Brian’s Travel Spot: The Pacific Northwest

The amazing Multnomah Falls in the Columbia Gorge. There are two parts to the falls, the larger one dropping into a pool before passing under a bridge and over the second, smaller falls.Welcome to the third and final instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, following my three week adventure across the United States. The first instalment, imaginatively entitled New England, covered my time on the east coast in New England: Boston, Providence and Portland, Maine, to be precise. The second instalment, Heading West, covered my journey west, by train, from Portland in Maine, to Portland in Oregon, a total of just over three days on the train, although I had a couple of stop-offs along the way. This, the final instalment, covers my week in the Pacific Northwest and my flight home.

I wrote Brian’s Travel Spot to enable you to follow my adventures as they unfolded. Unfortunately, as the trip went along, the Travel Spot got further and further behind, so now you’ll be reliving my adventures. As with the first two posts, I’ll update this post every few days, in between my normal Coffee Spot posts, the idea being to capture the highlights, with the emphasis on the travel rather than the coffees shops (although they feature too).

Each update has its own gallery with a short entry underneath and you can use the navigation to jump to a particular entry.

You can see what I made of the Pacific Northwest after the gallery.

  • Driving out into the Columbia Gorge (in Marc's hire car) & a first view of Mt Hood.
  • Even at this distance, it's a dominant feature!
  • For most of the way, we were on I-84, skirting the edge of the river.
  • However, we pulled off to visit the Mulnomah Falls, second highest in America.
  • It's only a short walk to the bottom of the falls and this spectacular view.
  • The falls are in two parts, with a bridge above the lower falls...
  • ... so naturally we had to go up there! It's only a 10 minute walk.
  • The view of the upper falls from the bridge.
  • A frieght train came by while we were there. The route of I-84 follows the line on this side.
  • For a while, we drove along Route 30, the Historic Columbia Gorge Highway.
  • It was the main route until I-84 was built and is full of interesting turns...
  • ... and sudden vistas! If you get a chance to drive it, do.
  • One of the many spectacular rock formations at the edge of the gorge.
  • Our ultimate destination was Hood River and dinner. I had the local Salmon.
  • While we were there, we had a visitor.
  • It's a bluebird, who was very good at posing for pictures.
  • Other side, please. Ta.
  • We drove back to Portland, all along I-84 this time, with sunset over the gorge as a backdrop.
  • The light of the setting sun made for some beautiful colours on the walls of the gorge.
  • The sunsets to the northwest over the Washington side of the gorge.
  • Back in Portland, Marc insisted we visit the famous(?) Voodoo Doughtnuts.
  • Who was I to disagree? It was quite an experience and, as the lines testify, very popular.
  • Finally, I picked up my hire car, this fine (and brand new!) Ford Focus.
  • On my way back, I pulled off I-84 & found a secluded spot for some stellar photography.
  • It was amazingly clear and although I only had a limited view, I could see the Plough.
  • I'll leave you with another view of the Plough.
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12th June: Heading out to the Colombia Gorge

The Colombia Gorge is one of the most amazing, physically beautiful places I’ve been. I first visited the area in 2005 when I stayed at Hood River on my way from San Francisco and Seattle. Even then I was struck by its outstanding beauty. This time I stayed in Cascade Locks, a small town between Portland and Hood River, on the Oregon side of the Bridge of the Gods, where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Colombia River.

I stayed in the Colombia Gorge Inn, one of several motels in the town which offered excellent value for money: I had a huge, comfortable room and free, reliable(!) Wifi and all at the lowest room-rate anywhere on the trip. I also got some amazing views of the gorge every morning: the only thing it lacked was breakfast, but that was easily rectified. Cascade Locks has several options, the best being the Eastwind Drive-In (although you can walk in too!) across the road. I recommend you get there early though, before the lines start to form!

This was the first and only time on the trip that I had a car. Both Marc & I hired cars in Portland, but we left mine at the car hire place while Marc drove me out along the gorge on Friday afternoon, keeping to the Oregon side on I-84. Getting around and out of Portland was a challenge, having to navigate a tortuous series of one-way streets and no left/right turn signs which seemed to be designed to thwart our every move!

Out in the gorge, we stopped at the Multnomah Falls, the second highest in America,  before going on to Hood River for dinner at the Sixth Street Bistro, my favourite dining spot during my only previous visit to the area. Then it was back to Portland with the back drop of sunset over the Colombia Gorge to get my hire car, but not before we called into the famous(?) Voodoo Doughnuts. I then drove myself back to Cascade Locks. On the way, I pulled over into a little, sheltered spot off the freeway and got some amazing shots of the night sky, including several of the Plough.

You can see what I got up to in the Colombia Gorge after the gallery.

13th June: Colombia Gorge and Mount Hood

I had the Saturday to myself and used it to explore Cascade Locks, which included wandering across the Bridge of the Gods to the Washington side and back. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but the views are definitely worth it.

I then drove down to Hood River to visit Stoked Roasters + Coffeeshop, before taking Routes 35 and 26 on a drive through the Mount Hood National Park. This took me south from Hood River by Route 35, along the eastern side of Mt Hood, and then west along Route 26 to the south of the mountain. This was an absolutely stunning drive and, if I could, I’d have stopped every five minutes to take pictures of the views of the mountain or of some amazing valley.

However, I had a hike to do and it was already getting late, so I pressed on to just west of Government Camp on Route 26. From there, I hiked for an hour up to Mirror Lake, where I was rewarded with some more excellent views of Mt Hood. Unfortunately I couldn’t go any further as evening was drawing in, so I hiked back to the car and drove west on Route 26. While the driving on Route 26 was a lot easier, it was nowhere near as spectacular as Route 35 so if you can take that drive south from Hood River, I recommend it.

I cut across to I-84 at Troutdale before heading back to Cascade Locks, making a complete circle.  Along the way I went up to the Vista House, a lookout high above the Columbia Gorge on the old Columbia Gorge Historic Highway to see the last rays of the dying sun in the sky above Portland.

See what I got up to for the rest of the weekend after the gallery.

14th June: Eagle Creek and the Wedding

Sunday was the big day, the wedding of my friends Elisa and Brian, which took place at the Bridal Veil Lakes in the Colombia Gorge, not far west of Cascade Locks. This was, in many ways, the whole purpose of the trip.

