Monday, October 6th, 2014

I’m writing up some detailed drivel about each day of our vacation in the Pacific Northwest. I already posted some drivel about our last day in Seattle, because it was fresh in my mind and I sort of do things as they occur to me, so doing it backwards isn’t really too much of a stretch.

Just now this very second I posted some more drivel about our second to the last day in Seattle. I guess I’ll just go ahead and post the whole thing backwards.

Also, I’m posting them retroactively. That means, I’m posting them as if I were writing them on the day we did all the stuff I describe. That’s because I often use this blog like my emergency back-up memory, searching it for things that I vaguely remember happened to me but I don’t remember the details and I certainly don’t remember when it happened. It makes me feel better when I can see what date it happened on. Hopefully this won’t be too confusing to you. I suspect it will be confusing as hell to me at some time hence, but right now it seems to make sense to do it this way.

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Saturday, October 4th, 2014

high above the cloudsAlarm clocks. They don’t belong on a vacation. If it were up to me, we wouldn’t have brought a single one along, but they’re kinda built into our smartypants phones. Can’t get them out. Also, we needed them today because we wanted to get up early enough to shower, get to the airport, get through security and still have time left over for breakfast, so we had to endure being rudely awakened by alarm clocks. It sucked.

And it sucked in a very special way because what we both most wanted to do this morning was sleep until eight or nine o’clock, get out of bed long enough to pop a couple of aspirin and drink a river of water, then crawl back into bed for maybe another hour or so. Turned out we might have had one beer too many the night before.

After our morning ablutions we packed our bags with the greatest of care, not wanting a replay of our last vacation when we discovered at the airport check-in desk that our bags were each twenty or thirty pounds overweight, which would cost about a hundred bucks total if we wanted to check them through that way. We opted  to drag them to an untrafficked corner of the airport, crack open all our luggage, throw out the stuff we could leave behind and redistribute the bottles and glasses and other souvenirs we had collected along the way.

Wasn’t gonna happen this time. The cups and bottles and various nick-knacks got evenly split between all the bags and liberally padded with lots and lots of dirty clothes. When we were satisfied that each of them had about the same heft, the big bags slightly more than the small bags, we buttoned everything up and dragged the whole kit and kaboodle down to the lobby.

The front desk booked a town car to take us to the airport. They had a special deal with a private contract driver to take guests to the airport in his big shiny black Cadillac Escalade for a flat forty-dollar rate. And a good thing, too, because Sea-Tac Airport is hell and gone from downtown Seattle. Taxi fare would have been astronomical. We thought about taking the light rail at five dollars a head but stopped thinking about it when we got to the part where we’d have to drag our bags three blocks to Westlake Center, carry them down to the station platform, wrestle them on and off the train and finally drag them to the check-in counter at the airport. When it came down to that or paying somebody else to do it, it was a no-brainer.

Check-in at the airport was uneventful. Our plan, same as before, was to check the two big bags and take the two wheely bags as carry-ons. All well and good until we got to security where my wheely bag was singled out for special attention by the TSA agents. “Is there anything sharp in here that will cut or poke me?” the agent asked as he prepared to swab the bag for explosives. I must look like an especially determined seditionist because they’re always swabbing my bag for explosives. I told him there wasn’t anything in there that would hurt him and he did the swabby thing. No explosives. So I am still free to commit sedition, just not with a Molatov cocktail.

“There appears to be a large bottle of liquid in here,” an agent said, unzipping a compartment and extracting a one-liter flip-top growler full of beer that I’d completely forgotten about. Oh. That. Yeah. Well, that’s a little too much beer to chug right here on the spot, so I guess I’ll check that bag after all.

The TSA agent escorted me out of the security area back to the check-in desk where a ticketing agent helpfully walked me through the process again (sheesh!) so I could go through security screening again and reunite with B. She thought it was pretty darned funny that I forgot about the growler. I was mostly relieved she wasn’t mad that my doofishness forced us to pay to check another bag.

We found coffee and donuts at a Seattle’s Best Coffee shop near our gate, somewhat ironically, as it was the only one we saw anywhere in or near Seattle. Every other coffee shop was either a Starbucks or an independent shop. And there were so many Starbucks shops it made me wonder how the independent shops managed to hang on.

