Bahamas last winter and he has especially been looking forward to going somewhere beachy and warm so a quick trip to paradise to get in some sunshine, downtime and great diving was just so nice.

Hawaii

It had been a long time since I was last in Hawaii last and probably a decade for the time before that, but my grandmother used to live in Makaha on Oahu part-time and so we went what seemed like often when we were kids. I remember falling asleep and waking up to the sound of the ocean, crawling the beach to collect little knobs of coral and digging big pits (instead of castles) in the sand. When we were still too small to swim in the surf my grandmother used to hold us and body surf us through the waves until our homemade swimsuits were full of sand. When we came inside, she would cut up fresh papaya for a snack and these things must have made an impact because I have never lost my love of the sea and fresh fruit.

Honoloa Beach

Matt had never been to Hawaii so we split the difference between Maui (which I thought he would like best) and Kona (where I wanted to go on the manta ray night dive) and that worked out well except that we both wanted to spend more time in both places. Ah well, next time.

Honokowai

MAUI

I was pleasantly surprised to find Lahaina less horribly touristy than I remembered but we were happy to be staying in quiet, tiny Honokowai, with a lush garden in front of our condo and the ocean working its endless magic steps away from our door. The first night after we got settled into the condo we went and sat by the ocean until we lost all the light and could only hear the waves lapping at the seawall beneath our feet. And then we went to bed because we had a 4 AM wake up call to go and see the sunrise on Haleakala. Diving and flying gets complicated on an archipelago with 10,000 ft peaks so we needed to do the high stuff first.

Haleakala

HALEAKALA VOLCANO

Thankfully we had the time change on our side because the early morning wake-up call didn’t seem that bad when we were stumbling around getting dressed. The summit is a polar region and we hadn’t packed accordingly so I just wore all the warm things I had; a t-shirt, my rash-guard, a paper-thin windbreaker…and flip flops. Matt had said so many times leading up to the trip that he just wanted to sit under a tree and read that I hadn’t even bothered to bring shoes or socks. That’ll be my lesson learned.

Haleakala

The last time I climbed Haleakala I made it about an hour’s hike into the valley before I was overcome by altitude sickness. I didn’t know what it was, just that I felt like I was moving through toothpaste and my boyfriend was getting farther and farther away no matter how hard I tried to keep up. Finally, I just sat down next to an alien-looking tree and cried. Eventually, we figured out what was going on but we still had to climb all the way back up to the visitor’s centre. It wasn’t fun and I wasn’t anxious to repeat it so this time we went super slowly and stopped often. By the time we got to the summit, the morning light had illuminated the clouds and brought some definition into the crater. Several people had assembled, wearing whatever warm things they could collect from their rooms – what a motley crew we looked like to greet the rising sun!

Haleakala means “House of the Sun” and in Hawaiian history, the summit was only accessible to priests. It’s easy to see why it was considered a sacred space. We were on top of the world, high above the clouds and the light reflecting off of them and into the moon-like crater was incredible. Through the occasional break we could see all the way to the sea and in the distance far below us the West Maui mountains that had seemed so large when we drove past that morning.

I’m not normally one for sunrises but when there is in fact something magical in watching the first ray of sunshine break into the day and even more so when a park ranger chants a mele oli” (chanted poem) in honour of it:

Haleakala sunrise mele oli

Dolphins

DIVING

The next few days we spent diving the Cathedrals – beautifully formed lava caves – off the coast of Lana’i,  diving with hammerhead sharks dive off the coast of Moloka’i, and some exploring some local dive sites on Maui. On our way out to our first dive site, we were joined by a pod of 40-50 dolphins. They surrounded the boat when it slowed but as soon as the captain resumed speed they sped up excitedly to ride our bow waves then dropping back to leap through and do flips in the wake. I laughed out loud at the sight of such pure and obvious joy – they are truly the puppies of the ocean.

Cathedral

The Cathedrals were as beautiful as I remembered and we got to see the rare albino black coral “chandelier” that hangs from the ceiling. It’s a testament to the dive shops in the area educating divers that it’s still intact…we saw much coral-kicking on this trip but at least the stony reef-building corals are a little heartier.