The wedding was in the afternoon, so I just had time in the morning for a quick hike up Eagle Creek as far as the Punchbowl Falls. Eagle Creek isn’t far from Cascade Locks. In fact, I could have hiked there in under an hour, but since I was pressed for time, I drove over and started my hike from the bottom of the creek, just above the point where it flows into the Columbia River.

The hike’s not too hard and the path is clearly marked and well-maintained. However, the valley is steep-side and there are a couple of points where there’s a bare rock-face on one side of the path and a near vertical drop on other, so it’s not for the faint-hearted or those with serious vertigo. The guide book I’d bought really played this up to the point where I, who suffer from mild vertigo, was quite worried about it. However, I’m pleased to report that at no point did I feel unsafe and I’m glad that I didn’t let it put me off.

My destination was the Punchbowl Falls, about a 45-minute hike up the gorge. The falls have two parts, an upper and lower falls, with a steep-sided, broad-bottomed valley connecting the two. There’s enough room here for a shingle beach (of sorts) and it was a popular spot on the sunny Sunday morning I was there. I lingered for about 30 minutes before reluctantly turning around and hiking back down. However, I had a wedding to go and it wouldn’t do to be late!

The wedding was at the most amazing venue, Bridal Veil Lakes, high up in the gorge, about 30 minutes’ drive west of Cascade Locks. Fortunately I knew exactly where I was going because Marc and I had checked it out on the Friday evening during our drive down the gorge. It was the most magical day, the weather was perfect and it was one of the best weddings I’ve been to in a long time. Many of my friends were there too, so it was great to catch up with everybody! Check out the gallery above to see what we got up to.

Come Monday morning, though, it was time to leave Cascade Locks and the wonderful Colombia Gorge and head into Portland. You can see what I found after the gallery.

  • It was my last day with my hire car, so I was determined to make the most of it...
  • ... driving to the Oregon coast, where I was greeted with a blanket of cloud and fog...
  • ... and this rather scary information panel in the car park: beware of tsunamis!
  • A pair of panoramic views of the coast: top looking out to sea; bottom looking back inland.
  • The beach was bounded by rocky outcroppings to the south...
  • ... I believe that the rocks disappearing into the sea fog are Silver Point and Jockey Cap.
  • ... and to the north, where Haystack Rock separates the beach from Cannon Beach itself.
  • In theory, Cannon Beach is off over there somewhere, hidden in the fog.
  • Ahead of me, of course, was the Pacific Ocean...
  • ... while behind me, I'm sure the view would have been more impressive without the fog!
It was my last day with my hire car, so I was determined to make the most of it...1 ... driving to the Oregon coast, where I was greeted with a blanket of cloud and fog...2 ... and this rather scary information panel in the car park: beware of tsunamis!3 A pair of panoramic views of the coast: top looking out to sea; bottom looking back inland.4 The beach was bounded by rocky outcroppings to the south...5 ... I believe that the rocks disappearing into the sea fog are Silver Point and Jockey Cap.6 ... and to the north, where Haystack Rock separates the beach from Cannon Beach itself.7 In theory, Cannon Beach is off over there somewhere, hidden in the fog.8 Ahead of me, of course, was the Pacific Ocean...9 ... while behind me, I'm sure the view would have been more impressive without the fog!10
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15th June: The Oregon Coast

This was my last day with the hire car, which I had to return to Portland at three o’clock that afternoon. Since I’d started my journey on the Atlantic coast at Portland, Maine, I made the impromptu decision to drive down to the Pacific Coast, which was about an hour and a half away, along my old friend, Route 26.

I took my leave of Cascade Locks and drove down the amazing Colombia Gorge one last time. I’d have loved to have gone along the old highway, stopped off at a few waterfalls and maybe visited Vista House once again for a last view over the gorge, but I knew that if I did that, I’d struggle to get to Portland for three o’clock, let alone get to the coast and back.

Instead, I took the direct route, down I-84, then around Portland on I-5, crossing the river with some spectacular views of the city. Then it was due west on Route 26, which, after a long, straight, flat stretch, wound its way up, over, then down the Coastal Range, which separates Portland from the Pacific Ocean. The drive through the mountains was pretty impressive, although not as spectacular as the Colombia Gorge or Mount Hood National Forest.

On the advice of some friends at the wedding, I headed for Cannon Beach, a few miles south along Route 101. Shortly before I reached the coast, it suddenly clouded over, and before long, I was driving along under leaden skies, the temperature, according to my car, having dropped from a heady 90F (32C) to 60F (15)!

I came off Route 101 and drove through the town of Cannon Beach, which was a little too like a seaside resort for my liking, before coming upon a windswept section of beach just to the south of the town at the Tolovana Beach State Park. I parked up, got out of the car, immediately got back in again, put my jacket on, got out again and wandered over to a nearby information board, which warned me of the dangers of tsunamis! I know you’re only trying to help, Oregon, but it is just a little disconcerting to read that tsunamis “have struck the Oregon coast repeatedly and will again in the future”. Yikes!

With that in mind, it was perhaps for the best that I could only spent 15 minutes at the coast before heading back to Portland to drop the car off. It was long enough to have a quick look around, take some photos and decide that it was in fact a lovely piece of coastline that I’d do well to come back and visit properly some other time.

I’ll leave you with the two videos below, which, if you like the sound of ocean waves, I suggest you play with the sound on…

Then it was back in the car and time to retrace my steps along Routes 101 and 26. As magically as the cloud had appeared, it disappeared when I was a few miles from the coast and it was back to the heat. This sort of coastal micro-climate was something I’d only experienced once before down in San Francisco on my only previous west-coast trip 10 years previously.

On the way out to the coast I’d passed an interesting-looking drive-through espresso place called Sunset Espresso, so on the way back, I called in for some coffee and lunch. Drive-throughs are, to my mind, a quintessentially American experience, although I couldn’t bring myself to go the full hog, instead parking up in the shade and walking over. You can see what I made of it in the gallery below.

