Speechless in Seattle!

Seattle, in the north-western state of Washington, is named after a local Indian chief. Like California, Seattle and its vicinity has a lot of sights to offer. There is no dearth of National Parks and choosing some to fit our vacation was difficult. Dilip had interned at Microsoft years back and had been to most of the places around Seattle. His recommendations were a strong factor in the decisions we made.

Arriving in Seattle for a conference, a few days before I did, Dilip visited the Puget Sound (an arm of the Pacific Ocean between islands) and the University of Washington (popularly known as ‘U-Dub’. It took me a while to figure out that ‘U-Dub’ was a phonetically shortened version of ‘U-Dublew’ or UW)

Seattle is informally known as the ‘Rain City’ and it lived up to its name. It rained a lot when we were indoors and when we were driving. But God was merciful. It never rained when we were out sightseeing!

The Space Needle is to Seattle what Golden Gate is to SF or Lady Liberty is to NY. It is the undisputed icon of Seattle. To get to the Space Needle, we rode the monorail. It was a nice experience that felt like flying among all the skyscrapers while looking down at bustling crowd on the streets below. BTW, I think the best way to tour Seattle downtown is to use public transport. Standing under the Space Needle and looking up at it, is like standing under a giant mushroom. To get better views of the Space Needle, I recommend Volunteer’s Park. We got some good shots there, especially through the sculpture ‘The Black Sun’.

Right next to Volunteer’s Park is a cemetery where the famous of Seattle including Chief Seattle and others like Bruce Lee and Brandon Lee, rest. Dilip decided that visiting the dead wasn’t his kind of thing and so we skipped the cemetery.

Pike Place Market in Seattle reminded me of Fisherman’s Wharf in SF – A lot of small shops selling whatever you can think of and a constant smell of freshly cooked food in the air (especially seafood) . Pike Place is also the birthplace of Starbucks. The original Starbucks started here in 1971 before Howard Schultz turned it into a legacy. What we found queer but interesting at Pike Place is a ‘Wall of Gum’ outside a theater where people waiting in line for shows covered an entire brick wall in the alley with chewing gum. Yuck! But we did go to see exactly how yuck it was! (Check the pic on the right)

A short drive away from the city center is Mt.Rainier National Park, which is well worth a visit. Mt.Rainier is an active volcano and it stands rather alone in the Cascade Range. It can be viewed from just about anywhere in the city. But getting up close is magical. We headed for the Paradise area of the park. The Nisqually trail offers great views of the mountain, the glaciers and the wildflowers. Destruction caused by a major flood in 2006 is still visible and some areas are still inaccessible.

Planes (or any automobile for that matter) are not my kind of thing. Planes are my concern only when I need to travel. But I am glad Dilip talked me into visiting the Boeing Factory in Everett. It was awesome! This is the only place in the world where Boeing 747, 767, 777 and the new 787 Dreamliner series are built. The building is in the Guiness book of world records for the largest building by volume. Photographs and infants are not allowed on the tour. To take the tour, you need to be atleast 4 feet tall. However, the gallery with interactive and educative exhibits is very interesting and open to all. You can even design your own plane which then gets evaluated on its performance and capacity and you get a free printout of your plane as a keepsake.

We went to the Olympic National Park mainly to see the Temperate Rainforests of Northern America. The rainforest here is a cool green treat to the eye completely draped in moss. It is also home to Elks which usually retreat to higher altitudes in summer. The vegetation was entirely different from the Amazonian Rainforests we had visited recently. There are lovely beaches along the Pacific coast of the park, some featuring ‘sea stacks’ caused by sea water erosion. Olympic National Park is quite a drive from the city but the rainforests, the mountains and the beaches make it worthwhile. I suggest a drive along the perimeter of the Park to cover all the attractions and a couple of days to see it all.

On a prior trip, Dilip was enchanted by Diablo Lake & Ross Lake in the Cascade Mountains and he insisted on taking me there. Again, I was only too happy to be led. The lakes were beautiful! An amazing shade of green. Looked like a patch of green carpet amid the mountains. We spent time double kayaking on Ross Lake surrounded by mountains on all sides. Ross Lake also has a resort built on floating logs. Its the right place to be away from the world and its worries. It drizzled occasionally. But it only added to the magic of literally sitting on the water and gliding along the green waters in the kayak.

We made our trip more memorable by visiting family and friends in the area. I loved it when Dilip drove around the Microsoft area, pointing out the building where he worked, the apartment where he stayed and the places he frequented during his short stint in this city, 3 years ago!

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