Tuesday September 4th 12.10pm Butter & Scotch Bar and Bakery.

Tuesday September 4th

12.10pm Butter & Scotch Bar and Bakery.

Bar AND bakery, I hear you say. Yes, bar and bakery. Why does this concept not happen more? They open at 9am and offer brunch options until mid-afternoon. Think sandwiches in the American sense ie hot fillings sometimes toasted and often in a bun not bread, biscuits/savoury scones, sweet pies, cake, ice cream – cause, you know, America.

This morning I tried to go to the Museum of Women’s Resistance but, alas, it appears to be no more. Damn internet! Promising a vibrant experience that in reality is a nondescript townhouse with a for sale sign hanging out front. Of course, it was bound to happen at least once this trip. Occasionally, the internet doesn’t always tell the truth. Who knew.

So that’s how I made it to this oasis earlier than planned. On this trip, I’m trying not to consume alcohol before noon although the crossing of time zones can mess with one’s sense of whose noon it really is. It’s quiet in here; there are a couple of guys sitting at the bar drinking coffee plus me. The air conditioning is strong and welcome. My 4000 steps this morning were hard work in the relentless sunshine.

‘How you doing this warm day?’ The barman stands behind the bar polishing glasses in the way that barmen all over the world do.

‘Better now,’ is my response.

‘Yeah, it’s getting warm out there.’

I slide along the wall, edging past the two guys perched on the chrome and vinyl bar stools. Black and white chequered tiles on the floor, painted, colour-blocked walls and a feature wall of red lips by the bathrooms signal the fun, casual vibe of the place. The mirrored wall behind the display of extensive spirits indicates it’s a bar in more than just name only. I grab a table near the bar for ease of service as much as conversation.

Traveling by myself has its pros and its cons. I don’t have to please anyone else but at times I crave human interaction beyond the cursory. In the mornings, as I’m having my mandatory two cups of tea, I listen to podcasts. It helps prepare me to interact with the big wide world outside my bedroom door. This trip is an ideal mix of time alone, time with family and time with friends old and new.

The obligatory glass of water is delivered with the menu. I opt to begin with a coffee with the encouragement of the barman despite my reticence for American coffee. He promises to attempt a piccolo latte for me. I’ve coached him through it and I reckon I’ll get something close. I do, in fact, receive a passable piccolo latte. The espresso shot has enough oomph for my liking and it’s not been watered down with too much milk. In reality, it is a flat white presented in a glass mug with a handle. Some sugar helps balance the dominant bitterness.

I scour the menu for a smaller-sized breakfast dish and I want to leave room for something sweet afterwards. Steve would be disappointed if I didn’t. I settle on the chicken, chilli and cheddar hand pie with salad. A hand pie is a filled pastry triangle by another name. The buttery pastry is flaky and tasty all on its own. The diced filling is good value on the chicken front with enough heat not to warrant any extra use of hot sauce or chilli-infused honey that sits on the table. A little light on the cheddar for my liking, it’s a small, insignificant criticism on my behalf. The mixed salad greens are perfectly dressed in a country where I often find dressings overwhelming the salad they’re supposed to complement.

Coffee downed and I decide to step things up a notch with a michelada. A tall glass is rimmed with spicy salt, then half-filled with ice, doused with hot sauce, and finished off with a crisp lager and a wedge of lime. I need to embrace these more in my summer life. It’s thirst quenching and substantial at the same time. I take photos, all the time thinking Steve would love it here.

The menu which is currently discarded on the table next to me promises desserts in a variety of styles: key lime pie, s’mores pie, daily special pie, unicorn cake, salted chocolate cookies, six flavours of ice cream. All these are made in the bakery section next door which I can see into through a doorway behind the bar. I finish up my breakfast grateful for the small serving and embark upon an in-depth consultation with my friendly barman. Between us we concoct a boozy milkshake based upon the key lime pie with coconut ice cream and added rum.

When it arrives, I’m not disappointed. It’s thick and creamy with generous amounts lime zest sprinkled on top. The rum comes through immediately and I give it a thorough stir in case I’m drinking all the rum first. I slurp again and it’s just as good. I don’t often order sweet things and I think I’ve only done it this time in honour of my absent partner. I’m delighted that I did and even more grateful that he’s not here because I don’t have to share it. It’s mine, all mine I tell you!

New York City, NY – Monday 5th September – part 2

Approaching the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue, colloquially known as Museum Mile for good reason, the building holds none of the magic that the Guggenheim art museum commands. From street level the brick pattern neutral coloured exterior is just another sheer building face with nondescript gaps for windows. If you’re able to step back and look up without falling into the road, you’d see the fussy decoration of an over-sized French townhouse.

Outside the front door is a black suited security guard. This is a sight I’m getting very accustomed to by now. As I attempt to enter he places his arm in front of me so that I walk into it.

‘I’ll need to search your bag, ma’am,’ he announces as settle back onto the lower step, bumping into Steve. I open the zip expecting a cursory glance for guns and explosives. Clearly a man who takes his job seriously, the guard lifts my wallet, tissues and other unmentionables in pursuit of who knows what. Snuggly packed into an external mesh pocket of my handbag is a half-drained bottle of water.

‘You can’t bring that drink in here, ma’am,’ I’m advised brusquely. How the word ma’am can come across so aggressively, patronising and outright rude is beyond me. I am not sure I’ve ever used the word before in my life and I’m not about to start with this trip. Both sir and ma’am have been levelled at us often this trip with so little apparent meaning.

I breathe out slowly but deliberately. ‘Am I able to leave it with you?’

‘No, ma’am.’

I don’t move from my place on the doorstep and proceed to drink as much as I can. I offer it to Steve who on this occasion declines. Try as I might, I can’t quite finish it after a filling breakfast. Watching my every move silently, the guard looks away as I pour the remainder to the side of the entrance, only steps away from his position. Perhaps I should water the tree buffering the footpath from the road but I don’t.

‘You’ll need to check your bag before entering the gallery, ma’am,’ he calls out after me as I push past. At the base of the stairs, I remove my bag from around my neck.

‘Is this where I check my bag?’ I ask but am answered with a hand palm facing me fingers directing me to my left. A young lady, perched behind a bench looks up from her phone as I approach.

‘Is this where I check my bag?’

‘Yes, ma’am. That’ll be two dollars,’ she answers with all the enthusiasm of a teenager working the overnight shift at a McDonalds drive-through.

‘Okay. Just let me grab my wallet,’ I say pulling my bag back towards me before rifling through it.

‘Just a reminder that photography is forbidden in the gallery,’ she smiles and doesn’t smile simultaneously. ‘And don’t forget to visit the gift shop on our way out.’

I pay, collect my card and we head back to the foyer. A white marble staircase circles up and to the right, a black botanical-motif iron balustrade following it. In front of the staircase is a reception desk and the owner of the hand, who speaks as we attempt to climb the staircase.

‘Where you wanting to visit the gallery?’

‘Yes,’ I respond, thinking that it is rather stating the obvious.

‘Admission tickets can be purchased here.’

‘We’d like two tickets please,’ Steve interjects over my shoulder in an attempt to save the receptionist from getting his head bitten off.

‘Any concessions?’ he inquires.

‘Actually yes. I have a student concession card.’ Realising it is in my wallet which is now ensconced in the bag/coat check room, I consider my options. My dogged frugality wins out over my short fuse and I replay the procedure to save myself US$10. I’m unsure if it is worth it.

Some galleries and museums in America have a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ policy but not this place, at least not today. Traveling can be expensive. Obviously airfares and accommodation are the bulk of the expenses. In my lifetime though, airfares have become substantially more affordable. In the twenty years since I first began travelling, the price of my plane ticket has remain unchanged, regardless of inflation. The price of petrol, however, has increased by two-thirds. I sometimes wonder if it were more accessible, would more people travel. Perhaps they’re happy to stay at home, to stay in their knowable, predictable towns. I’m the kind of person who needs to save up for a holiday otherwise the stress of handing over a credit card every time outweighs the joy of the travel. Eating breakfast in and grabbing food from a market or grocery store also helps to ameliorate the ongoing shelling out of money. So yes, the saving of US$10 has a wider impact than its immediate perceivable action.

