When Michael and I arrive in a new city we have a routine. We get to our Airbnb, put down our bags, and begin to settle in to our newest “home”. Once I’ve explored the kitchen, and the IT department (that’s Michael) has the wifi set-up, and our own bed pillows are fluffed and in place, we head out to explore the neighborhood.
This fall we arrived in Seattle, our true hometown, and decided to keep the same routine. Of course the circumstances when you are in your own city are quite different than your first day in a place completely unknown to you, but we thought it would be fun to look at our home town through a different lens. What if we just arrived in Seattle for the very first time? How would we spend our time?
We could skip the whole “explore our Airbnb” step since we would be house-sitting for those first few weeks at our friends fabulous home on lower Queen Anne. And I can tell you what’s available in the kitchen - everything! As for restaurants and shops in the neighborhood, there are too many to count. But let’s just say Metropolitan Market, an upscale grocery store across the street, is a bastion of good taste where a person could spend an entire afternoon. Unless that same person was binge shopping at Trader Joe’s just up the hill. So with creature comforts taken care of, and visits with family and friends booked, it was time to take a fresh look at our beloved city.
Since we are away an average of 10 months a year, a lot of things change while we are gone. Toll-bridges get finished, tunnels get bored, light-rail slowly makes its way east and west, and … traffic continues to be snarled. The biggest traffic challenge began earlier this month with the demolition of the earthquake-disaster-waiting-to-happen 100 year old Alaskan Way Viaduct in tandem with the opening of the tunnel beneath the city that replaces it.
Hopefully, when we return in the fall of 2019 it will all be untangled. Meanwhile Seattle offers great public transportation options including on-time buses with many dedicated bus lanes, and light-rail is becoming a real option for getting around. For short hops the city is jammed with Lime and Jump bikes (many electric) and a variety of very nice rideshare cars.
Each time we return to Seattle the Skyline has filled-in a little more. Cranes jostle at the start line in a race to build enough office space for Amazon, Google, Microsoft and dozens of other tech firms and medical research facilities. Crews building the necessary housing, coffee shops, and restaurants are matching them stride-for-stride.
One of the most interesting structures completed in 2018 were the Biodomes created as an exclusive oasis for Amazon employees. They look like an alien outstation that landed in the center of the city! You can stop by the information center to learn about the impressive collection of exotic plants adjusting to their new surroundings. If your timing is right, the public is invited to peek behind the ferns twice a month. https://www.seattlespheres.com/the-spheres-weekend-public-visits And don’t miss Renee Erickson’s dramatic new bar called Deep Dive at the Spheres. Note - overly casual dress is discouraged.
In the past we’ve returned to Seattle in early November and stayed through the holidays before traveling again. This year we came home in mid-September to act on something Michael had been dreaming about ever since he learned that people over 60 can audit college classes at the University of Washington for free. As soon as we got home we registered for fall quarter classes.
Michael chose Water Security in the Middle East at the UW. I was hesitant to attend such a big university, but fortunately I discovered that Seattle Pacific University not only had a similar program on a much smaller campus, it was walking distance to our house. So I signed up for an Introduction to Sociology course and Michael took a second class at SPU called War, Peace and World Order. If you wonder why the blog went quiet - it was due to homework! We pride ourselves in being “life-long learners” and loved learning alongside some very smart young students at both schools.
Returning in September also meant we could enjoy the crisp, often sunny Autumn weather Seattle is known for. Both of our campuses looked like movie sets with their classic brick buildings and huge trees groaning under colorful foliage. And the show just got better every time we walked the three-mile loop around Greenlake -one of the cities finest destinations in any season.
Meanwhile, to fulfill our vision of being tourists in our own town, I called our good friend Tom Norwalk , President and CEO of Visit Seattle, home of Seattle Tourism. We told him our plan see the city as visitors might see it and he was all in. He sent us two CityPasses - nifty booklets filled with discount tickets to Seattle’s main attractions. Even if you don’t use them all, the price of the pass is easily covered by choosing just a few of the offerings. I have to say, we don’t normally buy these sorts of multi-attraction tickets when we are traveling. They are right up there with Hop-on Hop-off buses - way too touristy for us intrepid nomads. But this experience changed my mind.
One of the tickets allowed us to ride to the top of the newly remodeled Space Needle twice on the same day. That gave us the opportunity for both daytime and nighttime views of the city! The new glass floor on the observation deck meant you could look straight down, too!
