3 Months On The Road In The USA (Pt5)

 

The West Coast 

 

I’d always wanted to visit California. Los Angeles, Big Sur and Venice Beach for example, were all places I’d seen or heard in films, TV and music and they always seemed so exotic.

 

From the natural marvels of Yosemite and Sequoia, our trip was now taking us to ones of a different kind on the West Coast. We first headed to Monterey where we walked along Cannery Row, the old fishing area which has been prettified, but seemed a tad soulless and then drove to the lovely Pacific Grove where we just strolled along the ruggedly beautiful coastline.

 

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Later that evening, we popped into the delightful Carmel, which for somewhere so small, seemed to have an inordinate number of pricey shops. After dinner in a cute, little Italian restaurant we found, we thought we’d have dessert elsewhere and came across a local bakery which was closing, but we managed to persuade the assistant working there to sell us a few cakes which hit the spot.

 

And then, the day after, appropriately armed with a Beach Boys playlist (and a little bit of Johnny Cash too as I had really got into his music in Nashville), we set off on a gloriously sunny day down the coast along Big Sur, which really was as incredible as we thought it would be.

 

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We were heading towards our next stop at Pismo Beach, which was an excellent point to visit the nearby and magnificently strange Hearst Castle where we saw an eclectic mix of things including an absurdly opulent blue indoor pool with real gold tiles, as well as a few zebras in the grounds. We even managed to see a few elephant seals on the beach nearby.

 

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The next day was our 9th wedding anniversary and we were going to be celebrating it with some American friends who we had first met in Granada, Spain where we were living at the time and lived in San Luis Obispo further down the coast. Oddly enough, we ended up going to a restaurant appropriately called Granada. We had had a lovely meal and then, on our way back after the meal, we got our first American ticket for parking the car facing the wrong direction, which we didn’t even know was a thing! Another experience for the list…

 

The next day, we headed to Solvang, a slightly strange and sweet, seemingly Danish village in the middle of American wine country which even has its own windmill!

 

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On the way down the coast to Los Angeles, we stopped off at Santa Barbara, one of the many places referenced in American TV shows and films and although Mrs Cortado really liked the feel of the place, other than the low-rise architecture which is very common on this part of the country, it just seemed full of shops and little else to me.

 

Los Angeles

 

We rented an apartment in Marina Del Rey for a few days as our base for visiting LA. One of the first things we did was to get a sightseeing bus to take us around the city so we could get our bearings, as LA is even bigger than we had imagined.

 

I was surprised at how low-rise the city was. American cities we had seen thus far had been full of skyscrapers of offices and apartments, but one of the charming elements of LA is that this hasn’t happened. However, the city is an enormous sprawl where getting stuck in heavy traffic is the norm, even if you have 6-lane highways.

 

One sad reality we encountered was one morning while popping out for coffee, seeing the exit to our apartment building had been blocked due to a fatal shooting in the car park overnight. Like all big cities across the world, crime is a reality in certain areas, however this was our first experience of gun crime in the US.

 

On a lighter note, Mrs Cortado has always been a fan of Disney and her mother has always wanted to see the Disney parade, so Mrs Cortado’s parents came out for a few days to visit and my mother-in-law had the time of her life at the parade, while my father-in-law and I strolled around the pretty back streets of Little Venice stopping off at different coffee shops on the way. I really enjoyed hanging out in Little Venice. It has an unusual bohemian feel, but also a spectacular kind of light, especially as the sun sets. I recently watched ‘Californication’ and ‘Flaked’ where the neighbourhood is the backdrop for the TV shows, so I could see the area again and it was nice to see that same light and atmosphere coming across in the programmes.

 

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Another day, we drove along the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu and were quite surprised to see how ’normal’ and un-film-starry this area was. Though I think the really big houses were safely ensconced elsewhere far away from the main road and coast. After a lovely lunch at a restaurant on the beach, we then headed into the beautiful Santa Monica mountain reserve.

 

Music & Film

 

We had now been on the road for several weeks and had had an incredible time, but we had also done quite a lot and so it was wonderful, to find a spot on Venice Beach one morning to sit down and just take it all in. Everything we had seen and experienced so far, including the fact that we were in LA (man) and especially, Venice Beach which I had always heard so much about through music and film and was also where Jim Morrison lived when The Doors first got together. I’m a big Doors fan. I also really enjoyed bumping into some of the street art in Little Venice.

 

 

Ever since watching ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ with James Dean when I was a teenager, Griffith Observatory has also always been on my list of places to visit – for those who don’t know, there are a few key scenes in the film located there. Having lived in Greenwich before, I had already been lucky enough to see a magnificent observatory, however the views of the city from here, including the Hollywood sign, were spectacular.