The collection at Neue Galerie includes decorative arts, sculpture and fine art pieces from various Austrian and German artists. Steve has brought me here for one reason only – to view the paintings of Gustav Klimt.

When Steve and I met through an online dating website, my profile name was Klimt. I had previously attempted online dating to greater and lesser success in the prior few years before meeting Steve and had learnt many tricks of the trade. One of which is not to give away any identifying information in your moniker or profile. Yes, you want to stand out from beachandsmiles76 and lovestolaugh71 but I always looked at a profile name as the first impression. I like to make a good first impression. One that draws curious and intelligent people in for a second look.

By choosing the name of one of my favourites artists, I felt I was sending a message about who I am as a person (artistic, slightly left of center) and also who I was looking to connect with (that might be harder to pinpoint in a few words). Needless to say, Steve heard my message loud and clear. I’m not sure if the entire time we’ve been together he’s been looking for some original Klimt artworks to direct me towards or if it was a fortuitous twist that he discovered the Neue Galerie here in NYC.

Either way, we find ourselves mingling with a couple of dozen other visitors on a glossy tiled floor, in a cool dark long room. Ten or so pieces drawings and paintings hang solemnly behind glass around the room. A few plinths in the middle display sculpture of marble and bronze but I barely glimpse at them. I step swiftly past numerous pencil studies to get to the main subject. There are too many people in my way. Can’t they go away and leave me alone with this woman I’ve traveled so far to see. I decide to do another lap of the room, this time pausing at the pencil studies, admiring the energy and fluidity of his line work. Various poses with body twisting first one way then another, her face barely even blocked in and yet it cannot be anyone else but her. I see a break and decide to take another run at it.

Adele Bloch-Bauer. She is unmistakable – dark hair piled high in folds upon her head, elongated neck swathed in a jewelled choker and her pianist-perfect fingers awkwardly held in front of her. A chaotic mosaic of triangles, squares, eyes and swirls envelope Adele, merging her dress with the background. Gold leaf dominates the oil paint, elevating the portrait to somewhere near religious icon status. I smile to myself. ‘Nice to finally meet you, Adele,’ I say under my breath.

Later, I descend to the bathroom below street level. One thing I quickly learnt as a tourist is that you take toilet stops when you can get them. Incongruously, it is here outside the ladies bathrooms that I find a life-size poster of Adele with a sign next to it encouraging selfies and the gallery’s social media platforms so I can tag myself in.

New York City, NY – Monday 5th September

New York City, NY – Monday 5th September

New York City establishment. This phrase may well be thrown around easily on blogs and restaurant review sites but it is a phrase that Anthony Bourdain rarely employs. Steve and I are only two of millions of Bourdain’s fans across the globe. We’ve watched every episode of his food and travel shows that we can find. I’ve read his books, many of his published articles and even follow him on social media. So when Bourdain recommends particular eating establishments, Steve can’t help but award them a gold star on his map.

Barney Greengrass, The Sturgeon King would surely win this gold star based upon its impressive name alone. Cream cheese schmear beneath folds of hand-sliced smoked salmon on a fresh, not toasted, bagel epitomises the quintessential Manhattan dish in my book. If I can’t find such a dish at Barney Greengrass, I may as well pack up my bag and head home. So at 10.30am on Labor Day Monday, Steve and I eagerly approach the Upper West Side institution from the south, its triple fronted store a beacon amongst over-hanging construction scaffolding.

Framed photos and certificates faded by years of sunlight line the base of the front windows. Inside, the counters mesh together haphazardly between refrigerated glass cabinets, old school registers and retail shelving. Baskets of bread spill forth their contents; rye, light rye, spelt, whole-wheat, unbleached white, sourdough, sesame, pumpernickel. Dried fruit and nuts are stacked in clear plastic containers above the counters. I’m not sure where to look first.

Steve taps me on the arm and indicates an empty table being cleared of its previous customer’s debris. As we move towards it twisting between occupied seats, the man clearing it looks up and smiles. His well-loved cloth swiftly clears the last of the crumbs and he pulls back the vinyl chair for me. I smile and faintly nod as I unload my bag onto the seat back. Three walls surround me, each proffering an array of smoked and/or cured fish products. Chalkboards run the perimeter also, detailing the delivery services available within the contiguous United States of their smoked products, caviar, salads, house-roasted coffee and more. Having not uttered a word, I have signalled my status as tourist and a thoughtful waiter hands me a couple of menus and proceeds briefly to illuminate me all about Barney Greengrass – The sturgeon king.

Four generations and over 100 years has seen this institution provide high quality hand-sliced smoked and cured fish products as well as meats, pickles, bagels and bialys to the people of Manhattan. Eggs with no fewer than twelve variations of fishy sides grace one page of the simple black and white folded menu.

‘I don’t want cooked eggs and I don’t want an omelette either.’ I’m slightly exasperated. I didn’t come here for a variation on the standard American breakfast fare.

‘What do you want?’ Steve asks.

‘I want a bagel with lox. And a schmear. But I can’t order it like that. They’ll think I’m taking the piss out of them.’ I look him in the eye. ’You order it for me.’

‘I’m not ordering your meal. You do it.’

He no sooner closes the menu and a waiter dressed in stiff white cotton shirt and trousers appears at my side with a half-full coffee jug in hand.

‘Coffee ma’am?’ He enquires.

‘No, thanks.’

‘Sir?’

‘Sure and I think we are ready to order,’ Steve answers and looks my way. I swear I can see a slight smirk emerging on his face.

‘Ah, yeah. I’m a bit over-whelmed by the choice actually,’ I blurt at the waiter.

‘How can I help?’ the waiter bends closer and his smile softens, somehow more genuine.

‘Well, what I’d really like is a bagel with lox and cream cheese. Simple really.’

‘That’s no problem, ma’am. Now lox is salty – that okay by you?’ I nod eagerly. ‘And if I may recommend sliced tomato and onion on the side?’ I nod again.

‘And for you sir?’

‘Scrambled eggs with sturgeon and Nova Scotia salmon on the side. With onions.’

‘What kind of bagel? Plain or toasted?’ He interjects.

‘Everything bagel. Plain,’ Steve responds without pause, as though he does this most days.

‘Anything to drink ma’am?’

‘Orange juice please,’ I answer, happy to not be referred to as ma’am for the next half hour or so, now that our orders are placed.

At times, New York City can feel like a theme park. Times Square with its M&Ms store and Disney store screaming neon and flashing screens. Yellow cabs honk and toot their way down the numbered streets. Barney Greengrass could unfortunately be one more tourist attraction in this theme park and yet it’s not. The aged wallpaper and scuffed vinyl flooring has the feel of a well thumbed book. I wish this place was in my neighbourhood. I would work my way through the Jewish delicacies now adopted by New Yorkers – chopped liver, knish, egg salad, cheese blintzes, babka, borscht and matzo ball soup.

When the sturdy plates clatter down on our table, a lesser person may have been underwhelmed. Standard-issue crockery holds Steve’s unadorned well-coloured eggs. Chunks of salmon sit beside flakes of buttery sturgeon while sweet caramelised onions dot the sunny eggs. No singular leaf of iceberg lettuce or finger of pickle gussies up the dish.

My bagel has a tight shiny surface that squeaks slightly under my teeth. Several folds of bright salmon are top and tailed by a generous schmear of cream cheese and a sprinkling of plump capers. Thick slices of both ripe tomato and sweet onion sit forlorn on the side plate.

Though it may be a family run legacy, this thriving food store still sends out customers of all ages and extractions toting large paper bags brimming with all manner of treats. If we didn’t have an afternoon’s exploration ahead, I have no doubt that we too would gather a bounty of food treats on our departure.

