Go West Young Man... To Seattle!
Join us as we take some time in Seattle to tour a bit of the city and sample its excellent cuisine!
48 Hours in Seattle
We had decided to walk to the Seattle Hilton from the train station -- after all, it was only about a mile. As luck would have it, after four days of perfect weather, today had rain in the forecast... and just four blocks after we left the station, drops began to fall. But this was Seattle and the perception is that rain happens -- a lot! The walk in the drizzle wasn't bad, but I had not expected the hills that we encountered. And it was all... uphill, but at least it was warm!
When we arrived at the hotel a half-hour later (an easy walk), I'm certain that we looked like a couple of drowned rats. Thankfully we had called ahead and inquired of the possibility of an early check-in; when we got there, our room was ready! After some hot showers and a small libation -- to toast our arrival -- we were ready to explore! Although it was already late afternoon and more rain showers were predicted, we headed down toward the harbor area to see what was there. The downtown area is clean and inviting and only a small number of people on the streets carried umbrellas. It may have been my perception... or it may have been that I was simply excited to be in the far northwest corner of the United States for the first time, but it appeared to me as if everyone was smiling -- in spite of the weather.
Near our hotel (corner of 6th Ave and University) were many, many interesting places to dine -- some of which we would check out in more detail -- and many banking institutions. Starbucks, with its headquarters in Seattle, may have over 15,000 stores around the world but I saw at least one on every block we traversed; they were everywhere. Seattle seemed also to have a good deal of dining, art, theater and museums available, as well as an abundance of shopping for those so inclined. We had selected our hotel in part because of its proximity to the waterfront of Elliott Bay, as well as to the famed Pike Place Market and we planned to visit both areas tomorrow.
We also noticed a huge building on a corner with a sign that read "Benaroya Hall & Metro Center". The facility is home to two performance halls -- great for concerts and shows -- and sits directly above the BNSF Railway tunnel under downtown Seattle that is the primary rail corridor for the city. It is adjacent to the Metro Bus Tunnel used by Metro Transit, the name that almost two million area residents use to refer to the public transit agency serving King County, twice honored as the best-run large public transportation system in North America. Some great news for those needing to commute between the airport and downtown Seattle: Sound Transit light rail trains will join buses in the tunnel when the rail line begins operation between Downtown Seattle and the airport in 2009.
It was getting late and the rain was returning, so we headed back up the hill, stopping along the way to check out the Fairmont Olympic Hotel and its excellent restaurants. The Olympic is a premier destination, having held the designation as a AAA, Five Diamond hotel since 1984. Italian Renaissance era architecture, soothing ambience and more amenities than one could imagine await you. It was all calling out to me to remain in Seattle just one more night so we could enjoy some of their world-renowned luxury and impeccable service. But no rooms were available, so we decided instead to simply sample the fare in the pub-style setting of Shuckers, at one time in its early history a haberdashery; the unique tin ceiling and carved oak paneling contributing to the 1930's feel.
Shuckers, as you may have guessed is an oyster bar. "One of Seattle's oldest and most pre-eminent oyster bars", it features thirteen different varieties of oysters -- prepared nine different ways -- along with a wonderful selection of fresh fish and seafood and a number of microbrews from local artisans. We had the good fortune to have arrived at Happy Hour... and boy, what a terrific catch (pardon the pun). Oysters were $1 each, Salmon Sliders were $4, as was the Bay Shrimp Cocktail; an order of steamed baby clams was $3. We sampled the Shrimp cocktail and several each of four different kinds of oysters, washed down with a microbrew (for me) and a glass of Washington State Sauvignon Blanc for Yvonne. Three words describe well the experience: to die for! Thank goodness we had two hours before dinner... to digest our "hors d'oeuvres"!
We enjoyed dinner at the Top of the Hilton where there is intimate dining and stunning views of the city below, especially at night, and enjoyed fresh salmon, scallops and shrimp. I had barely finished dinner when a major case of the "tireds" hit me full force. All of the excitement, coupled with more walking than I had done in the last several months, told me that bed-time was nigh. We descended a single floor to our room and, without even considering a nightcap or news report on TV, I was in bed and asleep before my head could hit the pillow. As it was so aptly stated in the movie Gone With The Wind: "Tomorrow, Ms. Scarlet, is another day..."
