Canada and USA 2016: Seattle part 2

The rest of our time in Seattle as a combination of enjoying relaxing in beautiful ballard and exploring downtown. Here are the highlights:

Ballard farmers market

Held on Sunday morning and pleasantly untouristed. We walked around in the rain (very glad of our ski jackets!) then stopped for food. Ben was very happy with his hot dog and I enjoyed my tamale which came with lots of colourful vegetables.

Locks and botanic garden

We walked about 20 minutes from the farmers market to the locks and got lucky that there were boats going through. It was so interesting to evesdrop on a tour guide on one if the boats talking about how the locks worked. We also wondered round the botanic gardens next door. They were very pretty and would be lovely for a non-rainy day.

image

image

Greenlake

I ran from our apartment to Greenlake on our first morning, and what a lovely run it was. The lake has a well maintained and well used path circling it and you can complete a nice flat 5k without too much trouble. It would also be nice for a walk.

image

Beneath the streets

This was a great tour of Seattle’s underground tunnels with a lively history of the city thrown in for good measure. Neither of us are tour people, we’re too easily bored and want to go out own way, which means this must have been excellent as the hour flew by! At only $10 each (including fees) bought through groupon this was a steal. I would have been happy to pay full price for the quality of the tour.

The cheesecake factory

Had to be done. I’ve never experienced anything in the uk that compares to the breath and quality of food here combined with great service. I’d only been once before, a few years ago on Chicago and we got so full on the massive appetisers so I was keen to revisit it with Ben! I ordered the chicken lettuce wraps which were fresh and tasty, Ben ordered the mac and cheese burger which was probably awful healthwise but so tasty! The mac and cheese was deep fried and sandwiched in top of the burger patty. Yum! We also had a slice of cookie dough cheesecake. I’m glad I’ve finally tried it but never feel the need to try it again – so rich and sickly but addictive which led to slight nausea.

image

image

image

University of Washington

We spent an afternoon wandering around here which was lovely. Its all gothic style buildings and cherry blossom. Definitely with a visit. We also visited a nearby cafe that only sold biscuits (I can’t remember the name but it will for sure come up if you Google it) which was tasty. Also a weird experience for Ben and I as we were really obviously surrounded by students and it’s been a long time since guys stage if our lives!

image

image

image

And then we were finished in Seattle 😦

We took the bus then the light rail to the airport. Having not had much luck with Seattle public transport we left an hour and a half more than we needed to get to the airport. Happily it wasn’t needed and everything went smoothly. A mention here to Alaska air who flew us to our next destination of Las Vegas. The flight went really smoothly and the customer service was great. They even included a free soft drink. Very pleased!

Advertisements

Canada and USA 2016: Seattle part 1

Having arrived in Seattle on time at 11am with Amtrak our lovely Airbnb host picked us up at King Street station, drove our suitcases home for us and dropped us off at Pike Place market. The market is really cool with lots of places to eat and stalls selling unique art, jewellery and a lot of fresh fish in between. I saw so many things I wanted to buy but our already very full and heavy suitcases (perhaps fortunately given we want to buy a house) put a stop to that. We didn’t last long as it was Saturday and therefore so busy we could barely move but it was definitely worth a visit.

We stopped for lunch at the Crumpet shop where I had the egg with smoked salmon cream cheese and Ben got marmite and cheese. If you’re British this place probably won’t blow your mind unless you’ve been an expat for a while in which case it might – the crumpets are a perfect replica of the normal (not the basics or finest) ones in sainsbury or tesco. If you’ve never had a crumpet before then this is a perfect place to try one for that reason. They also do sweet options with almond butter, ricotta, marmalade and various other toppings which I would have liked to try but was too full!

image

image

Having finished there we walked up to the Space Needle. At this point I’ll discuss transport options. We loved Seattle but the public transport was not great and struck me as expensive for what you get – a bus journey is minimum $2.50 and you have to pay again if you transfer to the metro or monorail. A day pass is $8. We paid $5 for the stored value Orca card thinking it would be better value. We quickly found out that it isn’t! The fares are the same as cash and the advantage of bit having to have exact change was quickly lost when we realised there is a $5 minimum top up, you have to go to a safeway or metro station (neither of which are easily find) to top up or you have to wait 24-48 hours for credit to be added if you buy online. Coverage isn’t great and services aren’t frequent. For that reason we walked most of the time in downtown. This might not work for you as it’s pretty spread out (the space needle is a mile or so from Pike Place) in which case Uber seems pretty easy and inexpensive option especially as there is free wifi or a starbucks you can lurk by almost everywhere block.

Anyway, back to the space needle. Being Saturday it was very busy so we decided not to go up but admired it from below.

image

Right next to it is the Seattle centre which houses several museums, gardens and an epic fountain. Its a nice place to spend an afternoon and we enjoyed watching the fountain in action.

image

That done we headed to the EPM museum which was highly recommended by a friend. It was great! The focus is pop culture and there are areas for fantasy, horror, indie games, the band nirvana and several others. We spent the afternoon there with a starbucks break in the middle and neither of us got bored which is a huge achievement as we both struggle to pay attention to this kind of thing. The entry price is a little steep at $25 or around £18 buy I get the impression this is about standard for museums out here. It also included a conveniently located coat check right by the cash desk which was awesome.

image

image

image

After that it was time to head back into town to catch a live soccer match which I’ll talk about in a separate post as it was quite a different experience to one in the UK.