NYC, Sunday September 4th – part 2

Sunday on a long weekend in New York. We really should have known better. By now we’d attempted to eat in closed restaurants, braved over-crowded ferries and tourist-inundated attractions. I’m surprised we were surprised when we tried to visit Brooklyn Brewery at its home in Williamsburg, an uber hip part of Brooklyn . The day was warm and sunny and all the beautiful people were out and about. The queue could be seen long before the large spray painted sign which covers one side of the building. More young hipsters were joining the line quicker than it appeared to be moving.

‘How much do you really want to go there?’ I ask Steve.

‘Nowhere near enough,’ he answers.

‘Good.’ I scan the block. ‘How about that place?’ I point to a dark opening flanked by a large, drooping palm in a black concrete pot.

‘Is it a bar or a café?’

‘I don’t know and I don’t care.’ I respond, grabbing his hand and leading him on. Faux-industrial stools line up against a bench with the front roller door pushed high up and away. I’m drawn to the inner depths of the place with the promise of a dark, cool sanctuary. Passing the bar and its attendant young, gorgeous staff, I motion towards vacant seats beyond. We are nodded on our way.

Seated, I can now contemplate formulating a reason for being here.

‘I honestly didn’t imagine Brooklyn Brewery was going to be that busy. I mean I knew it would be busy but that is beyond just busy.’ Steve settles back further into the soft couches.

‘It is craft beer but on an American scale, a New York scale even. I remember being served a Brooklyn Brewery beer on a Delta flight a couple of years back,’ I continue. ‘When is craft beer no longer craft beer? When it is served on airplanes perhaps.’

‘Or when it’s bought out by one of the big boys like Asahi or AB InBev maybe,’ posits Steve.

‘So I could always see if they serve Brooklyn beers here?’

‘No thanks. Think I’ll see if I can get a coffee. An iced coffee even.’

‘Oh good thought. I’ll have an espresso martini. Let me sort it out.’ I approach the lithe, bronzed bartender who is killing time polishing glasses and place our order. Another couple wander into the café bar, pausing at the entrance as their eyes adjust from the bright sunshine outside. This time the bartender looks up and greetings are exchanged while the only immediate job she had – preparing our drink order – is abandoned as she scoots around the bar and throws her arms around the guy. There is little point getting upset about the delay in our order as we’ve nowhere desperate to be. Holidays are the delicate balance between making plans and having no plans. The rest of the working world has a schedule they need to keep but there is flexibility to our days. Yes, there are certain fixed appointments like flights but even those can be altered if we wished.

Steve’s spreadsheets have allocated activities for certain days, some even with duration or time dependant details. This research is part of the enjoyment of travel for him. He spends months roughing out itineraries, debating the positives and negatives of different routes and destinations. He emails me links to these spreadsheets so I can share in the joy and give feedback. Occasionally I will even open one up and glance at it. Rarely do I follow the embedded links to scenic attractions, accomodations and so on. It’s not that I dismiss all his effort or that I’m not interested in the trip. I am interested in the trip. The trip is the very thing that I am interested in. It is the months of research that I’m not enthralled by. I recognise how fortunate I am that my partner is a trip planner and how simple my travel is made by this quirk. I will not however download any of the apps, no matter how many invitations are sent my way. I’m sure they make his travel a more enjoyable, richer experience.

Equally, I will not try to persuade anyone else to take out an hour or two each afternoon for a little quiet time journal writing. My preference for a glass of wine and a small plate of something savoury to nibble on as I write in my hardcover journal with a quality medium-density pencil is a quirk of my own that I’m happy to embrace. I like to find a comfortable spot with some cushions on the floor or a corner spot on a couch. Natural light is preferred with a low side table for the aforementioned drink and snacks. Local radio is about the only addition of noise I can tolerate. Television is far too distracting to sustain any significant journal writing.

Regulation over-sized ice cube keeps Steve’s cold-drip, locally-roasted coffee chilled. He sips slowly, absentmindedly as he stares out the front window and into the bus depot across the road. My espresso martini has a bracing bitterness and thick crema that declares itself a product of quality, freshly extracted espresso. Content, I sit back and pull out my phone having already noted the wifi password displayed at the bar. Once connected, notifications start popping up left, right and centre. I delete a swathe of emails, upload a few photos of the day so far and check in with my daughters via Messenger. After longer than necessary social media browsing, I put my phone down to see Steve resting his eyes. My hand on his knee slightly startles him but he manages a smile anyway.

‘Hey babe, how about we grab an Uber back to the apartment and take the rest of the afternoon off?’

‘Sounds good. I’ll call the Uber.’ He extracts the phone from his pocket while I pack mine away. I pick up the cocktail glass and slurp the remaining contents, sticking my tongue out and swishing it side to side determined not to waste any.

2:57 PM

90 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249, USA

MILES 6.42

TRIP TIME 00:28:51

FARE BREAKDOWN Trip fare $33.07

Subtotal $33.07

Total $33.07

Driver – Olimjon

As we swing around Brooklyn in a loop and cross the Ed Koch Queensboro bridge, I am again reminded that Manhattan is an island to itself. Brooklyn may well be as part of New York City as is Manhattan, but they are culturally as well as physically two very different places. Green rather than the iconic yellow taxi cabs of Manhattan are just the beginning.

New York City has five boroughs or areas in total – the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. More than just an administrative division, the boroughs each have distinctive personalities. The Bronx is witnessing a revitalisation of housing and infrastructure after years of neglect. Brooklyn is home to distinctive architecture as well as a plethora art/design outlets and technology start-ups. While Manhattan is the smallest in size, it is also the most densely populated. Queens is famously ethnically diverse with a range of eateries to match. Conversely, Staten Island very much embraces its suburban image. Though linked by bridges and tunnels, I wonder how often Manhattanites leave the comfort of their island. Perhaps they are more likely to travel interstate or internationally than visit any of the outer boroughs.

Three flights of stairs and a refreshing shower later, I pour myself a generous glass of Chablis add a few ice cubes and empty the bag of Buffalo blue cheese flavoured cheese curls into a bowl. I rescue my journal from the depths of the suitcase and drop a couple of plump pillows then myself on the floor by the edge of the bed. My back is propped against the bed while Steve is sprawled out on top of the floral bedcover. Thin cotton curtains do little to block the heat out. Slightly chilled air is pumped out of the vintage air conditioner in between the clunking and whirring. Somehow, Steve has managed to block out the din and drift off.

When I find myself sketching the columns on the building’s façade opposite, I decide to give up dissecting the details of the day and pop in my earbuds to listen to a podcast or three. This way I manage to disappear into a private space of my own for a couple of hours. Voices drift in and around my head. I follow threads of stories only to lose them again. At 6pm, I decide to wake Steve so that he’ll be able to sleep tonight.

Ahead of us is an evening of Micheladas and platters of mixed tacos at a pumping restaurant we’ve walked past multiple times since we’ve been here. A michelada is crisp Mexican beer with hot sauce and lime. This refreshing combo pairs perfectly with the Latin inspired cuisine on offer. We decline the signature dish – guacamole constructed table side with a variety of enhancements from pineapple and pomegrenate to papaya and mint. Not upsetting is also that we missed happy hour with its reduced price frozen margaritas and beef sliders.

It’s not long after 9pm and we find ourselves in bed. Outside the window, beyond the gently swaying curtains lights flash and cars toot their horns. I lay awake and watch the arcs of light creep across the ceiling. An Irish bar is two floors below but any noise it emits just blends in with the soundtrack of the streets – pedestrians laughing and shouting, the occasional dog barking, car horns and music escaping from cars idling at the traffic lights. It’s night and although the noise level is nowhere near its daytime extreme, New York City lives up to its reputation as the city that never sleeps. I’m not sure how people live their entire lives here. Perhaps they go slowly mad from the constant stimulation. I’m sure there are enclaves protected from sirens and construction in more wealthy sections of the city. West 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue is not one of them.

