Thursday, July 31, 2014

Good Friends

Can I just say that I'm grateful for good friends.  I have dear friends in Dallas who have continued to invite me to their events, despite the distance I know live away from them.  Specifically my two good friends Amy and Erika.  Words can't express how happy it makes me to know they think to include me in birthday celebrations, backyard swim parties, and other normal everyday gatherings of friends.  When I moved out here I cried for leaving my friends behind, but I've come to realize that good friends work to make the long-distance relationship work.  Here's to great friends.  I love you whether you're near or far.  Thanks for enriching my life and including me in yours.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Seattle Vacation-Day 6

Itinerary: Pioneer Square, Underground Tour, Top Pot Donuts

Our original plan for our last day in Seattle was to rent bikes and tour the city on two wheels, but after walking around most of the city and seeing how busy the streets were, we decided we didn't want to try to navigate the streets on bikes.  So we called two of our good friends who also happen to be Washington natives to ask for a recommendation for what to fill our last day with.  Two things top on their list was to go on the Underground Tour and explore Pioneer Square.  The tour wasn't too pricey so we decided to venture to this part of the city we had yet to see.

The Underground Tour was really quite interesting.  We learned about the history of Seattle and saw some really amazing sites.  The Underground Tour takes tourists down into the original ground story of the earliest developed portions of Seattle near Yesler Way and around Pioneer Square.  As it turns out all of the city near the waterfront in this area is actually the second story, while the first story is below the present day sidewalk.  In the late 1880's the city was build on the mudflats of Elliot Bay and had horrible problems with drainage and tides.  When the tide came in the streets would turn to soup and there was even a newspaper clipping from that time reporting that a boy drowned in the muck of the street.  There was also a horrible sewage problem and sewage would spew out onto the streets with the tides.  In 1889 there was a fire that destroyed most of the city by the waterfront.  While it was a disaster, no lives were lost and the people of the city decided to take advantage of the clean slate and build a new elevated city.  So they built the city up and the current street level is actually 15 feet above the old street level, which still exists to this day.  The Underground Tour takes you through the remaining underground sidewalks and pathways.  It was a great tour.  While underground, we were instructed to look up to see what looks like skylights.  Later these same skylights are pointed out to you when you're on the current street level and they simple look like glass tiles imbedded into the sidewalk.  Little do many people on the street level know that there are people below them looking up.

After the tour we walked around Pioneer Square.  There is a statue dedicated to Chief Seattle, the Native American the city is named after.  I have discovered that I have a real soft place in my heart for the Native Americans of the Northwest and I am very enthralled by their art, culture and history.  I'd love to learn more and read more about them so I plan to find some books on this topic.  Oddly, I had a hard time finding a wide selection of books on the Natives of this region while I was there. Perhaps I just didn't know where to look.

Statue of Chief Seattle with plaques on either side.  This side is in Chief Seattle's native language 
Opposite site of the plaques written in English

We ate lunch in a very busy sandwich shop which, like all the other cafes and delis in the area, had their front doors wide open and you could either sit outside or inside. The weather is so nice both would be pleasant.  I had "the Activist", which was the only vegetarian sandwich on the menu but it was exactly what I wanted so I didn't care.  Roasted vegetables, balsamic glaze and goat cheese.  I'm not sure if I prefer restaurants name vegetarian entrees as "the vegetarian" or not.  On one hand it makes it easier to find a dish I don't have to modify to enjoy.  But on the other hand, you don't see any menu's listing "the omnivore" or the "the carnivore" on their menus.  Either way, I thought this place was clever and enjoyed that instead of selecting "the vegetarian" titled dish, as I usually do, I got to order "the activist".  I chuckled and enjoyed my sandwich.  I don't remember what Patrick had for lunch but I do remember that he ordered a local root beer.  Patrick is quite the connoisseur of root beer.  He even did a Root Beer Experiment when we lived in College Station.   He gathered as many root beers as he could find, developed a set of judging criteria, and rated them all.  He even wrote it up with a report and asked me to proof it for grammar and scientific validity (as much validity as can be had for a root beer experiment).  Sadly, the root beer he ordered was very disappointed.  We have high root beer standards.

