“Why Seattle?” is the most common question I’ve been asked in the past month, since I decided to go to Seattle. I’ve just shrugged in reply. It has been on my list of ‘places to visit in the U.S. of A.’ But why I, a twenty-something year old with money to spend, picked Seattle over New York City or San Francisco or Miami is not something comprehensible. I went because I wanted to. The other cities I know I’ll visit soon enough, Seattle didn’t seem like one of those. Besides, if I’d had enough vacation time, I would’ve flown to England on a literary tour!!
I had approximately thirty six hours in the city of Seattle and intended to make the best of it. I had roughly listed out the places I wanted to see and the things I wanted to do (you can get a visitor’s packet mailed to you from here). I was armed with my raincoat, boots, and extra changes of clothing, but Seattle decided to cooperate with me that weekend and was a nice ~60F and sunny all through!! I was quite surprised because Chicago has, on the day I left, given me a taste of what Seattle’s weather is normally famed to be!
SeaTac International Airport was half-empty when I arrived, at around 10pm PST – there’s free wi-fi all through the airport which helps if you want to browse or download books onto your Kindle! The chauffeur/driver of the mini-van, which is part of the Downtown-Airporter fleet, gave us a verbal tour of the city, pointing out the Starbucks Headquarters, Safeco and Century Link fields, a bunch of restaurants and so forth during the 20 minute ride from the airport to downtown Seattle. Having lived in Chicago for three years, I was happily surprised by the size of buildings, everything seemed more open. I was dropped off at the Hyatt at Olive 8 (very nice upscale hotel that’s worth the money – everything you want to see is a few blocks away; public transport, tourist spots, shops and restaurants) in the heart of the downtown area.
I was up early the next morning and I found myself sitting at Seattle Coffee Works savoring a hot cup of Sweet Morning Chai Tea Latte and a wheat bagel with cream cheese as I planned out the rest of the day. Walking over to the Seattle Ferry Terminal I was treated to a beautiful view of the Olympic Mountains, Bainbridge Island, western Seattle, and the vast stretch of Puget Sound (and I fancied, the edge of the Pacific Ocean!). The ride across to Bainbridge Island on the Tacoma (one of the ferries) allowed me a half hour, or so, of indulgence in the natural beauty of this geographical region. Honestly, I was thrilled! I could see the mountains, Olympic and Cascade, the vast, seemingly endless expanse of blue waters, row after row of thick tall trees covering the landscape on one side, the Seattle skyline with the Space Needle on one side and the clump of rectangular structures on the other, and the sun shining in mild-ish haloed glory upon it all. The sound of the waves and the wind howling past as we powered across the waters, the cry of gulls, the splashes of water against the boats, the occasional sound of the whistle… It is one of the most beautiful sights I’ve treated my eyes to. I didn’t spend a lot of time in downtown Bainbridge, but the short walk that I took had me thinking of a holiday home. On the ride back, an old couple sat at my table and we exchanged stories about Chicago, Bangalore, Seattle, Bainbridge, parts of Europe, classical music and the arts.
radius – between Yesler Way and Jackson and 1st and 3rd Avenue. Here’s a quick walking tour you can use as a guide.
The 7 wonders you will, at some point, walk across are Pioneer Place & Pergola, Smith Tower, Yesler Way, Occidental Square & Pedestrian Walk, Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial, Waterfall Garden Park and the Museums – Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park and the Fire Museum. While you’re walking about you’ll see Merchant Café – the oldest restaurant in Seattle, the starting point of the famous Underground Tour, several old buildings from before the Great Fire (and after), a lovely paved road that leads the way to the Safeco and CenturyLink Field, and a whole lot of cafés – Café Umbria I’d recommend – and art galleries. Indulge in some heavenly chocolate at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory – with the bears sitting by the window urging you to sit in and savor delicious chocolate. Stopping for lunch at Ivar’s Acres of Clams, I enjoyed my baby shrimp cocktail and Dungeness crab sandwich while looking out over the Sound. I wandered about Alaskan Way, peering into other sound-side restaurants and fast-sea-food counters. Eventually I landed in a bus that would take me to see the Fremont Troll.
Now, we’ve all heard the troll stories. The ones that live under bridges and pop up to question unsuspecting passers-by, remember Three Billy Goats Gruff? Seattle offers you it’s own troll, nestled under a bridge on Troll Avenue. The troll clutches in its hand a Volkswagen Beetle of an unsuspecting Californian and gazes out at you rather dolefully as he seeks more victims.
I walked through this mini-suburbia sort of area relishing the good weather and sloping sidewalks, all leading to the Sound one way or another with startling views of snow-capped mountains. I found the troll just when I was about to give up!! Very sneaky one, that!
By the time I got back downtown, it was around 4:30pm. Grabbing a somewhat customized Chai Tea Latte at a Starbucks, I returned to my hotel and spent an hour swimming – they had music playing in the pool! – my tiredness away. Feeling refreshed, I wandered in and out of a few stores, bookstores included. An hour later I found myself walking through Post Alley, nestled quite prettily between stone buildings and serving as an extension of Pike Place Market.