New Orleans, LA – Thursday, 8th September

New Orleans, LA – Thursday, 8th September

9:35 AM

1100 N Peters St, New Orleans, LA 70116, USA

MILES 3.16

TRIP TIME 00:18:57

FARE BREAKDOWN Trip fare $8.34

Subtotal $8.34

Total $8.34

Driver – George

When I awake, things feel different. The bed and it’s soft, enveloping mattress, the plush bedding sealing me off from the outside world. I’m not sure if it was the bed or some magical qualities in last night’s purple drink but sleep was solid and refreshing in ways it not always is. Today’s itinerary begins with an Uber ride to the Garden district for a tour. Apparently quite the common tourist attraction and one that Steve has done before, we are booked in at 10am to tour the oldest New Orleanian cemetery – Lafayette Cemetery Number One.

Uber George is one of the quietest drivers we’ve had this trip. He answers Steve’s questions but offers no more. Steve gives up and tries to adjust the vents at the rear of the centre console to direct some cooled air in his direction. I’m left to sit in the back lost in my own thoughts. Outside the areas of the French Quarter, Seventh Ward and Treme-Lafitte pass by. From the expressway, I can see the massive Superdome that was refuge to to many people during and after Katrina’s rampage in 2005. Dropping down into Central city, house blocks become interspersed with estate agent offices, furniture stores, coffee shops, parking garages and playgrounds. We pull up in one of the few empty spots on Washington Avenue, opposite Commander’s Palace restaurant.

‘That’s where we are having dinner tonight,’ Steve casually throws out.

‘Commander’s Palace?’ I ask although I know it’s one of his all-time dining highlights.

‘Yep. Commander’s Palace.’ He checks his watch. ‘We’re a little early. Coffee? There’s a place just back on the other corner.’

We grab a quick caffeine hit from Still Perkin’ Café. A neighbourhood style coffee shop, this unassuming place is heavily air-conditioned much to Steve’s delight. The neighbourhood is a mix of expansive historic mansions with manicured gardens through to more modest single story weatherboard homes. Much treasured shade is provided by the many mature Live Oak trees, hundreds of years in age, dripping with Spanish Moss and ferns nestling in their elbows. Like outstretched arms, their branches reach out along the blocks intersecting with the next one.

In an otherwise residential neighbourhood, the cemetery is free and open to the public. Small groups of people huddle in the shade of a large tree by the entrance. It’s partner on the opposite side on the entrance way fallen victim to some previous hurricane season. A small metal sign attached to the front wall reads No pets, bikes, vehicles or skateboards allowed in cemetery. No soliciting allowed in cemetery. I nudge Steve and point out the sign.

‘Sex work? Here?’ I question sotto voce. He shrugs. Just then our docent arrives, wisely holding an umbrella for sun protection. Clipboard in hand, she enquires officiously, ‘Amanda? Steve? I’m Gayl. From Save Our Cemeteries.’ Stepping through the over-sized gates I can’t help but notice how completely different this place looks to other cemeteries I’ve seen. Walls of vaults edge the block but the most striking thing is the large above-ground tombs. Housing multiple family members, they are a solution to a very unique problem.

‘Shall we begin?’ Gayl begins her spiel, ‘Save Our Cemeteries is a not for profit group dedicated to the preservation, promotion and protection of New Orleans’ historic cemeteries through restoration, education and advocacy. Watch your step.’

The paving stones and concrete beneath our feet are losing to the tree roots, lichen and grass that thrive in the Louisiana climate.

‘ Save Our Cemeteries is the only non-profit in New Orleans that offers cemetery tours. You may have seen some touts at the front gates soliciting for business.’

I catch Steve’s eye and we exchange smirks. I mouth oh that kind of soliciting. Our guide carries on, ‘The cemetery is free to the public but monies collected from these tours go directly to the many restoration projects that the SOC co-ordinates.’

There are few clouds in the sky to provide any break from the relentless heat, so each time we pause at a particular tomb, Steve and I seek out all possible shade relief.

‘Lafayette Cemetery Number One is the oldest of the seven municipal, city-operated cemeteries in New Orleans. Originally, it was laid out in a cruciform or cross-shape pattern. The aisles were lined with magnolia trees and paved with shells.’ Gayl is affable and knowledgeable. ‘More than 7000 people from all denominations and societal groups are buried here.’

‘Ok, I have to ask,’ I interject. ‘What is it with all the mausoleums?’

‘I wondered when that would come up,’ she responds. ‘The first settlers to the area had problems with in-ground burial. New Orleans has a very high water table and when it would rain the caskets would just pop up and out of the ground.’

‘Seriously?’ The look on my face must be incredulous. ‘Bodies would just pop out of the ground?’

‘Yes, absolutely. Though there is also a cultural influence, too. Many immigrants were from Spain and as is the custom there, bodies were buried in above ground family vaults. The cemeteries were also known as ‘cities of the dead’ with the tombs resembling small houses.’

We come across a tomb that is for sale. Rusting fencing, crumbling façade and a broken urn doesn’t dissuade me from momentarily contemplating owning a tomb in a Louisiana cemetery. I start to factor in costs of transporting a body, legal forms to be completed and the difficulty of family visiting to mourn and decide against it. A short lived fantasy. Shame, it was very reasonable at only $7000.

A feeling I’ve encountered before on our trip is that of deja-vu or even just familiarity in a place. I don’t recognise one particular tombs or even a particular view down one of the aisles. It is a more general sense of having seen this before. There’s no point trying to explain these things to Steve as he is a return visitor to many of the places we are traveling.

‘Is it wrong to say that I find this all quite beautiful?’ I say more to Steve than to our guide. ‘The lacework of the small fences, the way those small ferns have managed to grow in the cracks of the brickwork. Even the engraved marble sheets crumbling away. It’s like there’s a slow but incessant battle between Mother Nature and man. Mother Nature is gradually gaining ground, I think.’

Gayl extends her right arm out, her umbrella pausing us. ‘Just down this way is one of our volunteers working on one the tombs. It’s a never-ending job. Once we’ve secured funding, we’ve got to sort out ownership and other legal issues before any of the restoration and preservation work can even begin.’

‘The tombs are so elaborate. All that engraving and sculpting.’ I go to run my hand along a nearby tomb and stop, unsure of the protocols of touching. There’s an odd thing that happens in cemeteries about personal space. The grave sites are private space and there are unwritten rules about sitting or standing on them. Convention says that you go to the effort of walking around them, even though the deceased and meters underground and unlikely to ask you to do so. This historic but still active cemetery straddles a wobbly line between tourist attraction and sacred place.

‘Absolutely. The sculptures are highly symbolic. There are many images to represent a life cut short. Broken flowers, broken columns. Even an upside down torch – the torch being an ancient symbol for life. Many of these, you’ll find on the pediments of family tombs. Another one often used on the graves of children is that of a lamb. Their gentleness and innocent akin to that of the child.’ As she explains these, the cemetery becomes richer and more meaningful. It is more than just a charming ready-made film set.

‘Another common sight here in Lafayette Number One, is the society tomb. Orphanages, benevolent societies, fire companies and more all had their own society tombs with their insignia engraved on the pediment above.’ The tour is a fascinating mix of education and entertainment. While I now know that the name of the piece of stone engraved with the names of the deceased is called a closure tablet, I also enjoyed the many vampire movie references. Anne Rice, the famous author of the Interview With a Vampire series has been a long time New Orleans resident.

The heat of the day is starting to pick up and though we’ve tried to stick to the shade of the plentiful magnolia trees, we are both beginning to fade. We wind up our tour back at the gates on Washington Avenue and thank Gayl for her incredible service.

‘That was so much more than I’d expected,’ I say. ‘Though I’m not really sure what I expected, to be honest.’

‘It was pretty great, wasn’t it?’ and then addressing Gayl directly, Steve asks hesitantly. ‘Can . . . can we give you a tip?’

‘I’m not allowed to accept tips but I do encourage you to donate to the SOC organisation online. Thanks for taking the tour with Save Our Cemeteries. All the best for the remainder of your trip.’ She turns sharply and walks away. I stand still, slightly bewildered by the past hour and a bit. Steve consults the phone oracle and points in the direction of our next destination.

‘I thought we’d walk down to Magazine St and grab something very cold to drink and some lunch.’

