Seattle to Portland
Seattle was not what I had pictured. Granted, all I really had to go on was Frasier and a couple of movies, but it didn’t quite match up. But, I was alright with that.
We stayed a week in Seattle, Wednesday to Wednesday, and it didn’t even rain. I was fully expecting it, and… nothing. In actuality, we were probably better off for it since we walked practically everywhere from the historic and charming Sorrento Hotel, but, it is kind of their thing, so to not get any rain seemed like we were missing out on the total experience.
Our suite at the Sorrento was on the 2nd floor of the detailed, small, yet rambling hotel. We had a late dinner in the aptly named Fireside Room with the flames flickering in the corner offering just enough warmth from the chill.
The next day I ventured out around 10:00 am, but not before pressing some dark roast coffee in the room to brace me for the cool, breezy weather on my walk to the piers and crowded Pike Place Market. Oh, so crowded!
Yes, they toss fish, and if you want to avoid a throng of people, don’t go anywhere near them. I discovered some steps that took me to the lower levels of the market and browsed the quirky bookshops and native art and jewelry, breathing in the varied, permeating smell of falafel, funnel cakes, fish, and incense.
I do love a good walk, but I wish Google maps would have alerted me to the hilly terrain. I had no idea the Seattle streets would be so steep. The walk up Madison Street had my thighs burning for hours. I was actively performing a strip tease with each new block.
Scarf off, jacket off, sweater off—until I ran out of appropriate layers to take off. Still heaving, I sank into a chair at the Sorrento hotel bar and ordered a cooling caprese salad and a pitcher of water.
That evening, we had secured coveted dinner reservations at Sky City inside the Space Needle.
A quick ride up the reserved elevators and a few minutes later we were seated in the slowly rotating restaurant taking in the panoramic view of the city, mountains, and water.
The piano man added to the slow-moving ambiance as we sipped particularly strong manhattans until night fell over the city. We felt compelled to try the dry ice dessert–the lone survivor from the original 1960s World’s Fair menu.
On Friday, I decided that a ride on the monorail was a must, and it would serve the dual purpose of taking me back to the Space Needle and the Westlake Center. The monorail—what do I even say about it?
We were stuffed in there like Vienna sausages. Thankfully the ride is ridiculously short, and I was grateful to tumble out of that metallic cylinder into the fresh air.
I hadn’t really planned on touring the Chihuly Glass Museum, but I found the glass sculptures irresistible.
After some coffee in the gardens, I walked to the Olympic Sculpture Park with its expansive view of Elliot Bay—plus up-close views of that 39 foot red eagle and the massive white head of Echo, the greek mountain nymph who could only speak in echoes.
Hungry, I ate lunch at Anthony’s Bell Street Diner which advertises picturesque views of the harbor. Does a rusty boat count? They do have views, but clearly not from where I was seated.
I took a harbor tour after lunch, just to rest my aching feet before the long walk back to the Sorrento. It was cool and breezy sitting on the top level of the boat. I’m sure the guide related some interesting facts, but my feet weren’t interested.
Still feeling adventurous, I made a tour reservation for the Copperworks Distillery where they use 4 traditional copper stills imported from Scotland to make their varieties of gin, vodka, and whiskey.
Next up was a stroll through Pioneer Square at dusk. Probably not the best timing.
Exhausted and ready to move on from Pioneer Square, I went back through Pike Place and down the charming Post Alley (other than the Gum Wall–yick!). They recently cleaned it for the first time in 20 years and there’s already more gum back on it.
I ended my walk at the elegantly rustic Edgewater Hotel where I had an unobstructed view of the bay sunset from the Six Seven Lounge.
On Saturday, K joined in the tourist fun and our day began with a breezy yet educational boat ride through Seattle’s locks. Along the way we watched several sea planes taking off and landing and even saw the famous houseboat district with the one featured in “Sleepless in Seattle.”
Our tour concluded by taking us around Elliot Bay to the downtown Seattle Waterfront. It was on to Pike Place Market from there where we fought through the crowds to view the fruits, vegetables, lavender, and various goods available before stopping for an espresso at a tiny corner bar near the gum wall for a quick pick-me-up. We finished touring the vast market, working our way up through the smaller streets filled with chocolate shops, patisseries, and pubs.
Post Alley was our favorite street, and it was there that we discovered The Pink Door—an unmarked, Italian-American, bohemian hideaway. Their website description:
“Along the quaint Post Alley of Seattle’s Pike Place Market awaits a seductive netherworld fronted by a mysterious, milky rose portal better known as The Pink Door. Enter through it and the tides of reality wash away into a sea of the sublime. Welcome!”
Circus rings hung from the ceiling for the trapeze artist who performs in the evening, hovering over guests while they dine. We were seated in the cool, covered outdoor patio with a view of the bay in the distance. The food and drinks matched the decadence of the decor.
