Seattle, Washington

We were flying into Seattle to start this trip, the largest city in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. With about 700,000 residents living within the city limits and between 3-4 million total people in the greater metro area, Seattle ranked out at around the 15th biggest city in the United States at the time of writing in 2018. Seattle is the economic and cultural hub for the state of Washington, home to a dozen Fortune 500 companies and often specializing in cutting edge high technology industries. Microsoft and Amazon are two of the best-known companies based in the Seattle area, as well as a whole bunch a bunch of gigantic-sized but less publicly known airplane and shipping corporations. It's a highly distinctive city, with the Space Needle hovering over the city skyline and Mount Rainier easily visible in the distance on a clear day. When it's not raining, Seattle enjoys a balmy marine climate due to its location on the Pugent Sound. It tends not to get too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter thanks to all that nearby water, despite a latitude close to 50 degrees north. Leaving aside the endless rain during most of the year, Seattle has the reputation as one of the best places to live and work in the USA, and perhaps as a result, it's one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation.

We were arriving from the Baltimore region and therefore flew into SeaTac, the major airport located to the south of Seattle. I was able to capture these two pictures of downtown Seattle as the plane descended towards the airport, looking out the right side of the plane to the west as we headed south. The first picture captures the main downtown portion of the city, with the waters of the Pugent Sound in the background. The Space Needle is located a little bit to the north of where the main buildings congregrate, and it's visible on the right side of that image. The second picture mostly depicts the shipping and industrial portion of the city, a less attractive region that doesn't draw many tourists. It does happen to be the location of Safeco and CenturyLink Fields, however, the home to the Seattle Mariners and Seahawks respectively. They were built next to each other in order to share many of the same stadium facilities. We would be returning to Safeco Field a few days later to view a Mariners game in person.

After landing safely at the airport and picking up a rental car, we headed first to the Seattle waterfront district. It was a beautiful day outside and this was a perfect opportunity to stroll along the edge of the water taking in the sights. The waterfront district is one of the main tourist attractions in the city, with the highly-regarded aquarium located here along with the big ferris wheel (officially known as the Seattle Great Wheel) amid lots and lots of shopping. This is also where the ferries leave to cross Elliot Bay and head out into the islands on the other side, the location of some of the most expensive homes in the area. We enjoyed strolling about on the piers and taking in some of the sights and sounds on this lovely summer day.

A few streets up from the harbor is Pike Place Market, Seattle's famous marketplace and another major tourist attraction. Pike Place opened initially in 1907 and it is the oldest continuously operated farmer's market in the United States. According to Wikipedia, more than 10 million people visit the market each year. Pike Place covers a huge amount of space, spanning multiple different streets and encompassing several different city blocks in all. Because the structure is built into the side of a hill, Pike Place Market has multiple different levels connected together by stairs and elevators. It's a little bit like a shopping mall combined together with a farmer's market. All of the stores are run by local businesses, lots of products produced by farmers or fishers or independent craftspeople. The market is best known for the fish that are sold up on the top floor, where several of the market stalls will put on a show by tossing the enormous animals back and forth in the air. The fish are freshly caught and sold at excellent prices, reflecting the lack of any middleman between the fishers and the buyers. Elsewhere, Pike Place Market has all kinds of other food options, ranging from bakeries to meat producers to dairy products. If you're interested in the organic movement, this is the place for you to shop. There are also plenty of stores on the lower levels that sell homemade arts and crafts, and the whole place was packed with visitors on the summer day that we arrived. Pike Place Market was almost torn down back in the 1960s when it had been neglected and become rundown, and it's a good thing that the city managed to save this historic location.

Just across the street from Pike Place Market is this humble building, the home of the original Starbucks. They still use the original company logo here featuring a topless mermaid that I won't post directly; it's easy enough to find online for anyone curious. Since 1971, this was the location that gave birth to an empire of coffee stores around the world. (Technically, Starbucks moved to this location in 1977, but the original store was only one block away - for all intents and purposes, this was the first Starbucks.) When we visited, we found that the store was absolutely packed with customers, the line running outside the building with maybe 50 people waiting. Since no one in my immediate family is a coffee drinker, we didn't stop to wait for a cup.

