Seattle – ‘The City of Totem Poles & Pike Place’


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North America » United States » Washington » Seattle
July 7th 2014
Published: July 7th 2014
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The drive to Seattle from Astoria is diminished somewhat by the overcast weather which makes everything look pretty dull. We take the I-5 for speed though a more scenic route goes up along the coast. As we get half way to Seattle (near Tacoma), the traffic seems to get heavier and doesn’t ease up. We eventually get to the infamous approach to the City and get onto the Seattle spaghetti junction which we would not have been able to navigate without the ipad GPS system. It was a bit harrowing at times switching lanes at short notice. So if you are relying on a map and are new to this place there’s a 100% chance you will get lost!

We eventually make it to the City Hostel, in Belltown, just next to downtown, where we’d pre booked. It’s in a great location but parking in Seattle is expensive. So we get settled in and try and find somewhere cheaper to park till nearer 8pm when off street parking becomes free till 8am the next day. The parking signs are pretty complex and confusing. It leads the locals to inform us that this is on purpose so that they can issue more tickets to make up the City’s budget deficit. Their Traffic Wardens (Enforcement Officers) go round the city on bikes, very smart (mainly smart young women) and not like the vultures back home.

What is a surprise is that the weather is warmer & sunnier than forecast so we can wander around in T shirts and shorts for a change. We go to the UPS store regarding arrangements to post some of our camping gear to our Hostel in Calgary, Alberta, where we start camping again. The Hostel has kindly agreed to take this in and hold this for us. It costs $100 to send the tent, pots and pans, and sleeping gear, which isn’t too bad. The cooker and inflatable mattress travel with us in the suitcases!!

However, as sending some of the stuff would be cost prohibitive we decide to try and sell these items on Craig List or gift it to the hostel (which is what we do in the end) e.g. Chairs, folding table, our large food box from the RV trip, some cutlery & cups etc. which we don’t really need. Also we may have a smaller car to do the camping in – we won’t know till we get to Calgary. So it’s essential gear only.

The City Hostel is a lovely building where the outside looks like a French/Italian Villa, with large pots on either side with blooming trees in them. Our room is colourfully painted with multi-coloured ‘Binkies’ (sort of blown up condoms look a likes without the caps but with eyes) all over the 4 walls in colours of the rainbow. A fun look! The room is pretty comfortable and a decent size with a washbasin inside. Toilets and showers are shared but they are plenty of them so we don’t have to wait.

We wander down to Pike Market Place near the water front. It’s the place to go in the City and some say encapsulates the essence of what the city is all about. It’s quite multi-cultural and is a sort of ‘Borough Market’ meets ‘Covent Garden’ (London) of the city. It’s a mix of a flower market (great selection - variety and colours), a fruit and vegetable market, a meat and seafood market, with many eateries selling great food to go and an arts and crafts market as well. It’s pretty packed everyday with locals and tourists.

We’ve read about a great little shop there selling Russian pastries - Piroshky Piroshky – great food and long, long queues – a gold mine of a food place. We have the smoked salmon & ham, spinach & cheese ones – superb. Later we discover Ellenos a place that sells awesome Greek Yogurts with a mix of fruits and honey. They even have a crumble version of the Marionberry. What is even better is that you can mix some of the yogurts in the one cup. They also give lots of tasters of any of the flavours, which leads us on other days to just try some if we need a sweetener after our lunch. This place would do great anywhere including London.

The ‘Original’ Starbucks café is apparently a few doors away – it’s the one with the very, very long queues of Japanese tourists waiting to have one in about ½ an hour when they could walk 50 yards and have a really good one straight away?! Curious human behaviour!

On the recommendation from hostel staff, we head around the corner to Belltown Pub for dinner. They have ales on tap, and an interesting menu; though it sounds better than it is. What we’d been surprised by was the range of eating options from very cheap to top notch within about 5 minutes of the hostel. Seattle seems like a very cosmopolitan city with a large Japanese and Indian population, and the food scene is pretty eclectic too.

Other places we try are Bitch Biscuit Café near Pike Place which does great biscuits and gravy with sausage and eggs called a Hot Bitch Mess! They also do great coffee. And Local 360 just near the hostel is also good – with slow cooked Pork belly served with baked beans & biscuit. Nicer than it sounds!

Just about 1 mile away is a Safeway and as the hostel has a great kitchen we plan to cook in a few nights. Local salmon, cheap steak and Dungeness crab & seafood for dinner, & for a change, a box of Merlot (good value $20 for 3 litres) which should see us through till Canada. We walk there through Uptown which has a few interesting eateries and shops.

Also close by is the Seattle Centre which has a whole range of attractions, including the EMP Museum (which is all about music and culture), Chihuly Garden & Glass (which has some weird and wonderful giant daisy’s outside through which music plays – called Sonic Bloom!), a scattering of Totem Poles, and the Seattle Space Needle Tower – the iconic image of Seattle, which looks pretty good with the sunset colours. Preparations for Sunday’s Pride Parade are underway and lots of stalls and stages are under construction.

