Travel / Wither Thou Goest

8/10 Recession Travel: Preamble, Seattle

The blue smile is courtesy of a Space-Needle-shaped lollipop!

Before my regularly scheduled employment bid adieu, I had put in place plans for a family vacation that piggybacked my youngest cousin’s wedding in Seattle, WA. Traveling without a hypochondriacal husband in tow (who, hardly coincidentally, racked up $1,000 in medical charges tending a bruise while we were traveling), I decided to travel on the fly: no itinerary, no reservations.

Let me caution that this kind of travel might cause you to miss some opportunities (although others will certainly present themselves in exchange). I had made certain arrangements ahead of time. For one, there was the Seattle leg of the journey. My entire family was staying at the Lake Union Courtyard Marriott, so my first three days were covered. I also had booked a decent-size SUV in case push came to shove and we were sleeping in the car. That necessitated blankets to be packed into an already constrained suitcase (thanks, airline industry, for charging to check luggage!).

We arrived in Seattle late Thursday and checked in to the hotel (nothing special, no offense to my beautiful cousin and her handsome groom; it was the priciest and least accommodating place we stayed at over the course of 10 days). I had chosen to come in a night early so that we would have the whole day Friday to explore the city (as noted in the intro, this was my first trip to Washington state). We totally scored on that count: Friday morning my aunt (mother of the bride) announced that the famous Space Needle was free to the first 10,000 guests.

Thus it was that my son and I headed out (we could see the monument from our hotel, so we walked, an activity that took all the non-New Yorkers as unnecessarily arduous), picking a few wild black raspberries along the way. Luck favored us as not only did we score free tickets (thanks, Bausch and Lomb) but the line to travel up to the needle was non-existent; we waited less than five minutes to reach the summit.

Early morning fog seems to be a staple of Seattle (at least during record-breaking heat waves), so from the top of the Space Needle we were barely able to make out Mt. Rainier in the distance. However, we did make friends with Seattle resident Laura and her sons (with whom I exchanged e-mail info). She later sent me a slew of great recommendations for our travels.

In truth, this is where flexible plays a role in travels. I never would have paid to go to the top of the Space Needle. Yes, it is as iconic as the Empire State Building, but it is one of those touristy money sucks I hate (don’t pay the extra money to get to the tippy top of the ESB, fyi, because the extra few feet aren’t worth the price of admission). However, with no fees and no wait, I thoroughly enjoyed being on the exploratory end of tourism for a change. As all these tours end at the gift shop, I spent my admission fee there, snagging a few small souvenirs and a really nice jacket that will be perfect when the Hudson wind picks up this fall.

It’s funny what you notice when you’re in a new place that you dismiss or take for granted at home: I noticed all the homeless people. Seattle’s homeless seemed a lot scarier than our homeless back east. Of course, this may be in part due to there being so many mentally stable homeless people in NYC. Yes, we have our crazies, but we also have a lot of people who couldn’t make it here and couldn’t get back to anywhere. Regardless, I am not sorry we ventured into the park adjacent to the Experience Music Project (which we did not, in fact, experience). Despite the homeless men lounging in the early sun, the sculptures were creative and – as my son will attest – fun to climb.

While, of course, family events dictated the weekend, I was able to dovetail my passions and spend a few hours Saturday morning wandering the stalls at the Pike Place Market. I would have loved to buy some of the fresh offerings, but as I noted, the hotel lacked basic amenities, such as a refrigerator. So, I limited myself to foods I could carry and that would make good car snacks once we left Seattle. I ate a bag of roasted nuts, purchased flavored popcorn, tried various flavors of beef jerky along with several variety of cherries. And although I had neither pocketbook nor ability to take home any of the market’s famous fish, I did enjoy the variety and sheer magnitude of the offerings at the Market. If I had one complaint, it was the subtle reluctance merchants had for handing out samples. A few of the stalls were generous, and I purchased from them. One cheesemonger was downright rude (telling me he wouldn’t serve me unless I used “the magic word”; funny, I thought the magic word was, “can you make change for a fifty?”); I didn’t buy from him, although I would have had his attitude not screamed, “I hate this job.”

You can (faintly) see Mt. Rainier over our sweaty shoulders.

Sunday brought about an all-too-quick jaunt to the REI store. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you must devote an hour or more to this oasis on Yale Avenue. And it is literally an oasis. If you enter from mid-block, you may find yourself lost in a maze of trails (yes, the store has a walking/biking trail surrounding it). I was only sorry that we didn’t have more time to browse; Laura had recommended it as the place for kids’ hiking boots; my daughter’s elfin feet make shoe shopping a Sisyphean activity. However, it was time to buy boots and don heels, because we had a wedding to attend on the hottest day in 43 years! Ouch. Seattle is famous for its rain, not its central air. While the Seattle Tennis Club was happily situated, it was excruciatingly hot, too. While it wasn’t great for dancing, we danced just the same, but if I had to do Seattle all over again, I would have opted for more seasonable temperatures, even if that meant a few drops of rain.

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