Category Archives: Washington

Best Meals: Seattle

While in Seattle, I had a few particularly good meals.

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Capital Cider – I happened to Google “gluten-free Seattle” and found out about Capital Cider. Their menu was entirely gluten-free, they had what appeared to be vegan options, and best of all, they served cider flights. I asked my boss if he wanted to check it out and he said yes. Then another person joined us, and someone she was talking with and another two chimed in and soon a group of seven was seated in the lower level of the restaurant and bar. It was “Drink and Draw Night” which turned out to be rather enjoyable. I know I had hand cut fries and some Brussel sprouts, and maybe some broccoli, all of which were quite tasty, but the drinks are what really mattered. I had a flight of ciders, all of which were a bit dry for me, and a delightful mixed drink made with Scotch, Gran Classico Bitter, and BroVo Ginger. The outstanding part of the meal came when I realized they had flights of dessert ciders – like port made with apples. They were amazing.

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El Borracho – I had lunch with a colleague at El Borracho, just outside Pikes Place Market. They have a vegan section on the menu, including nachos, soyrizo, and other delights. I ordered a taco de hongos (mushrooms) and a taco de papas y poblanos (potatoes and peppers). Both were great. I wanted more, but it worked out just as well that I left a little hungry, because…

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Emmy’s Vege House – I took the ferry over to Bainbridge Island after lunch. I was walking around and decided there was no way in hell I was passing up an all-vegan Vietnamese fast food kiosk in the center of town. Emmy’s Vege House has a full-picture menu and outside seating. It was a perfect respite. I ordered summer rolls and a Thai iced tea.

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Veggie Grill – There was a Veggie Grill around the corner from the hotel. We need more of these on the East Coast. Over the course of the days I was there, I had the tempeh tacos, gluten-free mac and cheese, asparagus soup, and bahn mi salad. The tacos and mac and cheese remain my favorites.

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Oatmeal, Lake Union – My absolute favorite meals were eaten at Lake Union with my new duck friends. I was out for an early morning walk and ducked into a Whole Foods. They had a decent hot bar with oatmeal and toppings. I took mine to-go and walked up to Lake Union. It was a perfect morning to sit on a bench and look at the water. The first morning the ducks and geese came to see if I was sharing. The next morning I picked them up some peas and corn at the salad bar and we had breakfast together.

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A Few Hours in Seattle

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These blue skies are photographic a lie. It was a mostly overcast day.

Work conferences often mean making the most of the spartan free time. I finished up a meeting at El Borracho, a Mexican restaurant near Pikes Place Market, and found myself free for the rest of the day. It was about 2 p.m. I decided to see how far I could explore on foot. I made it fairly far. I took a look at Metsker Maps, a traveler’s dream, Left Bank Books, which seemed out of place being anti-authoritarian and pro-anarchist in the middle of a tourist Mecca, and a few other shops outside the market.

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This place causes the travel version of mouthwatering.
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Left Bank Books
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Left Bank Books

I wandered inside Pikes Place Market. Nope, nope, nope. I’m 5’2” and pressing crowds make me claustrophobic. All I could see were armpits and there were a lot of other unpleasant smells. I left the busy sections of the market as quickly as possible and descended to the lower levels. I remembered a kind of cool store from a prior visit that I wanted to look for.

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Pikes Place Market. What you can’t see are the pushing crowds to the left.

Inside Orange Dracula, “the dime store for those with unusual tastes,” I found an even larger selection of pop culture and horror kitsch than I remembered. I couldn’t afford the rare Lego Hogwarts set, but I found Italian Harry Potter stickers, swamp soap, vampire incense, and veterinarian warning stickers. I wandered the lower levels for a while, where few tourists seemed to stray. I found a junk shop and left with a $2 scarf. I continued winding my way down through the market and on outside. I walked amid the construction over to the shops and tourist stops down near the water.

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Orange Dracula has all the random shit you never knew you needed.

I had hoped I would have the time to check out the ferry over to Bainbridge Island. The weather cooperated and I eventually found the ferry terminal. I bought a ticket, just $8.20 roundtrip, and waited for the next crossing. The terminal filled with daily commuters and sightseers. It was a cool, gray crossing, but rather pleasant.

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Ferry terminal entrance.
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Ferry ride across to Bainbridge Island.
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Ferry ride across to Bainbridge Island.
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I felt welcomed.