The hostel has a TV room so we watch some of the World Cup (USA vs Germany) games and enjoy a great dinner - awesome rice and black beans and stir fried beef steak – good one Cags!.

Next day we drop off the car at Hertz in downtown and have a look round some of the shopping malls - Pacific Place & Westlake are the two main ones downtown. It’s like any other major city; lots of high street stores, a few designer stores and quite a lot of indie’s. There’s a pretty impressive Seattle Arts Museum building aka SAM with a huge one dimensional moving statue of a person working coal with their pick axe outside.

After lunch of fish and chips at Jack’s Fish in Pikes Place (not bad but the fish still doesn’t compete with the Aussie’s), we head to Pioneer Square, a Square with Totem Poles and a Pergola (which looks like a Parisian Arcade)! You can take tours of ‘the underground city’! It’s part of the city of Seattle that was covered up after the restoration work following the great fire in the 1889. It was discovered by accident quite recently. Actually, it’s a walk through cellars and doesn’t hold much attraction to us.

The Square is attractive but is bounded by areas (Pioneer Sq itself and International District) occupied largely by ‘down and outs’ with evidence of plenty of drug taking – a sad side of town. In fact we are surprised by the number of street homeless around the area and people begging (not aggressively though). Many people clearly have mental health issues. 99% of the rough sleepers we see are white Americans. Interesting statistic in a very multi-cultural city.

We take a walk to the Waterfront, where they have a mix of access points for Passenger Ferries and Cruise Liners, a Commercial Container Port which is quite big, the Aquarium, lots of eateries, a few more Totem Poles & a snow capped Mountain Rainier in the distance. Unfortunately, to get there you have to go across busy roads and a rail track, and under a major expressway – the planners definitely got it wrong!

Further along the front is the Olympic Sculpture Park with sculptures, including one of a giant head! It’s quite interesting but seems a bit out of the way from town. It’s definitely a place folks come to for picnics and relaxing by the sea.

One thing we notice here is that there are very few Food Trucks unlike Portland (and Vancouver Canada as we discover later on). We only see 2 – one doing crepes and the other a Japanese variation on the hot dog called the Japadog!! We don’t try one but the queues suggest it’s quite good.

Seattle is the base of many large corporations – Boeing, Amazon, of course Starbucks, and Microsoft. It’s also the base of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which we visit.

The Visitor Centre really focuses on issue to do with poverty and inequality in health, education and employment. It’s disturbing in that it makes you realise what a mess the human race has made of the planet, and people are largely the victims of circumstance and the politicians and people in power seem to create more problems than they solve.

On the other hand it is also very inspirational because of the work they do and fund around the world. They have lots of interactive stuff that encourages visitors to think of solutions to issues faced by humanity in the modern world; we do some stuff and post it on FB at the Centre. The Foundation’s work is centred on the statement that ‘All lives have equal value’, and its funding supports Poverty, Education and Health programmes.

It’s interesting not only to see what they do and support internationally but how much they spend and fund in the US. Also the very personal engagement of the Gates family as a whole. Definitely a place we’d recommend to other visitors to Seattle. In fact we feel that every political leader should be made to come and view the issues and programmes and go away determined to make a real difference to the lives of their people rather than feathering their nests in undisclosed foreign bank accounts.

M comes away wondering why there appears to be no programmes intended to educate and support men to realise the role they have to play in changing the world – every programme seems to be focussed on women, children and young people. He feels strongly that there is a gap here that needs addressing; a view he shared with the Foundation through their feedback system.

On Sunday, after a lovely long Skype with Louise and Olive (and a bit with Ben), we head out to watch the Pride Parade on 4th Ave – 2 blocks from us. Seattle has an openly gay Mayor and one of the State Justices’ is a gay woman so they obviously have a positive attitude here which is refreshing. Despite the weather which is a bit dull, it’s really well attended and has a great atmosphere, is very colourful, and apparently goes on for 5 hours; Every department, business and voluntary group in Seattle seems to be represented. It starts with a great event called Dykes on Bikes – loads of Harleys and a few souped up scooters, and then we get the naked cyclists many with body paint to cover their bits and pieces, though some are au naturel, but all have a smile on their face and they get lots of applause from the crowd. It’s a fun day.

Tomorrow we leave to catch the train to Canada so we repack the bags (a continuing challenge to keep within the weight restrictions for baggage on the Amtrak & Rocky Mountaineer which we catch in Vancouver) then head for a well-deserved evening drink at Belltown Inn then dinner in - Prawns & Crab (from Pike’s Place). A lovely way to end our stay here.

We have an early night as we have a very early start for the Amtrak to Vancouver Canada…. our first visit to the country, and we’re looking forward to it.


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