The best hostel in Stockholm

City Backpackers voted best in Stockholm 2017

I’m here for a week and I love the place – it’s what all hostels should be. So pleased I picked it on many months ago. After you check in at reception a person shows you around and explains the way things work; there’s a no-shoes-policy in the living areas, they give you fresh white linen, the mattresses are new, each bed has two plug sockets and a funky working light with an LED bulb, in the kitchen there’s a bank of fridges, every room has been allocated it’s own fridge.  Access is electronic keypad entry and the outside door code changes everyday. It’s all so well organised, all the fittings are quality, nothing has been done on the cheap, maintenance people along with cleaning staff are on site, and standards are kept high. There are no signs everywhere – the decorative items are carefully chosen and I’d say quite expensive. The central courtyard has live music some nights and a restaurant does subsidised meals for $15. I’ve had the same traditional Swedish meatballs for three nights running now.
The staff are helpful and enthusiastic, one of them helped me decide that I should fly from Stockholm to Amsterdam. I was planning to go overland by rail but the costs and the number of changes and connections I’d have to make would be a mission. I thought there would be just one train all the way – but no, and it’s so much cheaper so I’ve booked the flight now. The wifi here is the fastest I’ve ever used and I base this on the speed I can upload images . . woosh!
The  City Backpackers Hostel  Upplandsgatan 2a, 111 23 Stockholm, Sweden is NZ$403 for 7 nights, that’s $57 a night plus a single additional cost for linen, and breakfasts are 55 Krona NZ$8.80. This hostel is one of a chain of hostels around Europe called Europe’s Famous Hostels and I wish I’d booked the same in Amsterdam and Vienna.
This little example tells you a lot, I put some food in my fridge, (the visit to the local supermarket was an adventure, but that’s another story), and I put the food in the fridge, next morning there were little stickers on my items saying ‘Please label’, meaning, with my name and departure date – now, that’s efficiency, and so polite. There’s also a Free Fridge, plus there’s free pasta if you’re really broke and need a meal – very civilised.
Just a little touch, where you leave your shoes in the alcove area there’s a sign saying, ‘If you love your shoes, take them to your room.‘ Which is so much more pleaseant than the alternative, other places might have a sign in the negitive, eg: ‘Theives operate in this bulding, leave shoes here at your own risk.’  The difference is what makes this place special – everything has been thought about – and that’s good design.
And tomorrow . .  I’m going to the design museum.

The Courtyard where there’s DJs, and tonight, a band from Liverpool is playing, apparently.


Reception area with free filter coffee.
Spiral stair going to the office mezzanine.
Reception area instalation – travel theme.
Reception area with longboards for hire.
My comfortable four bed mixed dorm called Drottningholm with view onto the park – shows my privacy curtain invention, borrowed from Luthansa Airways
Even the room name labels have a bit of retro class.
First floor foyer

The foyer area outside my room with a continuous Betty Boop cartoon on a vintage telly.
Every room has an allocated fridge and if you don’t name and date your food, they put a sticker on it to request it is.

Great sinks, tiled floors and always clean.
An iMac with hostel info
IT lounge, fast free wifi throughout
Doesn’t work but looks great.
Breakast choice of a filled bun, cinnamon bun or croissant, plus free yoghurt, meusli and fruit, and filter coffee all day.
Breakfast ready to go.
Fresh yoghurt in the fridge
Foyer installation.


Stone walls and stone circles.

Ring of Brodgar

It seems I’m on a constant search for good wifi. The hostels are hopeless. Usually I try to find the actual location of the modems, sit by it and if that doesn’t help, re-boot it myself – but the airports are good. Today I left Kirkwall town early for the airport to have a couple of hours before my flight to Edinburgh to do some emails and blogging.

The main problem is uploading images of course. I have a couple of hours before a flight to Stockholm here in Edinburgh. It’s an end of quaint country pubs and friendly locals with heavy accents to a modern metropolis.
I am so glad I pre-booked these flights 5 months ago, NZ$180 from Orkney to Edinburgh and just $140 from here to Stockholm, which included checked luggage. So far my two costly flights were the ones booked a week out. This was done to give me some date flexibility; London to Edinburgh was $350.