Our flight departed a little more than a half hour late because almost all the airline schedules were still effed up after the fire in Chicago the week before. The delay made passengers very grumpy. One after another, they tromped up to the desk to ask just what the heck was going on. As the scheduled departure time approached, they began to gather in a mob around the gate, boarding tickets in hand, sour looks on their faces. The gate agents got on the horn to assure everyone that they would board the plane as soon as possible, and that we would all make our connecting flights in Chicago. The crowd began to break up, grumbling as they did, but it was about even money that they might have mutinied if one of the passengers had shouted, “I know how to fly that plane!”

As it got later and more people stomped up to the desk, the agents had to make several more announcements, getting just a tad snippy about it toward the end. They also tried a gambit I’ve never seen before to get us out of there and into Chicago on time: At one point, the agent asked people to valet-check their carry-on bags to help speed the boarding process. B volunteered to check her bag. She was the only one.

Note that all of our luggage is checked through to Madison now. B has a bag with her Kindle, some bananas and one or two other items, and I’ve got a book bag with some books and cookies, but that’s it.

We landed in Chicago about twenty minutes before our connecting flight was due to depart but the pilot spent a solid ten minutes taxiing in a big circle around the airport to get to our gate. While we were getting the nickle tour of every taxiway at O’Hare, B called the airline to ask them to hold the connecting flight, but the answer she got boiled down to “sucks to be you.” To be fair, they offered to book us on the first flight out the next day, an option that sucked, so I guess they were right. It did suck to be us.

We raced through the airport and made it to the gate just in time to press our noses against the window and watch them roll the jetway back from the airplane. Maybe we should’ve banged on the glass and shouted at them, made a great big scene. That might’ve been satisfying, but it probably wouldn’t have gotten us on the plane.

B and I gravitated to a neighboring gate to ask the agents what we could do and found they were helping a couple other passengers who had also missed the connection to Madison. The agents found a later flight with another airline and helped get the passengers booked on it, so we hung around to see if they would do the same for us. While we were waiting, B called the airline again and again she was told, and I’m gisting again, “sucks to be you.”

When the two other passengers were done, the agent who was helping them had to go staff another gate, and a young guy who admitted he was “still getting used to it” tried to book seats for us. He seemed to know how to call up our reservations on his computer screen, but he had to stop passing agents to help him with all the rest of the codes to book us on a flight with another airline, so it took twice as long as it took the other agent. Still, he got us booked on an eight o’clock flight out, and that made him a hero to us.

The flight left Chicago and arrived in Madison on time, but it was anybody’s guess where our bags ended up. Somehow, even with those bar-coded tags they put on each and every bag, the airlines do not track your bags the way that, say, UPS tracks a package. They cannot click a few keys on their desktop computer and tell you where your bags are. Most of the agents we talked to on the phone and in person guessed our bags were most probably still in Chicago, but almost nobody could say for sure when the bags would get to Madison or how or who would have them when they got here. After about a half-hour we gave up asking because it was getting late and we were hungry. Coffee and doughnuts were all we’d eaten that day.

Ale Asylum, one of the best brewpubs in town, is just down the road from the airport. That’s where we headed as I pulled out of our parking spot and noticed that the steering seemed a little mushy. My heart sank a little bit. No. It couldn’t be. But yes, it was. There was no denying it when we heard the flub-flub-flub of a flat tire. So after all those delays and the missed connection and the lost bags, the last thing I had to deal with today was changing a flat tire.

Opps. No, it wasn’t. It was the taxi driver who nearly rear-ended me as I pulled out of the parking lot.

pacnw day 9 | 10:54 am CST
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Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Port of SeattleWe took our sweet time getting ready to hit the town this morning, not bothering to even get out of bed until about eight. HOW COULD WE BE SO LAZY? It’s just this simple: Today was our last day on vacation in Seattle. Heck, it was our last day of vacation. We were not going to rush it for anything.

We’d decided the night before to eat breakfast at The Athenian in the Public Market. That’s the restaurant where Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner went for lunch in Sleepless in Seattle, when they were talking about dating and whether or not Tom Hanks had a cute butt. (“I don’t know. Are we grading on a curve?”) The stools where they planted their butts are marked by plaques, but we didn’t sit in them. The hostess took us upstairs and sat us in a booth where we had a killer view of the Seattle Wheel, the port and the ferry terminal. The sky was clear and the sun was shining, so it was a way better place for breakfast than the stools at the counter downstairs. My butt would have to wait until another time to meet the chair that once cradled the butt of Tom Hanks.

