Facing the Pacific, Seattle – The Emerald City of United States
“Sure, Sir! I would be there in 5 minutes.” The Uber driver said in the most courteous manner when I called him to confirm my cab booking for the airport. I was already waiting at Hyatt Regency’s forecourt when the shining magenta Honda Accord drove into the driveway. As the bell boy put the luggage in the trunk of the car, the driver opened the gate and I jumped into my seat – not before tipping the bell boy, though. I was to catch a flight off to Seattle – the Emerald City – and the excitement was proving difficult to contain. Within an hour, on the afternoon of 23rd of April, I was at the San Antonio International Airport waiting at the check-in counter for my turn. After passing through the usual airport formalities, I boarded the Alaskan Airlines flight to Seattle. This was a direct flight as Seattle is the base airport for the airline and the four and half hour experience was similar to that of the United Airlines I had taken earlier – a complimentary drink, access to the inflight system by hooking on to wifi based intranet, courteous staff and comfortable seating. We landed in Seattle right on scheduled time and the clock churned 8 as we taxied to the gate.
|A look at Seattle's Shores|
I was familiar with the airport as I had passed through it that week itself and hence found it easier to navigate to the baggage claim and then to the taxi garage. I took a cab to the hotel and was at the reception of Four Points by Sheraton by about 10 in the night. Since the hotel was full, I was upgraded to an executive suite which according to the lady at reception was bigger with better sofa. The room was nicely put together and had all the necessities but the facility itself was limited service facility with no room service. This was a boutique hotel with limited rooms but maintained beautifully. Located in the northern part of the city, this was close to an important tourist attraction – Seattle Center which housed numerous points of interest. Further, it was a good place to cover the northern half of the city if one wanted to save on time and transportation. The north is where you get the most spectacular views of nature and the city. It was already late by the time I settled in the room and hence decided to call it a night after a good Indian meal ordered via “eat24.com” a local version of Indian Zomato.
|Seattle from the Space Needle|
|Another Look from Space Needle - The High Risen City|
Next morning brought with it a beautiful day with light drizzle across the pristine city. Though locals were used to the ever happening rains, we found a unique charm in this. The drizzle gradually gained force and we decided to enjoy the lazy morning over good complimentary breakfast and scenic weather. Well doing nothing is sometimes fun too. At about noon, once the drops slowed, I and one of my friends left the hotel to explore the city and gain maximum out of the day we had in town before we go ahead for a week of work to return again next weekend. The first look of the city made it look like a beautiful city - well organized, laid back and inviting.
Our first stop was of the day was the Seattle Center which was a busy location in the city. It is the center for a number of tourist attractions and hence is a major spot of any itinerary in Seattle. We headed to the Space Needle - our first spot. This is the most popular tower in the region for providing a view of the city from 520 feet height. The bubble elevator ride was fun in itself as the look of the city traveling vertically gaining height was nothing short of a charm. Though this was smaller than the tower of Americas in San Antonio, still the view of the skyline and world below were spectacular. The look of Seattle is unique from this altitude and one gets to grasp the entire city in a view. We spent a good time at the height. Next, we visited the Pacific Science Center. The center is an epitome of scientific mind and has a number of interactive displays on science and technology. There are a butterfly house and IMAX theaters besides the exhibits to keep visitors engaged and the center periodically conducts laser shows. Chihuly Garden and Glass which are located next to the science center features a lot of popular works of the artist and architectural installations.
|The Great Wheel on Waterfront|
|Zooming to Downtown - Seattle Monorail|
Once we had explored enough of the Seattle Center we proceeded to the Downtown area to have a flavor of the main part of the city. It was not a regular journey as we had opted for the iconic monorail ride – the short metro connection that takes you from northern part of the city to downtown in minutes. The trip provides mesmerizing views of the city on the route and the ride is a pleasurable experience. The monorail drops passengers at the West Lake Side Mall and hence we spent some time exploring this mall – pretty big mall with major brands located right in the center of everything that Seattle is. We walked from the mall to the waterfront. The shores are the perfect place for enjoying views of distant land across the water. Waterfront is full of activities as it provides enough to attract visitors. We took a ride on the Seattle’s great wheel which is a relatively latest addition to the waterfront and provides a great ride and good views. Seattle Aquarium is located right beside the wheel. There are a lot of souvenir shops around the waterfront and we did spend some time picking gifts for family and friends. By now, the wind had that chilling feel in it and we decided to head back to the hotel. We undertook the return ride on Downtown Transit buses, involving a transfer. I have to say that if you have active Google Maps on your palm, a lot of potential hurdles in the city are avoided. We later had a good dinner – ordered through eat24 – a local version of Zomato, which provided good options and ordering choices.
