This week, we go back to where it all (ie this blog) began!
2 years ago I ran the Barossa Marathon and wrote a little report about it, which I posted on my Facebook page. The positive feedback I received about this report (in some cases from people I hadn’t even met before) in the subsequent days, led me to create ‘Random Thoughts and Race Reports’ and I guess you could say the rest is history!
I am in the process of creating a new blog which I’ll share when I’ve finished playing around with some of the formatting (amid much swearing, at times!)
Anyway, back to Barossa. Some months ago, knowing that it was 6 weeks after Boston and 2 weeks after I got back to Australia, I volunteered to do the 2 hour pacing gig for the half marathon. I figured, I wasn’t really going to be in ‘race shape’ and I find pacing really enjoyable and rewarding, so it would be a great way to be involved!
Up until last weekend, I hadn’t run 21.1km since Boston, so I was actually a bit unsure if I could even run a sub 2 hour half, let alone pace one! So I went out and ran about 10 laps of the Uni Loop (2.2km) and came in about 4 minutes under the 2 hours. I wasn’t trying to push hard but by the same token I wasn’t trying to run ‘slow’. I was just running at the pace I was comfortable with. So that pretty much confirmed to me that I could do the pacer gig!
Ideally you want to be able to run about 15 minutes faster than the time you’re pacing. I don’t think I could run 1:45 at the moment but I was definitely confident I had this!
I bought a new costume to run in – ostensibly to make me easier to spot for those trying to run with me, but just quietly because I kind of enjoy dressing up in wacky outfits! This one was a psychedelic hippie dress, complete with belt and headband. I even found a pair of sunglasses which were left at my house a few years ago but never claimed, that fit the outfit perfectly – and my yellow Boston calf sleeves were a perfect match! Underneath was another brand new item, my new 2XU compression shorts.
The weather wasn’t looking too good! There was a lot of rain overnight (both at home in Adelaide and up in the Barossa) and more rain forecast for race day. I was not looking forward to the idea of running in the rain – mostly for the reason that it would slow me down, and I couldn’t really afford to lose too much speed!
I went up with Beck, who wasn’t running this year due to injury but was still happy to go up and cheer! She picked me up at 5:45am so we would get to Tanunda in time to see the start of the marathon at 7. (The half didn’t start until 7:45)
Fortunately, although it was cold (and colder when we got to Tanunda), the rain appeared to be holding off.
We made it with minutes to spare – just enough time to wish the marathoners all the best and see them set off! (One thing I like about Barossa and Adelaide as opposed to some of the larger marathons, is that, as spectators, we could actually get into the starting area literally minutes before the start!)
The next 45 minutes went very quickly – just enough time to collect my bib and pacer balloons, stand in a lengthy toilet queue, then attempt a contortionist routine in trying to change out of my warm multiple layers and into my race ‘kit’ within the confines of a small toilet cubicle. Once that was done it was pretty much time to go to the start line! Luckily I had Beck there to take my bags as I probably would not have had time to getto the baggage tent!
I was one of 3 pacers in the half. We had Bryn doing 1:30 (his first pacer gig) and Jim 1:45 (Jim’s a veteran pacer and pretty much has the 1:45 slot sewn up!) with me doing my favourite, 2:00. I wasn’t sure exactly where to stand, as I couldn’t see Jim. In the end I just chose a spot well behind Bryn, and behind a few people I knew were planning to run sub-2. It didn’t really matter that much – 21.1km gives plenty of time to sort out pace and position!
(As it turned out, Jim wasn’t there – he actually missed the start due to bib issues, and went flying past me a little while after the start! He did eventually catch up to the 1:45 group and expertly paced them to the finish!)
I started my watch on the gun, rather than as I crossed the line. That way, if I crossed the line in 2:00 exactly on the clock, everyone who was with me would get under 2 hours, regardless of whether they started in front of me or behind me. (That was a lesson I learned during my very first pacing gig!)
For those who aren’t familiar, the role of a pacer is to run as close as possible to a specified time, and people who want to run that time (or thereabouts) just need to stick with the pacer and don’t need to worry about their own pace. It is particularly useful for runners who don’t use a GPS watch. As a pacer, there is definitely a bit of pressure but it’s also really enjoyable and rewarding to see your pace group achieve their goals.
I know I’m going to forget some people so apologies if I do! There were a lot of runners either with me or just ahead of me. Michelle was trying to stick with me as long as possible but her main goal was a sub 2:15 to qualify for Wonderland trail run. Eventually she dropped off my ‘bus’ but she got in well under her goal time! Regular running buddy Nat was with me for a while and ended up finishing just a few minutes behind me, saying that she really enjoyed the run.
Sally thought she would be running just ahead of me but ended up smashing out a huge PB and on top of that won 2 bottles of wine in the random prize draw!
Others running ahead of me included Gary (different Gary from the one we’d seen off in the marathon!), Victoria, Ali and Peter. There were definitely a few PBs among that lot – they didn’t need any pacing help from me!
With me pretty much from the start were Brianna, fresh off a PB at the Paris Marathon, and first time half marathoner Kathryn from Brisbane (who was unaccustomed to the cold weather that we turned on for her!) Brianna was hoping to go sub 2 but hadn’t run that far since Paris, and Kathryn was just hoping to stick with me as long as possible – she’d done a half distance in training, in about 2:10.
Due to the staggering of the start times for the marathon, half, 10k and 5k, there were never any issues with congestion. We didn’t see the 5k or 10k runners at all (in fact, I never even saw race ambassador Jess Trengove, who won the 10k race) but we did get to see the marathoners on multiple occasions, and due to the ‘out and back’ sections we also got to see all the half marathoners (over 500 finishers!) – from the leaders all the way to the back of the pack!
Pace-wise it took me about 3km to hit my goal pace of 5:37 – 5:38 mins per km. I found Barossa the easiest out of all the halves I’ve paced – due to the flat nature of the course and the favourable weather conditions. Once I hit my pace I managed to hold onto it. Towards the end I did a few calculations so I would come in JUST under the 2 hours, so I did need to slow down just a touch!
I think with about 5km to go, Brianna took off but Kathryn was still with me! She was determined to stick with me until 16km, then it would be ‘just a parkrun to go!’ Personally I don’t find that comparison super helpful but it certainly works for a lot of people!
Eventually we reached the ‘parkrun turnaround mark’ (2.5km to go) and it became apparent that Kathryn was going to get under 2 hours! It was kind of like a proud mother bird moment for me when she took off with around 1km to go – I had to hold onto my pace so couldn’t go with her but I was thinking ‘Fly, my pretties!’ as each runner left my ‘nest’!
There were a few other runners around me who were looking good for sub 2 – some just in front and some just behind. One guy, Gerard, had not long given up smoking and was on track for a PB (and finished just seconds behind me) and regular running buddy Deb was ahead of me for a good portion of the race, but stuck with me after I passed her, and also came in under 2 hours. Another girl, whose name I didn’t get but who was wearing a Step Into Life top and not wearing a watch, was also hoping for a sub 2 and I’m not sure if she finished ahead of me or behind me but she came up to me afterwards and told me she got the sub-2! And then there was another regular running buddy Fiona, who was determined not to let me pass her (jokingly telling me I was going too fast) and ended up finishing about half a minute ahead of me.
I crossed the line with 1:59:42 on the clock. My official time was 1:59:18 which I was pleased with!
And the timing was perfect because not 5 minutes after I finished, the heavens opened! Unfortunately that meant missing the presentations for the 5, 10 and 21.1k as I hightailed it back to Beck’s car to get changed into some warm, dry clothes and then head back to see our friends finish the marathon!
There was a large group of runners around the 3:30 pacer (I think the only pacer in the marathon) including Coralie, Rebecca and Jenny. Not long after that were Carrie, Amanda and Leon (doing his 347th marathon for the year, by my calculation!) with a small gap to my 2015 Barossa running buddy Kay and fellow 2017 Boston Marathon finisher Graham! Then came a few more familiar faces, Peter and Dave, but for me the best moment of the day was seeing Gary finish.
Gary’s daughter Tahlia had run the 10k, and as I approached the end of my half, I saw Tahlia running back to meet her dad. We waited what seemed like ages at the finish (but it wasn’t actually that long – we were just cold and in need of wine!) until we saw Mark, who had been running with Gary when I’d last seen them, so we knew Gary couldn’t be far behind! And sure enough, around 30 seconds later, there was that distinctive purple T-shirt! We gave Gary a huge cheer and I think he might have been a bit fired up (after pretty much crawling across the finish line in his first marathon at Adelaide last year, he had, as he put it, ‘some running demons to vanquish’) and was yelling and cheering and high fiving! It was definitely a highlight for me and I’m sure it was a very special moment for Gary and Tahlia!
