Part XI: Victoria to Vancouver

Another morning, another country frontier crossed by boat. Going from country to country, by sailboat, skiff or ferry has become one of my favourite things.

So, Leslie, Chris (from Team Wokich) and I load up the car and set sail on the Washington Ferry from Bellingham, WA (say WA?) to Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, (Oh!) Canada. I’m pleased to announce slightly higher health and safety standards than on my Caribbean Sea crossing…

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So, it’s farewell to the US, but only for ten days after which I shall revisit your soil once more. I mark the occasion with a very American convenience breakfast.

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It is a smooth crossing, and with the dense fog, the stunning San Juan Islands look distinctly surreal, like a kind of Truman Show film set.

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It’s my intention to come back here one day and sail my way round the archipelago. Yet another thing for the future travel-musts list.

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For now I am content with the girls day out that Leslie, Chris and I have created for ourselves. British Columbia, at least this small corner that I see, is beautiful. I did not expect it to be so literal though. As we walk along the water side, I jolt at the number of English accents that surround me. It is the first time for a long time that I’ve heard them.

It also feels and looks very British here. I know the clue is quite literally in the title, but you could easily be standing at Brighton or Southampton (if slightly warmer…) And by the way BC, that’s a compliment. The port is very pretty…

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…full of eager tourists setting off on whale-spotting missions…

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…desperately cute water taxis puttering around the port…

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…and flanked by grand county and tourist buildings.

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We’re not walking aimlessly at this point…we have a very special appointment to keep, a Wokich family tradition if you will. We are going for that most quintessentially British of things, afternoon tea.

Our target? The stunning Fairmont Empress Hotel.

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The timing of this is perfect. If you were to ask me what food I missed the most in Latin America. I would more than likely say scones. Yes, the banana bread in Belize was second to none, but Latin Americans don’t really do scones. God I love scones, I’d quite forgotten how much until we sashay into the grand tearoom.

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After a very British starter…

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…the pi├Ęces de r├ęsistance arrives.

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Incredulously, Team Wokich had never heard of that very Celtic tradition, and integral part of the British version…asking for free refills. This is a new awakening for them, and we more than certainly put a dent in the price tag as a result.

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After an elegant sufficiency (renamed by Harry Mellotte as the ‘elephant sufficiency’), waistline damage limitation is next on the menu. We walk round to Beacon Hill Park for a stroll to burn off the baked goods. It’s a stunning meander through the park.

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We are greeted at the most southerly tip by stunning views out over the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

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We snake our way through the myriad of paths.

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And make some new friends along the way.

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My personal favourite being this little chap, who made us feel decidedly underdressed.

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After our confab, we saunter back through the park to the city.

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In the evening, we reward ourselves with a jaunt to a Scottish pub The Bard and Banker (aye) where we indulge in a couple of fine bottles of red and set about putting the world to rights over them.

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After a grand night’s sleep at the Ocean Island Backpackers Inn, and Chris’s first ever backpacking hostel experience, we head to John’s Place one of the city’s famous brunch spots. They even serve (Buffie – look away now) a chocolate bacon waffle! Zing!

It’s time to say farewell now as Leslie and Chris head back to Bellingham to the male half of Team Wokich. I’ll miss my partners in road trip crime! After waving them off, I visit the Royal British Columbia Museum on Belleville Street. It is a natural and human history museum, the latter of which is the draw for me as I want to learn more about the First Nations people of Canada.

It is a great introduction to the nation, from Kwakiutl and Haida tribes all the way through to the Asian population. I particularly enjoy the masks that First Nations People used, each with their own story and meaning within the culture.

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Before long it’s time for me to take my leave of the island and catch the bus, then ferry across to the mainland where Vancouver awaits my arrival.

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Once checked into the HI Vancouver Central hostel (good hostel – woeful wifi), I head out to meet an old pal for a pint.

Remember back in Bolivia, when I mountain biked down the world’s most dangerous road, like a (very slow) badass? Okay, and do you also remember Tim (nickname Timvincible), the daredevil who actually came off road plunging about 10 metres over the drop and sustaining little more than a few cuts and bruises? Well, him and his fabulous missus Naomi have finished their six month walkabout, and have moved from their Melbourne home to Vancouver…just in time for my arrival. How’s that for timing?

