Monday, June 2, 2014

seattle and alaska - first post

We're just back from ten-or-so days away; we went to Seattle and then on a cruise up the inner passage to Alaska. The next few posts are the report, mostly so I can get pictures where my family can see them.

Friday, May 23: Up at 2:30 am to get ready to leave for the airport at 4 for the flight to Seattle. It’s not unusual for me to be awake at this time; what’s odd is that 1) I’m not having an anxiety attack, and 2) Regina will be up soon as well. Load up the car; get on the road, and head for Liberty Parking, which has a good rate for long-term parking, but I’d never be able to find it again (luckily, I don’t have to; when we get back to the airport, we can call or text for a shuttle to bring us back to the car).

Over to the airport, where we get through security in record time (this is only the second time I’ve flown since the institution of the TSA, and I have no idea what to expect; last time I had to boot up my laptop and take off my belt for the heavy metal buckle, but this time, we’re just told to put all of the contents of our pockets into our carryon, and go thru the gate - I spend more time emptying and rearranging my pockets than I do in security).

Then wait for the plane to load. The one coffee vendor only has one of two stations open, and there are twenty-three people on the line; I decide to wait until the other station opens... but by then BOTH lines are over twenty. The plane loads and leaves without incident, but I get my first coffee at about 9:30 am (up since 2:30, remember?), and I can feel the relief as it kicks in.

The only thing about the flight is that it’s long; about six hours. We arrive at about 10:30 Seattle time. We have the most garrulous and companionable driver for the shuttle to the hotel (putting the lie to a slander The Excellent Wife (TEW) heard that Seattlites are taciturn and unfriendly), and leave our luggage at the Homewood Suites on Western Ave. We walk towards the Pike Place Market, and, after a little digging, get lunch at the Campagne Cafe, with good food and upscale patrons.

One of the many things I haven’t told you yet is that I’m a terrible traveller, and, left to my own devices, I might not even go for groceries. But TEW loves to travel, and is very good at doing all the work about finding what to do and where to go, and even how to do the local transfers and public transportation. I have been telling people for years that when we go away, I only have to ask three questions:

  1. What time do I gotta take off?
  2. What do I gotta pack?
  3. How much money do I gotta bring?

TEW takes care of pretty much everything else, including finding this cafe in an article in the New York Times.

Then we walk up to take the monorail to the EMP museum, which has all manner of entertainment and music exhibits, including ones on Legos, horror movies, science fiction, and fantasy. It’s a Gehry building, with dichroic paint on part of the flowing sheet metal exterior. (It’s right near the Space Needle.)

There’s a picture of a nifty sculpture of a huge fly, and on the eyes are projected movies of some of the fantasy writers talking about their work.

And then a walk to the motel, where we went through a street fair and passed a guy dressed like a Star Wars stormtrooper, with a Darth-on-a-stick for photo ops (and some wonderfully colorful natives)... well as a skate park... and why aren’t there skate parks all over the place? What a great idea that was, and what virtuosity the kids showed, even with toddlers on scooter in the park!

After checking into the hotel, we rest for a bit, then out to dinner at the Toulouse Petit, which is pricey, but which had the steak that I was hoping to get (but was disappointed) a few weeks ago when we went to Ruth's Chris.

Saturday, 5/24: For the first night in a new time zone, I didn’t sleep too badly, and I was up at about 4am local time to do the daily exercises (people who know me know that this isn’t out of line for me). Then potting around, then to breakfast, and then off to a tour of the Seattle Underground.

Seattle was built into a tidal plain, and, according to our tour guide, after decades of flooding (including some troubles with the outflow from indoor plumbing, and the worst outbreak of bubonic plague since Columbus sailed), buildings in the tidal plain were shored up, streets raised by between ten and 33 feet... and no sidewalks put in place for years. When the sidewalks were put in, they connected second floors of buildings, and were built right over the first-floor windows and doors (and second-floor windows were re-purposed as main entrances, widened, and fitted with doors). The covered area was used as a dump, and largely ignored, until a reporter took up the issue late in the last century, and now much of the area is a historic district. The pic below shows TEW in Pioneer Square with some excellent cast-iron architecture.

At the time, though, it was not the high-rent district; the sign below, of a hotel advertising rooms for 75cents per night, was true up through 1967.

Below, some pics of the underground. The first is a picture of old Seattle, before much of the current (meaning, late-19th-century) buildings were up. Most of those buildings were destroyed in a fire.

Below, you can see an underground room, with what were once exterior windows and door.

There are signs below, indicating which buildings are above.

An old stair:

Much of the original plumbing system was made of wooden pipe. Seattle’s money started from lumber sales, and entrepreneurs moved on to selling to the fools prospectors, first in the California good rush, and then in the Yukon gold rush. A piece of wooden pipe, below:

From there, we went to the Pike Place Market, larger than the Reading Terminal Market, just a chaotic, and, if anything, even more colorful. We saw the “flying fish” at Pike Seafood, where they call the orders loudly and throw the fish to each other, and the big brass pig.

We were going to do the ferris wheel...

 ... but the long line, and the $15 price tag for the short ride put us off. Instead, we repaired to Elliots for a late lunch of excellent seafood, and back to the hotel, where we are recuperating and packing to get on the ship tomorrow.

Sunday, 5/25: I’ve decided I love Seattle, and if the bottom ever drops out of my life in Jersey, and I subsequently disappear, look for me here. Seattle strikes me as full of community spirit and shared values; there is a recently-built library that is a wonderful building; there is public art all over the place, and many of the locals (not just in the tourist-service businesses) speak with local pride. I didn’t get the “me and mine first” impression I’ve gotten elsewhere in the US (that said, both TEW and I were struck by the number of homeless people we’ve seen, mostly appearing older than the general population).

This morning, we stopped at another institution that reinforced my belief in the local public spirit: the Seattle Art Museum Sculpture Garden. Unlike the Grounds for Sculpture in central Jersey, it’s free. And it’s great. It’s right on the bay, and a running/walking trail goes by, that was getting substantial use this Sunday morning.

The other thing we did was board the ship for the cruise to Canada and Alaska. We sat out for the embarkation (we finally got some of the famous Seattle rain; while we had grey skies and humidity, it has not rained since we’ve been here), and found our cabin, which is larger and better-appointed than we thought it would be. TEW is just delighted to be on the water and moving, and I’m going to be cruising the buffets, seeing where I can gain some weight.

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