As we were getting cold and Beck had post-wine family commitments, we left pretty much straight after Gary finished, for a well earned wine tasting at Hentley Farm (I tasted 9 wines and liked them all – unfortunately the budget would only stretch to one bottle – I went with a Grenache Shiraz Zinfandel, mainly because I’ve never tried or even seen that blend before!
So once again, SARRC have put on another excellent event – the weather wasn’t kind to everyone (the marathoners and some of the half marathoners behind me certainly copped it a lot worse than I did) but it was ideal running weather for me, the volunteers were fabulous as always, the spectators were great, and my fellow runners were always friendly and supportive!
Thanks to everyone involved in making this such a great day! And especially to Beck for chauffeuring me – I owe you one!
I describe my recent USA holiday as ‘epic’ but as we know, that word is thrown around waaaay too much. It was amazingly fun, and action-packed, but epic? Probably not. I don’t think the tale of my month in the States will be handed down from generation to generation, somehow!
I do want to do something proper epic though, one day. The idea of running from one city to another has definitely entered my mind (Melbourne to Adelaide maybe? Mount Gambier to Adelaide?) and with the right support, could happen! (Actually with a good group of people it could be a lot of fun!)
One race that I would LOVE to be able to do, but which is WAY beyond me at the moment (never say never, but I can’t see it happening anytime soon!) is Coast2Kosci – about 240km from the coast at Eden to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia. I’m not particularly interested in mega long races (although I do want to tick off a 100 miler one day) but this one appeals to me greatly.
Maybe not so much ‘epic’ but something that would take a lot of work, would be the ‘Not The Adelaide Cup’ human races (as opposed to horse races) – pretty much all the fun of a day at the races but with humans racing instead of horses. That WILL happen one day!
I don’t have to look far to see actual epic adventures. I just have to go down my Facebook news feed and I thought this week I might highlight a few friends who have done (or are in the process of doing) freaking amazing stuff!
First cab off the rank, being freshest in the mind, was David Turnbull’s record-breaking run which ended last Wednesday night – the entire Heysen Trail, just under 1200km of it, from north to south in 13 days 16 hours and 16 minutes – breaking the previous record by a massive 16 hours!
I first met DT after The North Face 100 (now Ultra-Trail Australia 100) 2 years ago. He did brilliantly that day and made a good first impression on me by buying a bottle of wine for fellow ultra running legend Andrew, Andrew’s wife and crew Lara, and myself!
We’ve shared the track a few times since then – I got to watch him smash out 130+ km in the Adelaide 12 hour event in 2015 while I was running around in circles for 6 hours, and we were both winners in the 100km state track championships earlier this year (although he was long gone by the time I eventually finished!).
I was fortunate enough, along with fellow trail runners Tina and Ryley, to be able to join DT for a very short section of the trail (around 4km!) last Monday, and was amazed at how well he was travelling, despite the fact that he was approaching 900km at that stage! On a few occasions he would start running up a hill, and I’d be thinking, “Are you kidding? I’m not going to be able to keep up with a guy who’s run almost 1000km?” but then after a few steps he’d be walking again and Tina and I would be able to catch up!
DT was posting his location on his Facebook page every hour or so, which allowed people to find him and run with him for a bit – if they could keep up! It was a privilege to be able to share a small part of what turned out to be a FKT (Fastest Known Time) and a real eye-opener to see what goes into these audacious (and in this case ultimately successful) attempts! I believe there will be some kind of book about this and I really look forward to reading it!
Still in progress is another massive undertaking, The Million Dollar Run. This is a 3000km run from Adelaide to Brisbane to raise $1m for DEBRA Australia. I first met Andrew in December 2015 at a birthday run for fellow runner Barry, 6 hours around the 2.2km Uni Loop, sounds like fun, right? Well I only did 5 laps that day (my excuses being that it was a stinking hot day and plus I had to go to work!) but Andrew completed his first marathon and as I recall in not too shabby a time! The Million Dollar Run was already on the cards then, but it’s taken a while for it to actually happen! At the time of writing he’s pretty close to Melbourne! Amazing stuff!
Finally for this week we have School of the Road – last year, fellow runner Travis, Fiona and their son Patch, who has autism, embarked on a truly epic adventure, cycling from Washington State to Washington DC, around 5000km, an absolutely amazing and inspiring journey, showing, as they said, that ‘anything is possible’!
So there you have it, 3 inspirational people doing amazing things for very worthy causes! Hopefully I will be able to come even remotely close to such epicness one day!
Back to work tomorrow – I knew this day would come eventually!
There’s just enough time for one last holiday blog post before reality sets in properly! (Mostly words, this one!)
Since getting back home at arse o’clock on Friday, I’ve had 4 days to settle back into ‘normal life’, and 4 days to reminisce about some of the things I will and will not miss about the USA.
THINGS I WILL MISS
The freedom. Being able to get up every day (except the days I had planes or buses to catch) and do whatever the hell I wanted. Or nothing (although that never seemed to tickle my fancy…)
The experiences. Playing in the snow, seeing awesome shows, exploring new cities… and that’s just the beginning!
Cheap Clif bars. And so many more flavours! Like, $1 each – I really should have stocked up!
(Mostly) not having to set an alarm to go running!
Boston. I don’t think any other marathon will compare to Boston – but I’m willing to be proven wrong! I have an ever-growing bucket list of USA marathons – and I don’t even particularly enjoy marathons!
Probably most of all, the people I met along the way. Everywhere I went, whether it was fellow hostel guests or people I happened to be sitting next to in the theatre, the people were so friendly. I love meeting new people and although in my job I do get to meet a lot of people, it’s not quite the same. I think maybe it was my Australian accent that encouraged many people to be so friendly – or maybe it was just my amazing personality 😂😂😂 I find that solo travel leads to meeting a lot more people – when travelling as a group or a couple you don’t really need to make that effort and can end up getting stuck in your comfort zone. I met a lot of solo travellers on my trip. And you don’t necessarily need to be single to do it! I think everyone should do it at least once. You won’t regret it!
THINGS I WILL NOT MISS
Living out of a suitcase. And having to repack it every few days for the next flight!
Having to make attempts to keep things tidy when staying in hostel dorms. As much as I like the idea of being tidy in theory, when I’m in my own place I tend to fill up all the available space!
Tipping. I do get why it exists, and I did get the hang of it, but I was quite relieved to get back to a place where it’s not a thing.
Sales tax. Why oh why can’t they just factor it into the shelf price, rather than add it on at the checkout? I don’t want to do math on holidays!
Airport security. Again, I did get it down to a fine art but the amount of time wasted in airports when I could have been doing more interesting things…
Large swarms of tourists. I tended to try to stay away from them wherever possible! Not staying in Midtown in NYC certainly helped!
Sleeping in bunks! Top bunk is a pain in the arse getting in and out! Bottom bunk I kept hitting my head! I like my bed!
Having to Google to find good coffee in most places. I must say that other than in Vegas it was surprisingly easy to find good coffee, despite what many Aussies will tell you. You just need to know where to look! (And I’m proud to say I never stepped foot into a Starbucks!)
The exchange rate! The first time I went to the States I think we were on parity!
All of that being said, it’s just a matter of time (and a small matter of money) before I start planning the next trip…
Last year, I volunteered at this event with Karen, it being 1 week after we’d done the Ultra-Trail Australia 100km. We’d both decided to wear Snow White costumes. Why, I hear you ask? To which I reply, have you met us?
This year, given that I’m not doing UTA, I entered the race. So what if it was only 2 days after I arrived back in Australia? And so what if, aside from running in a forest in Portland a week and a half ago, I had not run a trail in well over 2 months?
There was a 6k, 12k and 20k. I entered the 12k, so I at least had some sense in me! After the trail run in Portland last week I realised I was going to be very underdone and would have dropped down to the 6k if there wasn’t a fee attached to the change!
I went into this race with zero expectations. Which meant I couldn’t really be disappointed, whatever happened!
Kit-wise I went with a new black lulu skirt (one of my overseas purchases) and my new pink argyle calf sleeves bought at the Boston expo, which I absolutely did not need but which were pretty and only $10!
Given that I was running the 12k, I figured my small race vest would be enough – 500ml of Gatorade should see me through, and there were a few drink stations along the way where I could refill them with water if needed.
I arrived at the start, at Blackwood Football Club, early enough to see the start of the 20k, which started at 8.