We catch up before he has to head to work in the evening with plans to reconvene. After this, my first introduction to Van City is to be gig-shaped. The lovely Australian Alice, from the Lanquin instalment of the Guatemala chapter, also lives out here and she has invited me to join her and her lovely pals to see Daughter play at the Commodore Ballroom tonight.
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It’s a cracking gig complete with a cover of Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’. They’re a band who I knew little about, but I’ll definitely be buying their album on the back of that performance. Alice – you have impeccable taste!

Afterwards, I head next door to The Bottleneck for a good ol’ chinwag with Tim and Naomi to hear all about the post-Bolivian component of their travel story. After a suitable reminisce, we all roll home in the wee small hours.

At brunch o’clock the next day, Tim and I meet at The Templeton old school diner on Granville Street for a hearty brunch. It is quirky, kitch and wonderful.

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Here I am introduced to the Canadian tradition that is the Bloody Caesar, a variation on the Mary theme but made with clamato (made up word KLAXON) which is a blend of tomato juice and clam broth. Sounds horrific, tastes really rather brilliant.

We take a stroll afterwards as I am in day one exploration mode. We head through Downtown towards Canada Place, shaped like a series of jutting sails. It’s pier offers brilliant waterfront panoramas. We gawp at the cruise liners lining the dock and the seaplanes jetting in and out of the bay.

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20130615-164638.jpg How the other half live…

We gaze out over North Vancouver.

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We saunter through Gastown to the east of Downtown, past the old steam clock built in 1977 by Canadian horologist Raymond Saunders.

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Despite its steamy exterior, it apparently is run on electricity. Still, it looks the part. Then, we spot early Gastown resident Gassy Jack teetering on his whisky barrel.

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The barrels put us in mind of ale, so we head to a local hostelry called The Steamworks Brew Pub for a couple of swifies. Before we know it, we’ve been gassing in Gastown far too long and it’s dinner time. So, off to The Fish Shack on Granville Street we go. The fish is super fresh, the atmosphere is laid back and friendly, and the restaurant is decked out with wooden pallets to give it the fishing shack feel – even the seats are upholstered to look like life jackets. Mussels feel like the way to go here, and they are cooked in a metal vat right before my eyes.

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We have cocktails in mind now, so we nick into UVA Wine Bar, Tim’s new place of work where I sample the I’m A Banana cocktail (c’mon it had to be done.) Purely by accident, we happen upon a cheeseboard to complete the dining experience. The booziness continues once more as we scoop up Naomi after her shift at The Hawksworth and head to new local The Bottleneck for a few libations.

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Sunday kicks off with a bundle of nerves for Tim as it is the last day of the English Premier League and today London’s teams will fight it out for the remaining Champion’s League place. A staunch Arsenal fan, he insists that we’re all up for the 8am kick off. My beloved Manchester City has secured second place, and there is nothing else to play for, but Tim needs the moral support so we troop over the road to the Same Sun hostel, the only place open at this ungodly hour, to watch the game. 90 minutes later, Arsenal have secured the spoils, and everyone heads home nap-bound. But sleep evades me, so I walk down to Granville Island Market.

It is a stunning view from the Granville Bridge looking down on the island and the bay below.

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As I’m crossing the bridge, a fellow tourist asks me for directions mistaking me for someone who actually knows where she is going…we get chatting and we’re both heading to the market so we wander down together. Kyla has just moved to Vancouver from San Francisco with a three month stint volunteering in Africa in between times. With a new house, a new job and a new puppy on the way, she’s settling into life in the city after an amazing time on the road. Clearly, we have a lot to talk about!

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The market is very quaint.

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It is the usual mix of speciality food stalls…

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…and flanked by pretty little boutiques stock to the brim with jewellery, gifts, books, cards and objet d’art. As you would expect, I am drawn to a jewellery store where we both buy silver necklaces handcrafted to look like aerial map views of cities; Kyla buys her new home Van City, whilst I buy Paris, a city that will always have a special place in my heart as the very first place outside of Scotland I ever lived.

We take a walk through Kyla’s new hood and former 60’s hippy haven Kitsilano, and peruse a few shops including the bookstore Wanderlust, a must for travellers at heart, and Zulu Records.
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Then, we say our goodbyes. It has been lovely to randomly meet a new like-minded friend and spend the avo with her. I hope you’re settling into Van City well Kyla – maybe see you back there some day.