Canada and USA 2016: Vancouver

We had two days in Vancouver between skiing in Whistler and taking the train on to Seattle. We booked Urban Hideaway guesthouse through hostelbookers on a whim because hotels were pretty expensive and I fancied a couple if nights somewhere with a bit of personality. It was a great decision, Patrick (the owner) listened to what we’re into and gave us recommendations on what to do without being overly intrusive. He really helped us make the best of our time.

Day one: cycling Stanley park

On Patrick’s advice we walked down Robson to Denman street and picked up a couple of bikes. You’re spoiled for choice when you get there, it’s just a case of scoping out the best rates. Don’t do what we did and forget your credit card – most places want you to leave it as a guarantee so we were limited to the place that would take our driving licenses instead. The bikes seemed a similar standard in all the shops and we paid $5/hour per person capped at $20/day. The cheapest we saw was $3.75/day and $15 cap which we couldn’t take advantage of because of the credit card situation. The bikes…… weren’t great. 3 gears on mine, 8 on Ben’s and zero suspension. Fine for a couple if hours round the park, bone shaking on anything gravelly and a nightmare up hills. They’re fine for the park though so don’t let that put you off.

We spent the next couple of hours cycling. We started off riding the perimeter of Stanley park enjoying the scenery. Expect slow cyclists on the path but don’t worry, going fast would be a total waste of the scenery.

image

On Patrick’s advice we took a left off the sea wall onto Tatlow walk which took us through the forest. Due to the aforementioned limitations of the bikes this involved pushing them up a steep gravelly hill at first, however we were rewarded with a nice downhill and complete tranquility among the trees. With noone else around we could fully appreciate the beauty of the forest and the quirks of individual trees.

image

image

image

We finished our route by cycling all the way up round False Creek then back to the rental shop. It was a great way to get a feel for the city and the cycle lane was unbroken the whole way. Amazing coming from the traumas I’d cycling in London!

We ended by walking up to English bay to watch the sunset which was pretty spectacular.

image

Day 2: hiking Lynn canyon

After filling up in the make your own breakfast at the guesthouse we again took Patrick’s advice and took the sea bus from waterfront station just a couple if blocks away to North Vancouver. The sea bus itself was a cool thing to do, giving a great view if the city. On the other side we took a quick look around the food market by the port and picked up baked goods to eat for lunch on our hike. We then hopped on the 229 bus which took us almost all the way to the canyon (we could have taken the 228 the whole way but got impatient) and walked the last 15 minutes to the visitor centre. The canyon itself is a huge network of trails that take you around rivers and lakes with spectacular views. As we were meeting my friend for coffee mid afternoon we only had time for the relatively short (about 4km) trail to Rice Lake. It was definitely worth while, we hardly saw anyone and the surface of the lake was totally still. A lovely way to spend a couple of hours.

image

image

After that we headed to the Vancouver branch of Purebread for the aforementioned coffee then headed back to pack ahead of our early wake up for the train to Seattle the next morning.

Celeidh time

I spent this evening at a Celeidh with my colleagues, it was ace! In case you don’t know, a Celeidh is essentially a barn dance where a live band play folk songs, a leader in stage instructs the dancers on what to do then you just go for it. Hilarity ensues as everyone inevitably crashes into each other. People also get incredibly sweaty, it’s not for you if you dislike interacting with the sweat of randoms!

image

The best thing about it though was hanging out with my colleagues. They really are the best, and it was nice to see them let that hair down somewhere other than the pub.

So today, I salute the excellent people I’ve had the privilege to work with over the last 6 years. You are the best.

What does success mean to me?

I was recently diagnosed with an annoying eye condition called blepharitis which causes dry eyes and is treated by lying back with a hot compress on your eyes for 10 minutes a day. I have been persistently ignoring this advice for the last month since I saw the optician but with more and more dryness I finally caved and bought myself what I’ll term the “blepharitis survival kit”. Tonight was my first session of lying flat with the hot compress and I decided to pass the time by listening to a ted talk from Alan de Botton on what it means to be successful.

He made many good points in the (I think he’s awesome) but the one that really jumped out was the importance of finding a vision of success that is yours, not your parents, societies or something you’ve been otherwise conditioned to believe. This got me thinking that many of the things that have driven me in life to this point – financial security, doing well in school, working late and being a loyal and trustworthy employee, never saying no to a work request no matter how annoying and so on – are things my parents instilled in me from a very young age, but are they really what I hold dear? Undoutedly they have served me well and got me to a place where I’m reasonably secure financial and able to do many things I want with my spare time, but are they really what will make me happy in the long term?

