Bruce Stainsby's Blog: Muttering from the mo

Vancouver, the city of neighbourhoods.

November 25th, 2015


It’s only about two and a half hours from Seattle to Vancouver in Canada but we took a much longer route, via Highway 20, to the Mount Baker area.

The terrain was a complete change to what we had recently driven through in California. We were now on the edge of the Rockies and high pine covered escarpments dwarfed the valley roads. Except where there had been logging and their bald brown patches stood out against the verdant green.

In the valleys the greens were varied, a result of the huge variety of different trees.

We stopped for coffee in Concrete. This is not a typo but a small town surrounded by mountains, just off the Highway 20. Everyone there seemed to be passing through and asking directions to somewhere else.

We were no different.

After Concrete we crossed the border into Canada and the sun appeared.

We were back to kilometres, litres and a currency that was near parity with ours and also, like ours, made of plastic. The Canadian Dollar was just a few cents higher, which would certainly help the budget.

Vancouver was developed as a railhead of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. These days it’s the port that has prominence along with logging and film production.

Vancouver is sometimes referred to as ‘Hollywood North’.

We stayed in Mount Pleasant, south east of the city centre. Once a working class area it has now been gentrified. It’s Brunswick in the Pacific Northwest, with hipsters, organic restaurants, barber shops and everything arts and crafts.

The food was simple, imaginative and tasty and everyone ate with a knife in their right hand and a fork in their left.

We had been on the road for a month and felt that Vancouver and in particular Mount Pleasant was a good place to stop for a few days.

This however didn’t stop us from sightseeing.

We caught the Hop-on-Hop-off bus to Canada Place in downtown Vancouver. Our transport was an old converted trolly bus and the commentary was by a wisecracking local with a wonderfully sarcastic approach.

Vancouver has been voted as ‘The World’s Second Most Livable City’. Our driver was rather pissed off about that, especially when we told him we came from Melbourne, The World’s Most Livable City’.

We took the Green route to Stanley Park, 1,001 acres of what Vancouver used to look like in 1886, when it became Vancouver’s first official park. It isn’t a landscaped park, like most, but rather an evolution of the original terrain, with forests and open areas all set against the backdrop of Vancouver Harbor and English Bay.

Before there was Vancouver there was Gastown, a wild west settlement of hunters and lumberjacks. On July 1, 1867 ‘Gassy’ Jack Dayton got the locals to build his pub in 24 hours.

As our driver said there must have been a real incentive there.

The next day we jumped on the Hop-on-Hop-off bus again and did the City Route.

Our first stop was China Town.

The Chinese have had a huge influence on the demographics of Vancouver, especially during the building of the Trans Canadian Railway, where three Chinese laborers were killed for every mile of track laid.

Within China Town there’s the Dr Sun Yat-sen Park and the Classical Chinese Garden. Completed in 1986, the gardens were built with the help of many Chinese artisans who were brought from China to work specifically on the project.

The water in the ponds were made to be deliberately murky so as to enhance the reflections.

Next was Granville Island a strange place that has a freeway flyover going right over the top of the island. The main attraction was the farmers market, selling fruit, veg, meat and fish.

The quality of the products looked excellent.

Other highlights were the Marine Building, designed by McCarter and Nairne and completed in 1930. This is a very handsome office building in the Art Deco style with a beautifully detailed foyer.

Another classic Art Deco building was the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Waterfront Station.

The design of the Vancouver Public Library is based on the Colosseum in Rome, with an installation making an obscure reference to the expression “A picture is worth a thousand words”

We left the bus in the city and walked back to our hotel. On the trip we came across BC Place, a large stadium that’s home to the BC Lions, a Canadian Football League club and the Vancouver Whitecaps, a Major League Soccer club. It was also the stage for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The ethnic mix of Vancouver is interesting with 52% of residents not having English as their first language. Almost 30% are Chinese who originally came here as as laborers on the railroad, then the gold rush and finally when Hong Kong reverted to the Communists. There are also Italians, Greeks, English, Japanese and Indian groups within the mix.

We found Vancouver to be one of the most culturally diverse places we had visited.

From our motel room we could see a rather elegant Art Deco building on a hill, not far away.

On further investigation it turned out to be the Vancouver City Hall designed by Townley and Matheson and built in 1935-36.

It’s now far removed from the current downtown area of Vancouver, a result of the city spreading towards the waterfront.

We left Mount Pleasant on our last night and walked into Gastown for dinner. This involved trying to avoid Crazytown – the poorest area in Vancouver and all of Canada.

The street people go there because the temperatures only reach 0°C in winter. In the rest of Canada they go far lower.

Vancouver is yet another city that was once criss-crossed with tram lines. And, once again, backward thinking forefathers pulled them up.

At least they have been partially replaced and now the city has an efficient public transport system. Part of which is the the Vancouver Skytrain, the longest fully automated metro system in North America.

The car is still the main form of transport for the residents of Vancouver, resulting in a very congested downtown area. Another reason why they are only ‘The World’s Second Most Livable City’.

Vancouver has been called the ‘city of neighbourhoods’ with each one having a distinctly different feel and ethnic mix.

Without really knowing this we stumbled into Mount Pleasant and got a real taste of Vancouver’s suburban life.

Seattle, Tech City of the Pacific Northwest.

November 16th, 2015


On the flight from Los Angeles to Seattle I read an article in Sky, the Delta inflight magazine.