I bus back to Downtown before walking up to English Bay beach. But first, I pass tiny Morton Park and its interesting piece of outdoor art called A-maze-ing Laughter by Beijing based artist Yue Minjun. First installed temporarily in 2009 as part of the Vancouver Biennale, the sculpture of 14 three-metre tall shirtless bronze statues, all standing in different poses, but all laughing maniacally, is due to stay in the city.

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Upon further investigation, it would appear that the artist in question modelled the statues on his own face, and has created various sculptures and paintings that depict him laughing. Neat little idea, and beautifully executed here.

I amble over to English Bay beach where the sun belts down in the hazy late afternoon. Tim comes to meet me and we sit on the beach chatting in the sunshine.

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As the sun starts to drop and, hearing how stunning the sunsets here are supposed to be, we rue the bad planning of us not bringing a bottle of plonk to the beach with us. Alas, I have an Oregon Winter’s Hill Pinot Noir just asking to be drunk before I fly to Montreal tomorrow but it is back Downtown.

As we debate this, a guitar player has turned up behind us on the beach. He is playing original music, very much in a Jamie T stylee. He’s really good, and I quietly love that he isn’t even busking…just playing to himself.

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With the sun dropping behind us…

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…we bus back to Downtown, pick up the vino tinto and head to a bring-your-own-booze Italian for a pizza before flopping down at the bar at the excellent Keefer Bar for numerous cocktails and chats. Naomi comes to meet us after work, and we fight through tiredness for another couple of swifties at last chance saloon The Pint. Soaked in booze, my long weekend in Vancouver is coming to an end exactly how it started.

A healing brunch is on the cards so I meet up with Alice and we head to The Elbow Room where Naomi joins us (Tim is being a gigantic lightweight and hasn’t been able to get out of bed – disgraceful…)

This cafe is hysterical, bruskly rude in a congenial sort of way. One of the first things the waiter says to Alice and I, pointing at the empty seats on our table, is “where the fuck are these dickheads?” It’s affronting but endearing all at the same time, and the staff turn out to be a right laugh.

What’s more, the eggs benedict with blue cheese, bacon and avocado is exquisite.

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But what is even more exquisite is the company. It is absolutely great to have been able to meet up again with good pals from Bolivia and Guatemala again. I had been looking forward to it for a long time.

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One of the greatest surprises on my travels has been the amazing friends I’ve made along the way. Not only that, but being able to see some of them again either on the road, or in the future when I get back to London. I feel really quite privileged to have been in such good company.

For now, it’s goodbye to Naomi and Alice, and off to Van City airport to scoot east to Montreal. I intend to spend the 5 hour flight reloading the French tapes in my brain…and filing the Spanish ones.

And the soundtrack was:
The Kinks ‘Victoria’
Jamie T ‘Panic Prevention’
Daughter ‘If You Leave’
Cold War Kids ‘Mine Is Yours’
Phoenix ‘Entertainment’
Hooray For Earth ‘True Loves’
Yeah Yeah Yeahs ‘Mosquito’
Jurassic 5 ‘Power in Numbers’
Alt-J ‘Am Awesome Wave’
The Maccabees ‘Wall of Arms’

Part X: Washington State of Mind

I have to be ripped from Portland’s clutches, but when I finally board the Amtrak train northbound to Seattle I am superexcited for two reasons. Firstly, my cousin Myles is studying at the University of Washington so I have the chance to hang out with him (and mainly pretend to be a student again.) Secondly, the rather wonderful Bryan and Leslie whom I met back in La Paz live near these parts. Since they recently made it home from their epic year-long walkabout, I am to be reunited with them.