Day Two in Seattle
The morning weather forecast was not looking good; it called for an increasing likelihood of rain that would become heavier as the day proceeded. We were still determined to explore the waterfront... After a hearty breakfast consisting of lots of smoked salmon, an omelet and fresh fruit, we headed back down the hill. I didn't count the steps, but the return trip back up them promised to be a doozey. I didn't care, except for the fact that it had already started to rain. A planned trip on the Elliott Bay Ferry was necessarily cancelled and so was our usual "sit at a table on the harbor and enjoy the day" plan when we explore a seaside location. But the Seattle Aquarium was only a few blocks away and we decided to take advantage of the opportunity. We strolled casually past some of the great restaurants available on the waterfront (Elliott's Oyster House, Waterfront Seafood Grill, Ivar's Seafood Bar and Six Seven) and finally ducked in to the Aquarium just as the rain started to intensify again.
The Aquarium was not all that busy for a Friday, but the number of young children was amazing... perhaps because it was raining. It was a moot point, since the rain had brought us inside as well and exhibits were fascinating and interesting. I was really impressed by Emery, the Giant Pacific Octopus. At an estimated 2 years of age, he was already 6 feet long and almost 60 pounds! Almost as neat was the "Life on the Edge" exhibit where one can actually reach out and touch creatures like starfish and sea anemones. There was a huge dome of fishes to walk beneath and exhibits of marine birds and mammals too. We had spent over two enjoyable hours at the Aquarium before we realized we needed to move on... and back up the many flights of stairs to the Pike Place Market!
Pike Place Market
For anyone aspiring to achieve (former) Bears' running back Walter Payton's extreme athletic prowess, the stairs from the waterfront up to 1st Avenue in Seattle would definitely be the place to train. We had climbed the eight or nine long flights after departing the Aquarium, only to find ourselves literally lost in a four-story tangle of shops just behind our intended destination of Pike Place Market. After retracing our steps -- and hundreds of stairs back down -- we re-climbed another set one block to the south and finally found our way back to the Market. Only later did we realize that there was a connection between the two shopping venues... we had simply missed it!
In any case, for those who have visited the Market, you certainly are aware of what an amazing place it is. For those headed to Seattle, it is a destination that you should not miss. Of course there is the famed fish market where salmon and every other variety of fish get tossed through the air to a chorus of chanting and cheering... by both the employees and the onlookers. But there are also hundreds of other open-air markets (under roof) that offer the freshest of fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, candy, breads, jewelry, paintings, clothing and more. Both sides of the street are lined with vendors and samples are constantly given out. No suitcase could ever hold what I would have liked to bring back, but I did secure a bag of dark-chocolate-covered cherries (excellent!) and a large piece of smoked salmon -- some of the absolute best I have ever had -- to bring home to Illinois.
The Tasting Room
I was shocked to look at the time on my cell phone; our time in Seattle was almost up. We had almost given up trying to locate what may have been the one wine tasting venue in town when we literally stumbled upon it. Just up Post Alley (the street is halfway between Pike Place and 1st Ave) was The Tasting Room, featuring wines from six Washington small production wineries. Friendly owners and a quaint and soothing atmosphere made this a perfect almost last stop. After sampling a Chardonnay, Riesling, and Chenin Blanc, we decided to take a bottle of Chenin back to the Hotel and enjoy it while winding down.
Dinner that evening consisted of another stop at Shuckers -- I couldn't resist -- for some more oysters, calamari, steamers and Washington State Sauvignon Blanc. We also took advantage of the Managers Reception in the Executive Lounge at the Hilton where we munched on more fresh, smoked salmon and some great cheese, accompanied by some Chenin from The Tasting Room, before retiring to our room to pack and talk at length about about what a friendly, welcoming and energetic city Seattle is.
While waiting for Downtowner-Airport shuttle to Sea-Tac Airport the following morning, we chatted briefly with an extremely likeable and friendly employee from the Hilton, who told us he had lived there all of his life and loved Seattle. We could easily understand why. Waiting for our plane, we watched out the window as the skies opened up; Yvonne and I both smiled at the fact that the worst of the rain had at least held off until after our visit was over.
We flew Alaska Airlines (a great ride and cheaper fares than any other airline) to San Francisco, where we spent a couple of relaxing days with my sister and celebrating our anniversaries (both in October) before flying home and back to "reality". I can honestly say that I would repeat the trip in a heartbeat: certainly for the train ride, but also to revisit what is now listed as one of my favorite cities. It's a destination to which you will definitely want to go!