Fish

We enjoyed the chill diving so much that we decided to just stay on the boat for the afternoon dives too. That turned out to be an excellent idea because our last dive at Mala Pier was one to remember!  It’s a collapsed pier so it has the air of a shipwreck with all the beams and boards piled on each other and provides some great swim-throughs for divers and/or hide-outs for turtles, sharks and schools of fish – we saw all of them as well as a squadron of spotted eagle rays.

Urchin

Perhaps because it’s a busy site also accessible from the shore, or perhaps because there were so many places to hide, the creatures didn’t seem to be bothered by us in the slightest. One giant turtle kept a baleful eye on me while he surfaced for a breath but a moment later I turned around to see him swimming by right behind me. And I hurriedly snapped a photo of the eagle rays on the first pass, expecting them to bolt but they cruised by so many times that I got tired of pointing them out. Even the sharks were chill.

Matt

It’s a stunning dive site and I look forward to diving it again someday – hopefully at night.

Walterses

Mokuho’oniki Rock off the coast of Molokai to dive with hammerhead sharks was a life-list item for me, so I was really happy that we were able to go. They considered it an advanced dive so Matt had some detailed questions about depths and current, etc. but it turned out to be me who needed to be nervous because getting there involved crossing the dreaded Pailolo channel – Hawaiian for “crazy water.” In the briefing, the captain warned that any people prone to seasickness should take precautions.

Hammerhead

The waves turned out to be not too bad. The first sight of these majestic creatures made it all worthwhile anyway, and we were lucky enough to see three hammerheads and a Galapagos shark gliding through the blue water on each dive, with two of them swimming along together on the last one. It was just so beautiful to watch and I only wish that we were a little bit closer or that the photos had turned out a little better.

Degan

One drawback of all the sun and salt is that my hair had almost no red in it by the end of the trip (more like a pinky coral colour) so I love this photo that Matt got of me underwater where I look like some kind of tropical fish.

Honoloa Beach

We also spent a fair amount of time in the Jeep driving around the island. One day there was an accident on the road so we decided to just take the long way around the West Maui mountains and see what we could see. As we drove north from Honokowai we came up to stunning Honolua Beach where there is good surfing, snorkelling and diving. Then the road narrowed and as we got into some seriously lush countryside. It was great to see the rugged coastline and rural communities up there.

Driving

KONA

We only had two days on the big island so we had to choose between climbing Mauna Kea and diving with the manta rays at night. The manta rays were the clear winner but I would like to come back to see the observatory, as well as the lava fields on Mount Kilauea, and I would also like to do the ‘pelagic magic’ night dive where creatures come up from the deep ocean to feed at night.

manta ray

The boat was full of both divers and snorkelers and no one seemed to have any idea what was going on but they were all doing it with a lot of enthusiasm. We were one of several boats at the site, all decked out with lights. It seemed like chaos, but then we were in the water, trying to keep one eye out for manta rays and another on our guide. The idea is that the divers stay low to the ground and shine their lights up while the snorkelers hang on to the surfboards and shine their lights down. Plankton is attracted to the light and then the rays come to feed on it. We only saw one manta ray on our dive – Eli, a juvenile – but it was cool to see him swimming around and eating, and it was such a spectacular dive with an octopus and several trumpet fish and eels hunting off our lights.

Degan Walters

On our last day in Hawaii, we didn’t have a lot of options. We couldn’t dive or go above 2000 feet (so no horseback riding or ziplining or summiting volcanoes), we didn’t have a car (so no plantation tours) and we needed our gear to dry (so no snorkelling) but as a pretty awesome last resort we walked into town and hung out at the Kona Brewing Company patio for a while. Great selection of beers, and good food too.

Beware the Ides

March

We were in Seattle last week, for Matt’s first week at Amazon. He had to come down for orientation and other meetings and I tagged along for a change of scenery. I came because I love Seattle and while I’ve been to this city more times than I can count, it’s usually only for a couple of days – a business trip or a concert or something like that. The opportunity to spend a week down there, working remotely and checking out neighbourhoods and cafes and wandering around was too much for me to pass up.