It reminds one of the happy European street side cafes, with people in summer clothing, sitting about in leisure and enjoying/savoring the sights and sounds of the town around them. It was something very clean out of a painting, I could put
words to it in my head. A light dinner of onion soup and French bread at Cafe Campagne was followed by some more walking along – Koolhaas‘ building which houses Seattle’s public library, SAM – Seattle Art Museum – with the giant Hammering Man.
My original plan had been to visit the Space Needle in the evening – get one of the 24-hr passes which would allow me to go up once in twilight and then in daylight. But due to the 50th World Fair anniversary celebrations the Seattle Center and Space Needle were reserved for some private event. That just meant more wandering about for me! I returned to my room a very tired being. The concierge at the front desk helped me procure my tickets to the Space Needle so I wouldn’t have to wait in line the next morning.
I was up and about by 8am. The streets of downtown Seattle were literally empty. No beast or man ventured upon the cobbled pavements. It took me a good five minutes to find the entrance to the mono-rail which runs between Westlake Center and Seattle Center. It’s a 5 minute ride to the Space Needle, which is away from the hustle of the city and beautiful in its own right.
Having lived in Chicago, a city with over 200 skyscrapers, the Space Needle was, in a word, small. But the view was unparalleled. At 160m, it stand tall and proud and offers a beautiful view of Downtown Seattle, Mt. Ranier, the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, and the islands around the Bay and Sound.
It is just astonishingly breathtaking!! I walked around the observation deck, smiling to myself as I gazed upon the land. I should’ve considered lunch at the SkyCity restaurant – yup, the one that revolves, but I wanted to return to Pioneer Square and the International District, and I had less than half a day left.
Though I’d spent less than 48 hours in the city I felt like I already knew a lot of the downtown area, hence, took to walking about some of my favorite spots, enjoying the fluttering pink blossoms. I wandered into Pike Place Market, where fresh produce of the day were just being laid out to the welcoming eyes of all that were there. While I’m no great sea food lover, I could enjoy the sight of fresh sea animals on ice – they looked equally creepy and delicious!
I would up walking along the Sound, half way to the Space Needle, again, before I retraced my steps. I stopped at Bacco - a very nice Italian Cafe - for lunch, indulging in a new found favorite the Dungeness crab and some very very fresh juice. It was while I sat here in this sidewalk cafe, reading and really being very tourist-y, that I realized what the people that stood a block away from me had in those round baskets. Live snakes. I don’t care very much for snakes. I’d like to stay as far as possible away from them. I’m scared of them – I won’t bother them and I’d prefer if they didn’t bother me. It was with a little jolt of terror that I walked two blocks over and then back to the market to look for souvenirs and gifts.
You know that feeling that you find the best things by accident?? That happened to me. A bookstore. Filled with books of all sizes, shapes, age, color and languages, lining the walls from top to bottom, stacked from left to right. The smell of paper drew me in. Tucked away into a corner just by the entrance to an ice cream store, Lamplight Books is a treasure. I literally lost track of time as I slowly paced by the shelves, cherishing the feel of being surrounded by words of favorite authors and so many more undiscovered ones! I’m not paranoid, but I did feel like the books were speaking to me – whispering through the chasms of time even to just be picked up and read. Honestly, this is my heaven. That feeling of longing that overcomes me every time I’m in a bookstore or library is something I can never fully explain and I know I can never escape
the power it holds over me. The leather bound volumes smiled at me as I closed my eyes and breathed in the scent of printed pages. If you’ve never felt this before, you wouldn’t understand it. It is the best feeling in the world! I found old editions of the Oxford English dictionary and even early editions of Penguin classics – ah the memories these evoked!!
Anyway, I obviously couldn’t leave without buying something (this is my only weakness – that I cannot ever walk out of a bookstore empty handed). Considering the fact that I had very little space left in my bags and I had no check-in baggage, I settled for a book on German verbs, and dragged myself away before I splurged on books that I knew I wouldn’t be able to bring back home with me.
I walked back to my hotel playing the tourist card quite fondly this time as I waded through the gathering crowds. A quick stop, at Nordstrom to arm myself with cosmetics that I’d forgotten to bring, later, I was back at my hotel, retrieving my bags that had been held for me after my noon checkout. And I was off to Westlake Station to get on a Central Link light rail to the airport. It’s very different from the public transport I’m used to – because the bus and light rail stops are in the same underground area! The trains have their
tracks, but buses go along the same lines, which was weird to me. It was so much better than the CTA and does have a much more scenic route! Mt. Helen rose up majestically over clumps of green as the train weaved it’s way south toward Sea-Tac. A fascinating sight – civilization on one side, the wild overgrowth and then snow capped mountains.
I slept through most part of my flight back to Chi-town and was glad to be back home. It was an absolutely delightful way to spend a weekend and I know I’ll definitely return to Seattle on holiday just because it is a relaxing breath away from the bustle of a large city. It’s calming and vacation enough for me, though the next time I visit I will probably like to go into the mountains!!