La Push, Hurricane Ridge and a Goodbye to the PNW- Seattle, Washington

What do you do when it’s your last vacation day and you realize there is still just so much too see? Do you rationalize and prioritize and make plans for when you can come back? If you’re a more logical person than I, then yes, that would be exactly what you would do. If you’re me and/or you’re traveling with me (and you love me too much to explain why this would be a bad idea) you try and fit in everything you want to see in one day and get in the car and go.

Such was the case on our last day in the Seattle area. We had seen a fair amount already and the plans had been to spend our last day exploring the city, maybe hitting up a couple of bookstores and just relaxing. But after visiting Vancouver, I hadn’t been too enamored with Seattle in comparison (no offense to Seattle of course, we all have our favorite cities) and felt my heart calling out to go back to the mountains and for one last view of the ocean before we headed back Texas. So the morning of our last day we packed up the rental car and headed off to the first stop of the day, navigating to the Hurricane Ridge visitor center inside of Olympic National Park.

A leisurely 3 hour drive from downtown Seattle made all the better by the beautiful landscape and perfect weather. We didn’t intend to do any hiking or really much of anything that wasn’t just looking around in awe at the view once we got up there. Beautiful green mountains spread out in front of us and I honestly think the only comparable view i’ve had in a national park was when we visited Rocky Mountain Natl. Park, and even then there were no gorgeous bay views. We couldn’t stay too long as we had another 2 hour or so drive to make it to our next destination but on the way down back towards Port Angeles we still stopped at almost every lookout to take it all in, get just one last taste of this park we knew we’d have to come back to explore further one day soon.

La Push was the last destination of the day and the most exciting for me as I had looked up photos of the area the night before and kept showing them to the bf like, “Look! Isn’t this just amazing! We gotta go!”  till he said yes yes it was very nice  and agreed we would go even if the drive back from there to Seattle would be slightly painful. We arrived just a little before 5pm, later than we’d wanted but still excited to find our way to the beach. Parking by the trail for Second Beach we made our way into the forest for the short hike to the beach, less than a mile and pretty easy in most parts. We mostly only encountered people coming back so we hoped we had managed to avoid the more crowded part of the day and by the time we got close enough to hear the sound of the ocean and smell that familiar salty air there was more than a slight giddiness to our step.

Just beautiful, I honestly could have stayed there all day, walking along the sand with my feet getting splashed by the cold water and my jeans rolled up to my knees but we knew the sooner we started the 4 hour drive back the less we would hate ourselves the next morning. And so, with just one last look we clambered over the driftwood and headed back to the car and, after brushing ourselves off as best we could, we put on some music and started the long drive back.

We decided to take the south US 101 route back rather than head back up to Port Angeles again and just enjoy the views of the coastline. Passing through all the sleepy coastal towns (Humptulips!) and various signs for public beaches, thinking back on the past few days and all we’d seen and done, I knew that we had to come back for a much longer stay if not just somehow make a permanent move.

It wasn’t until almost midnight when we made it back to the hotel and as we walked from the parking garage over to the entrance, we passed by the Space Needle, all lit up against the dark night sky and we stopped there for a minute to look up. Tired and sweaty, the bottom of our jeans covered in sand and our shoes muddy as hell, we looked up at this landmark of the Pacific Northwest and felt just overwhelmingly content with the way this trip had gone. Maybe not perfectly planned, but more than perfectly adventurous for us.

~m

Stanley Park, A Steam Clock and Tim Hortons- Vancouver, Canada

“Whaaaaat! Where did you get that??”

The question is thrown at me loudly, breaking the early morning atmosphere of the break room and I look down at what i’m holding, what the lady who’s talking to me is staring at. It’s a stainless steel travel mug emblazoned with TIM HORTONS across it in happy red script. Her enthusiasm to discuss this makes some kind of sense then, given I live in Texas and you can only get Tim Hortons in Canada.

Lets step back about two months before this interaction (and about 6 months from todays current date because life has managed to truly mess up the timeline of my blogposts lately) back to when the bf and I were driving up from Seattle to Vancouver, having learned only then that the day we would be visiting any part of Canada for the first part was to be on “Canada day”, a federal holiday comparable to the 4th of July for Americans. I wish we could say we planned it that way on purpose but to be honest we planned this trip like most other trips, that is to say, on the fly and with only minimum research. Perhaps with a little more insight, we might have avoided the long wait at the border crossing and anticipated the heavier traffic in the city but in the end it worked out for the best and we got to see downtown Vancouver lit up with pride.

