Dear readers, I need your assistance…

Sasieology is all about visiting new places and trying new experiences. When I first started this blog, I challenged myself to visit at least one new place and try at least one new experience or activity every year. I have certainly achieved that target in 2015.

In January, I went skiing in Andorra

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I managed to squeeze in a camping weekend to Watchet in Somerset…

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My big adventure of the year started in Sacramento, CA…

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Before a whirlwind tour of the Northwest coast of the USA, stopping in Portland

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… and Seattle

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Then I chilled out on the deck of an Alaska Marine Highway ferry for three nights…

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When I arrived in Alaska, I visited so many amazing places like KetchikanHaines, Skagway, Anchorage, Homer, Seward, Whittier, Valdez, McCarthy, Kennecott, Tangle Lakes and Denali. I also got to try glacier walking, and I took a flightseeing tour over Wrangell St Elias National Park…

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Back in Cardiff, I used my detective skills to give a murder mystery a try…

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And I also chilled out in a massage workshop with my friend Alicia…

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Now that 2015 is almost over, it’s time to think about next year. Call me crazy, but I have decided to try and do even more next year. My plan is to visit 12 new places and try 12 new experiences, one for each month of the year.

So, I need your help to generate some ideas. I already have some trips planned, and some ideas of activities that I’d like to try. But, what do you think should be on my list for 2016? I will only consider ideas that are vegan-friendly, and I will probably be staying within Europe, but I would love to hear what you all think. 🙂

 

Exploring Seattle

Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read it from the beginning.

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After the relative calm and laidback attitudes of both Sacramento and Portland, arriving into Seattle on the Greyhound was a bit like the first time I visited London. I suddenly found myself in a world of tall buildings, heavy traffic and complicated looking transport systems.

Unfolding the map, I could see that this is a big city. With less than 48 hours before I had to leave to catch the ferry to Alaska, I had to plan my time carefully. Using a combination of my (already tired, but toughening up) feet, minibus tour and monorail, I somehow managed to almost see everything that I wanted to.

Every tourist town has one attraction that it is famous for. There are usually a thousand more exciting ( and cheaper) things to do there, and that one famous attraction is quite often a let down, but you have to go there just to say that you did whilst you were in ___________ (insert name of tourist town here). For Seattle, that attraction is the Space Needle. This impressive feat of engineering was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and is part of the Seattle Centre. It has over 1 million annual visitors, and it will feel like every single one of them is lining up for tickets with you. I was advised to visit the Space Needle in the evening (great if you like sunsets, plus the views tend to be clearer later in the day), so I booked a ticket for the 8pm ‘launch’ (the space theme does get a bit annoying – it’s an elevator). I didn’t get up to the observation deck until 8.45pm, and after 10 minutes I was done and wanted to come back down again. But, hey, when in Seattle…

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If you want to hear, and experience, a brilliant condensed history of Seattle, I highly recommend Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour. Just like Sacramento, the streets of Seattle used to be a whole storey lower than they are today. However, unlike Sacramento, the residents of Seattle didn’t think the most logical solution to flooding was to jack-up the town. Instead, they boarded over the first storey of 33 blocks and started using the second floor as the new street level. Our guide, Rick, took us through a dramatic story of floods, fires and explosive sewers (really). And, once again, I maintain that if this were the UK we would have packed up after the first problem and moved elsewhere.

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Rick also told us about some of the colourful characters from Seattle’s past. Like the traders who sold ‘gold-sniffing gophers’ and ‘snow bicycles’ to prospectors heading to the Klondike. Legend has it there was also a local entrepreneur who sold sled dogs to the gold miners, having previously trained the dogs to jump off the ship as it was leaving and swim back to shore so he could re-sell them to his next unsuspecting victim. During the height of the gold rush, a census of the city revealed an unusually high number of ‘seamstresses’ in relation to the total population. Along with a group of his closest friends, the mayor bravely set out to investigate (although there were many more male volunteers!). When it was revealed just how much money these women were earning, and where all the loggers’ and miners’ pay was going (not on adjusting clothes, I might add), they were the first to be taxed.

Anyone else who has had to watch the ‘Fish’ video as part of customer service training will know Pike Place Market and it’s entertaining fish mongers. As a veggie, I have little interest in seeing the flying fish, but I did want to see the building(s). Due to my tight schedule, the only time I had to see Pike Place was after it was closed. Seeing as I don’t like crowds, though, this is probably a good thing. I don’t think I could have handled it mid-day, and I still got a sense of how enormous the labyrinth of the market is. It makes Cardiff indoor market look like a car boot stall in comparison. There are also amazing views over Elliott Bay from out on the decking.

