Saturday, December 03, 2011

A City Alive - Postcards from Seattle

Greetings from Seattle! I am not sure if all of the people who read here remember postcards. But I do. Even as a child, I was the only one in my family who always sent them to our friends from our family trips. Everyone could count on me letting them know where the family went that summer. I still browse the postcards stands in gift stores, and I dream about the days when I would pick just the best ones that would summarize the vacation spot just perfectly.

Nowadays, of course, we have Facebook. And phones with cameras and web connections, to post that telling shot of where we are and what it’s like to be there to let all of our friends know. Nowadays, I have my own camera, too. And instead of one postcard, I come home with 1000+ shots of the place. I send the link to my friends, and boom!, they are there, too: they can even feel the heat or the cold, they can almost taste the food, and hear the street noises or the quiet of the surrounding areas.

The recent trip we took to Seattle over Thanksgiving was no exception. Looking back through the pictures, I see just what my first trip to Seattle means. It means gray, of course. When we got there, there was a misty rain in the air, for which an umbrella would do little. We were told by one of our guides that umbrellas are not popular in Seattle. The rain never pours, but it usually feels more like that mist the hair dresser uses to spray your hair before she cuts it: “poof-poof” and you’re wet! The sky was gray and the roads were shiny. It was cold – bitter cold and wet. After all, this is the Pacific North West, right?!

Another snapshot in my mind is Seattle inside Pike Place Market on Black Friday. I know, sounds suicidal, but it’s actually pretty fun. So much life. Everyone’s coming or going. You feel the pulse of a big city and it’s pounding! For the most part, Seattle has a slower pace than most large cities I have seen, except for its Market. Despite the fact that the vendors are there year round and the market is probably hopping year round, too, they are always friendly and actively selling their stuff. They talk to everyone who stops by, and describe their products in detail. They are nice and never look bored, tired, or just indifferent, like most trinket sellers in touristy places. Their active involvement is really an attractive marketing tool.

My favorite thing in The Market, was not the fish throwing, as everyone would think. It was not even the overcrowded original Starbucks store, either – although that one did make my heart stop for a minute: it was that feeling of “wow! This is where everything started”. But my favorite market place was this corner stand where a woman was selling things made of lavender. The place smelled beautifully, and she had a “culinary wreath”, made of all sorts (I think 10) of herbs, that you just hang in your kitchen and peel from year round, to use in your foods. The wreath was as gorgeous as it was practical and for some reason it spelled "Seattle" to me: green, fresh, clean, delicious, unique and hippie-sh.

On the second day we were there, there was not a cloud in the sky! I thought I died and woke up in Atlanta! Blue skies and blinding light – perfect for pictures, and a boat ride. The view from Elliott Bay towards Seattle is much similar to all the skyline views you’re familiar with. Of course, not two skylines are alike. They each have their trademark that makes them recognizable – whether tall or interesting in architecture, these one building compounds put them on the map: New York has the Empire State building. San Francisco has the TransAmerica Pyramid. Toronto, the CN Tower, and Seattle – the shipyard and … the Space Needle.

The Space Needle is not the tallest, but it definitely is one of the strangest buildings I have climbed (along with Montreal’s Olympic Stadium leaning tower) to get a bird’s eye view of the city. It looks like a flying saucer landed on a skinny pole and it’s balancing just so. It’s one of those miracles of human dreaming and ingenuity.

The architecture of the town is a mix of old and new. I was shocked of how old Seattle really feels, although it’s a very few years over 100 years old! There are skyscrapers and cobble stone streets right next to each other. Horse drawn carriages and the airlifted Monorail train, side by side. The trip in the Underground will make you feel like it’s thousands years old. It’s a clean city, and although it feels like a metropolis, it’s not crushing you under its fastness, or clutter. It’s busy, but with breathing room. Not as oppressive as NYC, nor even Boston, for instance.

I think the most unexpected thing about the Seattle landscape for me was the fact that all the streets are incredibly steep! OK, they are not quite San Francisco steep, but they are a breath stopper, after you have climbed about 10 of them in a row! And that’s the good thing – you can really walk or take public transport to pretty much anywhere. I don’t think you must have a car to live in Seattle!

