A short weekend visit to Seattle and we thought maybe we had boarded a plane for Southern California instead. But other than the 70 degree bright sunny weather in late March/early April, everything else about our trip was quintessential Seattle. I don't want to use the Q word*, but Quirky? But I saw a dude who looks like an NFL linebacker commuting in a black Mercedes singing along at the top of his lungs with the windows open to a Taylor Swift song, a pony tailed guy long boarding with a stuffed animal backpack (the type usually sported by preschoolers) and street musician playing "Summer Loving" from "Grease" on an amplified violin. And that's just what I saw on the the first block of my walk down Pike, observing the euphoric Seattlelites preparing for a a weekend of 70 degree sunny weather on the last day of March! (going out like a lamb for sure!)
*The Q Word = Quirky
Jeff needed to be in Seattle for a business trip and I used the excuse that direct affordable "off season" Jet Blue flights out of Boston and the opportunity to visit life long friends who live there (we don't use the term "old friends" anymore, it's hitting a little to close to home!) were good reasons to spend a last minute weekend to the Emerald City. I had recently received a loan of a product called the Airpocket, which I wanted to test in flight, so I brought that along on the flight. (see the review here) The mood on the flight was enhanced by the addition of the good-natured Brown Men's Crew team, heading west on our flight. Polite and respectful, I felt a little guilty enjoying my "Even More Space" while these giant rowers were curled up in the "regular space seats", (I didn't feel bad for the tiny coxswains) but then their bones are still young and pliable! Aside from a near constant assault on the snack basket by the rowers, my 6 hour flight was uneventful!
Day 1(click on any bold text for a link)
We were staying at the Grand Hyatt on the 7th block between Pike and Pine in Seattle. This is primarily a business hotel, close to the convention center with excellent service, and comfortable, updated rooms, but with such beautiful weather, we didn't spend much time in our room!
Arriving in Seattle after an early flight, it was lunch time, and I knew just where I could find some excellent options and see some local color at the same time! The Pikes Place Public Market is well known for its singing and slinging fish mongers, but it's also a great place to a walking lunch. This last day of March also featured an explosion of color as the local tulip farms were bringing the first stems of the season into the market for a dollar a flower. At that price I could't resist purchasing a few stems to brighten up our hotel room, and later a huge bouquet for our dear friends' home.
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After filling up, I returned to the hotel for a short rest and to explore options for an evening on my own. Jeff was needed for a business dinner, so I set off to see that Seattle Art Museum, on First Ave, between Union and University, which on a Thursday evening has extended evening hours and where my membership to the Boston MFA includes admission to a consortium of Western museums, one of which is SAM.
Borofsky's Hammering Man actually swings his hammer 4 times a minute, but I sped him up with a time lapse video!
I found the SAM to have a culturally diverse collection, I enjoyed seeing their collection of Native Art along the Northwest Coast, as well as a special temporary show of the work of Kehinde Wiley, a contemporary, self identified gay, African American man whose work puts people he finds on the street into poses from traditional European portraits. The thought provoking multi media work of Wiley, including a short documentary of his process, was an interesting way to spend an evening alone, although it was so thought provoking that I found myself wanting to discuss the work with complete strangers! Luckily Seattlites are friendly folks and were happy to engage in discussion!
In addition to the Wiley Exhibit, I spent some time exploring the Native Art along the Northwest Coast, and came across a Josef Albers square, who is one of our daughter's favorite artists.
Facing dinner alone, and knowing that some of the best ethnic Asian food can be found in Seattle, I made it my mission to find pho, since Vietnamese is one of the Asian specialties I can't find readily near my home town. I discovered New Saigon on 6th Ave, and wandered down to the cozy, well lit basement restaurant to order take out. I brought back a HUGE vegetable pho with delicious fresh vegetable and skinny rice noodles and nearly a quart of broth...really, I should have invited my new found art friends back to share! (Click on any image below to enlarge)
Another work day for Jeff meant another day exploring Seattle on my own. Today, I decided to spend some time wandering around Seattle Center, the location of the 1962 World's Fair, and the iconic Space Needle built as the centerpiece of the exposition. From my hotel in downtown, it is easy to take the Monorail from the Westlake Shopping Center on 5th and Pine.
The Monorail is a cash only operation, $2.25 each way, and is a short ride, but a fun way to whisk through the city. Being enamored of the time lapse...here is one of the ride from Westlake to Seattle Center. The more responsible and useful service is the Link Light Rail to and from SEA TAC to the University of Washington, but which also has a station at Westlake Center for downtown. This makes Seattle one of the easiest American cities to get around by public transit and squares with their environmentally conscious way of doing things.
Seattle Center offers plenty to do with a nearly weekly festival, the Key Arena with shows and sports, a variety of museums and parks and the iconic Space Needle. Having previously visited the Space Needle I passed on riding to the top, but before opening tourists were already lining up to make the trip. I visited in the quiet of a weekday morning, took some photos and explored before most of the museums opened. I was able to enjoy the glorious spring blossoms, cherry blossoms were just finishing up, but a brilliantly pink Japanese maple caught my eye, as did an inorganic blossom of glass growing out of the Chihuly garden. I also thought Elizabeth's Gahan's "Vertical Garden" of colorful blossoms of recycled plastic political signs was a far more pleasing use than their original purpose! (Click on any image below to enlarge)
Having been to the Seattle Art Museum the night before, I knew that SAM included the free Olympic Sculpture Park along the shores of Elliott Bay on the Puget Sound with beautiful views of the mountain ranges. I walked down the hill about 1/2 mile to the shore to find the park. Although the building was not open, the art is all outside. In addition to large scale stand alone sculpture, like the dominating red Calder sculpture, nearly every walk way and bench is a work of art too. Locals were out and about exercising and enjoying the park, and tourists were clearly wowed by the views of the Puget Sound and the mountain ranges.