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As it was a sunny, warm day I didn’t want to spend much time indoors. I did, however, want to visit the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Centre and I’m glad I made space for it. Above the door, signs read ‘Enter Curious’ and ‘Leave Inspired’. I totally did!DSC_0347 DSC_0350

The Visitors Centre is totally free, very welcoming and instantly addictive. If I’d had the time, I could have spent hours in there playing with all the interactive exhibits. It’s totally inclusive, your 99 year old grandmother would get the same joy and education from taking part in one of the many activities as your 6 year old child would. As well as learning about the Gates/French family, and the incredible work the Gates Foundation does around the world, your are encouraged to input your own ideas. I don’t know whether or not this is true, but I felt that my thoughts would be read by someone and maybe used at some point in the future. At the end of the exhibition, you are invited to take a test to discover what kind of thinker you are and how best to use your skills to change the world. Unsurprisingly, I came out as artistic. I was then directed to a work station where I could create a poster and upload it to Facebook.

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En route to my next location, I got to walk past the headquarters of the Gates Foundation. I believe there is also a tour of this building, but alas I didn’t have the time. It looked so interesting, though. I don’t think my office building would ever have such cool artwork outside.

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Lake Union, believe it or not, has something in common with Cardiff Bay. It’s a man-made, freshwater lake that is connected to the salt water by locks. Just like on the River Taff back home, they also have fish ladders. Although, in Cardiff it certainly isn’t huge salmon that are returning home to spawn.

Close to the city centre, Lake Union Park is a great place to watch the seaplanes landing and taking off, take a dip in the lake on a warm day or just chill out for a while. If you’ve ever wanted to learn to paddle a canoe, it’s also home to the Centre for Wooden Boats.

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At the opposite end of the lake from Lake Union Park is Gasworks Park. As the name suggests, this was once the gasworks. As you enter the park, some of the railway track used to transport coal down from the mountains is still visible. When residents realised just how dangerous the gasworks potentially were, the buildings were abandoned and left untouched for many years. In 1975, attempts were made to tear down one of the buildings. But, as it was still deemed too dangerous, they gave up, put a mound of soil over the ticking time bomb and called it a park. Apparently, the grass on the hill needs to be replaced every couple of years. It’s not somewhere I’d choose to sunbathe, but lots of people seemed to be enjoying the park whilst I was there.

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Just up the road from Gasworks Park is Fremont, a very free-thinking neighbourhood that is home to cool artwork, including the Fremont Troll.

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Like everywhere on this trip, I wish I could have had more time in Seattle as there are so many different neighbourhoods to explore. It’s definitely going to have to go on the list for one to come back to.

Useful Info

Greyhound from Portland to Seattle: from $22

HI Seattle at the American Hotel: from approx. $33 per person per night

Entrance to Space Needle: from $21

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour: $19

Seattle Overlook Tour with Emerald City Trolley: $32.77

Monorail: $2.25 one-way

Cardiff to Sacramento

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Although it sounds miles away from Cardiff (another capital city in another country!?!), Heathrow is actually only a two hour drive from where I live. Even at peak times, the M4 is never anywhere as crazy as the M25 (otherwise known as the London orbital car park). Unfortunately, although getting to Heathrow is easy, you have to tack an extra hour on to your journey to find the long stay car park. I swear if you follow the road signs you double back on yourself at least twice and end up somewhere close to the motorway exit you just came off.

Note to car battery – please, please do not die during the four weeks you are parked at Heathrow airport.

When did the Virgin Atlantic check-in procedure suddenly get more complicated than your passport application? I love flying with Virgin (especially if the option is them or British Airways, who I only fly with when walking is my only other viable choice), but having to give them my mum’s contact details and a brief summary of my planned trip seems a bit extreme just to board a plane.

My early morning start was soon forgotten when I popped into Pret for breakfast. Oh my god I love those guys! Soya milk decaf latte, gluten-free and vegan porridge (yes!!!), fresh fruit salad and a protein salad. What a great healthy meal to start my trip.

If only my plane food had been as successful as my breakfast. I’d contacted Virgin Atlantic via email the previous week and asked if they could provide me with a vegan and gluten-free meal. They’d replied no, I had to choose one or the other. I chose the vegan option in the hope that there would be something I could eat. Other than the fruit snack, there wasn’t. It was all pasta, sandwiches and wraps. I’d taken my own food on board, so I didn’t go hungry. And the cabin crew were very understanding, giving more of the things I could eat and even offering to make me a jacket potato. I was annoyed when one of them told me you can pre-order a bespoke meal, so if anyone finds themselves in the same situation I’d recommend pushing the subject with customer services before you travel. And take some food with you just in case.

When I was at school, we used to argue with our maths teacher that the subject was useless. On the off chance that he might be reading this, I’d like to apologise. I have found a genuine use for GCSE maths – trying to buy a ticket for the BART in San Francisco. The Bay Area Transit is a great mode of transport, but I don’t remember it being so weird to use. Never before have I seen a ticket machine where you have to find the fare you need from a list, put in what money you have and then subtract off what you don’t need. But hey, as the lady next to me who was also having trouble with the machine pointed out, people from San Francisco probably find the London Underground strange.

I caught the BART to Oakland, and then dashed through the city (as much as I could dash with 2 backpacks on) to the Greyhound station. Oakland looks nice, I’d like to go back some time and see it properly.