I ordered what turned out to be the gooiest cinnamon roll ever. Ever! There are no cinnamon rolls anywhere else covered with that much gooey sweetness. You may think you’ve eaten a gooier cinnamon roll, but you’re wrong. It wasn’t even half as gooey as the one I ate. I couldn’t pick it up because the sweet goo had cemented it to the plate. I had to cut it into little pieces and then pry each little piece up with a knife and fork. It was really gooey!

B ordered a breakfast sammie on an English muffin that turned out to be two breakfast sammies on two English muffins. The menu didn’t make that as clear as it might have.

After we put all that breakfast away and washed it down with plenty of strong restaurant coffee, we went to do some basic souvenir shopping, starting just across the street with three kinds of smoked salmon and some beer for Tim. He deserved all that and more for volunteering to check in on our Little Red House and catsit Boo while we were away.

To get a gift for B, we went a little further down the block to stop at a fabric shop where she could buy a swatch of fabric printed with Seattle landmarks that she found on-line and dearly wanted to add to her collection. They still had some and it was practically sitting at the front door as she walked in, but there was no way she could just walk in and out of a fabric shop, so she happily spent about a half-hour wandering the aisles looking at all the other goodies.

The fabric shop was in a building with a whole lot of other souvenir shops at the street level. One level below them is The Pike Brewing Company. If you go to Seattle and you have time to visit just one brewpub, this would be a good pick. The beers are great, but the collection of beer stuff is eye-popping. Even if you’re not into beer or advertising or bottling or whatever, you will be agog at the sheer size of this collection. Seriously. Every wall has a framed poster or beer coaster or collection of bottle caps. Every level surface is taken up by a beer stein or a giant bottle of beer or a grinning little dancing bear holding mugs of beer. Really, it’s almost too much to describe. You won’t believe it until you see it. If you don’t want a beer, they’ll still let you in to wander around and gape in slack-jawed wonder, but if you drink beer I would have to recommend that you partake of at least one of their wonderful brews while you’re there. I was partial to Monk’s Uncle, their tripel.

The Pike Brewing Co

I mention The Pike because, while B roamed the aisles of the fabric shop, dreaming whatever happy dreams quilters have about fabric, I waited ever so patiently for The Pike to open. Okay, not really all that patiently. I could see them getting ready to open. The street level I was on was a sort of mezzanine that surrounded the tavern below, so all I had to do was lean over the rail and I could scope out almost the entire bar. And they’ve made their brewing equipment into a kind of modern art sculpture. The grain is lifted from the basement on a bucket lift to a big stainless steel bin that was high over my head, and the mash tun was on a platform at my level. The boil kettle was on the floor below and a big batch of brew was boiling away while the brewmaster stood by checking messages on her smart phone. I’d be lying if I said that all this didn’t make me thirsty.

But I went straight to the section with all the merchandise first when they finally opened, to get some bottled beer to take home. They had a great-looking flip-top growler I really wanted, too, but I wasn’t sure it would fit in our luggage, so I had to satisfy myself with a couple bombers of our favorite beers. Then, since we were there and it was open anyway, we bellied up to the bar where I asked what was on tap from the casks and ended up with a glass of cask-conditioned scotch ale. Wow. Really good. B joined me in a glass of scotch ale from the tap and we passed a happy half-hour or so there, planning the rest of our day, a trip to Fremont and Ballard to the north of Seattle to visit some of the area’s fine brewpubs.

Our first stop was going to be the bridge over Troll Avenue to look for the Fremont Troll but our visit to The Pike had made it necessary for me to stop sooner, so we made a detour to visit Fremont Brewing first. Looks like it was a garage or filling station before they refurbished it in the industrial chic-look that’s so popular in breweries run by very hip young people. That’s not meant to be a slam; I wake up every morning wishing I was a hip young person brewing beer in a refurbished filling station. They’re living the dream, as far as I’m concerned. The forecourt had been transformed into a beer garden with lots of freshly-varnished picnic tables that was patrolled by a black and white cat who deigned to stop just once to say hello to us, then moved on. They didn’t pour tasters here, so we had to order full-sized pours: B had the Dark Star Stout, creamy and sweet, and I had a saison called Harvest Ale, very refreshing. We passed a relaxing half hour on the patio with our beers in the warm afternoon sun trying to tempt the cat to come back, but no luck there.