It was chilly at the start but it was sunny and it was likely to be warmish out there. So I needed to factor in both arm warmers and sunscreen.
I had originally chosen black and white arm warmers, then remembered I had pink and grey, so I threw both pairs in.
I asked Chantal which ones I should wear. Pink and grey was the winner. What was I thinking? Of course I should wear the pink!
I hadn’t studied the course. I rarely do. And as a ‘non-competitor’ in this race, I could comfortably rely on following the people in front.
Pretty soon we were away – starting with a nice comfortable downhill.
“IT’S A TRAP!” I thought to myself. As all trail runners know, “What goes down must come up!” (I certainly learned that at Boston!)
It wasn’t long before we hit the first hill. And then I quickly remembered how not good at hills I am. (I remember, late in the race, someone behind me telling someone else “I’m great on downhills but I suck at uphills”. I was almost going to turn around and say “Me too! Except the bit about being great at downhills!”)
The course was quite technical. Which was actually good. There were multiple water crossings, and a bit of rock climbing in amongst the uphill slogs and the downhills! I found it easier than just running up hill – the variety was a good distraction, and it was kind of fun! (I didn’t see anyone fall into the water – I very much hoped I wouldn’t!)
Climbing over boulders is relatively easy for me, being blessed with long legs! Getting under low branches (along with finding a height-appropriate man!) is not so easy – thankfully I can only recall one ‘limbo’ that I had to do!
There was a guy behind me who had run the practice run last weekend and mentioned a few times that he’d got very lost! I had told him to let me know if he wanted to pass me, but after hearing that, jokingly told him I didn’t want him taking the lead! (In his defence, there were no course markings last week, and the trail at times was difficult to pick out!)
On the course marking, I have to say, this course was IMPECCABLY marked. As one who is, shall we say, ‘navigationally challenged’, I never felt like I was in danger of getting lost – thanks so much to the awesome volunteers who marked the course!
After around 6k I said “OK that’s enough for me!” – again cursing myself for not entering the 6k in the first place!
But of course we all know that’s not how it works. I entered the 12k, and I would run 12k (or thereabouts – the other thing we all know is that trail distances are approximate at best!)
From about 10k to 11k it was a hard slog – and the elevation profile backs that up! There was a lot of walking in that kilometre but I knew it was ‘nearly’ over. (Fellow parkrunner Alex had passed me at around the 7k mark, telling me there was ‘only a parkrun to go’ – which is a lot more encouraging with 5k to go in a marathon than it is with 5k to go in a 12k!)
There was a nice little bit of downhill towards the end. Even though there was a bit of up as well, I managed to keep running, albeit a slow plod, because I knew the end was (metaphorically) in sight.
My normal rule when it comes to hills, is “Never run up a hill if you can’t see the end of it!” Meaning, I will run up a short steep hill (in fact, it’s usually easier to run it than walk it) but a long steady climb I will usually walk (and probably faster than I could run!)
Eventually I was at the finish line and ran under the arch – stopping the clock (figuratively) in a touch over 1 hr 25.
Although I had no expectations leading into the race, there were a lot of pleasing signs:
Under 90 minutes ✔ (not that I had a time goal, but I really did)
Didn’t fall over ✔
Didn’t die! ✔
One thing I will hopefully remember for next time is to wear my cycling gloves – that would have been handy (no pun intended) for climbing over boulders. Plus if I did fall over, I could save myself with my hands!
I then proceeded to chat with a lot of the fellow runners, who all wanted to know about Boston and my holiday (which I don’t think I will ever get sick of talking about) in between eating my body weight in vegan brownies (thanks again Maurice!)
For once I didn’t win any prizes in the random prize draw but I guess it’s only fair to give some other people a go!
This was yet another fantastic event from the wonderful people at Trail Running SA. Great course, perfectly marked, brilliant weather – what more could you ask! Congrats to all the runners, and of course once again the amazing volunteers need to be thanked for making it all possible!
I could not think of a better way to ease back into ‘normal life’ – out on the beautiful Adelaide trails with great friends!
Next event for me is the Barossa half marathon (2 hour pacer). And I have my outfit organised – getting pretty excited! (Now I have 2 weeks to make sure I can actually run 21.1 in 2 hours!)
And that is a song lyric blatantly stolen from Peter Allen, ‘I Still Call Australia Home’. Appropriate, because as I write this I am sitting in an airport lounge in Hong Kong waiting for my flight home!
The last week or so of my holiday has been quite eventful!
I arrived into Vegas around 6:30pm on a Friday which was also Cinco De Mayo. Probably not the best plan, in hindsight. Any Friday night, as the lady who checked me in to the Luxor, is always busy what with the Americans getting away for the weekend. Cinco is probably even worse!
So I didn’t actually get into my room until after 8:30 and went for a wander around 9ish. Given my arrival time I hadn’t planned anything for Friday – just a walk down the Strip to stretch my legs. I’d forgotten how long the Strip is! And how hard it is to get around, with all the overpasses etc!
I was going to go into the Irish pub at NYNY which is kind of a Vegas tradition, but there was a $10 cover so I decided against it! Last time I went there I bought the CD of the house band, so I can hear them for free any time I want!
The other thing making Vegas particularly busy was the fact that there was a big fight on Saturday night which I found out at check-in – I made a mental note to stay away from wherever the fight was!
So Friday night was pretty quiet – just a wander, reacquainting myself with the area, and also checking out a few of the shops!
Saturday was all about shopping – I had put aside the day to go to the Premium Outlet Mall – I only had time to do one, and chose the northern one as that one had lululemon. I must say the whole outlet experience was not as good as previous times – I didn’t get much stuff (lulu was a bit of a disappointment!) and there were definitely not as many bargains. Maybe the advent of sales tax had something to do with it!
I did find this awesome gelato place, Amorino, which had heaps of vegan sorbets! I had chocolate, pistachio, and the most amazing blood orange and ginger! It was a pretty hot day too, so it was a welcome relief!
Saturday night I had a show to go to, but before that I grabbed an early dinner at Slice of Vegas Pizza in the Mandalay Bay Shoppes, right next to the Luxor. I went there specifically because they have a vegan menu – I had a feeling vegan food was not going to be quite so easy to come by in Vegas than in Portland!
After picking up my ticket for Human Nature I went for a look around the Venetian shops – such an amazing setup they have there! The Venetian was where I stayed on my very first trip to Vegas and nowhere else has come close!
Human Nature were fabulous. I’d only seen them once before – at Carols by Candlelight in Adelaide in 1996, back when they were a boy band! And I was delighted to see them do an homage to boy bands as part of their show, including some of their own stuff! These guys are the total package – all-singing, all-dancing, funny, a brilliant show!
After the show, I thought about going back to the Irish pub but thought better of it – the fight wasn’t far from there, so I decided not to even bother going! Besides, I was going to have to be up early in the morning for my flight to San Francisco, so I decided instead to go to the piano bar at the House of Blues – not too crowded, really fun, and I managed to get a seat at the bar!
I managed to squeeze all my stuff into my one suitcase, meaning that I wasn’t going to have to pay for a second bag on the flight! Anticipating a big haul at the outlets, I had fully expected to have to get the second bag out for the flight to San Fran. Once I got to San Fran there was no issue because on the flight home I could check 2 bags free of charge.
I was up and away early the next morning – my shuttle pickup was at 8.
Well, I was up, but I wasn’t away!
Because when I got to the airport and went to check in for my flight, I found out that it was cancelled!
I went to the check in desk and was told that I couldn’t get a flight to San Fran until the following day. They weren’t going to pay for a night’s accommodation, because the cancellation was known more than 24 hours ago, but they weren’t able to contact me to rebook me. She gave me a voucher for a discount on one of the airport hotels.
I contacted the travel agent’s 24 hour emergency number – the girl I spoke to looked into alternative flights but she wasn’t able to find anything with any airline. So I went back to the lady at the check in desk and she booked me on the first flight out the next day. (I didn’t think that one through – it was a 7am flight which ended up meaning a 4am shuttle pickup! Still, I wanted to get the most time possible in San Fran!)
Airport hotel? I’m in Vegas for another day, as if I’m going to stay at an airport hotel! No thanks, I’ll be staying on the Strip! I went on Hotels.com and found a room at the Excalibur (not the most fancy hotel but good enough and in a good location) for $29, (plus the resort fee of $30 something) – I thought that would be fine, and in case the travel insurance company weren’t prepared to pay for it, I didn’t want to risk spending hundreds on a fancy hotel room, especially considering I would hardly be spending any time there!)
