Seattle, Portland & Big Sky

Seattle

Can you be fooled by a photo? Of course you can.

Naomi and I were a number of times, by the photos presented online on Airbnb profiles regarding different apartments, condos and houses for rent in a variety of locations. The suite in our Saskatoon Airbnb was larger than we imagined it would be from the photo; Victoria’s was a bit smaller while Seattle’s was much tinier than the impression the photo gave.

It’s a nasty surprise to show up expecting a large living room only to find a cramped space with unattractive furniture.

On Salt Spring Island, the house we rented was very large; the photos didn’t properly convey all the space available.

But enough of Airbnb’s; all you really do there is sleep and occasionally eat (and hopefully not get freaked out by unexpected unpleasantries).

Regarding Seattle, its residential streets were a pleasant surprise. We never expected to see such lush and carefully maintained gardens in front of sometimes average looking houses. We noticed grounds lovingly and sophisticatedly designed, with a wide variety of plants and flowers; everything looked new and fresh. Gardens often spilled out onto the sidewalk, literally, right in your face. City ordinances require householders to plant a tree in the thin grassy space between sidewalk and street; there were not only interesting, attention-grabbing trees in these places but also many vegetable gardens with tomatoes and other vegetables. A wide array of flowers and shrubs were there to enjoy but it’s true that at times there was nothing to see at all, just grass in front of a very plain-looking, garden-less house.

streets-of-seattle
This is a screen save of Google Maps, East Aloha Street, typical of certain neighbourhoods of Seattle. You can see why walking around is a pleasure…

We enjoyed lunch with my niece in a small neighbourhood restaurant and which reminded me of when I lived in San Francisco during the winter of 1985 and used to camp out in a café in the Height Ashbury area. It had a similar vibe – smart, well-to-do, progressive, artistic.

We were told not to expect as many funky neighbourhoods as in Portland, our next stop, when it came to strolling past boutiques, restos and cafes, and this became clear on our second day there when Naomi and I made our way to the neighbourhood of Fremont. I was disappointed.

The city, however, will be remembered for the gardens and the Seattle Asian Museum we visited. People we passed on the sidewalk, complete strangers, often smiled and said, “Hi.”

You don’t see that too often.

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Hey, you aren’t going anywhere!

Portland

A constant theme while we were in Portland, Oregon, where my other niece has been living a couple of years, is that it’s become too popular for its own good. Well-to-do people from San Francisco and elsewhere are coming up and buying properties left and right, raising property values and making it hard for locals to reasonably find affordable housing.

Welcome to the club.

There’s also the tyranny of the hipsters. My niece is an active person who enjoys hiking, cross-country skiing and cycling. She mentioned that wearing a helmet while cycling would not only be frowned upon by the in-crowd, but that the condemnation would be much more intense that anyone could bear.

So much for a laid-back place.

The reputation for great strolling was right on. Portland has some impressive neighbourhoods with many funky boutiques selling locally-made handcrafted goods and clothing as well as rarer-type stores selling marijuana and women’s sex toys. My niece also pointed out many interesting-looking restos.

As a lively urban destination, Portland stands out.

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The Japanese Garden in Portland is considered by the Japanese to be the best outside of Japan…

Going Home

There’s a stretch not too far from Portland where the barren hills are dotted with hundreds, no, make that thousands, of windmills on both sides of the Columbia River. Googling brings up the fact that much of the electricity generated is not even needed, as there are many dams on the river generating enough energy.

Anyway, it’s a contentious policy.

Impressions of Montana

Is Montana the most beautiful state in the United States? That thought certainly entered my mind as we drove through from one end of the state to the other. From our car window, we could see bare hills on one side and tree-covered hills on the other, while in the distance we saw freshly-fallen snow on distant mountains – on September 5th!

Those distant mountains seem to always remain in the distance, a cool illusion – high plateau ringed by distant mountains. One of Montana’s nicknames is “Big Sky Country” and you can see why this is so. The Prairies have a “big sky”, of course, but there’s nothing to contrast it with, just flat land. Montana’s sky is crowned by the distant mountains making it seem “bigger.”

We also came across some of the straightest roads we’ll ever see on our trip home. Whether it was in North Dakota or Montana, you could go unending miles without a single little bend in the highway.

My imagination had me living in Montana until we noticed billboards of grizzly bears in cages and spied a man walking around with a gun while we were stopping in a small town for gas. Also, there are the ubiquitous Christian and Country radio stations. Tiring.

Still. I saw an eagle flying over the highway. There were breathtaking views of rolling hills, treeless and golden, with snow-peaked mountains in the distance. There were giant herds of cattle scattered over a giant land.

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I’d be open to returning to Montana for the hiking, combining it with a trip to Wyoming and southern Alberta.

More on the trip home later…

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