  • Sunset Espresso, which I spotted on my way to Cannon Beach...
  • ...23 miles from Cannon Beach in fact! And 23 miles from the appropriately-named Seaside!
  • I decided that I would stop in on my back to Portland...
  • ... so I pulled off the road, admiring the hills behind Sunset Espresso.
  • I wimped out of doing the full drive-through experience, instead parking in the shade. Check out the picnic tables to the left!
  • Cosy little place, isn't it?
  • Drivers can approach on either side when its busy.
  • View from the other side.
  • I, however, ended up here...
  • ... checking out the extensive menu.
  • Espresso seems to be the order of the day.
  • I chatted to the friendly barista while she made my coffee.
  • I also picked up an egg sandwich on an English muffin for lunch.
  • Back at the car, UpperCup views Sunset Espresso.
  • I never knew my car had such a reflective roof until then!
  • However, soon it was time to go, over the hills and back to Portland.
  • I arrived back just in time, 456.8 miles after I'd left on Friday evening!
Sunset Espresso, which I spotted on my way to Cannon Beach...1 ...23 miles from Cannon Beach in fact! And 23 miles from the appropriately-named Seaside!2 I decided that I would stop in on my back to Portland...3 ... so I pulled off the road, admiring the hills behind Sunset Espresso.4 I wimped out of doing the full drive-through experience, instead parking in the shade. Check out the picnic tables to the left!5 Cosy little place, isn't it?6 Drivers can approach on either side when its busy.7 View from the other side.8 I, however, ended up here...9 ... checking out the extensive menu.10 Espresso seems to be the order of the day.11 I chatted to the friendly barista while she made my coffee.12 I also picked up an egg sandwich on an English muffin for lunch.13 Back at the car, UpperCup views Sunset Espresso.14 I never knew my car had such a reflective roof until then!15 However, soon it was time to go, over the hills and back to Portland.16 I arrived back just in time, 456.8 miles after I'd left on Friday evening!17
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15th – 17th June: Portland, the city

This was my first time in Portland, and, I have to say, I was very impressed. It lacks the immediate, must-see sights of the likes of Seattle, Chicago or Boston, but it is a very liveable, relaxed and friendly city. Unless, perhaps, if you are driving a car. Rare, I know, for an American city, but refreshing nonetheless.

The centre of Portland is on the west bank of the Willamette River, a compact, walkable city which then sprawls to the north, east and south, mostly on the other side of the river. Other than when arriving or departing Portland, I didn’t spend much time in the centre, instead staying in the south-eastern suburbs and generally visiting coffee shops to the east of the river. However, what time I did spend in the city centre, I enjoyed.

On my first day there, when I arrived on the train with Marc, we spent a few hours in the centre before heading off for Colombia Gorge. After popping into Powell’s, the legendary bookshop that is so large it occupies a full city block and has its own maps so that customers don’t get lost, we discovered Portland’s street food scene, where various food trucks gather together in what are known as pods.

Having been to London’s street food markets, such as the South Bank’s Real Food Market and KERB, I kind of knew what to expect. So, when we arrived at a downtown pod, I took things in my stride. Sure, there were six or seven interesting-looking food trucks, but nothing to get that excited about. Then we looked across the street and saw a whole block lined with food trucks. Crossing over, we wandered down the line, turned the corner at the end of the block and there was another row of food trucks. We kept on going, eventually arriving back where we had started.

The pod, it turned out, occupied all four sides of an entire city block (bounded by Adler & Washington Streets and 10th & 11th Avenues), maybe upward of 60 food trucks, offering all sorts of cuisine from all over the world. We also realised that we had, quite by accident, stumbled upon the largest pod in Portland, but we came across several more large pods during our travels. Unsurprisingly, with all that choice, we ended up eating back at one of the first food trucks we came across, which offered some delicious Persian fare.

I was back in Portland on Monday, 15th June, when I dropped my hire car off. This time, however, with a very large, heavy rucksack and on probably the hottest day of my trip, I was in no mood for exploring, settling instead for a visit to Case Study Coffee Roasters in the centre of town before catching a bus out to my motel.

I had one last chance to explore, on Wednesday evening, when I called into Ruby Jewel for some ice-cream and then took a wander down by the river, once again being amazed by how Mt Hood dominates the eastern skyline. Check out the gallery for some of the amazing views.

  • Where better to start my Portland adventures than where I arrived/departed: Union Station?
  • First stop, Portland's street food pods. Not sure what's so special about them, though...
  • Oh, wait, what's that over there? It's a whole block of food trucks!
  • And another one! In fact, all four sides of a large city block, ringed with food trucks...
  • We got something from the first truck we passed... having gone around all the others first!
  • It wasn't all mega-pods though. This colourful little fellow was next to my motel.
  • It even had its own seating area and everything!
  • A rather poor photo of the rather excellent burito I had from the food stall next to my motel.
  • Back in the city centre, it's time for ice cream at the lovely Ruby Jewel.
  • A convenient holder for my lovely ice-cream. Makes photos much easier!
  • My photos don't really do Portland justice. It's full of broad avenues, trees & the odd statue.
  • However, no trip to Portland is complete without going down to the River Willamette.
  • This little section's bounded by two of the many bridges spanning the river: Morrison Bridge
  • ... & the Hawthorne Bridge, a lift bridge from 1910. Sadly I didn't have time to walk across...
  • However, best of all was the view east across the river towards Mt Hood.
  • How cool is having that on your skyline every day?
  • Talking of stunning views, I was particularly impressed by the sky that evening...
  • One of the best bits of staying outside the centre is crossing the bridges on the bus...
  • Here I am, crossing the Hawthorne Lift Bridge, looking downriver (north), Portland to my left.
  • A similar view from the Ross Island Bridge, with the new light rail bridge in the foreground.
  • And the view the other way, towards Ross Island itself.
Where better to start my Portland adventures than where I arrived/departed: Union Station?1 First stop, Portland's street food pods. Not sure what's so special about them, though...2 Oh, wait, what's that over there? It's a whole block of food trucks!3 And another one! In fact, all four sides of a large city block, ringed with food trucks...4 We got something from the first truck we passed... having gone around all the others first!5 It wasn't all mega-pods though. This colourful little fellow was next to my motel.6 It even had its own seating area and everything!7 A rather poor photo of the rather excellent burito I had from the food stall next to my motel.8 Back in the city centre, it's time for ice cream at the lovely Ruby Jewel.9 A convenient holder for my lovely ice-cream. Makes photos much easier!10 My photos don't really do Portland justice. It's full of broad avenues, trees & the odd statue.11 However, no trip to Portland is complete without going down to the River Willamette.12 This little section's bounded by two of the many bridges spanning the river: Morrison Bridge13 ... & the Hawthorne Bridge, a lift bridge from 1910. Sadly I didn't have time to walk across...14 However, best of all was the view east across the river towards Mt Hood.15 How cool is having that on your skyline every day?16 Talking of stunning views, I was particularly impressed by the sky that evening...17 One of the best bits of staying outside the centre is crossing the bridges on the bus...18 Here I am, crossing the Hawthorne Lift Bridge, looking downriver (north), Portland to my left.19 A similar view from the Ross Island Bridge, with the new light rail bridge in the foreground.20 And the view the other way, towards Ross Island itself.21
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15th – 17th June: Portland, the suburbs