The commuters bolted off the ship and to their cars, bikes, and buses, some actually running down the gangway to the terminal. I wandered into town and along the main street. I found the Eagle Harbor Book Co., which had a decent local section and nature guides. From there I threw myself at Emmy’s Vege House, an all-vegan food kiosk in the center of town. I had a decent lunch but made room for some summer rolls and a Thai ice tea. Refreshed (meaning caffeinated and sugared), I continued exploring. Over the last few years, we’ve developed a custom of finding Garnet stuffed animals when we travel. I hadn’t found one yet, but Calico Toy Shoppe had a perfect stuffed gnome.

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Eagle Harbor Book Co.
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Emmy’s Vege House – all vegan
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Second lunch.

At Millstream, I found a gift for one of Garnet’s teachers and about 20 things I wanted but couldn’t justify. Across the street, Backstreet Beat Books and Record offered a small but well-cultivated selection of books. I found Patrick a Graham Green paperback he didn’t have. From there I hit up the local grocery store for snacks. In their parking lot, I found artichokes growing. I saw a sign for a waterfront trail when I got off the ferry and decided to try and find it.

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Backstreet Beat Books and Records
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Random artichokes at the grocery store.

Instead, I found a couple out walking their goats. I asked them about the trail, which was really an excuse to meet the goats. They were young brothers who would butt heads occasionally. They were also working goats and helped clear brush and grass for paying customers. This was the type of commonplace, practical eccentricity that existed in Seattle proper until all the young programmers and online corporations took over. They pointed me toward the trail, where I found two chickens out enjoying a good hunt and peck.

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Goats!
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Adorable goats!
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Chickens having a pleasant evening on Bainbridge Island.
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Waterfront trail, Bainbridge Island

I was thinking about waiting to take the ferry back over to Seattle until sunset, but my legs ached and I was getting tired. I also knew I had a few more uphill miles to walk to get back to the hotel. It was close enough to sunset that I got some good long light.

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Sunset. Sort of. Almost.

I remembered that the Seattle Mystery Bookshop was close to where I got off the ferry and walked to the store. They had closed already, but I recommend their selection from a prior visit. I trudged up to the Veggie Grill around the block from the hotel and ordered take-out. I was beat. In what amounted to six hours, I had walked well over five miles, took a ferry, met two goats, and was able to sate my post-conference wanderlust. At least until the next morning.

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Seagull having his moment in the sun.

Avian Politics

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I woke at 7:45 a.m. Eastern time this morning. The only problem was that I was in Seattle, where it was 4:45 a.m. Pacific. I decided to get up and walk to Lake Union, picking up some oatmeal along the way. The day ahead included a work conference and a meeting with a client, so I wanted a bit of exercise and a few moments of peace near the water.

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I sat down on a bench, enjoying the damp, clean air. There were birds nearby, geese, ducks, starlings, swallows, crows, and more. I enjoyed watching them and a few walked over to see if I had anything to share. Once I was done with my oatmeal, I began photographing the birds.

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The one goose, who seemed completely at ease with me, began honking what sounded like a warning cry. I was confused and looked around to see what was causing the distress. I noticed the ducks, who had been scattered around the park, starting to congregate in the man-made pool. And then I looked up.

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A pair of huge golden eagles were swooping overhead. There were seagulls and crows trying to chase them to no avail. One of the pair grabbed a small songbird out of the air and carried its prey off to the top of a nearby building. The seagulls and crows continued their protestations, attempting to chase them out of their territory.

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On the walk back to the hotel I was thinking about what these birds could teach us. The ducks, geese, seagulls, crows, and other birds all understood they had a common enemy. The ducks, who are neither fast, nor aggressive, gathered together, offering safety in numbers. The goose, who was likely too large for the eagles, sent out the warning cry, telling the other birds to hide. The seagulls and crows, who are fast and nimble attempted to drive the eagles out of their territory and disrupt their hunting. These birds of all different shapes, sizes, and temperament, managed an unintentional unity, understanding the threat to one was a threat to all.

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Seattle Underground Tour

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour

Prior to traveling to Seattle, I did some research to make the most of my non-work free time. I read out about an underground tour near Pioneer Square. The website made it sound lurid and sensationalist. I love lurid and sensationalist! Instead, I found myself learning about Seattle’s early history in a way that harkened back to one of my history professors. Wait, wait, hear me out. In college I had this great history professor who knew the best way to get us to learn was to make us laugh. I still remember the lecture about early explorers starving while crossing the Pacific. In fact that might be the only lecture I remember from college, because the lecture included the crucial question, “Why didn’t the fuckers fish?” (that verbatim question was also on the final). He taught fact and context deftly slipped into the stories and jokes and so does Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour.

