Look at these beauties!
One drawback of arriving in Seattle by cruise ship is you’re looking for something to do early on a Sunday morning when most attractions are still closed.
But one advantage of arriving in Seattle by cruise ship is you get Pike Place Market all to yourself ― before the crowds arrive.
Which is where I was last Sunday morning.
Here’s a photo of the funky escalators at the Seattle Central Library. I’ve been wanting to post more photos of this library ever since I photographed it when I was last in Seattle. I have three good reasons for posting one today.
- This week is Freedom to Read Week in Canada.
- I’m in Seattle.
- I’ve spent the past two days at the AWP Conference, the largest literary conference in North America. Which means I’ve spent the past two days listening to dozens of panelists talk about writing, reading, editing, and publishing. (Which, you might have guessed, is my kind of heaven.) Which also means I’ve got a whole list of authors to check out as soon as I can get myself back to my own library.
And so, a photo of a library is entirely appropriate for today. Enjoy.
One delightful discovery of our weekend in Anacortes were the town’s murals. These have been painted on to wood cut-outs and fastened to the sides of the buildings that line Commercial Avenue, Anacortes’ main drag. The murals are based on photographs taken in Anacortes over the past century, and offer a colourful glimpse into the local history.
They’re worth the drive to Anacortes.
Anacortes, I discovered, is one of those places people drive through on their way to somewhere else. To be honest, I myself wouldn’t have spent a weekend in this town on Fidalgo Island had I not arranged a home exchange with a couple of Washingtonians who wanted to spend a weekend in Vancouver.
As far as home exchanges go, it was one of the easiest I’ve ever arranged. We agreed to take care of each other’s cats, I asked my sister and a couple of friends to join me, and off we drove one Friday afternoon after work. In less than two hours, we pulled up to a house on a bay: our home for the weekend.
Unfortunately, we had to ditch the outdoor activities we had planned when the weather didn’t cooperate. Instead, we hid from the rain by doing a bit of antiquing, some book-shopping, and a lot of wine-buying in what my home exchangers told us was the “best wine store in the state.” The highlight of our many conversations with the Anacortes’ shopkeepers was hearing the story of Byron and Larry’s decades-old friendship after I asked the barista making up our lattes what they had done to rate windowside chairs with their names on them.
It was in the next shop, as I was paying for my purchase, that the shopkeeper asked me, “How do you Canadians find Anacortes?” I sure hope she was curious about what brought us to Anacortes, rather than astonished that we can read a map. At any rate, that’s how I took her meaning and that’s when it occurred to me that most people must zip through the town on their way to the San Juan Islands ferries.
Back in Vancouver, another friend told me she’s only been to Anacortes by boat. Whatever your means of transport, it’s a nice place for a mini-break.
Remember Chihuly in Seattle? After I got back from my two days in Seattle, I was telling a friend here in Vancouver about Chihuly’s remarkable art work. And that friend then informed me one of Chihuly’s glass works is permanently on display at Bute and Alberni.
“Bute and Alberni?” I looked at him, puzzled. “I used to work at Bute and Alberni. Where ―?”
And then the penny dropped. The glass flowers in the glass box! I would stare at them from my seventh-floor office window whenever I was stuck editing a page, a paragraph, a sentence, … basically anything with words in it. It happened ― a lot.
This photo isn’t the best because, well, there was this massive, not very clean, glass box between my camera lens and the art work. But, there you have it, Vancouver readers. Know that we have our very own Chihuly glass work.
Kenwood House is one of those grand estate houses popular with tourists who want to see Downton Abbey–style houses. It’s currently closed while undergoing renovations. I’m sure that’s a huge disappointment for any tourists travelling to England this summer who were hoping to pay it a visit.
For me, not so much, because its closure gave Kenwood House a reason to send its artwork on tour to the United States. And ― talk about timing ― my friends and I got to see that artwork during our two days in Seattle, only days before the exhibition was due to close.
Rembrandt, Van Dyk, Gainsborough: The Treasures of the Kenwood House, London consists of 48 remarkable works of art. In addition to the Dutch masters and the paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, the exhibition also includes works by Joshua Reynolds and J.M.W. Turner.
“This show puts the Vancouver Art Gallery to shame,” one of my friends whispered to me as we bumped into each other in one of the gallery rooms. I nodded in agreement, awestruck. I don’t often get to see art of this calibre.
The Kenwood House exhibition was paired with a second exhibition entitled European Masters: The Treasures of Seattle, which included works by Eugène Delacroix, Frans Hals, and others, all borrowed from local private collections. I thought the two companion exhibitions complemented each other well.
Rembrandt, Van Dyk, Gainsborough: The Treasures of the Kenwood House, London has moved on to the Arkansas Art Center, my readers in Little Rock will be happy to hear. As for me, I’ve added Kenwood House to my list of art galleries to visit the next time in London. The collection is worth a second look.
A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that the Chihuly Garden and Glass alone was worth a visit to Seattle. I did not exaggerate: it is one of the most distinctive art installations I have ever seen.
The artist, Dale Chihuly, was born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1941. He studied at the universities of Washington and Wisconsin and at the Rhode Island School of Design, and in Venice, Italy, on a Fulbright. His work is exhibited in more than 200 collections all over the world.
If you ever get to Seattle, do not miss this unique gallery.
And, if you are still not convinced, here are a few more photos. (Just a few.)
Remember when I wrote that I don’t blog about the hotels I stay in, because they’re nothing to write home about?
Well, I’m going to have to eat my words, because this is another post about a hotel ― which makes for two posts in as many months.