Before I enter Scandinavia I must post a couple of images from my walks around the stone circles and ancient sites of Orkney. It’s not often I say to a bus driver, ‘Can you drop me off at the turnoff for the Stones of Stenness, please.’
I walked 2km up the road and practically had the three sites to myself. The weather was good although the northwesterly brings the temperature down to 12 degrees. The next day the wind swung around to southwesterly and it was really warm in the sun. I met some interesting people including a local medic walking his dog which was a New Zealand-bred Huntaway – a sheep dog. Everyone gives you information about local issues about the sites, can you believe someone recently spray-canned the stones. The medic also wanted to talk about the All Blacks and I can quite happily talk about rugby for about 5 minutes.

I also met a mad looking hippie German photojournalist called Jurgen who was ‘wild camping’ as they call it here. It’s legal in Scotland to camp whereever you like – a part of ancient rights for common people that still remains. He was on a commissioned job visiting distilleries and other places and was wanting to stay near the Stones to get those beautiful sunset shots – he had an enormous lens on a Canon EOS 80D. The sun sets at 11.30pm by the way – it’s a very long day, and of course it’s the absolute opposite in winter with really short days.

In this stretch of road is the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ness of Brodgar and the massive Ring of Brodgar. The Ness of Brodgar is covered over because it’s an on-going excavation site and the dig starts again on 3rd July for two months. They only found it after a storm in 2006 – it’s about 5,000 years old, appears to be a full village, and now, as they say, archeology is being rewritten on a daily basis there. All these sites are free, there’s no security and it is the most beautiful place to be looking around with the distant rolling hills in various shades of green as the clouds pass over the sun.

I went on an official guided tour of the island that I had booked from New Zealand which included the World Heritage site of Scara Brae. Clive was the most boring person you could ever meet. The droned on like a newsreader doing the marine forecast, he didn’t have any personality and was painfully pedantic. For example, he stopped the van and spent 10 minutes explaining the military details of a British ship that was torpedoed in Scarpa Bayin WW2 . I have an interest in military history to some degree but the exact timing of the 3rd tordedo was starting to get to me. I guess some people are fascinated by this stuff, but not my group. I found the volunteer guides who walk around the sites were much more interesting and personable – these are representatives from Heritage Scotland.
I bought an Orkney tea towel featuring all famous neolithic sights – but haven’t decided who’s getting that for Christmas.
We had perfect weather with big white puffy clouds and sunshine and a warm south westerly. I was enchanted and could have stayed there for hours.

The Footlights and The Reel

The famous Hot Chocolate Deluxe at The Reel in Kirkwall, Orkney – they use thick whipped cream and there’s a load of marshmellow inside.
A street with three possible names – huh?

I’ve been pretty lucky finding places to play some songs. I can Google Open Mics Nights, ask in a music store, spot a sign outside a bar, or like on the Islands of Orkney, just start chatting to people on the bus.
In Edinburgh I played four songs at the Footlights Pub on Spittal St in the Old Town ending with The Immigrant Song, (the opening track on Led Zeppelin III) which always goes down well. I do a folky acoustic version, slower and of course sing it down a whole octave from Robert Plant.

In Orkney I attended the Sunday night jam, met some interetsing people who all seemed to know the same Scottish traditional tunes. We sat in a semi circle and there were four fiddles playing at one point, tin and wooden whistles, a recorder, two mandolins, a banjo, guitars, a piano and one bodhrum drum. We sat in a semi circle and one person would start playing and everyone else would join in. They all seemed to know the tunes and I strummed along keeping an eye on the chords of another guitar. Most of the tunes where in A and D and it was so enjoyable, there was no pressure and I felt right at home, I couldn’t believe I was sitting in a pub in Kirkwall jamming Scottish traditional music with the locals – I felt like I was part of the family. At one point they turned to me and asked me to play a tune. I decided  on Stars Align which has a kind of fancy finger picking part at the beginning. I was feeling a bit run down and had a cold from two days of poor sleep and really early morning starts followed by some longs days so my voice was weak and I was all nasally. The whole pub listened in silence and they applauded at the end so it must have been ok. The other singer had only done one song so I though I wouldn’t push my luck and soon another Scottish tune was struck up.

The Reel Cafe, Pub, Restaurant, Live Venue, and Music shop – Kirkwall, Orkney Mainland
Good to see they not afraid to serve Fly Cemetry – best name yet.