We next went to visit the iconic Space Needle, located about half a mile to the north from Pike Place Market and the center of the downtown. It was the 50th anniversary of the structure's completion for the 1962 World's Fair at the time of this trip in 2012, and the tower had been painted with a gold finish for the anniversary celebration. The Space Needle stands about 600 feet / 185 meters in height, with an observation deck reachable by elevator a short distance below the top of the structure. It's actually not the tallest building in the city, although it's far more interesting than the generic skyscrapers in the downtown. There's a restaurant up at the top of the Space Needle that rotates 360 degrees for outstanding views of the surrounding region, and a glass floor that allows diners to stare directly down at the ground below. Fortunately the Space Needle has also been designed to resist both the high winds and earthquakes that this region is subject to suffering. At the time of the World's Fair in 1962, the Space Needle was created to look like a flying saucer and received critical acclaim from the visitors to the fair. It has become a beloved treasure of the city of Seattle ever since the structure's founding, and this is the one symbol of the city that everyone instantly recognizes.

Naturally we had to ride the elevators up to the top to see the city for ourselves. On a clear day like this the views were outstanding, allowing us to see for miles and miles in every direction. The first picture looks to the south at the downtown business district of Seattle, from which we had just come while visiting Pike Place Market. The piers of the harbor and the white ferris wheel are just visible on the right hand side, with the professional sports stadiums further back in the distance. The second picture looks to the northeast, gazing out over the waters of Lake Union. This is a residential area, and the University of Washington is located beyond the edge of the lake further back beyond that bridge. The water eventually connects to Lake Washington further east and gives Seattle its distinctive isthmus geography.

In the other direction were the waters of the Pugent Sound itself, with the afternoon sun reflecting over the waves. There was another small set of docks in the foreground of this image, and off in the distance was Bainbridge Island and eventually the mainland on the other side. It was a wonderful day to be out on the water, even if that commercial tanker appeared to be the only vessel in this part of the sound. Finally, the interior observation deck of the Space Needle had its own exhibits on display, and at the time of our visit they were focused on the 1962 World's Fair for the 50th anniversary celebration. There were lots of materials here about the initial construction of the Space Needle and the advertising surrounding the World's Fair. While not as interesting as the views on the outside portion of the observation deck, they weren't half bad either.

We finished up the day by visiting Kerry Park, a small neighborhood green space found to the northwest of the Space Needle. The tourist materials for Seattle had raved about the beautiful views from this park, but we were disappointed by our visit here. While they weren't bad or anything, it didn't feel like it had been worth the effort to drive up to this particular spot. For what it's worth, the neighborhood seemed like a nice place to live, and the views looking out at Bainbridge Island over the waters were delightful with the sun beginning to set. We could have skipped this place without missing too much though.

The next morning, we drove south of the city of Seattle to the location where the Boeing airplane corporation has its headquarters. This is the home of the Museum of Flight, the largest non-governmental air and space museum in the United States. This place was enormous and rivaled the Smithsonian's Air and Space collection of airplanes in Washington DC, and I'm including the Udvar-Hazy annex that most people don't know about in northern Virginia. The Museum of Flight has been around since 1965 and attracts about half a million visitors per year. There are more than 150 aircraft on display in the museum along with a bunch of exhibitions designed to educate the public about the history of air travel. When we visited, there were a bunch of retired civilian and military pilots who were there to give tours about the airplanes on display. Everything here was really well done, and anyone who has an interest in this sort of material should definitely make this a priority to visit in Seattle. I'm not much of an automobile or plane guy, and I thoroughly enjoyed this visit.

By the way, do you like planes? Because there are a whole lot of pictures of planes coming up. Feel free to scroll down if they don't interest you.

In the Grand Gallery, the planes on display started with this reconstruction of the original Wright flyer and continued up to the present day. There were tiny little prop planes and enormous commercial airliners. Some of the aircraft had been in private use while others were military aircraft like the Blue Angels jet pictured above. There were several helicopters here as well, standing out with their distinctive designs. The last picture above is the inside of a US Air plane used for commercial air travel, dating back to what looks like the 1970s or 1980s. I sincerely hope that a lot of the systems in this cockpit have been computerized by now in modern versions of this design.

There was a small exhibit nearby in the "Red Barn", the location of the original Boeing airplane factory. This focused on the early days of the company's history and the early period of aviation at the dawn of the 20th century, a subject that has always interested me. The mortality rate of the early aviators was ghastly high, with nearly all of the early pilots who were testing things out in the 1900s and 1910s meeting unfortunate ends in crashes. They had to be at least a little bit crazy to keep doing it, but I suppose the high of actual human flight was enough to get them back into the air again and again. This exhibit then led into a section focused specifically on military aircraft, starting with the biplanes of the Great War and moving on eventually to modern jets. There was a good selection here of planes from different nations, and the military historian in me enjoyed walking through this portion of the museum.

