It’s an early start for the four hour ‘Amtrak Cascades’ train from Seattle to Vancouver. What a delight. And what a pleasant surprise. The regular economy section is wonderful. Big picture windows, generous and comfortable seats and right next to the buffet car.
For the most part, the train skirts the Puget Sound waterways. With a low tide we observed an unexpected aspect of life in these parts. The mudflats look unappealing at first sight. But not to the locals and I’m sure they find much to enjoy in the many tidal pools.
The train zips past rusting industrial sites and curious wooden buildings no longer needed. Through working ports and right by small bay-side hamlets. With camera in one hand and coffee and sticky bun on the drop down table, it is an outstanding way to make the journey.
A combination of walking, Uber, train and bus gets you around town comfortably. The underground system uses both trains and buses on the same roads. The art deco stations are worth a second look. And, from the middle of town you can take the monorail out to the Space Needle.
The icons (like the Space Needle) are too crowded at this time of year. But there are plenty of other attractions not so busy. Take the EMP Museum for instance; one of those projects that philanthropist Paul Allen founded. The building is a fascinating Frank Gehry creation whose metal skin changes hue throughout the day. Then you come across amusing artworks in parks and even a glass blowing workshop as I meandered along the streets.
Pikes Market is also fascinating with many small eateries famous for their chowder, crab, delicatessen products and baked goods. There’s also a wide range of fruit and vegetables, boutiques, bric-a-brac plus the original Starbucks store where it seems the whole World is waiting to get in. But, if you just go with the flow, you can still have a good time.
We’ve reached the end of the self-driving part of our trip. LA, along the west coast and on up to Seattle is around 2,000kms. I was happy to hand the car in and will now leave it to someone else to do the driving.
City tours are a good, and quick, way to learn about a new place. The Space Needle dominates the Seattle skyline of course. But you also learn about daily life and industry as you drive past attractive town squares and along gaily decorated city streets. You also get to appreciate the scale of industry in the US. Seattle is the longtime home of Boeing, Nordstrom and Starbucks. e-Bay is about to move in. And Microsoft founders Paul Allen and Bill Gates both live here. The consequence of that is the many signs of philanthropy and citywide benevolence.
It’s also a happy place and I’m looking forward to seeing more.
Portland Oregon is best avoided on a Summer weekend. The nice things to see are full to overflowing with visitors. Washington Park for instance was gridlocked. You could park a couple of miles away and get a shuttle back. But then who wants to walk around a 400 acre park? Multnomah Falls was the same. But this time I did hike a half mile in and out to get a glimpse.
So that left the things that aren’t so nice to see. Drug taking and homelessness seem to be just a little more prevalent in the US. It’s all in plain sight. On the tram into the city were guys calling their dealers, popping pills and generally scaring the blank out of us.
The other thing I noticed throughout our trip is the apparent demise of the DSLR camera. So much so that camera shops can be hard to find. The only one I saw in downtown Portland had closed down. Of course America’s a big place so it will be a while before the B&H’s of this world close as well. But the trend seems to be there.
Visit the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse on the coast and you’ll be blown away. Literally. It blows a gale most days and you can well imagine why the lighthouse was so essential as you survey the wild seas and rugged coastline.
But the other side of town, by the river, is pure serenity. Fishing trawlers are mirrored in the silky smooth water of the marina. Sea lions loll about in the sun and tourists and locals enjoy fresh local seafood at the many quayside eateries.
Then, just to confound all theories, I glanced out of our hotel window one evening and found the seas had calmed and, at long last, a pretty reasonable sunset presented itself.
A sizable town on the Oregon coast, Coos Bay is a rather nondescript working port. But you gotta stop somewhere for the night so we had a look around. Ocean going tugs, classic cars, an endless stream of timber trucks and an impressive bridge seemed to be about it at first glance. But that’s the river side.
The coast side is a joy. See for yourself.
The Californian and Oregon coastlines offer hundreds and hundreds of scenic vistas. When the road is not hugging the coast itself, it meanders through hilly pine and cypress forests. It’s a journey best not hurried. Small drive-in viewing points offer a bench to sip a cup of tea and take in the sea air. Invariably there will be a path to a driftwood strewn beach.
We built in a lot of time for this trip. But it’s not enough.