coast to coast

Karen and I are off on a mini adventure tomorrow. We’re flying from Boston to San Francisco; coincidentally, pretty much the same flight time (around six hours) as a journey back to the UK.

This will be our second visit to San Francisco, following a trip back in 2010 (when this pic was taken). But this is no vacation. We’re continuing our search for a place to settle in the US.


We’ve spent two enjoyable years in Boston, but it’s time to move on. We need to find a longer-term home, for us and for O&L. One thing’s (almost) for sure, it will be on the west coast.

I’ve mentioned our love of Portland here before, and that’s in the running. Now we’re checking out a few neighborhoods in the Bay Area, as a backup. More updates coming soon…

back in portland

Some of you may remember our visit to Portland, Oregon, almost two years ago, when I was in full travel snap mode. Well, as you read this, we’re back there…er, I mean here.

Aside from being a pleasant early summer getaway, this is a research trip for us, as we try and figure out where we’d like to base Olli & Lime, and ourselves, for the long term.

Over the next few days, we’ll be re-acquainting ourselves with Portland. A city that’s even further from England but much closer weather-wise…at least during the winter months.

rooftop blanket

We awoke this morning to a fresh covering of snow! So, I just thought I’d share the view from a top floor window at he back of our place, looking across the chimneyed rooftops…

As our Boston Christmas trip approaches, I’m not only concerned that we may miss a white Christmas in our home town, but also that BA may cancel flights, as per today.

snow joke

We’re going to Boston for Christmas and New Year. Fun, with some business thrown in, as we plan to set up an office and warehousing there in early 2011. Very exciting times.

I took this shot back in March 2007, when we first visited. The only time in seven trips we’ve seen snow there. All about timing though, as it snows in Boston every year. A lot.

Anyway, we thought it’d be a great time to visit, sample the atmosphere, maybe even get a white Christmas. Statistically, there’s a 23% chance. Pretty decent odds…you’d think.

There’s about a 10% chance of a white Christmas where we live, though I can’t recall one. Now though, with the UK’s recent snowfall and cold snap, it looks quite possible here.

In fact, Boston temperatures are currently several degrees higher than our town. Oh the irony. Wouldn’t it be just typical if Cheltenham got a white Christmas and Boston didn’t?

Still, a couple of weeks to go yet. We’ll keep an eye on the weather and hope for at least a sugar-coated covering come the day. Hmmm, really should be careful what I wish for.

apartment therapy

Just a quick post to say we’ve arrived in Boston, for the second half of our East Coast trip. We’re staying in our favourite neighbourhood, South End, in an apartment we’ve rented…

The apartment is just about perfect. At ‘parlor level’ with jaw-dropping proportions, period features and tasteful, minimal decor. I think we’re gonna find it very difficult to leave.

seattle differences

As we hop from city to city, we can’t help comparing. Thought I’d go through some things immediately apparent about Seattle. First though, here’s where we’re staying.

Right, it’s a big city. The population is almost identical to Portland and Vancouver; it just has more of a big city feel. Bigger buildings, more traffic, more of a buzz about it.

The shopping is better. More big-brand names, more independents too. There’s just more of everything. I’m sure if we were in Portland, we’d probably come here to shop!

It’s edgier. I guess coming from Vancouver and Portland it’s unfair to say it’s dirty; it’s no dirtier than most large cities, but it does have that dusty, big city, alive, edgy feel.

There’s more water. An obvious one, but the implications are what’s important; an overt connection, influencing industry, attitude, getting around; all aspects of life here.

Overall initial reaction; an impressive, cool, vibrant city. And we’ve only dipped our toes in. Hmmm…we need two more weeks, rather than the few days we have left.

the pearl

Whether we return to the city or not, and I’m almost 100% certain we will, one area will leave a lasting impression on us, Portland’s capital of cool; The Pearl District.