I contacted my hostel in San Fran and explained what had happened – in the end they didn’t charge me for the missed night, which they were quite within their rights to do, because I gave them less than 24 hours notice.
I also went on Vegas.com to see about a cheap show for that night – might as well make the most of the ‘bonus’ night! I had a discount code from when I bought the Human Nature ticket, and ended up booking to see Blue Man Group – I’d heard good things, they were performing close to where I was staying, and it was an early show, given that I’d be getting up at 3 I was going to need an earlyish night!
Fortunately I was able to check into Excalibur early, dropped my bags off and headed straight out to get some more cash and then headed downtown on the bus. There was a vegan restaurant near Fremont St, VegeNation, that I wanted to try out.
Stupid Google Maps had me getting off the bus at the wrong stop but it did result in me walking down the street where all the wedding chapels were, which was kind of cool – including the one where Jon Bon Jovi got married!
I ended up getting a burger from VegeNation and it was really good, I got it ‘to go’ as they were really busy and I didn’t want to waste time waiting for a table! I ended up having to sit at a bus stop to eat it though – there are literally NO places to sit on Fremont St!
I’d been to Fremont St before (aka ‘Downtown’ or ‘The Old Strip’) – I’d forgotten how tacky it was, almost as tacky as The Strip! Heaps of cheap and nasty souvenir shops but less people walking around with yard glasses of margaritas!
I headed back to the Strip, I had read on the Interwebz about Cirque de Soleil having free open rehearsals for their Beatles show on Sundays, so I’d hoped to go to that, but found out when I got there that they don’t do it on Sundays anymore… so instead, I went shopping at the Fashion Show Mall!
I made my way back to the hotel to get ready for the show. Blue Man Group was not like anything I’d seen before – hard to describe! Their own website describes the show as ‘comedy, theater, rock concert and dance party all rolled into one’ which is probably a good description! I was glad to be seated near the back, away from the ‘poncho section’! I really enjoyed the show and would recommend it to anyone who wants to try something different! It was a perfect ‘last show’ for the trip – I’ve seen a huge variety of shows during the past 4 weeks!
Then it was back to the hotel to pack and set my alarm for arse o’clock!
Take 2! This time I actually did make it to San Francisco! And I had a window seat on the plane so I got to see Vegas from above!
I took the BART to the hostel – I stayed at USA Hostels where I’d stayed on my 2 previous trips to San Fran. My travel agent had warned me to stay away from the Tenderloin area. On the walk (all UPHILL!) from the train station to the hostel I noticed the flags advertising the neighbourhood as, you guessed it, Tenderloin! Luckily it was daytime, I certainly wouldn’t be wandering through here at night – lots of homeless people and, it appeared, drug addicts!
I wasn’t able to check in right away, but I left my bags, quickly got changed and went to do my one ‘must-do’ for San Fran – a run across the Golden Gate Bridge! Given that I had lost a whole day, arriving on Monday instead of Sunday, and that I was leaving on Tuesday night, I had no time to waste!
As I was dropping my bags off, someone behind me said “Hi Jane!” I looked around and it was Sean, an Aussie guy I’d met at the hostel in Portland, I knew he’d been coming to San Fran but we hadn’t discussed what hostel we were staying at – turned out we were at the same one! He was checking out as I was arriving! Small world! (San Fran has a lot of hostels so it is actually quite a big coincidence when you think about it!)
It was a beautiful day, and as per a lot of the runs I’ve done while I’ve been in the States, I had to stop frequently to take photos! Stupid sexy San Fran!
The run across the bridge itself was very ‘stop-start’ because there is just a narrow footpath which has to accommodate 2 directions of travel for both cyclists and pedestrians. Probably not a good choice of run if you wanted to run fast!
From the other side of the bridge at Vista Point, I ran down to Sausalito from where I got a ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf. The last part of the run I was able to get a bit of pace up, especially at the start where it was downhill!
Then I walked back to the hostel via Union Square where I wanted to check out a few shops. lululemon was first – no good bargains to be had there! I also went to have a look at Macy’s, and a discount shop called Ross where I bought this amazingly comfy shoes (which have since given me blisters, but I have walked a LOT in them) – I had no qualms about buying shoes now, since I had the second bag! Plus they were only $20 AND machine washable!
I eventually got back to the hostel to check in around 5ish, had a shower and grabbed a quick bite to eat. One of the really good things about this particular hostel is that they have heaps of activities, at least one every day. It’s a great way to meet people! Unfortunately I would miss out on the pub crawl on Tuesday night, as that started at around the same time as my shuttle was due to take me to the airport!
I did however make it to wine and cheese night – naturally I didn’t partake in the cheese but I was pretty keen to sample some of the local Napa Valley wine! (I had considered booking a Napa or Sonoma tour for Tuesday, but given that I’d lost a day, and had been up since 3am, I thought maybe a full day tour might not be the best option! I did get my wine though, as it turned out!)
I got chatting to a guy called Leonard from Toronto and and an Aussie guy called Glenn (originally from Melbourne, had lived in Adelaide for a time but now travelling the globe) – pretty soon the free wine had all gone but Glenn and I got a bottle of Argentinean wine from across the road and ended up playing pool until the early hours of the morning with another Aussie called Jai (I’m hopeless with names – the only reason I remember his name is because he was from Mackay so I kept referring to him as ‘Jai from Mackay’!) and a girl whose name eludes me – after having been up since 3am I eventually hit the wall and went to bed in the early hours of the morning!
Tuesday, my final day, I didn’t set an alarm, but ended up being up in time to go on a free walking tour. It was really interesting, I went to places I didn’t remember having been to on previous trips, and learned a lot from our guide Mina!
After the walking tour I walked down to the Ferry Building to get a good coffee (my friend Emma had recommended Blue Bottle Coffee which was excellent!) and also check out another recommendation from Emma, Humphry Slocombe, an ice cream place with unusual flavours (they only had one vegan flavour, Pink Lemonade, which didn’t really appeal to me so I didn’t end up getting anything) and then walked down to The Plant for lunch – a curry ‘bowl’ (actually a box – I got it ‘to go’ because I wanted to go and sit down by the water to eat it!). I was joined for lunch by one of America’s giant seagulls!
Next on the agenda was to go check out the Palace of Fine Arts – how I’d never been there before I don’t know, but Glenn had recommended going there, and I’d already been to all the big ‘touristy’ places, plus this was free, and it was another beautiful day, so I thought why not? I was going to take a bus there but after sitting waiting for buses that never came, I ended up walking there!
I would definitely rate this as a ‘must-do’ – you don’t really need heaps of time there although if you wanted to you could spend a good few hours wandering around! And you could sit on the grass and eat lunch with the ducks and watching the turtles!
Time was getting away from me so I didn’t make it to the other place I’d hoped to go to – the Botanical Gardens, which happened to be free admission that day! (Free is always a good thing when you’re getting towards the end of a trip!) Leonard had told me about that, but I quickly realised that I wasn’t going to be able to do everything! My next priority was getting a bottle of vegan Baileys to take home! I couldn’t be sure if it was available in the duty free store (as it turned out, it wasn’t!) but it didn’t need to be duty free, I just wanted to bring a bottle home, since it’s not (yet) available in Australia! So I went to BevMo (I guess similar to our Dan Murphy’s or First Choice) and got a bottle which I carefully wrapped and packed in my checked baggage.
Then I went to a free yoga class at a nearby community centre (another activity recommended by the hostel) – probably the best thing I could have done before getting on the plane for 14 hours!
And then, just like that, it was all over – my shuttle driver arrived to take me to the airport!
The flight itself was OK – once again I was lucky enough to be on an aisle with no-one sitting next to me, so I was able to doze off without anyone needing to disturb me. I don’t think I slept a great deal but at the time of writing (4:30pm Thursday) I haven’t had to take a nap so it must have been enough! Saw a pretty good movie too – ‘The Founder’ about McDonald’s – and 5 episodes of ‘Portlandia’ which I hadn’t seen before but was interested to watch after having been to Portland, where it is set!
I landed in Hong Kong around 6am on Thursday and wasn’t due to fly out until 7pm, so I left the airport and took the train into the city. I’d never been to Hong Kong before and didn’t fancy spending 13 hours in the airport!
It was warm and humid – probably high 20s or early 30s. I went for a walk up to Hong Kong Park and the Botanic Gardens which was lovely – an oasis amid the hustle and bustle of the city! Plus it was only about 7:30 when I got to town and the shops didn’t open until 10!
