Monthly Archives: October 2017
Our last days in Seattle saw us out on the buses to Ballard. This is quite a famous spot because it is the location of a sophisticated set of locks that connect the salt waters of Puget Sound with the fresh water of Lake Washington. Lake Washington and the streams that flow into it are prime salmon spawning grounds. The locks were constructed in the early 1900s to allow the transport of timber, minerals and agricultural production to Seattle’s seaport.
To build the locks the water level of the lakes had to be lowered by about 8 feet but still kept about 20 ft higher than the Puget Sound sea waters. This height difference together with the digging of a basin on the lake side keeps the salt water from mixing with the fresh water of the lake. Any salt water entering the lake, being denser than fresh water, sinks into the basin and is then ‘drained’ back into Puget Sound. Quite cunning, but it is a bit more complex than this and uses a few other gadgets as well. Allthego and Homealone have been on boats through quite a few fresh water locks; but these ones are different in that, because sea water is denser than fresh water, when the locks open to let you out the sea water side is a bit lower than the fresh water side and a ‘little river like’ flow of fresh water comes into the lock. It’s not just a smooth exit. Also, traditionally you need to throw lines to the top of locks when going upstream and then pull them in as the water level rises in the lock. This can be a bit of a challenge. These locks though have ‘rising’ bollards attached to the side of the lock, so you just tie up to them and they also go up the side of the lock as the water comes in, no pesky tossing of lines and the fun and games of hanging on as the water comes in. They haven’t forgotten about the salmon either as on one edge of the locks a salmon ladder has been constructed. There are over 20 steps in the ladder and a section of it has glass panels so you can view the salmon making their way up into the lake water. As well as salmon we saw a number of commercial and pleasure craft, including a kayak, transit the locks.
Back at the Seatlle Centre we were into more culture at the Chuhily Glass Gardens. Chuhily is a famous glass blower from Seattle who has a whole team of glass blowers that work on big exhibitions of blown glass. He has had exhibitions in various parts of the world. The displays are quite stunning and awe-inspiring. He specializes in garden representations, not only glass gardens but also real ones with his works as centre pieces.
The weather in Seattle has been kind to us. Warm sunny days, a bit of a change from the chill of Fairbanks a few days earlier. Our time though in the north-west has drawn to a close and we have moved south to Houston to have some days with Mitchell and Piper, before heading home to Brisbane. They are both well having seen off the hurricane. The weather in Houston is now fine, hot and humid.
It has been a great trip, we are a little weary though and looking forward to unpacking and doing the washing early next week in Brisbane.
We have ventured out again on the buses to Downtown Seattle to check out the waterfront area.
Seattle is physically a relatively new city. The entire nineteenth century central business district fronting the waterfront was constructed of mostly wooden buildings and was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1889. In rebuilding the city after the fire it was decreed that all new buildings had to be made of brick or stone. The dilemma in this is that the area was really a very marshy locale and had to be ‘dried out’ and built up to support the new buildings and streets. So a plan was devised to progressively ‘fill in ‘ the streets between the new buildings, effectively raising them by one level. Walls were built alongside the buildings and at street ends and soil washed into the voids. Streets ultimately occupying the top-level. This story can get quite involved with all sorts of tales about the shops that lay beneath the streets. We traipsed off on the Underground Tour to hear all about this story. The tour took us down into the walkways between the buildings and the ‘street walls’ and you can still see the shop front windows and town infrastructure of water pipes and footpaths. All very interesting but too much detail is a little tedious for your readers Homealone reminds Allthego. So we went back to the topside for lunch. On the topside the footpaths still have these glass panels embedded in the concrete, they are the means by which light got into the underground walkways.
We had lunch in one of the waterfront cafes. Allthego had clam chowder followed by some fish n chips, Homealone had some prawn skewers. Now Allthego is rather partial to fish n chips and has been carefully weighing up the offerings he has had on this trip. First of all the standout has really been the crab cakes, all the ones he has had have been rather tasty. Light and fluffy. The crab really flavoursome. Salmon of course is also big over here. Some nice salmon dishes have been had. Baked with a maple syrup glaze particularly good. Sometimes it has been overcooked and gets a bit dry. But the standard fish n chips have generally been very marginal at best. On the menu more seems to be made of the virtues of the beer batter and tartare sauce than the fish. Invariably the fish is a piece of some nondescript Pacific or Atlantic cod. Generally solidly cooked so the batter is very golden brown and super crunchy, the fish becomes dried out and flakey, held together on your fork by the tartare sauce. The fish generally appears on the plate shaped a bit like a Christmas Bob Bon, ready to be popped open. Aussie fish n chips far superior!