As I said, I didn’t spend much time in the city centre. For the rest of my stay, I was out in the suburbs, something that was made possible by Portland’s excellent public-transport system. As I’ve mentioned before, Portland’s not the most car-friendly city, but it more than makes up for that with an excellent, integrated public transport system. There are several street car/light rail lines and a massive, frequent bus network, which I made extensive use of. Best of all, while a single costs $2.50 (which you can use on any of the public transport), for just $5 (that is, the cost of a return), you get a day rover ticket and can uses the buses, street cars and light rail as much as you like, all day long! I’d also like to say a word in praise of Portland bus drivers. Although my sample size was small, they were, without a fault, helpful, friendly and, if they saw you running for the bus, they waited for you, rather than pulling away!

I stayed in a Motel 6 out on Powell Boulevard, part of Route 26 heading east to Colombia Gorge. It was fairly basic, but clean, spacious and very reasonably priced! Although on a very busy road, the neighbourhood was fairly residential; you only had to go a block or two and you were on quiet, tree-lined avenues. On my first full day in Portland (Tuesday), I mostly wandered on foot, a route that took me roughly northward, calling in on Five Points, Coava and Heart. At the end of a long day spent walking and drinking coffee, I was happy to take a couple of buses back to the motel.

The following day, my last in Portland, I’d picked up even more recommendations from the other coffee shops, so I jumped on the bus and headed south to the first of them, Either/Or. Then it was back on the bus, heading north to call in on Portland Roasting. I carried on my general northward route on yet another bus to reach Extracto Coffee Roasters in Prescott Village before returning to the motel via the city centre. I certainly got good value from my $5 that day!

Sadly, it was time to go, with an early start on Thursday morning. Once again, Portland’s buses came to the rescue, going from directly outside the motel all the way to Amtrak’s Union station where my train to Seattle awaited me. This was just as well since problems with Motel 6’s Wifi (which I had to pay extra for each night) had kept me up until 2am, which is less than ideal since I was up at 7 o’clock the next morning!

You can see how I got on after the gallery.

  • My 1st attempt at using Portland's public transport system didn't got well. While this shiny new station was perfectly-located across from the car hire place, the line hadn't opened yet!
  • However, a short walk later and I was on my way into the city centre.
  • The interior of my shiny, new light rail car. Very spacious!
  • Portland has got several light rail and street car routes, with lots of different rolling stock...
  • ... which comes in all colours...
  • ... and designs. I never did get my head around which one was which!
  • However, by far the most useful mode of transport for me was the humble bus!
  • I didn't take many pictures of the buses though: too busy jumping on or jumping off them!
  • Portland also looks after its pedestrians. Look how far behind the crossing that stop line is!
  • My home during my stay in Portland, the Motel 6 on Powell Bouvelard.
  • My spacious, well-priced room. Although it was slightly smaller than the one in Cascade Locks, it was much nicer, so I wasn't complaining! Shame about the Wifi though...
  • The view from the walkway outside my first floor room, across to the hills west of Portland.
  • Looking west, I got some pretty good sunsets.
  • I was there for three nights and got three crackers :-)
  • See what I mean?
  • The view at night was pretty good too: Venus and Jupiter over Portland.
  • Once again, my trusty Aeropress, Mini-Porlex and UpperCup were pressed into action.
  • Portland was where my vow to bring back less coffee than I brought out came a cropper.
  • Staying out in the suburbs has its advantages: it's full of tree-lined residential roads.
  • There were some pretty nice houses out there too.
  • This one is my favourite.
  • I'll leave you with a coffee shop round-up. Here's Case Study, from my first day.
  • I started my second day at Five Points Coffee Roasters on Division Street.
  • It doesn't do bulk brew, instead making two large Chemex at a time.
  • Next stop, the wonderful interior of Coava Coffe Roasters on Hawthorne Bouvelard...
  • ... where my policy of not bringing too much coffee back with me took a bit of a dent!
  • Last stop of Day 2, Heart Coffee Roasters, although roasting had just moved to a new site.
  • My coffee policy wasn't going very well!!
  • I started my last day way down south at the lovely Either/Or...
  • ... home of this wonderful tasting flight. It was the only one I visited that wasn't a roaster!
  • Second stop on my last day, the lovely interior of the coffee bar at Portland Coffee Roasters.
  • And finally, the shady, friendly, neighbourhood Extracto Coffee Roasters in Portland Village...
  • ... where any hope I had of coming back with less coffee that I brought over bit the dust!
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18th June: Portland to Seattle

Travelling up to Seattle on the Cascades train was, in many ways, a very different experience to the rest of the trains I’d been on this trip. Although the service was still Amtrak, the rolling stock was totally different from what I’d become used to, with the coaches about half the length to the ones I’ve been travelling on up to now. I assumed that this was to allow the train to take tighter curves, but if that’s the case, I didn’t see any particular evidence of it between Portland and Seattle.

The seats were a lot closer together as well, but on the plus side, they were still very comfortable and there was still plenty of room, especially when compared to long-distance UK trains! I was also back to the land of free Wifi on trains. There was, as ever, plenty of freight sharing the line with us.

My main frustration was that the windows were much smaller and hence the views were much more restricted, which may also have had something to do with the seats being closer together. That said, I didn’t feel initially like I was missing too much. Leaving Portland, we crossed numerous rivers, including the Columbia, but thereafter it was predominantly trees; interesting viewing, but not easy to photograph and not much in the way of long-distance views either. However, I may be doing the scenery a disservice; after my adventures with the Motel 6 Wifi I did spend an hour or so catching up on my sleep!

