Traveling to and Touring Seattle

There’s only so much rain you can take before you start to go a little strange in the head. It has rained here nearly every single day since 1 Nov 1998. We’ve had about 10-15 days in that stretch where it didn’t rain, and about five days where we actually saw that big bright yellow circle in the sky. And Heaven forbid we should think that the colour of sky is anything but grey!

Thus, I need not explain why Allison and I wanted to see something different for a change.

So we went to Seattle.

Why Seattle? Simple — I hadn’t been there before. It would be a change of pace, and (hopefully) something out of the ordinary. After all, you can only stare at the 33 walls of your apartment for so long…

We piled into the car bright and early Saturday morning, maps in hand, and headed for the border (with a brief pit stop at McDonald’s to ease the rumblings in our stomachs). The traffic at the border was a bit heavy, but neither of us were too upset. It took only a few minutes to traverse the border, convince the US Border Patrol we were harmless, and be on our way.

The trip to Seattle is about three hours, depending on how bad the traffic in Seattle is. (And even on a weekend, it’s pretty bad.) The trip’s a little dull too — the terrain is pretty flat. The rain and fog obscured all the interesting things to look at, so we had to entertain ourselves in conversation.

I regularly find it amazing that despite all the time Allison and I spend together, we can always find new things to talk about.

When we arrived in Seattle, we arrived in Seattle traffic. I hadn’t seen traffic that heavy since I lived in Oakville and drove into Toronto. And this was a weekend! Rush hour must be a complete nightmare.

It wasn’t long before we spotted the Space Needle, and went about figuring out how to get off the I-5, and into the city. Luckily, Americans are fairly good at marking signs. We exited the I-5, and found our way to Mercer Drive. This cuts a somewhat quasi-diagonal path through the north-eastern end of town, taking you by the Expo ’62 site (complete with that so-called “tower”, the Space Needle), and eventually putting you near the waterfront. Arriving on Elliott Street, we turned left and proceeded to attempt to find parking.

Folks, if you decide to drive to Seattle, make sure you have small American bills when you arrive downtown. Parking there is expensive (often brutally so), and unless you have small American bills, you might find it very difficult to find a place to park. A lot of the lots require you to place a rolled up bill into a slot. Other take the bills and issue a ticket (and have major problems with CIBC VISA cards).

After nearly an hour of trying, we eventually found a lot where we could park for US$8. We weren’t exactly ecstatic about the price, but we didn’t have much of a choice. The immediate agenda after that was to find lunch.

By the time we finished eating at a cheap (albeit not only in price, but also in quality) Chinese restaurant, we decided it was time to actually go see *something*. So we walked up a street, turned a few corners, and arrived at Pike’s Place Market. Or rather, the staircase going up.

Seattle is quite hilly. It’s not as hilly as San Francisco, but it’s much hillier than Vancouver. There are several staircases running from the waterfront to the top of the hill. (I would learn later that there was a reason for all that.)

Once we reached the top (a little winded from all the climbing), we headed into the market. Pike’s Place Market (also known as the “Public Market” if you see the huge neon signs) has been there for quite a long time. It has just about every imaginable shop, selling fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers (fresh and dried), home-made chilli, doughnuts, flying fish, stained glass …

Flying fish? Oh yes, there are flying fish in Pike’s Place.

Actually, it’s a store called Pike Place Fish, and they have a rather interesting method of getting the fish from the ice-packed display to the packers behind the counter.

They throw them.

I kid you not. You’ll suddenly hear a loud: “Large chinook salmon!” from a large guy dressed in orange hip waders, quickly followed by a chorus of people behind the counter, all shouting: “Large chinook salmon!” (they do this for every order, fish or otherwise), followed by a real large chinook salmon, flying through the air, from the large guy dressed in orange hip waders to another person behind the counter.

Needless to say, this attracts a lot of spectators, most of whom want to see the flying fish. Apparently, sales are more brisk during the summer. (Tourists are such gullible people.) You can check them out on the Internet, at

After viewing the sailing salmon, we continued our way down the length of the market to see what objets d’art were available. Most of it was produce, which is not at all a bad thing — there’s nothing like smelling fresh vegetables and fruits and flowers.

Towards the end of the market, we came across a table where a man was selling home-made stained glass kaleidoscopes. We probably wouldn’t have stopped were it not for the fact that a neighbour of my family in Oakville makes almost the same thing. The design of the simpler kaleidoscopes was almost exactly the same, and the more complicated ones were very similar. (My family’s neighbour is one up on this man, though — he makes a binocular kaleidoscope that is just a wonder to see.)

I made some quick inquiries. The cheap triangular scopes were about US$30. The more complicated ones with dials and spinning vials of beaded glass were about US$50, and the really nice pieces were US$120 and up. My family’s neighbour could probably make a killing…

Reaching the end of the market, we hopped across the street and entered the Mecca of the West Coast — the original Starbucks Coffee Shop. Founded in 1971, it’s served countless cups of caffeine to the masses, and marketed itself into world dominance.

