Monday, March 29, 2010

My Heart Belongs to Seattle

For pretty much as long as I can remember I have wanted to visit Seattle. And when I say I have always wanted to visit Seattle, what I actually mean is I have always wanted to live in Seattle.

It is hard for me to put a finger on what it is about Seattle's reputation that attracts me. In stereotype terms Seattle is known for coffee, rainy, sunless days, the grunge movement, the Space Needle and a mountain rarely seen through the clouds.

But for some reason I have just known it would be a city I would fall in love with. And that feeling has nothing to do with Sleepless in Seattle.

As a sidenote, that feeling also has nothing to do with my lingering bitterness over a roadtrip my brothers and their friends took to Seattle in my car a number of years ago during which in a fit of spite they tossed one of my mix tapes (I said it was a number of years ago) out the window. They try to justify their destruction of property/littering act as being a) hilarious and b) prompted by how terrible the Spin Doctors are. I think both of their defenses suck since all they did was stomp on my college memories when they ditched my tape.

So when the opportunity arose for me to fly to Seattle for work, I jumped on it and sort of manipulated my purpose for going to fall on a Friday so I could easily stay for the weekend to explore. Because the worst thing about traveling for work is going to a cool city and only seeing the airport, the hotel and whatever courtroom or conference room that is hosting the trip's purpose. And that Friday was last week which meant I flew out there on Thursday afternoon and returned to New York late last night. Which gives me enough time to unpack my suitcase tonight and repack for another work trip to San Diego tomorrow. But that is another story.

Since I didn't have time to actually plan anything for my maiden Seattle voyage, I asked my facebook friends for tips and advice on what to do, see and eat. And people couldn't say enough good things about the place which only elevated my anticipation to the point where I worried that it was going to be overhyped and I might be disappointed.

Let me put it out there right now that I was not disappointed. In fact, all weekend I kept thinking "I want to move here" interrupted by "I wish I lived here" followed by "I wonder if I can figure out a way to live here" and finished off with a "I wonder when would be a good time to make my move to Seattle?"

Needless to say I pretty much instantly fell in love with the city. And not just because it put on a good show for me with a sunny blue sky, mild temperatures, great finds at the Nordstrom Rack, introducing me to some fun guys to spend my Saturday with and amazingly delicious fish. I also just loved the city's vibe. The westerness of it. The big city but not too big feel. The friendliness that doesn't cross the line into creepy (sorry, but I'm looking at you Orange County). The water. And just the overall . . . vibe. Every city has one and I think it either grabs you or it doesn't. Seattle totally grabbed me.
I spent Friday in an office trying not to be too distracted by this view.
Sure, the clouds were low and it looked like rain but it sure beats the other buildings and tiny piece of gray sky I'm looking at out my office window today. Besides, my normal office is situated so that my back is to the window and this one was cruel in its configuration of facing me directly out the long window.

My biggest mistake with this trip was to book my weekend time (the time I was paying for) in a separate hotel than the one my firm booked. I should have splurged because this hotel was amazing and I could have stayed in that room all weekend and been in heaven. But I didn't want to pay $200 a night for it. And I regret that decision! Why? Because I went from a room with a giant flat screen that greeted me with a welcome message, a deluxe king size bed with loads of pillows and fancy switches to open and close the shades on the windows surrounding the deep tub in the bathroom to . . . a cramped little overpriced room with a worn spot on the headboard (gross!) and a worn down feel. Not to mention the elevator. Consider this my public service advisement, if you ever decide to stay at the Executive Hotel in Seattle, you should realize what you are getting into.

As I was checking in the woman being helped next to me made a big production about not having a room near the elevator. In my head I thought she was being ridiculously picky. That was before I got to my room that was three rooms away from the elevator and all I could hear throughout my stay was the whirring of the elevator going up and down. Oh, wait, did I say that was all I could hear? I'm sorry, that was just when I was not listening to people in adjacent rooms having conversations that sounded as if they were sitting in my bathroom. Also, it felt kind of dingy. The place is supposedly a 3 star boutique. But going from the 1000 Seattle four star to this place felt like I was suddenly backpacking around Europe again and this was the $40 bargain room. I paid $90. I could have stayed at the Hotel Monaco across the street for $110 or the W for $120 a block away. Both are very nice hotels and were supposedly comparable. I say, only in location. And don't think I'm being snobby or overly picky. I'm just saying it is all about expectations and mine were just a bit higher, maybe unjustifiably so, but they were higher nonetheless.

