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"Hiking & Hipsters" -Raya's American Holiday

  • Wednesday 23 May 2018

My American "hiking and hipsters" holiday was in two parts- the first six days of the trip took in the West Coast states of Washington and Oregon, before continuing on to Nashville, Tennessee. I chose these locations they are not popular tourist destinations for the Irish market and I had always wanted to visit these areas.

The journey began in Terminal 5 of London Heathrow where we seamlessly checked into and boarded our ClubWorld seats on our direct British Airways flight to Seattle. The lie-flat beds and continuous food and drink meant that the flight figuratively and literally flew by. The entertainment selection and the White Company amenities kit was so good I forgave them for not having my first choice main (which were the prawns), and I instead settled for steak and a bean cassoulet.

There was also some unavoidable awkward eye contact with the man in the seat beside and facing me until we worked out how to put up the seat divider between us. This didn’t spoil anything though and I can’t wait to fly them again.

We were extremely lucky with the weather as we landed in Seattle- the sun was out as we headed to Pike Place Market (Take the light rail into the city for just €3). This open-air market is known for its fresh flowers and flying fish that are thrown about by the fish market workers. It has a very lively atmosphere with all the street performers, the people and the smells making it a great stop to people-watch and eat our lunch by the water. It's also a reat place to pick up souvenirs like musical instruments made from cigar boxes or homemade pasta.

We followed this with a Ride the Ducks tour of the city and Union Lake, the Space Needle and the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit. Despite doing so much I felt like there was so much more to explore. The outlying neighbourhoods that we saw, such as Freemont, would have been worth an uber or taxi to if you had the time- as well as the Museum of Popular Culture. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza that night in spacious rooms and city views with dinner at Oddfellows Cafe and Bar.

On day 2 we took the Washington State Ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge, where we spent the day whale watching on the Puget Sound Express. Although we only saw one Grey Whale, everyone who wasn't suffering from sea-sickness enjoyed taking in the scenery and eating lunch on board. That night, we checked into the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Sequim.

Dinner tonight was special as it was at a family-owned-and-operated B&B Lavender Farm that does not normally serve as a restaurant. The family decorated their farm's barn with flowers and fairylights and had chefs cater with a lavender themed buffet for us. We had a tour and learnt how this family used the lavender to make oils and toiletries which had won awards and brought thousands of tourists to this small town over the summer months. Fun lavender fact- you only need to water it once in the start of the season and once the bees are all over it, it is time to harvest!

O day 3 we departed Sequim for the Dungeness Split/ National Wildlife Refuge, which is the longest split in North America. Today the weather was back to the grey, damp drizzle I was expecting of the area, but this didn't impact anyone's enjoyment of the wildlife or the gorgeous beach. We were pretty much in Canada at this point according to my cell phone that had attached to a Canadian network.

After our hike the bus took us to the town of Forks and we started to get into the good stuff. Forks is the setting for the hit tween Vampire romance 'Twilight'. There is a museum and daily tours dedicated to this franchise, which brings most of the tourism to this town. This is followed closely by the almost as popular Timber Museum for a look into the past, present and future of the logging capital of America.

We had a true American lunch of pizza at Pacific Pizza, in order to fuel up for more walking at the Hoh Rain Forest/ Hall of Mosses trail. This trail is in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Olympic National Park. This is one of the top 10 national parks in the USA and is visited by over two million people a year. We didn't see any of the bears and elk that frequent the area and had a great time exploring the park with the knowledge and guidance of a park ranger.

Ruby Beach was our next stop. This is one of the world's most photographed beaches. After staging some elaborate photo shoots we moved onto Kalaloch Lodge and checked into our log cabins that looked right out on to the beach. These had no Wi-Fi, so we had to entertain ourselves by making conversation and smores around the campfire. We ate dinner and breakfast at Creekside Restaurant with stunning views, and spent as much time as we could walking along the beach which was breath-taking.

On day 4 we drove to Ilwaco, which was our last stop in Washington. Here we had a local seafood lunch followed by a walk along the Long Beach Peninsula and a visit to a local spirit distillery. Although it was the off season, you could tell this small seaside community would be bustling in the summer time. Only a few thousand live in the area year-round but over the summer they see more than twenty thousand tourists.

We continued on our way to Oregon, crossing the Columbia River Bridge into Astoria. Here we visited the historic Fort Clatsop National Park, took a private trolley ride up the pier and enjoyed a several course dinner and cocktails at the Bridgewater bistro. The rooms at the Cannery Pier Hotel were furnished with big bath tubs and fireplaces overlooking the Columbia River- far too enticing to stay out exploring.

We stayed in Astoria the next day and hit all the hot spots including the Astoria Column, where we walked up 164 steps, 600 feet above sea level for beautiful views. We visited the Columbia River Maritime Museum which was no Fork's Timber Museum but worth a visit all the same, especially tor the floating light house.

