West Coast Love – The Wrap Up

After more than 24 hours travelling from the other side of the World, feeling like a zombie trying (unsuccessfully) not to fall asleep until nighttime, finally sleeping for more than 12 hours straight and spending a reinvigorating day at the beach, I finally had the strength to close this chapter of the blog.

IMG_2101[1]In Phoenix, we had a delicious dinner at Alice Cooper’s restaurant, following Anthony Bourdain’s recommendation, and tried to sleep with the A.C. off, which was definitely not possible (I cannot imagine how much energy is spent in desert cities like that). After an early breakfast, we were back on the road through the beautiful desert, passing Palm Springs, and crossing back into California, where the scenery grew increasingly green until we finally reached Venice Beach again. Our motel was really close to the airport, providing IMG_2133[1]us with incredible views of planes landing right on top of us. We spent the afternoon at the Boardwalk, watching all kinds of street performers, and had dinner at a cool restaurant/bar, before heading back to the hotel.

Very early the next morning, we returned our house car to the renter’s office and took the shuttle to the airport, to board our Virgin flight to Boston. In Boston we had a 5 hour layover, which was perfect for a walk around the city center, and a maritime lunch/dinner by the water of the historic town with its beautiful brownstone buildings – we were definitely not in the West Coast anymore.

At 10pm we departed again, with one more quick stop (this time only allowing for an airport-IMG_2182[1]breakfast) in Ponta Delgada, before landing in Lisbon and getting, once again, in the car, for one last mini roadtrip direction Algarve.

I started writing this post while sitting at a blue-tiled (azulejo) stone table, under the hot Algarve sun which dries the Summer air smelling of oranges and almonds, surrounded by the green manicured gardens, with pink sprinkles of hibiscus and bougainvillea.

Now, almost a week later, after plenty of laying around at the beach, eating delicious home-cooked meals, getting my annual dose of cenouras à algarvia (carrots Algarve-style) and sardine paste, I am slowly gliding back into the daily routine of city life. But living in a city as beautiful as Porto definitely makes it easier.

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West Coast Love – Desert Life

From the cool breezy afternoon of the Lake Arrowhead forest to the dry hot desert air of Arizona – today I’m writing on the bed of our hotel room in Phoenix, trying to move as little as possible to prevent all unnecessary extra body heat.IMG_1867

IMG_1875After our night in the forest, we drove through the beautiful growingly arid landscapes of the road from California to Nevada, into the neon ruckus of Las Vegas. As you approach the city, it feels almost like a mirage, it seems so impossible for anything to grow from that extremely dusty soil. But there it is, casino after casino, neon sign after neon sign – Sin City. Our stay was very short, which I didn’t regret that much, since it is fun to see all the lights and experience the atmosphere of a Vegas casino, but it’s really not my thing. We spent most of the day in the amazing hotel pool, relaxing in the water under the sizzling desert sun, with up-beat hit music playing all day long, with all kinds of groups lounging around – from families with small kids to groups of 20-somethings leaving empty bottels by the pool chairs.

As the sun set over the skyline of the Strip, which we could see from our hotel room, making the neon lights of theIMG_1880 city pop against the purple desert evening sky, the air seemed as still and warm as before, as if someone was constantly following us with a hairdryer, which, in contrast with the extremely cold temperature set on the restaurants’ and hotels’ ACs is slightly uncomfortable. Just as it has its own Eiffel Tower, Venice Canals, Statue of Liberty and Pyramid and Sphinx, Vegas also has its own Hofbräuhaus, complete with waitresses wearing Dirndl dresses and a country band in place of a Schlager one, I guess – and that’s where we had dinner, to prepare my lil’ bro’s departure to München in the fall. We drove up and down the Strip, saw the crazy lights, crowded streets, and headed back for a quick gambling experience, which, in my case, consisted of spending all of the 3 1$ bills I had with me on the slot machines (woohoo) – and then falling like a rock on my bed because I hadn’t been out so late ever since we landed in Canada.

IMG_1884We slept “in” (until 8h45), because we miscalculated how long it would take to get to our lodge by the Grand Canyon, but made the most of the 3-something hour drive through beautiful desert landscapes, some flat, some rocky and mountainous, always dry and in tones of yellow and red, with more or less vegetation, even water (by Lake Mead), and the astounding sight of California Condors gliding across the deep blue sky – landscapes that were completely new to me.

