Snow, sushi and shopping

In Bandon, Oregon I awoke with a promise to myself. I would be going for a run – on that grey stretch of flat, taut sand. It would be cold to start with as the temperature outside was less than balmy, but I would warm up quickly from my exertion, and I would be energised by the clean, salty air. I searched through my bags for socks. “Damn it!”

“Um, Babe?” I heard from the other side of the room. “It’s raining.” I looked up and sure enough there they were. The fat drops of Oregon were back. “Bugger. Well, I’m not running in that. I could, though.” I contemplated running in my wet weather jacket and a cap.

“Scratch that,” said my weatherman. “It’s snowing.” The weather was excusing me from planned exercise, as rain was one thing, but I draw the line at running in the snow.

We packed instead, and I moved the furniture back when Ben was in the shower – the five minutes of exertion my exercise for the morning.

The car packed, we just needed to find somewhere for breakfast. The highway led us to a diner, where the special of the day was corned beef hash with biscuits and gravy. No, really. We had oatmeal and eggs, and listened to the regulars commenting to the waitress that snow in April was a mighty strange thing.

We went to the grocery store to stock up on a few necessities for the drive – water, lollies, fruit – the usual. We were practically the only ones in there, and when it came time to check out, we wondered if we really were the only ones in the store. The checkouts were unmanned (or ‘unwomanned’ as it turned out). It seemed that everyone – customers and staff alike were too busy at the window admiring someone’s new car. Apparently, this is a big event in Bandon. With the car, the snow, and the guy who’d left his hat in the diner, causing a minor hullabulloo, the people of Bandon were having a big day.

That day we were heading to Portland, and it would be our longest day of driving. We had finished listening to Bill Bryson’s adventure the day before – literally minutes before we pulled into the motel parking lot – so instead we listened to music and select short stories. It wasn’t the same. A Bill Bryson audio book had been an inspired idea on Ben’s part, and on this our longest drive, I missed his dulcet voice and dry wit.

We drove through snow and rain, keeping to the coast as long as we could, before cutting inland to the lacklustre I-5. The roads in between were winding and the hills green and rolling. Oregon is, we concluded, a beautiful state.
Rugged Oregon

We stopped for lunch at McDonald’s. No, really. It was the only option we could find that we could trust in the small town whose name I forget. We got back on the road, and I fell asleep. I awoke guiltily, having left Ben without company for the better part of an hour. I am usually a far better co-pilot than this, and he had never failed me when I was driving. My penance was the two indentations on my face from my sunglasses, and the dried spittle on my chin.

We were coming into Portland.

Our NavSat ‘NeverLost’, did not fail us, navigating us deftly to our hotel with her slightly superior sounding voice – at 4 o’clock (4th day in a row!). We checked in and on opening the door to our room, discovered we actually had a suite. “Oh my God. It’s bigger than the Blue Banana!” I exclaimed.
Marriot Portland
I had enjoyed the cozy fireside at the old inn. I had enjoyed our picture window at the seaside motel, but this room appealed to the princess in me. I availed myself of the huge bathroom, unpacking all my toiletries and indulging myself with some ‘Sand-scaping’ (my non-essential ablutions). We changed for the evening, and headed out.
Pioneer Square Portland
Portland Street
As we’d come in, I had collected some brochures from the lobby. One advertised a sushi place nearby: Dragonfish. They bragged about their cocktails, so we thought this might be the place for us. It was only three blocks from the hotel, but by the time we got there, we were grateful for the warmth inside. Portland was cold that night.
We were seated quickly, and took time over the three menus – drinks, food and a separate one for sushi. We ordered fancy sounding cocktails and were not disappointed. The sushi that followed – three different dishes – was, we determined, THE BEST SUSHI EVER.
Dragonfish Sushi

We stopped eating after two bites each, and ordered a white wine to go with our three sushi rolls. I have never tasted any sushi that was so flavourful, and was presented so artistically.

We ordered more cocktails, and then a dessert. By the time we left, nearly three hours later, we were full and a little merry. We discussed whether it was silly to return for lunch the next day, and then decided that we would be silly not to. BEST SUSHI EVER.

The next morning we had set aside for shopping. Oregon has no state sales tax, like California and Washington, and we had a few things on our shopping lists that we wanted to get before crossing the border.

We jumped on public transport – an excellent system of trams that took us to Portland’s largest mall via some downtown sights and a river crossing. We arrived at 10:15, only to discover that Sunday trading had only the week before changed to 11:00. So, what does one (or two) do in a mall that is shut for 45 minutes? We did exactly what we said we would do if the mall was shut when we got there: wandered around with the other stupid people who did not check the opening time, seeing where all the shops were that we would go into when they opened.