Titled “Keeping the global skies open” it was a rant, by the Delta CEO, Richard Anderson.

What has got his back up is the growth of Qatar, Etihad and Emirates and the subsequent loss of market share by the US carriers.

He points out that these Gulf airlines are heavily subsidised by their governments. But what he fails to mention is that those subsidies go to provide better, roomier aircraft and a level of service that the US carriers have forgotten about, or never even had.

We have flown with a number of American Airlines and I don’t blame the public for deserting them in order to get a far better flying experience.

It’s a pity that the Gulf airlines don’t fly on a few more routes – especially in the US.

To quote Richard. “Fair and open competition internationally is in the best interests of airlines, their customers and their employees.”

I am sure that it’s in the best interests of the airlines, however not their customers and to claim their staff benefit might be dubious.

While many of the cabin crew on US carriers act like little more than high altitude wait staff, Emirates people are polite, attentive and well educated. They have badges on their uniforms informing you what language, other than English, that they speak – some have  a lot of badges.

I am sure that there is a direct relationship between happy customers and contented and fulfilled staff.

We were in Seattle to get a new car. In the US you can only have a rental car for 30 days before you have to return it. This is ostensibly for service and maintenance but it’s also so they can keep an eye on their vehicles.

We originally intended to have one car for 62 days but we were told this wasn’t possible.

Having done a loop out of LA we decided to return the car there and then fly to Seattle and pick up another one.

This was a bad move.

We had booked online with for the entire time and paid for it in advance.

When we returned the car in LA, Dollar, the rental company, unbeknown to us, closed our booking. To make things worse, when we arrived in Seattle we were told that the Dollar company there was only a franchise and we couldn’t take the vehicle out of Washington State. We were then pointed in the direction of Thrifty, the parent company of Dollar and a national network.

That’s when we found out our contract had been cancelled.

We were about to make another call to when the guy behind the desk, obviously feeling sorry for us, decided to take the issue to his manager.

She was a ‘can do’ person and resolved to help us out.

She did, and with the aid of the night manager, two hours later we walked out of Thrifty with an upgraded car and a waver of the remote delivery charge.

We had made arrangements to have brunch with Tim, a university friend of Hayden. It was at a funky restaurant in the downtown area of Seattle. The decor was ‘Industrial Grunge’ and the menu, as ever, was complicated, offering items that needed Tim’s translation.

After our rather substantial meal Tim kindly showed us some of the city sites.

Our fist stop was to gawk at the world’s first Starbucks. Yes, unfortunately for Seattle this is where it all began.

Having had a great cup of coffee at breakfast we weren’t tempted inside to have another one.

We wandered through the Pike Palace Market, which was more for the tourists than the locals. I was amazed by the Googie inspired neon signs that were everywhere. The market was opened in 1907 and is one of the oldest, continually operated markets in the US.

Under the market and near the Market Theatre box office is the Market Theatre Gum Wall*. It’s a strange tourist attraction with thousand of locals and visitors depositing their used chewing gum there every year.

We took the Monorail to the Space Needle, which dominates the Seattle skyline, and walked through the Seattle Center. Both the Space Needle and Seattle Centre, along with the International Fountain, were built for the 1962 World’s Fair. We then took an Uber taxi up to Kerry Park. From there you can get a great view of the city and the surrounding areas. Unfortunately the clouds were gathering and the visibility was diminishing.

Then it started to rain.

We left Tim to the rest of his Sunday and returned to the car. The remainder of our Seattle site seeing would have to be done from there.

Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest and fastest growing major city in the US. Its growth is driven, in the main, by tech companies and start-ups. Google, Facebook, Apple, ebay, Dropbox, Uber, Twitter, Amazon and Microsoft all have offices there.

*On November 10, 2015, the Gum Wall was cleaned for the first time in 20 years. This apparently was necessary as the gum was eroding the bricks in the wall. After the cleaning people will be free to stick new chewy up again.

The Pacific Highway part 2: Napa Valley
to Los Angeles.

November 10th, 2015


From Highway 1 we travelled inland to Napa, the Napa Valley and San Francisco, before returning back to Los Angeles.

We had visited so many craft breweries and brewhouses that we felt Thea deserved a little bit of wine culture.

The Napa Valley is regarded by many as the home of fine wine in the USA. The first commercial winery was opened near the outskirts of Napa by John Patchett in 1859. However around 1836 there was a private vineyard, built by George C Yount. This was before California became part of the United States.

When we arrived in Napa we wondered why there were so many buildings being renovated.

We then discovered that there was a magnitude 6 earthquake on August 21, 2014. One person died, 200 were injured, with an estimated damage bill of 1 billion dollars.

Twelve months on there was still a lot of evidence of the earthquake. The brick buildings seemed to be the ones most effected.

It’s little wonder that most of the houses in Napa are timber.

The next day we headed for the Napa Valley wine region.

Our first stop was the Robert Mondavi Vineyards. It was Robert Gerald Mondavi (1913-2008) with his technical and marketing skills that brought fame to the Napa Valley. He introduced the practice of naming wines by their variety and not generically.

This has since become the standard for New World wines.

Just down the road was Hall Wines, a contemporary concern with a wonderful mixture of wine, art and architecture. The vineyard contained some whimsical sculptures, the frolicking rabbit and grazing sheep were the standouts.

To complement their trendy approach, Hall Wines are certified organic.