We arrived at Grand Canyon Village in the middle of the afternoon, dropped off our luggage at the lodge, grabed a quick bite to eat and headed to the Visitor Center for our late afternoon walk by the canyon. In the end, it worked out pretty well that we arrived so late – we walked a little bit less than probably would have if we’d had more time, but the warm late afternoon light was gorgeous, casting spectral shaddows that gave the canyon a beautiful texture and painted its orange and red tones in hues of blue, and there were very few people around which made the place even more awe-inspiring. We walked East first, on the Kaibab trail, a pleasant walk under the shade of the local vegetation along the South rim, with amazing views of the canyon, and, again, the black spread-out wings of the Condor sprinkling the air. Then, we took the free shuttle bus back to the Visitor Center, and drove West to descend into the Bright Angel Trail, which lets you hike down the canyon and experience it from a different perspective. This is how we spent the last moments of sunlight that day, after hiking down to a viewpoint, we sat on the dusty rocks watching the last sunrays disappear behind this unique natural wonder. The magnitude, colors and just overall experience of it is really indescribable and unphotographable – so I’ll just urge everyone who has a chance to see it for themselves and leave it at that.IMG_2025

When we got back into the car, the light was almost all gone, and there is almost no electrical light on the roads, so we drove in almost complete darkness, along with many other cars filled with visitors, caught a glimpse of the mules who also ride down the canyon, and twice, almost out of the corner of our eye, of the silhouette of a wild deer behind the moonlit shaddows of the trees. After dinner, we drove into the middle of the road, away from the lights of the village, turned off the car and stepped out to gaze at the sky. I can honestly say I’ve NEVER seen so many stars in my life. The constellations were shining clearly in the darkness, and the sparkly milky way seemed almost painted it was so perfectly visible. The chilly night air didn’t let us stay out too long though, and shortly after we were in bed, gathering up energy for our drive into our last destination in this roadtrip – Phoenix, Arizona.

IMG_2037Which is where I’m writing now. As I wrote before, the air is almost unbearably hot, and quite uninviting for outside strolls, even for warmth-sun-lovers like us. When we arrived, we took a quick dip in the pool, and then drove into town for lunch, and a visit of the city’s historic neighborhoods of Coronado, Encanto-Palmcroft, FQ Story and Woodlea – which are all quite similar: cute streets lined with palmtrees, one-storey houses with green lawns and beautiful porches. Dowtown, there were a few tall buildings, and everything seemed extra clean and even ghostly, as if no one lived in this earthenware town. I guess even the locals can’t handle the extremely high temperatures and feel more comfortable inside the AC-filled buildings.

Tomorrow is our last full day in the U.S. We’re driving back to L.A. to catch our flight from LAX, and, hopefully, still have some extra time to spend at Venice beach. On the one hand, it feels as if just yesterday we landed in Vancouver and started this adventure. On the other, it feels as if I’ve never had a different life than this: suitcase always packed and ready to go, always on the move.

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West Coast Love – Beachy SoCal

IMG_1536As I’m sitting on a balcony overlooking treetops of Lake Arrowhead, while staying at a beautiful rustic wooden cabin on top of a 1500m mountain, it’s hard to believe just two days ago I was leaving the busy and very urban metropolis of Los Angeles. The sun is slowly setting behind the trees along with the lowering chirping and singing sounds of its winged inhabitants whose voices now echo through the fresh pine-scented mountain air.

Our stay here is the result of an almost blind finger pointed somewhere on the map, between San Diego and Las Vegas. We had no clue how far up we would drive, but I’m glad we did so we have a chance of experiencing the woods.

We left Los Angeles on Saturday morning and made our first stop of the day in one of my favorite places so far (although I’m refraining from categorizing and listing) – Huntington Beach a.k.a. Surf City, where we happened to stumble upon the US Open of Surfing Pro Junior by the iconic pier on the deep blue Pacific, again, bordered by tall palm trees by the white sand. The town itself seems like a beach-lover’s paradise: not-too-big neatly disposed houses, surf shops and an overall surf vibe everywhere. It was a bit crowded because of the competition (especially in the water – I do NOT know how so many surfers and swimmers can coexist so accident-freely), but it felt like a good place to live in.IMG_1548

Newport Beach, O.C., was our next stop, and the closest seaside town to our hotel. It still had a bit of a surf vibe but to a lesser extent. It seemed more like a vacation resort, with its fantastically located houses by the beach and, again, the beautiful palm trees everywhere (seriously, I cannot get enough of these palm trees.