Sounds like a plan, Stan rolls off my tongue before I can stop it. We hug the side of the road with the most shade but I can feel the sweat rolling down my back. Luckily it is only a few blocks before we hit Magazine St. It is a buzzing commercial strip with restaurants, gift shops, antique stores and more vying for the tourist dollar. Like all streets located in the is city, they follow a gentle curve as the river forms a wide U-shape around the city. This disrupts one of my usual ploys for getting a grip on a city when I travel. Using a water-body or some striking topography to ground myself in a city helps anchor me, helps me intuit direction. In this ‘Crescent City’ the river curves and streets fan out to meet the river. North, South, East and West are less helpful than they should be. The river can be south, west and east of you at the same time. New Orleans sits on a delta with the river running through it with a large lake to the north of it. New Orleans is lucky that it isn’t water. No wonder coffins float up out of the ground. Sections of the city sit below sea level. Subsequently, when levees and flood walls were breached during the Hurricane Katrina, the water had nowhere to go. Storm surges both from Lake Pontchartrain and the river left 80% of the city and its inhabitants flooded.

Bend, OR. Wednesday 24th August 2016

The Victorian Café at the top of the Main Street of Bend posits itself as offering a brunch worth waiting for. Thankfully today being a weekday we manage to skip that part of the process even though it’s well after 10am by the time we arrive. Clad in red painted timber, iron chairs and tables spread out in front and to the side under the looming sequoia trees. Upon seating us outside, our server hands us the menu cards. ‘Can I tempt you folks in one of our famous 23 ounce Bloody Marys? Comes with charbroiled prawn, Andouille sausage, pepper jack, olive, and pepperoncini skewer. Double shot of house-infused pepper vodka too.’

‘Ah, no thanks. I’m driving shortly.’ Steve shakes his head.’Just coffee for me.’

‘And for you ma’am? A mimosa or Irish coffee perhaps.’

‘Ummm. I’d love an orange juice – no ice – and some English breakfast tea with milk on the side.’ I’m getting better at ordering in America.

‘So that’s coffee, a juice and a tea.’

Around us groups of mostly young adults chat and pick casually at their meals. No one is in a rush to be anywhere. Drinks delivered and meals ordered.

Biscuits with sausage gravy and easy over medium eggs (soft yolks with cooked whites) for Steve. Hobo potatoes for me. Hobo potatoes as I discover are crispy potato chunks with diced capsicums, red onions, tomatoes, mushrooms topped with American cheese (an industrial style all of its own) and spring onions.

 The server swings past multiple times filling the stout coffee mug which rarely leaves Steve’s hand.

‘So from here I was thinking we would head over to south west Bend to a place called Crux. Over twenty beers on tap on the tasting room. We may have to stay longer in Bend.’

‘That’s assuming we ever get our breakfasts and get out of here,’ I add. ‘Funny how you can never find a waiter when you want one.’

When I do track down a waiter, she apologises repeatedly. Moments later a mimosa is delivered to our table as an apology by the manager. The flaccid tea sits cold and I sip on the mimosa as a head start my day’s alcohol consumption. Feeling a little buzzed by the time our meals arrive, I can’t be bothered mentioning that I order my dish without the scrambled eggs. I do my best to eat around them.

Another thing I’ve added to my list of life in the United States of America is that alcohol at breakfast is completely acceptable. I’m not pointing the finger at anyone here; I happily admit to consuming alcohol prior to noon. Iced tea with bourbon to go with my smoked meats and salad at 11am would prove to be the perfect beverage choice a few days later. A bloody Mary (vodka, tomato juice and more) and breakfast taco in Los Angeles. My mimosa (sparkling wine mixed with orange juice) to accompany this morning’s breakfast.

I can’t say it is something I often see in Australia. In general, I see more spirits consumed in America. Cocktails are offered at all times of day and up-sized for a only a dollar more. I’m wondering about Prohibition’s influence of how alcohol has taken hold in American culture. Distilled spirits, as opposed to beer or wine, would have been easier to conceal and transport from legal authorities at that time. It makes sense.

Prohibition had other effects on American society including loss of tax revenue and increase of organised crime but also not insignificantly, a loss of wine-making knowledge and skills. I blame this for my exasperating efforts to track down affordable, drinkable American wines. Having spent too many years working in one of Australia’s premier wine regions, the yellow, oaky and sweet American wine is almost enough to turn me to beer. Luckily, a chance meeting with a San Francisco restaurant manager leads to a Californian wine masterclass and hope is redeemed.

Breakfast completed, we manoeuvre our way past oversized pick-up trucks and SUVs. Ten minutes later we are driving in circles in an industrial estate, Steve hell-bent on tracking down the first of today’s breweries. At the edge of an ill-signed industrial estate, we find Crux Fermentation Project in the home of a former transmission shop bound by the railway and an aqueduct.

Reclaimed fixtures and furnishings pay homage to the building’s history. Sitting at one of the communal bar tables mashing tanks, fermenting vessels and ageing casks surround.

‘Imagine a set up like this at home.’

‘Do you mean in Australia generally or actually in our home?’ I question, unsure if I want to know the answer.

‘A little bit of column A. A little bit of column B.’

The extensive beer tap list is outlined on a photocopied sheet on the table in front of us. Lagers, ales and all the way through to dark beers. There is even a couple of ciders and kombucha on tap. These guys are more than a fermentation project in name only.

San Francisco, CA to Mendocino, CA – Saturday 20th August

San Francisco, CA to Mendocino, CA – Saturday 20th August

During our three days in San Francisco, I had tried and failed to light the gas stove so I could boil some water for tea. There’s no point saying I should go out to Starbucks to buy tea. I need tea as I’m pottering around getting ready in the morning. This is a non-negotiable. On our final morning in my new favourite city of San Francisco, I wake early and sit on the mustard velvet love seat peering out the bay window. While the world goes about its workday morning business, I curl up and catch up on my journal writing. I decide to take one last go at lighting the mid-century stove in our eclectic Air BnB.

Our host is a photographer and the apartment reflects his visual aesthetic. Visual vignettes are everywhere. An over-sized glass candy jar filled with fluorescent-yellow foam earplugs graces the bedside table. 1960s postcards decorate the table lamps perched on the triangular tables twinning the loveseat. A wooden artist mannequin resuscitates a polymer cockroach. There’s a fine line between art installation and amenity in our second floor Oak Street apartment.

With the stove finally conquered, I realise I need to go out hunter-gathering for milk. Americans may like their tea floral, black and insipid but I like mine strong and milky. Coffee here in America is filter coffee with creamer. Creamer is a bizarre concoction of corn syrup solids with hydrogenated soybean or cottonseed oil and white powder thrown in to make it acceptable. Espresso is yet to take strong hold.

So out I trek to find somewhere to buy milk. I aim for a service station or convenience store thinking that will be my best bet. A block west and half a block north and I find two service stations opposite each other. Things are looking positive. As I stand on the street corner waiting for the lights to change, I pull my jacket tight around me to guard against the chilly early morning wind. Unmarked white buses pull up just prior to the intersection and collect a small number of people I’ve just noticed gathering. Later, I discover this is a common practice to bus staff out of town to large corporate estates.

As I enter the store, I head towards the fridge I see at the rear. There’s no familiarity with the bottles I see on the shelves. Out of the way, I manage to decipher images and words to find plain, unflavoured milk. It would have been easier to buy soft drink, sports drink, juice or even bottled water than milk. America clearly isn’t a strong dairy culture, regardless of the cartons of milk I remember seeing children drinking on television. Like a conqueror, I return home successfully and provide caffeinated beverages to prepare us for a long drive to Mendocino north along the Californian coast, the Pacific Ocean at our side.

9:01 AM

955 Oak St, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA

MILES 12.96

TRIP TIME 00:19:44

FARE BREAKDOWN Trip fare $35.11

Subtotal $35.11

Total $35.11

Driver – Tommy

We get dropped off at the Alamo car rental section of the San Francisco airport. Staying close to our luggage, we take our place in the queue which snakes across communal foyer. The vibrant carpet no doubt hiding all manner of stains. Finally, international licenses in hand it is our turn and we stand at the long counter. At five feet tall, I’m not tall enough to lean on the top of the reception counter and yet somehow seated the rental sales person still manages to look down on me. The psychology of sales is not lost on me.

