Friendly Easygoing Seattle

Seattle is poised between the salt waters of Puget Sound and the fresh waters of Lake Washington. Beyond the waters lie two rugged mountain ranges, the Olympics to the west and the Cascades to the east.  Built on hills and around water, in a mild marine climate it is abundant in vegetation and also known as the Emerald City due to the greenery within and around the city.  The streets are pretty easy to navigate and we found The Fairmont Hotel easily.

Street in Seattle Street Art
Street in Seattle Street Art

I heard the most concise and humorous accounts of the history of Seattle on an underground tour of Seattle some of which I’ll try and share here but for the full experience – http://www.undergroundtour.com/about/history.html Essentially it comes down to a series of bad planning decisions followed by a serious accident that resulted in the city we see today:  The founding of Seattle is generally dated from the arrival of the Denny who along with 9 adults and 12 children set sail on the schooner Exact from Portland landing at Alki point November 13, 1851.  Though they were not the first settlers to come to the Puget Sound, instead of seeking out land to farm, like most who crossed the Oregon Trail, the Denny party was looking for a place to build a community.   As the story goes, Denny, unfamiliar with coastal towns staked out a large area for his community.  Unfortunately he did so during low tide so, a few hours later, the area was greatly reduced and what was still visible was closer to a tidal mud field.

 However it was a “Doc” Maynard who advocated they name the settlement after the Native American Indian chief named Sealth.  The Chief himself while encouraging cooperation with the settlers was apparently not that honoured by this gesture as one might think – perhaps he foresaw the devastating effect this influx of settlers would have on his people.
Chief Sealth courtesy of Pintrest
Chief Sealth
For years the people of Seattle lived with quite a few challenges.  For one it rained all the time.  A man by the name of Henry Yesler settled in Seattle bringing with him a saw mill – quite the invention at the time, although, the story goes he was not the inventor and the reason he was in Seattle was because he was on the run.  He had a wonderful plan to deal with the tide flats and regular flooding of the streets – just throw sawdust on the streets, lots and lots of sawdust.  Oddly convenient given that he had lots of spare sawdust.  But actually, it just made a kind of soupy sawdust mixture – on top of it the tides and rain wreaked havoc with the sewer system which was in essence a shoddy job of wooden tunnels beneath the buildings. The system backed up every day when the tide came in.  While locals soon learned to time their bowel movements to the tides, visitors to the city weren’t so fortunate.  Picture some innocent person sitting on the toilet when…. the tide comes in and ….pressure builds up (cue jaws theme tune) …until the luckless individual found themselves being blasted by a geyser of faeces.
Seattle ye old toilet
Seattle ye old toilet 
All the houses were built of wood and furthermore while, as I and my glutes can attest, the hills are currently steep with grades of around 18 to 22 degrees back then they were closer to 40 degrees.  Life was messy and literally an uphill battle in Seattle.  So, when a glue pot boiled over in a cabinet shop in 1889 starting the Great Fire of Seattle, despite the fact it burned down the entire business district and cost millions – it was actually the best thing to happen to Seattle.  Amazingly no one was killed and they decided not only to improve the water and sewer systems, but they also moved on an idea to “regrade” the city – in other words, they wanted to raise it the hell off the low-lying tidal flats.
Seattle underground skylight
Seattle underground skylight
They did this by simply building high walls either side of the streets.   Thus the ground or lower levels of buildings were now “underground”. The pic above shows more than a pretty feature in the sidewalk (and the fact I can’t keep my laces tied)  – this was actually a skylight for the underground passages. However it was unclear who’d pay for the pavements to be raised since at the time they formed part of private property.  While the leaders and the merchants argued, citizens were forced into a life threatening game of traffic and ladders.  While no-one was killed in the Great Fire, 18 individuals died falling from these or getting run over as they stepped from ladder to road before an agreement was reached and the cost of raising the sidewalks was shared 50/50.
Seattle Underground
Seattle Underground in what used to be the first floor of merchants shop

Our first morning in Seattle we were up early to get the Wolf Sanctuary.  Dave has always had a passion for animals and wildlife preservation and for 20 years battled to help as many as he possibly could on his own dime.    http://www.predatorsoftheheart.com/ . Enroute we stopped off at a charming small town called Anacortes.  Despite being small judging from the posters on display in the coffee shop we stopped at they’re quite the happening place with loads of yoga classes, music concerts, fairs and Montessori and Outdoor schooling appear popular too.  Oh and great coffee and a sense of humour as you can see below.