The Greyhound I travelled on from Oakland to Sacramento has the slipperiest seats I have ever been on. I’m glad I’ve been keeping up with pilates training recently because it took all my core strength just to stay on the damn thing. I also heard the funniest introduction ever from a bus driver – ‘I don’t like to be called Driver, Miss or Ma’am. My name is Nesha, if you can’t remember that then just walk up to the front of the bus and start talking.’

We pulled into Sacramento on one of the hottest days of the year. I decided to power through and walk to my hostel, which in hindsight probably wasn’t a good idea. Don’t listen to the directions on Hostelling International’s website. They are for the old Greyhound station, which was really close to the hostel. The new station is miles away. After sweating out what felt like half my body weight, I arrived at my first proper bed and vowed to take a cab back to the bus station when I left Sacramento.

One of the reasons I love staying in hostels is that each one is unique. Sacramento HI is housed in a beautiful (rumoured to be haunted) old mansion house. It is an incredible building to stay in, made all the nicer by the super friendly, welcoming staff. Plus, they have free use of towels, great kitchen facilities and cheap laundry facilities.

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Useful Info:

BART San Francisco airport to Oakland: $8.95

Greyhound Oakland to Sacramento: from $7.00

Dorm beds at HI Sacramento: from around $30 per night

Seattle

Wow, I have had one long day here in Seattle and I am exhausted. I wanted to share some photos with you all before I catch the ferry to Alaska tomorrow. Here’s what I’ve managed to squeeze in in the past 30(ish) hours:

Of course I visited the Space Needle…DSC_0344 DSC_0416 DSC_0379Check out the sunset from the top! And the Starbucks at the bottom. Well, it had to be done.

I also went on a brilliant underground tour with Rick, who it turns out used to drum for Tom Jones. The things people reveal when you tell them you live in Wales!

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I stopped by Pike Place Market…

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I also watched the seaplanes taking off from Lake Union…

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I’m really glad I made it all the way out to Gasworks Park. It’s unsettling to watch people enjoying a sunny day on what is essentially a huge bomb waiting to go off. The hill in the background was made when they covered over one of the original buildings, as it was deemed to dangerous to do anything else with. The grass apparently has to be replaced every couple of years.

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JAKOB – HERE’S A PHOTO JUST FOR YOU. I SAW THIS PLAYGROUND AT THE SEATTLE CENTRE AND COULD IMMEDIATELY SEE YOU CLIMBING ALL OVER IT.

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(Sorry, I wasn’t shouting there – my nephew can only read in capitals)

Malcolm the Monkey

When I was 12 years old, my parents took me on my first trip abroad. It was a coach trip to the Black Forrest in Germany. I can’t recall now whether it was on the way there or the way back, but at some point we journeyed through Belgium and my dad bought me a toy monkey from a service station. I lovingly named my monkey Malcolm, after our coach driver, and kept him close by the whole trip.

That was twenty years ago. Since then, Malcolm has accompanied me on many more trips around Europe as well as venturing across the ocean with me to North America on a few occasions. Wherever we go, Malcolm always creates a talking point. When other travellers see him, they quite often admit to having their own cuddly toy or personal totem that they take with them whenever they travel.

Malcolm is semi-retired now, I usually only take him on the big trips. I didn’t take him with me on my recent trip to Italy, and I missed him. I felt bad for leaving him out, so I thought I’d make it up to him by sharing with you some of his travel photos.

 

Malcolm and I with some fellow travel buddies in New York

 

Watching the sun rise over the Grand Canyon

 

On a trip the USA in 2010, my travel companions thought it would be funny to keep kidnapping Malcolm and have him show up in random places…

 

… he was even found driving the bus one morning!

Do you have a travel buddy that you always take with you wherever you go?

Travel theme: Texture

Ailsa’s travel theme on Where’s my backpack this week is Texture http://by151w.bay151.mail.live.com/default.aspx#!/mail/InboxLight.aspx?n=1777109588!n=160854699&fid=1&fav=1&mid=a4a9c237-fe43-11e1-a84a-00215ad8572c&fv=1

I had to think about this one for a minute, then I remembered the photos I took at the salt basins in Death Valley. After travelling through the desert for so long, it was like suddenly finding yourself in an alien environment. In a wierd way, it felt like coming home for me because walking on the salt floor was almost like walking on fresh snow where I used to live in the Alps. The only difference was the unbelievably high temperatures and the fact I was wearing shorts and a vest top rather than 3 layers of ski gear. As I walked further out into the salt basin, I realised that I had to be incredibly careful. The deeper the salt formations became, the sharper they were. One false move, and I could suffer a nasty cut. The textures were so fascinating that I got down as low as possible (and as carefully as possible) to take some close-up shots. It really was like looking through the lense at another planet.

Photographs only give you the visual, though. What you can’t see in my photos are the tastes and the sounds. If you run your finger along the ground and then lick it, the taste is bizarre. It’s exactly what you would expect and so much more, all at the same time. If you stand still, you can hear the salt crackling under your feet.