After negotiating our exit from the car park maze, we can begin the self-guided drive portion of our journey. Heading north we zig zag across to the beachside road. Ambitiously named Great Highway, this road extends not much more than five kilometers. Smack bang between John F Kennedy Drive and Great Highway is our brunch stop Beach chalet brewery and restaurant. Two stores high with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the beach and the Pacific Ocean, I imagine this tourist Mecca gets packed with Happy Hour sunset seekers. Chowder in a roll is what I am here for. By the time we arrive just after 10am, the dining room is half full with weekend brunchers.

Ocean Beach Breakfast for Steve with three eggs scrambled, crispy breakfast potatoes and the chicken apple sausage option. Top of the soup and salads section is my target – pacific chowder in a sourdough bowl topped with oyster crackers. Although the size of a small oyster, these crackers don’t contain any oysters but are often served with oyster stew. As much as I’d like to linger over multiple coffee refills with a view like this, I’m eager to put some miles under our belt.

From here the Golden Gate Bridge is only 20 minutes away, which we choose to approach through The Presidio. A former military post, this large park houses many historic buildings though today we sit patiently in our rental car in the steady traffic stream. Controlled chaos is a positive way to describe the scene around us. Tourist buses jockey with cars for position while pedestrians and cyclists take the wise option with their own designated walkway. Most stop to pose for snaps under the signature red suspension cables, the city in the background and swirling currents below.

All too soon though it’s time for our first pit stop at Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma. 

Our American brewcation was Excel spreadsheeted to the hour by Steve, so we manage to avoid the heaving crowds by turning up as they open. A tasting paddle of their brewery-only beers and a soft pretzel with beer cheese sauce is a fine late breakfast.

Four days of self-driving through Northern California and Oregon dictate that designated-driver Steve is on strictly limited tastings only. California has a legal blood alcohol concentration of 0.8%. While this is higher than what we are used to, the craft beers we are tasting range up towards wine level of 12% ABV (alcohol by volume). The craft breweries we have planned to visit offer all manner of beers from simple west coast IPAs through to barrel-aged stouts. Thankfully, every place offers small tasting paddles.

I’ve offered to drive more than once but Steve definitely prefers to be in control. I don’t think he likes being a passenger, in any sense of the word. I’m trying to avoid leaving nail marks in the door upholstery. Why is it that each corner delivers an RV travelling too fast and too close to the centreline? 

Along the pilgrimage route is Russian River Brew Company. These legendary craft beers are difficult to get anywhere in Australia. If we had wanted to sample beers from their bar, the wait line was over an hour. Instead, we opt for takeaways from their bottle shop, which requires only a 20-minute wait in the noonday sun. We buy their legendary Pliny the Elder which is a Double India Pale Ale that is not only rare in Australia but also overpriced at AU$50 for a standard 500 ml bottle. Much lauded as the ideal DIPA, it regularly receives 95% and higher on beer ratings websites. What do we think we finally get to taste it hours later? Meh. It’s nice but it is nothing more than a well-balanced, bitter fresh ale in the manner of west coast ales with loads of citrus and pine.

We also snag their available barrel aged beers – the Supplication brown ale aged in Pinot Noir barrels with sour cherries, the Temptation blonde ale aged in Chardonnay barrels and the Consecration ale aged in Cabernet barrels. The Supplication is funky thanks to the added yeast and bacteria and nicely tart from the sour cherries. It’s my kind of beer. The Temptation is buttery and slightly oaky with its time hanging out with the Chardonnay barrel. The Consecration is the youngest of the barrel-aged beers but is satisfyingly full bodied with hints of chocolate and spice. At 10% ABV, this is our sipper beer that end up rounding out our evening.

Before we can get to any of that though we need to complete our allotted day’s brewery visits. Next up we have Anderson Valley Brewery in Boonville, CA. It’s after 3pm by the time we arrive and the dry dusty fields that serve as their car park are full of tents and inebriated campers. Turns out, we’ve happened upon their annual Disc Golf Championship weekend, though we never actually witness the event in action. Essentially a competitive frisbee round-robin, Disc Golf, as we soon discover, has a strong craft beer drinking participation in the west of the United States.

We easily locate the taproom by the steady stream of shoeless people trudging towards an unsigned shed. Now, I know Anderson Valley beers from buying them overpriced from our fabulous bar/bottle shop near our house. Their tart thirst-quenching Briny Melon Gose is a go-to for my summer drinking. Salt and watermelon? What’s not to love about that in a beer. Cans and bottles of Dreef Fooper IPA, Boone Amber Ale, Anderson Valley Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout, and Blood Orange Gose find their way into our cooler. Two litre Growlers and six-packs fill the hands of campers as they stock up and make their way back to their camps, like ants filling the home stores.

Just before we get to Mendocino where we are to stay for the evening, we stop in the town of Little River and buy some snacks for dinner from the only store in town. Its dark weathered exterior nestles into the grey green cliff side, white breakers relentless below. Inside is a bustling well-stocked convenience store that sells bait, beer, groceries and hot food. Crackers, some cured meats, cheese. Earlier we bought ourselves a cooler box so we would have cold beer with us at each destination.

Sitting on a damp garden bench, my bare feet push into the humus rich earth beneath them. Though low clouds have rolled in from the Pacific Ocean hiding the tops of the dark redwoods in their misty skirts, the sky beyond is still bright. Our tiny log cabin is marginally larger than our queen-sized bed. An electric kettle, for which I’m grateful, sits upon the mini-fridge. Gathering what we need for the evening from the boot of our rental vehicle (an oversized SUV), I’m eager to simultaneously flop onto the bed with its soft, white linen and explore my surrounds.

The main house is quaint, pale yellow weatherboards and dark grey slate roof. Chooks roam free everywhere except the fenced off vegetable garden. The host family – mum, dad, five year old daughter, eight and eighteen year old sons – are tucked up inside going about their evening routines. I can hear no cars, no airplanes. It’s odd – this loud silence, almost unnerving. The sound of my pencil rustling against the paper is louder than the birds in the woods that surround me.

San Francisco, CA – Wednesday 17th August 2016 – part 2

Next stop is Rogue Ale House down near Washington Square halfway to the waterfront. We’ve lucked in or out depending on which way you look at it as it’s Trivia Night at this gastropub. A quick scout for a table proves fruitless so we join the line at the elevated bar for drinks. Rogue are known for growing their own grains, hops and other ingredients on their Oregon farm in the Willamette valley. This ‘we grow beer’ attitude gives them control regarding purity and quality throughout the process. After collecting a couple of large tall glasses of the amber stuff, we retreat outside away from the hub-bub. The ill-lit rear courtyard is more smoker’s concession than vibrant beer garden. A few wooden picnic tables with fairy lights wrapped around umbrellas do little to offset the massive spotlight glare.

From the brand-heavy laminated menu we choose fried tater tots with ranch dip, chicken wings with hot sauce and fried cheese curds with jalapeño jelly. Piping hot fried finger food makes up the bulk of the menu though the odd vegetable does make a token appearance under the guise of salad. Service is perfunctory without being rude. I’m sure the beer nerds who attend to us all home brew on the side, dreaming of taking their hobby next level.

‘If you’re still hungry, you can have desserts. They’ve got beer floats. Chocolate stout over vanilla ice cream with whipped cream and a cherry?’ I offer.

‘Yeah, nah,’ he responds. ‘Think I’ll skip it this time.’

Placing his now empty glass on the table, ‘But I could go another.’

We up sticks and go inside determined to find a corner to perch now the evening has cooled off and the wind picked up. Thankfully, the trivia quiz has reached its conclusion and the bar is emptying out somewhat. I find a slightly sticky table and push the dishes to one side. Although there are guest beers on tap, Steve and I have a philosophy of ‘when in Rome’ so it’s a Rogue double chocolate stout for him and a Rogue barleywine for me. Slightly higher in alcohol, we sit a little longer on these smaller tipples and watch the bar in action around us. Television screens showing sports we don’t understand blare from the corner. Crowded tables of college kids raucous in their laughter. Large groups playing board games on other tables. It appears we are not their core demographic.