 

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As a big music fan, I had really wanted to see a gig while in LA as there were so many well-known venues which had hosted legendary bands over the years and one of these was the Troubadour. A small venue which had hosted a wide variety of artists over the years including Elton John, Buffalo Springfield, James Taylor, Guns & Roses, Tom Waits and Radiohead. We had got tickets to see John Grant who happened to be in town when we were. Although it ended up being quite expensive in that although the gig tickets were only around $60 in total, the taxi fare there and back was around $100! Fortunately, we are big John Grant fans and it was a fabulous gig in a legendary venue, so another wonderful experience on our trip.

 

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One of the last stops we made was in Laurel Canyon which was renowned for being the neighbourhood where Joni Mitchell, the Byrds and countless other singer-songwriters and bands from the late 60s made music and lived in (apparent) peace, love and harmony in the summer of love in 1967. As with Ashbury Haights in San Francisco, my expectations were impossibly high and it obviously wouldn’t be the same these days, but part of me was still hoping to somehow absorb this late-60s vibe through some kind of hippie-flower-power-like osmosis just by driving through the neighbourhood. I don’t think Mrs Cortado was as interested or as hopeful.

 

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In Short

 

Spending time in LA was sometimes like being in New York in that you were already familiar with places through TV, film and music. We loved visiting LA, but other than individual moments such as the Troubadour gig, hanging out in Little Venice and Disney, we didn’t really connect with the city as a whole as much as we had with previous cities such as New York, Chicago and Seattle.

 

Next Stop

 

So, after a few days here, we were off again. We dropped off the in-laws at LAX airport so they could go back to England and then, we headed off to our next stop – Santa Fe – where we would be beginning the southern leg of the trip. Yet another one which we had been really looking forward to…

3 Months On The Road In The USA (Pt4)

San Francisco 
We were looking forward to visiting California for the first time and it was only a short flight from Portland from where we’d just had a fabulous time to get to our first stop, San Francisco.
San Fran sunset
We spent time experiencing a few interesting things here including the Italian American cinema exhibition, the annual Italian Heritage parade in Little Italy, Ashbury Haights, Gott’s restaurant in the Ferry Building, Fleet Week with a flying display from the Blue Angels (the US equivalent of the English Red Arrows), the pretty Painted Ladies line of houses and the famous gay rights centre of the USA that is the Castro district (where I also found a plaque dedicated to Francisco Federico Lorca, the world-renowned gay Spanish playwright from Granada who was killed in the Spanish Civil War). We also got one of those lovely old trolley buses a couple of times, but regardless of how pretty your mode of transport, rush hour is the same not so pleasant experience in every country.
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In addition to walking a lot around town, we did the double-decker sightseeing bus tour which included a glorious sunset from the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the highlights of our visit here. Another for me was the fascinating walking tour of the Tenderloin district,  398 Eddy St. / Leavenworth (Tue-Sun 10am-5pm) where I had a personal tour of the area which is now quite rundown in places and yet, has an incredible musical and social history giving an interesting insight into the city.
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The AirBnB where we were staying was just around the corner from Mission Street where we had amazing (and cheap) tacos and burritos (no rice, so not as heavy) at the unassuming and always incredibly busy La Taquería.
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And after that, a couple of blocks away, we came across a Mexican bar (whose name escapes me) where we had a few margaritas while watching a World Cup qualifying football match between Mexico and the USA. Fab night out! Although I love doing research for trips, some of the best nights happen when you don’t plan anything or can’t even find what you were looking for!
On a more serious note, although we had seen homeless people on the streets of other American cities we had been to, the problem seemed far greater in San Francisco, but like all cities, San Francisco is doing its best to help them off the streets by working together with the local communities.
Although San Francisco is very much a city, one of the benefits of its location is Californian wine and a trip to the Napa Valley had to be done, especially as I’m a huge fan of the film ‘Sideways’, however we chose to simply drive through the countryside to appreciate the stunning views en route.
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We’d heard good things about Muir Beach just outside the city, so we drove there and it really was something else. Just a beach, sea and not many people. Although, perhaps again, it was a nice antidote to the city experience of the previous few days.
Walking around this city was an odd experience as even after a few days, although it had lots of interesting places to visit, unlike some other places we had visited on the trip such as Portland, Chicago, Seattle and Provincetown, neither I nor Mrs Cortado found we had really connected with the city. After only a month on the road, it couldn’t yet be travel fatigue, so what was it?
Like many places we had planned to visit on this trip, San Francisco was yet another place we had always wanted to see, however it was the first to disappoint, although we couldn’t quite put our finger on why. So, we may just have to go back another time to see what we missed…
Las Vegas 
Mrs Cortado and I had included Las Vegas on our trip out of curiosity and also as it was perfectly located to visit the Grand Canyon, which ended up being one of the highlights of the entire trip. To add to the kitsch Vegas element too, we also decided to stay at the Trump Tower hotel for a night. Note that this trip was made Sept-Dec 2015 before the joy we all currently share that is the Trump presidency. In fact, when we were in Vegas, Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were still fighting it out in a TV debate for the Democratic nomination.
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So, what’s Vegas like? It’s everything you could imagine. Busy, loud, kitsch, commercial and not somewhere I’d visit again, but for a couple of nights, it was a wonderful experience. Highlights in Las Vegas for us included cocktails with an ‘in-the-know’ food blogger friend, the ultra kitsch environment and the cheesy and spectacular sound/light show of the Hotel Bellagio and the madness of Fremont Street.
Although expensive, it’s also absolutely worth taking the 1-hour helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon as the sheer scale was like nothing we’d previously seen. In addition to this, other favourites here were the incredible Neon Museum and the staggering feat of engineering that is the Hoover Dam. Las Vegas is inevitably a bit mad and it’s heaven, hell or maybe both depending on your persuasion, but it’s definitely worth a visit to make your own mind up and especially for the astonishing astonishing natural beauty that is not that far away.
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Neon Museum
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Grand Canyon
Natural Wonders 
Our next stage of the trip was the perfect antidote to the superficial and artificial excess of Las Vegas. We would be driving through a variety of types of nature en route to our next stop in Mammoth Lakes on the west side of Yosemite National Park.
And soon, we were driving down Badwater Road in Death Valley towards the Badwater Basin where we saw a family of 4 coyotes hanging around (as you do in Death Valley). I’d never heard of the Valley Of Fire before but as you travel through, the colours of the surrounding rocks are so beautifully unusual that it almost feels like the set of a film set on another planet.
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Badwater Road in Death Valley
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Road to Valley Of Fire
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One of the Valley Of Fire locals
We then had to take a detour through Yosemite as the main road was closed and happily came across Mono Lake, a beautiful saltwater marsh/lake with stalagmites which again were reminiscent of some alternative planetary dimension. It was all such a welcome relief to the chaos of Vegas. And then after much looking around, we arrived in Mammoth Lakes.
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Mono Lake
The morning after we had breakfast of waffles and coffee (one of many but we never got bored of it) in The Stove local diner in Mammoth Lakes village followed by a lovely drive through the north of Yosemite towards Mariposa, which is a delightful one-street village with a very small town America feel. Our next plan was to visit Sequoia National Park to go to Grant Grove to see the biggest tree in the world – General Sherman, which as you’d imagine, was enormous.
Although I’m a townie, I enjoyed the nature elements of this trip and was surprised at how beautifully stark and impressive some of these places could be. But now it was time to move on to the delights of the west coast including Big Sur, which was another one of those places I’d always wanted to see.