Distant views of the Space Needle from the Sculpture Park, and Mark di Severo's "Bunyon's Chess" in the meadow. (Click on any image below to enlarge)
After taking the monorail back to Pine St, at Westlake Center, I met up with Jeff after work for a bike tour of Seattle. I requested a suggestion for a bike tour from my travel agency, Active Travels, a boutique, members only travel consultancy. Their recommendation of Seattle Cycling Tours turned out to be a fabulous recommendation. Our guide, Craig, was responsive when I texted him prior to arriving that we'd like to take a late afternoon bike tour on Friday after my husbands work day. He happily accommodated us by adding one to his online booking engine.
We met Craig at his "pocket shop" on 714 Pike St, around the corner from our hotel. He had our bikes ready (and important thing because Jeff is 6 foot 6 inches tall and needs a bike specially prepared for his height) and spent a while orienting us with a local map. His knowledge of the city was impressive, not only what happened historically, (the raising of Pioneer Square) but also what was happening currently (the new buildings being built by Amazon)! Craig took us past all the "sites" but more importantly to the "off the beaten path" sites and put the city in context for us during this "Seattle Intro Tour"
While Seattle is one of the best biking cities in the world, I'd still recommend this tour for a regular bicycle rider vs a novice, just because any city riding requires a level of comfort on a bicycle to be safe, although Craig made sure we followed the local rules and moved safely through traffic. For beginners or young children, one of Seattle Cycling Tours on bike paths in the area might be an excellent choice.
Our tour took us through the major neighborhoods of Seattle and gave us an excellent orientation of the city and it's history. We started by going through the area where the newest developments are going up. New buildings on the Amazon campus and new housing for all those employees are going up, and it's hard to find a view without a construction crane.
Our next stop was near the cruise ship piers. This little pier park with a fabulous view across the South of the city to Mt Rainier in the distance is only available for public use when there aren't cruise ships in the area. We had this view because the Alaska cruise ships, three per Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout the summer and fall would start docking in mid April.
We peddled further south to Pioneer Square, the oldest area in Seattle. Pioneer Square was originally nearly a story lower when the buildings were built, later fill was added to dry the area up and the first floors of the building and original sidewalks are now underground. There are Under Ground Tours available to explore this old part of the city.
We also stopped to see this Waterfall Garden Park tucked near Pioneer Square.
And we biked by the gate to Chinatown.
We stopped near some of the oldest buildings in Seattle, the renovated King St Station (with clock tower) and Great Hall at Union Station.(in the near ground)
We pedaled back to the bike shop and got ready for a late dinner with our Seattle friends. We met them in the area near the University of Washington. This gentrifying area lies just over the bridge across Lake Union. We dined at May Thai, with its heavy wooden furniture and lanterns and lively outdoor bar area. Again, we were finding that the ethnic Asian food in Seattle was as advertised, authentic and excellent!
After dinner we walked the area for a while and enjoyed some gelato at The Fainting Goat and caught a view of the Space Needle as we drove home on Rt 5, the major highway bisecting the city from North to South.
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The rest of the weekend, we stayed with our friends who live east of the city across Lake Washington in the historic Beaux Arts neighborhood. Walks around their neighborhood treated us to sites of 100 year old historic homes set among ancient pines with views of Lake Washington to Mercer island with bald eagles in the trees!
On our agenda this morning was a hike to Twin Falls in the Olallie State Park Washington, on the western edge of the Cascades. One of the delights of Seattle living (and the reason housing prices are out of sight!) is that you can go from the city to the mountains or ocean within 60 minutes, add to that a generally mild year round climate, and well, Seattlites seem ok with a little bit more rain than the rest of get. While we visited, the sun shone so brightly, that I began to think our friends were just making up stories about the rain to keep the rest of us away! But after seeing the rich moss and incredible greens of the State Park, as well as the rush of the falls, it was obvious, that an abundance of water is one of the charms of Seattle!
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Part of the trail was closed due to the volume of water this time of year, but we did get some incredible falls views, with water melting off the cascades and rushing through the rocky gorge.
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The sun shining through the falls created a rainbow effect from the bridge above the falls.
After a nearly 4 mile hike, we were all hungry and our friends knew just the place for lunch. We ended up at a diner called Twede's Cafe in the town of North Bend. They serve breakfast all day, but with an entire page of burgers on the menu (including vegetable or bean burgers for this pescatarian) it seemed like a burger stacked with onion rings and chased with cherry pie a la mode was the perfect way to refuel after our hike.
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Instead of replenishing the calories we hiked off, we may have had a surplus, so we decided to take a walk up and down the small main street (North Bend Rd) in North Bend to check out the local shops and architecture there.
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We capped of the rest of our weekend with enjoyable time at home with our friends and flew on a red eye flight on Sunday evening, leaving sunny, seventy degree Seattle to arrive to 4 inches of April fools snow in Boston! Our Seattle weekend was a wonderful opportunity to see what has made this Northwest city so popular and for us to "Go See" how much it has grown (and is still growing) since our last visit in the late '90s.