Our search for the Fremont Troll lasted only a few minutes, because he’s at the end of the street that runs under the bridge and the street is called Troll Avenue. Not hard to find. I’m not sure why the Fremont Troll became so famous. Probably for the same reasons that the gum wall became famous: It’s just one of those things that somehow caught on with the visitors. Every tourist who comes through this part of town has to visit the Troll. There were maybe a dozen people there when we walked up, and in the ten minutes or so that we were there, maybe a dozen more came by. Nearly every one of them did what we did: Pose next to the troll so they could take a picture and post it on teh intarwebs. There must be millions of photos of the Troll on Facebook by now. Here’s one of them.

Somehow we found our way from the Troll to the right bus stop to get to Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company for a flight of tasters. Bad Jimmy’s is a 15 bbl operation run out of what looks like a U-Store-It unit with a few tables and a short bar behind the roll-up door and some patio seating just outside. The owner smartly picked a location behind three local restaurant / bars that served pub food, and he encouraged visitors to get food from them and bring it over to the patio to eat with their beers. Wish I had those kind of smarts. We picked out four tasters to try: Strawberry Mango Heffe, Coffee Coca Vanilla Porter, Red Ale, and Cascadian Dark Ale (known to the regulars as CDA).

Hilliard's Beer

From there we went to Hillliard’s Beer, a much bigger operation than any of the other places we visited today. They operate out of what looks like a cleaned-up warehouse; every surface upwards of the floor bears a blinding coat of whitewash and the big open windows let in lots of light that’s reflected off the stainless steel tanks and freezer walls surrounding the open, airy corner of the building where the bar is set up. There’s plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. They served no food, but a food truck called Kiss My Grits was visiting while we were there. Hilliard’s did not serve tasters so we each ordered a full glass of beer. B had Original Singe, a red ale with a smoky flavor, and I had Chrome Satan, a refreshing brown lager.

Then on to NW Peaks Brewery, maybe the smallest operation we saw today, run out of what looked like a very small storage space. The tap room bore a strong resemblance to a basement man cave: There was a bar set up alongside a walk-in freezer and a small group of seats. Their brews are all named after peaks in the Pacific Northwest. We took our tasters outside and sampled them at one of the three or four tables in the asphalt lot out front, surrounded by pony kegs. Enchantment Saison and Redoubt Red very clear and crisp; Stuart Stout was a nice, full-bodied brew.

Stoup BrewingStoup Brewing was another placed that looked like it had taken over a rehabbed warehouse. There were just a few tables inside and quite a few more on the forecourt just outside the rolled up garage door. No food but again a visiting food truck was doing a brisk business selling freshly-made lumpia from the curb. We got tasters of Stoup Porter, Bavarian Hefeweizen and Northwest Red.

We got halfway up the block before I realized I’d left my bag at Stoup! B went on while I went back as quickly as I could, breaking into a trot when I realized our car keys were in that bag. It was still there, untouched under the table where I’d left it. Catastrophe averted.

I easily caught up with B at Reuben’s Brews, our last stop of the night. I couldn’t tell what the building might have been before. The area that was open to the public might have been a loading bay in a previous life. The public area was also the working part of the brewery; the brew kettle and mash tun were bolted to the floor right beside the big roll-up garage door. The serving bar was off to the right as we came in, a few places to sit off to the left and in the back, and more tables on the driveway out front. The place seemed to be enormously popular; there were lots of people inside and out. We ordered just two tasters here as we were already kind of hammered, but there were three guys at the table beside ours who ordered twelve tasters. Yes, they have that many beers on tap. If we’d known, we might have started there and worked our way south, instead of the other way around. We tried Koyt, a light-bodied brew, and Export Foreign Stout, a very robust brew.

We went back to Serious Pie for dinner again. It’s pizza I could never get tired of. Really, I could eat there every night.

pacnw day 8 | 4:37 pm CST
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Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

After sleeping the sleep of the well-traveled tourist and soaking myself in a hot shower long enough to feel awake and alive again, I stepped out of the room while B cleaned up and ventured downstairs to seek coffee. Our accommodations at this hotel are simple but not uncivilized: There is a coffee shop sharing space right next to the lobby; I had to stand in line blinking in the harsh light of day for maybe five or ten minutes while the baristas worked their magic at the espresso machine before I could order the plain black cuppa joe I so craved.

