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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And then we headed for New York City.
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.
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.
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…
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.
Other things we loved seeing and doing included:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Other favourite things included:
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…
After our 6-week trip around Spain (read The End Of A Slow Spanish Summer) in 2015, Mrs Cortado and I took an extended trip around the USA via Cuba and the Bahamas. We went for 3 months and although that may seem like a long time, when you’re exploring a country the size of the USA, it’s not very much time at all.
One year ago today (3 September), we flew to Boston to begin our adventure. I can’t believe it’s taken me a year to write this series of posts, but it feels like the rime is right and it has also been great fun reliving the experience and sharing the (often differing) memories with Mrs Cortado.
So, executive decisions were made (often over cocktails) throughout the trip about where to go, how long to stay and what to see until we had a plan which was incredibly exciting. We’d only ever been to New York together before, so we were looking forward to seeing what the rest of this fascinating country was all about.
The first few days of this kind of trip were always going to be strange as we adjusted to being on this adventure. We were staying for a few days in the wonderful Ames Hotel, the city’s first skyscraper, to get the ball rolling and the hotel’s central location was ideal as Boston is such a walkable city.
Labour Day was coming up soon and so there was a lot going on while we were there including a fantastic breakdancing display by some local guys outside Faneuil Hall, a beautiful 18th century building next to which you will also find Quincey Market, one of the better known places for food stalls in the city. Given the holiday atmosphere, there was also a fantastic fireworks display across Boston Harbour.
In addition to San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, Boston was one of the iconic cities I had always wanted to visit and one of the reasons was the TV show ‘Cheers’ which I had grown up with. Yes, of course, it’s a tourist trap, but one of the things that Mrs Cortado and I had decided was that we were going to embrace our status as tourists and do the things we had always wanted to do and see.
Walking through this city on a crisp, sunny morning was a lovely thing to do. We enjoyed wandering through the old streets of the Beacon Hill district with its antique shops and brunch opportunities, such as at the incredibly popular Paramount restaurant where we had our first blueberry pancakes of the trip. We always knew that food was going to be an important part of this adventure!
We went to the Bull & Finch, the bar on which ‘Cheers’ had been based and had some ‘world-famous’ Boston clam chowder surrounded by memorabilia. Little did we know that we were going to see a lot of ‘world-famous’ clam chowder and Boston baked beans in bars and restaurants all over the city.
One morning we walked through the Back Bay area where hoards of students were moving into Boston University accommodation. Reminiscent of an autumn scene in New York’s Greenwich Village, we soon found ourselves on lovely Tremont St with its independent shops and cafes and lovely old buildings. The next day we headed over to Little Italy which was absolutely rammed with Labour Day weekend crowds and unfortunately had some dreadful service at a restaurant there, but that’s going to happen from time to time I suppose. However we then got to visit the Paul Revere House round the corner on North Street which more than made up for it.
Harvard University and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) are both based in Cambridge just over the bridge from Boston, so we thought we’d take a walk over to see what it was like. Although we’d never been there before, it was strangely familiar being in Cambridge and especially around the university area as the buildings are so similar to their English counterparts.
We stopped en route for a coffee and found the only place in a city which didn’t offer wi-fi and not because they didn’t have it, but because it was their policy to encourage a more social environment for their customers. It was the first of a few places like this that we would see. For example, in San Francisco a few weeks later, we would come across a coffee house which did not sell espresso, cappuccinos and the ‘usual’ coffee fare, but only ‘pour over’ coffee. It was like the trendier coffee places were going ‘old-school’ by going back to filters.
Boston is a small city with incredibly friendly people and lots to experience and although it may not have been the big city experience that we were expecting, it was an excellent first stop on our trip.
Vermont & New Hampshire
After hiring the first of many cars, we stopped off for petrol, coffee and doughnuts (there seems to be little else on offer for breakfast when you’re on the road) at a station and had our first amusing experience where we were divided by a common language. At the shop there, I asked for coffee with hot milk on the side, but the waitress didn’t seem to understand me. I’m from the south of England between London and Oxford, so have quite a neutral accent, but it wasn’t until I had repeated myself three times and the girl’s supervisor translated ‘hOt’ to ‘hAHt’ that we were served! The joys of travel…
One of the reasons we chose to start the trip on the East Coast was so that we could drive through the gorgeous autumn countryside in Vermont and New Hampshire. Sometimes, visiting places you have only previously seen in TV or films or read about in books really can surpass your expectations.