We had only allotted a day and a half for Vancouver, though obviously you could (and should) spend a bit longer here, especially when you include the surrounding area. Not wanting to overextend ourselves too much, we picked Stanley Park and the Gastown area of downtown Vancouver to check out with the time we had, choosing a Hyatt to stay in. We made the most of our time by driving through part of Stanley Park as soon as we arrived, to get a feel for where everything was and making note of what we wanted to come see early the next day when it was less crowded (due to the aforementioned holiday). After marveling at the green gorgeousness and bay views, we headed towards our hotel, a 5 min drive that took almost half hour because gods above you will either use public transportation in Vancouver or you will regret every even looking at a car- not thats a such a terrible thing to be honest. After checking in and decompressing we headed back out to explore the nearby streets, find cool cheesy souvenirs for friends and take in a little more of what the city had to offer.

The sun didn’t set until well past 9pm that night and the boyfriend and I kept looking out at the skies both marveling and slightly freaked out until the fireworks started up somewhere by the bay. Rather tired from the days traveling we opted to stay in for dinner and order room service, complete with a cheese/dessert plate I would soon come to regret ordering the next day.

Up and at them early the next day, we checked out and loaded up our things in the rental to go wander around Stanley park for a few hours before we started the drive back to Seattle. I hadn’t finished the dessert and cheese plate treats we had gotten the night before, so rather than throw them away (because room service is many things but cheap isn’t one of them) I stashed them in a handy plastic bag and figured I would munch on them during the day….which would have been a grand plan if the boyfriend hasn’t been worried we would get arrested for trying to cross back into the US with loose fruits, nuts and cheeses. All my attempted soothings were for naught however and after we explored some very beautiful areas of the park, I ended up sitting hunched over in the passenger seat hurriedly stuffing my face with cheese, crackers, sweetened fruits and candy bites like a desperate dumpster diving raccoon so as to convince the bf we would not have reason to get violently arrested at the border crossing.

(The park really was very beautiful though, and apart from this face stuffing incident, a wonderfully peaceful oasis that I would really love to visit again.)

A goodbye to Vancouver it was, but not a good bye to Canada yet, because as we were leaving the outskirts of the city I suddenly remembered-

“I need to find a Tim Hortons!” 

“…Why ?” 

Because! You gotta do it if you visit Canada!” 

He was dubious but I insisted and so we found the nearest shopping area, pulled up alongside the cleanest cop car i’ve ever seen and got out to go buy some Tim Hortons coffee. This is where I saw the gleaming beauty of a stainless steel travel mug and bought it, positive it was the best souvenir of the trip even if the bf wasn’t so convinced. Months later, sitting at work in the breakroom, I would be vindicated when a transplanted and slightly homesick Canadian walked in, did an actual double take  and then promptly lost her shit at seeing the mug. She asked to take a photo of it and grilled me on where i’d gotten it and we commiserated on how very very unlike Vancouver any part of Texas is.

On the drive down to Seattle, I saw a Round Table Pizza coming up on the GPS and after asking if the bf had ever eaten at one and confirming he hadn’t, we took a small detour for lunch. I spent the better part of my teenage years growing up in the Bay Area of NorCal and Round Table Pizza was irrevocably linked to those years- birthday parties, after school cool kid hangout area and just really frikin good tasty pizza. After just one slice, the bf agreed it was amazingly good pizza and worth a detour (though perhaps not as good as pizza we made a 2 hour detour for in Zion ).

Loaded up on carbs and still buzzing from coffee a bit, we made it into Seattle just around 4:30 and proceeded to find a parking spot near Pike Place Market and aimed towards a shop just nearby that had a name that caught both our eyes, Robot Vs Sloth. After we both dropped a probably ill-advised amount of money on unspeakably cute stuff that just spills over with that west coast Seattle vibe, we headed on down to the market where we wandered around a bit, bought some fruit and finally I ended up on the lower level in a bookstore where I could have spent hours browsing through the haphazardly stacked books if it hadn’t been closing up in 5 minutes. The owner was super nice though and I managed to grab a book on the evolution of Pacific Northwest art in the region before he closed for the day and was ready to head on out when I saw just across from it, another store that was still open that captured my attention.

It turned out to the the Patrick T Kerr Gallery shop and honestly I have rarely seen such amazingly detailed art that still manages to be supremely creative. I tend to shy away from art rendered in precision and usually that means no architects but, this art was so lively and yet fantastically restrained in it’s efficient lines…I loved it and the guy working there must have seen that because he let me browse well past when I think they were probably supposed to close without even hovering. I bought a bunch of prints and postcards, one especially to send to a friend who lives in Paris who I knew would appreciate the work given his own love for the pure logic of mathematics. The man working there that day was insanely friendly and down to earth, even giving me a free signed print as he said, “Well you’re buying so many, don’t you want a perk?”  Which yes my good sir, thank you! I rarely talk about places to shop when I write about traveling (or ever) but if you’re visiting Pikes Place Market, I would definetly make the time to check this shop out if you can.

