, ,

Three weeks ago I jumped on an opportunity to travel to Seattle for the weekend – a city I’ve always wanted to visit. I’d hoped to get a post up about my wonderful Washington weekend right away, but due to a houseful of guests (what empty nest?), two trips to the Bay Area in less than two weeks, our annual big Beltane party…and good old procrastination it’s taken me this long to finish it. In any case, here it is – a little thinner on details than I’d hoped but plenty thick with photos…

Seattle skyline viewed from the Ferry

Through some measure of serendipity I arrived in Seattle just as the fruit trees had burst into bloom and the city was experiencing a couple of days of sunshine.  I got to enjoy a warm and clear Saturday, perhaps the first day that the mercury had risen into the 60’s in half a year.

Native Seattleans celebrated by roaming the sun-soaked streets in short sleeves and sandals, while visitors like myself gazed around open-mouthed at the sheer beauty of this city. From one of the many hilltops I could see the sparkling waters surrounding the peninsula, a horizon of ethereal snow-covered mountains (The Olympics range), and a city skyline properly dominated by high-rise buildings. But this city seemed mostly comprised of narrow streets lined with blossoming trees and attractive homes fronted by well-tended yards.

The clear weather made for a pleasant drive, albeit a full eleven hours. Once we’d passed through the Friday afternoon Portland traffic – another lovely city punctuated by hazy but definitive views of Mt. Hood still swathed in snow – I began to get excited. I was venturing into completely new territory. I’d never made it north of Portland despite years of dreaming.

The highway rolled beneath us, flanked by green fields dotted with grazing sheep, newborn lambs cavorting around them. The Olympian range appeared in the distance an ethereal line of jagged white peaks. A more sobering view was the dozens of army trucks zooming southward on I-5, and filled with camo-clad, gun-toting soldiers. At first I thought some kind of terrorist attack had taken place and the National Guard was mobilizing or something, but Maria, my driving companion, told me that this was a common sight here near the Northern border of our country. The Army and Navy are apparently quite active in these parts.

We turned off the Interstate and easily found our way to my destination – the Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Eileen O'Leary, hostess and tour guide extraordinaire

Eileen, my husband’s cousin and hostess for the weekend, greeted me with a big smile as I stood on the porch surrounded by the riot of spring color in her garden. Clumps of tulips, obscure species of rhododendrons with tiny blue blooms, and a medley of flowering shrubs and new shoots burst forth from her freshly tended flowerbeds.

Beacon Hill, Eileen explained, is just one of the many neighborhoods that make up this quirky city.

“It was just starting to take off but then the economy tanked,” she lamented. “But I think this area is still up and coming.”

But for now Beacon Hill is surprisingly devoid of the ubiquitous coffee houses and independent shops and restaurants that lend character to the rest of the city. However, if the weather is clear Eileen can gaze at the Olympics range from her back porch, and rain or shine she can take her adorable cocker spaniel, Teagan, for a walk in a nearby park that features playing fields and running trails.

While out walking Teagan (whose excitement might have even exceeded my own on that bright morning), we hopped into Eileen’s car for a tour around the city.

“I really want to see Pike Place Market,” I’d told Eileen’s neighbor while we chatted during the morning walk.

Pike Place Market

“Oh yes,” he responded. “This is a great time to go, for the flowers if nothing else.”

But first we drove through some of Seattle’s neighborhoods, checking out a few of Eileen’s former lodgings during the 15 year she’d lived here.

We drove along Lake Washington and into Madison Park, watching joggers and bicyclists get their morning exercise along the trails surrounding the lake. The on up to Mt. Baker, where Eileen had tended the landscapes of some of the opulent homes overlooking the expanse of water.

Onward, we drove through Capital Hill and First Hill, where young families pushing strollers clustered outside coffee shops and chatted with friends. On the way to the downtown and Pike’s Place we passed Myrtle Edwards Park, home of the city’s Annual Hemp Fest.

As we approached the famous marketplace, we could hear chanting, drumming, a voice rising above the busy hubbub, “The time is NOW, bring the troops HOME.”

Anti-War demonstration outside market place.

Chanting, drumming, singing - just another hippie town?

In a big city version of the Arcata Plaza, a peaceful antiwar rally was taking place right outside the Pike’s Place entrance. Elderly folks clapped hands alongside burly dads shouldering babies, singing peace chants and urging folks to join in.

We joined in on a song before blending with the throngs of people entering the market. I’d heard of this place for so long, but really had no idea what to expect. Turns out I could have spent the whole day just at Pike Place Market. More than a century old, the building houses shops, food stalls, flower stands, and vendors selling everything from comic books to crafts to the expected fresh fish and produce. Fighting through the crowds in the short time we spent there I discovered a witchy herb shop, an exotic spice dealer, a Thai import store, accompanied Eileen into a gourmet condiment shop so she could purchase a special brand of dried tomatoes, and witnessed the famous Fish Throw.

Colorful flowers everywhere you look

And the flowers! Her neighbor wasn’t kidding. Booth after booth exploded with a dazzle of color and fragrance. Tulips abounded and I felt like I must be in Holland. My only regret was that I couldn’t bring an armload home.