Finally, we drove up and down through the steeper cliffs South of Newport, dotted with amazing huge villas with what I am sure are unbeatably beautiful views of the Ocean and the smaller rocky beaches of Laguna Beach. We were stuck in traffic for quite some time, especially close to the main beach (which was completely crowded) and had to drive IMG_1581around for more than half an hour before finding a parking spot, a bit further away from the center, in a residential neighborhood where every house could be described as my potential dream house. Again, we ended up unintentionally making the right choice. The closest beach to our car was a gorgeous, small, rocky beach, with some amazing houses overlooking it, palm trees by the water, and just a few beach-goers. The water was completely transparent, with small but fun waves to swim in. The perfect ending for our beach day.

After a quick stop at Newport for some delicious but overly greasy pizza, we went back to our hotel in more budget-friendly Santa Ana, so that, on the next day, we could continue driving to the most Southern spot on our itinerary – San Diego.IMG_1626

Before arriving in the actual city of San Diego, we spent the morning at La Jolla. Somewhat like Laguna, it is a cliffy mountainy area, with beautiful villas, but with a wider beachfront, and, since it was a Sunday, an incredibly crowded beach, including whole families having big BBQs. The short but strong waves made it a great spot for longboarders, of which there were many, keeping up the SoCal surfing vibe.

In San Diego, we strolled along the downtown area, and the cute Gaslamp district, where I had a delicious shrimp taco for lunch. After putting our stuff down at the motel (we are packing/unpacking pros by now), we went to IMG_1724check out the “old town”, a Disneyland-like tourist village supposed to mirror the Spanish and Mexican era San Diego. We then drove around in circles, trying to find a viewpoint of the city on the very nice Shelter Island, our GPS constantly sending us to entrances of the Naval Base. We finally found a street with some beautiful views of the marina. The blue of the ocean splattered with the white of the boats and sails, and the city’s skyline in the back – it was worth it.

Before dinner, we checked out another beach – Coronado. The town seemed really nice – there was a Cuban band playing on the gazeebo in the park, completely packed with people, and the beach was surrounded by the hills in the back – only the sun was almost gone behind some darker clouds and the wind was a bit too cold for a long stay, which gave us time to go to bed early and check out on of the city’s most famous attraction the next morning, the Zoo.´

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Today, we’re spending the night surrounded by the silence of the forest, after having a nice BBQ of our own in our beautiful AirBnB cabin. We have tried to eat at home whenever possible, since eating out always ends up being bad both for our health and our budget. Although, budget-wise, we learned that, for our standards, the portions are way too big, so we always split our food. And water, which we always drink anyway, is always free – which is great.

Tomorrow we’re changing sceneries completely – it’s time to experience the rollercoaster that probably is Vegas. But not before a good night’s sleep.

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West Coast Love – The City of Angels

IMG_1226[1]We left our hotel in Santa Barbara and continued South on the amazing seaside Pacific Coast Highway direction Malibu, where we stopped to look at the beautiful but unsafe-looking houses on wooden stilts buried in the sand washed over by the waves, before finding an almost empty beach to relax and jump around in the roaring Pacific, while the dry mountains with a few sprinkled houses sorrounded us.

Next stop was Santa Monica, Los Angeles’ beachfront city with its picturesque ferris wheel on the pier and rows and rows of tall lean palm trees bordering its crowded beaches. We walked along the pier, explored a bit of the inside of the city and then headed to our AirBnB, which was on the way to our last planned stop for the day: Venice.

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I loved Venice beach, with all of its colorfulness, weirdness, craziness, people singing, dancing, painting, skating, even screaming on the Ocean Front Walk (It is always weird to visit a place that has for so long been part of your imagery, it almost feels like you’ve been there many times before). The beach itself is pretty nice too, and the water was pleasant even though the late afternoon wind kicked in and didn’t let us stay too long. Like all the SoCal beaches (and cities) we visited so far, it is sorrounded by beautiful Mexican Fan Palms which cut into the orange-purple-pink-colored sunset background.

