Cascadia 2018

For our first transatlantic adventure together, Alaina and I decided to head for one of my favourite areas: the Pacific Northwest. I had last been in this part of the world during 2015’s ‘bucketlist’ tour; whilst I had a good few days in Vancouver during that trip, my brief overnight stop in Seattle was just enough to remind me that a proper visit was overdue. Seattle was the first US city I experienced, so I liked the idea that it would become our first shared American destination too; thus it quickly became the anchor of the plan.

Of course, being us we couldn’t settle on just a single location, not least because the lengthy and expensive flights to the west coast only make sense for a longer trip. We pondered heading north into Canada, but instead choose to stick with the US and venture south to explore Oregon, a novelty for both of us. With Seattle offering the only direct flights to the UK, we backtracked for a second visit; rather than just picking up where we left off we made sure both stays were quite different in flavour. Thus we effectively had four holidays in one:

  • Seattle, part one was a deliberately gentle introduction, taking it easy at an AirBnB on an urban goat farm in the residential area of Mt. Baker. Originally motivated by not wanting to pay eye-watering downtown hotel prices when we’d be too jetlagged to appreciate the central location, this turned out to be a great way to get off the tourist trail and have a more local experience. This was echoed in our one sightseeing trip, to Bainbridge Island, another charming community within easy reach of the big city.
  • Portland was somewhere we’d both been interested in visiting, admittedly mostly due to a Portlandia-fueled expectation of quirkiness. But what we’ll actually remember it for is the incredible scenery of the Columbia River, which we discovered as part of a guided tour of the gorge and Mt. Hood. Oh, and an equally incredible triple upgrade at the Kimpton Vintage Hotel!
  • Eugene was added to the itinerary for a perhaps less than sensible reason, but Oregon’s second city was an unexpected delight. The alt-cool atmosphere we’d expected of Portland we instead found in its smaller sibling, thanks in part to our short visit luckily coinciding with a street art festival.
  • Seattle, part two saw us checking in to the Arctic Club, a property that went above and beyond in meeting one of our stranger requests… This downtown base was ideal for exploring the city’s more obvious landmarks, including a variety of attractions via the cityPASS scheme. In another unplanned bit of good timing, I was also able to check out some extra events at the Museum of Flight during their annual Jet Blast Bash.

We tied each of these together the slow way, travelling from one city to the next by rail. Although the Coast Starlight serves all three, the more frequent Amtrak Cascades better suited our schedule for Portland to Eugene. So I once again used both, thus completing the full extent of the Cascades route – albeit with a break of a few years in the middle!

Last but not least was the question of getting to and from Seattle, which presented a dilemma. Since January 2013 I’ve been ‘strictly business’ when it came to longhaul travel; you have to go fully another year further into my flight history to find me at the back of the bus (almost literally – row 51 on a 747). Yet through a mix of redemptions, staff standby and duty travel, I’ve never purchased a business class ticket on a commercial fare. As I no longer work for an airline, and my miles budget has to stretch to two people, one of these streaks had to end. With six figures of Avios plus an upgrade voucher still to play with, I could keep us in Club World without paying a little longer – but only to America. Thus for the return leg we gave Norwegian Premium a try, since they offer sensibly-priced one way tickets even across the pond.