Another thing that will stay with me from this trip is all the restaurants – great, fresh food, incredible service, and good beer and wine! It’s a miracle to find a Riesling on most of the restaurants I visit, anywhere in the country. Seattle always had a Riesling and a moscato at all times! Even moscato champagne! The beers might not be as diverse, I suppose, as Portland’s, but they surely are plenty of choices and they are tasty! I am not a microbrew fan, but I did find some microbrews that were not too offending at all for my very soft palate. The foods are always fresh and just enough with a twist to make them unforgettable, but not too strange.

The town feels like a river of coffee flows through it. There is a fast food restaurant at every street corner in America, but not in Seattle. There is a coffee shop at every street corner here! Tully’s, Seattle’s Best and of course lots of Starbucks. Also, stand alone, independent ones, too. And when you are finished with your meal, you’re asked: “would you like a cup of hot latte to go, by chance? I’ll double cup it for you. It’s really hot!” They have invented their own language for coffee drinks here. A language that everyone speaks, of course. People walking down the street and holding cups of hot drinks from 7 AM to midnight! It might be what keeps them smiling?!

One thing that blew my mind was the fact that all the wait staff everywhere was so helpful, fast and so polite and just happy. Yes, Seattle has happy people, I would say! I have always thought that with that much rain, you must be a nature prone to depression to be able to live in Seattle. And yet, I have never seen so many smiley and cordial people and just plain content as Seattle folks! It was always a treat to sit down for a meal or just drinks. Just like visiting with old friends, we felt totally welcome.

The ultra-modern hotel. The picture book would not be complete if I didn’t talk about our very unique hotel room! We stayed at Hotel 1000, about two blocks from Pike Place Market and one block from Pier 56. Our suspended, flat screen tv was turned on when we entered the room, and there was a welcome message on the screen in our names. We had a fixture free (well, except for the drain) tub that had the downspout mounted in the ceiling above it. Instead of a solid wall between the bedroom and bath, you had an all glass wall, with a shade operated by three buttons in the wall – like a light switch. You could sit in the tub, and have a view to the harbor, across the room. The toilet and shower were in their separate all glass enclosures. The sink and fixtures were Kohler and counters solid granite. For those of you that think that granite is so overrated, I disagree! It’s clean and elegant. Period.

The d├ęcor of the room was modern minimalist, but intricate, too, without being uncomfortable. Some pieces looked like they were chosen from an art gallery from the Seattle Museum of Art, down the street. Molton Brown smellies gave the air a lavish and fresh aroma. Nothing was random. Everything was pieced together just so, to make it classy and comfortable at the same time. We also had a light switch by the entrance door, that we turned on – this put a “do not disturb” light on on the other side of the wall, next to our doorbell. Very discreet.

And because Seattle is Microsoft, our hotel lounge had a virtual game room, with Microsoft game tables. Chess, checkers and many other virtual boards were the centerpiece of many seating areas in our lounge.

The Boka Restaurant downstairs kept in line with this feeling of modern and chic. We ate on burl tables and sat near towers of sculpted glass. The food, again, was good without being too pretentious.

Yeah, we ate and drank a lot on this trip! I have not done this since probably my last trip to New Orleans, another feasting town!

The feeling that people are environmentally conscious in this town meets you at every pace. There are typically anywhere between three and five trashcans in every public establishment. You need about 10 minutes of deliberation of where your waste needs to go before you (hopefully not!) give up and just chuck it in the one that’s fullest, labeled “trash”. You can order almost everything free of … whatever… milk free, fat free, gluten free, meat free – you name it. I think even without our cameras in hand, we would still have stood out to restaurant staff as out-of-town-ers, for always ordering the “real” things.

That’s Seattle for you: fresh salmon, good coffee, sweet wine, steep streets (bring good, comfy shoes), full body beers, health conscious freakishness, history, rushed people that smile a lot, wine and coffee shops in one, sometimes with a bookstore thrown in, clean and safe-feeling, calm waters, gorgeous mountain ranges, tasteful art, all spinning around the Space Needle, under a mostly gray sky with occasional rays of sunshine. It has a heart, a mind and a style all its own.

Till next time, Seattle, I greet you ‘stay awesome’!

A deconstructed image of Seattle, from the Monorail - courtesy of my husband.
Click on it to experience the whole adventure. I hope you can see, feel, touch, breathe and taste Seattle, even if just virtually.

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