3 Months On The Road In The USA Pt3

After only a couple of weeks on the road, we had already covered a fair bit of the East Coast – read 3 months On The Road Pt2.

The long train ride 

The next stage of our trip was a much anticipated 3-day train from Chicago to Seattle incorporating the wide open spaces of states such as Montana, North Dakota and Idaho among other places. We had been looking forward to this part of the trip as we’d never taken a long train journey before.

Our train to Seattle was old, but more in a ‘hasn’t-been-modernised-in-years’ as opposed to any kind of romantic historical ‘Orient Express’ way, but having said that, the views from the train were incredible. Vast open spaces for miles and miles, with only the occasional one-horse-town and collection of oil fields punctuating the flatness of the barren landscapes. Of course, we knew that North America was big, but the endless open spaces made us realise the sheer scale.

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Oil rig somewhere in North Dakota

Seattle

As a music fan and obsessive fan of the American TV sitcom ‘Frasier’, Seattle had been one of my top five list of places to visit on this trip. Of course, I knew that the show had been filmed in a studio in LA, but it was fictitiously based in Seattle and so, I perhaps oddly felt I had got to know the city including iconic locations places such as the Space Needle. We also had friends who had moved there in recent years, so we had even more reason.

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Frasier

We were in town for a few days and were determined to make the most of it, so we visited Pike Street Market, went on the Underground Tour around Pioneer Square, took a lovely boat ride around Elliot Bay, travelled on the magnificent Monorail to see the equally impressive Space Needle surrounded by the beautifully bizarre Chihuly glass flower exhibits and also went to see one of our favourite bands, Thievery Corporation in concert. One morning, I even walked all the way to the Elliott Bay Cafe, which was apparently the inspiration for the cafe used in Frasier. Of course, it was nothing like I had expected as it had recently been modernised, but I felt a fan-like sense of achievement having visited nevertheless.