Like most cities, Portland has experienced an economic slump. But ‘The Pearl’ is thriving. Bustling cafes, bars and restaurants, flanked by well-planned park spaces.

This district, northwest of downtown, is home to much of Portland’s creative arts community. Converted warehouses neighbour ultra-modern glass and steel towers.

Industrial warehouses were built from the late 1800s to store goods transported to Portland by rail. Evidence of this former function has been thoughtfully preserved.

These buildings now house Portland’s priciest condos/apartments and it’s easy to see why. The condo we viewed on the top floor of this R-H building had 26ft ceilings!

The upshot is, if we come back we’ll stay in the Pearl. There’s even a chance that it may be for longer than just a holiday. Plenty to consider before then so we’ll see.

transport land

Of all the US cities we’ve visited, Portland arguably has the best public transport; Max light rail, streetcar, commuter rail and bus, all under the TriMet banner.

So what makes it so great? First, it’s free within the centre. In fact, nobody seems to pay a fare outside the free zone, perhaps why the tickets say “Welcome to Portland”.

It’s on time. Clear digital displays tell you when the next Streetcar is on its way and sure enough, it arrives when they say it will, thanks mostly to a lack of city traffic.

It’s all above ground. This means you get to see where you’re going and where you’re coming from, which is great when you’re trying to get your bearings in a new place.

Even further above ground is the Portland Aerial Tram – or cable car to you and me – which gives some incredible views of the city…and Mount Hood, the closest peak.

This modern, efficient and clean service runs specially for OHSU staff to get to and from the Waterfront…many of them residing in recent condo developments below.

One negative is that the streetcar, which we have used the most as it fits our route, doesn’t run very late. Though with a bit of planning this isn’t much of a problem.

clean and green

Portland isn’t the biggest US city. It doesn’t have the tallest buildings, the best shops, the coolest clubs or the greatest restaurants. But I really love it. And here’s why…

It’s green. I’m not talking about the commitment to sustainable design, or public transport, or urban planning (though all very commendable) No, it’s green. Literally.

It’s clean. Really clean. Walking through the downtown area, it struck us right away. The sidewalks, the buildings, the bus stops. It all feels clean and tidy. Which is nice.

It’s friendly. The people have been so welcoming. And not just the concierge, service staff or realtors. In bars, on transport, in the street. People are helpful, polite, friendly.

It’s logical. It usually takes me ages to get my bearings. But here, I instantly get it. The streets run numerically east to west and alphabetically (most of) south to north.

Incidentally, some Simpsons characters were named after streets in the Alphabet District (also the Pearl). (Mayor) Quimby, (Reverend) Lovejoy and (Ned) Flanders! It’s also rumored that the series’ Springfield is the one in Oregon.

It’s cheap. No sales tax. A large ‘Fare Free Zone’ and everything just seems to cost less. We’ve spent very little money since we arrived, on day-to-day stuff at least.

It’s pretty old. Not English old but definitely US old. I didn’t expect to see so many old buildings. In addition to the warehouses of the Pearl District, the downtown area is filled with stunning historic architecture.

There are negatives, sure. The city’s evident homeless problem. The high level of unemployment etc etc. Also, a summer visit clearly puts Portland in the best light…literally.

However, I still think it’s an incredible city. I only wish we had longer here to enjoy it. Oh well, I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll be back in Portland again pretty soon…

the perfect game

A while ago I mentioned our excitement at getting Boston Red Sox tickets. This was our second game at Fenway Park, the oldest stadium in Major League baseball.

We were due some runs, as our first visit saw us lose 1-0 after 14 runless innings. This game was the polar opposite, as the Red Sox blasted their way to a 17-8 win.

To round-off the perfect evening, two of Boston’s other teams – the Celtics and Bruins – both won playoff games, with progress reported on the ‘Green Monster’ scoreboard.

We left the stadium feeling very content, witnessing the Red Sox’ biggest run total this season. And just when things couldn’t get any better, the water ban got lifted.