IMG_1380[1]On our second greater L.A. day, we drove by luxurious Beverly Hills, with its high-end-fashion-mecca Rodeo Drive, and Bel Air mansions, into cinema-dreamland Hollywood. To me, although it was interesting to see all of these places and references in person, life the Walk of Fame, the Chinese Theatre, the sign etc., it felt to me like a sort of Disneyworld made to be photographed. Still, it was pretty interesting and fun.

Part three of our L.A. adventure was spent in the actual city of Los Angeles. After visiting the Union Stationa dn driving a bit around downtown, with its tall skyscrapers and Gehry’s spectacular Walt Disney Concert Hall, we stopped near the Old Town, and walked on Olvera street, where you can really feel the Spanish-Mexican History of the region, even though with a touristic-folklore vibe. We took a quick stroll around Chinatown, passed by the small shops filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, and checked in in our amazing apartment close to the Staples Center. The fact that the apartment IMG_1413[1]complex had a swimming pool was ideal, since, before arriving in Santa Barbara, we had been driving long hours every day, and finally had some extra time to unwind and enjoy the Southern California sun. In the late afternoon we walked to the Staples Center and neighboring areas, watching as the city and traffic lights took over the sunlight in this bustling metropolis, with its urban skyline interleaved with palm tree crowns against the purple sky.

Feeling the city’s energy, for me especially in whacky musical Venice, you can easily understand how it inspired and continues to inspire so much creative production. And the West Coast’s laidbackness continues to accompany us much like the sunny blue skies we’ve had so far, since the beginning of our trip.

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West Coast Love – From San Francisco to Santa Barbara

IMG_0996[1]We left San Francisco on a sunny Monday morning to continue South on our big American roadtrip. Just after leaving the city, we passed by the stretch from Palo Alto to Silicon Valley to visit some of the big tech companies, like Facebook and Google, with its colorful architecture full of green lawns, bikes and volleyball fields. After a quick shopping spree, we turned West towards the coast.IMG_1013[1]

Our first stop was cool Santa Cruz, with its crazy beach boardwalk that feels like an amusement park, beautiful tall palmtrees lined in the back and artsy-looking people skating or just hanging out.

It was a long driving day, as would be the next, so our planned stop in MontIMG_1053[1]erey was postponed a day, and, when we got to our cute blue and white AirBnB in Seaside, we made the most of relaxing, doing our laundry and enjoying a home cooked meal and a movie on tv.

The next day, we packed up once again, and headed to Monterey. We only toured it by car since we had a long distance to drive, but it definitely made us feel like we were entering a new region, reminiscent of the Spanish and Mexican History in California, with an architecture that reminded us of both of these countries, and even our own to some extent.

The drive, though long, was beautifully scenic that day. Even though the waves of fog brushed the hilly and dry landscape of the dark cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, driving so close to the sea doesn’t get boring. Especially in Big Sur (with all my preconceived idealized images from reading Kerouak’s “Big Sur”). The sound of seagulls howling, the smell of the Ocean and the salty freshness of its winds – it all just make me feel IMG_1079[1]at home.

On our way we even stopped to look at a beach full of dozens of elephant seals. From a distance, I saw a dark chubby mass playing in the water, and, suddenly, what looked like motionless rocks on the sand started moving, a big snout peeked up and its mouth opened wide, as if the seal was yawning, before tucking its head back into the backs of another huge elephant seal. There were even more people than elephant seal, watching these huge corpulet creatures wobble in and out of the water, or just lay in the sand.

IMG_1126[1]We stopped for lunch at a ranch-like restaurant and continued driving to our destination for that night – beautiful Santa Barbara. We stopped quickly in our motel to drop off our stuff and finally got to go to the beach – a gorgeous beach sorrounded by palmtrees and mountains in the distance, the Pacific at a nice temperature allowing us to swim until the warmth of the sun started fading and the late afternoon wind made us leave the beach and spend the rest of our Santa Barbara day visiting the pier and then having dinner in the city center, which looked like an upscale and well-preserved version of Algarve’s touristic towns.

I dropped like a log on my motel bed. The next day we were heading to our first stop in Los Angeles county – Santa Monica.