And that is the only thing I did not enjoy about my trip. Well, that and the fact that I was naseous for the bulk of Friday to the point that I barely managed to eat lunch and skipped dinner in favor of some Pepto, a Sprite and a granola bar from Walgreens.
But back to the good parts.

Despite my unhappy tummy and because of my fairly unpleasant room, I pushed myself out the door to wander around the downtown area Friday night. I purposely avoided Pike's Place Market out of fear that anything smelling of fish would push my stomach over the edge and turned to shopping instead. Have I ever told you how I think Nordstrom is the best department store? And how it is pretty much the only one not in New York City? Well, there it is. And even better? Nordstrom Rack. I found myself walking out of there with two new pairs of shoes, a new trench coat, a pashmina, a couple of shirts and an assortment of jewelry. That is quite a feat of shopping for me in good conditions but when feeling bloated and pukey - huge success.
Saturday was when my I love Seattle attitude really rooted itself into my core. I was out of the hotel by around 930 am outfitted for my scheduled 45 minute run. At this point in my Ragnar training every Saturday adds 5 more minutes to my long run and this 45 minute run was a landmark because previously, I had never run for that long. I walked the handful of blocks straight down (I had no idea Seattle was so hilly!) to the waterfront and ran towards Myrtle Edwards Park. It was cool when I started out but as I ran it felt like the perfect temperature once I removed my light jacket. The first 10-20 minutes felt easier than usual. I was seeing new things and completely fascinated by the city's skyline, the water, the shops I passed, all the people out running and walking dogs and cycling. And before I knew it, I was at my halfway point and I felt good. I turned to run back and the time flew. This never happens to me. I am constantly consulting my watch and checking my pace on my ipod to convince myself to keep going. But Seattle made running better and before I knew it I was standing next to the Aquarium stretching having completed 4.28 miles! Plus, I now had some ideas of where I wanted to wander once I showered and got dressed. Win, win!

(view of the skyline from my run although I took the photo later in the day)

I walked back to my hotel through Pike's Place Market and was instantly over stimulated. I wanted to buy flowers and produce and fresh fish and funky jewelry. What I ended up buying was a vegan maple cinnamon roll and a large water. It was perfect without being overly sweet.

Back at the hotel I had to attend to some work emails and clean up and then I was off once again. I didn't really have a destination or a plan in mind. I just wanted to get to know the city more as a pedestrian. One of my favorite things to do in New York is to pick a neighborhood and just wander. Each neighborhood has its own flavor and I wanted to get to know downtown Seattle's. I returned to Pike's Place and saw the guys throwing fish and looked around for somewhere to eat. I was ready for fresh fish - chowder or fish and chips, something street food-ish. Nothing at the market was grabbing me and unlike my first visit earlier, the crowds were overwhelming. So I descended a number of stairs back down to the waterfront where I had seen a lot of restaurants. I settled on the Crab Pot where I enjoyed smoked halibut and huge potato wedges on the pier as I read my book in the sun.

I spent the early afternoon getting a closer look at the Seattle Art Museum's sculpture garden I had spotted on my morning run.

In this next one you can see Myrtle Edwards Park down near the water.
I sat down near this last sculpture to read and just watch the people and water and happenings for a while but mostly to rest. That 4+ mile run combined with opting to wear the cute new shoes was resulting in weary body and blisters. I also killed time until my next activity with a call to my Northwest loving brother who used to live in Portland but now resides on the east coast. I knew he would appreciate my enthusiasm for the city and I had to tease him about seeing The Old Spaghetti Factory - he and our other brother worked at the one in SLC for years.
My big afternoon tourist event was to take a boat tour. The "cruise" started aboard a bus crowded with families vacationing with small children and extended family and I felt a bit out of place. I didn't really want to be a tourist in this city, I wanted to belong to it and for it to belong to me. But I also wanted to see it and this was a good way. We boarded the boat in Lake Union and saw the houseboat neighborhoods floating on the lake and the tour guide pointed out the famous Sleepless in Seattle house. The sun was not as warm as it had been on land and was playing hide and seek behind clouds so it was kind of chilly. I passed the time by listening to our entertaining tour guide crack jokes no one seemed to appreciate but me and eavesdropping on three guys seated near me. They had accents I could not place and one was pretty cute but I couldn't figure out a way to insert myself into their conversation gracefully so I just listened to factoids about the various neighborhoods and boats we passed and fell a bit more in love with Seattle. I especially enjoyed the part where we went through the Hiram Chittenden (aka the Government) Locks, it was fasinating to see how it worked. Especially since they function similar to the Panama Canal which I had just seen earlier in the month.