We ended our time here at the market by grabbing some of the last fresh mixed lemonade a stand was selling out front of the market, they were closing up shop so while we paid for small cups we received large sizes since it was the end of the day. Nice people or just good luck? I’d say a little bit of both probably, and also really good lemonade! We sipped the cool drink as we walked down closer to the docks and the Puget sound, the sun slowly starting to set a golden color over everything.

~m

The Forum Romanum and a Goodbye- Rome, Italy

Was this the highlight of our stay in Rome? Long answer no (St Peters Basilica was surreal but my hurt hurt like the dickens to the point it was excruciating to stand and marvel at it all), short answer heck yes. I honestly can’t emphasize how necessary a visit is to the Roman Forum if you are visiting Rome and considering we almost didn’t go ourselves thats saying something.

I think the only real downside to the visit was that because we chose to do this in conjunction with the Colosseum tour (which isn’t necessary but the ticket price for us just made sense), we didn’t have as much time to explore as I would have liked once the tour concluded. But to be fair, I feel like I would need a full day to see it all and I’m more than willing to come back to do so.

Being for centuries the center of everyday life in Rome, the sprawling ruins of the forum are capable of capturing anyone’s imagination and I would almost dare anyone to visit and not be filled with wonder and immense curiosity at the lives of the people who inhabited these spaces.

( For information on how to get there, it’s location- next to the Colosseum it’s pretty obvious but still-, the price of admission and opening hours I would suggest going here. )

After paying my respects at Julius Caesar’s alter (not to be confused with his grave, but where his remains were cremated and where his altar is dedicated ) we headed back down the street to our Airbnb apartment where it was time to pack things up for the next mornings journey to Paris.

After snacking on what will always remain the best tasting strawberries that I’d picked up earlier on our walk back from the Pantheon, I alternated between packing and making sure we were reading for our early departure and marveling at the incredible view from our windows as the sun set and night descended complete with twinkling stars.

I can say with a surety that i’m sure has been expressed millenniums before- there is no city quite like Rome and I would almost say that any first time visit to Italy isn’t complete without at least a stop to the city that all roads lead to.

~m

A Walk Through History in The Colosseum – Rome, Italy

After making it back from our morning sightseeing walk and depositing the souvenirs we (I) had obtained as well as the fresh fruit I had picked up from a market stall along the way, we headed back out just down the street to meet up with the tour group that would be taking us through the Colosseum.

These two photos here- of me and this flag i’m holding-  are rather important, if only because one should inform the other. Through out the whole portion of the trip we spent in Italy, more often then not, I kept being mistaken for being Italian (though I got a couple of “français ?” as well) . And this wouldn’t have been a big deal if I was fluent in Italian but i’m not- even at this point in time as I write this, i’m only painfully awkward at a conversational level. I can understand the language well enough but definetly not enough to speak it when i’m mistaken as Italian by a local and they begin speaking to me rapidly in said language (the look of disappointment in their eyes as I began haltingly answering back in Italian and then was forced to switch to English is a giant motivator in the last few months of study i’ve put into learning the language btw).

So anyways, story time. Me and the bf signed up to take a tour of the Colosseum + the Roman Forum and once we met up with the group at the appointed time and location, we headed on towards the entrance, where the tour guide got tickets on our behalf and once we made it up to the point where security passes you through a turnstile, he would use each ticket to have us go through. When it was my turn, I passed through without incident but when the bf tried to go through, the turnstile wouldn’t turn- apparently there was an error with the tickets.

The thing is, we had signed up for this tour specifically because it was the only way to tour the underground levels of the Colosseum, as you had to do it accompanied in a tour group but also with a licensed archeologist guide that would meet the group inside the Colosseum. This archeologist was already waiting for us at the designated meeting point and as our tour guide was being held up by trying to figure out what was wrong with the tickets, he turned to our small group and said, “Ok, I need one of you to take this flag while I go fix this.” And then, somehow, I ended up being the person who got to lead out tour group down to the meeting point. Which would have been fine, if a bit of a novel experience, if the archeologist waiting for us hadn’t immediately pounced on my when she saw I was holding the flag to begin rapidly talking in Italian and gesturing to our group with questions.

