The Evergreen State


Day 16 to 19 of #100inPDX

I took a weekend-break from life in Portland to visit Seattle, Washington for Memorial Day.

Train is my favorite mode of travel. It’s less stressful, reliable, with significantly less hustle-and-bustle. Recent events aside (cough crashes cough), I love taking the train. So, when I heard that the ~3 hour train ride from Portland to Seattle was breathtaking, I knew exactly how I was going to get there.

The train route follows the water line, which is generally less developed than traveling through land. The result: traveling through thick stretches of forest with stunning glimpses of the water every so often. If you have the opportunity to make the trip north from Portland, DO IT! Get an East-facing window seat, put on slow jams, and ride out.

I arrived at the King Street Station around 6:30pm – enough time to see a bit of the city before sunset. I walked the mile from the train station to my hostel and saw a cluster of shops, bars, and restaurants. When I arrived at my hostel, took one look around, I opened the computer and wrote Seattle is a dreary, hilly city, and I am not impressed. SPOILER: This isn’t my final opinion of the city. Let’s unpack this impression a bit, shall we?

HOSTEL. First things first, I decided to take the cost effective route and stay in a hostel. Hotels were outrageously expensive (read: Memorial Day weekend) and my usual go-to (read: AirBnB), offered no financial relief. This was my first hostel experience since studying abroad in Brazil seven years ago. It’s not a problem, I thought, I should be out seeing the city, not crammed in a hotel room! What does it matter if it’s a hostel? Common sense failed me here.

I could go into great detail, but the bottom line is that I’m past my hostel prime. The minor inconveniences (e.g., shared restrooms, high foot traffic, etc) that are exciting when traveling internationally lost their allure. I spent most of my time in the hostel annoyed and I take responsibility for that. Saturday morning, I packed my bags, checked out of the hostel, and moved to my friend’s couch. I’m not past my couch prime.

DREARY. In all honesty, Portland and Seattle have similar weather: overcast, chilly, constant threat of rain. Seattle weather, however, gets called dreary because I didn’t fall in love with the city the way I did Portland. I never said life was fair.

HILLS. Seattle is a surprisingly hilly city, making walks and bike rides a game to find the path of lease resistance. On a city tour, we learned Seattle’s First Fathers arrived to find a large sea-level beach area and an elevated section with thick timber forests. They built the first city at sea-level (that failed for pretty obvious reasons) while they harvested and exported the timber. As they reinforced the sea-level land, they took earth from higher up and brought it down, creating a hilly situation. This is my interpretation of the situation, but I’m sure Graham of Bill Speidel’s Underground Tours would have a much better answer.

First impressions aside, I enjoyed Seattle for one major reason: the people. I met a friend at a conference that’s studying (MS-HCI) at the University of Washington in Seattle, and spending the summer in Portland. We vaguely agreed that I would visit Seattle at some point this summer and settled on Memorial Day weekend. She was a wonderful host, showed me a good time, and I am certain that without her I would have cut my time in Seattle short.

Monet at the Space Needle

NIGHTLIFE. Disclaimer: I haven’t been to a nightclub in years. We went to Corbu and Tia Lou’s on Saturday for what ended up as a really fun night. Then I remembered that lots of things are fun when you don’t have to pay a cover and end up in someone’s VIP section drinking their champagne. And that’s about all we need to say about that.

TOURISM. Pike Place Market is a fascinating and overwhelming farmer’s market in the center of the city. It’s a curious mix of locals buying groceries, tourists poking around slowly, and children running off ice-cream-induced sugar highs.

Space NeedleSeattle is a charming city from 520-feet above ground – thanks, Space Needle! We had lunch in the Space Needle’s revolving cafe and went to the observation deck for views. Pro Tip: This is the best deal! If you eat at the restaurant and spend at least $25 (a very easy thing), you get free access to the observation deck (normally $26).

There’s also a great view of the city from Kerry Park, a residential area with jaw-dropping views and homes with the price tag to match. It was a cloudy afternoon when I went, but we were able to see everything within the city limits. I’m sure you’d see more of the mountains on a clear day.

Before my train back to Portland, we went on an Underground Walking Tour of Pioneer Square. As I mentioned earlier, Seattle started at sea-level and for the first few decades, the city worked to raise the city ground. I wouldn’t do the full story any justice, but here are some of my favorite facts:

Seattle was built and rebuilt a few times due to things like fires, icky sewage complications, and waves of new people. Each time they rebuilt the city, they made the same mistakes. Fascinating how blatant these mistakes are today, but then again hindsight is always 20/20. After the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, that wiped out the entire business district, Seattle rebuild the area (now known as Pioneer Square) 22-feet above the original ground level. That area functioned as the first indoor mall for a while before being condemned. Now it’s an awesome walking tour.

Seattle’s Founding Fathers were all about making money. The Yukon gold rush attracted a lot of attention and Seattle was conveniently located on the route. The city made insane profits selling materials to gold seekers (on their way North) and appraising gold (on their way South). This really put Seattle on the map.

After a while, the city wanted infrastructural things (a police force, water system, etc.) which meant they needed to put some taxes into place. They did a census to see what professions the city’s 25,000 citizens held and found that 1) Seattle was a male-dominated city with 10 men to every 1 woman and 2) there were about 2,000 unmarried women working at “seamstresses” (this, friends, is a code-word). The top seamstress establishment, run by Madame Lou Graham, only served high-end clientele (e.g., politicians, businessmen) and required that all lady-workers could read and write, played an instrument, knew current events, and spoke at least one foreign language. Her business changed the face of Seattle, as many of the women only worked there for a few months before marrying wealthy men. Upon Madame Lou’s death, she had no known heirs but mandated that her entire fortune (the equivalent of $7.1M today) go to public schools. To this day there isn’t a school named after her for political reasons. Shame.

There’s so much more to Seattle’s history, but I’m feeling a cross of I’m-not-doing-this-justice and you-have-to-be-there. So let’s just say that Seattle history is interesting and if you let the guys from Underground Tours tell you, its also hilarious.

All-in-all: fun, worth-it trip. Next up: Vancouver, BC and Mount Rainier (fingers crossed)!