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Seattle Seattle

21st May 2010

Welcome to Seattle, the Land of Boeing, Starbucks, Microsoft and Amazon

Panoramic View of Seattle from the Space Needle      (please use scroll bar)

    Today I opted to take the Sounder commuter train from Everett to downtown Seattle. When I say the commuter train, it was literally that, four closely spaced trains at morning rush hour, four closely spaced trains at evening rush hour, nothing in between or at weekends. As the train wound its way slowly along the shores of the Puget Sound, it would sound off its horn, the deep, mellow sound that can always be associated with American trains.
    When I arrived in Seattle it was still fairly early in the morning and most places were closed. However, the overpowering smell of fresh bread drew me magnetically towards the Grand Bakery in Occidental Square. That was breakfast sorted, a fruity scone and a mug of coffee. When I left the bakery to walk down to the sea front I came across other newly baked bread aromas, but resisted the temptation.
Totem Poles in Occidental Square
Seattle Fallen Firefighters Memorial
    Seattle nestles between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington, the area directly in front of the city being Elliot Bay. I walked along the front of the bay, exploring, occasionally catching sight between the numerous piers of the distant Olympic Mountains over the Sound. I would be able to see snow on their tops if it were not for the table cloth of cloud resting on top of them. My original itinerary had included a trip across there, but too much time has been wasted on getting the van sorted. Besides I'll be seeing nothing but mountains in a short while.
    I headed up to Pike Place Market, established in 1907, the country's oldest continuously operating farmers market, said to be the soul of Seattle, to find hosts of freshly cut flowers, fruit and vegetables of abnormal sizes, shell fish and fish, the latter being passed about by fishmongers by throwing. This was a noisy, bustling and colourful market with a personality of its own, and it was easy to see how it has become a popular tourist attraction. Sadly I couldn't dawdle there since I had booked up a city tour and time was pressing.
    The tour guide was Mark, and when he heard who I was he went into raptures and told the rest of the bus about David Douglas, the botanist who had traveled across here to name a fir after him. It would take too many pages to cover all the things Mark talked about or showed us on the trip. His tour took us along the sea front, pointing out the many fine seafood restaurants, ferry terminals and piers. One amusing story he related to us was about the Edgewater Hotel, which was built over the water. The hotel was built in 1962 with the aim of being ready for a World Fair being held in Seattle. Sadly it wasn't completed until five days are the event had ended. The owners were peeved, but still wanted to open the hotel with flair, and came up with the gimmick of providing customers with rods and lines so that they could fish out of their windows. This facility was offered for many years. Apparently there is a famous photograph of the Beatles fishing out of the windows.
Fish in Pike Place Market
Flowers in Pike Place Market
Pike Street Entrance
to Pike Place Market
Waterfall Garden
Underpass Troll
    Our journey took us over one of the floating bridges that cross Lake Washington across to Bellevue and back again, presumably so that we call all say we have travelled over a floating bridge, and then headed across to Union Lake. On the way Mark pointed out sculptures under the bridge underpasses, produced by artists and local students. Apparently, the Seattle authorities wanted to stop drug addicts congregating in the underpasses, and someone came up with the brilliant idea that if you put sculptures there, folk would stop to take photos, and drug addicts don't like their photos being taken, and would thus move on. It worked. We stopped at one bridge underpass to see a concrete over wire sculpture of a troll. What makes this sculpture more interesting is the fact that a VW is buried in it (you can just make it out in the troll's left hand in the photo), and his eye is one of the hub caps. The VW was arranged to contain a time capsule for future generations.
Floating Houses on Union Lake
    Once at Union Lake, we could take a closer look at the floating boat houses, and they really were floating houses. You would need the odd million dollars to buy them, and the mooring charge would only set you back $700 - 800 per month.
    A short journey from there through the lush suburbs of Queen Anne Hill brought us to the locks that separate the freshwater Union Lake and Lake Washington from the sea, 20' below them. Adjacent to the locks is a dam to hold back the waters, where provision is made to allow smolt (young salmon) to safely travel from the freshwater environment to the lower saltwater sea section of the canal leading to the sea. Salmon 'stairs' are also provided to allow the salmon to return back up to the freshwater levels when they return to spawn. Well thought out.
    The final stage of the trip was over Magnolia, an extremely beautiful area with immaculate, landscaped gardens full of every tree and shrub conceivable. Flowers were in abundance, especially rhododendrons, the Washington State flower. The views from the tops across to the Sound were stupendous. We swept back down to downtown Seattle, passing a couple of cruise ships readying themselves for another tour up along the Alaskan coastline.
Stainless Steel Tree in the Sculpture Park
Sea Front Sculpture
Space Needle