Oregon is known for its craft breweries and so lunch was at Fort George Brewery. I don’t drink beer, but this was not a problem in Oregon as everywhere we went to eat had kombucha either on tap or bottled. This is a fermented ice tea that is common with hipsters, another thing that Oregon is famed for. I would recommend the television series 'Portlandia' for anyone interested in learning more about hipster culture, but in short it's normally typified by alternative lifestyles, liberal political views, craft and organic artisanal foods, vintage clothing and indie music.

We went right back to nature after lunch and took photos at Ecola State Park and Cannon Beach. Dinner was rosemary waffles with fried quail and cocktails with enough dried flowers in them to make potpourri at the Barlow Room. This was all served to us by bearded, tattooed servers. The whole experience exceeded all expectations I had of the hipster culture and everything I had read and heard about Oregon.

If you thought this couldn't possibly get any more hipster then you thought wrong. Tonight, our accommodation was personal trailers at The Vintages Trailer Resort. Each trailer was styled in a kitsch 50's fashion and it felt like going back in time. We also each had our own 50’s style bike which we all had fun riding about on until the wee hours

On day 6- continuing with the hipster theme- it was more kombucha and communal seating with a rustic breakfast on big oak tables at Community Plate. Our last stop in Oregon was Portland where we had great weather for our visit to the Japanese Gardens, the International Rose Test Garden, driving tour of the surrounding areas in the city and a Custom Flavour Street Tour with Portland Walking Tours.

We visited multiple pods- which is a term for multiple food carts in one vicinity and which are not to be confused with food trucks. We had Korean tacos, Bar-B-Que, falafel and bratwurst whilst taking in and learning about the history, food, architecture, neighbourhoods, parks, fountains and artwork around the weird city of Portland. Not that we needed it, but dinner tonight was at Departure, a rooftop restaurant where we sat overlooking the city and ate an adventurous Asian menu using fresh, local meat and produce. We stayed at Hotel Modera which is an upscale boutique property which has just under gone a multi-million-dollar renovation, located right in the city centre.

Day 7 was spent travelling from Portland to Nashville via Chicago with America Airlines. Apart from being delayed due to lightening, the flight was easy and enjoyable with free onboard entertainment. We checked into central Cambria Hotel as soon as we arrived and went for a quick three course meal before heading to Broadway to enjoy the nightlife.

Despite my tiredness from the long day spent travelling, I danced the whole night to country music in multiple bars. The atmosphere was so lively, there were live bands in every establishment and no entry fees coupled with the warm weather made it easy to make the most of Broadway. A couple of the girls I travelled with even referred to it as a smaller Las Vegas due to all the lights and people.

Despite the late night, on day 8 we made it to the bus for a real country music experience. We started with the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, with my favourite exhibition being the Shania Twain history. We also took a tour of historic RCA Studio B where Elvis Presley recorded many of his hits, the Johnny Cash Museum and a tour of the Ryman Auditorium. I had no real interest or knowledge of country music, but I thoroughly enjoyed the day.

I'll admit I was not as excited for the Nashville part of the trip as I had been for Washington and Oregon. I had lived in the American south previously and thought I knew what to expect but it completely surprised me, and I can't recommend it enough as a destination. Nashville was a major highlight of the trip and I would have loved to stay longer and travel to Memphis as well. We weren't even there over a weekend, so I can only imagine what the atmosphere must be like then or on public holidays.

Lunch that day was at Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint which looks like nothing from the outside, but as soon you get inside you'll see how popular it is with the locals. It has a vast menu and great outdoor and indoor seating. Dinner was at Ole Red Nashville which is owned by country music singer Blake Shelton. It was a great way to end the trip, followed by cocktails on the rooftop bar looking out over the nightlife on Broadway.

On the last day we managed to fit in breakfast and a tour of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, the Grand Ole Opry Auditorium and shopping at the Opry Mills Mall before departing on the inaugural British Airways flight back to Heathrow. This was a glittering send-off complete with cake, refreshments, live music, goodie bags and a ribbon cutting ceremony.

In summary I would highly recommend all these areas to anyone. Especially if you are into nature or contemplating life while staring out to sea on a grey deserted beach. It would also be a great fly/ drive for a family, couples or solo travellers. I'd especially recommend Washington, Oregon and Tenessee to clients who have already done the West Coast San Francisco/ Los Angeles, East Coast/ New England or Route 66 and were looking for something different.

It can also be a cost-effective way of holidaying in America. In the Pacific Northwest we were visiting lesser known tourist areas, so the accommodation and food costs were not as high. Most of what we were seeing and doing was free- such as the beaches, museums and walks- so it is an affordable option.

I am happy to answer any questions or give more information if needed. Give me a call on 021 427 7094 or 01 696 5135, email info@shandontravel.ie or pop into our shop on the Grand Parade -Raya

We can tailor-make your ideal American holiday. Flights, accommodation, transfers car hire, public transport, travel insurance, tours & excursions... we do it all. 

Click to visit our West Coast, Seattle or Tennessee webpages. 

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