And I came because I thought the change of scenery would make the transition a little easier. Matt’s started a job, in an office, so that’s obviously a big change for him but it affects me pretty profoundly as well. We’ve been working together for almost 2 years now and for the last year that’s been out of our home. I’ve gotten used to sitting beside him at our desk all day so tomorrow when I sit down and start work by myself it’s going to feel a little weird. And then there is Adience, which I am running now. So much is different and a lot of things are up in the air. What do I do with my day? With my company? Do we move to Seattle? If so, when? Where? When can I pack? They have handlers for this kind of thing but who handles the handler? It’s in my blood (or at least my neuroses) to collect information and organize and plan. I’m looking at a spreadsheet of Seattle with the things I want to see divided up by Neighbourhood, Time of Day, and Rating. I’m good at this. What I’m not good at is waiting. No one ever called me patient and being poised to go in one of 16 different directions at any moment is a special kind of awful. Nevermind Caesar’s foretelling about the ides, what gets me is the uncertainty.

We’ll know more soon, we keep saying, but for now, we’re in Seattle. Or at least we were.

Seattle is so grey. Dishwater grey. Tom Robbins, local author and the envy of weathermen describes the sky as like “the color of Edgar Allen Poe’s pajamas” or “cottage cheese that had been dragged nine miles behind a cement truck,” or “passages from Les Miserables, threadbare and gray.” He’s so right – I’m from Vancouver and I’m telling you that this place is grey. Somehow I didn’t notice how persistent it was before. But at least it didn’t rain much, so I’ve been able to go running in the morning and explore some neighbourhoods that I’d previously only driven through. I like it a lot. It’s impossible not to compare it with Vancouver, as two large North American cities on the wet coast are cut from a very similar cloth but there are as many differences as similarities. It’s grittier, with more old neighbourhoods, old neon and ghost walls because they haven’t torn down all of their old buildings. There’s more art, but also more traffic. There’s lots of Mexican food, but not so much Chinese, Japanese or Korean. Our aquarium is better but theirs has a more awesome Great Pacific Octopus tank. Our music doesn’t compare with what happens in Seattle garages and oh, how I love Happy Hour.

Neighbourhood notes:

Fresh

Boardwalk

  • Downtown: Not a candidate for neighbourhoods we would live in (or even that are new to me, for that matter), but an area that I’ve spent a lot of time in because that’s usually where I’ve stayed. I went running through downtown a couple of times (and realized just how steep those hills really are) and visited the library quickly before checking out Pike Place Market, a place that I try to make a point of going to regularly – to check out what’s in season or to get a snack. This time I also went to the Seattle Aquarium for the first time and was a bit disappointed in the layout and some of the displays but as I mentioned above, they have a very prominent octopus tank with an octopus “crossing” and the most active Great Pacific Octopus I’ve ever seen, in captivity or out. I don’t know if that’s normal for it (they do do a public feeding there) but it was worth the price of admission and the migraine from the screaming children. We also ate downtown one night, at RN74, a Michael Mina steakhouse. The cocktails were some of the best we had all week and the food was good too but I think I’d rather just sit in the lounge and snack next time.

Ballard

  • Ballard: I spent the early morning walking along the water and visiting the locks before settling into a cafe on the high street. Ballard has a busy main street with a movie theatre, a Walgreens, lots of coffee shops and restaurants, etc. and then a historic area with boutique shops, restaurants and bars that reminds me a lot of Gastown. People were nice, although the wifi in the cafe was close to unusable and everywhere I wanted to eat was either closed for lunch or closed on Mondays (or both). I had lunch at Bitterroot, a BBQ and smoker restaurants and then Matt and I went back for dinner at Ocho which is a Spanish tapas place that makes their own amaro and absinthe and has a tiki cocktail party on Monday nights. Our friends from Canada who now live in Seattle called it “squeaky clean” in terms of crime but with its working shipyard and metalworking mixed in with both boutique and mainstream businesses, it felt more real to me than Gastown somehow. It’s pretty far from downtown over only one bridge, and not super close to the freeway either but I liked it the best.

