The Pacific Northwest is a region of North America that very much has its own thing going on. By this point, you’re far enough north that the mentality has shifted to a colder temperament. Less relaxed, more polite – a lot more like British people.

Portland

My approach to arriving in Portland was a novel one: go directly to a bar as soon as I arrive in the city around 7pm, turn up to the Couchsurfing event there and see what happens. After quite a while talking to people, it seemed that no one would host me, so I ended up booking a hostel, only to be offered two places to stay immediately afterwards. I ended up regretting it because I didn’t enjoy the vibe at the Hostelling International place I stayed at. Apart from expensive, it seemed very clinical and straight-laced (quiet time starts at 10pm?!). Apparently there isn’t much of a hostel culture in this part of the US. Lesson of the day: patience.

The politeness in Portland is legendary, and it really lived up to its reputation. Cars would stop in their tracks to let me cross pretty much anywhere. At the bar, people kept asking me if I was waiting to order, despite standing a solid metre away from the bar and having a full drink in my hand. It was amusing.

Speaking of drinks, that’s another thing Portland is famous for – microbreweries. I took a brewery biking tour and indulged in plenty of ales, with some beautiful riding around the city in between. Mostly flat ground, beautiful weather, great company.

Portland Bridgeport

Bridgeport, the oldest brewery in Portland…established in 1984. Sounds funny to a European.

The Old Knucklehead at Bridgeport and the Ruby at McMenamins were incredible, as was this peek into the Chinese Gardens:

Portland Chinese Garden

Portland is very much a foodies city, and I have to say I did not investigate enough. Salt & Straw had a huge queue when I went by, so I never tried their fabled ice-creams. I did go to the famous Voodoo Donut, but in retrospect, this is mostly hype and average donuts – I would have done better at Blue Star. I only stayed in Portland two nights, so it was really just one full day. Good vibe, nice small city, cool people. I’ll do better next time.

Portland Bridge

Seattle

My first stop in the Seattle area was actually Redmond, where my extremely talented friend Erini got me the best seat in the house next to the sound desk at Kurios, the Cirque du Soleil show she has been singing in for the last three years. I arrived just in time to meet her at the gate and say hi after at least three years since I last saw her. The show was, of course, full of fantastic music and acrobatics, capped with a backstage visit afterwards. Erini was also kind enough to let me crash at hers, and it seemed like no time had passed since we last saw each other several years ago – she is still the same sunny and thoughtful person.

The next day, it was time to reconnect with James, who I met on a night out in Budapest. I stayed with James for four nights, and although the weather didn’t give the best showing of Seattle possible (he did warn me to come in summer, not March), he certainly gave it his best shot. A night out around some of the best bars in town. A ferry ride over to Hood Canal where we hang out with his friends (including Tyler and Jason, who I’d also met in Budapest, earning me the nickname “Joe Buda”). A ride around the city and a very worthwhile visit to the famous Pike Place market.

Seattle Statue

We also saw this guy…one of the coolest statues I’ve ever seen

Of my whole US trip, I had some of the best food in Seattle: the seafood bisque at Pike Place Chowder, the outrageous sweet potato tacos at La Taquería, the fresh clams James’ friends picked and cooked on the fire…all heavenly.

I am grateful for having such good people in my life. My friends made my Seattle experience.

Vancouver

Having driven around a good chunk of Vancouver for a day, I can say one thing for sure – it’s gorgeous. Wide expanses of coastline and parks like Stanley Park or Kitsilano Park, plus greenery and tennis courts surrounded by cherry blossom trees. It was raining almost the entire time I was there and I had a lot of work to do

A combination of the almost incessant rain and an accumulation of work meant I didn’t end up going out much after that first day’s drive, nor did I really see downtown, but I understand the appeal. It’s also a place with a high quality of life, lots of vegetarian restaurants, a beautiful university campus…it has that upper-middle-class idyllic thing going on, without surrendering to mind-numbing suburbia.

Vancouver Stanley Park

The glorious Stanley Park

Once again, my Couchsurfing experiences here were great. Samasati was a very gentle and mindful soul with whom I had rapturous, absorbing, “let’s sit on the floor and talk for two hours” conversations. Iain was an extremely affable guy living in a student house, where we all hung out, drank beer and played Smash Bros, simultaneously making me feel excellent, nostalgic and old. Both lived in the highly desirable Kitsilano area. A third host, David, I never stayed with, but he invited me to go up to Whistler, the famous resort a couple of hours from Vancouver. We had an amazing buffet breakfast at the Fairmont Chateau and then he forsook his beloved skiing in favour of getting us an amazing deal for ziplining thanks to his friend there. Again, Couchsurfing came through beautifully.

Vancouver Whistler

Close to Whistler: Majestic nearby mountain vs. Burger King sign

Both then time and now, I feel that I didn’t get as much out of the Pacific Northwest as I would have liked – I rushed through Portland, and despite being with great people in Seattle and Vancouver, arriving as winter was passing meant I didn’t see them in their full glory. In my own mind too, I was often too concerned with the work I had to do to fully connect with the things and people around me. This is an important thing to remember…you really do get back what you put in, and if you’re not open to whatever happens, it’s difficult to appreciate anything. Going around from place to place with a load on your mind and expecting something outside to remove it just doesn’t work.

I remember once meeting a man who said he had been travelling for 51 months he was still looking for his paradise. It strikes me that if you haven’t found your paradise after 51 months of looking, perhaps you’re looking in the wrong place.

Heaven and hell are not places out there. They are in your mind.” – Lama Ole Nydahl