Two days previously I had to get up at 6am in Edinburgh to catch the 8.30am train to Inverness, and after a night in a 4 bed dorm in Inverness I rose at 5.30am to catch the 7am train to Thurso at the northern tip of Scotland. There didn’t seem to be a bus connection between Thurso and the ferry terminal at Scrabster so three of us decided to get a taxi to travel the 5 miles. The terminal was cold and had no facilities and the incoming ferry was late due to high seas. Three hours later we were in the warmth and comfort of a large NorthLink ferry to Stromness on Orkney Mainland. Arriving at 6pm there was a vicious northerly blowing and it was raining and we had to wait again in a bus shelter for the next bus. By the time I crossed the island to Kirkwall and checked into my room I was pretty worn out. I slept for an hour and headed to The Reel with my guitar to play with the Orkney locals and I was so pleased to play one of my songs.




Walking tour of Edinburgh New Town

I found Shawna through Instagram. She is a photographer and I had been receiving her posts for months, #exploringedinburgh, and she was offering walking tours of hidden gems. With only two days in Edinburgh I could happily wander aimlessly and probably chance on all sorts of great places but with Shawna I was lead on an amazing route that went down alleys, up stone steps stairs and along river paths – and every step of the way there was another gem.  We walked 12 km in three and a half hours.
The day before I visited two places; Edinburgh Castle in the morning and the Museum of Scotland in the afternoon spending about 3 hours at both. It costs £4 for a all day bus and tram pass and getting around was fairly straight forward once I had a few bus numbers to look out for – and there’s plenty of them. The best part is just getting around the streets going from one place to another. To say Edinburgh has retained so much of it’s heritage architecture is an understatement – it must be a nightmare to maintain. If Auckland Council had their way the whole city would be closed down by a health and safety officer. How it all stays up I had to wonder – it seems every building is being held up by the one alongside it. The Old Town where the Fringe Festival is based is all narrow alleys, stone steps and curving cobblestone streets while the New Town is laid out more symmetrically. But ‘New’ is relative, I got this from Wikipedia: Built from the 1760s to the 1830s, the New Town of Edinburgh was the largest planned city development in the world at that time, and it proved an outstanding success in bringing commercial and cultural dynamism to the city.  

Circus Lane, Dean Village, Edinburgh New Town

Private river terrace on Dean Path, Dean Village, Edinburgh New Town




Handmade Chocolate shop, Raeburn Place, New Town
Painting of the first development of the New Town, the Old Town is on the left beside Edinburgh Castle.
Modern Art Gallery. The slogan in neon at top: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT
Bedford Road, Dean Village
Leith River Walk, Dean Village
Dean Park Mews, Dean Village
Saint Andrew Square, Bank of Scotland.
Circus Lane, Dean Village
Saint Bernard’s Crescent, residential apartments
Old Mill workers accomodation


30 degrees in Brixton

It’s an odd feeling sitting in a cafe looking out on Haddington Place in Central Edinburgh writing about Brixton because it’s feels so far away now. The crowds, the heat, the diversity, and so many people just milling about and hanging out on the streets. It was so hot you’d perspire just walking down the street – I like this warmth, actually. In Brixton it’s like being in another country  – and I know there are racial problems but the more amazing thing is the tolerance and acceptance, at least on a surface level.
Twenty years ago, apart from the crusty white guys with dogs on a string (but not as many of those these days), it was mainly Rastas, and they’re still selling racks of clothes with images of Bob Marley outside the Rec Centre in the market but now there seems to be so many more Africans, and everywhere, women in headscarfs. I needed to post home a package of clothes to lighten my load and the Jamaican people in the Post Office recognised me as if I was an old friend when I came back a few days later with my second parcel, they were so happy to talk about anything, chatting away while six people stood in the line waiting. Everyone seems to enjoy the energy of a life and a world full of people – and it seems to work, but personally I find it a little exhausting and was grateful to have the quiet haven of Leo’s flat. People say that Brixton has been gentrified but parts of it, especially in the area around the railway arches are still as dirty, smelly and rundown as it ever was. Coldharbour Lane has certainly been left behind but when I walked around some back streets of Brixton and Camberwell suddenly it changes and I think it would be a very nice place to live with the parks and trees everywhere. There have been all kinds of initiatives; a pony club stable has been created right in the middle of the housing estates – it looks new and well organised, there’s sign saying it has been funded by the lotteries commission. There’s also plots with co-operative vegetable gardens with sculpture and artwork. Leo and a friend have a commission to paint a mural on the side of a railway bridge. There is not only murals everywhere but in underpasses that used to be smelly dank places for drunks to sleep are now ceramic sculpture plaques fixed to the walls and good lighting. Leo managed to get his motorbike going, a 600cc Yamaha that had been unridden for 6 months because of some fault he couldn’t figure out – turns out was a tiny problem with a wire connection, and that night the two of us roared off to a venue in East Dulich called The Cherry Tree so I could play music. It was so nice riding around in the warm air with my guitar on my back. I met up with Allan Evans again and we were able to listen to each other play our original songs. I got to play two sets and I joined Allan singing an old Louis Jordan song we used to play together that I haven’t sang in years – Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby. I’m getting a much more positive response to my music than I ever did in Auckland – people seem to be genuinely enthusiastic. It’s so interesting hearing grown men standing around talking about music and arguing the finer points and trivial issues about which album from an artist was better– it made me realise that I’m not alone, people in Britain are really serious about music – it’s important! I decided to fly British Airways from Heathrow to Edinburgh. It’s only a few pounds more expensive than the other airlines like Easyjet that actually end up costing the same because they charge much more for checked luggage. I’d say most people these days travel with cabin luggage only and some actually carry two large pieces – much more than what is advertised on the websites and around the terminal.  The regulation allowance is ONE piece of cabin luggage and ONE personal item like a handbag or a laptop satchel –  but no way, generally it’s one big piece of cabin luggage and one full backpack. Some people carry two pieces of full size cabin luggage.