I head up to the Fremont area where recently-opened hostel Hotel Hotel will be basecamp for the next four days. It is a lovely spot, and certainly the slinkiest hostel I have stayed in for a while.
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There is an hilarious induction by Luke who checks me in. During it, he treats me the way I imagine a warden would treat an unruly teenager checking into a young offenders institution. Luke, I appear to be a good ten years your senior and I have no intention of raiding the fridge in pursuit of unlabelled produce during my stay here…

Fremont is a lovely neighbourhood, quirky and friendly in equal measure. It’s a little north of Queen Anne and runs along the Fremont cut of Lake Washington. It is also home to the Fremont Troll, a concrete sculpture perched under the Aurora Bridge which was made in 1990.
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And so my first day is spent how every great first day should be spent in a new city, exploring. The first stop is a world first for me, riding a monorail!
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It whizzes me from downtown to Seattle Center in two minutes. Built in 1962 for the World’s Fair, a defining moment in the city’s development, the track runs over a mile from the Westlake Center down to the Space Needle.

What better way to orientate yourself than by journeying high above the city and looking down on it.
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The Space Needle, designed by Edward Carlson, was also built in 1961 and opened on the first day of the World’s Fair the following year. It’s observation deck sits atop the 605 foot high structure and it has become a symbol of the city and of the Pacific North West.

As we shuttle upwards in the elevators, we’re told that we are travelling at 10mph “as fast as a raindrop falls to earth.” As you would imagine, the views are cracking. It’s also rather a glorious day for it. Downtown sprawls leisurely nearby to the South East.
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Lake Union beckons from the North East.
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Queen Anne lies off to the west. Fans of Grey’s Anatomy will want to know that this is where Meredith’s house is…
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And this is where they film their helicopter scenes when patients are airlifted to Seattle Grace Mercy West (technically that is a spoiler if you are not up to season four…)
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Mount Rainier is snuggled just behind downtown.
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And in the foreground are both stadiums including Century Link Field, home of the Seattle Sounders and the Seattle Seahawks (more on that later.)
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Due west is Puget Sound itself, and I can just spy the Victoria Clipper heading for Canada’s Vancouver Island.
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On the way down I am told that the engineering of the Space Needle ensures it would withstand an earthquake up to 9 on the Richter scale. I’m not sure this information would be too comforting if that were to happen.

I walk back to downtown and head to the Public Library, a building of notable design by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.
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It opened in 2004, and is a really beautiful place to spend some time.
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The reading room offers views out over the city through its lattice style walls, as such it is full of natural light.
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It is completed by neon escalators, art installations and even an indoor garden.
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After the exploration, I venture to chef Tom Douglas’ Dahlia Lounge for some rabbit and pistachio pate, followed by west coast king salmon. Top marks Tom.

On day two, there is the small matter of the FA Cup Final. Manchester City are taking on Wigan and hoping to capitalise on their only remaining silverware opportunity of the season. It is a perfectly respectable 9.15am kick off with the time difference, so, thanks to Bryan’s recommendation, I am settled into George and the Dragon with a pint in my hand and butterflies in my stomach by 8.30am.
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I am almost surrounded by Wigan fans, and disappointed to learn that a story has leaked in the UK media that Mancini will be sacked at the end of the season. That, together with Fergie announcing his retirement in the week leading up to it, is distraction enough for City. As time passes without a goal, I am increasingly nervous. They just don’t seem to have the fight in them that has characterised City in the past.

The dying seconds of the game bring a headed goal from Wigan and it’s all over. After banking on extra time, we are to leave empty handed and empty hearted. Seeing the look in the eyes of the Wigan fans reminds me of how I felt last year at the season end when we grabbed the title from Manchester United’s clutches at the last gasp. I am utterly devastated and wildly jealous of that feeling, but thankfully Bryan and Leslie are there to scoop me up and take me to see…wait for it…more soccer (before you start, you have to say soccer to be understood here!)

We head to Century Link Field to watch Seattle Sounders take on the San Jose Earthquakes.
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We are in the stand with the ECS (Emerald City Supporters) which turns out, brilliantly, to be the business end of the stadium. Bryan and Leslie, both Arsenal and Sounders fans, gift me a scarf as we go in…and before long the big screens demand that we get our scarves up.
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In this part of the stadium, the chants are lead by the capo at the front facing the fans. The poor lamb doesn’t even get to see the game! Bryan tells me that this is standard, and that most ECS members record the matches because they end up seeing so little of it in real time.
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I have never seen this before, and it is far less haphazard than the UK’s efforts. It is one part wild, two parts mental in there. They even hand out song cards, which helps out the new starts like me so there can be no excuse for not singing.

Some of the chants are what the FA might deem close to the bone, notably one whose lyrics include ‘Burn, destroy, wreck and kill. The Seattle Sounders surely will.’ There is also ‘Take ’em all, put ’em up against a wall and shoot ’em.’
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That would probably be frowned upon in most sanitised soccer stadiums in England. However, I expect it doesn’t turn into actual violence here.

SPOILER ALERT: When the Sounders score, I am struck by some latent leftover excitement from the earlier FA Cup final. Seems I have more than a little shout in me, and I totally lose my shit. Nobody nearby would have taken me for a new fan…
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We leave comprehensive victors with a 4-0 scoreline. Ah, that’s better.

Afterwards, we meet up with cousin Myles. Now the Mellottes (and related clans on the Irish side of the family) are a tall brood. But I had quite forgotten just how tall Myles is. Despite my 6ft, he dwarves me.
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Of course, we need to put this into context, so stand him next to teeny tiny Leslie with hilarious results…
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After this larking around, and some fine Seattle IPAs, we head down Post Alley, by way of the bubble gum wall…
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…to an improvisational comedy show next door which has us giggling until the witching hour. Then, Myles’ lovely lass of a girlfriend Margaret and her pal join us and we head out for a final drink. At this point, I am starting to feel cheated out of my champagne opportunity from the morning’s cup final. So, we buy a bottle anyway.

Of course we do.

The next day Myles takes me on a tour of his beautiful campus at University of Washington (or U Dub as it is fondly known locally.) First we wander through the main campus, taking in the academic buildings and Myles is a bloody great tour guide as he is chock full of factoids.

The Suzzallo Library, opened in 1926, is absolutely stunning and decorated externally with terra cotta statues of great thinkers and artists like Charles Darwin, Beethoven and Dante amongst others. Here’s a sneaky peak at the inside.
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Then we head round to the sporting facilities for a quick squizz. Myles is an incredibly accomplished rower, and he is at the university on a rowing scholarship. As we walk, he tells me horror stories about his 6am daily training sessions. He describes the worst exercising scenario I can possibly imagine; running up and down every step in a major sport stadium…while carrying a tube above your head…that is half filled with water. Right, I’ll stick to spin class thanks…

We peer in at the closed Basketball Court, where the Huskies usually play their home games.
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Even though it is Sunday, the devoted marching band drummers are rehearsing nearby. Myles shows me the boathouse where they keep all of the boats they use for training and in competition. His dedication to the sport is mighty impressive, and I have such respect for his achievements. In comparison, I had achieved little more than a record number of pub crawls at his tender age.

Now, due to Seattle’s plethora of lakes leading into Puget Sound, one of the recommended ways to see the city is on the water. So, after I have marvelled at the campus, we head round to meet Margaret at her place of work Agua Verde which is a cracking little kayak and paddle board rental company with a tasty Mexican restaurant attached. Handy on a number of levels.
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So, post mandatory burrito, we head out on the water, Myles and I in a kayak with Margaret accompanying us on a paddleboard.
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For the second time that day, I’m impressed by the tour guide skills! Margaret points out loads of sights along the water as we paddle along (albeit Myles putting slightly more into the rowing than I.) I can imagine how enamoured Myles is to be rowing on his one day off from rowing training!

After we have dried off, we head round to Margaret’s folks house to wish her Mum a happy Mother’s Day. It is here that I learn a ground breaking new yard game that I simply must export back to Fife this summer.

It is called Corn Hole, and you basically throw corn filled bags at a board hoping to slam dunk as many as you can from a significant distance.
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Three points for each bag, with one point for landing on the board and zero for missing entirely. It is first to 21, with the other team’s point scoring negating yours if they match. Got it? Good.
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It’s really flippin good fun, I can visualise that fun being increased on a summers day with a gin and tonic in your hand. The next project will be building a board for Harry’s house.

