Monday 22 June 2015

Road Trip Diary: Astoria > Florence, Oregon

Day 39
Port Angeles to Astoria
Thursday 11th June 2015

Port Angeles was the most northerly place we would visit this on trip (sorry Canada but we will visit one day, it's just the Ferries are too expensive!) so it was now the beginning of our return trip south. It feels a bit peculiar to think that, after around 1000 miles over the course of the next 7 days, we would have journeyed all the way to just north of San Francisco.
Washington was a definite highlight of the trip for us. The 9 days were some of the best so far, but we were excited to be returning to Oregon and the picturesque beauty of Astoria.
The drive down passed without incident (lunch at Subway and another lovely chat with a local lady about Manchester after she heard our accents) and we crossed the border in to Oregon via the magnificent Astoria–Megler Bridge that spans the Columbia River.

This was our last Airbnb until San Francisco and although we're at risk of repeating ourselves, we found another gem in the heart of the town. The studio at the back of Alex and Ian's home was large with a beautiful antique wooden bed, a balcony, a lounge area and a set of windows along one wall that gave a full panoramic view of the river and the bridge.

We decided to spend the next day exploring Astoria, so tonight we just wanted some good food and drink. We stopped at the Fort George Brewery, a micro brewery well thought of by locals, for a few pints of pale ale, some pratting about taking photos and a couple of burritos, then left feeling suitably content.
Walking around the streets and the hills that rise above downtown, it's easy to see what Astoria has to offer and it is pretty obvious why so many movies have been filmed here. It's a beautiful place, wide sidewalks, houses with kerb appeal and plenty of excellent eateries and bars. The houses and the bridge instantly transported us back a few decades and to a certain film in particular, The Goonies, but more on that tomorrow. We stopped for a couple of excellent scoops of ice cream from Frite & Scoop, a little handcrafted parlour on the river front with flavours like Dirty Vanilla and Pretzel Crunch, and headed back to get some kip.

Day 40
Friday 12th June 2015

Today marks our halfway point of our trip! Crazy stuff. We've seen so much and met so many great people over the past 40 days, it feels like only yesterday that we arrived in Vegas.

We had a busy day planned so, after devouring the warm lemon and poppyseed muffins, coffee and orange juice laid on by our hosts, we headed out to one of Astoria's biggest tourist attractions- the Goonies house. We parked up by another location from a film, the Astor Elementary School featured in Kindergarten Cop. We were walking the same hallowed ground Arnold Schwarzenegger had once graced with his stature. We took the short walk over to the Goonies house, situated up a short dirt track, feeling lucky that we hadn't been here the weekend before when thousands of fans had descended on the town to celebrate The Goonies 30th anniversary. We were told by a few people over the course of our stay how chaotic it had been and what a nightmare it was for locals trying to get on with their normal lives.

Following a quick trip to Safeway and buying lunch for later, we took the winding road up to Astoria Column, a 125 foot tower that has 164 steps ascending to an observation deck with great views. However, the column itself was closed when we got there and the $2 charge for the car park was a bit cheeky considering but the views it offered of Astoria, the Columbia River and the surrounding countryside made up for it. We also learnt the story about the legend of the Thunderbird and how it has been seen by locals for hundreds of years, alas no sightings for us during our stay, save for a few pretty impressive Bald Eagles.
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Cannon Beach is another location from the Goonies movie, remember the bit at the end when they all reunite with their families on the beach? That's this beach. We ate our lunch as the sea mist blew in off the gusty Pacific and took a walk down to Haystack Rock, a massive hill of stone jutting out of rock pools. Ellie loves looking for treasures in the sand, her head always looking down for something shiny. The beach was covered in these small transparent jellyfish with blue appendages we later learnt were sails. According to the National Geographic they're called velella velella and millions of them have been washing up on the west coast due to natural phenomena.

Suitably wowed by another natural location we took a walk around the thrift and book shops in downtown Astoria and walked down to Buoy Beer Company on the waterfront. The beer was suitably epic as most of the beer we have tasted in the Pacific Northwest has been. We took our leave and spent the evening enjoying our room and watching the sun set behind the bridge.

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Day 41
Astoria to Florence
Saturday 13th June 2015

We drove on Highway 101, otherwise known as the Oregon Coast Highway, for nearly 4 hours today towards Florence- our next stop and our last in the state and the Pacific Northwest in general.

We couldn't help stopping several times to take in the scenic sea views and some sea lion spotting so our journey ended up being a little longer than it should have been but we were in no rush. One of the big aims of this trip has been to live slowly and soak up experiences like this.  Though the sun was out, the winds were keeping the temperatures down and it seemed like an age ago we were enjoying a drink in the heat of the Seattle evening sun.
Our motel was cheap and had a very basic room and bathroom, a big change from our stay in Astoria, but this is why we mixed up our accommodation. When we're itching for some anonymity, a motel is a relief and when we can't stand any more impersonal beige rooms, a warm and friendly Airbnb renews us.

Florence was an odd place, a small main high street with some nice independent shops and a pretty marina but there didn't seem to be much life there. No bars or nightlife to speak of and someone told us afterwards that it's a retirement town, which sort of explains it. We didn't have anything planned for the evening and having walked the length of downtown Florence there wasn't a massive amount to do but luckily we noticed a cool-looking independent cinema, City Lights, just down the road from our motel. Since we had arrived in the States we couldn't wait to watch Jurassic World so we bought ourselves a couple of $9 tickets (can you believe we pay nearly double that in Sterling in the UK?) and some snacks and settled in to watch the film. The screening was intimate, with nearly every one of the seats taken and people seemed to get really in to it, even clapping at the end! Can't imagine that happening in the Swiss Cottage Odeon! We gave it 7/10 if you're interested, entertaining fare, needed more substance, rushed ending.

We had a chat with the manager and he told us the story of how he came to the town as a tourist, spotted the neglected and abandoned cinema and decided it would be his new project. He bought the building and totally refurbished the cinema, reinvigorating the old space and providing a much-needed culture hub for the town. They show quite a lot of indie films, get involved in film festivals and funnily enough, stream a lot of live broadcasts from the National Theatre in London. Random conversations with strangers produce the best stories!

And so, with heavy hearts, it's time to say goodbye to Oregon. We'll be back one day, I'm sure of it. Crater Lake was unforgettable, as was the whole of Washington State so I know this won't be our only visit to the Pacific Northwest. For now though, we're on our way back down the coast and we're going to California!
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