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West Coast Love – San Francisco (no adjective necessary)

“[We] suddenly reached a height and saw stretched out of us the fabulous white city of San Francisco on her eleven mystic hills with the blue Pacific and its advancing wall of potato-patch fog beyond, and smoke and goldenness” J.K.

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I had to quote Kerouac when writing about San Francisco – why try to reinvent the wheel? and such a perfect literary wheel at that (I appologize in advance for the clichés but I plan on quoting a lot of Kerouac – because, well obviously it’s Kerouac, and I’m hooked up on “Big Sur” right now, after some “Dharma Bums” therapy earlier this year – so I was super excited when I saw the Beat Museum and the City Lights Bookstore are less than a 5-minute walk away). We crossed the foggy Golden Gate Bridge, after driving through the beautiful Napa valley, lined with vineyards, palmtrees and amazing villas. I saw this beautiful brigh city sitting by a Pacific sprinkled with white sails for the first time always with Kerouac’s words on my mind.

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Today I’m not writing from some cute porch or a breakfast table overlooking a lake, but from the (very literally) beating heart of North Beach, San Francisco, where we’re staying in an apartment over a nightclub, which gives a very different experience than we’ve had so far, complete with banging walls and floors, cigarette smell that seems to creep up the cracks on the floor and city lights which make the rooms brighter at night than daytime. So, after falling asleep to the beat of hip hop rocking the house until 2 in the morning, I have now woken up at 6am with the not-so-subtle melody of electronic music. We knew about the noise beforehand, so I can’t really complain – only thing left to do is just embrace the experience and hope for a better night’s sleep tonight. It is, after all, the home of Jack Duluoz’s all night ragers, so I’ll try to channel him before heading down to the calmness of Seaside, CA.IMG_0977[1]

My poor-sleep-induced cranky mood aside, I have to say San Francisco is so far just as I imagined it, and I had pretty high hopes for it. Colorful townhouses on steep streets, the bustling Chinatown right nextdoor to our apartment, the deep blue of the Pacific at North Beach, the busy cafés and restaurants in Little Italy, even the foggy and windy skies – no complaints here. Just outside our door, the busy day-to-day rhythm is replaced by an equally busy nightlife, on a Broadway filled with cheeky nightclub neon signs.

At the end of day two, I almost can’t remember the lack of sleep of last night. The city’s energy is just reinvigorating, it feels like so much is going on on every single corner of this bright, colorful beautiful city. We started the day with breakfast at the historic Castro (where we ended up going back to for dinner because we loved it so much), every bit as upbeat as I imagined, the beautiful architecture, the friendly people, the soulful music of a free outdoor concert by an all-female blues band filling the air…

IMG_0845[1]We walked around a bit, going into the Mission District, with the almost tropical Dolores street and the San Francisco de Asís mission in the background reminiscent of old Havana, before heading to Haight and Ashbury for lunch in between psychadelic looking shops, full of Greateful Dead memorabilia, or weed-related paraphernalia (and aroma), as well as Woodstock references in rainbow colors and tie-dye.

We stopped to take in the views from the extremely windy Twin Peaks and sit by the Pacific at Ocean Beach, and took a walk down Fillmore to explore the more posh and Upper-East-Side-like Pacific Heights district, and, after returning to the Castro for a delicious Italian dinner, passed by the busy Civic Center and Union Square, before taking our nightly stroll 2 minutes down the street to get lost in the historic City Lights bookshop.

I feel like I could stay here indefinitely, like there is so much to take even in the places we had time to visit, let alone those we didn’t. But we still managed to get a good glimpse into this amazing city, and I have to say it didn’t disappoint me at all.

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West Coast Love – Down the 101

Part I – Portland to Florence

IMG_0389This morning I’m writing on a green bench outside of my motel room on the 101. Behind me, to the West, our cabin-style wooden room overlooks the Siuslaw National Forest, and in front of me the rising sun is still hiding behind the branches of tall spruce trees, making soft light patterns on the tar floor of the parking lot. You can hear some birds chirping, and a tv on in the distance, but the overwhelming sound is that of highway 101, on which we drove yesterday, from Cannon Beach all the way here, to Florence.

There is a quote iby Robert M. Pirsig I kept thinking about during yesterday’s trip: “Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive”. And this was definitely the case. The 101 swirls up and down along the beautiful, wild and sometimes desert Oregon coast, overlooking either the infinity of the blue Pacific behind tall cliffs or the dense trees of the national parks and forests. It was a clear day, made clearer by the crispy Pacific air.