Beringer is the oldest, continually operating, winery in the Napa Valley. They managed to survive the prohibition years 1929-1933, by making sacramental wine and selling it to churches.

It has been owned by Nestlé, the Foster’s Group and now the Melbourne based Treasury Wine Estates.

There are some elegant old homes on the Beringer Estate, such as Rhine House and Hudson House. The Rhine House was built by Frederick Beringer in 1884 and is a classic example of ornate Victorian architecture.

In a way prohibition still exists in the US, however this one is inflicted by Ford, GMC and Chrysler. The large auto makers in Detroit were strong proponents of the idea of decentralisation, making people reliant of the car.

The cities and even small towns are so spread out that you need to drive everywhere. You daren’t drink and drive as the laws are strict; and the public transport system so poor, again thanks to Detroit, that you have no alternative but to use your vehicle.

The automobile has also been blamed for social isolation, urban sprawl, urban decay and the rise of obesity.

As a general rule people in the USA don’t walk.

I am in no way religious, in fact I believe that religion, or the blind following of a faith, has caused more problems than it’s solved.

However when I see a good line, I can’t help admire it – no matter what cause it is promoting.

This line was outside a church on Highway 1, in California.

“You don’t have a hope in hell without God”

We spent a short time in Napa before driving to San Francisco. This was mainly an opportunity to get some snaps of this sleepy valley town.

As soon as we sighted the Golden Gate Bridge the sky changed from blue to grey as the San Francisco mist rolled in.

About the worst view of the bridge, in all of San Francisco, is ironically at Vista Point.

We therefore decided to walk over the bridge to the south side. There was a much better view from just near the Round House Cafe.

The Golden Gate Bridge was designed by Irving Morrow, Joseph Strauss and Charles Ellis in the Art Deco style.

It was opened in 1937 and connects San Francisco with the San Francisco Peninsula, bridging US Route 101 with State Route 1. It was an essential link in opening up the northern Pacific coast.

At the time of its construction it was a feat of modern engineering, with each tower held together by over a million rivets and the 93cm wide suspension cables containing 27,572 wires. It is famously painted in International Orange, which was originally the colour of the sealant. The US Navy wanted it to be painted with black and yellow stripes to make it more visible in the infamous San Francisco fog.

Not far from the bridge exit on the city side, is the Palace of Fine Arts. This was designed by Bernard Maybec and built for the 1915 Panama-International Exposition. It’s a rather strange structure, based on a Roman ruin that looks very out if place in a modern city. It was rebuilt in 1965 with renovation of the lagoon being undertaken in 2009.

The ‘New World’ seems to have a fascination with antiquity with a lot of architecture inspired by ancient Greece and Rome.

Capitol Hill in Washington is a prime example.

Armed with our US guide book we spent three days site seeing around the ‘Frisco’ area.

The Painted Ladies near Alamo Square are a number of beautiful Victorian and Edwardian houses. These have been lovingly detailed, in soft pastel colours, to enhance their architectural features.

We walked down to Fisherman’s Wharf and then took a ride into Union Square on the cable car. The iconic San Francisco cable car  is the world’s last manually operated system. There were originally twenty three lines, now only three remain with the vast majority of the seven million passengers being tourists.

In total disregard for OH&S you can cling to the outside of the cable cars as you ascend and descend the famous San Francisco hills.

Just like in the movies.

After our essential cable car ride we spent the rest of the day walking, which is a test of knees and thighs, given the terrain.

San Francisco is a truly international destination, full of tourists from around the world.

We spent a lot of time playing ‘Pick the Accent’.

The one we heard more than any other was English. They probably came to California for the summer weather. So how disappointed they must have felt when there was nothing but mist, low temperatures and cold winds.

You can tell the tourists in San Francisco, they’re the ones with shorts, T-shirts and bewildered looks.

The locals know better.

We passed the Chinatown gate, the ferry building clock tower and terminal and even got to see the Bay Bridge from near Pier 14.

Not far from our hotel was Lombard Street which is regarded as the world’s ‘crookedest’ street – it has eight hairpin turns in a one block section.

Another very popular tourist attraction is Pier 39, which is at the edge of Fisherman’s Wharf and close to North Beach and Chinatown.

After a very pleasant but energetic time in San Francisco, we continued or trip south on Highway 1 to San Simeon. This small seaside coastal village isn’t far from the Hurst Castle and is approximately half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Hurst’s monument to his wealth is about the only attraction in or near San Simeon.

Our morning coffee stop was at Santa Cruz, a much larger and more impressive beach resort than San Simeon.

A lot of the the time Highway 1 travelled inland but when it did hit the coast the views were spectacular. However, to my mind, the best part of the coast was still north of San Francisco.

After overnighting in San Simeon we drove the final stretch into Los Angeles.

Our coffee stop this time was at the Old West Cinnamon Roll coffee shop in Pismo Beach. The coffee was dreadful. Which isn’t surprising as most people were consuming large quantities of the cinnamon rolls and not there for a caffeine hit.

Our motel in LA was a strange place indeed. It was situated in a very dodgy part of the LA but it was close to the airport – this was it’s only attraction.

We have found that you can judge the socioeconomics of an district by the number of fast food restaurants.

We were surrounded by them.

Just to indicate the tone of the Crenshaw Inn Motel, there was a sign in reception indicating that no prostitution was permitted on the premises.