‘Fancy a bit of a stroll and some fresh air?’ I posit as our glasses are nearing empty.

‘Don’t mind if I do,’ he says taking my arm in his and we gratefully step from the bustling bar onto a darker, quieter street. Heading along Columbus Avenue, a broad road that cuts a diagonal swathe through the street grid from the financial district to the waterfront, we pass pizza joints, sushi restaurants, closed cafes and Indian eateries. I think we are aimlessly wandering but of course Steve has a plan and it turns out to an excellent one.

I’m not one for gimmicky tourist attractions and if I’m given a choice I would avoid them. Our visit to the hundred year old Buena Vista was not a choice, though an Irish coffee was an inspired idea to cap off our evening. A cocktail of hot coffee, whiskey – Irish of course – topped with a thick head of whipped cream is what The Buena Vista is rightly famous for. Located in the ground floor of a three storey building at the terminus of the Powell-Hyde Cable Car, it is ideally sited to capture the tourist dollar. Waiters in stiff white jackets with bright eyes and broad smiles choreograph their customers with ease. Momentarily, I feel like a teenager asked on her first date when he offers to bring us two Irish coffees. Of course, the answer is yes. How could I possibly refuse you?

I know we had a second Irish coffee but there’s not much more I remember about that evening. In the Uber ride home, I don’t hear Steve and our driver, Parker, make small talk. All I can think of is how warm I feel inside. It is only the next morning laying in bed that I think about The Buena Vista’s human resources department. Staff can be the make or break of any hospitality business. After all the business planning, success really depends the people you have at the coal face. You can have the best Irish coffee in the world but it’s the people that really make your customers feel warm inside.

10:50 PM

2765 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109, United States

MILES 3.52

TRIP TIME 00:16:19

FARE BREAKDOWN Base Fare 2.00

Distance 4.05

Time 3.59

Subtotal $9.64

Booking Fee $1.55

Total $11.19

Driver – Parker 

RECIPE PERFECTED AFTER MANY ITERATIONS

20 ml dark brown sugar

45 ml whiskey – your choice

60 ml espresso coffee

60 ml hot water 

Make sure these are well combined then float 45ml of whipped cream over the top. It helps if you pour it over the back of a spoon.

Enjoy in a minimum of two per sitting.

Seattle, WA – Monday 29th August  2016

Seattle, WA – Monday 29th August

Minimal cloud and a glorious mid 20s Celsius has got to be the perfect weather for visiting a city. The buildings look that little bit shinier in the sun, and it’s easier to walk a city without working up a sweat. This morning we join a market experience walking tour. Just before the tour starts at 9.30am we sneak into a joint called Piroshky Piroshky Bakery. Unsurprisingly we order a couple of piroshky. These are hot pastries filled with all manner of meat or vegetables and even sweet fillings. I choose the sauerkraut, cabbage and onion while Steve chooses the beef and cheese. Still warm from the oven, these take the edge of our hunger while we wait for Jake and his waving flag.

With a ‘pay as you feel’ policy, these walking tours could be a real hit or miss from an operating point of view but Jake has the personality to make it work. Knowledgeable and incredibly personable, he is a great touch point for visitors to Seattle. Green and white flag turning to and fro, Seattle Free Walking Tours, Jake draws a range of people hovering awkwardly at the meeting spot. Also in the park by Pike Place Market’s north entrance is a group protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Under the guard of two tall totem poles, a group of Native Americans with bullhorns in hand, are addressing a small crowd that has gathered. Between the accent and the distortion, I’m having trouble understanding what is being said. Large banners give some context. NO PIPELINE, NODAPL, WATER PROTECTORS, RED WARRIOR, KEEP IT IN THE GROUND, WATER IS LIFE, I STAND WITH STANDING ROCK. 

Reaching into a small grey backpack, a clipboard is produced. Smiling and chatting, he repeats our names as he checks us off his list. 

‘Hi there. You here for the walking tour?’ His eyes light up as they connect with mine.

Implicitly I volunteer, ‘I’m Amanda. This is Steve.’

‘Amanda and Steve? Steve and Amanda. I’m Jake. Where you guys from?’

‘Australia.’

‘Oh yeah, where in Australia?’ he asks sounding genuinely curious.

‘Melbourne,’ Steve answers rather ironically as he was born in England and lived in Western Australia for 13 years.

‘Mel-born?’

‘No, Mel-bun,’ I correct him.

‘Mell-bunnn’ he repeats confidently. ‘My wife and I were there a few years back. BC, before children. Great city. Fabulous food from memory.’

From this accurate concise comment he turns to face the couple who’ve appeared at our left with the same appealing smile. Steve and I stand abandoned not knowing what to do next. A few moments later we step aside, look around the park and at our feet.  

‘So what’s the plan after this?’ I ask knowing his almighty spreadsheet holds many possibilities.  

‘I don’t know. What do you feel like?

How can I know what I will feel like in a couple of hours? I’m not really sure what I feel like now. There’s a a freedom in not being responsible for planning a holiday. Steve has added every attraction he’s even slightly curious in visiting as a gold star on his google maps. Those attractions that are more insistent have made it as an entry on the daily spreadsheet. To have a question thrown at me as to what I want to do is at once an opportunity and a pressure.

‘Well, I’m still hungry so if we don’t pick up anything on the tour, how about we go for second breakfast,’ I venture. 

From his pocket in an instant appears his phone. I don’t have an American SIM card for my phone so I’m reliant upon free wifi and it appears we are just outside the market’s range.

‘Just around the corner is Biscuit Bitch,’ he says enthusiastically. ‘It’s supposed to be one of the best biscuit places in America. Real southern style biscuits even though we are in the Pacific Northwest.’

I’m simultaneously impressed and not surprised that he has this information so readily available.

‘Sure.’

I’m happy to be lead to new places and even happier not to have spent the hours researching it.

Slowly more people are gathering around are tour leader. Rainproof jackets on, cameras slung around necks, day packs on back and phones in hand. Seattle feels as though it could rain or burst into sunshine at any moment. From this elevated position, we look past the working port, over the Puget Sound to a snow-covered Mt. Rainier in the distance. Seattle rises sharply from the waterline of Puget Sound. Even though city planners tried to tame its hills early on, the incline of some streets challenges visitors and no doubt keeps local brake companies in business. As in San Francisco, some streets require cars park with wheels turned into the curb.

‘Welcome everyone from around the States and around the world,’ Jake says in a raised projected voice . ‘Let’s move a little closer to the market entrance so you can all hear me better.’ Dutifully we follow our leader. The protestor’s speech fades as we cross the chaotic intersection and try to avoid the shoppers emerging from the market. A short explanation later, Jake leads us down into the multilevel labyrinth that is Pike Place Market. Like markets all over the world, a loose organisation of stalls exist based on type and historic precedence. No matter how we try, it’s hard not to be in the way of the genuine market shoppers. 

One of our fist stops on the tour is a fish stall that is renowned for fish tossing Wild Atlantic salmon. Originally as a gimmick, these hefty beauties are tossed gracefully over the counter to the shrieks of delight from tourists. Clad in rubber orange overalls and gumboots repeatedly shouting orders to each other, the fishmongers occasionally lob a fake fish into the gathering audience. Underneath a sign that reads Caution – Low flying fish on thick beds of ice lay mounds of Halibut, King Salmon, Wild Alaskan Coho Salmon, jumbo Gulf prawns, Black Cod, oysters, mussels, squid, Dungeness crab and King Crab legs bigger than my arm. Amongst the rows of own brand condiments stands their recipe book – In the Kitchen with the Pike Place Fish Guys – 100 recipes and tips from the world famous crew of Pike Place Fish. Happy to stand near the back avoiding audience participation, as the group moves on I linger running my eyes over new species of fish creating a seafood banquet in my head.