They screwed up our cups of hot chocolate. They forgot the whipped cream.

After walking around a little and snapping a few pictures, Allison went to purchase a dried garlic and flower wreath for hanging on our kitchen wall. (We needed a little more decoration in there.) Not wanting to carry the fragile decoration with us for the rest of the day, I quickly ran it back to the car.

Upon returning to Allison, we headed down 1st Street to Pioneer Square, the original centre of Seattle, and the location of Doc Maynard’s. We were in search of the Seattle Underground Tour.

What’s underground Seattle? Rocks, mud, a few bodies, but mostly dirt. All except for a 22-block area in Pioneer Square, what was originally Seattle.

As we would learn over the course of the tour, Seattle used to be built on mudflats. No problem with that, except that twice daily your house flooded. It got worse when they installed Crappers (toilets as they were known in the 1890s) — twice daily, toilets on the flats would explode, creating six-foot high geysers from the ‘loo. Not exactly the sort of thing you want.

To solve a large number of problems, the citizens did the only thing they could — they burnt the city to the ground. Okay, they didn’t actually do that on purpose, it kind of happened when a glue jar caught fire. It fell onto a turpentine-soaked floor. Of a shop built mostly of wood. The next door neighbour was a warehouse … filled with whiskey. I think you get the idea…

The first ordinance passed required that all buildings be made from 60% non-flammable materials. Luckily for the town, the mayor owned the local brick works.

One of the next things they did was plan to raise the roads. Chuckholes (essentially a killer pothole) were becoming so bad, the only way to solve the problem was to literally cover the roads … with upwards of 32 feet of soil. So they began to solve the problem, by raising all the buildings, then raising the road, then building the sidewalks.

Sound a little weird? Well, that’s how Seattle got its underground. When the roads were raised, there were huge gaps between the road and the buildings. When those gaps were eventually covered with a sidewalk, the areas underground were abandoned. That was 1907. It wasn’t until the 1960’s, when local historian Bill Speidel opened the underground for a tour. Because of his efforts, the Underground (and the surrounding area) is now a protected historical area.

At least, as much as Americans will actually protect that kind of thing … especially when there’s a profit to be made by paving over paradise, and putting up a parking lot.

The tour was pretty cool … the tunnels aren’t heated. Sorry, cheap joke. We learned a lot about Seattle and its history, not to mention saw a lot of how Seattle was built one hundred years ago. It’s really fascinating — I recommend it to anyone going there.

Following the tour, Allison and I went back to retrieve our car. Unlike all the other parking garages with reasonable hours (i.e. they never close), ours shut down at 20:00. Not exactly what I’d call convenient.

After driving over half the city trying not to listen to Allison telling me the correct way out, we hopped back on the I-5 and headed towards home. We had thought about staying the night, but when you took into account that hotels cost about US$90 a night, we thought of all the other things we could do with that $90, and opted to go home.

The following day, we rose a bit later than usual (we were a little tired from our journey), and started to plan out our day. We thought it might be interesting to go through Lynden, the Dairy Capital of Washington State.

Why? Why not? (Also because we thought that the Tulip Festival might be on, although we couldn’t find any confirmation of that.)

After looping through Lynden a few times, we came to the conclusion that the town was really boring (nearly everything was closed) and we opted to have a bite to eat, and leave.

One note to travellers to Lynden: Don’t eat at Bob’s Burger and Brew (I swear I’m not making the name up). Just trust me on that.

Just as we began to leave Lynden, the weather started to act strange — heavy rain, very dark clouds, hail, and thunderstorms. One of the things about BC weather — it’s usually pretty tame. This was way out of the ordinary, and it had me a little worried — it looked like tornado weather. (Although I’m told we can’t get tornados here, the weather patterns seemed just ripe for an ol’ Kansas vacuum.)

Returning to Canada again, we headed into Surrey to find an area called Cloverdale. Inside Cloverdale is a subdivision (whose name has totally escaped me) that has Victorian-style homes. This has, apparently, become a popular trend in homes. After a little driving around, we stumbled across the subdivision, and drove in.

Very nice homes, and it really looked like a nice neighbourhood. It’s the sort of place I’d like to live. But the original subdivision was all sold about a year or two ago, so we couldn’t actually check any of the places out.

Luckily, there was a new phase being built just next door. There were two show homes available for viewing. All I can say is — very impressive. Allison and I were thinking we could skip going to Europe, and we could get jobs in Surrey (well, I could get a job in Surrey), and we could buy.

When reality finally sank back in, we acknowledged that while we’d love to live there, we had too many other things we wanted to do first, and Europe was one of them. It was by far the best designed house we’d seen to date, and it had a lot of design features that we wanted to include in ours. Maybe one day…

At any rate, we’re back to working on our lives. Hopefully, our next big adventure won’t be far away!