Another ticket ushered us into the Chihuly Garden and Glass space, also on the Seattle Center grounds. Each room was glowing with fantastic blown glass art presented as whimsical landscapes or seemingly impossible hanging structures. The outdoor spaces featured reflective orbs and long, spears of glass hidden amongst the foliage, and in the courtyard there were glassblowers working their magic in a demonstration oven housed in a repurposed Airstream trailer.
The passes include a choice between admission to MoPop (Museum of Pop Culture) or the Woodland Park Zoo. We chose MoPop for their recently installed Pearl Jam retrospective, and then clutched each other as we moved through the interactive Hall of Horror Movies. If you want to know anything at all about Seattle’s famous music scene, or the latest trends in pop culture, you won’t want to miss this place. You can hardly miss it anyway, considering the building!
If you are in Seattle in late October choose the world-class Woodland Park Zoo when the animals go crazy for hundreds of pumpkins filled with treats.
We didn’t get a chance to take the Argosy Harbor Cruise included in the CityPass. We’ve done it in the past and found it an interesting, and completely different way to see the Seattle’s working waterfront up close.
Beyond the CityPass offerings, we rode the Great Wheel, a colorful addition to Seattle’s skyline and another unique way to see the city. However, our favorite tourist destination, and the one we’d recommend most, right after the Space Needle was Wings over Washington. A virtual experience that takes you on a breathtaking “flight” over the entire state that skims the ocean beaches, swoops through canyons, crests Mount Rainier, and takes in the Skagit Valley tulip fields and the vineyards and orchards of Eastern Washington. These two attractions are located on Pier 57 so it’s easy to experience them both before dining at Ivar’s Acres of Clams world famous clam chowder and fish and chips on Pier 54. Just watch out for diving seagulls!
After a morning of shopping downtown, we spent the afternoon perusing the famous Pike Place Market. On the main street of the market tourists line up for over an hour to buy coffee from the original Starbucks, a hole in the wall shop along the main thoroughfare. Next door there is an equally long line for Piroshki Piroshki, a Russian bakery selling addictive cinnamon rolls and savory meat and cheese filled pastries. But lines outside restaurants in Seattle are nothing new. There are dozens of fabulous places to eat in Seattle, but some tried and true locations will always draw a crowd. Almost any restaurant owned by Tom Douglas , Ethan Stowell or Renee Erickson, will be a good bet - All three are James Beard award winning chefs who specialize in regional cuisine across the price spectrum.
I hope I’ve convinced you that fall can be the perfect time to visit our home town. But if you find yourself in Seattle in February, when good weather is often a pleasant surprise, you can take advantage of Museum Month when Seattle hotel guests get into the regions best attractions for half-price. Don’t miss The Museum of Flight, the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) on the shores of South Lake Union, the Seattle Art Museum, the Pacific Science Center, and many other interactive destinations the whole family will love.
After six weeks our friends returned to Seattle so it was time to move on. Fortunately, we found a wonderful Airbnb nestled on a hillside above Portage Bay. We were just two miles from the city center but it felt like a world away as we watched the panoply of boat traffic just below our deck. It started in the predawn hours when intrepid rowers and the UW crew team pulled through the calm waters, and towards the end of December the dazzling Christmas Ship Parade passed by almost every night.
Our final week in Seattle was spent in yet another Airbnb (number 208) - but this one was special because the host is our niece Jennifer. She is a talented graphic designer and her style shows in all the details of her listing.
We left our beautiful city behind two weeks ago and have begun our 6th year as Senior Nomads. After a stop in Los Angeles to see our American grandchildren (and their parents of course) we continued flying south to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico where I am writing this belated blog.
Our 2019 plan is to stay a little longer in each city we visit. We will be here in SMA for three weeks before moving house to nearby Guanajuato, about an hour and a half away by bus. We’ll spend two weeks there before we launch our tour of South America where we plan on visiting 5 new countries and our 6th continent. We’ve booked our flight to Lima, Peru and then on to Santiago, Chile. We will continue on to Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil before its time to leave for Paris to spend Easter with our French grandchildren (and their parents).
We are very blessed and grateful for our health and the opportunity to continue our travels. Hopefully we inspire others to do follow their own North Star in retirement!
Thank you for following along,
Debbie and Michael Campbell