All this changed as we got up to Olympia Station, which is coincidentally, when I relocated to the lounge car, at which point my frustrations with the windows went away. Tip: as soon as possible, make your way down to the lounge car, which, as far as I can tell, is open to all passengers.

I was just in time too. Suddenly, away to the east, across a flat plain, was a massive, snow-covered mountain, its peak lost in cloud. I’m pretty sure it was Mt Rainier. Soon after the railway started to hug the coast along of a series of huge ocean inlets, reminiscent of the Scottish Lochs, only on a much larger scale.

We passed under the Tacoma Narrows bridge and followed the coast all the way around into Tacoma itself, a complete contrast to the main highway, I5, which cuts inland. I’ve no idea if I5 has better views: the only time I drove it, 10 years ago, it was in the dark…

Mt Rainier was directly ahead of us as we headed southeast into Tacoma having rounded the point. More good views followed as we (counterintuitively) left Tacoma heading south-southeast! However, we soon turned north towards Seattle, but, having left the coast, the best of the views were behind us, although, as I was to find out, Mt Rainier would become an almost constant companion, much as Mt Hood had done in Portland.

Before long, we were rolling into Seattle’s King Street station, and my train travelling had come to an end.

  • Back at Portland's Union Station, but this time to say goodbye & catch my train to Seattle.
  • As lovely inside as it is out, I didn't have time to take many photos. Here's one of the few!
  • My train, The Cascades, and coach class, where I had been assigned my seat.
  • The carriages were lovely, although smaller, and with less leg room, than other Amtrak trains.
  • However, I discovered that the lounge car was available for anyone that wanted it...
  • ... so I popped along for my morning coffee, taking some Dear Green beans with me.
  • Not long after, we passed Olympia Station, then this appeared on the far eastern horizon.
  • My first view of Mt Rainer, decapitated by a layer of cloud & a staggering 80 kilometers away!
  • Not long after that, we hit the shores of Puget Sound to our left (west/north west).
  • I was very taken with the sand spit.
  • The scenery reminded me of the Scottish sea lochs on the line to Kyle of Lochalsh.
  • I was also taken by this little island out in the Sound.
  • At points, the Sound was very wide. I think that's a distant range of hills, topped by clouds.
  • Suddenly, on the other side of the train, people started getting very excited, but by what? A game of golf? Ah, I see, it's the US Open, which was being held at Chambers Bay golf course.
  • Back to the interesting stuff and suddenly the opposite bank is getting rather close...
  • ... and then the Tacoma Narrows bridge comes into view.
  • Quite a majestic structure, don't you think?
  • The Tacoma Narrows Bridges seems more appropriate since there appears to be two of them!
  • I spotted this lovely, little coastal community just after the bridge.
  • It's looks very secluded, doesn't it? If it has a name, Google Maps doesn't know what it is...
  • Soon, however, we were heading into Tacoma itself, which is a major port...
  • ... although on the plus side, our old friend, Mt Rainer, made an appearance.
  • Its top is still shrouded in cloud though, its flanks drapped with snow, even in June.
  • Perspective? Or is our train really that small?
  • Mind you, we even look small compared to our locomotive!
  • Mt Rainer again, a more manageable 70 km away. You'll be seeing a lot more shots like this.
  • Such a beautiful mountain!
  • I think this is my favourite shot though.
  • Soon after that we arrived in Seattle and it was time to say goodbye to our locomotive...
  • ... and to say hello to Seattle's magnificent King Street Station.
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18th June: Seattle – First Impressions

I’d only been to Seattle once before, the same trip that, 10 years earlier, had taken me to the Columbia Gorge. Back then, I’d started in San Francisco, driven up the coast and, from Seattle, gone on to Vancouver. I remember liking Seattle, but I also remember that, in comparison to the trips start and end points, San Francisco and Vancouver, it paled a little.

However, what I seem to have forgotten (although looking back at my pictures, there is clear evidence there) is just how hilly Seattle is! This is a city built on hills. And lakes. And more hills. And, wherever you look, on the horizon, there are mountains, including, to the south, the magnificent Mt Rainier. The only reason I can think of for my lapse in recall is that I’d come from an even hillier city (San Francisco) and gone to one surrounded by even bigger mountains (Vancouver). Also, in my defence, 10 years ago, I’d stayed in the northeast of the city, where, if my (admittedly suspect) memory serves, it was comparatively flat…

So, other than an initial impression of hilliness, what did I make of Seattle? Well, I loved it! Normally, at the end of a three-week trip like this, I get to my final destination and am ready for nothing but going home. I’m usually worn out, good for naught but a bit of strolling around and long morning lie-ins. I feared that this would be the case in Seattle and that, for a second time, I’d be doing it an injustice. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In the end, I only had one full and two half days there, but I wish I’d had longer, finally dragging myself off to the airport with deep regret and wishing I could come straight back.

You can find out what I got up to after the gallery.