Biscuit Bitch Seattle WAWe looked over our breakfast options the night before and decided the place we most wanted to visit this morning was Biscuit Bitch. There were a lot of good reviews from visitors posted on-line who said they had the best biscuits in town, but I’m not gonna lie: I wanted to go there because I liked the attitude. I liked it even more once I got there and saw that the breakfast sammie was named the “Bitchwich.”

My Darling B is a big fan of biscuits & gravy (or, as it’s known at this particular breakfast place, a “Straight-Up Bitch”). Back at home, whenever she finds a place she hasn’t been before that serves her favorite breakfast dish, she puts in an order to give it a try and see how it stacks up against all the other places she’s visited. This eventually morphed into an eternal quest to find the best biscuits & gravy anywhere. Obviously, she won’t be visiting Seattle any time soon just to satisfy a craving, but she still likes to try them wherever we go. She gave these high marks. I was very pleased with the breakfast sammie on a biscuit and ate every bite, washed down with plenty of strong, boiled coffee.

After breakfast we went back to the Public Market to take a longer look at the things we might have missed the night before when everything was winding down. And a good thing we did, too, because we would have missed the first Starbucks, the fish market, the flowers and all the artsy-fartsy crafts. Not sure what I can say about those that wouldn’t be boring. The first Starbucks still sells coffee, but of course it’s mostly a tourist trap now. Aside from taking your selfie in front of the “First Startbucks” store, you can get one of a dozen styles of First Starbucks coffee mugs, First Starbucks t-shirts, and I don’t know what all else. There are boxed of merch stacked up to the ceiling. You should probably go see for yourself.

Having been there & done that, it was off to find the gum wall.

Gum Wall Post Alley Seattle WA

The gum wall is just what it says on the box: Many moons ago, someone – I like to think it was a passing traveler who wanted to leave a memento of his visit, but I don’t think we’ll never know for sure – stuck a wad of gum to the wall in the part of Post Alley that ducks under the Public Market. He probably did something weird or unusual with it: Maybe she stuck it to the nose of one of the faces on the many handbills posted in the alley,, or he used it to stick a note to the wall, or she spelled her name with a particularly large wad of gum. Whatever the first passing stranger did, it attracted the attention of the next passing stranger who thought it was pretty funny, or took it as a challenge, or just wanted to leave his mark, too, and he stuck his wad of gum right next to it. Then a couple more people strolled by and stuck their gum to the wall. And several more people. And so on.

After what I can only guess have been years and years of people doing that, about fifty feet of Post Alley has been transformed into an amazing cave of grossness so awesome that people from all over the world seek it out to take photos of themselves dabbing the wall with their own chewing gum. Why they would want to come into contact, however briefly, with even the tiniest part of all that saliva-soaked gum is beyond me. I wouldn’t have missed seeing it, but just being there for ten minutes made B & I want to take a week-long shower in hydrogen peroxide.

Not everyone in Seattle is thrilled with the gum wall. One of the building tenants taped signs to the insides of their windows that said, “No gum on the windows.” Not “please,” just “NO.” Defiant gum-chewers have blotted out the “NO” and dabbed the windows with gum. Call me an asshole, but I thought that was kind of funny.

We walked almost to the end of Post Alley but stopped short because it’s pretty boring down at the far end, about as boring as the near end would be if there wasn’t gum stuck to the walls. Fortunately there was a stairway that gave us a shortcut to the street above so we could cross town to the Westlake Center, where we caught the monorail to Seattle Center.

B&O on the Space Needle Seattle WAWhat’s at the Seattle Center? Well, the Space Needle, for one. I almost didn’t want to do the Space Needle, after the Great Empire State Building Fiasco of 2012, but My Darling B really wanted to go up there so I went along, too. Thank goodness it was nothing like the experience we had at Empire State Building. We paid through the nose for a thirty-second elevator ride to the top, but once we were up there we found the observation deck was not thronged by angry masses of pushy adults hoisting bawling, miserable children over their heads. Instead, it was oddly like the imaginary observation deck of the Empire State Building you see in Sleepless in Seattle. Tourists strolled around, inside and out, some in quiet contemplation of the view, some goofing off with their camera phones, but almost all having a good time. I liked it a lot. I think B did, too. And we had beautiful weather for it.