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Seattle Space Needle and Chihuly Flowers

While Mrs Cortado went shopping one afternoon, I also visited the fascinating Wing Luke museum in Chinatown which focused on the the Asian Pacific Islander American experience in Seattle and the West Coast. Sadly, I missed the Bruce Lee exhibit which was starting the week after, but it was so interesting having a look around the former accommodation and even the grocery store that the newly arrived immigrants would have used. I then had some Hell Ramen from Samurai Noodles and at that moment, I was somehow struck by a moment of gratefulness. So much so that I even posted something on Facebook about how grateful I was with life at that moment in time and genuinely felt that if I’d been a dog, I’d have been wagging my tail like a very waggy taily thing.  I was walking around feeling happy and grateful for every moment of every day. Not just being in Seattle, but also being with Mrs Cortado and life in general. It’s been nice being reminded of that while writing this post.

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Seattle from the sky

You might have figured out by now that I absolutely loved Seattle finding it among many other things, laid-back, bohemian, cultural, open-minded with an interesting food and cafe culture. It was even sunny when we were there, though I’m led to believe that is quite unusual. One of the places I’d wanted to visit my entire life had surpassed all expectations. Where next?

Vancouver

Our trip next took us to Vancouver. Another one of those places that I’d always wanted to visit and fortunately, again we had a friend there with whom I’d be reunited after 15 years since she’d moved to Canada. One of the highlights of our time here was the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden which was a such a beautiful example of tranquility. It was delightful wandering around it absorbing its culture, history and sense of peace.

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Archway in the Classical Chinese Garden, Vancouver

Other highlights in Vancouver included a lovely day driving to Whistler on Highway 99 with stupendous views of the Pacific and the stunning Porteau Cove on the way back. It was fun watching the BMXers riding down what would normally be the ski slope and it was so pretty seeing the gorgeous autumn colours of the trees as we went past. Another highlight was starting the day with a fabulous spicy chicken breakfast burrito at JJ Bean followed by a glorious drive through Stanley Park and ending with a romantic walk along the seawall catching the sunset.

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View from Whistler

One of the things I loved about 3-month trip in general was being able to meet up with people we knew en route. It gave that part of the trip a much more personal feel getting us to see places where we may not have otherwise visited from the perspective of our friends, who were now ‘locals’. Although I hadn’t seen Megan in the 15 years since she’d moved to Canada, visiting her and her family was just like old times, as if we’d just seen each other yesterday.

Portland

Okay, this is starting to sound repetitive, but it’s true, Portland was another place I had always wanted to visit. As a music fan and foodie, I’d always heard so many good things that I managed to persuade Mrs Cortado to include Portland on our itinerary.

We found a lovely AirBnB in one of the lovely tree-lined suburban streets and as this city isn’t that big, we were only a short bus or cab ride to the centre. Although we stayed in a variety of hotels and AirBnBs on our trip, staying in an AirBnB often added to the experience as you felt more like you were actually living there for a while as opposed to simply visiting. I even found a favourite coffee bar, the Westside branch of Heart which I visited each morning.

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Although we’d been lucky with the weather in Seattle, our luck ran out in Portland on one particular day, however we then ended up going to a triple bill and having lunch at the fabulous Living Room cinema. It felt like a particularly Portland-type of day.

Portland is such a walkable city that when the sun did decide to make an appearance, we wandered around enjoying the quirky architecture and chilled ambience of this tranquil city. I even saw the singer from the Dandy Warhols in a cafe from the bus on my way home one night and as a music fan, that made my day.

Food is a big thing in Portland and food trucks are really popular. I’d planned to visit a highly recommended Korean truck, but on the day we went, they weren’t quite ready and so we ended up having some really good noodles from another truck just around the corner.

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Not far from where we stayed we found a fantastic bar/restaurant called Levant on E Burnside which offered really good hummus and made whatever cocktails you asked for. Donuts seem to be a very big thing here too, so we thought we’d go to one of the most well-known ‘gourmet donut’ shops Blue Star Donuts where we tried a handful of their product. Well, somebody has to…Highly recommended, although I wasn’t too sure about the marionberry and pepper one.

We loved visiting Seattle, Vancouver and Portland on this leg of the trip and again, although we enjoyed all the wonderful things they had to offer, I made a list of all the places that we wanted /should visit based on online recommendations (and sometimes we even used it), but in the end, our favourite thing was still to wander around and see what we bump into on the way.

So, from the north-west, we were now due to head south to California. San Francisco, LA, Big Sur. And guess what? I’d always wanted to go there too…

3 Months On The Road In The USA (Pt 2)

After only a week on the road in the USA, we’d already had a fantastic time visiting lots of places including Vermont, Massachusetts and Cape Cod. Read 3 Months On The Road Part One. After a wonderful few days on Martha’s Vineyard, we then headed for the mainland to drive along the East Coast, see friends in New York and then end this stage of the trip with some time in Chicago.