  • I started my trip at Seattle's magnificent King Street Station, where my friend Katie was waiting to meet me. This meant I only had time to take the one picture...
  • The station is famous for its magnificent clock tower. I took this picture 10 years ago!
  • I don't recall Seattle being hilly, but this picture, again from 10 years ago, tells another story!
  • Katie & I had lunch at the Merchants Cafe, Seattle's oldest restaurant.
  • I also ate there 10 years ago. This photo is from back then.
  • My grilled cheese sandwich.
  • One of the glorious light-fittings from the cafe interior.
  • Not the greatest of interior shots, taken with my phone.
  • A slightly better interior shot, taken during my visit 10 years ago.
  • Merchants Cafe is just across the road from another Seattle icon, the Smith Tower.
  • You can see how much it fascniated me by the number of pictures I took of it...
  • ... and this is just a small selection!
  • Just for good measure, here's one from my visit 10 years ago.
  • You can go up to the viewing platform at the top. I didn't have time this trip, but 10 years ago I got this magnificent view of Seattle Harbour. It's still very much a working harbour.
  • Looking due south from the tower: the ball park is the home of the Seattle Mariners.
  • I'm not sure why I thought Seattle wasn't hilly... This picture says otherwise!
  • Back to the present day. Katie drove me to my motel on Highway 99, which cuts (relatively) unobtrusively through downtown Seattle.
  • A highlight was when Highway 99 went over the Aurora Bridge...
  • ... with its 'oh wow, that's a long way down!' views (here the view looking west).
  • Aurora Bridge (officially George Washington Memorial Bridge), seen from the Fremont Bridge.
  • My motel, the Marco Polo. My room was at the top at the right-hand end.
  • The best room of my entire trip, as seen from just inside the door.
  • It was slightly wasted on just me. But, hey, I wasn't complaining.
  • I had this massive sitting room...
  • ... and a separate bedroom.
  • The view from my window of downtown Seattle.
  • In case you were wondering, it's just as hilly around the motel.
  • First Coffee Spot of the trip, the wonderful Slate Coffee Roasters.
  • It was a real highlight of the trip, including this deconstructed espresso flight.
  • Later on that evening, I had some local cod at Fremont's Rock Creek bistro.
  • For dessert, I had these beignets, recommended by the barman. He didn't let me down!
  • I sat at the bar, where, I feared, the extensive range of alcohol would be wasted on me.
  • However, I found this. It's not often you get really good port, so I had to have a glass.
  • That would have been that, except I left my laptop on a stools at Slate, so had to go back...
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18th June: Seattle – Day 1

I was lucky that one of my friends, Katie, had not long since moved to Seattle, so we arranged to meet up, Katie coming down to pick me up from Seattle’s King Street station. We had lunch at the Merchant’s Café, which claims to be the city’s oldest restaurant, although I’m kicking myself, having discovered the following day that the fantastic Elm Coffee Roasters was just around the corner from the station. Note to self: do your research ahead of time!

After catching up over lunch and a brief wander around downtown, where memories came flooding back (including the restaurant, which I’d dined in before, and the magnificent Smith Tower, whose viewing platform affords great vistas of the city), Katie very kindly drove me to my motel, the Marco Polo, which is in Fremont, five miles north of the centre. We went on Route 99, an elevated highway that cuts through downtown in a surprisingly unobtrusive way (I remember, by way of comparison, the ugly mess that was I-95 in Boston before it went underground, allowing for the reclamation of large swathes of downtown in the process).

We got some good views of downtown Seattle from the highway, but it was when we swept over the Aurora Bridge (officially the George Washington Memorial Bridge), which spans the Fremont Cut at the western end of Lake Union, that I first began to appreciate the city. The “wow, that’s a long way down!” views from the bridge (51m vertical drop), plus the more distant horizon, really took my breath away. The motel was not too much further on and, after Katie dropped me off, I checked in, where, I was told in somewhat apologetic tones, that the motel was really busy and that I’d been put in the suite…

Oh no! What a tragedy. I guess I’d have to do my best to put up with what was comfortably the biggest and best room I’d had on the entire trip, with a separate lounge, complete with sofa, comfy chairs and desk… The only shame was that I was there for such a short time, I didn’t feel I did it justice! Other than that, I absolutely loved the Marco Polo, which is a really friendly motel and, while it’s a little way out of the centre, Seattle’s excellent bus service more than makes up for it.

Since it was still mid-afternoon, I went for a wander, heading north and west, up and over yet more hills, as I sought out Slate Coffee Roasters. At first, though, I wasn’t sure I’d come to the right place, the gentle, suburban setting hardly being one I associate with a cutting-edge coffee shop, but my faith was rewarded with turned out to be one of the coffee highlights of my trip.

Afterwards, Kyle, my barista, very kindly gave me a lift back to the motel (as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been blessed by the kindness of strangers on this trip). I popped out to dinner at Rock Creek in nearby Fremont (just the other side of Route 99) and then, on my way back to the motel, I discovered that I didn’t have my laptop with me…

The only place I could have left it was Slate, reasoning that, in my hurry to leave with Kyle, I’d forgotten to pick it up from where I’d left it on the stool at the counter (black stool, black laptop, natural camouflage; that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it!). As luck would have it, the reason Kyle had given me a ride back to the motel in the first place was that he’d had a meeting straight after work, otherwise he’d have been staying around to close up the shop. Instead, he told me, he’d be popping back later that evening to clear up, so I figured there was a good chance he’d still be there. So back I went, this time taking a different (slightly flatter) route so I could see a little bit more of Seattle, and, as luck would have it, I caught Kyle just as he was finishing up at Slate. And there, behind the counter, was my laptop! He’d found it, by the way, exactly where I’d left it, on the stool by counter.

So, for a second time that day, I got a ride back to the motel with Kyle… Thanks, my friend, you’re a life-saver!

You can find out what I got up to during my one full day in Seattle after the gallery.

  • My only full day in Seattle. That's the motel, by the way, on the right, right next to Hwy 99.
  • And looking the other way, Hwy 99 runs south over the Aurora Bridge and right into Seattle.
  • Let's explore. But first, breakfast, at the Blue Star Cafe and Pub. Eggs Florentine, of course.
  • Then, hop on a bus, part of Seattle's excellent public transport network...
  • ... and back to Hwy 99 for the RapidRide Route E to take me right into downtown Seattle.
  • And here we are, under another of Seattle's transportation options, the monorail.
  • Seattle also has a network of old-fashioned streetcars (this photo & the last are from 2005).
  • I ended up near the famous Seattle Space Needle. I didn't have time to go up this year.
  • However, 10 years ago, I was enjoying this view, looking south towards downtown...
  • ... and looking north to Lake Union, which will feature later in this gallery.
  • Back on the ground and it's my first stop of the day: Street Bean Coffee.
  • From there, I called into the Yellow Leaf Cup Cake Company for a cupcake break.
  • My cupcake was served on a platter shaped like New York State (as seen from the west).
  • Next stop, downtown Seattle & an unusual view of Pike Place Market from the waterfront.
  • Pike Place Market is a rambling structure with a produce market at street level...
  • ... and several levels below that, where you'll find gift shops and the like.
  • If you can, though, head outside to the urban garden.
  • ... and panoramic views across the Sound.
  • Next stop, ice-cream at Bottega Italiana,1st Avenue, next door to the market.
  • I then  carried on down 1st Avenue to visit Elm Coffee Roasters.
  • I tried the “one of everything” (espresso, macchiato and bulk-brew filter) for just $5.
  • Don't worry, I didn't forget the filter coffee!
  • Time to double back and head north again. Hilly, isn't it? Mind you, I had to go up there!
  • Tall...
  • I-5, slicing right through the heart of the city.
  • However, beyond the Interstate, and Seattle is a lovely, leafy city.
  • My final stop of the day: Victrola Coffee Roasters on Pike Street...
  • ... where I refuelled with this lovely salad.
  • There was also coffee, of course.
  • Finally, I made it down to Lake Union for a lovely sunset.
  • Clouds over the hills to the northwest...
  • ... and in more detail.
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19th June: Seattle, Day 2