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour
Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour

The tour starts with a 10-15 minute introduction inside Doc Maynard’s Public House. Bill Speidel saw the area around Pioneer Square in decline and historic buildings being razed for parking lots and did something about it. His first tours not only educated people about the area and the richness of history and culture, but they also gave him access to a public who would help him preserve the area. He did indeed succeed in having the area named a historic district.

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour
Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour – shows the original street and a business entryway

Chris was the tour guide for my group and he was fantastic. He took us in and out of buildings and the accessible sections of underground, telling the fascinating story of Seattle’s founding, the later fire, and the rebuilding of the city that led to the “underground.” Did you know that the term “skid row” refers to this section in Seattle? Logs were cut down on the hill and send sliding (skidding) down the steep grade to the waterfront. And as with all waterfronts, one finds the carnal triumvirate of booze, gambling, and whores. Hence, Skid Row’s awe-inspiring reputation now extends to cities without trees or hills and a hair metal band.

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour - Chris leading the tour
Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour – Chris leading the tour

The tour starts in the shadow of Smith Tower, once the tallest building in Seattle. While that was interesting, what made my nerd-heart sing was learning that it was built by the man who founded the Smith-Premier Typewriter Company, which became the Smith-Corona Typewriter Company. I should have toured Smith Tower, but since I didn’t someone else should and tell me about it.

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour
Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour

From there, we descended down just a flight of stairs to what was once the street level in Seattle. Seattle was founded at low tide, which was even more problematic than one might expect. Exploding toilets anyone? In 1889, a fire leveled 25 square blocks and gave Seattle the opportunity to rebuild. The city decided to re-grade the streets and build them up above the tidal flats, but the businesses in the area couldn’t wait for the city, so they went ahead and rebuilt. Once the streets were finished, the first floors were now basically underground.

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour - Old skylights illuminating the underground
Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour – Old skylights illuminating the underground

After three subterranean spots, we wrapped up with a surprisingly respectful history lesson about a brothel owner, Madam Lou, who helped build the city. Not only that, she left her estate to the school system.

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour
Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour

There is so much I am leaving out, so if you are in the area and have 75 minutes to learn while being entertained, you really should take the tour.

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour
Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour

Bill Spiedel’s Underground Tour
Address: 608 First Ave., Seattle, WA 98104
Phone: (206) 682-4646

Hours:
April – September: Daily, 9 am-7 pm
June – August: Daily on the hour 9am-7pm and these additional ½ hour times – 11:30am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm, 2:30pm, 3:30pm
October – March: Daily, 11 am-6 pm

Admission: $18 Adult (18-59 yrs), $15 Senior (60+ yrs), $15 Student (13-17 yrs or with valid college ID), $9 Child (7 –12 yrs)
Website: http://www.undergroundtour.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bill-Speidels-Underground-Tour/143327805707973

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour
Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour

Lake Union and the Center for Wooden Boats

 

The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA

My hotel was near Lake Union and the path near the lake was perfect for early morning walks. I also explored the Center for Wooden Boats which is located on the lake. I would have gone to the Museum of History and Industry, but ran out of time.

The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA

The Center for Wooden Boats is like a museum for boats, but they also believe in teaching through direct experience which I think is pretty awesome. They offer boat rentals – sailboat, canoe, rowboats, and pedal boats – by the hour. If I lived in the area I would love to take woodworking, sailing, and boat making classes. They also offer free boat rides on Sundays. Viewing the boats along the docks at Lake Union was a perfect rainy morning excursion.

The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
Boathouse, The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
Boathouse, The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA

The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA

The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
Along Lake Union, Seattle, WA
Along Lake Union, Seattle, WA
Along Lake Union, Seattle, WA
Along Lake Union, Seattle, WA

Seattle: Food, Bags, Books, and Wasabi Toothpaste

This was a work trip, but I was able to squeeze out exploration time by embracing the extra three hours Pacific Time offers and waking in the wee hours.

Seattle
Seattle

We here at Next Exit Travel have absolutely no corporate sponsorship, but one of us would sell-out to Timbuk2 in a heartbeat. I’m not sure when my obsession with their bags began, but it started with an innocent yard sale purchase some years ago. For the longest time they only had one retail store (in SF) and I made that pilgrimage in 2012. They now have a store in Seattle and I wanted to take a look (yearn longingly) at some of their new luggage. Their bags are waterproof and have lots of compartments. I’ve used one as my camera bag for years. I fondled just about every bag in the store and decided on my future suitcase (it has wheels and works as a backpack) and bought two bags on clearance.