The revolving restaurant on the lower floor, called SkyCity, was a slightly different story. B wanted to sit down for a drink, but they don’t do just drinks. A greeter meets you at the door to tell you flatly that you have to spend at least twenty-five bucks on food and drink if you want a seat in the revolving restaurant, and if you decide to sit down, your waiter reminds you within minutes after greeting you that there’s a twenty-five dollar minimum. But B really wanted to sit in the revolving restaurant, so, to get the complete tourist experience, we asked for a table and racked up a sixty dollar bill for noshies and a couple drinks, just to tick the Space Needle well and truly off our bucket list.

Well. I can tell you that, unless you order an entree at SkyCity, the staff will let you know in no uncertain terms that you, as far as they’re concerned, are little more than an offshoot of the Clampett family, and they are serving you only because it would be gauche to eject you. No, I take that back, I saw them round up a bunch of Amish people by shouting across the heads of the diners. I think they would’ve broken out the lassos if the whole lot hadn’t immediately returned to the lobby. Our waiter barely spoke to us after taking our order, and pointed out once more than we would not be entitled to free drinks unless we got the entree. Okay, feller. Whatever. My Darling B still got to twirl all the way around the Space Needle in your restaurant, so sniff your nose at us all you want, just do it way over there. Bye now.

After visiting the Space Needle gift shop, because it wouldn’t be a tourist trap without a gift shop, we went right around the corner to visit the Chihuly exhibit. I honestly don’t know what to say about this, other than Dale Chihuly sure knows how to make brightly-colored glass curlicues. That’s about all I got out of it. My Darling B, on the other hand, couldn’t get enough. “Maybe because I like beads. They’re like big glass beads.” Can’t argue with that; they really are. We spent about an hour there, me on a bench mostly, B happily snapping one photo after another, or getting me to pose for photos in front of a big glass curlicue, before we hopped on the monorail to return to the city center.

We made a quick stop at the hotel to freshen up, with an additional stop at the street cafe for our afternoon pick-me-up of espresso (me) and green tea latte with pumpkin art on top (B) before we hoofed it back down to the vicinity of the Public Market to meet a couple old buddies of mine from way back in the glory days of my Air Force career. They treated us to a ride on the Seattle Great Wheel, and we treated them to a nightcap at Von’s 1000 Spirits. If you’re going to have a nightcap, by the way, Von’s is the place to get it. Just sayin’.

pacnw day 7 | 10:05 pm CST
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Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

My Darling B and I on the ferry across Puget Sound to BremertonFirst thing in the morning we did after cleaning up and dressing was head down to the lobby for some waffles and a steaming hot cuppa joe at the coffee shop next to the lobby. Wake me up! I had waffles slathered with Nutella and maple syrup; how decadent is that?

Besides breakfast, the first touristy thing we did today was take the ferry to Bremerton to see Seattle and the surrounding cities from Puget Sound. Also, to visit Puget Sound Navy Yard because lately I’ve been reading a lot about my favorite aircraft carrier, Saratoga, (What? You don’t have a favorite aircraft carrier?) and she spent a lot of time there, so I just kinda wanted to be one of the places she’s been.

(My dream vacation, believe it or not, would be a week in the South Pacific so I could spend at least a day, maybe two, diving to Saratoga’s final resting place, often described as one of the best wreck dives anywhere. I’m getting a little long in the tooth for that kind of thing now, so it’ll probably always be a dream. But what a dream.)

(A visit to San Diego, Saratoga’s home port, would be a close second. That might actually happen. Watch this space.)

To make it easier for foot traffic to reach the pier where the ferry docks, there’s a bridge over the highway that cuts off the waterfront from the city (they’re going to replace that with a tunnel and knock it down soon). For safety’s sake because it’s way up in the air, the bridge has a low chain-link fence on either side, and along one short stretch of it there are maybe a hundred padlocks hanging from it. We weren’t sure what was going on here until we noticed the names. Each of the padlocks has a name engraved or written on it. Some of them have the names of couples, some have just one (shipped?) name. Thanks, humanity! Much more heartwarming than smooshing your bubblegum on the wall.

Seattle WA padlocks on fence

On to Bremerton! We had beautiful weather for the crossing, clear, sunny skies but just a little chilly. I wanted to stand on the deck and got to do that most of the trip, but on the way over we were going into the wind and the ferry was hustling along at maybe thirty or forty miles per hour, so it was a pretty stiff wind and my jacket wasn’t thick enough to keep me warm. On the way back, not so bad, so I spent more time outside watching the water go by and Seattle get bigger in front of us.