Seattle before the fire

Picture of Seattle after the fire

Old Road sign in the underground

Looking up underneath the city street

Same place, just a different perspective

Smith Tower, was once the tallest tower in the west

The old plumbing system.  That is a hollowed out wooden log.  Yeah, that would be effective right?
 After lunch we made our way to the last thing we wanted to visit before we left.  Top Pot Donuts.  I'm not a big donut fan, but I heard this was a local gem and wanted to say I'd been.  I got an apple fritter which I worked on for 4 days (anyone who knows me knows this isn't unusual).  Patrick got two versions of his favorite donut: cake donuts.  The two versions were dark cherry and raspberry.  The little I had of these were quite good.  

We walked back to our hotel and stopped by Pike's Market for one last tour through.  I had been wanting to find a necklace with a Northwest Native American charm on it all week.  We were directed to two stores and had success at the second.  I love the necklace and shirt I bought and they give me great memories of our trip to the northwest.

I also got a commemorative Seattle mug I drink Pero in nearly every night.  When I use my mug or wear my shirt or necklace I'm reminded of the wonderful trip we had.  We loved the culture, the access to the ocean and bay, the beautiful surroundings, the mountains and the forests, the people, the food, everything was peaceful and refreshing for us.  Patrick struggles with the heat due to heat exhausting he had when he was 18.  Every summer he has to be careful and inevitably will get headaches or even get sick if he stays too long in the Texas summer.  When we went to Cord d'Alene, Idaho for his second Ironman I the northwest could very well be a great place for us, especially in the summer.  Everyone has always told us, "you too would love the Northwest", "you'd both fit in so much better there", and their right.  When we returned home our family and friends asked us when we were moving, half-joking I think, but I think there is a another part of them that realize how much we'd love it there.  The hardest thing would be leaving family and friends in Texas.  Ahh well, this won't happen for years, if ever.  I can only hope at this moment that someday I'll be able to move Patrick and I and whatever family we grow between now and then to someplace that fits us better than our current city.

All in all Seattle and Washington were amazing I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to go back.  We also decided we won't be waiting another 11 years to take a vacation.  I foresee annual summer vacations in our future.  They may not be as long as this one or far off as Seattle, but we plan to take time each year to spend with each other and get away from the daily grind.  I am already thinking about where to go next year, but I'll keep that to myself for now.

Seattle Vacation-Day 5

Itinerary: Space Needle, EMP Museum, Pacific Science Museum

Today we slept in to recover from the long day of travel yesterday. But still, if you're from the central time zone, sleeping in on the west coast means you're likely going to wake up early by west coast standards. At least I will; Patrick has an uncanny ability to sleep. I was up an hour before he was.

We grabbed some breakfast at the hotel and set off for a day in Seattle Center, the location of the Space Needle, EMP, and science museum, to name a few attractions.  The museums opened up at 10 am so we went first to the Space Needle, which opened at 8 am.  The Space Needle was the showcase attraction of the 1962 World Fair and was thought to be the design for all future skyscrapers.  Of course this didn't pan out because the design is horribly inefficient.  We learned in the harbor tour that after the World Fair, the city wanted to tear the tower down.  The architect and builder rallied the city and petitioned to save the tower, foreseeing that it would become a major tourist attraction. The pair succeeded but the stipulation was the city didn't want to own the structure. So the pair bought the tower from the city and it has never been publicly owned. 

From the outdoor observation deck of the Space Needle you can see in every direction. The mountains off in the distance were a beautiful site to see. We had hoped to spend some time during this vacation in the mountains, but without a car and staying in downtown, we were limited in our abilities to travel to the mountainous areas surrounding the city. Next time.  Oh and there will be a next time.

Pattykate looking out over Seattle at the Space Needle. 