When we were off the lake and in the sound the tour guide took a break and I decided it was time to warm up with some hot chocolate and some indoor time down below. Besides, the three guys I had been watching as entertainment had gone into the covered portion of the top deck or the front of the boat. I went down the back stairs and was surprised to see them ordering drinks at the concession stand. One of them immediately offered to buy me a drink. And just like that I was one of them.

Their unidentifiable accents? South African. I do not know why that accent is so hard for me to recognize in the abstract. It isn't for lack of exposure. I have a couple of people I deal with for work down there so I should at least be able to place it but I always mistakenly believe the speakers are Dutch or German speaking English. They were in town for a conference for their very large tech company employer. In addition to buying me a drink they offered me some of the curry chocolate bar they had purchased from concessions that was . . . interesting. I actually liked it and the others found it too weird.

The rest of the cruise back to Elliott Bay was vastly enhanced by my new companions as we joked around and got to know one another. Two of the guys were married but lucky for me the cute one was single! And the most entertaining.

As the ship pulled into the dock they began discussing dinner options and the cute one put his vote in for . . . The Spaghetti Factory! I quickly dissuaded them of an apparent long time desire to try this "Italian" restaurant that one of them had been eyeing since a previous trip! I personally found this hilarious given all the stories I have endured of my brothers' years of serving there. A brief description of the place made them change their minds.

I didn't want to be invite myself along but I was enjoying their company and really, I wanted to be invited along. I stuck near them as we disembarked and lingered slightly (but not awkwardly!) until one asked if I wanted to join them for their yet to be determined dinner destination. I quickly agreed pointing out my backup plan was a solo dinner with my book. No one really had any ideas so I offered the one dinner suggestion I received on facebook - a place called Etta's near Pike's Place. I didn't know exactly where it was but I had googled it earlier in the day so I knew the general area. As we hiked up the stairs toward Pike's Place I fell into stride with the cute one and conversation flowed easily. We stopped a few times for "tourist moments" such as watching the fire department ships shooting water fountains in arcs on the bay and admire the sun shining on the water.

We found the restaurant with little trouble and despite being told initially of a 30 minute wait, we were seated fairly readily. Before selecting a seat in the booth I slipped away to the restroom curious to see how they would configure themselves when I got back. Since two of them are married it shouldn't be surprising that the empty seat was next to the cute guy but it still made me feel like there might be some mutual interest there.

Dinner was great - the food, the conversation, everything. It was one of those meals where there isn't enough time for everyone to talk and stories flowed easily into one another and everyone is surprised when the bill arrives because it seems like we just sat down. One of the topics that kept us all entertained was adventure travel and stories of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro overlapped with sky diving spilled into scuba diving and, of course, my own tales of Panama with a dab of Iceland and river rafting. Our dinner was so entertaining that we outlasted the bridal party seated at an adjacent table! Their party had about 15 or so people and were seated after us and left before we got around to paying the check!

Out on the sidewalk post dinner I was not ready to say goodbye and lucky for me, neither were they and one suggested we find a spot for drinks. More wandering and talking until we found a pub that was happily near my hotel. Here the conversation turned to more weighty topics like the recent health care reform bill and race relations in South Africa as compared to the U.S. and the "Sliding Doors" phenomenon of missed chances or missed catastrophes. It was fascinating. But not all deep and philosophical. One of the guys posed an innocent seeming question that dragged into a recurring topic: "Do you consider yourself a better than average driver?"

I learned a lot about my new friends and though I revealed some of myself, I was listening more than talking. As the night grew later our numbers dwindled until it was just me and the cute one. I was tired but didn't want to admit it. Eventually he walked me to my hotel, both of us quiet for the first time all evening. I teased him a bit about his sudden silence and was grateful that he was willing to walk me back to my hotel. I wondered why he was sticking around by himself if he wasn't going to bother kissing me. But just as I was ready to believe I had misread the situation, he said goodnight and pulled me closer for a kiss. A really good kiss.


Jen said...

Woo hoo! A great ending to a great day! Then what happened?!?

Mary said...

It's just like you were in your own magical movie!

michele said...

way to go alyssa! i could visit you in seattle. i've always wanted to live there too. or south africa? never been there.

Kelly said...

What a great trip ... with a really great ending!

NannyGoat said...

You are so foot loose and fancy free! Isn't life good?!?!

Emily said...

Va va vooom! Did you exchange phone numbers? Emails? More information, please!

Omgirl said...

It sounds like a great trip. I know what you mean about a city's vibe just grabbing you.

Did you say San Diego? MY heart belongs to San Diego! Love that place.

Related Posts with Thumbnails