In Cannon Beach, by the cute small town filled with vacation houses and colorful surf shops, I dipped my feet in the IMG_0502icy cold Pacific, with the enormous Haystack Rock hovering over the soft fog. We stopped several times along the highway, to take in the views, but made some longer stops as well, at several tiny and tidy towns, made up of colorful wooden houses with amazing views, and old style ice cream or nautical sports shops.

First was Tillamooka for lunch, a choice which we regretted, since it is a larger town, not as charming as some others we saw during the drive, and filled with fast food restaurants and big stores. Then the charming Yachats, where we had ice cream by the cliffs, and several stops in the hopes of catching a glimpse of some seals or sea lions (which we only did in the distance at two instances, two snouts surfing the waves).

IMG_0407The day ended where we are now, in Florence, an equally charming town by the water, with a small marina and sweet little shops decorated with string lights. We had a delicious dinner at a restaurant by the water, the Waterfront Depot, before driving back to the motel under a deep dark blue sky and sleeping for almost ten hours sorrounded by our wooden cabin walls.

Now, after a heavy all-American breakfast (i.e. eggs and pancakes), we’re getting back on the 101 direction California.

Part II – Florence to Ferndale

After our delicious and extremely filling breakfast, we headed South on the 101. Again, the scenery is really beautiful, with winding roads along desert beaches and sand dunes, or through woods filled with enormous trees. The Pacific always doing its name justice, with softly roaring low waves washing the dark rocks.

We stopped for lunch at another nice little seaside town, Gold Beach, just before crossing the boarder to California.IMG_0520 Then we headed into the Redwood National Forest, to marvel at the grandiosity of this tree species, and continue on to Ferndale, where we’re spending the night.

Going into Ferndale (population 1371 in 2010), it feels like a set of a movie set in the 1800’s, with its neat streets bordered by victorian houses. Again, AirBnB proved to be the perfect choice. We are staying in a unique and quirky white victorian house, which doubles as a local newspaper’s headquarters. With the cliché American flag on the front porch, there’s nothing bland about it inside. The vintage decoration is full of details such as a stirrup as toilet paper roll holder, vintage cookbooks or a saloon bar in the kitchen. It really has an interesting historic vibe to it, with a mixture of truly vintage and vintage-looking decor. We also found out the house appeared in two movies (Outbreak and Majestic) which is cool to know.

IMG_0581We had dinner in a small restaurant on the main street, after strolling the few streets the town has looking at the architecture, and also found out another interesting detail about it. Apparently, some of the first immigrants here came from Portugal (we thought it was strange there was a “Portuguese Hall Association” as well as a “Silva’s” jewlers so inquired about it). This was a huge coincidence, considering we only chose to stay here because it fit into our itinerary on the way to California, and AirBnB had a nice place available here.

Tomorrow, we’re off to lovely San Francisco, so for now I’m calling it a night.

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West Coast Love – Hip-before-it-was-cool Portland

Portland is one of those places that are much better looking up close than from a distance. Arriving through I5, the clumsy and industrial-looking buildings by the water is a sight that would have never given away the beauty and cool atmosphere of the city’s streets.
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Half a day for such a lively city really isn’t much, but it is enough to get a feel of its coolness. It is full of good looking, hip and stylish young people, and bars, cafés and restaurants to match.

The Pearl District, with its large brick industrial former warehouse buildings transformed into lofts with hip cafés and breweries on the ground floor, makes you daydream about making these streets part of your daily life. The short visit surely didn’t make it justice, since Powell’s City of Books would have been worth getting lost in its corridors of used books for at least a couple of hours.

IMG_0296Again, we’re staying at an AirBnB, a picturesque colorful-and-tastefully decorated yellow house with a porch on a residential neighborhood in the Northeast of Portland, a mere 10 minute drive to downtown.

We basically spent our afternoon and evening, strolling the streets around Pioneer Square, people-watching, catching a free outdoor swing/jazz concert, snacking tacos from the renowned Portland food carts and having a delicious and soul-warming dinner at a brewery.