My only full day in Seattle was a fairly lazy affair. Looking for the quintessentially American diner experience, I took a recommendation from the motel and wandered over to Stone Way between 45th and 46th Streets, for breakfast at the Blue Star Cafe and Pub. This was an interesting experience, a genuinely American diner menu served in what could easily have passed for an English pub. There was even football (soccer) on the TV. None of which is a criticism by the way, it was just a bit surreal. Most importantly, though, my breakfast (Eggs Florentine, naturally) was fantastic!

After that, I jumped onto a bus, making use of Seattle’s excellent public transport network, and headed downtown, for my first stop, Street Bean Coffee. Northwest of the centre, near Seattle’s Space Needle, this is an excellent coffee shop as well as a social enterprise, helping, according its website, “street-involved young people to reclaim their lives, one cup at a time”. From there, I took a wander through downtown Seattle, calling in on the Yellow Leaf Cup Cake Company for a quick cupcake stop along the way. From there, I revisited the famous Pike Street Market, having not been there since my last trip to Seattle 10 years ago, grabbed an ice-cream from Bottega Italiana, then carried on down 1st Avenue to Elm Coffee Roasters where I tried the “One of Everything” (espresso, macchiato and bulk-brew filter) for just $5.

From there, I doubled back, wandering fairly randomly as I headed north, admiring the architecture and crossing over I-5 which runs right through the centre of the city. I ended up at Victrola Coffee Roasters on Pike Street [coming soon to the Coffee Spot], for an end-of-the-day snack and a last coffee. Refuelling complete, I carried on my northward ramble, ending up on the southern shore of Lake Union, where I took in some fantastic views, including a magnificent sunset over the hills to the northwest.

Then it was time to head back to the motel, at which point I discovered that unlike Portland, the bus drivers in Seattle don’t wait for you if they see you running.

You can read all about my last day in Seattle (and the last day of the trip) after the gallery.

  • My final day in Seattle started with me under the Aurora Bridge in search of...
  • ...a troll! This troll, to be precise. The Fremont Troll. Handsome fellow :-)
  • The troll's view, looking south towards Seattle. I was there for the Fremont Solstice Parade.
  • With time to kill, I wandered along the parade route. People had staked their places early!
  • Returning to the previous evening, I'd watched the sun setting over Lake Union.
  • Specifically, I'd been looking north towards this green mound on the far side of the lake.
  • Fast forward back to the following morning and this is the view from the green mound...
  • ... looking south to where I'd been the evening before (roughly where the smoke is)!
  • You also get a good view of the famous Space Needle from the mound.
  • A float plane obligingly flew past. Lake Union acts as the airport for the float planes.
  • There it goes, past the transmitter masts.
  • I wasn't alone on the mound. I had this band for company. I'm not sure why they were there.
  • Meanwhile, to the left, an old, abandonned gas works, left as a surprisingly effective ruin.
  • Time to say goodbye to mound, band, view and gas works.
  • I headed back along the Fremont Cut towards the Aurora Bridge.
  • You expect bridges to be flat. Not the Aurora Bridge! That's quite a slope!
  • One last view, back along Fremont Cut and over Lake Union. What's that on the horizon?
  • Mount Rainier, of course, my constant companion. Seattlites tell me it's rarely this clear!
  • Back at the Aurora Bridge, there's still plenty of time before the parade.
  • So that means that there's time to call into the fantastic Milstead & Co.
  • Despite the narrow store front, it's really spacious inside!
  • After some refreshments, there was still some time before the Fremont Solstice Parade...
  • ... so I was also able to indulge another of my passions: bridges! This is the Fremont Bridge.
  • Down by the water, it's parallel to the Aurora Bridge, predating it by around 15 years.
  • It also offers an amazing view of the Aurora Bridge as it soars over the Fremont Cut.
  • Another view of the Aurora Bridge, which now looks as if it's sloping in the other direction!
  • What's this, coming along from the lake?
  • Not a bad way to spend your day, I guess.
  • I found an interesting shack on the far side of the bridge, but sadly didn't have time to stop.
  • Just as I was about to move on, this happened. The bridge was closed to traffic.
  • This is the culprit, steaming out of Lake Union and into Fremont Cut. Big fellow..
  • Technically, the Fremont Bridge is a double-leaf bascule bridge (which means it opens).
  • Here it goes... A well-known example of a double-leaf bascule bridge is Tower Bridge.
  • This one goes a long way up...
  • You could get a crick in your neck looking up at that all day!
  • And here comes the culprit, a large barge being pushed by a tug.
  • Once it's safely through, down comes the bridge and it's time to be on my way.
  • After a steep climb, I found myself on the Seattle side of this: the Aurora Bridge.
  • You get a great view of the Fremont Cut and the Fremont Bridge from up here.
  • Nice marina.
  • Having obligingly opened for me just after I crossed it, the Fremont Bridge opened for me...
  • ... one more time as I was crossing the Aurora Bridge.
  • This time it was to let a tall-masted yacht through from Lake Union.
  • The view's even better from up here.
  • What's that coming the other way? It's a second yacht, heading into Lake Union.
  • I can see why it's called the 'Cut' (it's part of the Lake Washington Ship Canal).
  • Shouldn't it be closing though? Wait! What's this I see below me? Another yacht.
  • The bridge has been held open for it.
  • Now it can close.
  • It pays, by the way, not to spend all your time looking down. Here's the view northwest...
  • ... and looking the other way, across the bridge, it's Mount Rainier.
  • By the time I had reached the Fremont side of the bridge, the cycle parade was underway.
  • Colourful bunch, these cyclists.
  • They cycle up and down the road before the main parade.
  • Back at street level, and all the seats, plus standing room, had been taken!
  • The cycle-parade is clothing-optional, with most people sporting some level of body paint...
  • ... and others sporting extreme levels of paint. It must have taken them ages!
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20th June: Seattle, Day 3

My last day in Seattle was a little truncated, with an evening flight back to the UK. With the airport on the south side of the city I did consider heading downtown with my huge rucksack, catching a couple of coffee shops, then heading on out to the airport. However, the thought of lugging my rucksack around on a warm, summer’s day didn’t appeal and then came the clincher: the staff at the motel told me it was the day of Fremont’s Solstice Parade. Well, if someone was going to put on a parade for my last day in Seattle, it would be rude not to go.

