A Travellerspoint blog

Seattle - Diverse, Varied, and Ecclectic

A day in Pioneer Square and the International District

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I’m finding that the more I discover in Seattle, the more I realize I have yet to explore. The topography of the Pacific Northwest is varied and diverse with lakes, rivers, islands, and mountains creating dozens of physical boundaries which separate communities from each other. Perhaps this is why there are so many unique neighborhoods to explore. When compared to a large, flat, sprawling city in which the lines between communities are blurred, Seattle offers distinct boundaries where suddenly you turn a corner and the people, homes, and sights are completely different.

This week I made it a point to discover contrasting communities whose borders show no “grey area”. For this purpose I found myself in Pioneer Square, a short 15 minutes walk from Seattle’s downtown adjacent to Safeco Field and Qwest Stadium. Pioneer Square is a tourist’s delight with beautiful brick buildings, cobbled paths, and outdoor cafes. Dozens of tourists gather here in large groups to be led on walking tours of the city. Rather than get swept away in the buzz of tourists snapping photos and sporting umbrellas and ponchos (it was barely drizzling mind you), I was lured into a brightly lit, rustic looking bookshop on the corner.

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The Elliot Bay Book Company is Seattle’s largest independent book store. Despite the size, Elliot Bay exudes coziness and I could have easily passed the day browsing books curled up in dusty corner of the shop. I particularly fell in love with the Travel Loft. Here, perched high above the rest of the store, I scanned travel memoirs and guidebooks in search of my next adventure.

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Surrounded by the travel books I felt encouraged to explore, so I stepped back out onto the street determined to discover something new. It didn’t take long. Several blocks later I found myself outside of the Klondike Gold Rush Museum. Now you may be wondering, “Why the heck is there a gold rush museum in Seattle?” This is not a fluke. In fact, after the discovery of gold in the Yukon, 70% of the Klondike gold rushers were outfitted for their journey right here in Seattle before making the treacherous trip north. Needless to say, Seattle flourished as up 100,000 people passed through in their search for riches. The museum itself was beautifully crafted and between the free admission and informative displays – it easily falls in my top five favorite Seattle museums.

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Now that I had thoroughly uncovered Pioneer Square -- well I guess not technically as I have yet to go on the Underground Tour, I decided to veer east in search of the China Town and International District (even the names of the communities are as contrasting as possible: Pioneer and International!). I was determined to demonstrate that Seattle is composed of contrasting communities each sitting side by side, and within several minutes I had made my point. I literally walked just up the street and suddenly I was surrounded by the International District. With brightly painted buildings, ornate decoration, and Chinese dragons slithering up street lamps, I think I can safely say that this was nothing like Pioneer Square. The people, food, and stores were culture shock. Was I really still in Seattle? The contrast was night and day. It amazed me that I have lived in Washington my entire life and yet I had never walked the streets of the International District. The colors were vibrant, the vibe was eclectic, and the people living within were helpful and friendly. I reveled in the magical feeling of being swept away into another time and place.

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Alas, however, my day had come to an end and work was approaching – I know you may think otherwise, but I don’t get to play all day you know! Passing back through the International District into Pioneer Square I was mesmerized by the contrasts I had experienced. I love Seattle, the diverse communities, the different people, foods, and cultures, and the bountiful parks, lakes, and beaches. Despite my passion for travel, nothing can truly compare to home.

Posted by Jennylynn 14:00 Archived in USA Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Divas and Drag

A bachelorette party at Julia's on Broadway

Things are about to get a bit sentimental, but before you pull out the tissues trust that things are not going to stay innocent. You are about to embark on a weekend bachelorette party full of chocolate making, divas, and drag queens in honor of my closest friend Natalie who will be tying the knot next weekend.

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But first, let’s get the sentimental out of the way. Natalie and I have been friends for over ten years and have experienced so much of life together. She is intelligent, insightful, and a world traveler to boot. In fact, I have to admit, she may be the reason I caught the travel bug. When Natalie and I first moved out, we were sharing an apartment while attending college. During our first summer as roommates she suggested we go to Hawaii. I had never been anywhere on my own and had experienced limited travel opportunities up until that point. Our trip to Hawaii instilled in me a desire to see the world. Sure it was only Hawaii, but I will never forget walking up to Waikiki Beach for the first time feeling as though the ocean went on for eternity and that home was millions of miles away. She helped me to know what true freedom really is. Since then we have only grown closer and earlier this year we celebrated our friendship and upcoming marriages with a trip to Miami, Florida. We truly have been through it all together.

Alright, I know I said things were going to get risqué, but before we journeyed into the world of drag queens, there was a whole lot of chocolate love going around. The morning of the bachelorette party we met up with none other than The Chocolate Man himself for a day of confectionary bliss. We rolled chocolate, dipped it, swirled it, decorated it, and… ahem… yes, tasted it. By the end of the day we had created over 250 beautifully decorated truffles and molded chocolates as favors for the wedding. I have to be perfectly honest. I am a chocolate snob, and there are very few chocolate makers whom I trust. These however, were pretty dang good if I do say so myself.