I would have loved to stay longer and get to know the many secret spots Portland seems to have on every corner, but the road is calling us back again, and tomorrow it’s time to head down the scenic 101 highway down the Oregon coast. Time to leave urban metropolises and immerse ourselves in the wilder side of the region.

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West Coast Love – Grungy Seattle

Maybe it’s because I’m facing East, but this time I’m writing at dayrise instead of sunset,. I have to start this post by saying I really couldn’t recommend AirBnB enough. Today, I’m sitting outside of my bedroom on a green residential neighborhood with charming large houses, overlooking Lake Washington while eating my porridge with raspberries and drinking my morning cup of coffee while the owner’s Boston Terrier and orange tiger cat play around  – I don’t think we really could have afforded this morning if we had stayed in a hotel.

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There’s morning dew softly covering the grass and the fresh morning air under the grey Seattle sky smells of plants and flowers. Yesterday, we arrived by bus at King Station, had some burgers and salads at McCoy’s Firehouse Bar & Grill and ubered to our new borrowed home by Lake Washington.

We arrived at the grungy birthplace of Cobain and Hendrix after a 3h busride plus at least 45 minutes of border control. Not long after the border, a coincidence so corny it couldn’t be made up, a bald eagle to my left and a Walmart to my right – we were in the U.S. IMG_0192

The day was clear, with blue skies and a warm sun, and, distrustful of Seattle weather we decided it was best to make the most of it and take the Bainbridge Island ferry, from which we saw the grandiose Mount Rainier in the distance, its peak covered in snow and it’s foot so pale in the distance, that it seemed as though it was floating, as well as the postcard Seattle skyline, with its impressive tall buildings, ferris wheel and the kitschy Space Needle.

Back on solid land, the streets by the Waterfront were all under construction, so we took a IMG_0218short walk by the piers before climbing the 156 steps by the famous Pike Place market to arrive at downtown Seattle, which we explored a bit before having dinner at a Thai restaurant and calling it a day.

Day two’s morning was spent picking up our car for the next few weeks, which we did by ubering to the airport with an extremely nice and informed driver with whom we talked to whole ride and learned more than we thought we didn’t know about his home country Malaysia and the connections it has to our home country, Portugal.

IMG_0221We headed to the busy, colorful and loud Pike Place Market, with its picturesque lighted entrance sign, to stroll by the fresh produce and local crafts, had some sandwiches while someone played guitar and sang on the street (“Smells like teen spirit”, of course) and passed by the first ever Starbucks (with a line going around the block). After that, it was time to check out the International District, which gave me an idea of another Seattle neighborhood, with more Chinese, Japanese and Korean shops and restaurants, but really makes me feel Seattle is a city built for itself, not showing off to tourists – and it is great that way.

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We rode up and down the extremely steeps hills of the city to Seattle Center,to visit the EMP
museum, a crazy Frank Gehry building by the Space Needle, filled with interactive-type exhibitions about pop culture. It is somewhat weird to see Nirvana and Hendrix memorabilia displayed nicely behind a museum exhibitor, and have so many references lived by me in my short 25 years of life crystallized like this, but it is a fun museum where you can play Indie video games or several musical instruments inside soundbooths and mini-recording studios.

IMG_0223Next, on our way to the Ballard Locks, the plan was to check out the late Edie Macefield’s house, famous for refusing to sell her small house for 1 millions $ for commercial development, inspiring one of our family’s favorite animation filme, Pixar’s “Up”. With a “For Sale” sign on its plywood walls and its fence filled with colorful balloons and messages from around the world, it sort of reminds me of how universal some stories can be.

The Ballard, or Chittenden, Locks were presented to us on some guide we read somewhere asIMG_0227 the “essence of the Pacific Northwest”, so, as good tourists we HAD to check them out. The lock system is interesting to watch, although not really new. What I really enjoyed, as always, was the smell of dock and fresh Ocean air, the sound of water running, the sailboats neatly stored in the marina, while outside of the fish ladder and on an underwater glass panels you can observe salmon swim and jump through the ladder at Salmon Bay. Before dinner at Capitol Hill, supposed to be the place of counterculture Seattle (although in our quick passage through it seemed like a cool neighborhood with a nice vibe but not very alternative), we passed through Fremont, also a beacon of counterculture, and feeling much more like it with its wacky sculptures.

