It’s January 2019 and American Airlines notifies us that our reward miles are expiring. We have a manner of days to decide where we might want to travel this year. Somewhere we’ve never been but always wanted to go that could be budgeted for six months down the road? The Pacific Northwest was calling our names. Planning our ten-day vacation quickly became a process of elimination for us to see as much as we could within a reasonable amount of driving time. Thus our trip commenced with two tickets to the “Emerald City” in Seattle, Washington.
The journey through four time zones began with driving to Chicago O’Hare Airport to our prepaid parking spot at Preflight Airport Parking that was much cheaper than the Economy O’Hare lot where we scanned our bar code to the rooftop level and took the free shuttle to our terminal. American Airlines booked us on an Alaskan flight so we checked in our bags with the kiosk and dropped them off on the revolving belt. With a couple hours to kill, Derek showed me his favorite airport spots including the dinner I still crave at Tortas Frontera. Our flight was delayed for three hours but took off at midnight for a direct destination. A few babies cried onboard as we flew over the Rocky Mountains in the wee hours. We landed just under four hours at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport and made our way to baggage claim where we were greeted by the most unusual cleaning robot who maneuvered itself to mop the floors and beeped if anything or anyone obscured its path. The airport robot was a welcoming prelude to our experiences in the Seattle hub.
For our two days, we nearly logged a half-marathon of steps each day walking the rolling hills of Seattle’s downtown neighborhoods. I packed raincoats that we never wore in the sunny 70-degree weather. There are so many tourist attractions in the Seattle area that we just couldn’t do them all. Instead, we focused on a few things that we enjoy doing and made the most of the time we had there. On our first morning, we awoke early and walked downtown for breakfast wondering where everyone was. We’re used to the hustle of Chicago and didn’t see many cars or people out and about in our neighborhood at 7:00 am. By the time we made it to Pike Place Market, we realized that all of the tourists were here. The historical Pike Place district spans nine acres of shops, vendors, and restaurants along the waterfront. Artisans, fine-artists, farmers, florists, fishermen, and vendors clamored for our attention displaying hand-crafted retail products. We could honestly window-shop for hours but we’re not crowd-people. One shop in particular that we took interest to was “8th Generation” featuring the art of local Native artists instead of “Native-inspired” artwork.
Following the Pike Place hotspot, we were in ideal proximity to visit the variety of stores along the main drag of 1st Avenue heading south to Pioneer Square. We love the Seattle culture embracing an outdoor lifestyle with running, hiking, and cycling shops on every corner. Our interactions with locals were very positive and engaging. We enjoyed speaking with artists about how they make their work and browsing custom athletic gear. Almost every business displayed a rainbow flag in their window in celebration of Pride Month. There were also one or two fascinating places like Metsker Maps of Seattle. In my dreams, I still visit the map shop on Pike and 1st Ave. where travel books, historic maps, city maps, hiking maps, and postcards are the lifeblood of the largest map store in the U.S. since 1950, as quoted from their website. An art gallery that piqued Derek’s interest was the Modernist Cuisine Gallery where detailed close-up photographs were portrayed with hyper-realistic drama. This gallery is dedicated to the work of food photographer, Nathan Myhrvold. We recognized his photographs from a cookbook that we previously checked out of our library.
E-bike scooters and runners chasing dogs darted around us as we made our way to the International District to visit family-owned businesses like Kobo at Higo, Daiseo, and Momo where we browsed products made in Japan such as kimonos, shower scrubbers shaped like cartoon animals, and high-quality erasers for Derek’s drawings. It can be noted that the beautiful neighborhoods with fast-paced working people in the Emerald city still has a thin line to the darker side of a Seattle’s homeless vying for attention on any given street if walking on foot as we did. Keeping our street smarts about us, we found a hidden oasis at UPS Waterfall Park where a 22-foot man-made waterfall brought a peaceful moment to our weary soles just outside Pioneer Square.
Closer to downtown, we fell in love with the Seattle Public Library featuring state-of-the-art design with technology. We took the self-guided audio tour through this glass fortress by calling the phone number displayed on each of the eleven floors. The ground level entrance has a conveyor belt return box that carries books over our heads past the escalators to the stacks. The third floor has a pop-up gift shop, cafe, and teen space. The level four meeting rooms are painted shades of red in the hallways and light blue inside the rooms. The Mixing Chamber on level five has hundreds of computers and a digital display of all the titles being returned across all the city branches. The top levels are quiet floors with library materials and the highest viewpoint looking out to the street and all the way down to the basement auditorium. As we took the escalators back to the street level, our eyes boggled at this public library.
When the city streets take a toll on you, then take a bike, bus, or Uber/Lyft to Washington State Arboretum. We were tired of walking so we changed into running clothes, hailed the latter and arrived to a rolling loop trail of the Pacific Northwest’s magnificent trees. The perimeter trail was two miles so we jogged with the map to take side routes into the trees to read about each identification that interested us. Admission was by visitor donation and the trails were absolutely beautiful. Of course, I also appreciated the cool sixty-degree weather and lavished in the scenery. My favorite tree is either the Redwood or the Japanese Maple. This side trip was well worth the effort.
Finally, our Seattle adventures commenced with the Seattle Center’s Chihuly Garden and Glass by the Space Needle and the Olympic Sculpture Park in the waterfront ferry district. The Chihuly Museum was a pre-purchased main attraction for the two of us so it will be featured in more detail in a separate post for the sake of time and space. On a clear, sunny day like we had the waterfront was a scenic location for viewing the not-so-distant Mount Rainier National Park. The Ferris wheel, aquarium, and seaside restaurants were pictured in a panorama of Seattle’s cityscape. We briefly toured the Olympic Sculpture Park on the sidewalk running path where the all too familiar fire truck red Calder stood out for us alongside the modern, larger-than-lifesize sculptures. In a high-tech city expanding upward with construction and populated with busy markets, sometimes the most beautiful attraction is the natural beauty of the white-capped mountain on the horizon of open water. Until we see it again, we look to this image on our wall as if we could step into the frame and feel the wind on our cheeks.
For your Consideration: A Short List of Alternative Attractions that were on the Back Burner
–Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum**(Highly recommended and we will feature in a separate post)
-Seattle Ferris Wheel
-30 min Ferry trip to Bainbridge or Vashon Island
-Ferry trip to Victoria, British Columbia
-Klondike National Historic Park- Free Admission, 9am-5pm
-Seattle Space Needle
-Bike Rentals (several, including the $1.00 Lime Bikes)
-Seattle Underground Tour
-Woodland Park Zoo
-Gum Wall in Pike Place Market
-Day trip to Mount Rainier (1 ½ drive)
Seattle Space Needle
“Chief Seattle of the Suquamish: A friend of the Whites, for him the City of Seattle was named by its Founders”