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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Running Away For The Weekend: Seattle

Steve and I ran away to Seattle for our anniversary and had a crazy good time, starting with the train ride  from Portland to Seattle.

The Portland train station is in pretty good shape on the interior, and the outside is covered in scaffolding because they're working on it. It's heartening to see the train station being taken care of.

The line that runs between Portland and Seattle is called the Amtrak Cascades.  We opted for business class, and I'm glad we did because aside from there being a little more room, when you check in your seat is assigned and you get to board when they call for business class.  With coach, you have to stand in a long line to get your seat assignment and then you have to stand in another line to board.  You also get a voucher worth a couple of bucks in the bistro car with a business class ticket.  Upgrading our tickets to business class was $32 for the pair and this was for round trip, so I think it was worth it.  It was very comfortable.  By the way, I learned a couple of things on the train:  1) staying awake on the train is next to impossible, and 2) screaming, obstreperous children are just as annoying on the train as they are on a plane.  The difference is that on the train, Mommy can cart the kids off to the bistro car to distract them, which is merciful; on a plane you're trapped. (Don't get me wrong- it's not that I don't like kids- I just really like my hearing.)

The Cascades line runs along the Puget Sound for awhile.  We were incredibly lucky to get such a beautiful day for our trip.

Arriving at Seattle, I saw the cars up there on the left.  They turned out to be antique Pullman cars, and I wish I'd taken pictures of them when I saw them because they were gone on Sunday when we came back.  I asked about them and was told that some people have private cars that they pay a fee to Amtrak to be able to hook up and get hauled around.  Which sounds pretty sweet.  Actually, being able to afford to buy your own Pullman would be pretty sweet, come to think of it.

Once you get into the city, you can ride public transportation for free in the city center during the weekdays, so we hopped a free bus to within a block of the hotel, which was a cinch to find because it's across the intersection of Spring Street and 5th Avenue from the Central Library.  The Vintage Park Hotel is one of those little boutique hotels, which I find I like better than the big chain hotels. The hotel itself was remodeled in the mid-nineties, and in fifteen years, it's showing a little bit of wear and the decor is a little dated, but by and large, it's still a great hotel.  The staff was wonderful; after asking us the reason for our visit to Seattle and learning that we were there to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary, they sent up a bucket of champagne and strawberries and chocolate on the house. The concierge handled our dinner reservations for the in-house restaurant Tulio, and when we came down for dinner, the restaurant also treated us to a glass of champagne.

Tulio is a really nice little restaurant, and they too took really good care of us.  I loved the cozy and elegant interior, but due to my being a crappy photographer, I couldn't get a decent picture of the interior for you.  The only picture that turned out decently was the beet salad, which was delicious, but then, I like beets.  Our waiter, Alfreddo, was very attentive and helpful; he recommended a nice glass of wine to go with my duck breast; he steered us to a terrific dessert (the pistachio semifreddo with shaved chocolate and candied orange peel), and he even got the email address of the chef (Walter Pisano) so I could ask for a couple of recipes.  He was there when we needed him and made himself scarce when we didn't.  Probably the thing that I appreciated most was that he made us feel welcome and that he seemed to be glad to be helping us.  Not a lot of waiters make you feel that way.

Friday morning's breakfast was at Belle Pastry on the corner of Spring and Western. This is a picture of the goody case.  Steve had the chocolate croissant (pain au chocolat, as I learned in high school) and a ham and cheese croissant, and I had an almond croissant.  This place is well worth seeking out if you're in Seattle.

Okay, yeah, we did the tourist thing. I got a picture of the sign, naturally, but nothing of the interior.  Pike's Place Market is a huge tourist trap, of course, and there's a lot of kitschy-krappy stuff there, but, and this is a big but, the food stuffs are gorgeous.  The fish and meats and vegetables and creamery goods were so beautiful I told Steve we are getting a place with a kitchenette the next time because I want to cook with this stuff!  One of the girls at the Belle Pastry told us that she buys all her vegetables there, and I could see why.  I even found nice chanterelles for as little as $6.95 a pound, which believe me, is a great price for chanterelles. (Finding them for free in the forest is way better, but you do what you can.)

This is the shop across from the market, and is really part of it. I grabbed a chicken gyro there- spicy and delicious.

Dinner Friday night was at Purple at Fourth and University, and it was good too, but the size of the dining room which was cavernous, made it really, really loud.  I also experienced something a little weird that I've never experienced in a restaurant; the seat in which I was sitting, which was just like every other chair in the place, was high enough that my feet didn't reach the floor, and there was no rung on which to rest them, so they dangled throughout my meal.  Not too comfortable, on a couple of different levels.