It did have some standards.

We were also surrounded by churches. I guess they were there to save the poor souls at the Crenshaw Inn Motel.

As we had to drop off the car, which was the only reason to stay where we did, we drove to LAX. Knowing that there were no suitable places to eat near the motel we took the hotel shuttle to the Sheraton, and in total contrast to the Crenshaw Inn, we dined at the Paparazzi, the Sheraton’s restaurant.

What we saved on the motel we paid for in the restaurant.

The Crenshaw Motel was probably the worst place we stayed at on our entire trip. In the morning I awoke to discover that Thea wasn’t my only sleeping companion.

The place was riddle with fleas and as I am a magnet to anything that bites, I had been mauled during the night.

I now understand exactly what people mean when they describe a place as a ‘Flea-Pit’.

The Pacific Highway part 1: Portland to Fort Bragg.

November 4th, 2015


We left Portland and headed west, via McMinnville, on Highway 99 towards the Pacific Highway and the 101.

Our first stop was at Depoe Bay on the Pacific. They claim to have the world’s smallest navigable harbor, measuring just 6.4 ha.

Just down the coast is Seal Rock, a huge tourist attraction with hundreds of the smelly mammals sunning themselves.

We continued our way south, past Yachats and on to the Heceta Head Lighthouse. It was near here, at Cape Creek, that we discovered our first Conde McCullough bridge.

In 1919 Conde Balcom McCullough (1887-1946) became head of the bridge division of the Oregon Department of Transport and was responsible for the design of over 600 bridges during his lifetime. His bridges were known for their architectural beauty and he embraced the simplicity and elegance of the Art Deco style.

During the 1930s the Pacific Coast was becoming more densely populated and the inland roads were not coping with the ever increasing numbers of autos that were being pumped out of Detroit.

Driving for pleasure was becoming a pastime of the American public and they demanded better roads with easier access to the coastal town and resorts.

Cape Creek Bridge was one of 14 bridges, designed by Conde McCullough on US Route 101 – a road specifically created to open up the Pacific Coast.

Florence is a delightful seaside town that also sits on the Siuslaw River. It is divided into two very distinct areas.

The Old Town, that runs along the river and the New Town that hugs the 101.

A feature of the old part is the Siuslaw River Bridge, opened in 1936 and also designed by  Conde McCullough.

Just over the river are the Oregon Dunes that extend 60km south from the Siuslaw River. In some placed the dunes rise 150m above sea level and provide entertainment to off-road vehicles, hikers, photographers and campers.

After Florence we continued south towards Crescent City in California.

On the way we stopped off at Umpqua River Lighthouse, which was the first light in the Oregon Territory and built in 1857.

Nearby is the Umpqua River Whale Watching Station at Winchester Bay. There were plenty of people looking for wales but none to be seen.

Within the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park is Lake Marie, a small freshwater lake with a sandy beach and again lots of opportunities for the outdoor type.

Formerly the North Bend Bridge, the Conde McCullough Memorial Bridge was dedicated to its designer in 1947, a year after his death.

We had a coffee at Jason’s Pacific Blues or the ‘Reluctant Cafe’ as we named it.

Jason was the antithesis of the over exuberant service staff we have come to expect. He was gruff, disinterested and, as the owner, not looking for tips.

We obliged him and didn’t leave one.

Our next river crossing was on the Rogue River Bridge or Patterson Bridge. Completed in 1932 and again designed by Conde McCullough it has a strong Art Deco feel in its detail.

We stayed at motels along the coastal route.

This style of accommodation is also frequented by the bikies, or bikers of the west coast.

These are mainly older guys, many with their partners who love to cruise the Pacific Highway on their Harley Davidson motorcycles.

In the main they are friendly, gregarious and very courteous on the road.

The next night we spent in Crescent City, which was a strange place, especially after Florence.

There seemed to be no town centre, the streets were empty and obvious places to eat were few and far between.

We stumbled, with the help of Triposo, upon Tomasini’s Enoteca, a very strange wine bar, cafe.

There was no real food.

It was a Friday night and the place rocked.

‘Warren and Friends’ were playing a mixture of Country, Jazz and Pop.

The locals came and went, consuming ‘sandwiches’ on the way. Some stayed, drank wine and some danced. Now a sandwich in the USA is anything that’s stuck between two pieces of bread. it could be a burger but there are many other options that also make up a sandwich.

Even though there were six beers on tap and many more bottled beers in the fridge, wine was the libation of choice at Tomasini’s Enoteca – even the blokes were drinking it.

This was the first real wine bar we had encountered, but we were now back in California, so I guess this was to be expected.

While the rest of Crescent City was dozing, Tomasini’s Enotec was wide awake.

The next day we drove from Crescent City to Fort Bragg, we were still on the 101 and still heading south.

Before leaving we went down to see the Battery Point Lighthouse. Built in 1856 it was one of the first lighthouses on the Californian coast. It’s situated on an isthmus that can only be reached at low tide.

Luckily the tide was out that morning in Crescent City.

Not far from Orick is the Redwood Forrest of the Prairie Redwoods State Park, a sanctuary for these ancient trees.

One, simply known as the ‘Big Tree’, was 1,500 years old. To put its age into perspective, this was less than a hundred years after the sacking of ancient Rome.

We left the 101 and joined the Pacific Coast Highway 1 and headed to Fort Bragg, another wind blown seaside town, with wide streets and no real city centre.