PROVIDENCE
Our first stop was the town of Providence, Rhode Island. Mrs Cortado had been looking forward to coming here as the city still has its original 17th century town plan and for such an architectural geek, she loved walking through architectural history, especially around Brown University and being able to see the evolution of houses from clapboard to classical grandeur. And although we had torrential rain for most of our time here, it gave the city an eerily Gothic ambience which made it even more interesting.

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After we’d explored for a while, I was soon looking forward to trying Korean food for the first time. I’d heard about Sura located on Westminster Street in the Old Town centre, which fortunately was just around the corner from where we were staying and was fantastic. Admittedly having never had Korean food before, I have no reference points, but the pork bulgogi that I had was delicious with a lovely spicy kick. We also had our first experience of valet parking when we stayed on bunk beds (which neither of us had done since we were children) at the delightfully funky Dean Hotel on Fountain Street.

NEWPORT
Our next hotel was in New Haven and so on the way, we stopped off at a couple of places. Like Providence, Newport was very much on Mrs Cortado’s list due to its plethora of 19th century mansions. Our afternoon went from the humble Arts & Crafts Isaac Bell house to the Kardashian-esque opulence of the Van der Bilt mansion ‘The Breakers’ and although I only saw two of the four that Mrs C saw, I can highly recommend a visit here if you are interested in architecture.

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MYSTIC
We then took the 95 south to hang out in the pretty village of Mystic which fortuitously was hosting a farmer’s market/food festival along the riverside. And this time, although there was no pizza (if you’ve seen the film), we did have a seriously good burger.

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NEW HAVEN
After a long day driving and visiting Newport and Mystic, we really enjoyed walking around the almost village-like tranquility of New Haven. Most famous for Yale University, this lovely town has a strangely familiar feel, no doubt brought about by the old English college style architecture of the colleges at Yale. We also found a lovely little coffee shop and vegetarian restaurant Claire’s Corner Copia on Chapel Street which I’d highly recommend.

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And then we headed for New York City.

NEW YORK
Although Mrs Cortado and I have been to New York a few times already, it is still somewhere that we absolutely love visiting. Seeing old friends again is always nice and adds a more personal twist to our trips, however New York always has something new to offer no matter how much time you spend there. We’d seen the ‘usual’ sights on the tourist trail in the past, so this time just wanted to wander around a few new areas mixed in with some old favourites.

Ellis Island
There are many places that Mrs Cortado and I have always wanted to visit and one of the lovely things about this trip is that we got the chance to see many of them. One of the places for me was Ellis Island and so, one beautiful crisp September morning, I went down to Battery Park to get the 8.30am Statue Cruises ferry which took me past the Statue of Liberty to Ellis Island itself, which truly blew me away and was one of the highlights of the entire three-month trip.

Statue Of Liberty

Immigration
For me, simply spending some time sitting down and contemplating in the Immigration Museum and the Great Hall where all immigrants would have been admitted or even refused entry gave me some insight into how things would have been at that time. And what’s more, as immigration is often seen as a negative factor in modern society, it was a strong reminder of how positive a contribution it can make. Especially when, according to the Ellis Island website, over 40% of the U.S. population descend from the 17 million immigrants that passed through Ellis Island from 1892 to 1954. A truly humbling experience…

Shakshuka
One of my favourite discoveries on this trip to NYC was the Shuka Truck. I’d first heard of shakshukas on Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Mediterranean Feast’ TV programme. They are a mix of poached eggs with tomatoes, chillis, peppers and spices – a kind of Middle Eastern huevos rancheros. I’d found out about the Shuka Truck on Twitter through which they posted their daily whereabouts in the city. For only a few dollars, sitting in the park with the sun shining and a shakshuka for lunch. Nice! I was really starting to enjoy food trucks and the new food opportunities in general on this trip.

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Other things we loved seeing and doing included:

  • wandering through Central Park (always a favourite thing to do)
  • pastrami sandwich at famous Jewish deli Barney Greengrass
  • cocktails with friends at the Four Seasons (where Mrs Cortado and I had got engaged in 2005)
  • chicken and waffles at Sweet Chick in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
  • New York Historical Society with its excellent civil rights exhibition

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No matter how many times we go, New York is still an amazing city to visit. However, after a week there it was time to move on and we had a flight to catch.

ZIONSVILLE & INDIANAPOLIS
We were going to stay with an old university friend who lived in a small town called Zionsville, just outside Indianapolis. After lots of reminiscing about university days, we went to the track in Indianapolis where they hold the legendary Indy 500 Indy Car races. We then had a fantastic evening in Zionsville where we saw chipmunks for the first time, had our first evening eating hot wings in a ‘proper’ American sports bar with wall-to-wall TV screens showing different sports and we even got carded which has not happened to me in two decades!