It’s been said before but it needs to be said again, getting to Heathrow is cheap, fast and reliable on the Underground and I wish Auckland Council and the Government had the collective vision to stop faffing around build a smart new fast train link from Auckland Airport to Britomart – it’s essential in big any city. Instead, we’re always stuck in traffic or crawling along with trucks around industrial areas of South Auckland – it’s pathetic.  I have heard a rumour that a big part of the problem is that the trucking companies are big funders of the National Party and believe rail would undermine their dominance in the transport business. This is selfish thinking and a Governmnet or Council needs to rise above private business interests and have the guts to serve the needs of everyone, because so many people are travelling by air to and from New Zealand and they want to get to the airport on time without having to worry whether the motorway will be blocked, again. Terminal 5 at Heathrow is state-of-the-art terminal design. There is nothing to confuse anyone – plain signage, no advertising, no clutter, clear instructions and directions, and a layout that leads you where you need to go – brilliant design. The other airport I found good was Frankfurt which is beyond enormous – I must have walked 2 km in a big curve to contect between my flights. I have been trying to load more images to this post all morning but the wifi is very slow here at the hostel and I really need to get out and about  now so will add more pics later. Also, sorry about the bad grammar, poor sentance contaruction and random syntax, was rushing, (Anne, please, I need you to proof read and sub edit). 

Saturday Portobello Market

For about six years I lived in a tiny flat 50 metres from Portobello Road in Notting Hill. It was the upper floor flat of an Edwardian building on Colville Terrace and the massive Saturday market was a highlight of my week, and yesterday I literally strolled down memory lane. Portobello Market was always a good place to meet new people and yesterday I had the some very interesting encounters. I was carrying a large pack because I had come directly from the Isle of Wight and wanted to find a place to stash it while I could mooch around. It was 11am and was getting up to 26º as I walked through the antique section at the upper part of the market – in so many ways it seemed the same as ever.
It was time to have something to eat so I and stopped at The Duke of Wellington, the closest pub to my old flat and once my local. They weren’t prepared to take care of my pack, so after a BLT and a coffee I continued on. I couldn’t believe my favourite crumbed German barbecued chicken was still there 20 years later. All the boutique shops had changed and many of the fruit and veg barrows had become nick-nack stalls. I continued under the Westway to Bonchurch Road where an old friend from back in the day used to lived – he may still live there, so I knocked on his door and a young woman opened it saying she’d never heard of Malcolm Jamieson but it wasn’t her flat because she was just looking after it. I left and was about to try the place next door and she opened a window and called out, ‘Are you a New Zealander?’
It turned out she was from Palmerston North and went to PN Girls High and her brother who was visiting had been to Boys High, my old school  – amazing coincidence. They made me feel so welcome, were interested in my family and travels and there was plenty of Palmy talk too, of course. They were just about to head back to her flat nearby and she offered to let me leave my pack there. Sam and Jessica Clarke and I walked along Ladbroke Grove and it occurred to me this tall young woman must be a model. I was right and she’d lived in New York for 4 years previously and apart from being 5′ 11″ she had a very special feature – she was a blue-eyed Maori. She asked me what my favourite place in the world was, hers was some little place in New Zealand but it was noisy and busy on the street so I didn’t hear. Sam is a TVNZ newsreader and Jessica’s partner is the drummer for The Darkness, the son of Roger Taylor, the drummer of Queen – I had stumbled into the world of British rock royalty – definitely not the time to ask for a selfie. Later, I did find a picture of her on Instagram (she uses ‘Roimata’ if you’re interested).