I also went for a walk down to the harbour and to some public viewing areas – one of the cool things I found about Hong Kong is that there are public spaces, often outdoor patios within restaurants or cafes, where people can just wander in and out! And many of them happen to have pretty good views of the harbour!
Eventually 10am came so I went to the nearby shopping centre where, you guessed it, there was a lulu store. It didn’t take me long to realise that it was WAY expensive. Like, even more expensive than Australia! (I had to use my calculator because I couldn’t do the currency conversion in my head, but I quickly realised that I was not going to buy ANYTHING here!) The shops were all pretty high-end, and I was starting to get blisters on my feet by now, so I didn’t really fancy wandering aimlessly around the shops!
There was one other shopping centre I wanted to check out, and I discovered another cool thing about Hong Kong, that a lot of the buildings are interlinked, so I was able to get almost to the other shopping centre without going outside!
I got there and it was another high-end centre so I didn’t bother looking in any of the shops, instead deciding to head back to the airport, making my way back to the train station via a very pleasant walk down to and along the harbour.
And then I decided to be a proper tourist and go on the observation wheel, because there was no queue, and it was only about $HK100 (equivalent to about $A16-17) – and was fortunate enough to get a whole car to myself!
Then I headed back to the airport, through security and immigration and to the lounge which was nowhere near as good as the one I went to at Heathrow on my last overseas adventure! The only free alcohol was canned beer, and NOTHING in the drinks fridge was cold – I so wanted a Coke but there’s nothing worse than a warm Coke, so I ended up just going with water, which was probably for the best! Plus 3 cups of coffee to keep me awake until it was time to get on the plane!
I had been looking forward to a shower but the lounge charged the equivalent of about $40 for a shower so I decided I didn’t want a shower THAT badly, and just got changed in the restroom (which was probably the smallest restroom EVER!) but still it was nice to have a fresh set of clothes for the last leg of the journey!
Plus, I did get a free lunch – see, there is such a thing!
So I think that is probably about it for my travel blog – hope you’ve been enjoying reading it! Back to normal programming next week – I have stupidly entered a trail race on Sunday so that could make for an entertaining race report!
I never thought I’d be quoting 90s Australian band Savage Garden in my blog but there’s a first time for everything!
I have been looking forward to visiting Portland for a very long time. Although I didn’t really know much about what there is to do in Portland (often abbreviated to ‘PDX’ after the airport code), I thought it was a very ‘me’ kind of place.
One of the most vegan-friendly cities in the US (and the world!)
A great running city
Legal weed (OK that wasn’t really one of the selling points for me but it does give you an idea of the laidback nature of the place!)
First thing I noticed after touching down at PDX was how quiet the airport was – a stark contrast to the hectic O’Hare in Chicago! There was even a guy playing saxophone in the terminal – I liked the place already!
It was raining when I arrived but the walk from the MAX light rail to my hostel wasn’t too bad. It was all uphill in the rain but it’s really easy to find your way around in the NW part of Portland. The East-West streets are named alphabetically (my hostel was between Flanders and Glisan, so I knew when I got to Couch that I was about blocks away) and the North-South streets are numbered, like in many of the cities over here.
I was staying at the HI Portland Northwest Hostel. I didn’t get in until around 9ish, so was pleased to find when I got to my room that I had a bottom bunk! I was in a mixed dorm of 6, with an ensuite. Not surprisingly, being after 9pm on a Saturday night, all my roommates were out!
I booked in to a free walking tour at the hostel on Sunday morning.
But first things first, coffee! I Googled to find the best places (because life’s too short for bad coffee!) and wouldn’t you know it, one of the best JUST HAPPENED to be across the street! World Cup Coffee became a pretty regular coffee stop for me during my time in PDX!
The walking tour was excellent – it was a great way to start my time here, meet some other hostel guests, and figure out other places I needed to visit!
After the tour was over, a few of us went with our guide Matt for lunch and a drink at Fat Head Brewing. I did manage to get lunch there – their vegan options were limited but the hummus was excellent!
Then I went to the Saturday Market (yes I know it was Sunday – that’s just how they roll here!)
I felt like something healthy for dinner so I browsed a folder full of menus at the hostel and found this gem of a place – Prasad which is a mostly vegan place attached to a yoga studio. It was almost closing time when I arrived so my Urban Bowl came in a box – not quite so photogenic as a bowl but equally delicious!
You can’t come to Portland without visiting Powell’s Books, the world’s largest independent bookstore. And I’m pretty sure you can’t leave Powell’s without buying something! I certainly couldn’t (and that was why I only went there once – as a traveller who is pushing the luggage weight limit, books are the last thing I should be buying!)
They’re open until 11, so after dinner I thought I’d head down there and check it out!
Monday’s weather was not looking great, so I decided to do more indoorsy stuff. A trip to Hawthorne Blvd, with its quirky shops and myriad of eating places, was just the ticket! It is walkable but I didn’t fancy it in light drizzle, plus, it is far. And public transport is excellent and CHEAP!
First of all though I had to see the Bart Simpson cartoon!
Once I got on the bus, my first port of call was Herbivore Clothing – a vegan clothing store I’d found out about from the vegan shoe store in NYC!
I knew there was a vegan mini mall in PDX, but I didn’t realise Herbivore was part of it! So excited when I realised!
I bought a top and some cool stickers, and the sales assistant was super helpful, giving me a list of recommendations from food places to bars to ‘things to do’!
Then coffee was needed and a light morning snack! Sweetpea Baking had both of those!
And then I went to the vegan grocer, Food Fight, primarily to try their vegan soft serve.
One Portland institution is Voodoo Doughnut. I’d walked past their downtown store several times and the queue was out the door. But they have a second store on the Eastside, conveniently quite close to where I was. So I decided, why not? They have quite a good vegan selection – it was hard to choose just one! I thought I did choose just one but when I got back to the hostel and opened the box, I’d got 3! Presumably the salesperson misunderstood me when I mentioned a few I liked the look of, and took it to mean I wanted to buy them all! Maybe it was just a completely foreign concept to her, the idea of buying just one donut! I’m sure I paid for 3 – clearly I wasn’t paying attention! Oh well – it would be enough to last me the rest of my time in Portland!
I’m always one to stop and appreciate a good mural – especially a brightly coloured one!
Hawthorne Blvd was cool – lots of vintage and other quirky stuff! I didn’t buy much other than coffee and I did get one CD for $1. It was a good way to spend an inclement sort of day!
On my last coffee stop, I checked the map and realised I was very close to Mt Tabor, a place I had intended to go to, but not on this particular day. Apparently the climb wasn’t too hard and the views were pretty good! So despite me wearing my Birks and carrying 2 bags, I decided I might as well go!
On returning to the hostel, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen this signpost earlier!
Dinner was a pizza from Hotlips Pizza, walking distance from the hostel. They do have vegan cheese but I opted for cheeseless. So good! And enormous!
Later that night I went out to a local dive bar with a couple of guys from the hostel – an American guy who I saw ALL THE TIME who was super friendly and chatty but I actually don’t think I ever got his name, and an Irish guy called Mark who was heading to Vancouver to find work (I did meet a lot of people who were road tripping up or down the West Coast – seemed like the thing to do!).
Tuesday was another dreary day so I again decided to hit a few shops, first walking downtown (I needed to return a cable to the Apple store and also was looking for some black ballet flats which I finally found!)
I also found more Animals In Fountains!
Then I made my way up to NW 23rd Street, not far from the hostel, for some more funky shops (more high-end) and more animals!
So after that came the best part of the day! I had been wondering if I could get to run on the Nike track, at Nike headquarters out at Beaverton. I was Googling and hey guess what? Nike Run Club was on that night! I tried to register online with no success, but decided to just go there and hope I’d be able to join! And as I’m a Nike Run Club member back home, I was pretty confident they’d let me in!
So I got dressed to run (complete with rain jacket as it was still raining) – unfortunately I had absolutely no Nike gear on me! I then made the long trek out to Beaverton via 2 buses. When I got off the bus I saw a girl all in Nike gear so I asked her if she was there for the run, which naturally she was! We got to talking as she led the way to the track (not sure if I would have found it otherwise!). Her name was Kaori and she was from Japan, here studying English.
The Nike campus is amazing! Huge, and beautiful!
Firstly I checked in with no problems (although according to Nike I am 41 which I wasn’t too happy about, I’ve only just got used to 40!), dropped my bag at the bag tent and went to get my pace band.