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What more could you ask for? 
It sadly transpired that I had not turned into a teenager overnight, but that this bar carded everybody, even the 60-something-looking guy who went in before us. Or maybe he was just a very old looking 21 year old. We had a fantastic evening in this small town where although technically there was little to ‘do’ as a visitor, if you are in a bar with a few drinks and some good friends, what more could you ask for?  Another highlight.

CHICAGO
The following morning, we got the Greyhound bus to Chicago where we would be staying for five days. If you’ve read Part One of this series of posts, you’ll know that until this trip, I’d only visted New York on previous trips to the US and so, Chicago was going to be my next ‘big city’ and I was really looking forward to it.

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Beachy
On my first day, I was surprised by Chicago and found it to be much more more laidback than New York and it was another wonderful place to walk around. With the huge Lake Michigan alongside and the Chicago river running through the city, I had no idea it would be as relaxed as it was and on Lakeshore Drive you have a a beach, rollerbladers, cyclists, promenade and sunshine – so far, Chicago was not remotely as urban as I’d expected.

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Seniorfest
While Mrs Cortado went to the Art Institte of Chicago, I wandered through Millenium Park to see where the music was coming from – I’m a musician and a big music fan – and I bumped into Seniorfest. Hundreds of pensioners were listening and watching a concert including versions of classics such as ‘Sweet Caroline’ and amusingly, ‘Mrs Robinson’.  A festival to celebrate being older. It was lovely! One sprightly young man was on stage at one point introducing the next performer and said “I’m 77 and I dance like heaven” and proceeded to do just that along with a whole group of ladies and gentlemen of a certain age. Transport to and from the event was on local school buses which was a nice touch too.

Food
What about the food? Well, this may be heresy, but I must admit I wasn’t that impressed with one of the most famous dishes on offer in the Windy City – the world-famous Chicago pizza pie. I’ll try pretty much anything once. And I did here. But pizzas should be thin crust. End of story. No filled crust. No deep pan. And although I had wanted to try it out as we were in town, I’m afraid, definitely no pie. But that’s another reason to travel, to try new things. Sometimes, you’ll love it and others, maybe not. But we loved Al’s Italian Beef  and Portillo’s hot dogs!

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Architecture
Mrs Cortado and I are both architecture fans (though she is more of an academic architecture/design geek) and on this trip we had already seen quite a few grand houses, however one of the great things Chicago offers is the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s boat ride where you not only get an excellent audio, but you also get to see some incredible buildings from the water as you travel through on the river. And if you need a bit more architecture in your life, away from the centre on the University of Chicago campus, it’s also definitely worth visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s stunning Robie House.

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Other favourite things included:

Next stop
Already three weeks into our three-month trip, we had taken planes, automobiles and a Greyhound bus around the north-eastern side of the States and now, from the monumental grandeur of Union Station (which is also definitely worth a visit), we were going to take a 3-day train ride going west to Seattle…

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The End Of A Slow Spanish Summer

For previous posts on this trip, read 15 Ways To Love Alájar and A Slow Spanish Summer (Part 2).

 

After being on the road for 3 weeks at this point, our next destination was Madrid and as we were coming from Salamanca, on the way we visited the Valle de los Caídos where we thought we might need out passports such was the layout of the entrance and the area in general. As Franco’s burial place, this monument is inevitably controversial and there have been many blogs on the subject (including this excellent post by Caroline Angus Baker), but I wanted to see it for myself and regardless of its sinister history, the architecture was impressive and the interior was eerily fascinating. However, although I’d recommend visiting once, I couldn’t go again as there is something quite macabre about the place and I couldn’t escape the footsteps of the ghosts who had previously worked and died there.

 

Caidos

 

After this sombre but enlightening visit, we then headed to the capital for a few days. In my 20s, I thought Barcelona was by far the best city to live in Spain, almost as if it were the younger, bohemian sister with a bit of attitude, whereas then Madrid always seemed like the older and more conservative sister. With my 20s a distant memory, I find myself preferring Madrid and of course I no longer agree with my 20 year old self – now whether I’ve changed, Madrid has or both isn’t the point, the thing now is that Madrid has so much going on and we had such a wonderful time just wandering around bumping into interesting bars, parks, buildings and simply drinking in the summer city atmosphere. We stayed in a fantastic AirBnB near Plaza Santo Domingo which was a perfectly central location to wander around this amazing city for a few days.

Highlights included:

– the best tortilla I have ever had in Spain (I’m usually not remotely bothered by tortilla, but this really was something else) in Bar Ardosa Calle de Colón

 

– really good Korean food in Mashita (C/Bola 12,

 

 

– wandering around aimlessly
– recording my first ever outdoor podcast in Parque del Oeste ‘How To Get Lost And Love It’ for my other blog Away From The Noise

 

Cibeles (1)
Palacio de Cibeles (formerly HQ for the Post Office)
Churros Gines (2)
Churros con chocolate ant Cafe San Ginés – got to be done in Madrid!