We again discovered another cultural haven, the North Coast Brewing Company. Founded in 1988 it’s a major sponsor of the Monterey Jazz Festival and the 42nd largest craft brewer in the US.

Good food, good wine, great beer and a very pleasant atmosphere.

There were 19 draught beers to choose from.

Before heading off for the drive to Napa we spent some time wandering around Fort Bragg.

Just near the museum was a section of an ancient redwood tree. This was the oldest known redwood in the area and was chopped down in 1943 to make flooring.

It was estimated to be 1,753 years old.

Now on Highway 1, we passed through through Elk, and then headed south to the Port Arena Lighthouse.

I was chasing bridges and Thea was looking for lighthouses.

The road had fewer twists and turns but the coastline was still spectacular.

We stopped for coffee at Jenner, one of the many small seaside towns along the coast.

It was the weekend and we were just far enough out of San Francisco to get the day-trippers.

The roads were crowded and made even slower by the large number of RVs.

We have seen these ‘apartment block’ size motor homes everywhere but it was now the summer holidays and the numbers had swelled.

The sluggishness of the traffic was exacerbated by the old codgers driving sports cars such as Corvettes and Mustangs.

It goes to prove the theory, that when you are rich enough to afford one, you are too old to drive it.

Portland, where craft beer began brewing.

November 1st, 2015


From Boise, the home of the late Maureen O’Hara, we drove west again towards Portland in Oregon. This time the morning coffee break was in Baker City, just off Highway 84.

Continuing west we left the freeway near The Dalles and took the old Lewis and Clark trail along the north side of the Columbia River. This was beautiful countryside with a winding road that rose and fell with the river on our left. We were in Washington State and looking over the river to Oregon.

In 1804 the Lewis and Clark Expedition was the first American venture to cross the western portion of the United States. Their main objective was to explore and claim US sovereignty over the west, hopefully before Britain and other European powers had a chance.

It was a long day’s drive, the longest yet – we covered 700 km.

Hotels in the centre of Portland were a bit like hen’s teeth, so we were forced to go east of the Willamette River. Fearing the worst, as far as places to eat, we discovered Hopworks, yet another gastropub and craft brewery. They had seventeen beers on tap and for Thea’s enjoyment a number of ‘draft wines’.

Hopworks pride themselves on their sustainability and serving wine direct from the barrel is their way of avoiding the waste of bottling.

I am not sure that drawing wine from a keg has the same allure, or taste, as beer.

I think Thea agrees.

Oregon is the Craft Brewery capital of the US.

In Portland alone there are 100 locations brewing craft beer and in the rest of the state there are another 150 doing the same thing.

In 1852 the first beer was brewed in Oregon and in 1985 the Legislature legalised Brewpubs – this led to their rapid growth.

Most of the Brewpubs serve food, with much of it being in total contrast to main-stream American cuisine. It’s usually sourced locally, the portions are smaller and the style is a fusion between US, European and Mexican flavors. With many claiming to have environmentally sustainable production.

The food and wine is as important as the beer in many of the Brewpubs.

The concept of Brewpubs or Gastropubs has spread with nearly 1,500 of them in North America offering a real alternative to a hamburger and fries.

They are revolutionising the food scene by hiring young innovative chefs who are embracing contemporary food culture.

Beer and food matching is widespread and they often offered a great selection of wines with their food. In the wine producing areas, like the Napa Valley, the Gastropubs support the small independent vineyards and vice-versa.

They are also breaking the model as far as the way they pay and reward their staff.

Unlike most restaurants and fast food chains, Gastropubs pay above the award to their wait and kitchen staff. This means the employees are happier and aren’t continually groveling for a tip.

Eating at the Gastropubs kept our food prices lower and gave us a great and tasty alternative. This was very important considering we were eating out 7 days a week.

It’s also a much more enjoyable dining experience.

Because they are not serving fast food you aren’t expected to be out in less than 30 minutes. In fact they encourage you to stay longer and many of them also provide entertainment.

The atmosphere is also an integral part of the brewpub charm. The pub space is divided into individual areas for eating, drinking and socialising. You can seamlessly move from one area to another according to your needs.

Portland not only has an abundance of microbreweries but it also has a disproportional number of beer festivals. Apart from the Oregon Brewers Festival there is the Spring Beer and Wine Festival, North American Organic Brewers festival, the Portland International Beerfest and the Holiday Ale Festival.

They love their craft beer in Portland, as they do in all of Oregon.

Is the success of craft beer in North America due to their large population?

The USA is home to over 320 million people and this gives a scale to production, markets and consumption that we just don’t have in Australia. However Portland only has a population of just over 600,000 with the greater area being nearly 2.5 million.

Yet Melbourne has a population of 4.8 million people and a fraction of that number of craft breweries.

Based on the 2012 figures beer consumption in the US is 77.1 litres per capita while in Australia it’s 83.1. Currently craft beer has 12% of the market in the US while in Australia it’s just approaching 6%.

In the USA most of the beer produced in the craft breweries gets consumed locally, with the national distribution being left to the big brewers.

There is something sadly lacking in the basic marketing of craft brews in Australia and that’s exposure to the product.

What the Brewpubs and Gastropubs offer in the US is not only a different eating experience but also an opportunity to try new and different brews. Draught craft beers are also available at local bars and restaurants, with many of them providing a wide choice.