I think the answer is in fact no. They’re important in terms of giving me and my future family a comfortable life but they in themselves aren’t the reason for being. I don’t want to work late out of loyalty to my employer, yes that is important but I want the overriding motivation to be a happy future with ben and my friends and family. I want my life to be about finding the joy in every moment, the good in other people and helping them to see it in each other.

Best places to run abroad (and a couple not to)

I like to fit in a run whenever I’m in a new city. Its a great way to see the place and to enjoy a bit of time alone. Yes, people may think I’m nuts but I love it so here is a summary of the places of tried, which ones were great and which ones made me wish I hadn’t bothered to walk out the door in the first place

Great

Buenos Aires: I was intimated by the city at first but the roads are quiet and temperature manageable in the early morning, lots of people run and the nature reserve (the Costanera Del Sud I think) is perfect with miles of trails close to the centre of town

Chilean patagonia: beautiful towns with well maintained and marked lakeside paths. My favorite running in South America.

Stockholm: lovely big parks and weather was perfect
Helsinki: nice temperature, lots of lakes and a long river path to run along

New York: Central Park is iconic and there are loads of places to refuel afterwards. There are a lot of other runners so you don’t feel weird

The hotel gym: no brainer

Portugal: along the algarve in spring. It’s hilly and rugged but beautiful

Bath: great scenery and a good path along the canal

Reykjavik: ran with my friend Dave and the scenery was incredible. Cold too, nice and bracing before breakfast

Derby: you can run for miles along the canal, it’s lovely

Not

Swiss alps: ridiculously step, I made it about 500m. It was fun running downhill though and the view is amazing.

Budapest: soooo hot. Like 40 degrees hot. Also, everyone stays out really late so when I headed out at 7am I saw plenty of people out at clubs or having an end of night kebab.

Cusco: The altitude is a killer and I didn’t see anyone else running which put me off. Also, narrow streets and hoards of tourists don’t make it easy.

Sucre: There were actually several locals running here but again, the altitude got me.

La Paz: unexpectedly, I found a large park with lots of runners but wasn’t in running gear and found the hills at 5,000m altitude difficult even when walking.

Venice: this may be worst place I’ve ever run.  Loads of tourists even at 6am and I got totally lost on the windy streets which don’t seem to conform to any maps of the city.

Palau Tioman, Malaysia: so hot I got a migraine on finishing, and people looked at me strangely

Koh Tao: pretty but the heat got me again

Nicaragua: I tried a few times while there as I was bored but it was just so hot. I considered it a good day when I made it 2 miles. Pure in Granada has a few treadmills and is quite shady – I did 5k there a couple of times but stopped as I got nauseous afterwards.

Costa Rica: this was actually ok with a slightly more manageable temperature than nicaragua and more shade but the drivers were crazy

Fine

Oslo: not much to see but clear paths and decent sized parks

Copenhagen: we were staying out in the sticks so a bit boring but totally doable with plenty of routes and nice weather

Singapore: hot but lots of people out running and the temperature is manageable at dusk. Pretty good running in the botanical garden and by the river too. Just try not to fall over and gash your knee like I managed.

Valencia: hot but lots of locals out running and an old river bed come park in the centre of the city where I managed 13 miles without trauma

Bocas del Toro, Panama: got up early and made it 8k here, I enjoyed the long road around the island and relatively little traffic.

And the places I didn’t even try

Panama (too hot and the pavement was horrendous/non-existent)
Toronto (too tired and cycling was more interesting)

Healthy snacks

I sometimes struggle to come up with healthy snack and resort to the biscuit jar. If you’re anything like me, here are a few ideas to keep your snacking fresh which are easy to keep in the work fridge or your desk drawer:

Rye bread with peanut butter and optional yoghurt

This is leftover from my marathon days when I would always, without fail, have  piece of rye bread toast with peanut butter and dried cranberries the night before a long run. You toast the rye bread, spread on peanut butter then you can mix in some natural yoghurt if you’re feeling adventurous. It sounds strange but gives it a nice, creamy texture. I also sometimes put dried or fresh fruit on top to add a little something sweet.

Chopped fruit with nakd bits and nuts

Simple! Slice up some fruit, I like apple, pair or figs, then add in a few nakd bits (they’re like the bars but tiny versions that come in a small bag) and some nuts. I like to put in salted nuts, I know its bad but it tastes so good!

Raw cheesecake

I’ve been taking in this recipe to work all week: http://poppycross.co.uk/recipes/raw-salted-caramel-cheesecake-from-raw-cured/, and planning to take my own blueberry vanilla mousse (recipe to come) next week.

Healthy snack bars

Nakd bars, trek bars and so on. Easy and reasonably healthy although I try not to go crazy as they give me a massive sugar rush.

Welsh cakes

Ok, not technically healthy but I love them! They’re made with butter and sugar but are less sweet than a cake and I find them very satisfying. I like them best toasted with some peanut butter. Its definitely not traditional but it is delicious.

Bagels

A half or whole bagel (depending on whether I’ve run) with cream cheese, peanut butter, hummus, avocado or a mix of the above never fails to satisfy.