Seattle weekender

Seattle has been a bit of a fixture for me over the last couple of months. Following Amerivespa in July I visited the Flying Heritage Collection earlier in August. Last weekend I was back in town for a short weekend break. The focal point of the trip was another visit to MoPop (formerly EMP) as there was a gallery of Mick Rock's early Bowie photographs. This was Bowie on the verge of superstardom. 

I didn't give myself a photography brief for the visit so the shots below are really a few tourist captures with a sprinkling of 'street' thrown in. Space Needle was looking particularly impressive with the sun peeking behind the saucer before 10am. It was also fun watching adults and kids play at the International Fountain. Water, enthralling young and old. The street shots near the Gum Wall were of people heading away from the area and I tried to capture those simply going about their day rather than visit the gum. Back in MoPop I went for a couple of Sci-Fi images that reflect humans as emotionless machines. Chilling yet captivating.

Sunny Seattle

AmeriVespa may have left town but Seattle is still close to my heart.

Seattle underground tour to Twin Peaks tourist

Seems like sewing was a very lucrative business in Seattle in the late 1800’s.

I’d seen Seattle from on high, it was now time to check out Seattle from below. The city’s underground tour is based around the Pioneer Square area, one of the oldest districts. However, before going underground, i passed by one of the most prominent landmarks, the Smith Tower.

The building which opened in 1914 certainly satisfied by need for architecture with personality. As much as I love the natural environment in my new home, I still miss the built environment of old Europe. Okay, the Smith Tower is barely out of nappies (diapers) when compared to the history that Europe offers, however, it does have a certain unique look with its tower portion extending some 12 levels above the bulk of e building. I didn’t get a chance to go inside and up the the observation deck, but I do think it would be a worthwhile visit and an alternative to the Space Needle.

Just down the hill from the Smith Tower is Pioneer Square. The area lays claim to being Seattles first neighbourhoods and seems to have been through a period of regeneration. Certainly the guide on the tour had plenty to say about the areas ‘seedier’ past, more of that later. The focal point of the square is a pergola which was home to a past street car terminus. Apparently, and I quote the tour guide, “the fanciest subterranean restroom in the country” lies beneath the square, now inaccessible due to the need to make safe the ground around it. Here’s what a 1910 article in a Seattle publication, Pacific Builder and Engineer had to say….

“The man of travels will find nowhere in the Eastern hemisphere a sub-surface public comfort station equal in character to that which has recently been completed in the downtown district of Seattle”

I can’t really add any more to that. Next stop, underground.

Back in the mid 1960’s one Bill Speidel, a local journalist turned PR guy decided that Seattle needed to retain the history it was fast losing. It seems a real case of Joni Mitchell’s ‘paved paradise‘ was being enacted as more old buildings were bought up, razed, and replaced with parking lots. Bill was a real champion for preserving and regenerating the the old downtown area and the underground tour is a result of his drive and enthusiasm. You can read lots more about how Bill’s advocacy and the underground tour on the official site. So what exactly is the underground tour? In 1889 Seattle suffered its own great fire in the downtown area and it turned out to be a great opportunity to deal with issues that the low laying land created, particularly the sewerage. Essentially humongous amounts of earth were slid down from nearby hills to raise the downtown ground level up one story. Brick buildings that remained post fire now had a new basement, and it’s these areas that form the underground tour. The tour takes 60 – 90 minutes and the time simply shot by. Walking through long disused levels of buildings below street level, listening to the guides great stories from Seattle’s past was time well spent. A fun and interesting experience. Now about the booming sewing trade. Around the time of the gold rush, Seattle had set itself up as a staging post. Prospectors that travelled through the city were offered gambling entertainment and were also able to have their ‘clothing repaired’ at one of the numerous sewing establishments. Seems like sewing was a very lucrative business in Seattle in the late 1800’s as the city’s income was bolstered by taxes on these two popular businesses.