Because we were a fair distance out of town we took the bus into Portland and spent the day exploring it on foot, and by the very efficient tram service.

Our first stop was the Pioneer Courthouse. Built in 1869 it’s the oldest federal building in the Pacific Northwest.

Just over the road is the Pioneer Courthouse Square with the Portland Visitor’s Centre. A quick visit there helped us to plan the rest of our day.

Just round the corner was the Farmer’s Market, with an abundance of natural, organic food and sustainable products of all descriptions.

Powell’s Bookstore, in the Pearl District of Portland, claims to be the world’s largest, occupying a full city block. It boasts 6,300 square meters of floor space.

Continuing our patronage of the craft breweries we visited Deschutes, Perl District Brewpub, for lunch. In 1988 Deschutes were one of the first craft brewers to open in the US.

As with many of the Brewpubs we visited this one was in an interesting location. Opened in 2008, it was in a converted auto-body shop.

Again the food, wine and beer were excellent, the only disappointment being that they didn’t serve an espresso.

Oh well you can’t have everything.

Like many craft brewers and Brewpubs, Deschutes have a very strong Corporate Social Responsibility Program. They are actively involved in local charities and received the 2012 Sustainability Award for their work in the Deschutes River Conservancy program.

By craft brewery standards Deschutes are large, with distribution to 28 states of the US.

After lunch we took the Aerial Tram to Marquam Hill, or ‘Pill Hill’ as it’s known, home to Oregon Health & Science University, Portland VA Medical Center and Portland Shriners Hospital. This vantage spot gave us a great view of Portland right down to the Willamette River.

Later that day we walked down to the river just as the evening joggers we coming out.

Jackson – gateway to Grand Teton
and Yellowstone National Parks.

October 30th, 2015


We were on our way to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks – Jackson was our starting point.

The drive to Jackson or Jackson Hole, as it is mistakenly known, was varied. The initial stage being warm and dry, with rocky outcrops and fields of wheat along the way. Then we hit the alpine regions with towering pine forests, raging rivers, log cabins and ski fields.

The temperature also dropped dramatically and by the time we reached Jackson we were ready to pull the long pants and jumpers out of our bags.

It rained all night and was still overcast the next morning.

Realising that there was far too much to see in the time we had allowed, we booked two extra nights, this time near the west entrance to Yellowstone. We then decided to spend our day near Jackson, exploring Grand Teton first.

Jackson is in the Jackson Hole Valley, Wyoming and attracts tourist in both summer and winter, with world class ski fields and the National Parks on its doorstep.

It looks a little like the old Wild West towns from the movies but behind the timber facades are restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques selling everything from T-Shirts to fine art.

One of the unique attractions ofJackson are the large arches, of shed elk antlers, at the entrance to the town park. Local scouts also collect these from the National Elk Refuge, which is close by, and sell them to the hordes tourists that visit the town.

Jackson was one of the few towns to embrace the role of women in west.

It was originally named by Margaret Simpson, after the mountain man David ‘Davie’ Jackson, in 1894 and at one stage even had a female sherif. In 1920 Jackson elected the first all-woman city council.

Grand Teton is only 16km south of Yellowstone and is dominated by the 64km long Teton Range.

The range was named by French trappers in the early 1800s and was originally called Les Trois Tétons or The Three Teats.

The female influence in the area continues.

We walked along the shore of Jenny Lake and discovered an elk grazing peacefully in a meadow. I am not sure who go the bigger shock.

Grand Teton National Park is one of the largest intact mid-latitude ecosystems in the world, with an abundance of wild life and wild flowers.

Established in 1872 by the US Congress and signed into law by Ulysses S Grant, Yellowstone was the the first National Park in the US and the world.

Yellowstone is inside a giant caldera and there’s thermal activity at every turn. Steam seems to rise from the most unlikely places.

It was at Mud Volcano that I learnt the difference between roiling and boiling. Although the thermal mud ponds seem to be boiling they only look like that because of the steam that is rising from the fissures below.

This simulated boiling is called roiling.

On our first day in the park we came up from Jackson and drove in a loop. Starting from West Thumb we travelled anti clockwise past Yellowstone Lake, through Hayden Valley to Canyon Village, then through Norris and Madison and back to West Yellowstone.

The weather fluctuated from overcast to rain.

The next day it rained less but the weather was still unreliable.

This time we came from West Yellowstone and made a clockwise loop, on the northern road, past Gibbon Falls to Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower-Roosevelt, past Mount Washburn to Canyon River and the Upper and Lower Falls. We then completed the trip back again through Norris and Madison.

Our circuit took a lot longer than expected, as we were held up with roadworks and an emergency involving a helicopter landing in a car park just in front of us.

From Yellowstone West we drove to Boise, the capitol of Idaho and then on to Portland in Oregon.

We had a coffee break in Idaho Falls a sleepy little place with the Snake River cascading through the centre of town.

The geography in this area of North America is stunning. Rivers raged and there seems to be an endless supply of spectacular scenery around every bend in the road.

Most people in the US seem to finish their meals in about 45 minutes – we take much longer.

This gives us a great opportunity to be spectators of more than one table.

Half the fun of being a traveller is observing life and living in different countries.

The US is a fascinating society and their food a conundrum. The serves are huge and stacked with carbs – fries are a staple. There is no subtlety in the flavors with fresh herbs and spices playing a fleeting role. Yet the choice of sides and extras goes on and on.

