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Sleepless in Seattle

After our twelve day road trip had come to and end, Marina left for three weeks galavanting across Europe, leaving Alex, Billy and me with her car to use as we pleased. I knew, as did they, that we were already booked to spend time in San Francisco, leaving only one major city on the west coast untouched.

We drove to Seattle in a little over two hours, arriving at 11am. We had drawn up a list of sights to see and attractions to visit. The first was the Fremont Troll, which is aptly located underneath the north end of the George Washington Memorial Bridge. The troll, made of concrete, with a hubcap for an eye, clutches a real Volkswagen Beetle as if it has just swiped it from the road above.

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Standing astride the character inspired by Asbjørnsen’s & Moe’s “Three Billy Goats Gruff”

The sun had come out, so we headed on to Alki Beach, located next to the marina, to stretch our legs in the pebble-ridden sand and dip our toes into the freezing Pacific. One ice cream later and we drove on to the campus of the University of Washington, where I cheekily parked up in a loading bay (because it was free) and spent the next half hour wandering around the beautiful campus.

With the first semester about to start, there was a lot of activity at the university. New students were undergoing orientation in the quad, returning students were studying in the Suzzallo library and professors and lecturers were walking briskly, heads bowed with multiple lever arch files buried under their arms.

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One of many sculptures in the grounds of the University of Washington

By about 4pm, we had gotten half way down our list of “must-sees” and, with the next being to watch sunset over downtown, we had a few hours to kill. While looking for places to eat cheaply, we came across a hidden gem and headed there straight away. Kate’s Bar is located close to campus and offers a happy hour menu to rival all others.

I ordered a burger complete with tomato, mushrooms, bacon, Swiss cheese, relish, guacamole, lettuce, avocado and a fried egg with French fries for $6. It was so good I was tempted to order another, but I held back. I’ve regretted that decision every day since.

We drove on to Kerry Park, a small patch of greenery that is elevated enough to give a spectacular view over the city. The sun was setting behind us, casting an orange glow over the skyscrapers and the famous Space Needle. Along with a hundred other tourists, we snapped pictures from all angles and when satisfied, left for downtown itself.

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Downtown soaking up the last of another day

I had bought a ticket for the Space Needle earlier that day, knowing I would have kicked myself later if I didn’t do it, so at 9pm, Alex and Billy dropped me off at the base, I got in the elevator and started the 41 second ascent up the tower to a height of 518 feet. We were told on the way up that 20,000 people a day visit the Needle; at $17 a ticket, it would take all of three days to garner a million dollar revenue from ticket sales alone.

Out of the windows of the glass elevator, I experienced a reverse sunset; looking out over the park we had just come from, the sun came more into view the higher we were whisked, the sky changing from black to red to orange. It was slightly surreal and very beautiful.

Once at the top, it took all of ten minutes for the sky to become as black as it had looked from the ground and, making my way around the outside walkway of the observation deck, downtown was revealed in all its illuminated glory.

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My first attempt at a sans-tripod long exposure. It could’ve been worse…

We spent the rest of the evening and most of the early hours of the next morning on Capitol Hill. There are some very quirky bars in the area and I grew particularly fond of “Unicorn”, a two-tiered bar with good music and cheap drinks.

The night was fun, but by 3am I was falling asleep, so we drove ten minutes into a residential area with no street lamps and pulled up to sleep. Billy and I reclined the front seats and Alex lowered the back seats, stretching out into the trunk. It was a sleepless night for all and by 8am I was ready to get moving.

Our first stop was the Olympic Sculpture Park. Completed in early 2007, it hosts permanent and visiting exhibitions and offers incredible views over the Puget Sound and Fay Bainbridge State Park.

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Admiring the view from the top of one of the sculptures

Next up was Pike Place Market, where one can essentially get breakfast for free by walking down its length, accruing samples of salmon, orange yoghurt covered peanuts and blackberry jam. The fish, especially, is brilliantly fresh and tastes better than any I’ve eaten before and since.

Our last stop in Seattle was the Market Theatre Gum Wall. Situated just a two minute walk from the market, the wall, as the name suggests, is covered in hundreds of thousands of people’s chewed gum. Patrons of the theatre started the tradition in 1993 and the workers scraped it clean twice before giving up. The gum is now several inches thick, stretching fifteen feet high and fifty feet long.

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Billy, Alex and I in front of a chiclephobe’s worst nightmare

Alex had a meeting that afternoon in Portland, so we said our farewells to the amazing city and started the drive home.