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But the night was far from over; in fact we had only just begun. No bachelorette party is complete without an evening of embarrassment for the bride-to-be. We took our party to Julia’s on Broadway where we lingered over pre-show dinner and drinks. Julia’s serves up American style food in several Seattle locations with a budget friendly menu. My first experience with Julia’s was phenomenal, yet each proceeding meal has incrementally gotten worse. I kept coming back because they offer one of the greatest happy hour menus around, but after this last time, I am definitely going elsewhere.

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Julia’s on Broadway is unique in that it hosts drag show entertainment post dinner. Our Saturday night tickets got us seats for Le Faux, a knock-your-socks off celebrity impersonator show. We may have been skeptical at first, but it took just one song and dance to convince us otherwise. These ladies bedazzled the audience with their outrageous dance moves and double take celeb look-a-likeness. Perhaps it was their toned abs and flawless skin, but was I feeling a little jealous? I think I can vouch for everyone, that leaving the show we all had a newfound respect for drag queens.

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The bachelorette party was a success; Natalie was pulled on stage and received a ton a free swag for being the woman of the hour. Donning her veil next to the Bette Midler look-a-like, I couldn’t help but wonder if Dirk could pull off Bette for the wedding. No offense Dirk, but Natalie and Bette make a pretty hot pair. Congratulations you two!

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Posted by Jennylynn 22:26 Archived in USA Tagged women Comments (0)

Sunsets in Seattle

An evening at Olympic Sculpture Park

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The Seattle heat wave has moved on to greener pastures. I’m left feeling slightly depressed and cold. There is this ominous feeling that fall is slowly creeping in – and it is only the beginning of August! I’m keeping my fingers crossed and praying to the sun Gods that summer is not quite over yet. I can only sit and hope they deliver. In the meantime I needed a little morale boosting so I employed my partner in crime/husband, Dan the Man as he is known in some circles, to a night on the town. We ate great food, explored an outdoor art gallery, and took in the sunset and slowly my sadness began to slip away.

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The night began with a trip to The Olympic Sculpture Park. This waterfront outdoor art gallery was built with the backing of the Seattle Art Museum and officially opened in 2007. Thanks to a generous grant, park goers can take in the dozens of sculptures and murals for free – yes, I said free! Having just discovered this impressive and beautifully maintained outdoor area, I felt cheated out of the last two years of my life. How could I not know about this place? The location is perfectly situated right on the waterfront backed up against the Seattle skyline and provides for great photo ops. On any summer weekend the park is often filled with wedding parties utilizing the beautiful aesthetics for wedding portraits.

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Adjacent to the park is a waterfront boardwalk and park. The boardwalk leads back South towards Pike Place Market which we followed while taking in the glorious sunset. Perhaps when thinking of Seattle you imagine heavy rain laden clouds and stormy wind blown trees, but of all the places I have been Seattle consistently delivers the most stunning sunsets, well for the summer at least. This sunset was no different and lines of people could be seen leaning over the boardwalks edge, cameras in hand, capturing the beauty of Seattle that so many overlook.

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Finishing our trek through town we made our way to a tiny corner restaurant with glowing windows and a brick façade. We had arrived at Serious Pie -- the grownup, Seattle-foodie inspired, gourmet pizza created by Tom Douglas restaurateur extraordinaire. Douglas is the man behind several Seattle restaurants, cookbooks, and radio shows, and if his plate were not already full he leads the stage behind the curtain in the kitchens of Teatro ZinZanni. Oh and just to top things off, he competed on Iron Chef America against Masaharu Morimoto -- yes of course he won!

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Serious Pie having recently been featured on the Food Network was buzzing with excitement. We waited about 45 minutes for a table only to be seated in cramped quarters at high tables with about eight other diners. I am one who typically likes my space and privacy when dining out. This left no room for private conversations or stolen moments in the back of a booth. But, oddly enough, the environment, as cramped as it could be, pushed you so far out of your comfort zone that it worked. Let’s just say the seating arrangement made for many great eavesdropping moments and was quite entertaining. But enough about that, the pizza was incredible! This coming from the girl who survived in Italy on pizza and pasta alone is saying a lot. The flavors were simple and the crust delightfully chewy. We were utterly content.

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Our night ended there and although there was a chilly breeze in the air, I was happy. The height of our summer heat wave may be gone, but I will just have to find a way to cope. And if coping includes sunsets, art, and pizza… well I think I can get used to that.