It was time to head out of Seattle. I’d thoroughly enjoyed my short stay and will certainly return as there are still sights to see, for example, I want to take a ferry across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island.

Before heading back north there was time for a small detour. I’d found out that I could be a Twin Peaks tourist really easily. Just 30 minutes out of Seattle is Snoqualmie. Cast your mind back to that 90’s, weird, wonderful and surreal TV hit, Twin Peaks. The lodge and falls that appeared in the show are actually at Snoqualmie. Curiosity had gotten the better of me and I wanted to walk in Agent Coopers footsteps.

The experience didn’t disappoint, the falls were truly awesome. The falls are high. Very high. Higher than Niagara, in fact nearly 100 feet higher than the Niagara Falls. The water that rushes over the edge seems to then hit a stage of slow motion around a third of the way down before resuming it’s fast running onslaught. The spray was phenomenal. Despite the viewing area being higher than the falls, it was like walking in to a shower of rain. I could gush on about Snoqualmie Falls for a long time. It captivated me. The elegance and gracefulness of falling water juxtaposed with the raw power at the top and bottom of the falls. It was a very special experience. The Salish Lodge is recognizable as the Great Northern from the outside but over twenty years have passed since the show and it now looks very different inside. I didn’t notice any references to the show whilst wandering the area and I guess that the areas doesn’t need Twin Peaks as pulling power, not when the falls are so spectacular.

It was time to head off and find some “damn fine coffee“.

EMP and Pike Place

I was in the city accredited with being Grunge central.

A few paces away from the Space Needle is the EMP. Previously know as the Experience Music Project and housed in the wonderfully weird and colourful building designed by Frank O Gehry, EMP was a must do for me. I like my music and have a soft spot for Sci Fi. The EMP offered a glimpse in to both of these worlds and I wasn’t going to miss out.

First stop was the Sky Church. An enormous 70′ high space with a screen and sound system to compliment the size of the expanse, Sky Church was running music documentaries whilst I was in the building. I was met by a truly larger than life Kurt Cobain in full flow, Nirvana playing as only they could, intense, full on, in your face. I spent the next 20 minutes in a different time, but not a different place as I was in the city accredited with being Grunge central.
As Seattle is only a couple of hours from home, moments like this make me pinch myself. Yep, I really am on the west coast. Yep, I can come back another day if I want to, this is not a holiday. Good start. Now what?

The central piece in the next gallery was the guitar sculpture, tens of guitars, all shapes, sizes, colours creating a funnel of sound rising skywards. It’s probably the most photographed part of the EMP, striking. Several smaller galleries have a real diverse range of exhibits to browse; a great behind the scenes peek of the Rolling Stones 1972 tour, superb black and white candid images from Jim Marshall; a Nirvana retrospective (what else) charting the rise of what became the sound of Seattle and how Sub Pop records played its part. A new Hendrix in London exhibit was being prepared, so that gives me a reason to come back for a second visit.

Up a level was ‘Worn to be Wild’, how the black leather jacket moved from aviator wear to iconic rebel youth uniform. Hmm, did this jacket miss the sixties? My memories of the exhibit take in Brando and Dean to the Ramones on onwards. Maybe the decade of hedonism didn’t need black leather to make a statement.

Time to suspend reality and head off in to the world of Sci Fi and it’s near neighbour, horror. Wander past Forbidden Planet’s Robby and down in to a small but interesting gallery of Sci Fi artefacts. The Dalek looked like it had seen better days, another run in the the Dr no doubt. I have to admit that I enjoy looking at the detail of models, spacecraft, wacky weapons or the Terminator skull, there were some great imaginations at work to create these.

I’m no Trekkie, but I had to smile at the Tribbles scattered around Kirk’s command chair, it was the final exhibit before moving into the ‘Lure of horror film’ gallery and being welcomed by Alien. A less than subtle reminder of the ties that can bind Sci Fi and horror. I certainly enjoyed browsing this final gallery of my visit to EMP. The exploration of why we watch horror, the ability to explore current issues, daring us to confront our deepest fears, death, solitude, hopelessness. Thoughtful indeed.

