We just got back from a whirlwind week in Seattle full of family, friends, and food. Though as my sister-in-law joked before we got there, we mostly based our plans around food. That probably explains why I'm still feeling full and why I'm really, really missing seafood right now. All that aside, we had a fabulous time visiting our family and getting to know a new city (and for me, a new coast!).
Before I launch into our activities and meals, I want to mention a few general thoughts. Though it's only been about ten months since I've been back to the States, I was nevertheless struck by the vast difference in dining culture. America is on the pulse of innovative food trends, including craft-brewed beer and cider. I miss that in Germany, though they're starting to pick up the pace. I also really enjoyed getting free tap water with every meal to stay hydrated, though I felt somewhat ambivalent about the overly enthusiastic customer service and mildly annoyed by the tipping culture. (I'd much prefer restaurants to pay workers a living wage already.)
More than anything, I missed Europe's great public transport network. Sure, Seattle is generally walkable and Uber made it easy to get around, but there's nothing quite like the cheap, fast, and (generally) reliable U-bahn system that I've come to love in Stuttgart. Yes, the expat life has changed me.
Despite my nit-picky observations, I had a great time in Seattle. Being an East Coast girl, I found the planned grid layout so different from other cities that I grew up near. I'm also still trying to wrap my head around the layout; there's just so much city to Seattle! And the people were definitely unique -- laid back, but down to Earth, and tending towards an alternative fashion sense. They've got a museum dedicated to alternative music, fantasy, and sci-fi for crying out loud! I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the number of homeless people on the streets, but hopefully this is a problem that Seattle will be able to fully tackle soon.
Oh, and the weather was actually sunny! I learned that Seattle actually gets less rain on average per year than New York City, Atlanta, and even Miami. Who would have thought? That said, we did go at the start of Seattle's "winter", and so it was necessary to wear warm layers and pull up a hood when it started to drizzle.
But enough already. Now on to the good stuff: my recap of our activities and meals.
What to See and Do
Fremont Sunday Market -- We walked to the Fremont Market on our first Sunday in Seattle. Though it took us close to an hour to get there from downtown, the walk past Lake Union and over the Fremont Bridge was totally worth it. There weren’t many people at the market due to the crummy weather, but I nevertheless enjoyed tasting the foods on offer from various local businesses, including Seattle Pickle Company’s Dill Pickles and Chipotle Salt from All Things Rich. We also ate lunch at the Beanfish food truck where they served some great combinations of both sweet and savoury Japanese-style Taiyaki. I had the Mr. Potato stuffed with sweet potato, walnuts, and brown sugar, while Matt had the K-Pop with kalbi beef, kimchi, and pepper jack cheese. We also stopped by the Tandoozy truck after we saw their delicious puffy naan (which has been somewhat difficult to find at Indian restaurants in Stuttgart). We tried the Naan with chicken tikka masala, which was nicely buttered and spiced. The Fremont Market also had a rather large antiques market that was fun to walk around, and I spotted some neat old typewriters there. Also just a short walk from the market, we spotted the Fremont Troll lurking under the bridge.
EMP Museum -- The EMP really speaks to the indie culture of Seattle, making it one of the neatest museums that I’ve been to in a long time. This relatively new space was created in 2000 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to showcase trends in pop culture. During our visit, we got to see a sci-fi exhibit with a dalek and some lightsabers from Star Wars, a fantasy exhibit with the wedding dress from The Princess Bride and Severus Snape’s robe, and a horror exhibit with Simon Pegg’s bloodied shirt from Shaun of the Dead, among other props. We also spent some time in the indie game developers room playing games and walking through the Nirvana and famous guitars exhibit. It's a must-see in Seattle!
Tip: While at the EMP, we picked up a Seattle City Pass. For just $69 we got access to the EMP, the Space Needle, a harbor tour, the Chihuly exhibit, and the aquarium. It saved us somewhere around 50% on the costs and was totally worth it.
Seattle Winery Tour -- One of my favorite activities on this trip was my visit to the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery. Located less than 30 minutes outside of the city center, Chateau Ste. Michelle makes one of my very favorite chardonnays: the "Indian Wells" Chardonnay. On our 45-minute tour and tasting, we learned about the winery's success thanks to the Washington state terroir and how they've grown since their founding in the 1970s. The tasting with our tour included their "Cold Creek" Chardonnay, their "Indian Wells" Merlot, and their delicious Muscat Canelli. I was also thrilled to learn that one of their most popular grapes is riesling, and that they've paired with a German winemaker to produce their "Eroica" Riesling. Because we had our tour guide and designated driver with us, my sister-in-law and I decided to also try their riesling tasting menu. We got to try the "Eroica", a smooth, subtly sweet riesling, along with their various dessert wines. After that, we drove to a smaller winery called Goose to sample some reds and to eat our boxed lunch provided by Purple Café and Wine Bar. I had a lovely turkey sandwich with bacon, havarti cheese, avocado, tomato, and chipotle aioli on multigrain bread and a fresh salad. After that, we jumped back on the tour bus and headed out to the stunning Snoqualmie Falls, a 268 ft. waterfall that rivals Niagara falls in height. Our last stop on the tour was Boehm's Candies & Chocolates in Issaquah. Apparently the company was started by an Austrian man who fled the country during World War II. We got to tour the kitchens and see how their chocolates are still handmade before trying several of their chocolates and then selecting our own boxes of custom chocolates at the front of the store. All-in-all, it was a fantastic day, and Cory, our guide, was both knowledgeable and entertaining along every step of our tour.