This group is SO well organised – they have pacers – I think from memory there were 6 pace groups. The guy handing out the bands asked me my 5k pace which I told him (in minutes per km of course – I can’t do miles) but he suggested the purple group. He said if it was too slow I could always move up a group. I suspected that would not be an issue – tonight was really all about the experience for me, it wasn’t training as such.
The other groups were blue, red, green, black, and yellow. Except, being Nike, yellow wasn’t yellow. It was Volt!
Before we started running the coach did a bit of a speech. The session was all about promoting the ambitious ‘Breaking 2‘ attempt – aiming to break the 2 hour barrier in the marathon which is quite unbelievable! 2 Nike athletes (professional soccer player Allie Long and former Oregon Ducks and NFL quarterback Dennis Dixon) were interviewed and the group got to ask questions.
The run itself was pretty short – we did intervals of 100m/200/300/400/500/600 and then back down to 100m. Our pacer led out each time so there was no thinking required! And with 6 groups of varying paces, it was so well organised so we never got in each other’s way! And everyone was so supportive, cheering on the other groups while waiting for their next interval!
And afterwards we all got a free towel and T-shirt, and they put on food for us too! What better way to spend a rainy Tuesday night?
And to top it all off I had the rest of that pizza waiting for me at the end of the long trip back to the hostel!
Wednesday’s weather was MUCH better. I had factored this in when I chose that day to do a full day waterfalls and Mt Hood bus tour. And what a great day it was!
I thought I’d allowed plenty of time to get to the pickup point but only just made it! The tour company was Wildwood Tours and our guide was the awesome Bryan! We were a small group of 9 and I sat up front so got to chat a bit more to Bryan and pick his brain!
Bryan also had snacks (sodas, water, local apples and local hazelnuts) which he offered us at every stop!
He was super enthusiastic and particularly excited because it was such a beautiful day, so we got better views than most groups would get!
First stop was the Vista House, a house that was essentially built as a restroom. Which also happens to have pretty amazing views!
Then we stopped at the first of 4 waterfalls for the day – Latourell Falls.
The second waterfall was Shepperd’s Dell.
Another waterfall which we didn’t get to see (because it was under the road we were driving on) had a pretty cool story. It’s called Bridal Veil Falls, and it is in the tiny town of Bridal Veil. Bridal Veil is famous for having the busiest post office in the country (and the third smallest!). Because EVERY bride in the region (and many from all over the world) want that postmark on her wedding invitations!
The third, highest and most famous of all the waterfalls was Multnomah Falls. It is actually the most visited place in all of Oregon – I hadn’t even heard of it before this tour! It is the second highest year-round falls in the USA. I forget what the highest was (not Niagara, which was my guess!). We were lucky we got there early because, being the first really nice day of the spring, it would get REALLY busy later in the day!
The last waterfall stop was Horsetail Falls – nowhere near as impressive as the others but the one we could get closest to – Bryan said we could drink out of it, which of course I did (he said side effects may include beard growth and penchant for fixed-gear bicycles – yes, he was a hipster!)
Lunch was at a small town called Hood River – I’d brought a bagel with me from the hostel (the hostel provides a free bagel and coffee each morning, and on the days I knew I’d be out all day, I’d take it ‘to go’) so I got to spend the whole hour wandering around checking out the shops.
Bryan recommended a place called ‘Artifacts – Good Books Bad Art’ which I spent quite a bit of time at, and COULD have spent a lot of money! In the end I spent $1 and got a hardcover running book! Yes, more books!
After lunch it was time to head up to Mt Hood, Oregon’s highest peak and home to the only year-round snowfield in the USA! Yes, you can ski and board in summer here!
We stopped a couple of times for photos on the way up, and on the second stop we got to go into the snow! It was pretty soft in places – one of my legs went in all the way up to my knee!
Last stop of the day was Timberline Lodge where we got to have a play in the snow and check out the views! And no, I wasn’t cold in the slightest! Before we went up the mountain the temperature was in the 80s which is high 20s in Celsius. At Timberline it was a very pleasant 17 degrees Celsius!
The journey home was a bit slow due to traffic heading into the city (everyone was probably out enjoying the sunshine!) but this sign amused me greatly!
I would recommend this tour to anyone visiting Portland who wants to get out and see more than just the city. Try to pick a day with good weather for an even better experience!
Due to the traffic, we got back later than scheduled and as a result I was unable to make it to the running group I had planned to go to, which had been organised by my Adelaide running friend Kay, formerly of PDX!
I did, however, make it to my other planned activity for the night, a gig at Dante’s (the ‘Keep Portland Weird’ place). I had wanted to go there for ‘Karaoke From Hell’ on Monday – karaoke with a live band – but couldn’t find any takers at the hostel and didn’t fancy going on my own!
Before Dante’s I went to Veggie Grill for a healthy meal, after 2 nights of pizza and donuts!
Then it was off to Dante’s where there were 3 bands on the bill.
First up was Portland’s ‘Latter Day Skanks’. Rather than try to describe them, here’s their bio:
The Latter Day Skanks started out as humble Mormons who felt different. The cross-dressing & hard rocking Latter-Day Skanks guarantee to blow your mind and rock your ass. Bring your naughty self to a show and leave your morals, inhibitions and virginity at the door.
Next up was ‘Beatallica’ from Milwaukee. It’s exactly what it sounds like. A mash-up of Beatles and Metallica. And I read that Metallica actually quite enjoy what they do!
The headline act was ‘Okilly Dokilly’ – a metalcore band from Phoenix who dress up as Ned Flanders and all their songs are Flanders-themed! I really enjoyed the show but it wasn’t really my kind of music and if I just heard the music without the visuals I don’t think it would have been quite so enjoyable! Still, a great end to a very entertaining night!
I took an Uber home and finished the last of my Voodoo Doughnuts!
Thursday was another warm day, so I decided to get outdoors again.
Firstly I walked to Washington Park (up a lot of steps – that was hard work! Going up hills and stairs is HARD!) and went to check out the Rose Garden. Unfortunately, due to construction, it was hard to get around and the only blooms I saw were on my tights!
Then I walked up the MAC (Multnomah Athletic Club) trail to the Wildwood Trail in Forest Park. Wildwood is 30 miles long – I planned to run about 10k on the trail but a landslide meant the trail was closed about 4km in, forcing me to detour. As luck would have it, my detour took me to a great viewpoint at Pittock Mansion!
It was great to run on a trail that was close to the city but at times felt miles away (until I heard the construction equipment or had to cross a busy road!)
After my run I went to 23rd St, to try out a few recommended places! First there was Salt & Straw, a Portland ice cream place known for unusual flavours (such as pear and blue cheese!). I had one of their seasonal flavours (floral themed for May) – iris liqueur with edible flowers!
Then I got a takeaway donut from Blue Star Donuts – I went with the orange and olive oil. I saved it for later in the day – so good – best donut of the trip so far!
The evening activity was an art walk through the Pearl District. The Pearl District houses many art galleries, and on the first Thursday of every month many of them launch new exhibitions, and have live entertainment and sometimes even wine!
It was a really good night, we went to heaps of galleries and in many cases the artists were present (so it was a good thing I kept my opinions on some of the pieces to myself, like “WTF is that meant to be?” or “Who would pay 10 grand for THAT?”
But I didn’t say that about any of these. These ones I liked!
Afterwards a few of us went to a bar near the hostel for a drink and bar snacks, and I finally tried a local pinot noir (which was excellent!)
One of the girls on the tour mentioned that she was vegan, so I asked for a recommendation for Friday’s lunch (being my last meal in Portland!)
I had an in-depth conversation with our guide, Robert, about topics including Trump, drug companies and horoscopes/star signs (we had to agree to disagree on that last one!)
On Friday it rained (which seems to be par for the course on the day I leave a city!) but I still needed to try a coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters, probably the best known proper coffee place in town. (Obviously Starbucks does not count as proper coffee!) so I walked downtown.
Next was another one of those Blue Star Donuts but when I got there they were out of the orange ones!
Then it was time to do my final packing, check out and take a bus downtown to Loving Hut, an all vegan restaurant that had been recommended. I had a fried rice and green tea, and I also got a complimentary soup which was delicious too! Perfect ‘last meal in PDX’!
I got to the airport in plenty of time, checked my bag (made the weight limit by the skin of my teeth!) and was excited to find a Blue Star at the airport! With my orange donut! AND, amazingly, the guy who served me gave it to me on the house! You could say, everything was coming up Milhouse!
Even the airport security staff were friendly! The friendliest in the world!
I went to the airport Stumptown outlet for a last PDX coffee but was tempted by their cold brew with coconut milk – like a vegan Farmers Union Iced Coffee (but better!)
