There are only two types of cheese

I have to say I’m pretty excited right now. Something I thought was beyond the realms of possibility has happened; I’ve found decent cheese in America. And not only have I found decent cheese, I’ve found a mountain of deliciously enticing dairy goodness.

I’ll tell you where I am in a moment, but first let me take you back a few weeks, to when my pursuit of lactose began.

It started with milk. I really wanted just a small amount of milk to make a cup of tea. And I mean I really wanted it. I wanted the milky comfort that tasted like home to wash away some of my homesickness.

After several reconnaissance missions, I’d failed to retrieve a single drop of fresh milk. I’m not discounting the fact that being jet-lagged could have played a part in this, but it definitely seemed far more difficult than I expected. Whereas in the UK you can’t walk more than a few streets without passing a corner shop selling cartons of milk, stores selling food are strangely out of sight in the US.

It wasn’t until I needed something from a pharmacy that I discovered that they hide a shocking secret; they sell milk. They also often sell booze as well, but that’s for another blog on another day.

This discovery triggered an immediate addiction. I wanted to neck whole bottles of milk even before I’d got them out of the store. I wanted to wear a milk moustache all of the time. This created a new issue: saving enough milk to make cups of tea.

Even with this new insider information it’s not always plain sailing. I have to dodge the precariously similar products, wearing near identical packaging to make me think I’m buying plain old milk. Vanilla flavoured milk is one that’s caught me out, the sweet, sickly, flavour just isn’t right.

With one dairy craving more than satiated, a new one started bubbling. This time it bubbled in curdled milk form. Cheese. I wanted cheese.

Several weeks into my trip I made a decision to get milk and cheese. I would take the bus and get some dairy. Yes, that was the main mission for the day. Cheese and milk. Milk and cheese.

Imagine my horror when a large chain store which sold almost everything under the sun informed me that they don’t sell milk. On further probing they took me to an aisle where the cartoned drinks were shelved. In amongst the coconut milk, soy milk, everything-but-plain milk, I found a pack of six lunch box drinks of long life milk. They were almost out of reach, obviously not a big seller.

I share with you here a photo of the only cheese available in the store. It’s spray cheese. This was one disappointing day. I took the bus back to my hotel with a heavy heart and then drank UHT milk until I felt nauseous (three cartons back-to-back is enough to do that, if you wondered).

Fast forward several weeks, to a time when I’d given up hope. My cheese fantasies had died out. I had adjusted to the thought that I’d wallow in a vat of cheese when I got back to the UK. I’m in Eugene, Oregon, ordering a burger from a cart at the side of the road. I’m offered several choices of cheese to top my burger. I’m delighted. Is this really happening?

My cheese dreams are almost immediately snuffed out again. A conversation with someone that very evening contains this killer sentence from the lips of a fellow hostel guest ‘There’s only two types of cheese, orange and white’. I sob a little that evening as I fall asleep. Hope is dead.

Fast forward another couple of weeks and I’m in the supermarket buying a few essentials, when a display cabinet catches my attention. Is this a mirage, am I really loosing it, or is that really a counter with real cheese? I get closer, fearing the cabinet will vanish in a poof of smoke and be replaced by huge monotonous blocks of vivid orange rectangles which wear a label claiming them to be cheese.

I’m not dreaming – there is real cheese in there! I immediately buy a lovely piece. I am staying with some couchsurfers and I share my treasure with them that evening. Another delight- fellow cheese appreciaters! That’s when they tell me about the place I’m sat in right now.

Cheese Bar is heaven. Even the musty smells of the overripe blues smell delicious to me right now. This place is a gold mine for cheese lovers. I’ll be staying under the counter here until my flight back the UK or I eat their complete stock of cheese, whichever happens first.

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Cheese Bar, Portland, OR. The exterior doesn't really do justice to the awesomeness that is to be found inside

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CHEESE!

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Contentment in Eugene

I waited for my luggage to appear on the single carousel at Eugene airport and wondered what this town had in store for me. My reason for being here was kind of whimsical, based on a recommendation by a stranger posted on a blog I’d written several months earlier. His enthusiasm for the place piqued my interest enough for me to add it to my itinerary.

The airport is possibly the smallest I’ve ever touched down in, but it has a few interesting items dotted about which filled my time before the carousel cranks into action. I can already sense the slightly quirky nature of the area from the airport decoration, which includes a lifesize model of a plane that will never fly, and two model ducks that tower a couple of feet taller than the people they greet.

Like most people I’ll meet in my time in Eugene, the shuttle bus driver can’t quite put into words what made him choose to settle in Eugene over 30 years earlier. An indescribable force made him put down roots and leave behind his native L.A.

The smell of incense drifts along the corridor as I make my way to the hostel reception. People wearing tie-die t-shirts sit behind a counter lined with an assortment of crystals, checking people in and smiling readily.

After dumping my bags, I explore the area. The pleasant smell of hops cloaks the streets around the hostel, drifting from the nearby Ninkasi brewery. I discover independent shops and eateries on my wander and take in the quirky houses and gardens.

