Self Hydration

The title of this post is in the very literal sense, to begin with at least. I have been ill, down with a fever, chills, cough, uncontrollable sneezing… the package, if you will. It is not a pleasant experience because I lose my sense of taste for a certain period of time and am suddenly only able to consume, if at all, copious amounts of flavored liquid in the form of soups – chicken noodle or egg drop for protein, orange Vitamin Water and warm water. Thus hydrating the humble self that wants to remain under warm knitted blankets. I couldn’t, however, remain under blankets, for I was on production support, which meant that I had to deal with releasing my applications in addition to troubleshooting and solving any issues. It is, to me, one of the most interesting parts of my job because what I have learned when on the on-call roster amounts to more than what my regular work could have granted me. A lot of people dread it because it puts you in the spot, but I revel in it.

I began this year, as I mentioned in an earlier post, traveling. I didn’t really take a lot of time off last year and it did take its toll on me, in that things became a little monotonous – as much as it possibly can for a person who does something new/different every weekend! I needed the jolt of invigoration. Being by myself does that for me. Be it sitting at a coffee shop with a P. G. Wodehouse or Jane Austen novel, or driving some place with Strauss (Johann) playing in my ears. I needed something other than swimming, which in itself always relaxes me. It is fun going places by yourself. I enjoy it. It sparks off something in you. A sense of freedom and calm repose. Except for me, travel always means discovering things. Whether it is in a place I’ve been to before, or a new one. I have stumbled upon some absolute gems of places – bookstores, museums, neighborhoods, dessert shops, restaurants, art stores, antique stores, parks, quite beaches… And I have met an array of interesting people with whom I might share very little or have a lot in common with. It has always been an experience I remember.

I am a city girl, having grown up in one and chosen to live in one now. I like the bustle of it and cannot imagine not hearing the cacophony of motor vehicles every morning. I do, however, long for some sort of respite from it every now and then. I do drown it all out when I swim, when I hear only the splash of water and the sound of my own breathing as bubbles float past me. Going places, though, proves to me that everything can still surprise me. How many ever times I have done it before. Self discovery, self hydration.

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What’s Past is Prologue

Four months, a New Year, a family visit, three vacations, a promotion and a bonus, fancy restaurants and coffee shops, a feDSCN3522w thousand dollars short, 15 pounds lesser and 2 sizes smaller, new friends, a music class, a new phone, 1000+ pictures, and 25 revisions has lead to this moment: a cup of coffee – a fancy peanut butter latte! – two cups of English Breakfast tea, a butter croissant, a Pandora One subscription and the decision to decisively break the silence and write.

It has been too long. A lot has happened in that time and if I do not say it all soon I might never get to eternalizing it on my blog, which has become the only holder of a written account of my life. Or at least those parts I wish to share with the internet.

20140422_184827Where do I begin? Work? Yes, that journey is nearing three years (come June) and it has proven to me what I am capable of. My job title was recently altered to be ‘Senior Engineer’ owingDSCN3154 to two promotions in two and a half years. It’s a rather ego boosting position to be in when most people wait at least four years to get here. Receiving the highest possible rating two years in a row did not make me wonder what I was doing so spectacularly because I have no idea how to do it otherwise. I am not boasting here, that’s me being humble and very honest. When you love what you do, wherever it is, there is no possibility of you giving it less than your all, is there? You just do it because it is the only way you know how to do it. It’s not a choice. There is now the conscious blanket of the need to deliver. It isn’t pressure, just a more visible position that makes me feel that if I stumble way too may people are going to notice so I cannot afford to make any mistakes. Or if I do, I need to be able to get over it smoothly. That said, I really enjoy where I am now. Working and living life the way I’ve really wanted to.

I rang in the New Year with my parents as we traveled down the east coast. While most of our time was spent in the state of NewThe Golden Gate Bridge York, we managed to have a well overdue family vacation, enjoy the frigid cold of my beloved city of Chicago, and re-bond. It gave the rest of my family cause to worry because my parents approved of and delighted in my lifestyle (see previous posts regarding marriage eligibility, family honor, blah blah) but that has been relegated (finally!) to the zone of, “Mind your own beeswax, please”. Hopefully that stays where it is and I can move on! Traveling. Yes, that bug has caught up with me. I have been to New York City twice this year, watched Placido Domingo perform live, seen the wonders of a frozen Niagara Falls, thoroughly enjoyed the Polar Vortex because moaning about it wasn’t going to make it go away and usher in the sun, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, walked an average of 10 miles a day for 7 days in San Francisco and NYC, and have resolved to continue to explore Chicago through food, tea/coffee shops and books.

20140430_204541The one thing I have always maintained, with arrogant resilience, is that I know my own mind better than anyone else. This ought to be true of every person. If you don’t know yourself, well… I’m not sure. I like having my own identity, weirdness and normalcy combined to form an exclusive being. As you grow up, you do pick up traits from others but you make them your own. The past 27 years of living and observing has taught me that an uncertain and unthinking mind only leads unnecessary troubles later, as has been repeatedly proven by members of my own family who have, and are still, dealing with their digressions and half-opened cans of worms with no closure in sight.

The past defines us, yes, but it only provides us with a skeleton upon which we place a bit from the moment we are currently living in. The past is prologue.

 

 

[Most of the past four months can be depicted in pictures – http://instagram.com/srutsam]

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A Visit to the Emerald City

“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!

The Hyatt at Olive 8

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.

The Seattle Skyline on the way to Bainbridge Island

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.

Merchants Cafe in Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square (map) was my next stop. I’d picked up a map of the place which cited ‘7 wonders of Pioneer Square’, all of which are within a three block

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory

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.

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

The Space Needle

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.

Downtown Seattle from the Space Needle

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!

Pike Place Market

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

Lamplight Books

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

The Olympic Mountains

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!!