I walked the market and saw an enormous drum kit in the UKAI bar, and said, ‘That’s a big kit for a small bar’ – and a tattooed bare- chested guy said ‘All they need is a couple of timbali’, I replied ‘and a gong’. Again the Kiwi accent was detected and he introduced himself as, ‘A skinhead from Auckland punk days, been here 26 years, mate’, and he was still hanging around Portobello Market drinking pints in the sun calling out to women passing by. We talked about music, he said London never really recovered from the 2005 recession, he gave me a sweaty hug and called me a ‘brother’. It took another hour to get back up Portobello Road taking all the side streets on the way – it was all so familiar. Then it was back to Brixton and dinner with Leo.

Two nights on the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight has a bit of everything they have on the English mainland; a Roman villa, a medieval church, narrow lanes and tiny villages, and a rolling hillside like you’re in Sussex. What it hasn’t got is all the urban problems of the dense cities; there’s no crowds and no congestion. A ten minute fast-ferry or hovercraft ride from Portsmouth and you’re in a safe, quiet and very quaint slice of England. The whole of the island is just one electorate, Conservative, and apparently they voted for Brexit. I spend two nights there and was shown around by my father-in-law and his wife who live in a beautiful little cottage by an open field. We visited Yarmouth and dined in Ryde. I stayed in a cheap hotel called The Wight with an indoor pool and was allocated a breakfast table setting in advance. “Mr Richards, you’re here at setting number 29 – we are famous for our breakfasts.” Along with the Full English they offer the ‘Jurassic’ which is a double Full English or whatever you want, they also serve herring, haddock and kippers for breakfast – I guess you could order that as well as the Jurassic – they’re famous for their breakfasts.



Common land v. property developers.

There’s a new play currently on at the National Theatre called Common about the fight in early-industrial Britain for retaining common land and yesterday in Ruskin Park I walked with Leo and saw a portrait in a pub celebrating the individuals who made it happen in the early 1800’s. Ruskin Park is in Denmark Hill near Brixton, it’s 36 acres with views back to the City – you can clearly see Big Ben and The London Eye. There are more parks in South London because South London developed later than the north side of the river and there was still time, back in those days, to establish them – and I feel New Zealand is now at that point. Leo, who I’m staying with, says it’s the one thing he finds little a depressing about New Zealand, everyone seems to is so obsessed with property prices.  This must, in my opinion, have some effect on the provision for public space. Most of the green areas around where I live are sports grounds – wouldn’t it be good if we turned them back to parks?
A brief history; Common land was held by the lord of the local manor back in the day and he would allow local people to some rights on it: grazing animals, gathering wood for fuel and sowing small plots to grow food. These rights were granted as an unwritten social contract. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, traditional land uses shifted as Britain moved from a feudal system to a capitalist one and it increasingly befitted landowners to turn every single square metre a profit, including the common land. Many of the locals (or commoners) had come to rely on the land, so when fences were put up and the woodlands cleared, they pulled them down. Direct action and legal interventions of the day led to the creation of Clapham Common, Tooting Bec Common, Peckham Rye Common, Wandsworth Common, Wimbledon Common and so many more common parks in south London, including Ruskin Park where these images were taken.

Choose one thing in London.

