Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Final days in Seattle

Another recap of our wanderings of late… Last Thursday we embarked on a Capitol Hill exploration which involved taking the bus up the hill then strolling along 15th Ave to Volunteer Park. I took pictures of the dahlia blooms as we walked north across the park. We considered seeking out Bruce & Brandon Lee’s graves at Lakeview Cemetery, but we had not thought to map out their exact location in advance and it would have taken hours to just randomly happen upon them. So we crossed the street to the Lake Washington overlook and then took the bus back to the Pike/Pine area of the neighborhood. As it was only late afternoon, the more interesting aspects of the neighborhood were much less apparent. We decided to decamp back downhill to T.S. McHugh’s Irish pub in Queen Anne. Another reason why I love Seattle; McHugh’s has happy hour from 4-6pm daily with all appetizers and draft beer for only $2.50. We ordered hot wings, peel’n’eat shrimp, chicken tenders, nachos, 2 drafts, and 2 Session bottles (at $3 each) and had a filling if unhealthy dinner for only $25 including tip. Friday could be summed up as a day of waiting. We had hoped to receive an answer from Greg’s boss by the end of last week as to whether or not he can work remotely from Europe for three months this fall. Unfortunately he never heard from her last week, nor this past week either. In fact, we are STILL waiting! Luckily we only had to wait in line 20-30min for a delicious late lunch at Salumi (Mario Batali’s dad’s place). We ordered a porchetta sandwich and a mixed salami sandwich and ate at the communal table in the back of the tiny restaurant. After so much meat, we needed to wash it down with beer, so we walked down to the waterfront for happy hour at Elliott’s. Of course, it was packed, so we had to wait 20-30min for the first available table. Our reward was pints of Pyramid unfiltered amber ($3), a vodka martini ($4) and 8 oysters (6 for Greg, 2 for me; $1 each). I mention the prices only because, compared to NYC where I lived in some capacity for the past 10 years, this is a bargain! We got up early Saturday to catch the bus downtown to King Street Station for our weekend excursion to Portland, OR. The only annoying thing about taking Amtrak on the west coast is you have to get in line to check-in and receive a seat assignment. Actually, maybe it’s not so bad because on the east coast, the Acela is open seating so it’s first come first serve. If you are traveling with a group, you’re obligated to queue up pretty early if you want to get seats together. After receiving our seat assignments, we still had time to walk a few blocks to Starbucks and pick up some coffee and breakfast to take on the train. The 3½ hour train ride went by relatively quickly; Greg watched the Star Trek movie on the train‘s overhead system and I read and looked out the window. Our first stop in Portland was at REI where Greg took advantage of a sale and no sales tax to buy some new walking/hiking shoes and more travel-friendly clothing for our upcoming adventures, wherever they may take us. From there we walked to Powell’s City of Books, which I immediately fell in love with, and spent time browsing the extensive travel literature section before I picked out a book to read on the flight home (Rolf Potts‘ Marco Polo Didn‘t Go There). From there we took a bus to the Portland International Guesthouse in the Nob Hill neighborhood. This turned out to be a great alternative to a hostel for a comparable price and set up more like a simple European B&B with shared baths. Plus the surrounding area, particularly 21st and 23rd Aves, has a multitude of shops & restaurants worth exploring. We dropped off our backpacks and headed to a happy hour late lunch at McMenamin’s Blue Moon. And I thought I loved Seattle happy hour… At Blue Moon, a large basket of cajun tots, Caesar salad, burger, and 2 draft beers was only $16 including tip. Surprisingly, there is no tax on food & drink either! Needing to burn some calories, we walked up to Washington Park where we strolled the Japanese Garden (serene, nice view) and the International Rose Test Garden (beautiful, intoxicating smell). After a few hours of walking, we thought we deserved a bus ride to Old Town and a beer at a sidewalk table at Rock Bottom Brewery. As the sun set, we walked along Waterfront Park snapping pictures of the many bridges that span the Willamette River. We had dinner at Rogue Brewery, where I had one of the tastiest beers I‘ve ever drank, their Hazelnut Brown Nectar. For our free "dessert" the waitress brought us each a large shot glass filled with half & half of the Hazelnut Brown mixed with the Chocolate Stout. They call it "Snickers” and it was heavenly. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to try another locally brewed beer, we bellied up to the bar one last time at Laurelwood, which is a pub/restaurant in a converted house in Nob Hill. We also lucked out on late night happy hour and actually laughed when we received our $6 tab. Another early alarm on Sunday had us up, packed, and eating a quick breakfast at the hotel then walking to pick up the rental car downtown before 9am. We managed to get on the scenic Columbia River Gorge highway without any wrong turns and were soon winding our way up above the gorge. Unfortunately the morning started off a bit damp and foggy so we initially had very little visibility of the gorge. But it started clearing by 11am and there was only blue sky as we stopped at some of the many waterfalls along the route. Another interesting stop was the Bonneville Dam and fish hatchery where we saw Herman the Sturgeon (a massive 450lb, 10ft long, 70-year-old fish), along with ponds of rainbow trout, and migrating fish jumping up the ladders. We stopped in Hood River to get lunch where it became a bit of an ordeal trying to find a deli and nearby street parking. The town sits above the river, so as we were driving around we were able to see all the kite surfers taking advantage of the excellent weather conditions. From there we continued on to Mt Hood past mile after mile of orchards and even some alpacas. Unlike our drive to Mt Rainier a few weeks ago, when we never saw the mountain during the entire drive south and east, we were able to see all but the very tip top of Mt Hood from every angle as we drove south and west on Hwy 26. Our final destination was the Timberline ski resort, at 6000ft (Mt Hood is 11245ft tall), where we walked around the property then had a beer in the lodge‘s Ram‘s Head bar before driving back to Portland. We street parked the rental car then walked the few blocks to the train station where we were able to get our seat assignment and board the train without waiting. The 3½ hour ride back to Seattle was again uneventful and even somewhat scenic (I saw a few deer along the way). We even timed it right to catch a bus back to our home away from home with no waiting. Monday, as usual, was a recovery day. We are now focused on eating our remaining food in preparation for our imminent departure (which means yesterday‘s lunch was an interesting melange -- I made a salad for Greg with lunch meat on the side and a concoction of packets of soy sauce, honey, mustard & some cran-grape juice as the dressing). After scavenging for lunch, we decided to treat ourselves to happy hour at Peso’s Kitchen in Queen Anne where we had two draft beers, and four large appetizers (chicken & lime soup, carnitas tostadas, steak quesadillas, bacon-wrapped shrimp). Today was another typical work day, with the exception that we took a break this morning to walk down to Pike Place Market just as all the vendors were setting up. This is definitely the best time to visit the market, when you don't have to fight the crowds of tourists just to walk down the sidewalk or to get a better look at the food and other items for sale. We enjoyed coffee from the original Starbucks while we strolled through all three levels of the market. We also purchased piroshkies to take back to the apartment for lunch, cheese from Beecher's, and fresh beef jerky. I know those of you reading this who are familiar with Seattle will laugh or scoff when you read the following: for our final dinner tonight we went across the street and got Dick's hamburgers, fries, and a strawberry shake. We're returning to Nashville tomorrow and it is not without some sadness that we are leaving the Pacific Northwest. I will try to post here again by the end of the week to record my/our overall impressions from the past month.

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