Alaska Airlines are great – their overhead bins are nice and spacious, and they have charging points at each seat!
Portland is definitely one of my favourite places ever! Can’t wait to come back again!
In case you were wondering, that was a Chicago reference.
Because this week’s blog post is all about the 5 days I just spent in Chicago!
I’d never been to Chicago before (of the 9 cities/towns on my itinerary on this trip, I’d only visited 3 before. And that’s not even including Hong Kong!). Not only is it an incredibly interesting city, but it is also home to Emma, one of my oldest friends (not in age but in amount of time we’ve known each other – we started school together in 1982!) so it would be great to not only have a place to stay where I wouldn’t have to share a bunk bed, but also someone who knew the place well and could show me all the cool places to go (within the restrictions of only having 5 days, of course!)
Unfortunately we hit a bit of a snag when Emma was sent to San Francisco for work on Monday, the day I arrived. However she was able to leave keys for me at the front desk of her apartment building so I could still stay at her place as planned. And she was due back Wednesday night.
While in Philly last week I had discovered that Game 6 of 7 (if required) of the first round of the NBA playoffs between the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics was scheduled for the Friday I would be in Boston. At that stage the Bulls were 2-0 up so there was no guarantee that it would even get to Game 6, but I messaged Emma to see if she’d be keen to go, which she was! The Celtics had done the right thing by winning the next 2 games, effectively guaranteeing Game 6 would happen, so while on the train from O’Hare Airport to the city centre, I bought 2 nosebleed tickets on StubHub. It would be my first NBA game – on previous USA trips I been to football (NFL in San Diego and NCAA in LA), NHL hockey in Vancouver, MLB baseball in San Diego (plus Boston on this trip) and MLS soccer in Seattle. I hadn’t thought NBA was on the cards on this trip, being playoff time, but everything fell into place!
On Monday I got a message from Emma to ask if I’d like to go to a Yo-Yo Ma concert that night with her friends. Now I have to admit I had to Google to find out who he was – I had heard of him but didn’t know what he did! I quickly accepted the offer – Emma had bought the ticket some time ago and didn’t want it to go to waste. Plus it would be a good way to meet some people given that I was staying in an apartment by myself (as opposed to a hostel, where you naturally meet fellow travellers!).
After ‘checking in’ to my lovely and very conveniently located digs for the next 5 days, I went for a walk to Trader Joe’s to grab a few things and was immediately blown away by the architecture and the skyline!
I decided to leave a bit early to walk to the Symphony, to do a bit more exploring. I found the very impressive Millennium Park and the waterless Buckingham Fountain. (I later found out that it is emptied during the winter due to the water’s inconsiderate tendency to freeze!) Now, I love me a good fountain but I gotta say they’re a lot more aesthetically pleasing when they are actually ‘founting’!
I met Emma’s friends Lyde and Cheena at the Symphony and we proceeded to climb 6 flights of stairs to the nosebleed section (I counted over 100 stairs!) but we still had a pretty good view!
The concert was excellent – I wasn’t familiar with any of the music (it was all Bach) but I thoroughly enjoyed it. As well as Yo-Yo Ma on cello, we had Edgar Meyer on bass and Chris Thile on mandolin – both excellent musicians in their own right. Annoyingly, I very inconveniently had a coughing fit during the second half and eventually decided to stand right in the back by the door so I could quickly duck out should I need to!
Tuesday happened to be 25 April, known in Australia as ANZAC Day. I’d found a service in Chicago through some Googling, and walked down there. It was a short ceremony, with readings from Australian and New Zealand representatives, and the many local runners who went past us must have wondered what was going on!
The service was followed by breakfast at the rooftop bar at the Wit hotel – great spot! I hadn’t RSVPed to the breakfast (given that I’d literally only found out about it the previous day) but Lyde, who had also been at the service, told me to come anyway – as it turned out the only vegan option there was coffee! I met a few other Aussies, one of whom, Cate, had lived in Chicago for many years, happened to work in the building next door, and knowing I had some time to kill before my next activity for the day, invited me to come to her building to see the observation deck – cracking view!
(One weird thing about ANZAC Day in another country is that it isn’t a public holiday here of course, so most people are dressed in business attire and have to dash off to work!)
One of the big ‘things to do’ in Chicago is an architecture cruise. There are many companies that operate cruises on the Chicago River, I opted for Shoreline as that was the one Lyde had mentioned. Tuesday was probably the best day weather-wise of my stay in Chicago so I wanted to make the most of it.
The architecture cruise was fantastic and something I’d recommend to all visitors to Chicago (and locals, if they haven’t done one yet!) I believe the Architecture Society runs one that is longer, more detailed and consequently more expensive. Maybe architects would be best to do that one, but for the rest of us, the Shoreline one gave me everything I needed!
After lunch at Native Foods (a vegan chain!) and a quick trip to Ross (a shop that sells designer gear at reduced prices – a very dangerous place for me!) to buy a new handbag to replace the one I’d been carrying around for the past 2 weeks with one broken strap, I headed to the Skydeck at Willis Tower (known for many years, and still known to many locals, as Sears Tower) – once the tallest building in the world. I bought the Day/Night pass which got me 2 entries in one day – one during the day and one at night.
The big attraction up there (other than the incredible views over the city and Lake Michigan) was The Ledge, a glass platform you can stand on and look straight down over the buildings. Not for everyone, but appealed greatly to me. And many others too – evident from the long queues at each of the 4 glass platforms along the western side of the observation deck. As I got closer to the front I was increasingly bemused by the plethora of those horrible things called ‘selfie sticks’ and annoyed by the people (OK I’ll say it – almost exclusively female) who took AGES to get the perfect shot – pretending to be supermodels or whatever, and when they didn’t look perfect, made their personal photographer take it again! Consequently I spent a great deal of my time up there, waiting in line to get onto The Ledge!
I did take quite a few pics up there (see pictures above and below) but in fairness that was in 4 separate visits to The Ledge. And you can see I’m in different outfits, as there were 2 separate visits to the observation deck.
In between said visits I stopped off at the apartment to get changed and go for a run (my goal for this trip is to run in every city at least once – Vegas is the only place I might struggle to find a good route to run!) – I opted for the Lakefront Trail along Lake Michigan – a popular spot and from the photos you can see why! It was a bit convoluted and involved crossing a bridge/going up and down stairs, but I managed to get in a good 12k, the longest I’d run since Boston.
I then had a quick shower and headed back to the observation deck as I wanted to not only see the city at night, but also watch the sunset from above. Between my visits I also came up with a few new ideas for poses and managed to get up on the ledge as the sun was setting as well as after dark.
Chicago tourist tip #1 – if you’ve got time, you can save money by going up at around 5:30pm (during Daylight Saving) and staying until it gets dark – thereby getting day and night in one visit. Might want to bring a book though – the sun takes a while to go down!
Wednesday’s weather did not look like being anywhere near as good as Tuesday’s, so I thought it was a good day for indoor activities! Being a little bit of a science nerd (in that I find it fascinating, not that I am in any way an expert!) the Museum of Science and Industry was the logical choice. It is located in Hyde Park which was a short bus ride away and is the location of the University of Chicago and also home to the Obamas!
I definitely did not have enough time here – I assumed it closed at 5 when it actually closed at 4 – a rookie mistake and one I won’t make again anytime soon!
The ‘Brick By Brick’ exhibit (playing with Lego among other things – what’s not to like?) – an extra cost on top of admission but well worth it.
The model train that had to be seen to be believed – illustrating the journey of products (eg apples and timber) as well as passengers from Seattle to Chicago, including very detailed miniature models of both cities! Literally I could have just watched that for hours (that was the first thing I saw) but I was pretty sure there was more to see!
The shell of a real United Airlines plane (insert topical joke here) attached to the balcony on the upper level – and a video explaining how it got there!
The maze of mirrors in which I genuinely got lost!
The lowlight was the extremely loud school kids (I don’t think you can avoid them, regardless of when or where you go) who made it impossible for me to hear some videos I was interested in, about genetics and specifically the Human Genome Project.
But overall I thought it was excellent and well worth a visit – maybe bring your iPod!
Chicago tourist tip #2 – check the opening hours of museums and galleries before you go – because invariably you won’t have time to see everything and you don’t want to miss out on anything important!
I heard from Emma that she wasn’t going to be back now until late Friday night. I now needed to find something to do for the next 2 days (not an issue in itself but the weather was not ideal so that was a bit of a limiting factor). Plus ideally I needed to find someone to use Emma’s basketball ticket on Friday – luckily Lyde was keen to go and suggested dinner beforehand at a local vegetarian place!