Bowl

  • Capitol Hill: Grungy and gritty but lots of cool shops and restaurants. This is the neighbourhood that I’ve spent the most time in so I know it pretty well but that just means it has some of my favourite places in it; Quinn’s, Canon Whiskey and Bitters Emporium, Barrio and Tango. It’s full of art galleries and tattoo shops and an excellent bookstore. Because I’m usually here in the evening, I wanted to check it out in the daytime and went to Boom Noodle for lunch. It was my first foray into Seattle Japanese and not bad, but a pan-Japanese chain is only going to be so good. Afterwards, I took a wander through Melrose Market, which is as close a thing to something I think every neighbourhood should have –  butcher, cheese shop, sandwich shop, flower shop, full-service bar and wine shop, cocktail bar and a small restaurant. I could totally live here. It seems unlikely that we would find a place with a garage in such an urban hood, but not impossible. Close to downtown and freeways.

Fremont

  • Fremont: Quirky and cool with lots of public art projects and a couple of good restaurants. It has one of my favourite restaurants in it – Revel – but I didn’t go there this time. Instead, I decided to continue on the Japanese theme and checked out Chiso for happy hour which was an actual disappointment. a gift from the chef of some marinated salmon and onions that was okay but not meant to be cold, followed by a roll and actual bite-size pieces of sashimi that I liked the idea of for a snack but the chef seemed drunk and no one thought it was unreasonable that it took 20 minutes for the gyoza to arrive. For dinner, I grabbed a sandwich from Paseo but I think I can only handle one giant, incredibly sloppy sandwich a week and I had already had a pulled pork sandwich and a cheesesteak by this point. Fremont felt a lot like Commercial Drive to me, there’s a used bookstore but not too many stores and although I didn’t see anything notable, I got the feeling that there is a strong sense of community here. Close to downtown and freeways.

Gasworks Park

  • Wallingford: I’m sort of lumping Wallingford in with Fremont, except that it’s more residential and closer to the university. I didn’t eat there or do any wandering but I did drive through it a couple of times. Close to downtown and freeways.
  • Montlake: A residential area pretty close to downtown that our friends recommended we check out. I only drove through it so didn’t see a high street but the houses were nice and didn’t seem too ostentatious, so that’s all good. Plus it’s close to the dive shop.
  • Green Lake: Pretty far from downtown but a truly beautiful neighbourhood centred around a lake with lots of activity on it – boats, joggers, dogs, etc. It’s also close to the dive shop and freeways but I didn’t see any shops and the only restaurant I saw was a generic Chinese (i.e.: white people Chinese) restaurant in a pagoda-shaped building, so it might be too much of a transition for us (me).
  • Madrona: I set out determined to like Madrona because it’s a cool name and the name of an excellent dive site in Nanaimo and also because they have a full-service wine bar and shop, which is another thing awesome about the America that we can’t have here, but it turned out to be very residential and moneyed. The streets are beautiful with large shade trees and shore access and I can’t wait to come through here on the Ducatis but I don’t feel like it would suit us at all.

Mezcaleria Oaxaca

  • Queen Anne: Do not like. Lots of churches, lots of gift shops, lots of self-righteous stuck up women who don’t really work. Is it fair to say that? I had an awesome lunch at the Mezcaleria Oaxaca and then spent some time checking out the high street before settling into a cafe to work. The first gift shop was Christian and no one made eye contact. In the second gift shop, the owner and her staff were addressing how a pie cutter was the cutest thing they had seen in their LIVES but it was far too sharp to be in a drawer in case a child got a hold of it. The bookshop was full of motivational books – although they did also have a copy of Lucky Peach – and I was about to buy a couple of items but the woman working behind the counter kept complaining about how she had to move her car every two hours and had already gotten two $100 parking tickets that month (the free parking on the street is limited to 2 hours, for short-term visitors. There are parkades available for people who are willing to pay for them). Very steep hills (which means views) and nice houses. It’s ostensibly close to downtown and freeways, but only on certain streets. I got turned around three times trying to get there (albeit without a map).

Belltown

  • Belltown: We ate at Mama’s Mexican Kitchen with some friends which I’ve been to before and is decent. The decor is eclectic and fun and two grandfather guitarists were making the rounds singing to the crowd. Afterwards, we went to The Rabbit Hole for some whiskey and skeeball. Skeeball! I asked Matt before we left if I should change but he was too bagged from work to play so we’ll have to go back. Also, I want to take him to SPUR – a gastropub I love – and some of the other speakeasies around there. Close to downtown and freeways but it’s both a little too polished and gritty for my liking. We’re up to our ears in gentrification in Gastown and it would be nice to take a break from that for a while.