The American Paul Simon was talking primarily about returning to Brentwood, which is a suburb of London in Essex (of recent reality TV fame), when he wrote this song in the early 1960s – apparently he was stuck at the train station in Liverpool on the way back from Wigan (which is in the north). Anyway, with that relatively irrelevant intro, I am waiting at the lounge at SeaTac Airport in “predeparture” mode before the 9-hour flight. With the time difference, I’m leaving here at 6:45pm and arriving in London at 11:45am, which will no doubt be confusing biologically. With the morning arrival, I’m hoping to try the BA arrivals lounge at Terminal 5 – normally I’m in a (happy) hurry to get home, but since it is the middle of a work day there is less rush. I also understand that the border control staff are planning to strike tomorrow, so I could be in for a long wait at the border.
I have a bunch of pictures and comments on the Pacific Northwest to come, hopefully, as there should be more time to blog – but before leaving I thought I would throw together a few quick thoughts. I visited Portland and Seattle once before by myself, in 2003 – I’m not sure that they are too different now, but I certainly am! This was my first visit to Vancouver, but hopefully not my last; all of that “world’s most livably city” stuff is probably a bit overdone, but I can see why it is considered a great place to live.
All three cities have a lot in common, whether they like to admit it or not, which is perhaps not surprising, although they are much more alike than, say, East Coast cities of similar distances (to say nothing of Europe!). It is just a bit more than 300 miles from Portland in the south to Vancouver in the north, with Seattle in the middle but a bit closer to Vancouver (and, of course, America’s Vancouver adjacent to Portland!). All three cities share essentially the same climate, which I think without formal research is actually quite similar to that of London – relatively mild temperatures, frequent but light rain, etc. Unlike London, or most other major cities for that matter, they also share a very appealing position with easy access to both mountains and water, with Vancouver having the best of this (as both features are closest to the city there – Seattle is second, with Portland last).
They also seem to share some values – focus on the outdoors (not surprisingly), but also environmental awareness and relatively casual atmospheres (e.g. very little formal dress!). Also, for my purposes, all three cities have fairly extensive and good (at least for North America – the constant caveat) transit systems – Vancouver is probably the best, with Portland second and Seattle last, although Seattle is arguably improving while Portland is unfortunately waning a bit (but all three, again not surprisingly, are facing major financial pressures).
So, what are my overall impressions? I could live in any of the three, I think, which is saying a lot. In 2003 I was in love with Portland and didn’t care for Seattle so much, but this time my impressions are almost a bit reversed. Portland is overrun with street people – not ex-institutional crazies like in San Fran, but mostly non-minority street hipsters. It is pretty crazy – more on it later, but they all appear to have those heavy-duty backpacks with sleeping rolls as well as dogs and may be there by choice…probably daddy has a McMansion back in Omaha. Unforutnately for Portland, and a bit unlike San Francisco, there don’t appear to be a huge number of other people (i.e. regular people) on the streets. I still like the atmosphere in Portland a lot, though. Seattle in 2003 seemed a bit spartan, full of big fast streets, and there was no rail transit. Now they have built Central Link, a high-quality light rail line, and I found the downtown much more vibrant this time around. Also, Pike Place Market is an amazing treasure; I was worried after seeing more of the rest of the world it wouldn’t be so great, but actually I think I liked it more this time – it is definitely the best market I know of in North America, and clearly world-class as well. Vancouver, which I spent the most time in but was mostly busy with work, is Canadian – a bit sterile, but quite nice and clean and appealing nonetheless. The SkyTrain is awesome – my favourite kind of transit, as the fully automated (driverless) system is fast and very frequent. Also, as I said above, the natural setting is hard to beat.
So, sorry for all the text without pictures – I will work on getting pictures together into posts in the days to come, but I wanted to just share a few initial thoughts first. Hope you are all having a good summer and I’m happy to be able to start enjoying mine now that the absolutely crazy 4-month work period is done. BA 48 is now boarding, so I’m out.