Random thoughts during our fun-filled but so far fairly harried vacation in Washington State:
- Seattle differs from Washington, D.C. in one important way: it is a real city. Washington, D.C. is, like everything else about of federal government, a political construct. This is obvious from the way the roads are laid out so meticulously and the covenants (such as building heights) are so carefully regulated. Seattle is a big, honking city that has all the essential ingredients of a real city: very tall buildings, a distinct culture, daunting traffic and the feeling that you are someplace wholly unique. In short, except for the rain that inhabits it much of the year (which in some ways makes it unique) it has a lot to recommend it for anyone searching for a real city to live. It also has huge and picturesque mountain ranges on both sides (the Olympic Mountains to the west, the Cascades to the east, both still snowcapped), huge and obnoxious bays and sounds, hills that would challenge a San Franciscan, a quality newspaper, and a distinctly Asian influence. Attention Young Urban Professionals: Seattle is probably where you want to live.
- The Seattle-Tacoma Doubletree Hotel is amazing, beautiful and enormous, with extended wings, glass everywhere, a large outdoor heated pool and an outdoor Jacuzzi, all available at no extra charge. It feels more like a four star hotel than a three star one. The Asian theme works really well and makes it feel singular instead of your run of the mill hotel. If you have to spend a night at an airport hotel, this is the place. Even better: never heard a jet landing or taking off and woke to see mist rising over a picturesque pond outside our hotel room window.
- The Sheraton Hotel in downtown Seattle is very much a no-nonsense four-star hotel which means it is really nothing special, just a very nice, very clean and very well run hotel, which is par for the course for hotels in its league. We enjoyed spending two nights there and being close to everything, including being just two blocks from where we rented our car.
- Yes, take the Seattle Underground tour. It is worth every penny and the humorous and quirky tour guides make it very interesting. It seems that every nascent city has to burn down at least once, and the same was true with Seattle. At least Seattle learned its lesson and rebuilt right. It did so by relocating dirt from the slopes down into the city, and basically burying the original city. It’s still there if you take the tour. And to think that the slopes used to be even steeper. Yikes! To our tour guide Amelia: you were terrific!
- When you want to take a ferry across the Puget Sound, it’s a really good idea to have a reservation. We played the role of silly tourist and attempted to take the Port Townsend to Keystone ferry on a Sunday afternoon only to find out the tickets we bought did not actually mean we could cross the Puget Sound the same day. Instead, we could wait three days, drive south and around the peninsula, or wait in line for three or more hours and maybe get one of the standby slots. We elected to drive to Bremerton and wait there more than an hour instead. Despite the hassle, it was worth it to take a ferry ride across the Puget Sound to revel in the view approaching Seattle by sea and feel the wind course through my hair on an otherwise windless day.
- Every city has something so unique you simply have to see it. In Seattle it is not the Space Needle (which has a great view and was shamelessly imitated in San Antonio), but the Pike Place Market along the waterfront. It reeks of authenticity and beauty. Blocks worth of beautiful flowers in baskets line the tops of the market. Inside, aside from the huge farmers market selling super fresh as well as eclectic fruits and vegetables are dozens of neat and independent little storefronts full of superior or eclectic products. Any place with hole in the wall booksellers is okay by me and there was not a chain store in sight. To quote McDonalds: I’m lovin’ it.
- The Seattle Aquarium is nice but relatively small. You can find much more worthwhile aquariums to visit elsewhere.
- I can recommend Anacortes, a lovely town about an hour north of Seattle as well as the Autumn Leaves Bed and Breakfast, where we are spending a second night. Roger and Jean are the perfect hosts. Their place is beautifully furnished, immaculately clean and our breakfast was gourmet. Roger even carried my luggage in. If you want to see whales, I can also recommend Island Adventures. We saw plenty, though most from three hundred feet away, as close as boats are allowed to come to the whales. Toward the end as we were heading back one of the whales broke the rules and breached the surface close to our boat, sending us whale watchers into ecstasy. A calm Salish Sea, the beautiful San Juan Islands splayed around us and lovely weather made our six hour journey with one hundred or so others very memorable.