Standing on the South Bank in the morning sun I needed to choose at least one significant place to visit in London. I’m only here for a few days before and after my side trip to the Isle of Wight. I strolled along the embankment and considered the options. Living in London for about six years back in the early 90’s I stopped doing those ‘touristy’ things – but now I have no qualms about it. The National Theatre has two plays that interested me: Salome and a new one called Common set in early 1800’s – and they’d both be superb, of course. I have no interest in the big musicals but the wacky London Dungeon show looks like the kind of cheap gory slapstick I’d enjoy. I immediately ruled out the London Eye and the Tower of London, and Buckingham Palace is never going to be on the list. I settled on St Paul’s Cathedral because I’ve never been inside – I spent two amazing hours there, even climbing the stairs to the upper outdoor balcony.
Entrance is £16 and includes a headset and a very hi tech visual hand unit about the size of an iPhone 7 with videos and information that’s really easy to use. I normally hate these fiddley things with a commentary but some clever tech team has designed something quite amazing because you choose the bits you want to hear and there’s short videos.
I used my binoculars and learned the story of each panel in the main dome. Paul’s journey to Christianity and his spreading of the word. I have looked closely at a few ancient religious story panels recently and realise the faith was primarily based on a few clever conjuring tricks; getting bitten by a snake and not dying, making someone instantly blind, and curing a cripple (‘look he’s walking!’) is all the proof you need. One of the panels in the great dome shows Paul burning the books of other pagan belief structures of the time – way to go. Religious mythology aside you can’t help but be completely blown away by the architecture, art and music it produced – and I speak as a person who studied and still enjoys listening to Palestrina plainsong, that’s the spooky male-choir music they use all the way through movies like The DaVinci Code.
It was a big day; I bought advance tickets for my journey to the Isle of Wight at Waterloo Station in person so I could talk about the options. It’s one of the wonderful things about Britain, and I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s latest book while travelling and he says the same things but much better – Britain is charming. London is full of people and yet it feels safe, sensible and civilised. It’s a good change from the grim and menacing hordes of homeless on the street corners in Portland. I only saw a few individual beggars in London, apparently, Boris Johnson ‘got rid of them’.
I enjoyed wandering through Soho, had a bite at a restaurant called Kricket where Luca used to work, chanced on a Kath Kidson shop and bought something for Julia. After St Paul’s I travelled to Brixton to meet Allan Evans, a New Zealander who stayed on in London and whom I used to play in a duo with, 20 years later we picked up like it was yesterday.

We sat in a place called Brixton Box, a cluster of containers around a court yard that’s definitely the hang out for the new young Brixton arrivées – arty and edgy, and a bit rough and ready. Brixton is still the same, lots of West Indian people playing reggae, it’s still grubby, but lovely.
People ask me if I think London has changed, well, yes and no, there are all new shops, people have phones in their hands rather than A to Z map books, there’s more people I guess, but to me, it feels and looks more or less the the same. It was the smell inside the Underground that brought it all back – I really, really like London . . to visit. I’m so lucky to be able to stay with Leo, an expat in Brixton just a short walk from the Underground. He is renovating a flat and being an artist it’s going to have some very tasteful features. It’s so good to have a friendly kitchen table to sit at – because onwards from here it’s going to be crowded hostels and cheap hotels.

Six lasting impressions.

As I prepare to leave Portland it’s time to keep or delete the images on my phone and I have chosen six that I like as a sort of summary. I mainly used public transport, which is very good in Portland, and with the iPhone maps and apps everything is so easy and I got a good feel for the city. The troubled and dispossessed are everywhere, there are groups sitting on street corners and encampments in underpasses. The streets in the area of the NorthEast where I stayed are leafy and tree-lined, the houses all big and comfortable. The shopping is great – there’s so much stuff to buy. Everyone I met was friendly and keen to engage. There is definitely an easy-going, counter-culture community spirit in Portland, and there’s a T-shirt slogan you often see – Keep Portland Weird, but it’s not that weird – it’s nice.

The Japanese Gardens are five acres of manicured perfection.
At Skidmore metro stop near the Downtown sleeps a true patriot.
Every time I passed Voodoo Donuts there was a line outside – try to think of the sickest and weirdest flavoured donut possible, and they’ll have it.
They call them Outdoor Shops and they’re full of cowboy boots, cowboy hats, big jackets and the best denim brands – and all very cheap.
Electric bikes for $2.50 an hour or $10 for the day with a solar panel on the back – you just download the app of course, no helmet required.
The best bookshop in the world, they claim, it takes up an entire block, always full of people and I stayed 2 hours – the music section is staggering.


Guitar shops in Portland, Oregon.

