Sunday, August 28, 2016

Weekend in Seattle

I don't think I've ever been on a connecting flight to/from Toronto that has left on time. Our flight from Toronto to Seattle was delayed for what felt like forever, as we waited on the tarmac. "Never start your vacation with Toronto," groaned my husband. I passed the time by reading Guillermo del Toro's The Strain, which, in case you were wondering, is a book that begins with everyone dying on a plane while waiting on the tarmac.

Eventually we arrived in the magical land of Seattle, a city I haven't been to in seven years. I also hadn't been in the United States in a year and a half since my last vacation in Portland - perhaps subconsciously we were trying to avoid the chaos of the American election campaigns (and also the weak Canadian dollar). Maybe it was because we arrived in the middle of the night, but America felt like a foreign country again, with its weird incomprehensible measurements in miles and Fahrenheit, and startlingly simply signs that did not have any French translations.

I wondered if we'd find any good coffee?

We checked into the City Hostel, which oddly enough has the same logo as the fascist villain organization Hydra from Marvel Comics. It also had pretty but unusual mural art on the walls. And seagulls that screeched like monkeys outside our window in an otherwise quiet alley.

Downtown was, as my resident friend E explained, filled with waddling midwesterners waiting for their cruises to Alaska to start. Seattle's waterfront has a decidedly industrial look to it. It's a major shipping spot, shipping not just cruise customers but all sorts of goods. Amazon, after all is based here.


Despite its industrial look, Seattle is brimming with amazing restaurants, bars, breweries, and every hip thing that a young person could ask for. Its arts news publication The Stranger advertised artisanal marijuana edibles and a talk by Carrie Brownstein at the Seattle Art Fair. Also a workshop on cannabis and sex, and how to incorporate cannabis lube products, a topic I have never been curious about before, and to be honest, still am not. But Dan Savage lives here. If you don't want to go to a Hemp Fest, you can go to his Hump Fest. If you're not into any of that, there are the punk record stores, or the famous monorail that doesn't seem to go anywhere useful. Pretty impressive for a city of some 650,000 - even smaller than Ottawa!

Oh yeah, and the International DOTA championships were happening here that weekend. What wasn't happening in Seattle?
Chewing gum alley: the most disgusting tourist attraction ever

Outside was refreshing cool, a lovely 20 degrees compared to the 40 humidex Ottawa has been dealing with. It was nice to be able to put on a pair of jeans again with feeling like I was going to melt with sweat Seattle's weather seems to be a running joke with the city - they even have a restaurant called Damn the Weather. But we didn't mind. Even though it would sometimes rain without warning, it was refreshlingly cool, the perfect weather for us.

We explored the Pike Place Market, a tourist staple for Seattle. The fish market was particularly fascinating. So many different kinds of fish I had never seen before, and some of them of unbelievable sizes. We saw the famous singing seafood vendors, singing their orders while they threw their fish across the stands to package for their customers. I stared wide-eyed at the enormous monkfish...and screamed when its jaw suddenly started flapping! The vendor was teasing me by making it move.

And of course, we found some coffee. The first Starbucks coffee location ever opened in fact. There were long lines around the block to get into the shop. We waited, because we're suckers, and ordered the Pike Place reserve blend. We watched in fascination as they individually dripped each order (which may partly explain the long lines). I apologized to the barista for taking a photo, as the whole preparation method seemed like quite the spectacle. "That's okay," she said cheerily. "I'm wearing new lipstick today."

"What the heck is this line for?" I heard a Korean tourist ask her friend in Korean.

We also enjoyed the Starbucks Roastery. It was just nice to sit and relax while watching the hypnotic motions of the roasting machines, stirring the beans, pushing them through the pneumatic tubes across the room. I'm not a coffee connoisseur but I like watching people make things that they are passionate about. It certainly looked like sorcery, the mysterious chemical process that the baristas busily worked on. I don't get it. But it was tasty.

Perhaps fuelled by too much coffee, I had strange dreams that night, prompted by the sounds of the street below. Saturday night crowds yelling drunkenly while they spilled out of the bar at closing time; some restaurant employee apparently disposing of an entire China plate set. And the seagulls.

Sunday morning we woke up to the usual screeching of seagulls that serve as Seattle's rooster wake up call and there was a mysterious pile of poo on the sidewalk outside our hostel. It mystified me. Couldn't possibly be human...or at least just one human. How did it get there? Who left it there?

We decided to check out the famous EMP Museum, housed in the impressive architectural complex designed by Frank Gehry. The building was somewhat controversial when it first went up, but I find it fascinating that it seems bigger than the eye can handle. There are so many parts to it, and because of its enormous size, you can't really see all of it at once.

I also really liked the musical playground that was outside the EMP, and spent a lot of time playing on the musical structures, probably a lot longer than a grown woman without children should be on a playground.

The museum itself also had a lot of awesome stuff. Exhibits about Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, as well as a guitar gallery. An interactive poll collected people's votes on the best breakup song (The Pokémon theme song was in the lead for some reason). It also had a jam session exhibit, where you could play around on guitars, keyboards, and drums, which was pretty exciting until I remembered that I have those things at home. There was a cool fashion exhibit called "WEARABLEART" which, I am told, is "wearable art" and not "wear a bleart" like I had read it.

Upon our friends' recommendations, we did the Seattle Underground Tour, where we learned all about Seattle's "underground" history. Did you know, for example, that the original downtown Seattle was burned down in a fire that was started by a mistake by an apprentice who probably felt like a total goof after all that? It was fascinating to wander through the bowels of Seattle.

We finished the evening having drinks with my friend E, who moved back to Seattle after we had both gone to the University of Amsterdam together for a semester.  We met up at Jarrbar, a cute bar in a converted garage in the Pike Place Market strip. It was pretty much my ideal kind of bar, perfect for people watching, offering cheap drinks and snacks, playing Washed Out on the stereo and The Fifth Element on the TV screen. It just felt so very Seattle.

In the end, Rob and I agreed that we had a hard time figuring out whether we liked Portland or Seattle better. Clearly the American Northwest suits us well, and we'll just have to spend more time here.