Anacortes Fidalgo Island Washington
Anacortes Fidalgo Island Washington

Wolves have always meant something special to me, as it happens, Pierre has also had a long time fascination with these beautiful animals.    I’m not sure why but I’ve always been drawn to them.  Perhaps it’s the fact they are so similar to dogs, who were my first and most loyal friends, but at the same time untameable and highly intelligent.   Dave and his volunteers emphasise that they have to respect these Wolves, it is not a matter of ‘training’ or ‘taming’ them but of earning their trust and working with them.   If they lose their trust they will never trust humans again. Besides, they’re a heck of a lot bigger than one might expect – there is no forcing, if a wolf won’t budge it won’t budge.  Wolf at Predators of the Heart

Wolf at Predators of the Heart

Sloth at Predators of the Heart

Before airbnb discovered Dave and helped him create the airbnb experience that he now has he was struggling to maintain his menagerie.  He even had to compromise on his ideals, selling or loaning out wolves for movies. This must have broken him – now however the income is enough for him to create better and better enclosures for his beloved Cougars and increase the area for the wolves as well as the other wildlife large and small, furry and scaly, that have found refuge at Predators of the Heart

Big Lizard at Predators of the Heart
Big Lizard at Predators of the Heart

It was such a privilege to spend time with these animals.  I left grateful. Grateful they exist.  Grateful there are people like Dave who will do everything they can to protect them and grateful to have had this opportunity.

Wolf Sanctuary Predators of the Heart
Wolf Sanctuary Predators of the Heart

After our Wolf encounter we returned to the city centre via Deception Pass, a strait which separates Whidbey Island from Fidalgo Island.  A pair of bridges known collectively as Deception Pass Bridge across Deception Pass.  There’s a leeway to park and one can wander down to the waters below.  It is deceptively pretty and peaceful.

Deception Bridge
Deception Bridge
Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass State Park
Deception Park State Park
Deception Park State Park – Rock Art by Pierre

Back in the city we wandered through the streets taking in the city streets. Like many cities Seattle has to deal with homelessness and drug problems.  I was shocked to see people, barely recognisable as such,  mixing up what looked like heroin.  There is a huge heroin problem not only in Seattle but throughout the States.  Still, it was shocking to see it so in your face, and to see what I came to think of as the walking dead, bedraggled, dirty, scarred people with visible needle bruises.  Then I questioned my degree of shock.  Was it in fact any more shocking than seeing children back home standing at the traffic lights, often high on tik or glue?  Was it any less of a problem if it was out of sight?   The bit that I missed while mulling this over and which shocked Pierre, is that we were not hassled, or harassed at all by anyone – not by addicts or homeless folk.  On perhaps 2 or 3 occasions at most someone muttered something about needing a meal as we walked past but there was just not that level of crime or harassment.  Furthermore they have passed a law making it illegal to harass the homeless or destroy their possessions.   There are the rainbow flags of the LBGQT community everywhere and when we later go to a police station I notice they have a similar sticker stating “This is a safe place – report hate crimes” . What I take from this is that this is no utopia, else why the need for a “safe place”  but apparently the community on the whole respect diversity.