Harbor Tour -- As part of our Seattle City Pass, we were given the option of taking a harbor tour of Elliot Bay. Our tour lasted about an hour, and we got to learn a lot about Seattle culture and history during that time. Best of all, I got some stunning, panoramic shots of the city skyline.
Columbia Center Observatory -- If you're interested in the Seattle cityscape, another option apart from the Space Needle is the Columbia Center Observatory. Just shy of 943 feet, the Columbia Center is the tallest skyscraper in Seattle and is likely to remain so due to restrictions made by the FAA who owns the airspace over 1,000 feet. On a clear day you can get a great view of Mt. Rainier, though it was too foggy for us to see it on the day we visited.
Seattle Aquarium -- Also as part of the Seattle City Pass, we got admission to the Seattle Aquarium. While I don't often like aquariums and zoos with large animal enclosures, I felt this one was particularly well done. It took just 1-2 hours to cover the exhibits, which ranged from a petting tank with sea urchins, anemones, and sea slugs, to an octopus tank, tropical fish tanks, local salmon and puffin exhibit, and larger tanks with rescued sea lions, sea otters, and river otters.
Tip: Quite by chance, we ended up at the aquarium around 2:00 pm, which was perfect as we got there around feeding time when the animals were most active. In particular, we got to see the octopus swimming around in his new tank and the sea lions doing some tricks for their food.
Olympic Sculpture Park -- Though we did a lot of eating, we tried to balance our consumption out with frequent walks. One that I particularly liked was our walk along the shores of Elliot Bay through the Olympic Sculpture Park. Of course we got to see several large, contemporary sculptures, but what I liked most was the rocky shoreline along the bay that looked so essentially Pacific and was nice and quiet after the bustle of downtown Seattle.
Pioneer Square and Underground Tour -- While we spent most of our time in Belltown, I also really enjoyed walking around Pioneer Square, which was once the heart of the city back in the 1800s. The low, brick architecture reflects this, and the area felt like one that was on the cusp of revival with a noticeable number of trendy cafés and shops. I really enjoyed learning a bit more about the area's history during our walking tour of the underground. We learned that the area was prone to flooding, so following the Great Seattle Fire, the city was rebuilt a story or so above the old streetline. We simply had to go into some of the building basements to see many of the old wooden buildings, making for a fascinating tour. We took the "adult" version of the tour on which we learned about the city's prostitutes, drugs, and murder. However, my brother-in-law recommends the standard tour for more information about the history of that part of the city.
Pike Place Food Tour -- Perhaps one of my favorite activities in Seattle was our food tour of Pike Place. For roughly two hours, we went from food stall to food stall trying all the great Seattle treats, including cheese biscuits from Honest Biscuits, bacon-maple doughnuts from Daily Dozen, cinnamon-orange tea from Market Spice, three varieties of smoked salmon at the Pike Place Fish Co., greek yogurt at Ellenos, cheese curds at Beecher's, savory crumpets at The Crumpet Shop, and handmade chocolates at Fran's Chocolates. It was definitely time and money well spent. In fact, we went to Pike Place several times over the course of the week to get fresh fruits and vegetables at Corner Produce, pasta and sauce at DeLaurenti, pumpkin cheesecake pops at The Confectional, and pork buns at Mee Sum Pastry. And that was all just a quarter of the kinds of cuisines offered at the market! Plus, if you go on the tour, you'll also get a card that gives you a 10-15% discount at select stalls in the Market, as well as at several area restaurants, for an additional nine days.
Tip: Go early. We took the VIP tour of Pike Place which left at 9 am, giving us at least an hour or so of quiet time before the crowds rolled in. It also helps that the day was a bit gray and rainy, which, while not the most pleasant for walking around, made it more enjoyable.
Chinatown and Uwajimaya -- While on our way to dinner one evening, we decided to stop by the Uwajimaya market in Chinatown (also near Japantown, as far as I can tell). It's easily the largest Asian market that I've seen outside of Asia, offering everything from imported chopsticks, woks, and bento lunch boxes to green tea, Asian noodles, and fresh baked Asian goods. Of all the places we visited, this was one at which I wished we'd have spent more time, so be sure to give yourself at least an hour or so and consider shopping for an Asian meal here. You won't regret it.
Chihuly Garden and Glass -- On our last day in Seattle, we finally made it to the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum as part of our Seattle City Pass. Prior to our visit, I'd known next to nothing about glass art and even less about Dale Chihuly. I really enjoyed spending an afternoon walked through glass forests, under glass chandeliers, and among boats filled with glass balls and flowers. And while I'll never be able to afford an original piece, it was enough just to see the the world from Chihuly's point of view.
I'd planned to include a section on what we ate here, but I see that I've already written quite a lot for one blog post. Click here for Part 2.