Speaking of vegetarian, I was pretty hungry by the time I left the museum at 4, so I used my trusty Happy Cow phone app to find nearby food – conveniently there was a place very close by called B’Gabs – funny name but excellent food! All vegan and mostly raw – I went with a raw burger – a first for me! A bit tricky to eat but delicious!
I then had a browse in the nearby secondhand bookstore (Powell’s) – something often found in university areas! Due to books being relatively heavy and unsquishable, I have so far resisted (I’d bought 2 so far) but couldn’t pass up Stephen Hawking’s ‘The Grand Design’ for only $4.95 + tax! A little light reading for the plane trips! Trust me, if imminent plane travel wasn’t a factor I could have bought up big there!
After returning to the city centre I made an unnecessary trip to TJ Maxx, a shop similar to Ross. I ostensibly went in there for a pair of black ballet flats which I’ve been searching for this whole trip but walked out sans ballet flats but with a pair of running tights which I most definitely did not need (but which in my defence were amazing) and a Chicago Bulls T-shirt which I did kind of need for the game on Friday.
Then it was time for my ‘When in Rome’ moment. Like the cheese steak in Philly, I was determined to try a Chicago staple, a deep dish pizza. After Googling it seemed that Lou Malnati’s, also one of the most famous places for deep dish pizza, was my best option for vegan deep dish. It was a bit of a hike from the shops and then back to Emma’s but I was determined to try it!
When I got there and asked about a vegan version, the first girl effectively said ‘No, we don’t do that’. I then stepped outside to try to find another nearby place that might be more amenable. An Instagram search of #vegandeepdish kept coming back to Lou Malnati’s as the best option, so I went back in and asked (with a straight face) for a ‘Deep dish cheese pizza without cheese’. The guy who served me that time was somewhat dubious and even had to go out the back to ask if it could be done! Which of course it could! I added mushrooms and just got a small. It took a while but eventually I had the pizza in my hand and took it back to Emma’s place where I finally got to eat it. And you know what? It was really good, and lacked nothing in taste by not having cheese! I actually only ate half, which was great because that would take care of Thursday night’s dinner as well!
After Emma told me she was stuck in San Fran until Friday, I had a bit of a think about what to do. I had a crazy idea to catch a bus to Milwaukee and visit the Harley-Davidson museum. The bus was only about 1.5 hours and $10 each way. I decided to sleep on it and if I decided in the morning that I was keen, I’d walk to the bus station and see if I could get on.
So on Thursday morning I woke up just in time to eat breakfast before wandering down to the Greyhound terminal to try to get on the 10:00 to Milwaukee. As it turned out, the 10:00 was full as was the following bus, so that made my decision easy! It was for the best anyway, as it was colder than I’d anticipated and I’d neglected to bring a jacket, and also I’d forgotten to throw a Clif bar in my bag for the road.
So I made my way to Hero Coffee, my favourite coffee shop in Chicago (funnily enough, when I did eventually catch up with Emma, she said she was going to tell me to go there!) to have a coffee, use the wifi to look at booking a trip to Milwaukee on Friday, and read the Redeye, one of the local street mags.
Milwaukee was a no-go because the bus times, and my early dinner plans, meant I’d only have a couple of hours in Milwaukee, so I decided it wasn’t worth it.
In the street press I read about a fitness class happening on Friday morning, featuring kettlebells and, more importantly, 80s hair metal music! So naturally that was a no-brainer!
I also Googled museums – after considering the Field museum (natural history) I settled on Chicago’s No. 1 tourist attraction (according to TripAdvisor), the Art Institute. There was Thursday taken care of – it was open until 8pm Thursdays! I was definitely going to get my money’s worth out of this one!
The Art Institute was, quite simply, amazing. You would need a MINIMUM of 4 hours to even get close to doing this place justice. I spent over 7 hours there!
Highlights for me were:
The Impressionists – they’ve always really appealed to me
Only some of the modern art – most of it I didn’t really like but I did like some of the Picasso and Dali Surrealist stuff!
Some of the Ancient Greek sculpture
Chagall’s American Windows
The special Hélio Oiticica exhibition – lots of interactive and multimedia stuff
The medieval religious art (again, has always appealed to me, weirdly enough for a heathen!)
My last stop for the day – the miniature rooms down in the basement! Mindblowing!
Unlike many attractions I’ve visited so far, they actually let you leave and come back! So I took the opportunity to walk over to Millennium Park to eat my lunch, where I was questioned by a couple of design students about my views on ‘The Bean’ (officially ‘Cloud Gate’) – they initially thought I was a local but were still interested to hear my views!
When I did eventually manage to drag myself away from the Art Institute, I decided on a whim to walk down what is known as the Magnificent Mile (lots of high end shops which I managed to resist going into) to the John Hancock building to go up to yet another observation deck. This one was different though – this one had the Tilt. You may have heard of the Tilt. If not – check it out here!
I had to pay for entry to the observation deck, plus I decided to fork out the extra $5 for a rooftop cocktail, then the $7 for Tilt, which was over pretty quickly but an amazing experience (you’re in a glass booth which tilts outwards over the city – the view is incredible and it’s not really that scary!)
The photos were a massive ripoff though – they were going to charge me $25 for one photo which was taken from behind so didn’t even really show me tilting! No thanks!
The view was pretty good although I didn’t feel the need to stay long after I’d seen it all from Sears Tower a few days earlier!
First order of business on Friday was to take the train to Through The Body for my ‘Hellz Bellez’ class! Such a fun concept – the music was so good, finishing up with a little Leppard and Poison, and even with the 2.5lb kettlebell I definitely felt the effects the next day! Thanks Stephanie for an awesome class!
So my plan after a shower and one last load of washing, was to hit up the vintage storesof Wicker Park. I did eventually get there but was caught out by the confusing Chicago train network which brings me to my 3rd and final tip for Chicago:
Chicago tourist tip #3 – the train network is confusing! If there are stations on 2 different lines with the same name, don’t assume it’s the same station! As an example, the Blue Line has 2 different stations called Harlem!
Instead of Wicker Park I found myself in Pilsen, the Mexican neighbourhood (which is HUGE, FYI!) It is a vibrant area and there is a mural district which I didn’t find, but I did eventually work out where I did need to be! Next time I’m in Chicago (and there will be a next time!) I’ll make sure I get a whole day in the Wicker Park neighbourhood!
From there I went to Green Zebra to meet Lyde for dinner – I ended up having 3 courses and a cocktail, all vegan, all delicious!
From there we headed to United Center for the Bulls v Celtics game.
We were in the nosebleed section but could still see everything that was going on. And there was ALWAYS something going on. Dunk contests, acrobats, a Chinese woman on a unicycle flipping bowls off her foot onto her head, T-shirts being shot out of cannons, T-shirts in parachutes – never a dull moment! Pity the game was a non-event and the Bulls lost the series that night and consequently are now out of the playoffs! Nevertheless, it was awesome to experience an NBA game live despite the one-sidedness of the contest!
And the night finished with another first – my first ever Uber ride! Public transport wasn’t really an option to get home given the dodginess of the area, so I decided to download the app and give this Uber thing a try! Uber is not really big in Australia but is pretty huge over here. I was lucky enough to have a very good experience with an excellent driver, Andrew – seems like a pretty good system!
On Saturday, my final day in Chicago (fortunately I was on a 4:55pm flight so I had most of the day) I finally saw Emma, who’d got in around 2am! We went for brunch and way too much coffee (they kept topping us up!) then for a cup of tea at Intelligentsia and finally a donut (I can’t remember the name of the place but they had literally one vegan donut which was more like a muffin but still good!) before heading back to Emma’s place to get my stuff and head to the train! It rained pretty much all day so we tended to stick with indoor activities!
One of the things I’ve noticed everywhere in the States but which seems to be most obtrusive in Chicago out of all the places I’ve been to, is the homeless people. They’re on pretty much every corner but it’s not just that. In Chicago I saw one guy walk through traffic and ask people in cars for money – I’d never seen that before, only the Good Friday appeal in Melbourne which is different, that’s charity collectors, and it’s all-pervasive (but only for one day). On Saturday alone we had one guy in the foyer of the donut place (which was really awkward because it was kind of hard to say you had no spare money when you obviously just bought donuts) and finally a guy who walked past us 3 times at the train station asking for money (after we’d only said no, like 30 seconds ago)
So, that’s Chicago for you! I will be back! I have a feeling next time the Chicago Marathon may be on the cards!