 

Given their proximity, we also took the chance to visit a couple of other places. A short drive and in Ávila you have a very small and pretty old town surrounded by a magnificent wall surrounding it and very little else, but again like in all this part of Spain, the countryside is stunning. Toledo is one of those places which has been quite symbolic of the ‘real Spain’ for me, whatever that may be. Like Salamanca and Zaragoza, I think it’s just the sound of the names that sound incredibly Spanish. Toledo is a lovely, old town with beautiful architecture, impressive views and a very relaxed feel and the only place I know where you can a huge variety of swords and marzipan – though not in the same shop admittedly.

 

Outside Avila
Because you never have enough crucifixes… outside Ávila
And then we went to Valencia, one of my favourite places in Spain and again, one of the joys of being in a city like this is being able to just walk around and pass such magnificent buildings such as the Mercado Central. This time we had another AirBnB in the Plaça de Saint Jaume in the conveniently-located Carmen district. I’ve only been to Valencia a handful of times and yet each time I go, it seems to draw me in a little bit closer.
Having been to the Bioparc, the City of Arts and Sciences and other more well-known spots previously, this time we had a wander and found ourselves in the Ruzafa district which we loved with its multicultural mix of restaurants, bars, street art and people. Although the some of the bars here seemed just a bit too cool for school in some cases, especially as I left my hipster beard at home that day. Of course, it’s a city, but it isn’t too big and with its established music scene, its own beaches and the beautifully weird Baroque Gothic architecture of the González Martí National Museum of Ceramics and the Decorative Arts, Mrs Cortado and I will definitely be returning to Valencia in the future.

 

Valencia Post Office
What is it about Spanish cities and magnificent Post Office buildings? Incredible!
Valencia art house museum
González Martí National Museum of Ceramics and Decorative Arts
Street scene Valencia
Morning coffee in Barrio Carmen

We then headed south to a tiny village called Aigües where we were staying in a small hotel for the last few days of our trip. Again, it was a really good base to see other places such as the chilled and Ibiza-like Javea, the more family-friendly and more traditional beach resort El Campello and another place which I really like, Alicante. I’ve only been there a few times, but like Valencia, I get to like that little bit more each time. The people I met here were incredibly friendly and because it’s another small city, you can easily wander around getting a feel for the place and bump into places such as the rather wonderful El Refugio cafe and of course, you have a traditional promenade which is perfect to while away the hours with a cortado or two, if you’re into that kind of thing.

El Refugio Alicante

 

And then, after 6 weeks travelling around this magnificent country, we headed back to Granada on the Alsa Supra bus, which if you haven’t tried it, is rather good. Comfortable, not too expensive, wifi and often faster and more convenient than the train.

We didn’t get round to visiting areas in the north such as Asturias and Galicia, but after enjoying this trip so much, we will definitely be going in the future for  yet another perspective on this lovely country that I’m lucky enough to call home.

On the Road In Spain and the USA

For those of you who read this blog regularly, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted here in a while. The reason is that I left Granada in June to travel around the centre of Spain for a few weeks seeing beautiful places such as Caceres, Extremadura, Salamanca, Segovia, Madrid, Valencia and Alicante among others. I hope to post about this trip at some point.

IMG_6162
Playa de la Valmarrosa, Valencia in the morning. Not a bad place for a coffee…

However, Mrs Cortado and I enjoyed our summer travelling so much that we continued and last week started a 3-month trip around the United States. So far, we’ve been to Boston, Vermont, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard among other places and this week, we’re in New York.

 

We plan to continue across the country via the West Coast, the South and Cuba returning to Granada in December and I hope to publish occasional posts here about our American experience.

 

Pastrami bagel
Fantastic pastrami bagel in New York

 

You may also like to know that I have been continuing to publish a podcast and a written post every week on my other blog Away From The Noise encouraging confidence in people to live the lives they want to live.

 

Of course, I’m missing Granada, Andalucia and Spain, however Mrs Cortado and I are also really enjoying seeing a different world in the US.

 

Naturally, I’m also always in search of the best cortado I can find and although they make it differently in the US, without question the best so far is Everyman Espresso in East Village, New York.

Cortado
The best cortado in the USA so far…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next stop, Chicago!

A Moment In Global Granada

It’s a beautiful, crisp, sunny, spring day and  so I went for a walk and ended up popping into one of my favourite places in Granada, the Moroccan bar Om Kalsoum.

Within a few minutes, I was having a glass of Ribera and a chicken brewat (pastry) tapa with Dinah Washington ‘Mad About The Boy’ playing in the background. Or you could even say, a bit of North Africa, mixed in with a drop of Andalucia and Spain and a dash of American easy listening jazz.

I used to love this kind of international, multicultural mix when I lived in London and it’s wonderful to be able to enjoy it here in Granada too. Especially on a sunny day in January.