We were back in the city on the next weekend for another round of touristic explorations and were standing at the hotel reception for check in on evening of 29th April. This time, I had chosen to put up in Arctic Club – a heritage property in Downtown - located a couple of blocks from the waterfront. Rooms were nice and functional. Each room had a touch of its ancient relationship and the furniture and decor showcased history. Service wasn’t top notch but was still fine to deal with. It was already late for most of the places which a tourist may want to. However, I wasn’t going to waste it and hence reached the concierge to identify ways of making best of the available time. I got two suggestions and I decided to cover both of them. I went straight to the Pioneer Square and booked the ticket for Bill Speidel's Underground Tour. That was one hell of a journey. While the initial 15 minutes of guidelines and context setting was an interesting peek into the history and origins of this wonderful city, the next hour and a half through the basement tunnels, structures and remains of once buildings was definitely an enlightening experience. The picture of the town before the big fire engulfed it and how the city planners raised the entire city by a floor is a worth knowing fact. Next, I walked a couple of blocks uphill to the Copernicus Building. This is the highest building in Washington and, at about 943 feet across 76 floors, and the second largest building on the west coast. The largest being US Bank tower in Los Angeles, this has the tallest public viewing area on the West Coast and west of the Mississippi. The observatory on top of the building provides a 360-degree view of the entire region and covers the city and suburbs. I spent half an hour there capturing the picturesque scenes through the lens of my Nikon. This was enough coverage for a work day evening and hence, I returned to the hotel to rest a bit before the whirlwind excursions over the weekend.
|Standing Tall - Touching the Clouds : Columbia Tower|
|Farmers' Market - Pike Place|
|View from Gas Works Park|
After the lunch, we had a few parks on our itinerary. While the name parks may suggest places for those who look for places to rest or for those who want to take kids to keep them engaged for some time and find time out, but here the case was very different. These were actually points to catch best of views of the city and provide such marvelous look of the city from a very different perspective. Out first stop on this round of tour was the Kerry Park. It’s a fairly small park that sits right on the hill. The most popular part of the park is the north end, which is where you can see the incredible view of Seattle. We were told that on a clear Seattle day, you can see the beautiful city, Elliott Bay, the Olympic Mountain range, and the magnificent Mount Rainier. We were lucky enough to enjoy that view on our visit to this park .After a round of intense posing and photography we headed to the next stop, Gas Works Park. We crossed the big Seattle Lake over the Metropolitan Transit Bus and were dropped at a relatively secluded place. It was courtesy, again, the Google Maps that we figured out the right lanes to reach the park. Apparently this is not too high on a tourist maps and is a bit farther from the city and hence limited tourists make it here. The remains of an age old utility plant were carefully developed into a recreational zone with a number of activities including rafting and sailing. The large lawns attracted locals in large numbers. This was last stop for the day and we took a bus back to the hotel retired for the day – tired and exhausted.
|View from Paradise - Mount Rainier|
Next day we had a whole day excursion to Mount Rainier and had booked a day tour as public transportation was not an option. The van picked us up at around 7:30 AM from our hotel and after picking up other co-tourists, we proceeded towards the blue-eyed mountain. Our first stop was a grocery store to stock some eatables and snacks for the way. The tour operator included complimentary water and hence that was available in plenty. Once adequately stocked, we moved ahead towards our destination. After about 3 hours of our initial start we stopped at our first point. This was a short trail into the national park for a wonderful view of the snowcapped peak of Mount Rainier. Our next stop of the day was a set of waterfalls – Narada Falls - coming down smoothly through the cracks in those mighty hills and providing a picturesque scene to relish. As we wrapped up this point, we headed to the destination of the day. This “mountain” is an active volcano encased in over 35 square miles of snow and ice. Surrounded by old-growth forest and stunning wildflower meadows, there is a reason the valley at the base of the mountain is called Paradise, which was where we were destined. At about 2 PM the driver pulled up the van in the parking lot and gave us an hour and a half for ourselves. It was time for lunch and so we were all walking down to the Paradise Visitor Center for a quick bite. After silencing the hunger worms, we went for a short hike on the snowy slopes of the mountain and climbed onto the slippery terrain for some great view of the surrounding. We met back the tour guide at the scheduled time and then he took us for an extended hike to secluded viewpoints, known to few. We ended our excursion only by 5, hesitantly but aware of timing restrictions. As we departed, we were sure to carry memories of this day in our minds for time to come. The guide dropped us at the hotel at about 8 and we bid goodbye to our co-passengers and guide. Next day we went back to Tacoma for another week of work and meetings and I returned to the city the next weekend on my way back to India.
The next weekend we were back at the same hotel at about 4 in the evening of May 6th, Friday. I checked in my room 501 and rested for a while. Later the entire project team had a sumptuous dinner at Elliott’s Oyster House. The place right on the waterfront has an awesome ambiance and provides both indoor and outdoor seating. We got a seat in the indoor quarters and the décor was a beach-side cottage look. The food was awesome and the cook snuggled up some good vegetarian options for me. The next day it was me alone and had planned to cover up a couple of points yet to be explored. I went across to the Bremerton Islands for a quick tour. The island is famous for its navy settlements and has a rich naval history. On return, I went across the water taxi to the West Seattle region to enjoy picture perfect looks across the beaches and of the city. I returned and then went for a quick lunch post which I spent my early evening souvenir shopping. Once done with this, I checked out of the hotel and left hotel just in time for a quick stop at the Museum of Flights where one can come across carefully curated artifacts related to air travel. This marked an end of this trip to the United States and I boarded my flight back to India. Onboard the Etihad Airways’ Boeing 777, I was sad to depart after a great business cum leisure tour but was looking forward to being with family after a month. The trip to Thailand comes next and I fully intend to make full use of it to unwind and explore territories further – so what if I only get a day in India, before my flight to Bangkok.
|Pioneer Square - Night View|