The waterfront area is in the grips of redevelopment. The whole streetscape looking back from the harbour is consumed by a double-decker concrete viaduct carrying traffic through the city. There are traffic lanes underneath it as well. Looks awful, a bit like the Cahill Expressway across Sydney’s Circular Quay. The powers that be are in the process of building a pretty big tunnel underneath the viaduct. When the tunnel is finished the viaduct is to be knocked down and the waterfront redeveloped. Should be good. Being home to Microsoft and Amazon all the creative tech types will be able to sit in the parks and dream up new apps to clog our Iphones.
Pikes Market, is the towns tourist trap. Full of the typical market stalls and vendors. Interesting stop by the fish shop. All sorts of fish, crabs etc on display.
Moving on we went up the Smith Tower. The Tower was built in 1914 and at the time was the fourth tallest skyscraper in the USA. It has recently opened up its top level as a viewing platform. This tower is new competition for the Space Needle, which we didn’t ascend. The Smith Tower’s advantage over the Space Needle ( although much taller) is in having an open air viewing platform. Great views are had of the street scape and harbour. Unfortunately, snow-capped Mt Rainier which towers over Seattle could not be seen because it was obliterated by smoke haze from the wild fires.
It had been a long day in the city and we welcomed the ambience of the Inn on Queen Ann……….
Even though we had gone to bed at 9.30 it was still grim having to get up at 2 am to get ready and then drive to the airport for a 6 am getaway from Fairbanks. The day before I had planned to top the car up with petrol before returning it to the hirer but encountered a most unusual problem. The petrol tank did not want to accept the fuel. You would squirt a bit in and it would squirt it back out at you, even though it was half empty. The station attendant couldn’t get it to work either. We went back to the hirer and rather sheepishly told them the issue, some looks of disbelief. But to their credit they accepted my explanation and we ended up with no charge for petrol. A small bonus.
We arrived in Seattle at our hotel around 12.30 after catching the train from the airport and then the monorail. Usual problem of not being able to get in until 3pm so it was off on a wander around the Seattle Centre. This is a collection of all sorts of Arts types buildings, eateries, park land etc. The Space Needle is here as well. Our hotel is well positioned, only being about 5 minutes away. We are in the Lower Queen Anne district of the city. This is an older area, but is being reinvented as a ‘hip’ area for the arty and creative types. All sorts of restaurants around here, food from around the world. It still has a little grimy gritty edge to it though, however we feel quite safe wandering through the neighbourhood in the evening.
Our hotel is a typical construction of the area. It is a bit old, tired and worn. Quite clean and comfortable though. Appears to have survived the various earthquakes and shakes Seattle gets periodically, walls have cracks in them and floors are uneven. There have been a lot of cover up jobs done! So we go off to dinner and then take in another Shakespeare performance, Julius Caesar. The Seattle Shakespeare company are starting their season off and we have stumbled into it. It was an unusual costuming experience. It started in modern dress (was it a ‘Trump like effect’?) and as the play progressed, particularly after intermission, the actors reverted to Roman attire. It was explained that this was to show that the struggle for power is ageless. The company is also big on ‘diversity’ in its casting, so we have more female roman soldiers than male. There are white, black and Asian actors in the mix. Females portraying male lead characters etc. The irony in this is of course that in Shakespeare’s day males played the female roles. Despite this Allthego did not find it a satisfying performance, seemed to be overtly political edge as well. Then Seattle is a very Democrat town!
The following day we were off on a local bus out to the Fremont area, another one of those ‘hip’ places, the bus takes about half an hour to get there. Fremont sits beside the Fremont Cut which is part of the Washington Ship Canal (built in the early 1900s) that links the Pacific Ocean (Puget Sound) to the freshwater of the large inland Lake Washington. The reason for going to Fremont is to visit the iconic Fremont Oktoberfest, held over 3 days traditionally in late September.
It is not a particularly ‘grand’ setting, set around two streets. But there are the usual beer stalls and American takes on German sausage and sauerkraut and other things German. There are the local favourites , hot dogs and curly chips. We are there on ‘family day’, not that there are many families. It is a well controlled event though with no overly disruptive or excitable attendees. The Texas Chainsaw Pumpkin Carving completion between Batman, Green Lantern and the Tuck Shop Lady is entertaining. The tuck shop lady wins. The banter is more important than the carvings……
After a couple of hours we head back to town and a trip out in a ‘duck’ for a city tour and a ‘swim’ in Union Lake. This was a bit of fun with some interesting commentary. We sighted the location of the building where Sleepless in Seattle was filmed. A fitting end to the day.