Outside of the museum proper, there was a special section set aside for some of the most popular (and largest) aircraft in the collection. One of these was a Concorde plane, one of the few on display outside of Europe. With its trim lines and needle-pointed nose, the Concorde still looks like something out of the future instead of a bygone relic from the 1970s. For better or for worse, there simply wasn't enough of a market for planes that traveled at Mach 2 (almost 1500 miles/hour) and cost an incredible amount of money per ticket. Standing next to the Concorde was an Air Force One plane used as part of the presidential fleet from 1959 to 1996. It had a copy of the pipe rack used by JFK and a hat rack used by Lyndon Johnson; it was a different era of travel back then. The Museum of Flight was building a hangar to house one of the space shuttles at the time of our visit in 2012, which it hoped to receive from NASA. However, it didn't end up getting one of the space shuttles (which are currently on display in Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles, and Cape Canaveral as of 2018) and that museum space ended up being used for a shuttle mockup that was used to train all Space Shuttle astronauts. Kind of a letdown for this museum.

After spending the morning at the Museum of Flight, we drove back towards Seattle proper and visited the neighborhood known as Pioneer Square. This is an area located a short distance to the south of the downtown skyscrapers, and it contains a mixture of residential apartments and small shops. There were lots of cafes and bars here, and this was a very walkable neighborhood. The open space pictured above was Occidental Square, a cobblestoned area that often hosts public gatherings and art events. I noticed that one of the bars was advertising for the Seattle Sounders, the professional soccer team (MLS) located in the city. This was an unusually green neighborhood (Sounders pun intended), with trees growing everywhere and ivy covering some of the brick surfaces. Pioneer Square was one of those urban areas that seemed to be going through a renaissance, with more people choosing to live in the city as opposed to being out in the suburbs and commuting everywhere by car.

The plan for the afternoon was to take a ferry across the water to Bainbridge Island on the other side. This would allow us to see another part of the greater Seattle metropolitan area as well as taking in the sights from the ferry itself. The ferry boat itself was unremarkable, not much different from many other ferries that I've taken in my travels. However I did notice that there were a ton of people who were boarding the ship on foot. In fact, I think that the pedestrians outnumbered the people traveling by car. Seattle is an unusual city in the sense that a good number of people live out on one of the islands or on the mainland at the other side of the sound, and then commute to work by ferry boat instead of by car. That's something you don't see in too many places. As the boat pulled away from the docks, we were treated to some wonderful views of the Seattle waterfront, this time from the opposite direction looking back at the city. I stood and watched as the buildings slowly receded into the distance, with the Space Needle standing off by itself to the north of the rest of the metropolis.

The ferry didn't take too long to cross the sound to the other side, probably about half an hour. It's about 5 miles from downtown Seattle to Bainbridge Island almost directly west as the crow flies. We were treated to views of some of the exclusive houses built along the water's edge as we approached Bainbridge, which were as expensive as you would expect. Some of those dwellings would be amazing places to live, assuming that you could ever afford to do so. The island itself was covered with trees and seemed a world away from the bustling streets of the city instead of a short ferry ride's distance.

Bainbridge Island felt like visiting an upscale small town, one of those yacht-strewn little ports like Bar Harbor in Maine or Annapolis in my home state of Maryland. The main street of the town of Winslow had lots of small stores and restaurants lining its sides, and we spent a while walking through the area to see what was on display. There were lots of artistic vendors here, and apparently the island attracts people who enjoy crafting pursuits. Of course with this being an expensive area to live located right on the water, there were also several marinas full of some pricey-looking boats. It's too bad that we didn't know anyone who lived in this area and owned a boat, as going out onto the water in one of them would have been a ton of fun. Overall, while Bainbridge Island was a charming location to visit, this wasn't one of the more interesting parts of the trip for me. It's a great place to see if you enjoy shopping and looking at small stores, and that's not really what holds my attention.

It was worth visiting the island just for the views of Seattle taken from the ferry, however. On our return we caught the city in the glow of the afternoon light. It had clouded up during the day and the overcast sky often hid the sun from direct view, but the buildings were still reflecting the lower angle of the sunlight and picking up a reflection off of the water. It made for a delightful way to end this day of touring around Seattle. Now in reality, we left Seattle the next day and began touring around some of the natural scenery nearby in Washington state. However, for the purposes of keeping all of the Seattle pictures together, I'll finish this section by including pictures of the Seattle Mariners game that we saw on the last day of the trip. We had returned from Vancouver in the afternoon and already had tickets to see the baseball game taking place that evening. In fact, we had deliberately structured our trip to end on a Monday instead of a Sunday so that we could see the Mariners play after they returned home from a road trip. (Yes, my family is also a group of big sports fans. Where else would I have gotten it from?)