    Mark wished be bon voyage as he dropped me off at the Space Needle, a 605 feet tower with a viewing platform from which I could get a broad view of the area. Now when the tower was first completed, a competition was put on for people to come up with a name for the tower. One old dear thought it looked like her knitting needles in a ball of wool. Thus the name Needle was taken up.
    Shortly after leaving the tower, I opened a door for an elderly lady and after the brief exchange of pleasantries she asked, "Are you Irish?" I explained I was from the north of England and my dialect could be confused with Irish, "To do with the Viking invasion of northern England and their impact upon the northern dialect", I said. "Oh, I'm sorry", she grinned. I responded by saying, "Don't worry about it, my mother-in-law was Irish, and she never understood a word I said". "Well I did", she retorted. We both burst into laughter.
    I knew that while in Seattle I ought to try the fish, and after seeking local advice, headed to McCormick's Fish House Bar. The McCormick's chain has Irish roots, and serves Guinness brewed in Pittsburgh. I was treated to an absolutely delicious meal of Canadian Silverhead on a bed of purple potatoes, onions and blackberries. Out of this world! As I sat at the bar enjoying my food, I got chatting with the chap next to me. He also knew the bartender well, so it turned into a three way conversation. I got the full run down on the types of fish to be found in the vicinity, and where they could be caught. I thus thought he must be local but he was from Cincinnati, and his work had brought him here; he was an airline pilot killing time till his 11pm flight home. The conversation focus shifted to my reason for being here. I outlined my trip which he enthused over and would love to take on board himself. He had done short treks with his family, and when he spotted on my itinerary that I would be crossing from Wyoming to Colorado near Rock Springs in a month's time, he bubbled forth with some time he had spent there with his family. Apparently the Green River runs through Flaming Gorge, and a small outfit there can kit you out with fishing gear and a boat for trout fishing, the boat allowing to gently drift along the emerald green waters. He passed on to me the details, and we parted company with him wishing me good luck.
The Original Starbucks
Contrasting Architectures
    It was a short walk to the Klondike National Park Museum. The stories told about the Klondike Gold Rush really fired up my imagination. In 1896, gold was discovered in northwestern Canada, near where the Klondike and Yukon rivers join. Almost a year later 68 rich miners with nearly two tons of gold landed at Seattle, and that started the stampede. There were three routes to get to the gold fields, all thwart with danger. The majority of miners opted for the long boat trip to Dyea, and then tackle the 33 mile Chilkoot Trail that linked tidewater Alaska to the Yukon River's Canadian headwaters. This trail was controlled by the Tlingit Nation who exacted tolls and offered their services as porters. The last obstacle of this trail was the Golden Stairs, a quarter-mile climb gaining 1000' in height. Miners had to form a long line, often standing for up to a day before they could file up the tortuous stairs in single file. Now this was made more complicated by the fact that the Canadian Mounties insisted that each miner have enough gear and provisions to last them for a year, and the yardstick was at least a ton. (The only place that could provide the miners with their tons was Seattle, so Seattle rapidly pulled itself out of the depression and many people made their fortunes.) The miners thus had to make 20-40 trips to carry their ton, taking up to three months. The weather wasn't exactly kind neither, and the bulk of the transportation was done in snow covered conditions. Once the river was reached, while the miners waited for the Artic winter to end and warmer weather to melt the frozen river, they built boats for themselves to sail with their load down to the gold fields. The techniques used by the miners were unconventional. The gold lay in frozen gravel just above the bedrock. Shafts were sunk by lighting fires to melt the permafrost, and then dig. The process was repeated until the strike layer was reached. Tunnels in the frozen gravel were made using a similar melt and dig technique. The gravel was extracted, put to one side at the top until summer when they could use conventional sluicing techniques to extract the gold. I was so engrossed in the accounts and photographs of the short lived gold rush that I completely lost track of time. I was kindly asked to leave since they were closing.
    I had time to take in one small art gallery before heading back for my train. There are plenty of small galleries to choose from in Seattle.
    As the train wound its way back up the coast, I had time to reflect on my first impression of Seattle. It is a thriving city, full of vitality, though the folk aren't laughing and joking as much as the San Franciscans. The folk from Seattle seemed to be a well worn breed with wise heads on their shoulders, and were always polite and helpful. There were nowhere near as many "homeless people" here than in San Francisco. This could be due to the fact that there are several hostels for the homeless in the city centre. Another thing that struck me about the city was its dedication to medicine. There are numerous cancer and kidney clinics, and many medical research centres.
    On reflection, a lovely day to get rid of the van blues.
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Seattle Seattle

Uploaded from Best Western Cascadia Inn, 2800 Pacific Avenue, Everett, WA 98201 on 23/05/10 at 00:35

Last updated 7.6.2010