After the Space Needle we headed over to the EMP museum, which stands for the Experience Music Project. This museum is amazing and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Seattle.  Patrick is the musical one in the team, although I'm coming around after years of positive musical influence.  The first floor of the museum held exhibits on Jimi Hendrix, the history and evolution of the guitar, a sci-fi/fantasy exhibit, and a horror film exhibit. 

The second floor was the "experience" portion of the museum.  Here there were hands on stations where you could try your hand at a wide range of musical instruments, each which had a mini prerecorded lesson to teach attendees the basics of that instrument. There were even sound booths you could go into and have jam sessions.  I played on what was very near to a theremin but which had a wide range of sounds. 

There was also a tower of stringed instruments, some of which where connected and wired to play a song.  Patrick was in heaven.  

View of the EMP from the Space Needle's observation deck

Patrick in front of the tower of joy
Drum set for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, specifically Mitch Mitchell

The outside of the EMP museum.
After the EMP museum we headed over to the Pacific Science Museum.  This museum is excellent, if you have kids with you.  If you're an adult fairly well educated in terms of science, you'll probably be disappointed.  We were.  Don't get me wrong, I would love to frequent this museum with the future kiddos but for just Patrick and I we were bored and sorely disappointed.  There was a giant chair and tables I took a picture with and a giant guitar Patrick took a picture with, and there was a butterfly garden, which was interesting to a point.  But overall, I wouldn't go back to this museum unless I had young kids in tow.  There was an IMAX theater we had tickets to through our City Pass, but Patrick's stomach was flipping by late in the afternoon, so we headed back to the hotel to let Patrick rest before heading out to find dinner that evening.  

Can you see Patrick?

After Patrick's nap we went out to visit the Olympic Sculpture Park near the waterfront.  It wasn't quite what we expected but it was still nice.  We ended up getting there near the end of the day so the light was just right.  There is a pathway that leads from the park around the shore for miles.  Had we had bike, or hadn't had walked miles already, we would have liked to run the trail.  As we walked along the waterfront we saw of all things a raccoon peeking through at a pier.  There wasn't any sort of solid around so this was a pecicular sighting but quite interesting.  The racooon walked along a beam between two piers and then disappeared under the pier in the rafters.  I wasn't expecting to see that kind of wildlife in the city.  
Olympic Sculpture Park looking out to Elliot Bay

Olympic Sculpture Park
Olympic Sculpture Park

Olympic Sculpture Park

Unexpected urban wildlife

After that it was getting late so most of the places we tried to eat at were closed. It stays light until nearly 10pm so it's a bit deceiving as to how late it really is.   We somehow ended up at a 4 story mall hidden in the middle of the city. We had no idea it was a mall from the outside. It was like a Mary Poppins carpet bag trick.  Oddly enough, Patrick ended up with a burger and fries. I saw this is odd because since last semester when I worked late on Tuesday nights, Patrick officially made that evening "Burger night".  So even in Seattle this tradition persisted.  It wasn't until after he was halfway through his dinner that I pointed out the coincidence.   
I had a parfait that night.. "Everybody loves parfaits"

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Seattle Vacation-Day 4

Itinerary: Whale watching tour

We woke up early to catch our boat for a whale watching your this morning. The boat was leaving at 7:45 and we had to be there an hour ahead of time to pick up our boarding passes.  What struck me about the whole process and operation is that ferries and other boats are just an everyday mode of transportation when you live so close to the ocean, bays, sounds and other large bodies of water.  Checking-in at the ticket counter and boarding was not unlike the process you'd go through at an airport, except there was no TSA screening. There was a couple with bikes loaded up with camping gear, so it was clear the were touring Seattle and surrounding area via bike.  That looked and sounded like fun.  Maybe on another trip. 

We traveled 3 hours by ferry to Friday harbor on San Jaun Island.  The crew informed the passengers that there had been no whale sightings that morning, so we would embark for our whaling tour in the afternoon. We went ashore at Friday harbor and toured the small island city for about 2 hours. We walked the main city streets and checked out the city shops on the strip. 