When it became too tiring to thread through the holiday weekend crowds, we escaped to the street in search of a restaurant owned by Eileen’s friend. Across the street stood another Seattle landmark – the original Starbucks, opened I just recently realized a full 40 years ago in 1971. Judging from the line snaking out the door and down the block, buying a cup of java at this particular Starbucks is the dream of many a tourist.

The very first Starbucks. Big Deal, right?

After lunch, a stroll through the downtown area revealed well-kept streets with all the big-name shops one would look for in a big city – I could have been on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, or Union Square in San Francisco – but this was minus the push and shove crowds and accompanying hectic sensations.

Big city benefits without the downsides . I had to continually remind myself that it all probably looks a lot different on the 300 or so days per year when it is grey and drizzly.

My enthusiastic tour guide drove me over to visit the famous Fremont Troll, a mixed media statue

Children pose and play on the Fremont Troll

that hulks under a bridge and was created as a piece of public art in an effort to unify the neighborhood. The troll clutches a Volkswagen Beetle that looks like it has just reached up and grabbed from the roadway above. Children frolicked on his toes and climbed on top of his head, while cameras clicked smiling visitors posing in front this impressive piece of art.

Then it was off to explore Ballard, one of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods, and view the ‘Locks.’  I’d never heard of a ‘locks,’ and it turns out this century-old mechanism (officially known as the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks) provides a link for boats between the salt water of the Puget Sound and the freshwater of the canal that connects to Lake Union and Lake Washington.

The Ballard Locks

The canal is at a higher water level than the Sound, and this is a passageway that adjusts the water level so that sailboats, tug boats, barges and other vessels can pass through. The complex of locks also prevents the salt water from mixing with the fresh water. During the summer months hundreds of boats pass through each day, but we just saw two on this Easter weekend.

A boat makes its way through the 'Lock'

A fish ladder is also integrated into the locks, facilitating the migration of salmon. Visitors can view the fish from a series of windows – but we were off season.

“I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of fish swimming through here,” said Eileen.

On my next visit, I hope to explore the adjacent Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens, but the afternoon was growing late, my legs were aching and we had one more neighborhood to visit before the requisite visit to an Irish Pub.

We headed southwest to Magnolia, where Eileen had lived for a couple of years. Breathtaking views greeted us as we drove along the cliffs and she pointed out homes whose yards she had tended. Again I found myself contemplating a move to this diverse and complex city. Now THIS was a neighborhood I could live in. The late afternoon light slanted on the water, while the snow-covered Olympics shimmered in the background. Before I realized it, we were past the views, and I hadn’t even brought out my camera!

“We’ll come back tomorrow,” Eileen promised. But of course the infamous grey skies had returned by then.

I quickly forgot my photographic lapse as I pored over the brew menu at Mulleady’s Irish Pub on 21st Avenue. I ordered a pint of Hale’s Cream Ale and we shared a starter plate of crackers, salami and assorted exotic cheeses as we paged through The Stranger, the local entertainment weekly, for ideas for the evening.

After such a packed day, I was almost happy just to settle in again on Eileen’s comfortable couch, but she was enthused about having a visitor to share the city with. A change of clothes, a glass of wine, and we were ready for a cab ride downtown to Pioneer Square.

Turned out Easter weekend is not the most hopping Saturday night of the year in Seattle – but to my small town eyes, the streets thrummed with energy. Even if the bars and restaurants weren’t jammed with revelers, the sheer quantity of options and variety of music made me happy I’d revived myself for the outing.

We shared some delicious Thai-inspired food at Wild Ginger Restaurant and then roamed the streets again looking for music that wouldn’t clean out our wallets. Here things get a bit blurry, but I know we ended up in yet another Irish Pub, this one with multiple rooms and a decent cover band playing familiar tunes to gyrating dancers and pint-sipping wallflowers. If I’d switched to coffee at t his point I might have found the energy to join the dancers, but it was now close to midnight and after all, we’d taken a cab. So beer it was – another Seattle specialty incidentally.

View from the Ferry as we chug away from the city

Since Eileen was hosting an Easter Dinner, we’d planned to get up early Sunday to get in a little more exploring. Needless to say, after our long day and late night “early” took on a bit of a new meaning. But we did manage to get out in time to catch the Ferry to Bainbridge Island – a 35-minute trip across Elliott Bay. Ideally, we would have gotten off and checked out the island a bit (which I’ve since discovered is home to several well-known writers), but due to time constraints we just rode out, got off and ordered a latte, then got back on.

The views alone were worth the time and money. Although we shivered on the deck under drizzly skies while winds whipped our scarves into our faces, watching the Seattle skyline recede and then the green island approach exhilarated all the senses. Pewter waters rolled beneath us, shifting clouds chased across the sky parting occasionally to reveal a square of blue and illuminating the landscape beneath.

Less than two hours later we were back in Beacon Hill, where I prepared deviled eggs for the Easter feast and relaxed on the couch with Teagen before the guests arrived.

In addition to serving up a scrumptious holiday meal, Eileen had served me a weekend of Seattle adventures and hours of laughs and stimulating conversation. What a blessing to be hosted by such a delightful and fun Seattle resident.

Now I just have to plan my next visit.

Can't wait to get back