B got pooped on by a pigeon in Pioneer Square! This is the third or fourth time she’s been pooped on! The woman’s a poop magnet! She seems to think this is my fault. It does seem to happen mostly when she’s in my company, but I don’t think that’s a defence that would hold up in court.

We were in Pioneer Square to buy tickets for the tour of Seattle’s underground. After most of Seattle’s business district burned down in 1889, the city’s administrators convinced businessmen to let them rebuild the city with elevated streets that would eventually be connected to second-floor entrances of all the downtown buildings, to take care of a problem the city had with incoming tides pushing sewage back into the streets. Yuck! The tour goes through the underground spaces that still lie between the streets and the buildings.

It was three o’clock when B got pooped on and the tour didn’t start until four, so we had some time to kill, and what better way to kill it than to visit a cafe for an afternoon pick-me-up? We went just around the corner to the Cherry Street Coffee House where I sipped an espresso while B enjoyed a chai latte at a streetside table. After we finished our refreshments, we ambled down First Street to look at the old buildings that date back to the reconstruction of the city after the fire.

tour of Seattle Underground

Clay was our guide for the tour. A natural born story-teller, he explained all about the fires and floods and sewers as he led us on a good long tramp through the dank spaces beneath three or four city blocks with maybe forty people in tow.

After the tour, I heard Clay tell another couple that one of the best views in the city is from the top of Smith Tower. Of course we went, and of course we got there only to arrive just in time for the observation deck to close. Bummer.

So I guess it’s time for a beer then, eh? We headed back to First Street, taking a short cut through Occidental Park. Nothing much to see there; if that was one of the places on your itinerary to Seattle, I’d say skip it. Down on the far end of First Street, long past the businesses that were still open, we finally came to the Elysium Fields brewpub. This is where they brewed the beer that we enjoyed at the Elysium bar earlier in our visit.

We stayed for just one beer at Elysium Fields before crossing a vast empty parking lot behind the train stn to get to the International Market in a dark corner of the city. B wanted to see it because it was supposed to have one of the best Japanese book stores around. I never seriously studied Japanese, so I didn’t get into it as much as she did, but I was just as impressed by the Japanese grocery store and the Japanese noodle shops tucked away inside the same mall. It was almost like being in Japan again. B managed to find her favorite snack food in the grocery store, something called kah kee no tay nay: rice crackers with peanuts. She went home a happy camper.

pacnw day 6 | 6:32 am CST
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Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Good bye, Portland, and thanks!

On the train from Portland OR to Seattle WA

We took the train from Portland to Seattle. I would never have suggested it, because the last time I did, the train arrived hours late, departed even later, got stalled for hours on a siding every time it met a freight train, and a broken toilet gave our coach the aroma of a porta-potty on a hot day. So although I still enjoy traveling by train, B will avoid it at almost any cost.

But for whatever reason, she suggested that we make the run from Portland to Seattle by train, and a good thing she did. Our train arrived spot-on-time, departed without delay and went zipping down the tracks with no diversions to sidings for freight trains, arriving in Seattle exactly when they said we would. Either the track was a line dedicated for passenger service, or we were just lucky. I have the feeling it was a dedicated passenger line because it was smooth as silk instead of a track pounded into bone-jarring shapes by freight trains.

I have no doubt a bus would have been just as punctual, but it wouldn’t have had the comfy seats we had, and there’s just no way to put a price on the luxury of being able to get up on a four-hour trip to stretch your legs or get a cup of coffee from the bar car. The coach was new construction, clean with well-appointed chairs and tables; there were even electric outlets between the seats so we could keep our phones and tablets charged, and free wi-fi. Why can’t we have nice things like this in our neck of the woods?

As soon as we got into Seattle we went to the Moore Hotel downtown. The Moore gets mixed reviews from the on-line crowd, mostly the whiners who complain it’s old and it’s not air-conditioned, both of which are true. But it’s been recently remodeled with a retro look that I thought was appealing. And even though it doesn’t have air conditioning, we didn’t think that would be a problem in early October, and it wasn’t. Besides that, the room was clean, the location was close to most of the places we wanted to visit, and the price for a room downtown couldn’t be beat, so we were happy with it.