By the time I’ve crossed the street and caught up with the rest of the group at a stall in the greengrocers section, I’m just in time for a slice of new season apple that tastes of lemonade. Dark purple grapes, yellow/green round grapes that taste like cotton candy, stone fruit bigger than my fist, berries, figs, tropical fruit, bags of rainbow of new potatoes and garlands of chillies and garlic drying overhead.

We avoid the growing line outside the original Starbucks location, as people who should know better queue for a coffee that surely tastes just as average as the ones from the cafes that surround it. I can’t even bring myself to take a photo of it. Not incidentally, I experienced a perverse joy in the initial failure of Starbucks to gain a foothold in Australia. Coffee culture had anchored itself in Australia with the European post-war immigration wave. Espresso machines soon began to make their way into Australian cafes and restaurants. We buy coffee from our local independent café, not an international corporation. If you don’t like the flavour profile of the bean at your local café, you can walk the next block over. Like McDonalds, Starbucks success was based upon a predictable formula regardless of geographical location.

America is an incredibly patriotic nation, occasionally prone to global blindness.
The globalisation of American culture from hip-hop music to clothing, food and drink worlds are no different. Tex-mex tacos are easily found on every food truck corner of Australia’s major cities. Shopping centres host chain stores familiar to US citizens as the muzak playing over the public sound system. It may understandable that when Americans travel they get confused where America ends and other countries begin. 

Before leaving the market we sneak in a couple of mini maple and bacon donuts, hot from the fryer at Daily Dozen Doughnut Company but it’s not enough to assuage our hunger so it’s up the hill we climb towards Biscuit Bitch. Rounding the corner, I think I’ve spied the place while Steve has paused to check the location.

‘It should be just up here on the right,’ he says without looking up.

‘Where that massive queue is then,’ I say pointing ahead.

Head up, ‘Ah,yep. That’d be it.’

He walks closer for a better look and I move to the edge of the footpath. It is mid-morning so really it’s no surprise that the joint is pumping. It’s a small store and the queue hosts twice as many people as there are customers inside.

‘I did see a biscuit place inside the market when I went to the bathroom if you want to try that place,’ I offer.

‘What’s it called?’ he asks phone in hand still.

‘I don’t know. Let’s just go.’ I turn go back the way we came, Steve trailing behind trying to look up our new destination online.

Turns out Honest Biscuits, in a quiet corner of the bustling market, produce a very decent Dungeness crab and cheddar biscuit sandwich. Teamed with an IPA from Pike Brewing IPA, our hunger and mission for good biscuits were satisfied in one hit. A crunchy outside and fluffy middle, the biscuit sandwich has chucks of local crab meat under melted slabs of cheddar from Beecher’s cheese stall also in the market. Sprinkle of spring onion on top and happy days are here. We perch on bar stools overlooking the atrium to enjoy a few moments resting the feet and enjoying the relative quiet.

Peace is a thing that can be hard to find when travelling. By its very nature, travelling usually involves close contact with other people. I’m an urban traveller not a wilderness traveller. I enjoy the bustle of cities and the excitement of their hectic environment. Balance must be present though in some quiet moments. I find journal keeping is one of those things helps me find that equilibrium. Art galleries, museums also help. Ideally, I prefer to head out in the mornings and walk the streets finding new places along the way. In the afternoons, I like to retire to my abode for a few quiet hours, reflecting and writing before heading out again for the evening. Of course, travelling with a partner doesn’t always mean things are ideal.

Feeling at risk of overdoing art museums, I suggest to Steve that we skip the Seattle Art Museum and visit the Aquarium instead. I’m glad we do. The Seattle Aquarium is located right on the waterfront, a short walk down a few flights of stairs from the market. The waterfront is a mix of wide board walk, kitschy seafood cafes, buskers, public art installations, ferry terminal and the Seattle Aquarium. Stepping past prams and wayward small children, we pay the admission fee and collect a map. Just inside the entrance is a large foyer with a six metre high cantilevered glass wall onto an enormous tank at one end.

‘This would make an impressive function space,’ I say to no one in particular. Behind the thick glass water surges steadily in and out, mimicking the waves of Puget Sound. Kelp sways, fish dart around the coral and eels poke their heads out from rock crevices.

‘I think we are the only ones here without kids,’ Steve notes. I nod, thankful. Hoards of children are running around and I’m exhausted trying to avoid them underfoot. We head past the interactive exhibits complete with kids tormenting sea cucumbers, the tubular jellyfish tanks, and out back to the where the aquarium and sea waters overlap. There’s a 360 degree underwater concrete and glass dome that juts into the bay. Here we sit for a few minutes, the only visitors listening to the gentle sounds of waves on glass, the odd harbour seal frolicking amongst large kelp forests. Sunlight streams through the clear waters, lending the room an eerie blue-green light. Rockfish, sturgeon and more dart their sleek silvery bodies past the windows.

We make our way along past the outside tanks and find my favourite exhibit – the sea otters. Yes, they swim a repeated loop like so many animals enclosed in zoo exhibits but I find them irresistibly cute. #ottersarethenewcats I banish all concerns about the ethics of zoos and keeping animals in captivity which is one of the reasons I often struggle with aquariums and zoos. Almost seemingly as a reward, we are fortunate enough to witness the otters during a special grown-ups only cuddle time. Quickly we see parents directing the kids’ attention onwards to the next exhibit.

Kate

Steaming milk, pouring shots, the hiss as the teapot fills. Thwack! Coffee grounds tumble from the head and into the rubbish. Dockets start to pile up as she attempts to keep up with the incoming orders.

“Coffee up. Table 12”
She pushes the tray to the front off the stainless steel bench and spills the flat white onto the saucer. Her hand reaches out and grabs the tray clamping it to the spot as she attempts to redeem the cup and saucer.

“Ok, now”
She says to her runner releasing the caffeine to be delivered to the waiting , impatient crowds. Rocking back on her heels she tries to take a large deep breath, to gather her thoughts and get back into the zone. This particular Sunday is no busier than another so why can’t she ride the wave. Why does she feel like she is trying to swim against the current?

Slugging down a large cold water, her chest tightens and she tries to breathe her way back to normal. Those small slips of printed paper start to overlap as they feed out of the printer. She can’t see beyond them and through the window into the world. She knows there’s an olive tree that needs pruning right outside the cafe window but it isn’t there for her this afternoon.

“Kate! Are you okay?”
Her boss shouts at her from the register in between customers.
Turning towards the voice, she takes a moment to focus and take in her surroundings. The coffee head slips from her hand, clanging as it hits the concrete floor, freshly ground coffee splattering across her shoes. She slumps against the milk fridge behind her, her hands steadying her body.

She can’t speak. Words are too much effort just now though she manages to shake her head. No, she’s not alright. Kate is not alright. Kate needs all of her strength right now to remember to breathe and stand at the same time. Multi-tasking is not her agenda right now.

“..Kate, KATE!”
The voice is out the with all the other sounds in the cafe, the low levels ambient music of some nameless Ministry of Sound cd, young families enjoying their babycinos, and her boss now one step in front of her saying something at her. Saying her name at her. It takes a few moments but she’s pretty sure it’s her name that’s being said.

Two arms reach out and lift her upright, pulling her, guiding her behind the display fridge and out through the kitchen into the storage area. Kate is directed to sit. She can feel the rigid plastic grid of an upside down milk crate through the seat of her jeans.

“Oh great, it will be filthy”
She somehow manages to think between the clouds of pain that have filled her brain.

The pain is like dozens of large hollow needles being pushed into her chest all at once. Grabbing her hands between her breasts doesn’t help but she can’t think of what else to do. The kitchen hand has been stationed to keep an eye on her and his nasal teenage voice keeps saying “Breathe” as he sneaks in a durry on this impromptu break.

“Fuck off. You breathe” she thinks but can’t find the voice to say.
What seems like an hour later the restaurant manager walks into the alley with an annoyed tone says, “So what’s up with you?”
Kate doesn’t answer but looks up towards him. Her grimaced face says it all.

He only gets a puff or two out of his cigarette before he throws it to the ground twisting it underneath his shiny leather shoe to extinguish.

“Someone call an ambulance”