People are cycling and I see more bikes than cars on my short walk, and I wonder whether I’m still in America. Front gardens spill onto the paths and everything appears a refreshingly verdant green after the dry conditions of California.

A large trumpeted blue flower helicopters from a tree branching over the pavement and comes to rest in my hair. I pluck it out and examine it, smiling. I realise I feel something I’ve missed in the hectic cities on my last few stops: contentment.

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Going nowhere fast

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Street-side seating outside a private home, complete with retro hairdriers

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The classic 'pair of shoes over a power line' gag, although I get the feeling this was probably the source of what was to become imitated around the globe

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Mosaic in the pavement, I don't imagine it's 'official', instead I think a local probably made the most of some wet concrete to make something beautiful

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And the award for the most unique front porch in Whitaker goes to...

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Even the missing cat signs here are kinda quirky

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An interesting front garden. Can you spot Mr Potato Head?

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Amazingly-delicious cocktail at Pizza Research Institute, Whitaker, Eugene. They also do fabulous pizzas!

My route across USA! – well ‘bite one’ of USA anyway :)

My route across USA! - well 'bite one' of USA anyway :)

I have made this snazzy map to show my intended route on part one of my USA adventure.

Subject to change if alternative destinations appeal as I couchsurf my way around the US 🙂

Click on the pic to see an interactive version of the map where you can zoom in and see a bit better where I’m planning to go.

How 50 became 7 (for now)‏

 

I had the somewhat foolhardy idea that I’d visit all 50 US states in one mega-trip. It seemed possible, in my mind, somehow. The problem? So many flipping marvelous things I want to see! So I’ve decided instead, more rationally, to break it into bitesize chunks. With my first bite I aim to consume seven states; a much more plausible feat, I hope.

My visa gives me a three month stint to play with. Based on nothing more substantial than a vague notion that I’d like to see whales in California in April as they migrate northwards, and that I’d like to be in Seattle in early June for a convention, I’ve padded out my travel plans from there.

I’ll leave the detail for future blogs, but roughly I’ll be spending time in California starting in San Diego, moving north to Oregon and then onwards to Washington. After that it gets a bit untidy, as I plan to head east briefly to Idaho and then Montana and from there by plane to Salt Lake City in Utah and then onwards to Wyoming to end at my heart’s great desire: Yellowstone.

10 weeks and counting until I can tuck in my napkin and prepare to dine on my first course. And if all goes to plan, I’ll be heading back for bite two in September.

An uncomfortable realisation

Over Christmas I watched the film Scrooged. Have you seen it? It’s the one with Bill Murray, an 80s style take on Scrooge. Could I really be compared to this character?Image

Bill plays a selfish TV bigwig. On Christmas Eve he has plans to dine with his partner and their best friends. As he leaves the office on Christmas Eve, the head honcho of his company asks him out to dinner, so he cancels his plans with loved ones without a second thought and goes to dinner with his boss.

So here comes the uncomfortable bit…

My other half quite flippantly – and without any hurtful intentions – said something along the lines of “That would be you if you had a work offer like that.”

So you can probably imagine that I needed a bit of clarification on that comment. It was followed up with something along the lines of “I just mean you take your career seriously, and you’d probably think carefully about it if an opportunity like that came up”.

 

Right. So I’m not really feeling any better at this point. The person that I love most in the world thinks I’d ditch him for a career-enhancing dinner on Christmas Eve. Gees, this is bad. I crumbled into a mess of tears. Turkey carving was going to have to wait.

I’m not sharing this cringe-worthy update to garner pats on the back and there-theres. Rather because it really made me take stock of what my life priorities really are. If people close to me are feeling that my main priority is my career, am I cool with that? Not in the slightest.

 

I’d already made the decision to make some significant life changes; to focus more on what makes me happy. And the experience above makes me hope the changes I make will also have positive repercussions on those around me – let me know!

Commuting to surfing

6.15am and the alarm feels like it’s going off inside my head, rather than from the nearby cabinet. Ouch. Big ouch. The first full week back at work since the Christmas holidays is so far proving painful. And it’s only Monday.

Glancing around as I boarded my train with other dejected souls this morning I realised that not one person amongst us looked happy. Ok, so it’s a particularly tough gig this Monday morning, but it got me thinking: do any of my fellow commuters relish the time they spend travelling to and from work?

I spend 1.5 hours each way, four days a week. That’s 12 luscious hours every darn week that I could be doing something else. Anything else. Instead I’m sat in a smelly train, and paying through the nose for the pleasure. Can anyone really be enjoying this?

Seeing my commuter gripes might make you wonder why I’ll be voluntarily choosing to spend a lot of time travelling on Amtrak and Greyhound.

Well, it’s different, isn’t it, when you’re travelling for pleasure rather than out of necessity?

At the end of the journey are new things to see, new people to meet, new experiences waiting to be had. And the journey itself is novel; the view from the window is a brand new exploration for your eyes and not the dreary-grey of commuter land which you’ve seen too many times to count.

Let’s hope I keep my rose-tinted view of train travel for pleasure!