The hotel I am recommending is Hotel Five, a boutique hotel in central Seattle.
It’s got location: it’s in Belltown, an area just next to Seattle’s downtown core, which makes it walking distance to the major tourist attractions, as well as a good selection of restaurants, bars, and shops.
It’s got service: our room was ready when we arrived (post–cruise ship disembarkment) at 7:30 a.m. We were fully expecting to be dropping off our bags and not having access to our room until much later in the day, so we were pleasantly surprised to be given room key cards upon our arrival. And shortly after we checked in, the front desk called our room to make sure we were happy with our accommodation and to ask if there was anything we needed. I’ve never experienced that kind of service anywhere I’ve stayed. (Maybe I’m staying in the wrong hotels!?)
And it’s got style: the rooms were cleverly decorated, and the bathrooms new and modern.
I didn’t book this hotel; one of my travelling companions did. Note to self: get my friends to book my hotel accommodation more often.
Now that I’ve told you how we got to Seattle, and how we got back from Seattle, you might be wondering what there is to do and see while in Seattle. The city, I was pleased to discover, is the perfect size for a weekend visit. It’s large enough that there’s something for everyone, but small enough that you don’t feel overwhelmed by all the choices.
Let’s start off with the architecture. Upon arrival, you can’t help but notice the Space Needle, a prominent landmark of Seattle’s skyline that was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. It’s impressive when you stand beneath it, but … well … not so impressive I wanted to pay money to go up it.
Never mind. At the base of the Space Needle is a building that did impress me enough to want to pay the admission fee. That would be the EMP Museum, designed by Toronto-born architect Frank Gehry. The building’s deconstructivist style is just so fun to look at, and so shiny and colourful and fluid that you can’t resist reaching out your hand to touch the building as you walk by.
Inside the museum is even more fun, with exhibits more entertaining than I thought possible. Want to learn everything there is to know about Nirvana? It’s here. Jimi Hendrix? Him too.
The museum also has also some really cool artifacts from the world of fantasy and science fiction TV and film. As in: the Cowardly Lion’s costume, Susan Pevensie’s bow and quiver of arrows, Yoda’s staff, Darth Vader’s light sabre, Data’s uniform … they’re all here. Geekdom heaven, wouldn’t you say?
Seattle scored a second “starchitect”-designed building with the Seattle Central Library, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. Don’t just walk around its exterior, though. Have a quick look inside too, taking the time to go all the way up to the top floor for a remarkable view over the atrium.
Once you’ve seen Seattle’s architectural highlights, I recommend checking out one of the most unique art installations I’ve seen anywhere: the Chihuly Garden and Glass. (It alone is worth a visit to Seattle.) The museum opened a year ago, so it’s rather new, and it’s rather extraordinary. Dale Chihuly is an American glass sculptor who creates exquisite works of blown glass. Photos don’t do his work justice, but, forgive me, I’ll post one anyways.
A Seattle institution you shouldn’t miss is Pike Place Market, located near the downtown waterfront. In operation since 1907, it’s one of the oldest farmer’s market in the United States. Fresh local produce, seafood, and flowers are at street level, while the lower levels are filled with shops of all sorts, including bakeries, restaurants, clothing, and local crafts. Be sure to see the fishmongers in action as they throw the fish to each other before wrapping them up for the customer. Oh, and there’s a coffee shop in the market you may have heard of: Starbucks. Not just any Starbucks, though ― it’s the first ever one, which opened for business in 1971.
We stayed in Belltown, which turned out to be a great neighbourhood full of funky coffee shops, trendy restaurants, and lively bars. It is also conveniently located halfway between the downtown waterfront and Seattle Center (where the Space Needle, the EMP, and the Chihuly Garden and Glass are located).
One thing we didn’t have time for: a ferry ride across Elliott Bay. And there are dozens of other Seattle neighbourhoods I’m told are worth checking out. In other words? I plan to return for another weekend visit soon, because there’s lots more of Seattle to see.
In my last post, I told you how my friends and I travelled to Seattle. Wanna know how we got home?
We took the train.
I’ve been down Interstate 5 to Seattle more times than I care to count, both by car and by bus. The I-5 extends from the American–Canadian border all the way down the West Coast of the United States to Mexico. If you’re inclined to drive that far, it would be quite the road trip.
But, as efficient as they are, American interstates aren’t known for their beauty. I’ve always felt that taking the I-5 was a bit of an endurance test to get through before the prize: your final destination (in my case, usually Sea-Tac Airport). And thanks to the collapse three days ago of the Skagit River Bridge on the I-5 just north of Seattle, that will most definitely be true for many months to come until the bridge is repaired or replaced.
But the train! What a revelation that was.
The Amtrak Cascades is the name of the Amtrak route from Eugene, Oregon, to Vancouver, Canada. The northbound leg from Seattle to Vancouver hugs the Pacific shoreline for the first while, moves inland for a bit through some of Washington’s fertile farmland, and then heads back to the coast and crosses the Canadian border at White Rock, BC. Unless you’re paying close attention, you don’t even realize you’ve crossed the border. (All passengers, both northbound and southbound, go through customs in Vancouver.)
After rounding Boundary Bay, the train takes you across the municipality of Delta (named after the Fraser River delta) and east along the Fraser to New Westminster, where you cross the rail bridge beside the Pattullo Bridge. Then it’s a quick ride northwest through Burnaby to Pacific Central Station near downtown Vancouver.
If you book your tickets far enough in advance, the train costs about half of the bus fare. It’s a far prettier route than the I-5, and the wait to go through customs is far shorter. My second travel tip of the week? Take the train.