Pattykate on the dock and Friday harbor. 

We loaded the ferry again after our excersion on San Jaun Island (many of the islands in the area have Spanish names after the first settlers) and headed out for some whale watching.  After traveling for about 15' we found a pod of 4 orcas, two adults, 1 younger adult, and 1 young calf.  It was amazing to see these magnificent animals. They would surface to breathe and would take a few breaths before submerging again for several minutes. The calf would come out of the water the most out of all the whales so on several occasions we could see nearly his whole body, from the tip of his nose to his tail. The older whales only surfaced enough to breathe, so we'd only see their spouts, backs and tails.  Upon reflection, I concluded that I would much prefer observe whales like this in nature than in captivity performing tricks for audiences.  I have scruples with Sea World. For two hours we followed this small pod of whales. Patrick and I stayed up on the top open deck and watched then with binoculars for nearly the entire time.  One unexpected site was a whale feeding.  The naturalist on board, who would point out whales, birds, and other interesting sites in the surrounding nature, at one point in the whale watching called our attention to some thrashing in the water off on the port side of the ferry.  We'd see water splashing about and then a seal tail would pop up. This continued for a good 5 minutes.  The naturalist explained the whales were hunting the seal and the reason it lasted so long was because it was very likely a training exercise for the calf.  The circle of life, while completely natural, was difficult to watch in person and so close up.  Especially after seeing the cute harbor seals at the aquarium a few days earlier. 

Above two pictures show whales in the pod we followed. 

A great veiw of the mountains on our ferry ride

PW on the Clipper ferry

The rear of the Cipper ferry going about 30 knots (35 mph )

We also so other seals (live and not being hunted), bald eagles, other coastal birds and a two Norse whales on our tour. The landscape was breathtaking.  Overall the tour was great but the down side was that it was ALL day.  We woke up at 5:15 and didn't get back to the hotel until after 8 pm.  And the travel, while very new to us and interesting, was very long.  We spent a little over 6.5 hours traveling to and from Friday harbor, so this was a lot of sitting and we were very tired of the ride near the end.  But it was overall very worth it to see whales and other marine wildlife in their natural habitat.  

Luckily on both legs of the journey we met some interesting people to chat with and pass the time.  On the return trip we sat with two local ladies who talked with us about the joys if living in Seattle, the culture and the people here. We comminted to them that we noticed when we drove to Camano Island tgAt the drivers here are all very laid back and extremely courteous.  She concurred that this is a good discripition of Seattlites in general and that these characteristics extended beyond driving style. She told us that the people here are very know and courteous in general and that they can be passive aggressive, sometimes to a fault.  We joked about how Texans can be loud and boisterous and often expressing their sentiments with disregard for the effect their words might have.  We pointed out that this is all made possible by the phrase "bless their heart", which when said before any off-color or unflattering remark acts as a socialy acceptable buffer to whatever comes next. 

After parting ways with our new friends, who turned out to have similar personalities and senses of humor as us, we set out to find some dinner.  We settled on a little Thai place a few blocks from our hotel.  I ordered Sin Yai at spice level 2 and Patrick ordered is classic Panang Curry at spice level "extremely hot".  I had never tried or even seen my dish at other Thai restaurants, but I was drawn to this dish because it had a variety of veggies, as well as curry and peanuts. All of which made for a FANTASTIC combination. By far, this is my new favorite Thai dish.  I just hope I can find it at Thai restaurants in Dallas.  If not , I'll just have to go back to Seattle.  Unfortunately, when Patrick asked for his curry "extremely hot", which normally is just fine for him, his dish came out spicier than expected.  Our first indication was when we tasted my dish.  While still a comfortable level of heat, this Thai restaurant's 2 was spicer than our pallets were calibrated to.  Knowing that my 2 felt more like a 3, we guessed Patrick was in for a ride.  The Thai heat scale can be specific to individual restaurants.  At our favorite Dallas Thai spot (Thai Star) Patrick orders his dish at spice level "Thai kill me", which is still not hot enough for him and he still has to use their pepper spice rack to up the heat level to enjoy his dish.  But here at this Seattle Thai restaurant, he went for the hottest spice level and for the first time in years, got in over his head in terms of spice level.  We ordered a creamy drink to tame the heat a bit, but he was still not able to enjoy his dish as much as he would have liked. Lesson learned.  When we go back (note when not if), Patrick will be a little less ambitious in terms of spice. 