Makeup and sports shoes. In and out in 60 minutes – well, not counting the 45 minutes of mall-roaming before hand. We headed back the hotel, checked out, and went for lunch. Dragonfish had a different atmosphere in the day, and we opted for an alcohol free lunch, but the food was just as spectacular.

Driving out of Portland, bang on time at 1:30, meant we would get to Seattle by 4. Straight up the I-5, a completely uneventful stretch of road, we were there with 10 minutes to spare. We switched drivers half way, and I drove us into the city. As we rounded a long curving bend in the highway, Seattle came into sight. She is a beauty, and for us both, it was a kind of homecoming.
End of the Road
Our road trip was over, but before we returned our car, we drove to our old neighbourhood – where we had stayed when I was here with Ben in January – to do one of the more mundane chores of a trip: laundry. We rewarded ourselves afterwards with a Thai dinner at a favourite restaurant.

Travelling like this with Ben is a great joy to us both. We are machine of a travelling team. We each have our strengths, and we use these effectively to ensure that we get to where we’re going, we have a fun time getting there, and we take full advantage of opportunities that come along. Ben and I have a beautiful simpatico, as travelling companions, and as a couple. This type of time together allows us to see every facet of each other, and to forge the best foundation of a relationship: a strong and happy friendship. In short, he is my best friend, and this part of the blog is where I thank him for the wonderful and brilliantly fun trip we had.

Seattle was brilliant the second time around, but more on that some other time.

Blown Away by Oregon

I forgot to mention the spider. As we climbed into bed at the Requa Inn, there was a spider – in the bed – on my side. Ben did the manly thing and squished it with a tissue. I concentrated on the BEST PIE EVER and the brilliant day we’d had rather than the spider and the creepy dead lady in the hall, which is why my dreams were sweet that night.

We awoke to twittering birds and the sound of huge pickup trucks intermittently roaring past the inn – folks on their way to work we imagined. We suited up for a walk to the coast – about 2 miles up a winding road. The air was clean and smelled of wood stoves and damp earth. The road was steep, but we were working off the pie – and the burger – and the fries – oh, and the onion rings.

We huffed our way up the hill to be rewarded with a different view from the afternoon before. The blue sky had gone, now replaced with a brooding canopy of grey. It heightened the beauty of waves crashing against rocks in the distance.

Early Morning Walk
Morning Coast

Back at the inn we settled in to a breakfast of eggs and oatmeal. We then cleaned up, packed up and loaded up, ready for a day of natural beauty.

Our first stop was to drive north to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. We were not certain what to expect, except that we could park and hike the well marked trails. The park blew any preconceptions out of the water.

We entered the park on a dirt track, and the sky started to emerge from the clouds. Sunlight pushed through the dense leaves and tall trunks to speckle the forest floor with light. We opened the sunroof of our car to look up as we drove, giant trees peering down at us.
Dizzying Heights
The driving was slow as the track wove its way through the thick, straight trunks. We could tell that as few trees were felled to make this road, as was possible.

“Luke Skywalker’s been in these woods,” said Ben. “Oh that’s right. They filmed those scenes from Empire here.” We both imagined Luke and Leia flying through the forest at breakneck speed – somewhat faster than we were driving.

Luke and Leia

We came to a clearing, a marked trail led off into the woods. Here was as good a place as any. We grabbed cameras, and followed the path. How breathtaking. The path was clearly marked, and even though it curled up hill slightly, this walk would be less than strenuous, and more about taking it all in.

Path through the trees

It was nearly silent. We could hear a single – and presumably lost – bee humming above our heads. There were no bird calls, and the air was still, so not even the rustling of leaves contributed to our soundtrack. All we could hear were our gentle treads on the slightly damp earth and our breath.

We moved ever upward, stepping over the occasional tree root, and following the winding trail. “Can you imagine the root system underneath us?” Ben asked. We were stunned by how tightly packed together the Redwoods are. We had also realised the day before that neither of us really knew what to expect from a Redwood. I have envisioned big bushy-topped trees, like Oaks, but these giant thrust straight up from the ground, with tufts of tiny leaves sticking out near their tops.

In tree world, if the Redwoods were not so terrifyingly tall, they would have been bullied for being ‘funny looking’. They were all out of balance, and not unlike very tall, solid people with tiny heads. But I did not dare laugh for fear that one would lift a root from the forest floor and step on me. I observed the reverent silence exemplified by the rest of the forest, mindful that these trees had been on the earth longer than I could conceive.

