Steepness in Seattle

Seattle, Washington. Home of the Seahawks and the Mariners, the grunge music scene of the 1990s, fresh seafood that will make you moan and a long, pretty shoreline. It’s not surprising that they have tourism down to an art form. You can fly in, as we did from Victoria, via Alaska Air. You can take a ferry, as we did back to Victoria. They have light rail from the airport into downtown and bus rapid transit in the core. Uber and Lyft both operate legally alongside traditional cabs. Seattle gets it. Visitors want choices.

Erin and I decided to take our chances on navigating light rail and it couldn’t have been easier. The pick-up point at Sea-Tac airport is a short jaunt from the terminal, and the ticket-buying process is clearly explained on handy machines. You pay according to distance, and for the sum of $3 US each we were taken along almost the entire route. (There were only two more stops beyond ours.) Talk about a bargain. A cab from the airport to downtown costs about $55. We gave thanks to the gods of comfortable footwear after hiking up steep city streets to our hotel. I consulted a bike-rider’s blog and discovered that we had walked some of the steepest streets in the city, with slopes between 10-19%. You definitely feel it in your calves.

Huge red sign: Public Market Center, over historic market buildings

First stop after dropping off our bags: Pike Place Market, a labyrinth of shops and stalls bursting with fresh produce, fish, meat, handmade goods, high-end clothing, low-end clothing, restaurants, kitchen wares, jewellery, art, spices, wine and just about anything else you can imagine. Vendors are friendly. The fish monger put on some sort of show we could never get close enough to fully understand but it was always followed by a lot of clapping and laughter from the gathered crowd. And we can’t forget Rachel.

bronze statue of a large pig

Rachel the Piggy Bank, a bronze statue, stands beneath the market’s iconic clock. She has gathered hundreds of thousands of dollars for social services since her installation in 1986. Everyone stops to greet Rachel. Rubbing her snout (and making a donation!) is supposed to give you good luck. Seattle has a lot of humour – er, humor – even when it comes to bathroom emergencies.

black tiles on white wall, under PUBLIC RESTROOMS are depictions of a woman, a female child and a man appearing to run while holding a baby outstretched ahead of him

At the birthplace of Starbucks, you’d expect nothing less than a coffee shop on every corner. Even the one-off cafes have their own ordering language but no one seems offended if you don’t care to learn it. We attempted to have breakfast at Biscuit Bitch – a small, local chain – but the best we could do was make duck-faces in front of the sign. The place was packed.

Erin and I make duck faces in front of a logo on a window that reads Biscuit Bitch

Sadly, there are lots of homeless people. We saw them on virtually every block and were approached on a regular basis. If you want to eat lunch on a patio you may have to be prepared to do so in front of someone begging for change. A cabbie told us the city is putting money into shelters and affordable housing but many homeless aren’t interested. We don’t know if that’s true.

Chris Cornell died while we were in his hometown. A memorial grew at the Sound Garden, from which his band took its name, and the Space Needle went dark for an hour in tribute to him. However, the sun shone for us after the original Seattle forecast had called for rain. Erin found discarded change everywhere we went. Lucky pennies and a lucky quarter. They just seem to appear at her feet, as did a faux diamond earring in a department store. I missed the coins but I felt lucky on the entire trip. Tomorrow, views from the top and the bottom of Seattle.

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