The rest of the tour group jumped in rapidly to correct her and let her know where our real guide was and her response after realizing the situation and mix up was a long and hearty laugh, many apologies and the words “Mi dispiace! You just have that face- doesn’t she just have that face?” and thats the story of how I got to lead a tour group in the Colosseum for all of 10 minuets and was mistaken as a tour guide while sporting a rather old and overly large hoodie I borrowed from the bf (professional attire at it’s finest i’m sure).

I’d like to say the rest of the tour in the Colosseum went without incident but someone actually ended up puking while we were in the underground levels. Thankfully, they were ok, and it was near the end of that part of the tour and even with all this little things I would still highly recommend signing on to take the tour that enables you to visit the underground levels- most especially because you will be guided by an actual archeologist who has been working there in the Colosseum . I’ve never had a tour guide who was as passionate as she was- not only with telling us the history of the Colosseum (also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre) but with impressing into us the importance of acknowledging the incredible amount of human suffering that went on there, especially while we toured the underground levels.

This is where people worked, lived, fought and died, I remember her telling us. I had already known the majority of combatants who fought in the arena were generally slaves, condemned criminals or prisoners of war but there was something about standing there underneath the arena itself as she showed us where the fighters would have prepared, as we were led us across narrow dark hallways where light barely shown through, as we were shown the pulleys and levers that would transport animals up or bodies back down-  there is a difference to reading about history and standing face to face with it.

That white part you see there in this photo above, that is the only part of the arena floor that remains and once again, you can only step out onto it with the guided archeological tour- and let me tell you, that alone is worth the price of admission. Standing there on the elevated platform and looking out over the arena stands is almost enough to transport you, if only for a moment, to AD 80 when the amphitheater was completed.

By the by, it’s worth nothing how impressive it is that given when it was first built, it still remains the worlds largest amphitheatre.

The rest of the tour was impressive, but as soon as we caught a glimpse of the Roman Forum from one of the upper levels and were told that was where the next part of our tour would be, I could barely hold in my excitement. If you know anything about me and traveling, you know almost nothing interests me as much as ruins and here was this impressive sprawl of ancient roman ruins just waiting to be explored.  We said goodbye to the Colosseum and headed on to the next part of our tour.

We walked slowly from the outer edges of the forum, the views of the Colosseum all that more beautiful to me for having been inside, and deeper into the heart of the Roman Forum.

~m

Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and A Pantheon-Rome, Italy

Waking up bright and early – or as early as we possibly could given we’d been waking up all past few days at about 5am and desired just a teensy bit of a lie in – we headed out with our walking shoes laced up and then down into the Metro to make our way to the first stop of the day, the Spanish Steps.

On that note, depending on where you are staying and/or going, the Rome metro can be either extremely helpful or… not so much. Thankfully we had booked to stay at an Airbnb literally right next to the Colosseum which also meant the metro was just downstairs from our apartment and there was a line that took us almost right to the Spanish Steps.

Once we arrived, we marveled at the beautiful cascading stairs, snapped a couple of pictures for our friends, debated making our way up to the top and then decided that since it wasn’t the best light, we would see about coming back later in the day given how easy it had been to get there. Besides, we were eager to get to our next stop, the famous Trevi Fountain.

Another landmark i’d love to come back to see at night, the fountain was as beautiful as it’s been depicted on film and about as crowded as you’d expect as well. We sat at one of the benches right in front of it and people watched for a while and contemplated getting a gelato from a vendor nearby as so many others who were seated nearby had done. Eventually we decided against the gelato however, as we had one last stop for that mornings excursion, and the one I was the most excited about, The Pantheon. It was just a short walk from the fountain to it and immensely enjoyable as the streets were colorful that day and it felt like walking down one picturesque corner unto a yet another.

Built in 113–125 AD the Pantheon is a former Roman temple that is now a church dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs, and even now almost 2,000 years after it was constructed still holds the title of the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome- which I did not know when we visited and now blows my mind even more. There’s a surreal quality to it, the way it still stands there amid all these other more modern day buildings- even with people brushing past you in today’s clothing you can almost imagine yourself centuries in the past.

Inside, that same feeling is even more inescapable. The mixture of ancient Roman temple architecture and the overlay of Christianity makes for an incredibly arresting sight.

(Side note- the hole you see in the dome in the photos below is known as the eye of the Pantheon and it’s open to the skies- we saw a couple of birds perched there and apparently when it rains it comes through as there is nothing to stop it. The floor is built in such a way however, that water doesn’t accumulate where it falls. Probably still a good idea to avoid standing directly underneath the oculus on a rainy day though.)

I could have spent hours in there honestly, both admiring the surroundings and also people watching- but we had an afternoon tour at the Colosseum and the Roman Forum so we had to get going. We wandered back out and into the present day again and then, once more, back out onto the streets towards the Colosseum.