Tag Archives: solo travel

Solo In Seattle (and Portland)

Travelling by yourself is a strange experience. On the one hand, you have the freedom to get up when you want, go where you want and complete control of the trip. But on the other hand, there’s a lot of downtime when minutes by yourself feel like hours. I found this out when I travelled to Portland; originally just to see the incredible band Fleet Foxes, but then I decided that while I was travelling up the West Coast, I should go to the highly-recommended Seattle too. This turned out to be a great decision, turning a two-day trip into a five-day exploration of these two fascinating cities. This was also my first solo voyage to a strange new place, which filled me with a mixture of excitement and nerves.

Portland was an interesting city but not really anything like I expected. When we touched down, the skies of Portland were overcast and grey, not too dissimilar to my home country of England. There weren’t any major touristy attractions per se: it felt like an ordinary city, so wandering around the place by myself I wondered what the draw was to this renowned destination. The first stop I made was Powell’s City of Books, which boasts of being the world’s largest independent bookstore, and it was so huge it felt like you could spend days absorbed in the copious amounts of literature.

Walking down the grey empty streets of Portland, the sudden reminder that I was travelling by myself struck me and I felt the most lost I’ve felt since initially wandering around San Francisco the day I arrived in America. After a quick bite to eat and a visit to my hostel I was feeling more confident, but sometimes this kind of travelling can overwhelm you when you realise how entirely alone you are.

While Portland is indeed a cool little city, one of the friends I met that day put it best when she said it’s more about the culture and food, and not so much the sights. In this regard, Portland is an extremely interesting place with great restaurants, a good music scene and some lovely spots to just chill. Some of my favourite spots to eat include: Sizzle Pie, Portland Penny Diner, Salt & Straw Ice Cream Place and Voodoo Doughnuts. There are also some beautiful spots like Washington Park with its beautiful Rose Garden and Mount Tabor.

Mt Tabor, © movingtoportland.net

The difference in atmosphere, setting and even weather from Portland to Seattle is incredible. Seattle is the epitome of a tourist-friendly city — a big sprawling market, the Space Needle and plenty of other shops and sights to see. I got the extremely touristy City Pass which let me see the five big attractions in Seattle for $79, definitely worth it but maybe don’t cram it all into two days like I did. The Space Needle is obviously overpriced, even if you buy a single ticket for it, but it’s worth experiencing as it’s got an interesting history and a fantastic view of the whole of Seattle. The other four tourist destinations of the City Pass were the Chihuly Garden & Glass, a greenhouse filled with plants and sleek glass sculptures, and the Seattle Aquarium which was a step above any other I’ve been to. The ferry is another perk of the City Pass which takes you on a one-hour-long tour of the beautiful city with interesting trivia, and finally my personal favourite: the Museum of Popular Culture which boasts a Fantasy exhibition, a Horror exhibition and a new Star Trek exhibition.

The City Pass kept me busy during the day, along with my hostel’s location in Freemont, which is a fascinating area with bizarre art installations and a quirky neighbourhood. It was at night I feared that I’d be at a loose end, as it’s not necessarily safe to be wandering around an unfamiliar city during the dark but I didn’t want to be stuck inside the hostel for the duration of my evening. Luckily, the people at my hostel were very friendly and we travelled to Gas Works Park, which offered a beautiful view of Seattle and a chance to talk to others. So my advice to those travelling alone, something which I will experience properly when I travel from New York to San Francisco in 15 days, is talk to those surrounding you – whether that be the others at your hostel or people you meet at events. This will help you in the dark evenings and provide you with some company on the otherwise, at times, lonely trip. Everyone should travel alone at some point, it’s an experience I definitely recommend.

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Bastakia: Art, Heritage and Crafts in Dubai

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series The Emirates

A stroll through Dubai’s Bastakia Quarter is like a stroll back in time, or a walk through a movie set. If you take the chance to step away from Dubai’s bustling, shiny shopping malls or its luxury beaches for a walk through this historical neighbourhood, you will find peace, beautiful architecture, and Middle Eastern art and heritage.

A beautiful mosque stands at the edge of the Bastakia Quarter. Photo © Kathryn Parsons

Bastakia in Bur Dubai is easily reached by heading to Al Fahidi metro station and walking up Al Satwa Road towards the creek. Once you reach Bastakia, immerse yourself in the area by walking around the tiny alleys and seeing what you discover! The neighbourhood is home to the Coin Museum, the Coffee Museum, various art galleries, craft shops and cafes set in sunny courtyards. Most of my purchases during my visit to Dubai are from Bastakia — there’s a wonderful incense shop where I brought some oud crystals for burning and an art shop where a lovely man wrote my name in Arabic and framed it. There are also shops filled with Iranian pottery, handicrafts and jewellery.

Often named ‘Old Dubai’, Bastakia is also home to the remnants of Dubai’s old wall, constructed in 1800 from gypsum and coral. The neighbourhood has recently undergone restoration and is now a completely pedestrianised heritage centre, so it’s a perfect, peaceful place to see traditional Middle Eastern buildings and visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Here you can also go upstairs for great views of the neighbourhood.

Shops, cafes, galleries and museums are hidden in the narrow winding allies. Photo © Kathryn Parsons

My favourite part of the Bastakia Quarter is the Arabian Tea House Restaurant and Café, and not just because the food is delicious — this courtyard café is dreamy! In my opinion, there’s no better word to sum up the atmosphere as you sit down under the white canopies amidst the trees and flowers, order a cool minty lemonade filled with ice, and enjoy your surroundings. They also boast a selection of over a hundred different kinds of tea from all over the world, and an impressive variety of dishes to keep you going throughout the day, from traditional breakfasts, to barbecue, to hearty salads and afternoon teas.

Mosaic graffiti spotted in Bastakia. Photo © Kathryn Parsons

One of the best things I found about visiting Bastakia was that it was an ideal place to visit with others or alone. I first went with a group of people, which was ideal for meandering around the lanes, checking out the art and enjoying a nice lunch — even if we did occasionally lose somebody to the next alluring alleyway or art gallery! But it was also great to visit the quarter alone. The second time I went, I was visiting my sister who worked in Dubai at the time, so I had a few days to entertain myself. Aside from being invited to lunch by two men on the metro who were on their way to their mother’s house, I spent the afternoon in uninterrupted peace walking round Bastakia. I got to spend as long as I wanted pondering the interesting graffiti, sampling the scents of each incense and, best of all, drinking coffee and writing alone in the serene courtyard café.

Featured image © Kathryn Parsons

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