IMG_0234Seattle definitely feels grungy, but a little less grungy than I expected, but, of course, in two days, there’s not really much you can see of a city as large as this and visiting only its “main attractions”. It is a cool city, diverse with its green and almost rustic Bainbridge Island, with the wild mountains and water always looking over it and sorrounding it, and at the same time so urban.

On our last morning in Seattle, Lake Washington is mirroring the grey skies while we, once again, pack our things into our suitcases to store them in our car and head South to hip Portland.

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West Coast Love – Mountainous Vancouver

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Day One

A little over 24 hours after waking up in Porto, we finally arrived in Vancouver thirsty for a good IMG_0050night’s sleep before starting our actual road trip. Of course, having expectations (even if they are as simple as a bed to sleep on for the night) is the first step to getting disappointed, so we were extremely disappointed (rather pissed off) when the clerk at the hotel reception informed us that we only had one room booked instead of two due to some error with our Booking.com reservation. The prospect of not having a place for all of us to sleep, at almost 1a.m. after travelling for 24 hours was frustrating, to say the least, but we ended up finding a solution. Needless to say, it was NOT a good night’s sleep but, still, the excitement of discovering a new city somehow managed to pluck some extra energy from each of us, and, this morning, after moving our stuff into our temporary Canadian home, we set out to explore Vancouver.IMG_0056

We rented a charming little 2-bedroom house through AirBnB in a quiet neighborhood outside the city center, with a dreamy backyard complete with a porch (where I’m sitting at this moment under the golden light of sundown), treehouse, vegetable and herb garden, and plenty of sunlight. It is always so nice and personal to stay at someone’s home, even if you never get to meet the owners, you get a sort of intimate relation with the place that you connect to it better, it seems.IMG_0015IMG_0021

So far, Vancouver has been great. We got off the bus dowtown, near Chinatown, and walked the busy streets filled with passers-by, tourists, drifters, all kinds of different people under a deep blue sky and in the increasing summer heat, filling the air with a brew of smells, from the faint Pacific breeze to exhaust pipes and garbage containers. On the horizon, the water seems to bathe the foot of the mountains from which you can catch a glimpse in between the enormous buildings of the sleeping CBD.

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We had cheap pizza slices and frozen yoghurt on the downtown sidewalks by brick buildings and people-watched, before going to the scenic Stanley Park to enjoy the beautiful views of the city’s skyline.

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We topped the day off with a short stop by the English Bay beach, an urban enclave whose dark and rocky sand was filled with sunbathing locals. As a beach, there is not much to it, but I still find the scenery to be wonderful: the tall city buildings behind, a glance at the seemingly endless Pacific in front, and the grandiose mountain-shapes all around…IMG_0112

Then, it was off to see a bit more of Chinatown, with its food shops’ pungent aromas and streetlamps adorned with dragon shapes. We arrived when it was almost closing time, so it was rather quiet already, but we still managed to go into a few shops and marvel at the amount of products we could not identify.

Day Two

After going to bed at 9pm and sleeping over ten hours, we had a slow drowsy breakfast and headed out for the day. We took a bus to Granville Island – a former industrial area transformed into a cool colorful shopping and restaurant district, sorrounded by water and with a strong nautical vibe paradisiacal for boat-lovers.

The air was freshIMG_0122 even under the warm July sun, and smelled of fresh fish, algae and docks, and, on the horizon, beyond the masts, the tall buildings of Vancouver’s downtown. We had lunch at the public market, its narrow rows filled with shoppers and visitors, choosing amongst the numerous international restaurants or looking at the fresh produce and gourmet specialties.

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We then took a nice walk by the water to the hip
Kitsilano beach, where we finally dove into the refreshing waters of the Pacific, sorrounded by mountains, the city’s skyline.

Our last stop was Point Grey, where we strolled the residential neighborhood before stopping at Jericho beach to unwind, take in the scenery once again, and people-watch, as, right behind us, a folk music festival filled the air with mellow music.

We again took advantage of being in a house, rather than a hotel, and had a BBQ in our borrowed backyard, as the light began to dim and small bugs flew around us.

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Now, it’s time to pack our bags once more. Tomorrow, we’re catching an early morning bus to Seattle – our first U.S. stop in our great American road trip.IMG_0126IMG_0130IMG_0133IMG_0141IMG_0159IMG_0154