Seattle did not make the best first impression. The airport, whilst easy to navigate and quick to clear immigration, has no discernible information and a lack of human beings. The cheap train downtown (just three dollars) is a very, very long walk through the car park and once you get to the station, it is not manned. I might still be there had a helpful local not told me where to go, in the best sense of that expression.
I should mention that I am suffering from a slipped disc, as this probably coloured my view. This is not something I’d recommend. It is painful and debilitating and has turned me into an old lady, unable to run, bend, or do any of the things we take for granted. Like being able to put on socks. Dragging my camera and suitcase around until I found my studio apartment left me fighting tears and regretting the decision to make this trip.
However, after a lot of rest, some painkillers and a coffee, I was ready to enjoy the warm autumnal sunshine. Yes, warm sunshine! Everyone knows it rains constantly in Seattle, right? Apparently not when I come to stay! I decided to rest my poor back on the first full day I had, leaving my camera behind and doing a bit of shopping to pick up the last bits of my Alaskan cold weather gear. Seattle is walkable, although it does have some serious hills. I set off to REI, an outdoor shop set in its own little park which you can ride around to test drive a new bike, should you feel the inclination. There is certainly no shortage of outdoor shops in Seattle, and I pottered about, buying warm boots, socks and mittens and walking off some of the kinks in my back.
Shopping done, I checked out Pike Place Market, but would advise against visiting on a Sunday. There were so many people I got quite claustrophobic and had to leave. It was more pleasant earlyish on Monday morning! It is an eclectic mix of fish stalls, flower stalls and fruit and veg stalls, with the inner reaches made up lots of little gift stores.
Monday was another beautiful day, so I decided to pick up my camera and take the ferry to Bainbridge Island for lunch, as much to enjoy the view of Seattle from the water as for the destination itself. The ferry terminal is a walk via the market from my studio. At the market I armed myself with coffee, but not from original location of Seattle’s most widespread export. There was a huge queue, and even though this might get me shot round here, I’m not convinced Starbucks is worth even a short queue! In fact, I did not even take a picture of the original Starbucks. I make a lousy tourist. Fortified with my not-Starbucks coffee, I paid my $8.10 return fare and waited for the ferry.
The ferry was huge so there was plenty of room, and as I stood on the stern looking back at Seattle I could see the layout of the City. Downtown is quite compact, and the high rise buildings are flanked by the Seahawks stadium on the left and the Space Needle on the right.
The crossing was fairly quick and I took plenty of uninspiring photos of the view from the bow. All a bit 50 shades of blue. Arriving at Bainbridge Island, I walked from one end to the other in about ten minutes. I found a place to have lunch; a salad and a large glass of a rather thin, young Cabernet Sauvignon which I drank in the warm sunshine leaving me feeling distinctly relaxed and which greatly reduced my back pain.
After lunch I wandered around a bit more, finding a place with a nice beer garden overlooking the marina which might have been a better choice for lunch, as I had sat in a courtyard looking at a wall. I admired the local church and the autumnal trees, snapping a few photos and lying on a bench to photograph some birds eating berries. Of course they did not choose the tree near me, which would have afforded a nice clear shot, but chose to eat those furthest away, but eventually I got a passable shot. It was a way to while away a little time before heading back on the ferry.
This time the ferry was full of football fans heading to the Seahawks game. They were loud and dressed in many odd combinations of lime green and navy to show their allegiance. It seemed like the whole city was streaming down to the stadium to watch the game. When I got back to the studio, having picked up some veggies from the market for dinner, I even watched a bit of the game to get in the spirit. The home team won. I was done, though, as the jet lag kicked in and I went to bed pathetically early. Again!
On Tuesday it was a bit overcast but still quite warm. I decided to head to the Washington Park Arboretum. To get there, hop on a number 11 bus from Pike Street and get off at Washington Lake Blvd. I decided against the Japanese Garden near the entrance and opted to explore the rest of the park instead. I am sure the Japanese Garden is lovely, but having visited quite a few in other places, and with limited time at my disposal, I thought I would see what else was on offer. The Arboretum is long and narrow, so quite easy to navigate. It is not as big as it looks on the map, so you can wander around most of it in a couple of hours. I did not check, but it cannot be more than a mile from one end to the other. It must be amazing in the spring when the rhododendrons are flowering as it features a huge collection, but was a lovely place to while away a few hours. Many of the trees were dressed in their autumn colours and not many leaves had fallen. The colours do seem more vibrant in the US than in Europe. Are trees more full of sugar over here?