On looking into it it seems Seattle is trying to emulate the approach used by the Netherlands and Portugal among others.  It’s an approach which makes sense to me on a humane level and the research and statistics show that while we’ll never totally eliminate drug addiction, these country’s seem to have achieved a level of success that benefits not only those suffering with addiction but also takes the strain off the police and legal system. Here are some articles if you want to read more:

What I described may sound awful but this was not the norm in Seattle – you’d find a couple of blocks with sad, worn out, used up people slouched in doorways among litter of all kind and then a more suburban block or two neat and tidy then a number of clearly upmarket  places absolutely pristine.  The division between the socio-economic class areas seems less rigid than in just about any other city I’ve been to.  There appears to be less petty crime and you don’t see cops all over the place.  The people are friendly and everyone just lets’ everyone be.  Even the architecture kind of all just hangs out together – I couldn’t help but notice a place called the Rainier club housed in a beautiful red brick building completed in 1904 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places – it stands dignified with modern glass and chrome high rises standing .

The Rainier Club Seattle
The Rainier Club Seattle

We enjoyed walking the city, yes, even the steep hills and by the time dinner rolled around we were ready for it.  We found ourselves in Seattles Olympic Sculpture Park -a cleverly designed Z shaped, urban park perched between a highway and industrial site at the waters edge. Seattles Olympic Sculpture Park There’s an exhibition pavilion for art and performances and three distinct areas; a dense collection of temperate evergreen trees,  some deciduous trees and a shoreline garden.   Interesting and beautiful sculptures are scattered throughout the park.  We followed the pedestrian path along with runners, dog walkers, pensioners strolling slowly along and families with children until we came to a row of benches where we sat to enjoy the fantastic views of Elliot Bay and of the sun setting over the skyline.

Space Needle as seen from Olympic Sculpture Park

As the sun set so we realised just how hungry we were and strolled until we came to The Edgewater Hotel with its’ restaurant Six Seven which has huge glass windows allowing us to continue enjoying the view of the ocean along with our food and cocktails.   The next morning was an early start, actually even  earlier than we expected after Pierre’s phone woke us at 3am and by 6am we were ready and setting out for our 2 hour journey to Mount Rainier National Park.

I was impressed at how I had everything ready until I used the park loos and realised I was wearing my road and not my trail shoes.   Fortunately for me the trails weren’t overly technical and I soon found my stride – we started at the Sunrise trail around 9am constantly awed by the vision of the glaciers and snow above us and the pretty alpine flowers at our feet.

Sunrise route
Sunrise route the start

 

 

We climbed up Burroughs, 1, 2 and 3 each taking us a little higher than the next until we found ourselves perched atop 3rd Burrough  with the impressive glacier and snowcapped Mt Rainier directly across from us – seeming close enough to touch.

Mt Rainier
Mt Rainier

We sat and enjoyed a snack while simply admiring Mt Rainier  close enough to hear it shifting!  An awe inspiring and slightly scary experience. Sitting there we thought the hard part was done, after this it would be literally all downhill, and, at first it was.  As we descended we saw the most perfect Alpine field below us, I fully expected Heidi and her goat to come running down the hill any moment.

Alpine field below Mt Rainier
Alpine field below Mt Rainier

Passing this field we started the descent down a quad breaking zig zag path taking us beneath shady pine trees.   With the pines above us, the smell of pine in the air and the river bubbling alongside it reminded me very much of Newlands forest.  Down, down, down…until even down became exhausting. Eventually we found ourselves in White River Camping site.  Bears live in the woods and so everything here was bear proof – even metal lockboxes in which people are told to place not only their food but also perfumes, soaps etc and bear proof bins.

