Wednesday, March 5, 2014

We got sleepless in Seattle

It's been one week since we got back from our weekend trip to Seattle, and we discovered that one can really get sleepless there...

1. So, firstly, why Seattle and not another city?
Well, Seattle was cheap enough and near enough. United Airlines charged us $190 for a return ticket and it was about a 2-hour flight. A quick get-away for the weekend!

2. What were your expectations?
Nothing much, really. Everyone told us about Space Needle, Pike Place Market, Boeing flight tours. Out of those three, we only managed to do Pike Place Market. It was raining throughout the three days that we were there, so there was no point going up Space Needle! Plus, we found more interesting things to do, so we skipped the usual tourist spots.

3. How did you find Pike Place Market? Did you like it?
Pike Place Market was worth a visit. We didn't eat or buy much but the variety of products, the array of colours, the crowd (!) gave the place a lot of buzz and excitement, even on a rainy Saturday morning.

There's the original Starbucks just across the street (did you know they originated from Peet's?). And the world famous Pike Place Fish Market, where employees throw fishes at one another, and sometimes at customers too! The atmosphere was fantastic.


3. What other 'more interesting things' did you do?
Well, on our first day we took the Washington State Ferry at Pier 52 to visit Bainbridge Island. It was only $7.50 for a round trip, and the ferry offered really comfortable seating. We saw Space Needle from afar (so I guess that counts!) and also the Seattle waterfront.

We walked into Winslow after a 35-minute ride. It's a small seaside town off the Bainbridge Island pier. There wasn't anything special to see at Winslow - we just checked out the boutiques and chilled out at a coffee joint. I wanted to follow the waterfront trail to get the beach, but it rained!

Day 2 was the most exciting! We drove 2 hours south to Mount Rainier, a 14,400-feet tall active volcano and one of the snowiest place on earth. I was initially disappointed because I had wanted to snowshoe at Crystal Mountain - the $49 package came with a chairlift ride and a cheese fondue dinner. But it was full by the time I called to book. Bummer!

In retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise because Mount Rainier and its surrounding landform are SO BEAUTIFUL! Snow-capped mountains, trees with barks covered in fresh powdery snow... It was as if we see giant mud pies, chocolate log cakes and white fluffy marshmallows everywhere we go. It's winter wonderland and better! One could salivate at the sight of it all.

4. That sounds awesome. But was the drive difficult?
Well, yes and no. We followed the recommended route to get to the Nisqually Entrance. But instead of I-5, we took SR167 to get to SR512.

Once past the entrance, we got held up for a while at the lower stretch of the road due to a car accident. Then there was a delay on our part because we weren't sure if we should drive all the way up to Paradise, or stay at Longmire. Road conditions were bad by then and snow chains were required on all vehicles except all-wheel. I wasn't sure if I was up for it.

Eventually we decided to bite the bullet and go. It was the most exhilarating drive ever. For the first time in my life, I could feel the tyres threatening to skid! I had to go extremely slow without over-using the brakes. As we moved further up, the snow got heavier. Up to a certain point, I wasn't sure if I was heading in the right direction anymore, because everything was white. I can't even see the trees!

5. How did it go in the end?
Thank God we made it to Paradise's Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Centre in one piece, and in time for the last ranger-led snowshoeing experience for the day! 
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND it to anyone who wishes to visit Mount Rainier in winter. For a $5 donation, you get an informative tour of Mount Rainier - history, geography, inhabitants, environmental preservation challenges - while snowshoeing. You plod through snow, weave through trees (while avoiding tree wells) and slide down a slope. It was beyond awesome.
The only regret was that when we reached the vista point where we were supposed to see the peak, there was nothing to see except a great white wall... we were staring into nothingness! Snow and clouds had basically covered everything within our vision.

6. Mount Rainier definitely sounds like a must-go place. So, did you guys spend any time in the city at all?
We did, we did. Our hotel was between 8th Ave and Pine Street, so it was an easy stroll to the retail area. The usual names are there: Macy's, Nordstrom, American Eagles, Banana Republic, A&F, Nike Town... We popped into several sports shops but didn't buy much!

On our last day we also made a trip to Chinatown, just to check out the place.

7. What kind of food did you try in Seattle?
I can't live without Asian cuisine, so we had Thai food for two nights straight! Mae Phim Thai at 213 Pike Street and Krua Thai Family Kitchen at 12 Mercer Street have great food at decent prices. Nothing beats a bowl of piping hot Tom Yum Soup on a rainy night.
On our last day we had breakfast at the cutest café -  Biscuit Bitch! They are famous for their gravy and you can order stuff like easy bitch, straight-up bitch, hot mess bitch. The names are hilarious. I had a February drink special too - Ghirardelli white chocolate. Very nice.
Before boarding our flight, we had porridge and 炸两 at Purple Dot Café in Chinatown. Comfort food for the journey home.

 8. Any other advice for friends planning to visit Seattle?
A certain somebody will advise you to go buy lotto in Seattle, because that somebody got lucky and won a $5 prize on a $1 ticket!
But seriously, bring rain-proof clothing, shoes, brolly... Drizzles are the norm especially from October to May. Summer's supposed to be much better and I hope to come back in July to see the lavender fields. We already miss the Skagit Tulip Festival in April, and I still haven't checked out Olympic National Park or Forks, where the Twilight series are set!
On driving, know your directions and don't rely too much on the GPS. The buildings and clouds tend to interfere with the signals. We encountered a lot of lag and recalculations as a result.
If you need overnight parking in the city, go for Pacific Place Parking Garage at 600 Pine Street between 6th and 7th Ave. Overnight parking (in after 5pm, out by 10.30am the following day) is $15 flat.
Most of all, just enjoy the city and its surroundings! The weather might look gloomy, but that's what gives Seattle its special charm.

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