A short 30min up and down flight took us from sleepy Maui to bustling O’ahu.
It felt good to be backpackers again, catching the Honolulu bus, and mixing with the locals. We were heading to a hostel, a couple of blocks from Waikiki beach, that probably cost a quarter of the rate of the next door international hotel.
We could have been in Cannes or Dubai, if it wasn’t for the beautifully bronzed carrying their surfboards under their arm to the beach. And for the Japanese and Chinese tourists this is where you shop, take mini-bus tours and eat out in stylish restaurants.
In comparison, we used the time to throw away our worn-out clothes, update this blog, and plan the next stage of the gap year. But this didn’t stop us going out for swims on Waikiki Beach and eating from an authentic Chinese street cafe.
We’d both been to LA before, but at the time when you didn’t go downtown. It was pretty-well a no-go area for tourists back in the 80s. So that’s were we headed now, and it was a revelation. Perfect for an afternoon stroll and everyone looked happy, even the homeless looking less desperate than up north.
In particular, in the sunlight, the stunning architecture impressed. Most notably for us the 1930s City Hall, Pershing Square, the inside of the stunning Bradbury Building and the ultra-modern Walt Disney Concert Hall.
And now we deserved a celebratory drink. Over 34 life-affirming days, we had travelled from Portland to Los Angeles in our lovely Grande Cherokee 4×4 experiencing incredible landscapes and sights. Oregon we could live in. California we would love to visit every year.
Walled country clubs and over 100 golf courses have replaced the “Rat Pack”, but Palm Springs still has charm. Everywhere is manicured, even the palm trees, and the boutiques, galleries and restaurants delight the tourists.
But we didn’t experience it at its Spring best – in June it’s simply too hot, although water misting systems cool you as you walk around, looking a bit like a scene in Macbeth. But they don’t keep out the polluted air from LA that gets channelled down the Coachella Valley.
Memorial Weekend in America’s most European city, 60 years on from the Summer of Love. The squares were full of youngsters picnicking. Golden Gate Park full of families and couples out for a stroll or a cycle.
We stayed airbnb in the desirable Noe Valley area, taking the J line tram into downtown. Joined by Hilary’s sister Stephanie we simply enjoyed being tourists.
Built on 43 hills, this is a city with views. Also a place with charm and elegance. We were surprised how many of the historic buildings survive.
Puddletown. It’s an appropriate nickname for Portland as it rains here three out of every four days.
Walking along the Walamette riverfront and around Downtown was all a bit miserable. So we kept drier by visiting the art gallery, the local history museum, the largest independent bookshop in the world and lots of cafes. This is a city with a strong sense of community and lots of raincoats.
Logging, the Klondike Gold Rush, Boeing, Amazon and grunge music; these are the foundations of the EmeraldCity. Downtown was edgy and exciting. Gays walked hand-in-hand. Skyscraper-builders drank Starbucks. Mental-health sufferers howled loud and long in the streets.
This is one of America’s most liberal cities – but to us, it didn’t seem like a city at ease with itself.
We photographed downtown from the top of the 1914 built Smith Tower (below left). But the symbol of Seattle is the amazing Space Needle built 48 years later (below right).
We saw the city at its best. Young couples jogging along the beach. Tourists walking around Granville Island. Six-pack men playing beach volleyball. Following one of their worst winters for many years – it was springtime in Vancouver.
One moment we are in a pine forest in Stanley Park – the next surrounded by gleaming skyscrapers. But whilst global capital has replaced the old warehouses and timber mills, it hasn’t helped the housing situation. Vancouver has the dubious distinction of being third in the world for unaffordable housing.
We stayed here three nights and could easily have stayed longer. Without a doubt the best city we have visited so far on our gap-year.
Late evening, atop a part-finished office building in downtown Kelowna the property boom is clear. In the urban space, new luxury apartment blocks and technology incubation hubs. In the hills, gated communities surrounded by vineyards. Along the main highway, a mass of retail signs just like in the States.
We were shown around by a young entrepreneur who’s soon to open a restaurant on the roof-top. He spoke about ambitious plans to bring new industries here. With scenic vistas of Lake Okanagan and a dry, sunny climate, Kelowna is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada.
The palest couple in Chile back in January are now the brownest people in Calgary, Canada.
It’s like we have gone from summer to winter. It’s 6 degrees and the parks are only just emerging from thick snow cover. Maybe we should have planned to arrive here a few weeks later!
At least the sun came out so we enjoyed walking along the Bow River pathways. There is a European feel here. More walking, less cars. But the crash in oil prices, is creating uncertainty in the Dubai-like skyscraper boom.
The highlight of the day was catching up with Shane and Natalia who we got to know five weeks back in the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin. Great couple.
New Orleans’ French Quarter is intoxicatingly raw. Music at every corner, flowers from every decorative balcony and larger-than-life characters at every turn.
In the day we rode the historic Saint Charles Avenue tram, walked along the Mississippi, visited art galleries and enjoyed the street musicians. As darkness fell and the shadier side of life emerged along Bourbon Street, we ate po’ boys, listened to jazz at the intimate Preservation Hall and sipped Hurricane cocktails at O’Brien’s.
In a world that’s becoming all too uniform, this is a unique place. No wonder the streets buzzed with Americans down for the long Easter weekend.