The guy behind the counter said, ‘You might like to try this’, went out to the back room and came back with a 1943 Gibson priced at US$11,000. I have never played an acoustic worth that much but today I played quite a few of expensive guitars, and yes, they all do sound different and they feel different too. My absolute favourite was a 1971 Gibson Dove with an ebony neck at US$2,700. It rang out beautifully, had plenty of bass depth and the neck felt so natural in my hand – it was perfect. Next he gave me a new Gibson L65, the neck was flatter, made for a smaller hand or a learner, but so easy to play and it sounded big and full, a real modern acoustic guitar, and only US$1,000. I visited Old Town Music on Burnside Rd where I tried a few Martins, Guilds and Taylors from $1,500 to $3,000 but none really impressed. They had a 1976 Gibson L200 (pictured), the famous acoustic Pete Townsend of The Who plays, a big jumbo body with a great thumping sound that’s ideal for stage playing when there’s a band – but at US$2,700 there was something wrong with the neck – it was a bit twisted so the action was too high at the 12th fret. One of the best guitars in the shop, to my taste, was a vintage Yamaha F30 for just US$750.  I didn’t buy a guitar but I did buy a mic I’ve always needed, too pricey in New Zealand, a SM58 with a switch for US$100, and they gave me a free T’shirt.
Next it was Centaur Guitars on NE Sandy Rd and some of the finest acoustics I’ve seen and played. There is no hard-sell in these shops, they don’t hover around you, they just let you play and play – but, there is one rule, whatever you do, and there are signs up – DO NOT SING.

The backlash to prejudice

There must be a big problem with prejudice in America. Whether it’s race, gender or disability, people are making their position known. Everywhere there are notices in shop windows, on front lawns and on the doors of bars and restaurants with lists, all saying the same kind of things. The people in Oregon seem to be confronting prejudice head-on and are trying to build awareness at a community level. I suppose some of this comes as a reaction to the white supremacist killings recently in Portland on a commuter train that surprised many people because Portland sees itself as a ‘liberal’ State. I started to wonder how it would go down if people put up signs in shop windows in New Zealand talking about a rejection of any form of prejudice, what would the average Kiwi think? Some may say it’s unnecessary, others would say it’s ‘about time’.
But it indicates to me the problem is very real in the US possibly increasing as a result of the current political climate and recent election result, or perhaps it’s always been there – but this is definitely a backlash. People at a community and grassroots level are making their politics know – and it’s very encouraging.

The new cash crop in Oregon

The cultivation and use of cannabis is legal in Oregon and is now grown commercially.

Oregon followed Colorado and Washington State in making the recreational use of cannabis legal and since then the cultivation of it has become big business. The ranch where I was staying is currently experimenting with the propagation of the plant and I was shown around their set up. There are many varieties with the most popular being Sativa and Indica, and it is this one that commands a higher price and the one they are focusing on. In the town of Bend in central Oregon with a population of about 80,000 there is already 14 stores exclusively selling pot. The price for the premium organic product is high, especially outside the September and October glut period when the outdoor crops are harvested. Outdoor product is known as ‘dirt-weed’: the set-up I was shown is growing indoors, a premium organic Indica sensimilla under special LEDs. The farmer I spoke to doesn’t smoke pot himself because he’s not really interested and hasn’t the time while running a busy farm with 31 horses along with his core business combining various silica and calcium powder ingredients to make the compound used to make plaster casts used in medical and dental applications – but that’s another story.
I was interested in the medicinal use of cannabis oil but apparently the recreational product is currently much bigger business. The science of the horticulture and propagation of the plants has captured the scientific mind of my host, and of course, the realistic possibility of making around US$2,500 a pound is very motivating.
Just a final note, a few have asked, no pot was offered to me or was it requested. The cultivation is in the early stages and the tour was centred around the horticultural and the commercial aspects.

A ranch in Oregon

The pool is a dug out hole lined with heavy plastic and a basic filtering system, the fence is coming.
Zeno, a horse trainer from France working with Kate and her trail horse Jimi.

Staying a few nights at place called Bend in the middle of Oregon about three hours south east of Portland. It’s flat wide-open country with endless pine trees and a vast horizon in every direction with a row of mountain peaks rising in the North.

The Bent Wire Ranch has 31 horses, 3 goats, 6 dogs including a Great Dane and some chickens. They are involved in ethology; the study of animal behaviour, specifically, horses and hold regular training sessions and clinics on the property. People bring their horses and they work with them – it’s holistic and it all centres around the animal. Zeno, a trainer from France went into great detail of their methods. She says horses have riders forced on them when the horses are too young and not ready, like 3 years old and their backs can be damaged. She explained how the vertebrae in the back need to strengthen in muscle from 5 years and only ridden from the age of 7. She doesn’t accept the old myth of ‘breaking-in’ a horse saying its cruel and unproductive because the riding life of the horse is shortened. Instead, a horse needs to slowly build muscle between the vertebrae in the back. We walked around the ranch and she showed me some damaged horses. The Ranch is a rest home for a few older horses, the oldest is 27 years, while other horses have come because they have been too difficult for their owners. I learned more about horses from Zeno in half an hour than ever knew before – and no, I didn’t go for a ride.