The Inspirational Power Of Plums

Having recently had some really nice plum jam, I was reminded of an interesting conversation I had a while ago with a friend who helped me to see the inspirational potential of plums. Yes, plums. And the more we spoke, I saw the potentially inspirational benefits of this humble fruit. Let me explain…

In the early part of the year, I often find it helpful having something to look forward to which reminds me of a time a couple of years ago when Mrs Cortado and I had arranged a weekend trip to Berlin. Mrs Cortado had introduced me to the rather enlightening concept of celebrating birthdays as opposed to just letting them pass by as quickly as possible with as little fuss as possible, but maybe that’s a subject for a future post.

As a result of having arranged this trip, I remember really looking forward to it. I’d never been before and there were lots of new things to see, feel, taste, hear and experience.  Out of curiosity at that time, I asked a few friends what they were looking forward to in the near future. Answers included a jazz festival, a trip to Wales, sunny weather, booking a holiday and going home after a hard day’s work.

Quite a mixed bunch of responses but it perhaps indicates that it’s not about a ‘big’ or ‘small’ event that you’re looking forward to but what you get from it. I sense that some people feel they don’t have anything to look forward to, but maybe it’s a matter of how you see it.

I remember one friend especially who follows the food seasons and as a result, after a plum-less few months, he was really looking forward to plum season and having a bite of the first ones.  Some people don’t like plums. He loves them. And that’s the perhaps slightly quirky, important thing.

From time to time, when things are perhaps not going so well, having something to look forward to, however seemingly big or small, can be incredibly motivating and help you through challenging times. Fortunately, living in such a beautiful country as Spain with so much to see, the choices are endless and with this in mind, we are in the process of organising a trip around Spain this summer to discover the wonders of places such as Caceres, Valencia, Salamanca and many more.

It doesn’t have to be a ‘big’ thing, it could be anything you like from a day trip to the seaside to setting a couple of hours aside to read that book you’ve been wanting to read for a while. The most important thing is that it is something that you are looking forward to for yourself.

So, what are you looking forward to? What is your plum season? And if you don’t feel there is anything to look forward to, at the moment what’s stopping you arranging something now?

Tschuss.

10 Things I’ve Noticed In Granada

However challenging things may sometimes get, wherever we live, there are always things that can make us smile if we take a moment to look around us. We’re all so busy at times that we tend not to, but it’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing as it has often inspired me and these are just a few things that I’ve noticed that have made me smile over the last few weeks and months wandering around Granada:

    • A man (a ham seller I would imagine/hope or perhaps a very slow ham thief)) trying to pack a full size jamon in between his legs to carry on his Vespa
    • At a recent flamenco concert by Vicente Amigo, I experienced flamenco Tourette’s for the first time. I’ve got used to people shouting ‘olé’ when they feel ‘duende’, however I had never heard what sounded like ‘agua’ before and certainly not seemingly every 30 seconds or so of the concert! Maybe the man sitting next to me was just really thirsty and was trying to catch the attention of one of the ushers…
Vicente Amigo
Vicente Amigo
    • A friend who has lived in the Albayzin for many years recently showed me around the area. Although I’ve been here more than a year now, I still hadn’t really explored it other than the usual tourist spots, so I was amazed to see the view from San Miguel Alto which was stunning. Lovely still being surprised by this city (You can see a panoramic image of Granada from San Miguel Alto in the header of this post)
    • A young girl in a red black spotted flamenco dress with a brolly up walking down the street and with her mother walking alongside holding up the bottom of her coat trying not to get her dress wet. I guess I’d never thought of flamenco dresses and rain together…
    • A red Fiat 500 parked in the reception area of a local photocopy shop. A creative solution to parking difficulties in Granada!
    • Snow on the mountains in the sunshine at the end of every street is still a beautiful thing no matter how many times I see it
    • The smell of incense walking past my local religious artefact shop takes me back to my childhood as an alter boy ringing the bell at Mass. I also like the very concept of a religious artefact shop where you can buy yourself a bit of religion if it takes your fancy, like a football memorabilia shop perhaps, though I imagine it would be difficult getting anything autographed…

Incense

    • Men of a certain age with (very) often jet black dyed hair bursting into flamenco song as they walk down the street (or maybe that’s just in the square outside my flat)
    • A man making screechy  bird sounds as he walks around Granada. At first I thought that he may be mute and that it may have been his sole form of communication, however I then heard him chatting about football with his mates when he wasn’t popping out of the bar for a quick ciggie and a bird-sound making break
    • A woman doing the sign of the cross as she leaves her apartment block to go to the cafe next door. Is the coffee not very good?

These are just a few things that have made me smile over the past few weeks while living in Granada. What have you noticed that makes you smile while getting around where you live?