There are the Gastro Pubs and fine dining but the average person, when eating out, has a poor quality selection to chose from.

Then there’s what’s been done to Italian cuisine.

Italian has become the ‘World Food’ because it’s simple, easy to prepare, flavorsome and, when eaten properly, well balanced.

In the US these criteria have been abandoned. Their take on Italian has been complicated beyond belief.

The sauce has become so complex and so abundant that the pasta is overwhelmed. The basic Italian herbs of oregano, basil and thyme have all been forgotten – as has garlic and even olive oil.

I won’t even go into what has been done to pizza.

Every restaurant seems to try and out-maneuver the next with their toppings.

Comfort food, with high carbs, high sugar and mega serves seems to be the most acceptable.

Cheese seems to be the main additive on all sorts of food. We even had it on fries from Idaho, the home of potatoes in North America.

Yet try and find a cheese platter for desert and you’ll fail.

There are always the exceptions and we found some great ones. These were mainly associated with the craft brewery scene, where the food was as important as the beer and, surprisingly, the wine.

These establishments were frequented by a younger generation who seem to place quality above quantity.

In Boise, Idaho, I actually witnessed a guy leaving food on his plate.

While we might whinge about the food, most of the hotels and motels we stayed at were excellent. Toilets or ‘bathrooms’ were impeccable, especially compared to some places we have been.

Everything also works.

The water is hot, showers heads spray water on you, not the floor or ceiling, and nothing leaks.

There is soap, shampoo, towels and in most cases a hair dryer in the room. What wasn’t provided was readily available at reception.

Salt Lake City, contradictions at every corner.

October 24th, 2015


Salt Lake City is home to the Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS)

They own the city.

Founded in 1847 by Brigham Young and a devout group of farming Mormons, they extensively cultivated the once arid valley. Ever since then they have had a profound influence on the place, even though less than half the population of SLC are members of the LDS Church.

It’s a surprisingly modern and progressive city.

There is a tram, all be it on three limited routes, but it’s public transport that’s not powered by a Diesel engine. It’s a relatively new system with the first line being completed in 1999 and the Airport line commencing operations in 2013.

There are also public bikes to rent, again provided by the city.

In SLC you will come across more dark suits, white shirts and subdued ties than you’ll see in an episode of Mad Men.

Yet there is poverty, with street people on every corner of the CBD.

There is also a vast contrast in the architecture with the Mormon temples built in the 1800s to modern glass and steel skyscrapers that are common in the city area.

And there’s the Salt Lake City and County Building, constructed by the Free Masons between 1891 and 1894 and built in open defiance of the dominance of the Mormons. It was the one and only building designed by the architectural firm of Monheim, Bird and Proudfoot. It went grossly over budget and was deemed as an extravagance by the Mormon side of town.

The weather is also varied with blue sky’s one minute and torrential rain the next.

We even received a ‘flash flood’ warning on our US mobile phone.

Then there’s alcohol.

The Mormons abstain from anything that is in the least mind altering – tea, coffee and of course booze.

Yet SLC is full of bars, restaurants and at least three excellent craft breweries.

One very fine establishment was the Red Rock Brewing Company. This Brewpub, located downtown in an old dairy warehouse was full to overflowing. There were 10 craft beers on tap and an excellent menu to choose from.

Obviously the other half of SLC don’t mind a bit of a tipple.

When the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young selected a plot of the desert ground and proclaimed, “Here we will build a temple to our God.”

It took 40 years to build Temple Square with construction starting in 1853. It is now the centre of the city and to many the world wide centre of genealogy.

The Family Search Centre has a number of professional genealogists but is mainly staffed by volunteers.

Elder Kent Nelson spent three hours helping Thea chase ghosts, searching for both her and my ancestors.

The service they offered is excellent and the facility is state-of-the-art, yet we were never pressured to join the faithful or even asked for money.

The cynic in me asks – why?

The answer is ‘Baptism for the Dead’

This is part of the Mormon doctrine and is the practice of baptising a living person on behalf of one who is dead.

This helps to build the number of church followers, even though they may have passed away centuries ago.

I am not sure how a distant relative, from a different faith, might feel about that.

Arches National Park, the Olgas on steroids.

October 18th, 2015


The drive from Cortez to Moab, on our way to Arches National Park, was an adventure in geography and weather.

The landscape varied from alpine to arid. We went through areas that were hot, with bright blue sky’s, while in the mountains there were monsoonal rains and the temperature plummeted.

Moab is the centre of adventure in this part of America. You can bush-bash, river raft, paddle board, mountain bike, go kayaking and that’s all in addition to visiting the Arches National Park.

In the late afternoon of our first night in Moab we made a quick run around a small section of the park. We were lucky as the light was perfect and only started to fade as we were on our way back to the hotel.

Moab is only 6 km from Arches, which is on the Colorado River in Utah. It was named as a National Monument in 1929 and made a National Park in 1971.

The next day we headed back into the park to experience more of its spectacular beauty.

Our $10 entrance fee was valid for 7 days so we could come and go as much as we liked.

Like the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park was very good value for money. The facilities were impeccable, the roads and tracks were well maintained and the staff knowledgable and extremely friendly.

They do seem to enjoy their job.

When we were in Mesa Verde we met a park ranger, working there for the summer season. Each year he went to a different park and enjoyed learning about the history, geography and geology of the areas he worked in.