We approached Safeco Field by car and parked in the huge lot surrounding the baseball and football stadiums. Safeco Field has the reputation of being one of the nicer stadiums in baseball, built in 1999 at a then-record $515 million price tag. The stadium has a retractable roof due to the frequent ran in Seattle, and represents a massive upgrade over the decrepit Kingdom where the Mariners formerly played their games. The most unquie aspect of the stadium is the fact that the retractable roof stretches out over the nearby train tracks when it's in the open position. The edge of the roof is visible in one of the pictures above with the tracks situated below. Trains pass by the field frequently and their whistles are easily heard throughout the stadium; you can even hear them on the TV broadcasts when watching Mariners games. It's definitely one of the more unique places to watch a baseball game.

For a Monday night game, there was a pretty big crowd on hand because the Mariners were playing the New York Yankees, always a big draw wherever they travel. This was not a good year for the home team Mariners, as they would finish the season far out of the postseason chase with 75 wins and 87 losses. They were very much sellers at the trade deadline, and that would end up factoring into this game in a way that we didn't expect. For out of town fans visiting Safeco Field, the only two players on the team that had general name recognition were Felix Hernandez and Ichiro Suzuki. Felix Hernandez was the star pitcher on a bad team, and he would end up winning the Cy Young award a year or two later on an otherwise miserable Mariners squad. Unfortunately he was not pitching this evening. (Hernandez would throw a perfect game in this stadium just three weeks later - that would have been incredible to see!) Ichiro Suzuki was a beloved outfielder for the Mariners, one of the first star players to come out of the Japanese baseball league and come to the USA for a larger salary and international name recognition. Ichiro had been on the Mariners for about a decade at this point and had been the face of the franchise for most of that time. The ballpark even sold the "Ichiroll" sushi in tribute as the sign above indicates. We were looking forward to seeing Ichiro play in this game with his trademark batting stance and running swing.

Our seats were located in the outfield in right-center field beneath the scoreboard. The sight lines from here were good, if not great. We were further back from the field than I would have liked, and I've always preferred to sit in the upper deck behind home plate if possible as opposed to looking back from the outfield. The starting pitchers for the evening were Hiroki Kuroda for the Yankees and the eminently mediocre Kevin Millwood for the Mariners. Millwood was at the end of his pitching career and had spent the 2010 season in Baltimore, where he produced an atrocious 4 wins / 16 losses record along with an ERA of 5.10 and a WHIP of 1.51. We were actually laughing when we found out that he was pitching for the Mariners in this game; seriously, a 37 year old Kevin Millwood as the starting pitcher? Oh yeah, this was a bad Mariners team all right. At least we would get to see Ichiro play though. And we did, although not in the fashion that we were expecting.

When the starting lineups were announced, Ichiro was listed as the eighth batter for the Yankees. I remember doing a double-take when I heard that over the loudspeakers. Wait, did they say that wrong? Apparently not: Ichiro had been traded to the Yankees earlier the same day! Incredible. We went all the way to Seattle only to see Ichiro play in his first ever game on a different team, suiting up to play AGAINST the Mariners! The crowd predictably gave Ichiro a huge standing ovation when he came up to bat for the first time in Yankees road gray, and of course he singled in his first at bat of the game off the hapless Millwood. Then he proceeded to steal second base because Ichiro was still awesome even in his age 38 season in 2012. As I write this in 2018, Ichiro is back with the Mariners again, still playing in his age 44 season (!) although he's pretty much done at this point. The Mariners actually announced that Ichiro was moving to their front office to work as a coach as I was in the process of typing this, so it looks like he's finally done playing. His career totals have put him over 3000 hits (on an 18 year career slash line of .311 /.355 /.402) despite not even playing in the United States until he was already 27 years old after close to a decade in the Japanese professional league. A first ballot Hall of Famer for sure.

As for this particular game, it went about how you would expect (Baseball Reference link for the curious). The Mariners took the lead in the 3rd inning on a John Jaso single only to have Kevin Millwood melt down in the top of the 4th inning. After an initial strikeout, he gave up a double, a walk, a double, a single, and another single to plate three runs. The Mariners would not have another runner reach base for the rest of the game after that point, the final 18 batters retired in order by the Yankees pitching staff. They didn't put up much of a fight once they fell behind, sheesh. This was highly annoying since the Orioles were competing with the Yankees in 2012 for the American League East title and would end up losing to them in the playoffs later that year. Kevin Millwood: still hurting the Orioles in 2012! (To be fair, he didn't really pitch that badly. The hitters for the Mariners were completely toothless, three hits and one walk in the whole game. They were lucky to get even the one run.)

That was it for our time in Seattle. Next up we were traveling to some of the natural scenery in the surrounding area, starting with a day trip to the majestic slopes of Mount Rainier.