Veggie Grill, Mac & Cheese and Corn
Veggie Grill, Mac & Cheese and Corn

Seattle is home to several locations of Veggie Grill, an all-vegan West Coast fast-food chain. I have spent the last year yearning for their creamy gluten-free mac and cheese and tempeh “fish” tacos. During my time in Seattle I had the mac and cheese, tempeh “fish” tacos, asparagus soup, and grilled corn on the cob. I wish we had these on the East Coast.

Seattle Mystery Bookstore
Seattle Mystery Bookstore

Near the Underground Tour (which will be covered in its own post) is Seattle Mystery Bookshop, which offers the mystery and thriller reader a convenient place to go bankrupt. New books, old books, imports, signed books, first editions, they have it all. The store is well-organized and the gentleman I spoke with was helpful and friendly. I left with some Icelandic mysteries and a signed James Lee Burke. I was almost afraid to keep looking because I knew I would find more and more. Great store, great staff, great selection.

Archie McPhee
Archie McPhee

Another great place to drop some cash is the Archie McPhee headquarters. I remember mail ordering ridiculous things items in the epoch before .com. Who needs wasabi toothpaste? I thought of two people, actually. Horror movie victims? A perfect gift. Hula coasters, schadenfreude mints, a patron saint of dogs, and other items all made it into my basket. I was tempted by the Bigfoot luggage tag, but somehow showed restraint. I would have bought the coffee can urn, but I already have one friends gave me years ago.

Gluten-Free Vegan Pancakes at Portage Cafe
Gluten-Free Vegan Pancakes at Portage Cafe

I had a breakfast meeting at Portage Café one morning and the coffee and “farmer’s hash” (vegetables, potatoes, tofu) was quite good, but I was curious about their pancakes. I was up early on my last day and went for a walk that took me past another location. They make gluten-free, vegan banana pancakes. Normally I am anti-banana, but in this case they were absolutely perfect. A lot of gluten-free foods taste like particleboard and despair, but these were moist and somehow light (I mean, aside from the fresh maple syrup I drowned them in). The breakfast bar offers all sorts of toppings, including coconut shreds and berries. The home fries were every bit as good as the pancakes. This meal will haunt me.

Hammering Man
Hammering Man

Before I make Seattle sound too sunshiny, the city has a weird vibe and crazy amounts of construction and these are connected. I was mostly in the downtown area this time and the demographics seem to have changed in the last few years. This is a major tech job/internet commerce area and because of that you see huge flocks of young, awkward, stressed out people. Amazon, Microsoft, and others are bringing thousands of jobs to the area and building new facilities left and right. Cranes fill the skyline. In a way, it looks like Seattle is having another boomtown period, only this time the frontier is the internet. This means that more and more people are being squeezed out due to rents increasing and the disparity between the entitled and the vulnerable is evident walking around downtown. It made me wonder what things were like outside of the downtown areas.

Downtown Seattle
Downtown Seattle

In line at security at Sea-Tac Airport my co-worker and I were fortunate enough to witness one of those travel moments where you wonder if you are watching a some form of performance art. These two middle-aged women were enacting a version of the airport security scene from High Anxiety, but with a personal shopping cart and unspecified large display. I started hoping they were genius terrorists.

Sunset over Olympic National Forest, Seattle
Sunset over Olympic National Forest, Seattle

Also at the airport is Metskers, a map store that offers travel books, maps, prints, ephemera, compasses. It you are passing through the airport, check it out at the end of concourse B. Should you need Bigfoot memorabilia, Sea-Tac Airport also has you covered.

For all your bigfoot needs
All your bigfoot needs

 

More scenes from Seattle:

Archie McPhee
Archie McPhee
Archie McPhee
Archie McPhee
Archie McPhee
Archie McPhee
Archie McPhee
Archie McPhee
Car Wash, Seattle
Car Wash, Seattle
Manhole Cover, Seattle
Manhole Cover, Seattle
Coneflowers and the Space Needle
Coneflowers and the Space Needle
 Asparagales
Asparagales
Ferris Wheel, Seattle
Ferris Wheel, Seattle
Ferris Wheel
Ferris Wheel
Sunset over Olympic National Forest, Seattle
Sunset over Olympic National Forest, Seattle
Tim's Cascade Style Potato Chips, Salt and Vinegar
Tim’s Cascade Style Potato Chips, Salt and Vinegar