Seattle Vacation-Day 3

Itinerary: Zip line canopy tour, exploring

Today we headed out for a zip line canopy tour.  We rented a car and traveled north to Camano Island which is about an hour north of Seattle.  The tour consisted of six zip lines situated on platforms of varying heights above the forest floor. I was surprised when I booked the tour to see that it would take 2.5 hours to complete all the zip lines.  We had two great tour guides who not only set up our safety rigs but also taught us about edible plants we passed by on the short hikes between zip lines.  We ate wild salmon berries, huckleberries, elder berries, and wild grape leaves. We also learned that stinging nettle leaves are edible (you have to fold the leaves up just right) and we learned the two antidotes to the painful stickers of stinging nettle.  The first treatment is to chew the stinging nettle leaf until it is a pulp and then apply to pulp to the affected area. The second is to use a fern that grows near stinging nettle.  Find a fern leaf with an orangish underside and rub that on the affected area. We were both thoroughly impressed with our guides knowledge of the local forest. 

Overall the zip line adventure was an amazing experience and well worth the money. There was one line that was 650 feet long. That's 25 feet longer than the space needle is tall. 

Patrick with his safety tether on one of the zipline platforms

The view from one zipline plater to another

Patrick after finishing a zip

Brett our guide showing us edible plants of the northwest forest

Wild salmon berry tasting 

My view before crossing the "rickety bridge"

The zippy couple

Can I just stay here?

Patrick on the 650' zipline. 

As if the tour itself wasn't great enough, they knew it's was our anniversry so they gave us each a free souvenir tshirt! Talk about taking care of your customers. If you visit Seattle this place is worth the time and money to travel to. 

After zip lining we got some lunch at a cute little dinner nestled next to the woods and a lake.  Again, I wa pleasantly surprised at how good the vegetarian options we in taste, abundance, as well as how filling my salad was.  It's so nice to be in a place that respects and understands vegetarians and is environmentally conscious.  Recycling is everywhere.  And they will only give you a bag at shops if you ask for one, at which point you pay $0.05 for a paper sack. So from what I can tell, plastic bags are all but banned here. We did see one restaurant that used plastic bags for take-out, but that's it.  I'll happily pay the $0.05 cents if that's what it takes to clean a city up and reduce everyone's footprint a little more. 

After lunch, we headed toward two little neighborhoods: Fremont and Ballard.  Both of these neighborhoods have hipster shops and fit us to a T.  We were so wrapped up in checking out all the cute stores that we forgot to check out the Fremont Troll, which is a massive sculpture under a bridge in Fremont that looks like, well a troll. Perhaps we'll get back there before we leave. I did get one thing in Fremont, those of you who see me frequently will likely notice right away. I don't think anyone reads this who won't see me in Dallas when we return, so I'll just leave it at that. 

After cruising the hipster hangouts and thoroughly enjoying ourselves, we made our way to the original REI. Again, it was awesome. The walk up to the store is wooded and has a little nature trail. For being in the middle of the city, this comes as an unexpected but very appreciated surprise.  Inside there are two stories. 

Patrick at the start of the trail that leads to REI-Seattle

Cute kids play area

We had an idea to buy Ollie some dog hiking booties to try to prevent her from scratch at the carpet when we're away so we bought these at REI.  Scratching is one of her coping mechanisms for her separation anxiety and it causes damage to carpets.  Let's hope these boots work. 

By the time we finished at REI we were beat so we headed back to the hotel and crashed early. More fun coming tomorrow.