The next day, the drive from Seattle to Portland took some time but mostly due to our choice to take the scenic route in order to get a closer look at Mt. St. Helens. We knew we were close, but the winding roads through the tall, deep green woods made it difficult to know just how close we were until we rounded a bend and saw its mass looming like a frost-tipped giant directly in front of us.
We didn’t get another glimpse until we had climbed higher and could turn and see it rising behind us.
My favorite was the misty Multnomah Falls. A short walk took you to an observation bridge where if you tuned out the other tourists you could imagine you had stepped into a scene straight from Lord of the Rings.
If you come across a sign pointing the way to a place called the Vista House, don’t bother to stop and look it up, just follow the signs. You won’t be disappointed.
The intended purpose of the Vista House Observatory was just that—a place that affords “shelter and comfort to all who come to look on the splendor of the scene.” The idea to build it was Samuel Lancaster’s, the Assistant Highway Engineer for Multnomah County in 1913 and supervisor of the Columbia River Highway project.
As Lancaster described it, the Crown Point promontory was the ideal site for “an observatory from which the view both up and down the Columbia could be viewed in silent communion with the infinite.” He was right.
The next day, I mapped out a walking tour with my ultimate destination being the International Rose Test Garden. Again, I found myself wishing that Google maps would alert you to hilly terrain. Walking through the downtown city center was perfectly fine but as soon as I turned to continue on to the gardens, the hills started to wear me down. I tried to slow up and admire the large decorative 19th century houses, but when the sweat started to trickle down my back I began to lose interest.
The rose garden was worth the walk, though. If it hadn’t been, well, I probably wouldn’t have had as favorable a view of Portland, but, the garden filled with a vast array of roses was my fragrant reward.
Reluctant to leave because of the long walk back, I forced my weary feet to trudge back to the Marriott where I indulged in a late lunch of crab cakes. I spent the rest of the afternoon curled up in the second-floor lobby library, perusing the books until it was time to drive back to Seattle.
Sometimes in your life, you just have to go whale watching by yourself.
I’m fully aware of how depressing that might sound, but I promise it wasn’t. The vividly red, white, and blue Victoria Clipper left the dock at sunrise, and I boarded her along with 40 other people or so, mostly families and couples.
Dressed in a royal blue raincoat trimmed in white and a jaunty hat to match, I’m sure I didn’t look like the typical orca aficionado. I cozied up with my coffee in a window seat facing aft and listened as the guide pointed out various geographical landmarks and marine life. I particularly enjoyed the stories of gentlemen smugglers, pirates, and bootleggers who used the various hidden islands as clandestine hideaways for their nefarious dealings.
I did see a few pods of orcas, but the law doesn’t allow the larger boats to get too near them so it wasn’t the “up close and personal” vantage point that I was hoping for. Still, it was fun watching them arc through the water, catching a flash of white followed by a gleaming black fin as they sported about in the waves.
We continued our way through the San Juan Islands to our stopping point: Friday Harbor. Not really knowing where to go or what to do, I set off walking up the hill (why is it always a hill?) from the harbor to the main thoroughfare and spent some time browsing the local titles in a bookshop.
There were art galleries, cafes, and whimsical antique stores in the small downtown area, but for my lunch, I settled on Cask and Schooner: Public House and Restaurant located at the harbor’s edge. This way, I could keep an eye on my Clipper to make sure I didn’t get left behind on this island on Washington’s outer territorial edge. I sat at the polished wood bar and ordered a Dark and Stormy to pair with my fish and chips. After a day on the cold, choppy grey water, it seemed an appropriate choice.
I don’t really like to travel alone per se; I would have loved for K to be able to share the experience with me. However, there was something to being alone on this outlying island, over 2,000 miles away from the place I call home. Something freeing yet sad—but sad only if I didn’t have someone waiting for my return.
K. met me at the harbor and off we went to the see the sights he had yet to take in. We sampled three types of clam chowder at an old restaurant on the harbor, walked through Pioneer Square, and zigzagged back through the Pike Place Market where we sampled some chocolate truffles in Post Alley.
For dinner, K had located an industrially chic wine bar and restaurant called Purple Cafe and Wine Bar, probably because that’s the color of your teeth when you leave. We ordered a wine flight and a cheese plate and admired the massive column of wine encircled by a winding staircase to the upper levels of the restaurant.
Back at the Sorrento, we stepped into the bar for one final nightcap before turning in, and quickly made friends with the bartender who let us sample a variety of unusual liqueurs and spirits. Cheers to Seattle and the friendly people who live and work there!
Even though Seattle was not in the least what either of us had expected, we both agreed that we would enjoy going back some time to experience more of its off-beat charm.