It showed in the way he interacted with the park visitors.

The Arches National Park was a highlight and to my mind and far more spectacular than Monument Valley.

There are similarities with the Olgas in Central Australia, but in the Arches the sites and vistas just seem to keep on reinventing themselves at every turn.

We drove to the end of the park and then did a 9 km walk around the Devils Garden. Passing Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch and Landscape Arch we ended up at Double O Arch.

There was a thunderstorm brewing to the north and it appeared to be coming our way – then it vanished.

It was only a relatively short walk by comparison to some we had done but it was hard going.

We took what’s called the ‘Primitive Trail’ which is only marked with rock cairns and described in the guide book as ‘strenuous’.

The rock formations in Arches National Park are natural sculptures in their most spectacular form. The geology of the formations is complicated with a history that goes back 300 million years, when the area was an ocean. A combination of hard rock, soft rock, pressure and erosion have all contributed to the creation of monoliths, spires, balanced rocks and the famous arches.

Seemingly at odds with the natural wonder of this region is the wastefulness of the tourist industry that supports it.

We very soon became conscious that Americas live with a seemingly bottomless supply of disposable items. Apart from the coffee chains, that serve everything in a paper cups, most breakfast venues, including hotels and motels, seem to only use disposable plates, cutlery and cups. This wastage is also carried through to the food. If you need some milk for your cereal you are forced to use a carton containing half a pint, when you really only need a small portion of that amount.

Nothing is recycled and everything seems destined for landfill.

Happy Fourth.

September 19th, 2015


Cortez was our base for visiting Mesa Verde and also where we were on the Fourth of July, one of America’s favourite holidays.

Cortez is the largest town in Montezuma County, being first established in 1886 to house laborers for the Dolores River diversion project. The damming of the river allowed farmers to use the water for irrigation.

On the Fourth we decided to drive 70km to Durango, as there seemed to be more celebrations there.

We weren’t disappointed, as the town was full of locals, and tourists, many dressed in red, white and blue or sporting flags and bunting on their vehicles.

There was also a large group of Harley riding bikers. These aren’t the outlaw motorcycle gangs that we hear so much about, but mature men and women who are out for a days ride in the country.

In 2014 there were nearly 500,000 new bikes registered in the US, with Harley Davidson having a huge market share of over 36%.

Durango is an old mining town, founded in 1880 by the Denver and Rio Grande Railway Company. The tracks from Durango to Silverton were completed in 1882 and is still operating today, unlike the tramcar, that once ran up and down Main Avenue.

This has been sadly replaced by diesel powered facsimile.

The town sits at the base of the Animas City Mountain and is a thriving tourist village that’s home to both winter and summer activities. There are ski fields nearby, as well as whitewater rafting, Ziplining and water sports on Lake Nighthorse.

Back in Cortez we caught a glimpse of the celebratory fireworks. We thought that they would be all over in a few minutes but they went on and on.

For a small town Cortez put on a great show for the fourth.

Prehistoric America in Mesa Verde National Park.

August 23rd, 2015


About 16km from Cortez is the Mesa Verde National Park. This is one of the areas in Colorado that has well preserved buildings and artifacts from the Pueblo Indians. This prehistoric civilisation preceded the Navaho and were in this area 3,000 to 5,000 years ago. However it was first inhabited by Paleo-Indians around 9,500 BC.

The Mesa Verde or Green Table in Spanish, describes the plateau where these ancient civilisations live their semi nomadic lifestyle.

The National Park was created by president Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s 21,240 ha in area, with 4,000 sites and 600 cliff dwellings.

Montezuma Valley was home to 35,000 Ancestral Puebloan people during the 1200s. The development of the Pueblos or houses took place over many centuries. Starting with pit houses and culminating in the brick built cave dwellings – these brick houses are the main attraction of Mesa Verde.

The Puebloans used an atlati, a form of throwing stick, similar to the woomera of the Australian Aboriginals. They subsequently went on to develop the bow and arrow and learnt how to crop, domesticate animals and make pottery.

It’s amazing the difference a ready supply of wild fruit, vegetables and animals had in their development. That, combined with the contact the Puebloans had with more advanced civilisations from the south, led to them developing a rich diverse culture.

The modern day Hopi and Jumi Indians are the ancestors of the Puebloans.

We travelled along Chapin Mesa, which with the Wetherill Mesa are the two main inhabited areas.

The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum has a number of excellent dioramas detailing the history of the Ancestral Pueblo people. It also contains fine examples of their basket weaving and geometric pottery in black and grey. There were also many stylised animal motifs that are widely used by the locals today – especially in marketing their adventure tours and accommodation.

Our park ticket allowed us to visit Spruce Tree House. This is one of the best preserved cliff dwellings on the Mesa Verde. It shows how the Ancestral Indians built brick ‘apartment blocks’ within the caves below the the Mesa.

These housed many families and were part of a community building program that included the Square House, which has a tall tower of five floors.

We also visited Sun Point View, Cliff Palace View and Cliff Canyon Overlook.

On our second night in Cortez we had dinner at the Main Street Brewery. We had a drink there the night before and I found their craft brews exceptional.

Their food wasn’t shabby either.

It had been suggested to us that because the serves are so large in the US, the best strategy is to share the main course, or entrées, as they are known.

We shared the Smoked Ribs and there was more than enough for two.