Down to White River Camp
Down to White River Camp

We took the opportunity to use the benches and tables in the camp to grab a bite before facing the final 6km back to the start.  All 6km was uphill.  For more than half a kilometre we trudged, panted and sweated uphill while my quads groaned and moaned. Eventually we made it!  Grabbing a packet of crisps and a drink we headed the 2 hours back to the city centre.   That night we ate at the Purple Cafe for two reasons, it got great reviews and, equally importantly it was directly across from the hotel so we didn’t have to walk very far.  The positive reviews were well earned, a wine bar that does a tasting menu, even this wine drinking South African was blown away.  A great reward for two weary explorers.  It was so good we went back on our last night as well. http://www.purplecafe.com/

Seattle Starbucks large and busy
Seattle Starbucks large and busy

The next morning we got to lie in.  Bliss.  Then a stroll to go find a laundry – remember those hills of Seattle ?  Well my quads and glutes sure did that morning.   However As it turns out the laundry was conveniently located not far from Seattle Starbucks.  This is one of their very first stores and considered their flagship store.  Initially the bustle overwhelmed me – it’s huge as you walk in there’s a gift shop, in front the counter and along the sides chairs and tables, then a level below with another counter, more tables and chairs and the biggest coffee grinder I personally have ever seen.  Above a signboard similar to an airline info board tells you about that days special coffees.  However, once I had my coffee and a place to perch I was quite content to sit with the bustle around me watching the beans inch their way along tubes then gush into the giant grinder, slowly sifting through.  A very cool place to be on a cold day with a good book I thought.

Later that day with cleaner clothes we set off to Pike Place Market, a public market overlooking  the Elliott Bay waterfront in Seattle.  We went via an alley known for it’s gum wall, and to think teachers used to complain about a bit of gum under the desk – man this was totally gross.

Gumwall Seattle
Gumwall Seattle

Pike Place Market has, obviously, lots and lots of fish and seafood of course but also clothing, art, clothing – pretty much anything.  It was however the weekend before Labour Day and it was packed so when the hunger pangs got too bad we left the market to go and find food.

Pike Place Farmers Market Seattle
Pike Place Farmers Market Seattle

We planned to eat at a Vegan Restaurant called Plum Bistro that evening and decided to take an Uber.  Uber drivers are great sources of info on cool spots to hang out, especially when they’re students, and that’s how we found the Unicorn Bar.   It’s a carnival themed bar with really strong cocktails and we had a drink there while waiting for a table at Plum Bistro (they don’t take bookings).  The food was delicious and we left really sated but with room left for one more cocktail at the hotel bar.  The next morning we reflected on what a lovely evening it had been until, looking for a charger I realised our back pack was missing, worse, it had our passports in it!  Yikes.  I give myself and Pierre full marks for staying calm especially since we could not remember, did we have it when we left the restaurant?  Had we possibly left it in the Uber back? or was it in the cocktail bar?  A rush down to the concierge who checks the lost and found, then tries to find the guy who worked at the cocktail bar – no luck.  We contact Uber, the driver isn’t available and we leave a message while catching another to the restaurant.  We get there but, ‘no’ they didn’t find anything.  At this point we’re making contingency plans, accepting the worst we report it lost at the local police station.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By now resigned to the fact we’re going to have do what we need to to get to the embassy we decide what the heck and stop off to grab coffee at Bedlam coffee – it seemed appropriate given how the morning had started.  That stuff could jump start the dead.   As it turns out, we got back to the hotel to find that someone had dropped off the bag, with everything inside! Best moment ever.

Chichuly Gardens
Chichuly Gardens

After we recovered from our shock we set out to go and look at Chihuly Gardens.  Dale Chihuly, born 1941 in Tacoma, Washington and discovered glass while studying interior design at University.  After graduating he enrolled in the first glass program in the country and continued to study and enhance his skills until eventually he actually started teaching himself. He got a Fellowship and went to work at a glass factory in Venice, it was here he saw the team approach which informs how he works to this day.  The Gardens are a wonderland of beautiful combinations of glass blown blooms, shapes and chandeliers.  It’s a wonderland of colour and reflections and quite beyond being able to give true justice to with pictures or words.  This is something which really needs to be experienced. It was a lovely way to finish our time in Seattle …though we both agreed, there was so much to do in Seattle and surrounds that we could easily have stayed another couple of days.

 

 

1 thought on “Friendly Easygoing Seattle”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *