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.

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.

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!

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.

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.
Lake Union beckons from the North East.
Queen Anne lies off to the west. Fans of Grey’s Anatomy will want to know that this is where Meredith’s house is…

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…)

Mount Rainier is snuggled just behind downtown.

And in the foreground are both stadiums including Century Link Field, home of the Seattle Sounders and the Seattle Seahawks (more on that later.)

Due west is Puget Sound itself, and I can just spy the Victoria Clipper heading for Canada’s Vancouver Island.

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.

It opened in 2004, and is a really beautiful place to spend some time.

The reading room offers views out over the city through its lattice style walls, as such it is full of natural light.

It is completed by neon escalators, art installations and even an indoor garden.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.’

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…

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.

Of course, we need to put this into context, so stand him next to teeny tiny Leslie with hilarious results…

After this larking around, and some fine Seattle IPAs, we head down Post Alley, by way of the bubble gum wall…

…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.

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.

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.

So, post mandatory burrito, we head out on the water, Myles and I in a kayak with Margaret accompanying us on a paddleboard.

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.

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.

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.


Some of them are even well versed in Web 2.0…

There is other wildlife to behold, but they are largely harmless.

Elsewhere in the market, there are a dizzying number of flower stalls….

…fruit and veg carts…

…and, my personal favourite, cheese emporiums.

Beecher’s is an institution with speciality cheeses for sale, and a snack bar with heavenly mac’n’cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches.

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.)

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.

While Piroshky Piroshky Bakery is the place for a pastry if you have a sweet tooth.

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.

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.

Once inside, you are greeted by a stunning art installation…

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…)

And it isn’t often you see a photograph in an exhibition of someone you know…(Hi Eugene if you’re out there.

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.
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.

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.

And with that, it is a slow saunter to the Seattle Union Station.

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.

With people, and views, this stunning how could I not stay?

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.)



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.

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!)


Part X: Portlandia

Portland Oregon was a place I knew little about when I added it to the list. It has a powerful music scene and it is the gateway to the Pacific North West, frankly these seemed like compelling enough reasons as any to squeeze it in.

The first time I was made aware of the apparently archetypal Portland hipster, was when I told my sister (an ex dweller of LA LA Land) that I was planning to go there. “You might as well turn vegan now” she quipped with a glint in her eye and a grin on her face. She instantly brought comedy web series Portlandia to my attention (yeah yeah, I know I’m late to the party on this one) thus underlining that this stereotype is not unique to those in and around California.

Portlandia is basically hysterical, and if you don’t know it you need to stop reading this and catch up with it. It is the brainchild of Saturday Night Live’s Fred Armisen and Emmy nominated Carrie Brownstein. The bite-sized webisodes live in a magical kingdom, which you can access free of charge by winking twice at the gatekeeper once you have clicked here

When I arrive in the city, I am delighted to see that this is a tag they are happy to brandish, embracing it wherever possible with a dollop of good humour. It’s self-effacing and disarming, I love it. Portland, which reveals itself completely under the flight path of our plane, immediately grows on me.

Checking back into a youth hostel after enjoying the 5 star quality of LA, Palm Springs, Vegas and Hawaii, is exactly what the phrase ‘coming back to earth with a bump’ was coined for. I head to the North West of the city to this little perfectly placed gem.


Obviously Portland is a city known for its established music scene.




There is a solid, dependable market here for music, not just through live shows but for the fact that they still have multiple record stores (mainstream and niche) on every high street.


Some are even open 365 days a year. Take heed UK!


So many of my favourite bands are playing here…admittedly mostly after I have left (cue gnashing of teeth.) But I just can’t see how a fan of good music could ever be bored here. I head to the Mississippi Studios to watch Talkdemonic who opened for Flaming Lips on a US tour in 2011. The two-piece are based round here, so it has all the added swagger that a homecoming show usually provides.




What Portland is less known for is its network of independent cinemas, many restored from their original wonderment. Some are not-for-profit, like the exquisite Hollywood Theatre in North East Sandy Boulevard, which first opened its doors in 1926. Alongside the film schedule, they also host B Movie Bingo.


Others are owned by independent local companies, like the Bagdad on South East Hawthorne Boulevard, complete with stunning post-flick cocktail and pool bar.



The key thing to note here is not how rinky-dink the cinemas themselves are, but the price tag of the tickets. The cheapest I bought was $4, and the most expensive $8. The Portland tradition is to watch the movie with a beer from the local microbrewery and a slice of pizza. Naturally I embrace this.

Put simply, this means that for two thirds of what you would pay in London for a ticket only, you can put away two beers, two slices of pizza and a packet of Reece’s Pieces. Not to be sniffed at.

I watch the following during my week there (click on the link for the trailers):
End of Love A touching portrayal of a single father’s struggles after the death of his partner, written and directed by Mark Webber
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone A laugh-out-loud all the way Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi movie that you can’t help wondering how much funnier it would be if Will Ferrell had a hand in it
Jay and Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie Super low budget, rollickingly amusing and long awaited return (in cartoon form) from Kevin Smith and Jay Mewes. Roll on Clerks III.

All very different movies, I am sure you will agree. In the latter, Kevin and Jay rock up for a chinwag after the show. Somebody in the crowd has brought their 9 year old son with them, and draws Kevin’s attention to it through twitter. That child is going to need a bucketload of therapy.



Another surprise in Portland is the proximity to frankly stunning nature. Just ten minutes walk from North West district is the International Rose Test Gardens. Over 7,000 plants with 550 variants are tucked away on a hill overlooking the city.



Of course, when I am there very few are in bloom. It’s all in the…timing. But a stroll through the Shakespeare Gardens and the Amphitheatre is still beautiful.



I manage to locate a few pleasing blooms.




And I am delighted to hear that the Amphitheatre is used for gigs too. Bands like Flaming Lips play for nish in the summer.

It is a stunning walk home…




…even the greens are in radiant spectrum.


I pass quite a few abodes that I decide I want to move into.




Further afield is the stunning Colombia River Gorge, still only 30 minutes drive out of the city. A day spent hiking to the Bridal Veil falls…



and Multnomah falls…




…is a day spent happy. The views from the top of the latter out over the river are mind boggling. Douglas Firs as far as the eye can see.




You might even spot some of these guys, who apparently are vegetarians (I’m sorry but when did the word herbivore fall out of parlance?)


Then, take your trusty motor over to Hood River to watch the windsurfers.




Be sure not to miss the formidable Mount Hood.


Then make your merry way home.


If you are waterfall intolerant, head out to stunning Willamette Valley in Oregon’s wine country. Spanning 60 miles at its widest point between the Cascade Mountains and the Coast Range, and just 50 miles from the Pacific Ocean, there are over 16,800 acres of vines. Predominantly these are Pinot Noir, and the region was made famous by 2004’s ‘Sideways’ directed by Alexander Payne. *Adds film to list of books to reread and films to rewatch*

This valley accounts for 74% of Oregon’s wine production, and we centre on the Dundee Hills for our tasting tour. My favourite Pinot Noirs were Domaine Serene (the flashy Rolls Royce) and Winter’s Hill (the dependable family-run Volkswagen.)





The views from Colene Clemens are show stopping.




Back in the city, I need almost a day to lose myself in Powell’s Books, a bookstore so comprehensive it has its own map.



Naturally, I focus on the Blue Room. Those classics just cannot get away from me on this trip…

I’ll drink to this.


Spending time in the city, you are never far away from the distant honk of a train’s horn as the MAX light rail criss crosses the metropolis. Imagine the intro to The Kink’ ‘Apeman’ and you know how it sounds to live in Portland.

Whilst I am there in early May, the sun beats down 28 degrees on the city from a cloudless sky. The locals soon put me straight that this is not normal meteorological behaviour. It seems that Portland can draw parallels with Glasgow in many ways, wet but wonderful. The comparison is even stronger when crossing any of the Colombia river bridges.




The lofty temperatures have kids running through the Salmon Street Spring fountains…



…and locals out in Pioneer Square playing chess.




The city’s many statues look on, including Portlandia herself. 1878’s Miss Commerce, she is the second largest statue in the US after that brash New Yorker with her arsonistic tendencies.





Even with some of the best restaurants in the North West, Portland is withholding yet another surprise…its humble food carts. From gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches to delicate Korean dumplings, Da Nang pork sandwiches and soft shell crab subs, all tastes are satiated here.


And if you want to indulge in a beer en plein air, ditch the motor.

Only in Portland.

When it is finally time to leave the city, I have to be wrenched from its clutches.



Portland Oregon, you have my heart.


And the soundtrack was:
The Kinks ‘Apeman’
Talkdemonic ‘City Sleep’
Portugal, The Man ‘In The Mountain, In The Cloud’
Oxford Collapse ‘Remember The Night Parties’
The Shins ‘Oh Inverted World’
Maximo Park ‘A Certain Trigger’
Pavement ‘Brighten The Corners’
Daughter ‘Youth’