Posted by Jennylynn 10:00 Archived in USA Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Bring on the Blue Angels

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Bumper to bumper traffic, road closures, and the ear splitting noise of the Blue Angels overhead…hmm something tells me it must be Seafair weekend. This being my first summer living in Seattle I have never endured the stress that comes along with one of Seattle’s most famed weekends. I heard the horror stories on the news, listened to people complain on the radio, and then avoided the area like the plague. This year however, I tightened up my boot straps and headed out into the 95 degree weather with three kids in tow to brave the traffic, noise, and masses of people.

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Since 1950, the annual Seafair Festival has attracted thousands of Seattleites to participate in a weekend of hydro races, triathlons, parades, and the famed milk car derby. The crowning glory of the Seafair weekend comes each day as the Blue Angels perform a daring albeit noisy air show.

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If you are from the United States and have never heard of the Blue Angels, well you’re not necessarily missing out on anything, but where the heck have you been? Six pilots fly the Boeing F/A-18 Hornets through a series of acrobatic performance that only leave me wondering – are they crazy? The maneuvers the pilots put these planes through cause my stomach to twist into knots as I watch the 1,200 mph planes plummet towards the ground or defy gravity in massive loops.

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It was hot and it was loud as we stood on the I-90 floating bridge connecting Seattle to Mercer Island taking in the sights of the Blue Angels. As the heat radiated off the asphalt, children were melting and parents were losing their cool. Several minutes into the show, people started to abandon ship and left for the refuge of shady trees. We stuck it out for about half the show, but ultimately it was extremely uncomfortable and I had the health of the little guys I was watching on my mind. I couldn’t help but question the integrity of the parents who brought out their newborn or infant children to endure the 95 degree weather…to a freakin’ air show! My heart broke as I watched several nearby infants scream uncontrollably from discomfort. Not cool.

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All in all, despite the heat, noise, and traffic, our journey to Mercer Island was definitely worth the trip. The parks were shaded and the ice cream trucks were there to relieve us of the heat. We enjoyed a fabulous picnic in the park and admired all the beauty that Seattle has to offer. At the end of the day we forgot all about the heat and traffic and eventually our hearing returned too.

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Posted by Jennylynn 13:53 Archived in USA Tagged events Comments (0)

The Gasworks Park Gelato Diaries

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I thought it was hot last weekend. This week things got even hotter. Seattle hit an all time record high of 103 degrees. People were freaking out. Businesses closed early when internal temperatures neared 95 degrees. It was like Black Friday as hoards of people lined up outside department stores waiting for shipments of air conditioning units and fans to arrive. Seattleites are quite temperamental about their weather apparently. I however endured the heat wave, sans AC or fans. I wonder if perhaps my distant ancestors resided closer to the equator because I find the heat quite enjoyable. While everyone else acts out doomsday scenarios and performs rain dances, I bask in the heat and reminisce of past trips to the Mediterranean.

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On one of the cooler evenings this week (it was possibly as low as 80 degrees!) I made my way to Gasworks Park to take in the sunset as it lit up the magnificent Seattle skyline. Gasworks Park is every photographers dream with contrasting elements of steel, rust, and grassy hills. In 1906 the current location of Gasworks Park played host to a plant which processed coal into oil. Fifty years later the plant closed and natural gas was imported to the area. Soon after the city acquired the site and turned the area into a park but kept many of the original structures. Now Gasworks Park is a Seattle hotspot for its incredible views, picnic areas, and waterfront location.

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I used my evening in Gasworks to capture the tranquility of the surroundings. Most visitors lounged on the grassy hills, too hot to move a muscle. Others took their hot yoga class outside and sweated it out on the harbor front.

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Gasworks Park encompasses much of Seattle’s character. Calm waterways, lots of green grass and hills to roam, and a view of the iconic skyline all with a touch of that elite hippie attitude that so defines the Seattle experience.

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My trip to Gasworks Park would not be complete without heading to neighboring Wallingford for ice cream. Now, the last time I blogged about Wallingford I stumbled upon an ice cream shop with a line literally down the street. I have since been to taste the wonders of Molly Moon’s handmade ice cream and can say with conviction that there is no better taste in the world. On this trip however I wanted to try something new and was lacking the patience to stand in line for 45 minutes at Molly Moon, so instead I wandered up the street to a little place known as The Fainting Goat. This European style shop serves up Italian style gelato within a rustic, charming interior. On a side note, I recently heard on the local radio station that Seattleites consume the third most ice cream in the United States. I find this interesting coming from a city whose average day is 55 degrees and drizzling. Either way, I am not going to argue with the stats. In fact, it doesn't surprise me given that a local ice cream shop can be found on virtually every street in Seattle. And you thought we were known for coffee?!

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With my caramel gelato in hand I sat down in the late afternoon sun and enjoyed the heat wave so many are avoiding. Maybe that’s why I enjoy this weather so much. When it’s hot I have an excuse to eat ice cream and popsicles, skip the gym, and lounge at the park all day. With that, I’m getting out of the house and heading to the beach right now!

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Posted by Jennylynn 13:40 Archived in USA Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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