I certainly enjoyed my time wandering through EMP. There were areas I didn’t fully explore and I’m pretty sure I’ll be back there to mop up the leftovers. My kind of place.

As this was the total tourist tour, it was time to board the monorail. Another feature of the 1962 world fair, the monorail only runs for around a mile, taking passengers to the downtown core. From Seattle Center to Westlake Center and then a short walk to the renowned public market at Pike Place.

To be honest, living near Vancouver with both Granville Island and Lonsdale Quay markets easily accessible, Pike Place didn’t really provide a wow. I have a suspicion that a lot is made of the first Starbucks coffee shop, just opposite the market, but let’s get some perspective here, we’re talking about a coffee shop.

A wander around the streets, it was so good to see more brick built buildings, and back to the car. The next day was to be the Pioneer Square underground tour and then head out of the city for a little Twin Peaks tourism.

Seattle short stay – Space Needle

There are spectacular views, really showcasing the surrounding area, not just the city.

Despite living in BC for five years and having toured down south, I’d never visited Seattle. I’ve ridden past the city and even seen the Sounders play the Whitecaps, however, I’d not trodden the Seattle tourist trail. That was about to change. It was time to sample the the home of Grunge and Starbucks.

Although this was a midweek trip, the wait at the border was far longer than expected, who on earth was travelling to the US at 12pm on a Wednesday. One thing worth mentioning here is that even though the wait times haven’t improved, the border crossing experience has. Since taking dual citizenship earlier in the year and investing in Canadian passports, getting in to the US has become a relative breeze. No more long line up in the office to obtain a ninety day visitors visa (green card). No more finger prints and photo’s. No more forgetting to return the green card upon expiry (I’ve received a stern talking to in the past when an expired card has been found in my UK passport). Being Engladian/Canglish sure has its benefits.

Once in the land of the free it’s an easy ride down I5 to Seattle. Interestingly, the northbound lanes were pretty busy. It was the day after the Presidential elections and I couldn’t help wondering if those Republicans that threatened to quit the country if the result didn’t go their way were actually making good on their promise. Maybe not.

The motel for the stay was around 15-20 minutes outside the downtown core on the edge of Washington University. Another hotwire.com find, the Silver Cloud Inn provided a reasonable sized room and good breakfast at half the price of downtown accommodation.

The first port of call the next day was to be Seattle Center and the iconic Space Needle.

The weather gods were playing nicely and it was a chilly but clear morning. Having found early bird parking, which is well worth the early start for, it was a short walk to the Space Needle. Although not totally dominating the sky line, the structure was clearly visible and rather at odds with the usual high tower squareness that predominates.

The Space Needle was erected for the 1962 World Fair and the artist that sketched the design, Edward Carlson, was inspired by the Stuttgart Tower. World Fairs should have a large central structure, and the Space Needle was to be Seattle’s statement.

There’s a CityPass ‘combo’ ticket offered that is valid for six attractions and it’s worth while going for if you intend to visit at least four of the six places. There wasn’t enough time on this trip to make use of the offer, so the $20 entrance it was. In to the lift (elevator)and wow, it moved. The 520 ft from ground to observation platform were covered in around 30 seconds. The city suddenly comes in to view and starts to shrink beneath you as the lift powers up the outside of the structure.

Once at the top it’s possible to walk 360 degrees around the platform, inside and outside. There are spectacular views, really showcasing the surrounding area, not just the city. The Olympics, the Cascades, Puget Sound, the ferries criss-crossing the Sound, spectacular.

The Space Needle does have a revolving restaurant, but it wasn’t on my agenda. Although it could be said that entry is a bit pricy, to me it was worth while to get a sense of the city’s location. This was a good start to the visit. Next stop ground level and the EMP.