In my opinion it is a bit of a shame about the big roads running through it, as you cannot escape the traffic noise which would make it even more pleasant, but other than that is is a lovely place. I did my best to tune out the traffic and listen to the birdsong. The main path is pretty flat, so even the less mobile could have a pleasant amble along. Smaller paths head up the hill to the side of that path. They are all well maintained so I was able to get about easily despite my current decrepit state.
I soon found myself at the visitor centre at the far end of the park. It was manned by a rather miserable volunteer. There is no cafe, so bring your own lunch if you are planning to eat. I feel I did not spend as much time looking at the trees themselves as perhaps I should have, but I really enjoyed the peeling park of some lovely pinkish coloured trees. I think they might be paperbark maples.
I kept seeing flocks of tiny, busy birds, which moved so quickly I could never get a proper look at one, let alone a photograph. Finally one alighted for long enough for me to take a photo of him. This was when a little flock seemed curious about me, and seemed to fly at me, hover and change direction mid-air before alighting for a moment in a tree. Turned out they looked rather like sparrows, just smaller. Google tells me he’s a chickadee. A black-capped chickadee to be precise.
I also saw some American robins. I spent ages trying to get one that kept flying off just as I found it in the viewfinder before noticing that there was one watching me, posing beautifully nearby. I also saw a beautiful bird I have yet to identify. There were plenty of squirrels busily laying in stores for the winter, which would do a comical double-take when they saw me, before scampering off up the nearest tree.
After catching the bus back to town, I was keen to visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass. This little exhibition, showcasing the work of glass artist Dale Chihuly, is not to be missed on a visit to Seattle. It is a riot of shape and colour exquisitely crafted from glass. Some of his inspiration is obvious – flowers, the sea – and some seems plucked from a wild imagination.
It it started with a delicate piece in muted orange and blues, which made me think of music. From there there is every form of glass you can imagine, and many you cannot. He is clearly influenced by Venetian glass, but there seems to be no limit to what he can achieve in the form. One room, a glasshouse featuring huge orange and red flowers hanging from the ceiling, was closed to the public as it was being set up to host an event. That was a bit of a shame, as it looked spectacular from outside, but it was hard to see clearly because of the reflections on the glasshouse. I was even more upset to discover it had featured at Kew Gardens in 2005 but I missed the opportunity to see it close to home. The indoor rooms are all dark, with the pieces lit to show them off in glorious technicolour.
I think that my favourite room featured a ceiling made of coloured, flowerlike glass shapes lit from above. It is more impressive than it looks in the photo, as the camera can see the light through the glass more clearly than the naked eye, so there were no white spots, just colour.
Outside, the glass is cleverly complemented by the planting in the garden. I should imagine it is even more spectacular in spring and summer, when there are natural flowers to complement the glass ones. As it is right next door to the Space Needle, one can get a photograph of a large sculpture (which looked to me like a children’s party entertainer had gone mad with balloons) with the Needle behind it. For some reason I rushed through the exhibition a bit, compelled by a strange sense of urgency. I rather wish I had taken a little more time, but perhaps all that colour was an assault on the senses! In fact, I think I was so excited to see what was coming next, I forgot to appreciate fully what I was seeing in the moment.
The following morning I woke to grey skies and rain which signalled the end of my time in Seattle. It is a shame I could not make the drive to Olympic National Park which is about three hours away, but with my bad back I decided I had better not spend a day in the car. Another time, perhaps! With that thought, I set off for the airport to fly to Fairbanks, on the first step of my search for polar bears! With such an exciting prospect in mind, I could not be too sad about leaving Seattle behind.
I am not sure what I made of Seattle. In many ways it seems a nice, liveable city. Relatively small, well served by public transport and walkable, it has an awful lot to recommend it. However, it did seem to have more than its fair share of homeless and/or drug addled people. It is always sad to see so many people who have fallen through the cracks.