The next day, I am back on the tourist trail. In the morning, I visit the stunning Pike Place Market where I come face to face with the famous Pike Place flying fish. They are flying over your head, thrown by exuberant staff decked in galoshes while you check out the other seafood. All of which is pretty friendly.
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Some of them are even well versed in Web 2.0…
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There is other wildlife to behold, but they are largely harmless.
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Elsewhere in the market, there are a dizzying number of flower stalls….
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…fruit and veg carts…
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…and, my personal favourite, cheese emporiums.
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Beecher’s is an institution with speciality cheeses for sale, and a snack bar with heavenly mac’n’cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches.
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Once you have ordered, you plonk yourself down on these stools and watch’em make the cheese fresh (not for your sandwich, just to y’know, sell to someone else later.)
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LA Buona Tavola is the place to go to try all sorts of truffle delicacies from truffle oil tapenade to truffle infused mustard, with so much more in between.
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While Piroshky Piroshky Bakery is the place for a pastry if you have a sweet tooth.
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Full, and happy, I train up to the Experience Music Project (EMP) which is a modern not-for-profit museum devoted to telling Seattle’s musical story alongside great studios that people can come play around and make music.
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In fact, they put it far more eloquently than me, describing it as a museum dedicated to the ideas and risk taking that fuel popular culture. It was founded in 2000 by Microsoft, and designed by Canadian-American Pritzker-winning architect Frank Gehry. It is as lovely to look at as it is to go inside.
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Once inside, you are greeted by a stunning art installation…
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And a number of well laid out permanent and temporary exhibits. Naturally, the lion’s share of my time was spent with Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. (I may have been asked to step away from their original guitars…)
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And it isn’t often you see a photograph in an exhibition of someone you know…(Hi Eugene if you’re out there.
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It is a great space, covering everything from media coverage of the time, interactive videos and original attire. It is a fascinating place to while away the afternoon.
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Please note, no flash was used in the photography of these specimens.

Myles, Margaret and I meet up for dinner at the rather splendid Uneeda Burger, then they introduce me to the best ice cream parlour I’ve ever heard of. Basically right, they chopped up Reece’s Pieces and put them like INSIDE my banana bread flavoured ice cream. (There is nothing about that sentence that doesn’t interest me.)

From there, we say our goodbyes as I am due to get back on the road in the morning. It has been absolutely lovely hanging with the two of them in Seattle, made me wish I was a 21 year old again…or at least that I could continue behaving like one as I am now!)

In the morning, and before the off, there is time for a mysterious underground tour of the city hosted by Bill Speidel. The tour takes you through Seattle’s subterranean sidewalks and streets which were the originals until the Great Seattle Fire in 1889.
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As you walk underneath the rumbling traffic and rushing pedestrians, they regale you with tales of the corrupt politicians, brothel madams and speakeasy bars that made Prohibition Seattle such an entertaining place for quite a few people.
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And with that, it is a slow saunter to the Seattle Union Station.
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My northbound train to Bellingham turns out to be a northbound replacement bus, but once I have arrived the lovely Bryan and Leslie scoop me up from Bellingham station and take me to stay with their sensational folks Mick and Chris in the stunning area of Fairhaven on the water.
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With people, and views, this stunning how could I not stay?
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They are utterly fantastic hosts, so generous and great fun. We cycle all the way around the bay out to their favourite brewpub The Boundary Bay Brewery (tasting is practically mandatory.)
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Before…
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After…
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We sample stunning seafood at the marina at Anthony’s, then wander round to visit the exact spot where lovebirds Leslie and Bryan were married.
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Then in the evenings, on ridiculously comfortable sofas, tucked under blankets with large glasses of red, we sit round the kitchen table chatting or watch EPL and European Football. I couldn’t feel more at home.

We enjoy ourselves so much that Leslie and Chris decide to join me on the next chapter of my walkabout on Vancouver Island. So we pack our bags and say goodbye to the boys.

Team Wokich – I know you are reading this, and I would like to thank you so so much for all your kindness. I had such a great time with you lovely lot (in North America and Bolivia) My door is always open in London. Big overseas squeeze for each and every one of you.

Onwards…to Canada.

And the soundtrack was:
Jimi Hendrix ‘Electric Ladyland’
Nirvana ‘Nevermind’
Billie Holiday ‘Blue Moon’
The Vaselines ‘Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam’
Death Can For Cutie ‘Codes and Keys’
Band of Horses ‘Everything All The Time’
Dave Matthews Band ‘Crash Into Me’
Seattle Sounders Emerald City Supporters Various
Oasis ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’
Petula Clarke ‘Downtown’
The National ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ (first listen klaxon!)