I’ve been shown around the local town, Tumalo, where we ate at a food truck park and heard a local blues band play. And today into Bend to visit the massive Fred Meyer store that my niece, Hanna, assured me had ‘everything’, – it’s true, the quantity and selection is staggering.
I was looking for some tea and some snacks for my hike. My host has three drawers of teas in their kitchen in every combination of fruit flavours but no black Ceylon tea. With a quick mental conversion I figure the costs of everything in Fred Meyer is about a third less than NZ, but there’s nothing I really need apart from nuts, fruit and tea.

On my hike in Shelving Park reserve I followed a trail through the trees alongside a river. The air smells of pines and there’s a fine dust in the breeze, it’s spring and about 24° C but apparently it’s going to be 29° later in the week. They tell me summers are blazing hot and there’s huge dumps of snow in winter here – seems I’ve come at a good time.

Alberta Street Teahouse

Soon as I saw Townshend’s Tea Company I was in.
The owner seems to never tire of talking about tea. I settled on Darjeeling 2nd flush, (the second batch of leaves that has more depth of flavour than the first flush). He offered me two tins so I could compare, I sniffed each tin and nodded sagely – yes, definitely the 2nd flush, please. One of the assistants, a woman with purple hair, delivered my order and said, having overheard my conversation, I might also like Golden Needles: a black tea from China, grown and directly imported in small batches.
In the local Beaumont Store I met  Stefan Hansen from Dunedin, he’d been here 14 years working in wine wholesaling and was loading the produce section. He was wearing a Music Month target t-shirt. He said Portland is just the right size: big enough to have a healthy arts culture and small enough to have a sense of community. We talked about how everything seems to be organic in the food stores and Stefan said it’s now going ‘beyond organic’ people are demanding food that is also local organic. He suggested the Portland Art Museum because there is a collection of works by Rothko, who originally came from Portland, and to check out the Alberta Street Arts District – just a half hour walk away.

Walking Hawthorne St

Today I walked the length of Hawthorne Street where’s there’s coffee shops, vintage clothes shops, bookshops, coffee shops, restaurants in every flavour, a cluster of food trucks, coffee shops, meditation centres, bars and cafes, vinyl record stores, a music school, a hat shop,
guitar repairers, and did I mention coffee shops?

I came across Crossroads Music with an adaption of that picture of Robert Johnson. Inside I heard
about the songwriters night on later in the evening.
There’s something of an old-fashioned alternative culture in this part of Portland as if the 60’s
and 70’s are still very much alive. It’s a bit earthy and very organic, there are racks of rental bikes with tiny solar panels, Crosby, Stills and Nash was playing on one sound system and the cafes are full of people sitting on their MacBooks drinking Kombuca.

Auckland to San Francisco

I slept for about 8 hours on an 11 hour flight and I’ll never fly without those Bose QC20 noise-cancelling headphones again. I realise now the constant drone in the cabin is the reason so many people are so exhausted after a long-haul flight – it’s so loud.
Amazing co-incidence to have Jo Baylis from Micheal Park School, her husband and their two youngest girls in the seat behind me. They were flying on to New York to pick up a 1987 Chevrolet Sedan they bought on eBay: driving it across the States to LA and shipping it home – cool.
I asked at San Francisco Airport Information if there was free wifi and realised, as I was saying it, that Silicon Valley is just down the road – well, of course there’s free wifi at the airport.
I’m was in SF airport for four hours waiting for my connecting flight to Portland because someone suggested I leave plenty of time for immigration and security, I even changed my ticket fearing 2 hours would not be enough, but it was unnecessary, I whisked through, got my passport stamped and picked up my bag in 20 minutes. I had enough time to take a ride on the free BART train around the airport, and was even thinking of going into city. You can see the BART trains on their raised monorail tracks slipping in and out of the terminal. It’s was a beautiful clear day with just a touch of chill in the air. Later I flew to old Stumptown – Portland, Oregon.