I can honestly say I would move to Seattle in a heartbeat. I am typically drawn to smaller cities, more the size of Portland than LA, and Seattle is the perfect example of a picturesque city that one can’t really get lost in. I really do look forward to returning one day.

I had one final week in Portland before moving on to my last US city on this leg of my journey: San Francisco…

4th July Weekend (Sans Fireworks)

Independence Day: a federal holiday celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence from the UK 237 years ago. It’s a huge deal in the US, with firework displays in every town and city, patriotic songs warbled by voices bearing too much vibrato and, rather awkwardly, the odd confederate flag fluttering here and there.

We decided to give all that pomp and circumstance a miss, however, and go camping. So at 8am on Fourth of July, with the car loaded to the brim with rucksacks, tents, sleeping bag and an unnecessary air mattress for the posher camper (not me), we set off for the Olympic Peninsula and my first venture into Washington State.

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My first sighting of the Pacific Ocean

Our first stop was to be the Hoh Rainforest, situated in the Olympic National Park, a five hour drive from Portland. This is one of the largest rainforests in the US and runs along the Hoh River, which was sculpted by glaciers thousands of years ago. We started hiking at 2pm, and trekked along the Hoh River Trail for around three miles before turning back for the car.

We had completed a sixth of the full 18 mile hike to get to the glacier, where visitors camp overnight before walking back. The river is stunning, running milky blue and forcing its way roughly through and around trees that have long before fallen across the water.

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The Hoh River with the Olympic Mountains in the background

If you are reading this and you are a die-hard Twilight fan, you will of course know that we would have to drive through Forks, the city used in Meyer’s horrible novels and their equally revolting film adaptations, to get to our destination. However much one dislikes this particular franchise, though, there is something satisfying about chuckling at every shop name (“Twilight Haircuts”, “Twilight Supermarket”, “Twilight Lighting” – you get the point) and having a picture under the famous sign to post on Facebook with a sarcy caption…

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Damn vampires…

That afternoon we arrived at the Shi Shi Trail, a two-mile route that would bring us to one of the top ten ranked beaches on our planet. Shi Shi Beach is absolutely stunning; there is simply no other word for it. Driftwood lines the volcanic sand left by the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, rocks jut out of the sea at either end, hosting their own vegetation and smoke from the camp fires drifts up through the trees sitting on the steeply sloping bank.

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Shi Shi Beach at dusk

With our tents up, sleeping bags unrolled and fire lit (with a magnesium strip and flint, I might add), we settled down with s’mores and the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. The sun looked huge as it sunk through the clouds and sat on the ocean’s surface; the whole scene was indistinguishable from an oil painting.

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The most magnificent sunset imaginable

With the aid of ear plugs, I slept well that night. Nearly ten hours in fact. I felt so good in the morning that I did something I haven’t done in many years: went for a five mile run on the beach. The air was so clean and invigorating that it would have been a waste not to.

We hiked back to the car and after scoffing some strawberry cream cheese bagels (that’s right, strawberry cream cheese. ‘Murica) we set off once more for Cape Flattery, the most northwesterly point in America save Alaska.

Everywhere I’ve seen in the US so far has been obscenely picturesque, and if you look past the fact that Joaquin is trying to throw me from the precipice, you’ll see that nothing makes for better scenery than bright blue water, a lovely sky and a lighthouse sitting on a quaint little island.

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Something I said?

Another two hour drive and a camp set up at Klahowya later, and we arrived at Sol Duc, the suspiciously Vietnamese-sounding name for a collection of trails, waterfalls and the 78-mile river stemming from the Olympic Mountains. We hiked here for nearly three hours until close to darkness, making time for daring but beautiful photo opportunities and drinking from the mountain springs.

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Sitting atop a quadruple waterfall

When it reached 9pm, we made the short drive back to our campsite and bedded down for the night.

It would turn out to be the most uncomfortable night’s sleep of my life to date. I hadn’t brought a sleeping mat with me; in hindsight a mistake, considering the number of pine cones scattering the forest floor. By 7.30am we were up and about to make the long car journey back to Portland.

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“God rays” breaking through the trees at Klahowya

Along the way, we had one more place to visit: Lake Crescent, which has water as clear as the Caribbean Sea and a landscape as luscious and green as anywhere I’ve seen. We swam that day, not only because it looked so appealing, but because we hadn’t showered in three days and wanted the car to smell a little less like humanity

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Kayaker on Lake Crescent

The weekend was amazing fun, and the lack of fireworks didn’t bother me at all. Why would it when you have a sunset like that to look at?

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