Kelly and I spent a quick five-day vacation in and around the Seattle area last week. It was an add-on to her prior week at Spring Quilt Market in Portland, Oregon. She drove up with a friend and they picked me up at SeaTac airport to begin our stay, dropping us at our hotel in Renton.
Our hotel was adjacent to Gene Coulon Park on Lake Washington. To my delight, it was also adjacent to a Boeing assembly facility, the one where all new 737 jets are built. We saw three unassembled fuselages arriving by rail during our stay.
The hotel location provided for a nice hour-plus walk in the park, another stroll to dining on our first evening, and three relaxing day-enders on the rooftop lounge, sipping an Oregon Pinot Noir as the sun set over the lake. It was mostly that kind of a vacation.
We spent our first full day driving down to Mt. Rainier National Park. We purchased an annual pass at the gate when we realized that we’d use it again elsewhere in August.
The park is well southeast of Seattle and Tacoma, but Mt. Rainier is prominently visible from just about everywhere in the region. Still snow-capped in late May and bearing several permanent glaciers, Rainier is a beautiful site against a blue sky.
We drove into the park through the southwest entrance and continued along the access road as far as we could. There were numerous places to get out and walk or enjoy a view along the way. The road was closed due to snow just past the visitors center that precedes Paradise Valley, so we were unable to enjoy the view of wildflowers and greenery the area is known for. The snow must melt before any of it makes an appearance.
One roadside stop, in particular, gave us a twenty-minute walk down into what used to be a glacial valley but is now only a wide gouge in the land with the narrow Nisqually River swiftly running through the bottom. It made for some great photos and a beautiful view of the mountain looking upstream. The rock- and tree-strewn valley also gave me an understanding of the enormous size and energy of a glacier. The overall mass of objects moved by what was once a slow-moving river of ice was mind-boggling seen up close as we walked the valley floor.
A waterfall along the way, nearly hidden under a roadway bridge gave us a break from what was becoming our warmest day in the region. The temperature topped out at 85 degrees that day, and the refreshing air flowing out from the waterfall was welcome. We spent the rest of our time in the region in comfortable low- to mid-seventy degree temperatures.
We were fortunate during this trip; I flew in during a blue-sky day, and the skies remained so for the next two days. We woke to a solid overcast on our third morning, but that broke into partial sunshine later in the day. Only our fourth day was overcast throughout.
Although current and prior Washington and Oregon residents tell me that it doesn’t rain all the time, it’s very often cloudy to the point of no direct sunlight. What they refer to as “not rain” is more commonly referred to as extremely heavy mist back home. It may not involve big raindrops, but you’ll get soaked without a waterproof jacket and hat, and your windshield wipers get a workout throughout the year. So I think we lucked out; we had no rain of any sort during our stay.
Our journey to, around, and back from Mt. Rainier was something I’d greatly looked forward to. Our busy work and home lives give us less opportunity to sit and talk than I’d like; long drives are how Kelly and I get to relax, talk, and generally enjoy each other’s company. It was a physical and mental relief for me after the very long flight delay and trip from Dulles airport the day before, and a sweet slowdown for Kelly after her always-busy Quilt Market week.
The only driving downside was that Kelly did all of it. Enterprise car rental does not permit spouses to drive unless they’re present with a driver’s license when renting the car.
We spent another day browsing through Pike Place Market and the surrounding streets, having an obligatory coffee at the first Starbucks, and settling into lunch at The Pike Brewing Company’s brewpub.
Readers of my other blog, Bodhi and Beer, know I enjoy visiting craft breweries. Kelly isn’t a beer fan, so The Pike was a good find. It includes a full-service restaurant where we both enjoyed above-average pub food, and Kelly found a regional wine she enjoyed while I sampled a flight of six Pike Brewing Company beers.
We managed to hit some of Seattle’s renowned traffic on the way back to our hotel. I guess it was inevitable.
The roads are not under construction there, they’re wide enough, and there are plenty of signs and limited access exits and on-ramps. The trouble is, as is the case everywhere else with traffic jams, there are too many people in too many cars.
The Seattle area sports a bus system and a terrific light rail, which we’d attempted to make use of getting to Pike Place. By the time we reached the closest station that morning, however, commuters had filled the available parking. We could have headed a couple of miles south to the airport station and parked in the large garage adjacent to it, but I realized the Waze app could construct an eighteen-minute route into the heart of Seattle from where we were. It would have taken that long getting to and park in the light rail garage.
I’m frequently amazed at how well that app works, though I’m often not a fan when I see it routing traffic through local streets where I’m walking. Efficiently distributing the traffic load has its drawbacks.
For our last full day in the area, we took a ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, a half-hour sail across the Puget Sound. We were treated to some of Seattle’s beautiful architecture as we pulled away from the dock.
Temperatures were in the mid- to high-sixties due to a solid cloud cover, and the wind chill on an open deck was significantly lower. We rode much of the middle part of the trip inside the cabin, only to discover a much better place to enjoy the crossing: standing on the car deck at the stern of the boat. There’s a safety rope keeping passengers from getting too close to the deck edge, but we were left alone for the last ten minutes of the ride by staying behind it. Worth keeping in mind if you’re on such a ferry crossing!
Bainbridge Island is mostly residential, and the small town of Winslow sits just north of the ferry landing. We found a terrific place for lunch and beverages after walking along a short trail and through the Main Street area. There were plenty of shops along the way, but our goal was food, and we found it at Café Nola.
Our next stop was the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, the site where 227 Japanese Americans were forced to leave the island for internment camps at Manzanar, California and Minidoka, Idaho in 1942. The memorial park is half-constructed, with a visitor’s center planned but not yet built. It possesses a wooden “memory wall” bearing the names of those Americans and legal resident aliens whose forced departure by ferry took place from there. A modern dock with pleasure craft tied up sits adjacent to the property. The original ferry dock is gone, but the entire property sits across an inlet from the contemporary ferry landing where he had arrived earlier.
The memorial was quite moving, and remindful of our cultural bad habit of often looking at those who don’t look like ourselves as others. Objectification is the first step on the path to exclusion and it’s a steep drop after that.
We see the same behavior today in the treatment of Muslim Americans after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent wars. Some things do not change, which is why the memorial prominently features a quote in Japanese: Nidoto Nai Yoni, “let it not happen again.”
Our trip home was just about the easiest, most comfortable air travel I’ve experienced. I wrote about it in a previous article. It featured a quick ride from the airport hotel where we’d spent our final night, to the terminal, through security in record time, and a first-class cabin ride back to Virginia. We even managed to arrive just before thunderstorms swept the area.
Seattle provided a varied, fun place to visit. Dodging the traffic was tricky, but the town yielded a wealth of things to do.
(← my favorite person in the Universe.)
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