Saturday we wandered back to the market to buy some things we saw, and then wandered up Pike which was a much gentler slope and easier for me to walk.  By the time we got back to our hotel, we were in need of a restorative, and we managed to catch Tulio's manager on the way into the restaurant.  He was kind enough to allow us into his closed restaurant for an espresso, which we had at the bar.  It was precisely what I was hoping for, which was a relaxed cup of coffee in a nice setting.  Sitting there, we decided to have dinner there again that night, rather than having to go out again, so we made reservations.  The manager asked where we were from and why we were in Seattle, so we told him, and were treated again to another glass of champagne at dinner, on the house.  We didn't have the heart to tell them that it wasn't that night, but oh well.  At least we learned that they are nothing if not extremely gracious.

The next morning we walked down for breakfast at one of the Seattle's Best coffee houses, which was unremarkable, and then popped down the block to the Walgreens drug store for a couple of items.  I missed the group of Asians in leathers that Steve saw, but the fellow that checked us out had a rather feminine afro hairdo, three lip rings, and a luridly colored skull tattoo on his right hand. This probably wouldn't have been as memorable as it was if he hadn't been helping another store employee argue with an old man in a track suit about the price of the cheap wine on the shelf, and that in itself wouldn't have been so memorable if the old man in the track suit hadn't been wearing, and I am not making this up, a purple velvet pimp hat with a leopard hat band.  We got out the door and halfway across the street before Steve said, "Wow- that was a freak show," to which I agreed.  Freak show was the only way to describe it.

We got back to the hotel, finished packing and checked out.  Because the day was so sunny, and it was all downhill from the hotel to King Street Station, we decided to walk the ten or so blocks there.  It turned out to be a really civilized and pleasant thing to do and we were both glad we did.  At the station, we had time to get a good look at it, and it was depressing how bad of shape it was in. Fluorescent lighting dangled on wires from what had been a beautiful, ornate ceiling.

I was really appalled.

This is one part of the station that hasn't seen too much damage from the ill-advised and ill-conceived  modernization that plagued it in the seventies.

But the good news is that it turns out that the station is in the process of being restored.  The station was started in 1904, from designs by Reed and Stem which was the same architectural firm that designed Grand Central Station in New York, and was completed and opened in 1906.  In 2008, the station was purchased from BNSF (Burlington Northern and Santa Fe) by the city of Seattle for the sum of ten dollars, and it's the city of Seattle that is restoring it. Ridership is up in Seattle, and the Sounder commute trains also use the station. From the pictures of the plans, it should be really beautiful, and much more user friendly.

I think we're going to have to run away to Seattle again.  And again and again.  What a good time!


Anonymous said...

What gorgeous train stations! You're so right about the lighting in Seattle station - I hope they restore it properly! I really, really want to get over to the North West coast now!!!

Miriam said...

Seattle is one of my favourite getaways, too. From Victoria we can take a passenger-only ferry (the Clipper) from downtown to downtown, and in the off-season there are usually really good ferry-hotel deals to be had. There's something sooooo nice about not having to deal with airports, isn't there?

I'm glad you had such a nice anniversary trip. Start planning the 20th anniversary expedition!

Anonymous said...

Seattlite here, found your blog recently -- glad you enjoyed your visit! In my experience, Pike Place is one of the few tourist attractions that locals also really enjoy; as you say, the food stuffs are just wonderful! (Did you spot the Mexican grocery across the street from the market proper with the beautiful hanging pepper displays? I'm not even a fan of spicy food, but I always covet those bright strands of color.)

"Seattle's Best" coffee places, though, are sadly a misnomer. I guess "Seattle's Adequate Coffee" didn't perform well with focus groups.

Leigh said...

What a delightful way to celebrate your anniversary. Trains are a wonderful way to get around. Great photos, I felt like we were along for the ride!

Tanya @ Lovely Greens said...

Awwww...Sometimes I really miss Seattle :) You should have gone into the International District to check out the Asian markets as well. Nom nom!

And just want to say that your to-do list on your blog is SUCH a great idea. Now if you don't get something done, EVERYONE will know about it. Talk about motivation! Maybe I need one ;)

Jennifer Montero said...

Paula you missed your calling as a travel guide. On commission. That post has made me want to go to Seattle, sadly just one place on a looong list of places I've yet to visit. Your description was so thorough, I feel like I've had a weekend break too. So glad you and Steve had such a great anniversary.

Paula said...

Tanya- I will have to check that out the next time we go- thanks for the suggestion! And I think God and everybody is going to find out that I didn't get a lot on my list done this year. But that won't stop me from writing another list for next year.

Paula said...

Thanks Jennifer- if I could do it by train, I would think about it. We had a flight to Phoenix a week later to visit Steve's parents and were reminded through out the whole airport and flight ordeal that trains are worth the time and money to us. Oh- and there was a lot of turbulence during the flight- I nearly got popped off the toilet (only one of the many reasons I hate using the lavatory on the plane).

I hate flying.