While B was freshening up, I flicked through the cable TV channels just to confirm that television programming still sucks the big wet one, and then we were back on the street. It was just after noon and we were plenty hungry for lunch, so our first stop was Pike Place Chowder in Post Alley, the place Jason & Jennifer recommended to us at breakfast in the Portland B&B. Hugely popular, there was already a line around the front of the shop when we got there and it just kept getting longer while we ate. Good thing we went straight to it. B ordered a sampler of four different kinds of chowder, while I went for broke with a bowl of New England clam chowder. It was more than we could finish, although we made a valiant effort.

We wandered into a few shops in Post Alley after lunch, but B wanted to book a ride on the ducks so we didn’t stay long, just had a quick look around before catching a bus to Westlake Park.

Riding the Ducks in Seattle WAThe ducks turned out to be quite a lot of fun, in spite of the fact that we didn’t really see all that much of Seattle. The driver took us up to Lake Union, put the duck in the water mostly to show us the houseboat from Sleepless in Seattle, then drove back to the city center by way of Pioneer Square, pointing at about a half-dozen buildings while pelting us with a few random tidbits of info. It wasn’t so much a tour as a short game of trivial pursuit.

What made the trip so much fun was the driver, a natural-born comic who kept up a steady stream of one-liners and took his hands off the wheel to raise his arms over his head way too often to get us to wave or clap as he sped through downtown traffic. He even came with a soundtrack of pop tunes that were the punchline to a lot of his jokes, although mostly he played them so he could crank them up way too loud and pump the brakes to the beat when we came to red lights. Which all the passengers thought was terrific fun, and so did quite a few of the pedestrians along the pavement (we caught a couple of waitresses at a sidewalk cafe gettin’ jiggy when he played the Sir Mix-A-Lot classic, Baby Got Back), although there were a few who gave us the stink-eye as we went by. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of Seattle’s citizens consider the ducks one of the most obnoxious tourist attractions they have, but my guess is that Seattle police look the other way when they see a duck coming down the street.

When our driver returned us to Westlake Park, we jumped on the monorail to get a ride to Seattle Center, the park surrounding the Space Needle. The monorail is a leftover from the 1962 World’s Fair, just like the Space Needle. It probably seemed like the height of space-age technology when it was built, all chrome and plexiglass, riding a single concrete rail from downtown Seattle to the park and back, and it still has a distinctive space-age look, but in a retro-kitchy way, same as Googie architecture. Each monorail train is really one long, open car with bench seats from front to back on the inside. Actually, it has no front or back; it’s a two-headed monster. When it gets to the Space Needle, the driver gets up and walks the length of the train to the other end where he sit down in an identical driver’s seat for the trip back. It bumps and rattles along its track and makes you wonder to yourself, If this is space-age, how did we ever land on the moon? But what’s important is that the monorail just looks space-age. It can’t transport you to the future.

The Needle, now, that thing has the space-age look down cold. I doubt there’s a better example of space-age architecture anywhere. It was closed for a private party, but we just had to be there today. Who goes to Seattle and doesn’t want to see the Space Needle right away? There wasn’t much at Seattle Center still open at that hour, so we just walked around a bit to get the lay of the land, then rode the monorail back to the city center, wondering how rich you gotta be to be able to rent the Space Needle for your very own private party.

It was time for a beer. B picked the Elysium Bar, serving beer from the local Elysium Brewery. I was expecting a brewpub, not the very swanky bar we walked into. The hostess could barely conceal an expression that told me she was thinking, “Where am I going to seat these hayseeds so the regulars won’t see them?”

We just wandered the streets for about an hour after that to see what there was in the neighborhood of the hotel, ending up down by the Public Market again, mostly empty and quiet by that time.

For dinner we stopped at a joint called Serious Pie for some gourmet pizza. Really. Gourmet pizza? I had my doubts at first. What could you do to pizza that would make it better than it already is? And the place looked kinda frou-frou, like a gentrified dairy barn with lots of exposed beams and trestle tables that the customers were seated at community-style. When our pizza was served and I took my first bite, though, my opinion of gourmet pizza joints, or at least this particular one, improved considerably, and it got better with each bite. That was some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. B loved it so much she said we were going to have to go back before we left, and I didn’t argue.

We picked up a bottle of wine from a corner store on the way back to the hotel and sipped it from plastic cups in front of the TV before lights out. The shows still sucked, even with the wine.

pacnw day 5 | 6:32 am CST
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