“Have you ever scene those pictures where they take the cross section of one of these trunks and show all the significant dates in human history?” asks Ben, pondering the history all around us. I had, and later I would buy him a postcard showing this.

We reached an arbitrary place on the trail, marked only by the half hour we had walked, and a giant orgy of 6 trees all growing together. “Would you like a kiss amongst giant trees,” asked my tall, handsome man. The trees politely turned away, and then we headed back down the trail. The sun was really breaking through the canopy now, stream of light bringing to life the damp forest. It was a beautiful chaos, with every colour of imaginable green, and every texture I knew. Bulbous, knobbly tree gnarls next to the satiny petals of a wild flower.

Friends of the Giants

Back in the car we continued to marvel at the world around us. Just before the end of the park, we pulled off to take another trail, hoping to get down to the ever widening river below us.

The trail was more treacherous than the previous one, with stones and tree roots underfoot, but it was short. We descended to the riverbed, having to go ‘off-road’ to see the really good stuff. I climbed a felled log and walked along it up towards a small waterfall. Ben climbed through brush and crossed a stream to see the river up close. We have fulfilled our Nancy Drew/Hardy Boy fantasies for the day and climbed out of the forest, a little out of breath from our childlike endeavours.

We drove into Crescent City, looking for a place to lunch – a proper lunch so as not to be caught out by starvation around dinner time. Subway would do, because it was fast, healthy, and we knew what we’d be getting.

Crescent City was a generic U.S. town of the working class variety. Pickup trucks and old boxy sedans criss-crossed paths, and the town uniform was jeans with a T-shirt or flannel. I saw a store called ‘Bikes and Guitars’. It was that sort of town: straightforward – what you see is what you get without flourish or embellishment. It was a stark contrast from the pristine, manicured towns of the Napa Valley.

The staff at Subway had twangy accents, like you would expect much further south, and they were personable and fun. I would also have to say that it was the best Subway I have had, perhaps because it was created with flourishes and flair that would put a top-notch bar tender to shame.

Full, happy, and looking forward to adding another state to our ‘been there’ lists, Ben and I headed off and into Oregon.

The border came and went without much ado. I did a little car seat dance to mark the occasion. Bill Bryson was still telling his tale, and we still listened, riveted. Hours went by quickly, as his soft, self-deprecating tone filled our car.

Soon after entering Oregon, the sky turned from blue to grey. And then it rained. Thick, fat drops hit the windscreen. “Hang on,” I said looking intensely out the window a few minutes later, “is that hail?” “Yep,” said Ben, as though he had expected it. Rain, then hail: ‘Welcome to Oregon.’

We drove towards the coast, getting small glimpses of a spectacular coastline. “We can pull off at one of these lookouts,” noted Ben. “Here’s one,” he said pointing up ahead. I pulled the car off and onto a heavily pot-holed track.

At the car park, we both got out and the force of the wind nearly pushed me back into the car. I stumbled forward to get a look at the view. “Oh my God,” I said. “Geez,” Ben said. We were so eloquent.

A jagged black pyramid stood just offshore in the surf, battered by constantly breaking waves. The erratic water met grey sand, dotted with oversized pebbles, and rippled by the fierce wind.

Jagged Pyramid
I took some shots, and gratefully climbed back into the shelter of the car. Ben was braver than I. He pushed his way down to the shore, walking on a slant against the wind. The coast in northern
California had been beautiful – I described it an untamed – but this was something else. I was running out of superlatives.

We drove on. It snowed! The exclamation point is all I can do to convey my surprise. We’d thought the previous day had shown a contrast in weather, but this day had gone from mild and sunny to snowing – all within a 100 miles.

Our next stop was at a similarly spectacular spot, but this one for the human creations placed on precarious cliffs. A starkly white lighthouse, and the keeper’s neat white cottage, with its equally white picket fence, stood proudly on cliff tops. We stretched our legs by climbing the path to the lighthouse. It was a quick visit, though, as the rain started up again. We ran through it back to the car, arriving out of breath and laughing. We dried out as we continued north.


We were driving to Bandon, a small town on the southern Oregon coast. We arrived at 4. For an inexplicable reason we had arrived at our destination for the third day running, at 4pm. We had planned this trip, insomuch as two people can with Google Earth and some emails, but we were fluking our arrivals to coincide with check-in time. With two days to come, could we keep this up?

The Windermere Beach Motel presented us with a tiny attic self-contained unit, with a huge picture window that looked out at the beach. We re-arranged the furniture, after it was clear that we would want to sit on the couch and watch out that window for as long as we could. It was still four hours until sunset.

View from the Attic

We had set aside that afternoon for ‘chilling out’, which we did, reading, catching up on emails, sipping some wine we’d brought. All the while we kept an eye on our view, the changeable light revealing more about this stunning coastline.

We dined across the street at Bandon Bill’s Grill. We ordered beers, because the music and the atmosphere called for it. I had the hugest plate of baby back ribs I have ever seen. I made a valiant effort, but as the waitress cleared my plate, she remarked that her dog would be delighted when she got home.

We got back to our ‘home’ in time to watch the sun set. The horizon was peppered with bulky grey clouds, and the sun hid her naked self behind them. It was a burlesque show of peekaboo, and stolen glimpses of her beauty.

After she had disappeared for the day, we walked out onto the windy beach. It was smooth, and grey and vast. Other small groups walked too. Even though it was cold, there was something about this place that called us to come out and play.

The last light finally disappeared, and we headed ‘home’ again.

Mexican Jumping Beans

I am not a huge Willie Nelson fan, but I do subscribe to his sentiment, because like Willie I can’t wait to get on the road again.  It is time.  I have ants in my pants, itchy feet and can’t sit still.  Were I six and were my mother here, she would wonder aloud if I had swallowed Mexican jumping beans.


This happens to me when I am close to travelling again.  It is eleven more sleeps, which means I am in final preparation mode.


The past couple of months have been about the planning.  Ben and I have been online and on the phone, swapping ideas, websites and our latest toy, customised Google maps.  We read up and revise, and discuss and decide.  It is a fun process, and one that lends itself to building anticipation. 


We will both fly into Los Angeles where I have friends, and where we will stay for a couple of nights (a short stay, but we will be back).  We then fly to San Francisco, where neither of us has been, and where both of us are excited to go for the first time.  I bought us a tiny guidebook, but really, we are governed by the ‘laws of first-timers’.  We are staying near Fisherman’s Wharf, where we will eat sourdough bread and seafood; we will ride a tram up an impossibly steep street; we will see the Golden Gate Bridge and visit Alcatraz. 


Importantly, Ben and I have promised each other that while we are following these obvious tourist tracks, we will be travellers.  We will find wonder and fresh perspectives in our touristy endeavours.  It will be our mantra: ‘travellers, travellers, travellers’.


From San Francisco, we hit the road.  We pick up a hire car and will continue north to Seattle where Ben is due for work, taking five days to get there.  We have some varied stops planned, the first of which is The Napa Valley.  Oh, Napa – the scenery, the wine, the Chintz!  


In seeking out a Bed and Breakfast close enough to several wineries, but somewhat off the main strip, we viewed more shots of Chintzy bedrooms that I ever care to again.  Some rooms are even named after the Chintz: The Pink Rose Blossom Room, The Room with Two Many Pillows (Ben: “Where do we sleep?”), and The “Oh my, Grandma’s Sewing Box Threw Up’ Room.  Resigned to the fact that Chintz is a given no matter what, we decided on the place with a spa tub and gourmet waffles.


After being spoiled in The Napa Valley, we will rough it in a Northern Californian coastal town, replete with Redwood Forest.  Yes, we go from wine tasting to woodland trekking, a challenge for even the most experienced packer.  From there, ever north into Oregon, a state I will get to add to my ‘I’ve been there’ list. 


I have friends from Oregon.  They all extol Oregon’s beauty as its greatest virtue.  To honour that, we will drive the coast for as long as possible, and then head inland up to Portland.  At this stage all I know about Portland is that I should shop there, as Oregon has no state sales tax (and Washington State has one of the highest in the U.S.).  I will be as true to my wallet as time allows, for we are due in Seattle the next day. 


Ben has work there Monday to Thursday and then we will be able to explore further a field for a couple of days.  For me, four days alone in a favourite city is a gift, and then of course, we can head out to the wonderful array of Seattle’s restaurants in the evenings. 


We fly out of Seattle on a Saturday, giving us that night in LA, where I have been promised we will Par-Tay.  My LA friends are in the know, which is important when in a city of that size.  LA visitors without a ‘local guide’ can suffer from ‘Disney-itis’.  This is a condition whereby they think they have been to LA, because they stayed in Anaheim and went to Disneyland.  Disneyland is not LA.  LA is a vast and energetic city with much to see and do that does not include a giant mouse and mass merchandising. 


So, eleven more sleeps.  At this stage I write lists: To do, To buy, To pack, To take on the plane.  I am a list-maker in everyday life, but when in travel mode, they are even more crucial.  They keep me sane, grounded.  And for a girl who swallowed a handful of Mexican jumping beans and can’t sit still, some kind of tether is necessary to keep my feet on the ground – for the next eleven days anyway.


“On the road again, I just can’t wait to get on the road again…”