As well as what must have been a gazillion trees that we saw, we stopped off at Polly’s Pancake Parlor (Sugar Hill, NH) for some of their inevitably world-famous maple syrup and visited the Brick Store, the oldest General Store in the USA in Bath, NH situated next to a lovely covered wooden bridge from 1832.
We passed through Woodstock, VT which was a very pretty village, though not the location of the (in)famous hippy festival. And of course as we were driving though the miles and miles of beautiful scenery brimming with trees, nature and old white churches, we had to listen to a local AOR Rock FM radio station which played bands like the Eagles, Journey and REO Speedwagon making the driving more fun as we would inevitably sing along.
Our next stop was a tiny village called Saxton’s River where we had found an AirBnB for the night. Although we had booked some hotels on the trip, we were also looking forward to a more personal experience and this place in Saxton’s River was a perfect example of how well that can work.
Susie and Jack are retired local schoolteachers who rent out a lovely apartment next to their house where they have lived since 1968 though the house itself was built in the 1830s. Jack smiled when I asked him for a key to the apartment saying that keys were not necessary (I guess we were not in the big city any more). Being in Saxton’s River was like one big film moment in that we were in this pretty village surrounded by nature while having dinner that evening on the front porch at the delightfully traditional Saxton’s River Inn on Main Street.
“People come here for a holiday and are cured of something they didn’t know they had with a hug, listening and conversation” Susie & Jack
After a 4-hour drive, our next stop was Cape Cod, MA. As luck would have it, given the end of the holiday weekend, thousands of cars were in queues leaving, so we just waltzed in on an almost empty road which was fun as well as a relief. En route, we had lunch in Falmouth, a cute little place, reminiscent of Twickenham Green in London, although with a couple on the porch of their white wooden house with accompanying stars and stripes, you knew you were in the USA.
One of the biggest surprises of the trip for me was Provincetown, so much so that I’m currently writing a separate post about this place I love. One reason I liked it so much is because we met up with some New York-based friends who we hadn’t seen in a long time. It was so easy seeing them again, as if we had just seen them the day before. It was a nice reminder that although places are important, the most important and most enjoyable factor is the people that we meet on the road. Provincetown is a charming place by the sea and a mecca for artists and gay people, especially in the summer with beaches, bars and shops proudly displaying rainbow flags.
A girl from a bar in Cambridge, MA had recommended trying brussels sprouts in Provincetown , so we thought we’d give it a go. World-famous lobster rolls in a toasted brioche were also on the menu, so we headed to The Canteen to see what all the fuss was about. And what do you know?! If you chargrill brussels sprouts, add fish sauce, chillis and garlic, you get a fantastic dish. Really. Brussels sprouts. Who’d have thought?
We stayed at the lovely Revere House just a stone’s throw from the beach. Provincetown is relaxed with culture, good food, sea, sunshine, clapboard architecture, fiercely independent local businesses and an attractive quirkiness. Without doubt, one of my most favourite places on the entire 3-month trip.
Then we took our time driving down through Cape Cod passing by the lighthouses and beaches in order to get the ferry from Wood’s Hole to Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard.
On arrival, we drove to the other side of the island to Aquinnah restaurant and Native American cultural centre and also visited the famous Gay Head lighthouse point. On the way we passed the wonderfully named Lobsterville Rd.
If you’re familiar with Cornwall in England, then that gives you an idea of what Martha’s Vineyard is like. Edgartown and Vineyard Haven are pretty, chocolate-box-type villages with an abundance of old-world American charm. We even saw a skunk which is a big deal for a townie like myself.
Mrs Cortado and I shared a lovely moment listening to the Grease soundtrack, one of my American reference points growing up, while we were surrounded by clapboard houses, big cars and American-ness after having just been to the Edgartown Diner on Main Street.
Everybody we had encountered so far had been incredibly polite, helpful and delightfully chatty. A bit strange for someone who has lived in London for 20 years where that really doesn’t happen very often.
The end of our first week in the USA had been incredible and catching the sunset on Herring Cove beach, one of so many beautiful, unspoiled beaches on Martha’s Vineyard, was the perfect way to end this part of the trip.
We got the ferry to the mainland to head back down the East Coast towards New York.
On finishing this post, I realised that I have only covered the first week of our 3-month trip. I’d only planned a series of 6 posts, so let’s see how that works out.
Part 2 in this series coming soon…