I packed everything up and, leaving my luggage at the motel, headed of to find the famous Fremont Troll, who lives under the Aurora Bridge. To give you an idea of how big it is, this enormous sculpture actually has a real Volkswagon Beatle crushed under one of its hands. The troll is something of a tourist attraction in his own right, with people posing in front of (and on top of) him for photos.

With several hours to kill before the parade itself, I left the troll and took a wander along the route of the parade to Gas Works Park on the northern edge of Lake Union, where I enjoyed the views, looking south across the lake to where I’d been the evening before. Then I picked my way back along the waterfront, following the Burke Gilman Trail, until I was back under the Aurora Bridge.

If I’d had more time, I’d have followed the trail all the way to the La Marzocco factory in Ballard (oh well, there’s always next time). Instead, I called into the amazing Milstead & Co., which is tucked in beside the bridge, a few blocks down from the troll and, coincidentally, on the route of the parade.

There was still plenty of time before the parade, so I indulged my love of bridges by going over the Fremont Bridge, climbing up the hill on the far side, then crossing back by the Aurora Bridge. The Fremont Bridge, built in 1917, pre-dates the Aurora Bridge by 15 years and obligingly opened for me just after I had crossed it. As an added bonus, it also opened while I was on my way back, so I had a great view from the Aurora Bridge (it actually opens quite frequently since there’s a lot of traffic into and out of the lake along the Fremont Cut).

I arrived back at Milstead & Co just in time to see the Solstice Cyclists, a clothing-optional bike ride which precedes the parade each year. This is something that has to be seen to be believed, with hundreds of cyclists, in various states of undress and covered by varying amounts of body paint, cycling by. After that, it was time to go…

You can see how I got on when I flew home after the gallery.

  • My last act before leaving the motel: weigh out my beans for the flight back...
  • Then it was back on my trusty friend, the bus, for the ride into downtown Seattle...
  • ... and a transfer in this weird, underground station, onto the light rail...
  • ... which took me all the way to my final stop, the airport...
  • ... where I had one last look at the amazing Mount Rainier.
  • This is it, my plane home. Time to say goodbye after three amazing weeks.
  • Soon we were flying high over the Rockies. What amazing views! Click the picture for a map.
  • If my phone's GPS is to be believed, this valley runs into northern end of Lake Chelan.
  • And finally, I leave you with the best airline coffee in the world: my aeropress!
My last act before leaving the motel: weigh out my beans for the flight back...1 Then it was back on my trusty friend, the bus, for the ride into downtown Seattle...2 ... and a transfer in this weird, underground station, onto the light rail...3 ... which took me all the way to my final stop, the airport...4 ... where I had one last look at the amazing Mount Rainier.5 This is it, my plane home. Time to say goodbye after three amazing weeks.6 Soon we were flying high over the Rockies. What amazing views! Click the picture for a map.7 If my phone's GPS is to be believed, this valley runs into northern end of Lake Chelan.8 And finally, I leave you with the best airline coffee in the world: my aeropress!9
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20th June: Flying Home

I headed back to the motel, grabbed my bags and hopped on the bus to downtown Seattle. From there, it was a quick change to the light rail and off to the airport, where I got my last view of Mount Rainier before my flight home.

As on my way out, I flew British Airways. The whole process at the airport was as smooth as ever: with on-line checking and bag drops, so much of the hassle of flying has disappeared. As on the flight over, I was on a 777, another modern, well-appointed aircraft, the at-seat power throughout the whole aircraft making the extra £55 (I left it a bit late this time) spent on an exit row seat worthwhile.

Since it was light when we took off (we left at 7.15 local time) I spent a little while looking out of the window and was rewarded with some fantastic views of the Rockies as we flew over northern Washington. I did my best to capture them on my camera, having put the DSLR in the overhead locker.

Once the sun went down (hastened by the fact we were flying east), out came the laptop out and I got to work. I know that most sensible people sleep on overnight flights, but I’m a DVT risk which means I’ve got to get up and move around every hour or so, making sleep impossible. Having at-seat power and the legroom of the exit row (which means that I can actually type on my laptop keyboard), makes a long-haul flight a very productive thing (when you’re a freelancer/contractor being paid by the article/hour, this is very important indeed).

The Aeropress has similarly revolutionised airline coffee. Well, the Aeropress, my mini-porlex hand-grinder and some pre-weighed beans from  Glasgow’s Dear Green Coffee. Just ask the aircrew to fill my (in this case) Upper Cup with hot water and I’m away. The only slight snag was when I got told off by the cabin crew for grinding my beans too loudly! Maybe next time I’ll just wander back to the galley as ask if I can make it back there…

Even though the flight was a couple of hours longer than the flight out (nine hours in all), the time flew by (pun intended!) and I got loads done. We touched down at Heathrow at 12.30 the following day and suddenly I was home, three weeks and a day after I’d left. The trip was over…

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for sticking with me as I travelled across a continent by train, drank some amazing coffee and saw some stunning sights. I hoped you enjoyed reading about it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about it.

After all these thousands of words and hundreds of pictures, I’m going to leave you with a one-word summary of my trip: amazing! Can’t wait to do it all again!


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15 thoughts on “Brian’s Travel Spot: The Pacific Northwest

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  3. This looks like a wonderful trip! It hits a lot of places I would love to visit. I have done surprisingly little travel in the US. I recently invested in an aeropress and hand grinder for my travels – see here that you travel with one too 🙂

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