What Travel Writers Say

By Mike Keenan

A small mint chocolate melts deliciously in my mouth as the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee fills the air with its pungent ambrosia. We sit in large, comfortable armchairs, feet resting on a strange, hairy footstool that resembles a miniature brown bear. The bruin motif carries into the d├ęcor with another bear in a picture frame on the wall, biting a large salmon. Beside the picture, the silhouette of a bear is imprinted on the lampshade, and there is a teddy bear recumbent on the bed.

Through large windows, we gaze at the expanse of water with ferries ambling along towards nearby islands, the white-caped Cascade Mountains solidly in the background. It’s twilight; small birds manouever silently and skillfully near the water adjacent to the hotel, aptly named The Edgewater. Last night we ate at Six-Seven, the hotel’s restaurant, named numerically after the wharf where it sits. To celebrate my birthday, I enjoyed King salmon like the bear in the picture. Outside, the water appears calm with gentle undulations that present a peaceful character.

“It’s tranquil here, isn’t it?” says my spouse, and before I can respond, a yacht quietly slips by us returning to its Seattle berth. A few minutes later, in contrast, a man and a woman slowly pass in a row boat, she singing the lyrics, “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream…” as the man dutifully rows. Slowly, the skylight dims and the ferries now shine radiantly, dotting their way across the harbour. There is no thought to ruin the evening by turning on the huge TV set.

Earlier, in a nautical mood, we experienced two boat tours aboard the Argosy. Water is omnipresent in Seattle, and the natives have responded with one in ten owning a boat, kayak or canoe. Hundreds have chosen to live aboard nifty house boats that hug the shores, the kind featured in the movie, “Sleepless in Seattle.”
I checked out the Seattle library. It was spectacular. I could live there during the day. All I require is $600,000 for a houseboat. However, if we decide to reside on Lake Washington in Medina near Bill and Melinda Gates, I need to win the lottery, probably twice. The Gates’ pad is a mere 60,000 square feet, the largest house around.

The Argosy’s captain informed me that house boats are hooked up to public sewers, but that sometimes the pipes freeze. On those occasions, I would stay longer at the library and be sure to use its facilities.

In the harbour, there are huge mechanical devices employed to offload ship containers, one container processed every 30 seconds. Skilled operators work two-hour shifts to maintain accuracy and incredible hand-eye coordination worthy of an NFL receiver scampering to catch a long, spiral pass.

Besides two nautical journeys, I managed a fair amount of walking. After all, Seattle did win the following awards:
Top Ten Cities in the United States( #9)
Favorite cities in the Continental U.S. and Canada ( #10)
World’s Best Cities annual readers’ poll – Travel + Leisure (#6)
Top ten arts destinations in the U.S. (#6)
Most Livable City in America (#1)
Most Unwired City in the United States: city with the best wireless internet access (#1)
America’s Fittest City (#1)
Best Walking City (#3)
America’s Most Literate Cities (#2).

Walking here is good exercise. You do not encounter obese people except for tourists. Attractions are numerous. We visited Pike Place Market several times for its atmosphere and watched fishmongers throw huge salmon to one another, often several metres through the air. Serendipitously, we happened upon a cheese festival, allowing us to exercise our taste buds.

Pike Place is one of the oldest farmer’s markets in the U.S., nine acres (between First & Western Avenues bound by Union & Stewart Streets) in the heart of downtown Seattle. We were treated to fresh fish and produce stands, arts and crafts, ethnic groceries and gift stores, vintage clothing, antiques and collectibles, international restaurants, cafes and food bars.

An historic district on the southern fringe of the downtown business core features 20 square blocks of Victorian Romanesque architecture, museums, the city’s highest concentration of art galleries and many restaurants. Architecture is a treat with architects seemingly bent on making each creation both unique and pleasing to the eye.

Seattle once boomed as a staging area for Klondike miners during the Gold Rush in the 1890’s as 70,000 prospectors passed through. An Underground Tour reveals a look at the remnants of the old town below street level, and Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park interprets Seattle’s critical role.

With the Edgewater, the only hotel anchored on the water, we took advantage of Seattle’s natural deep-water harbor, Elliott Bay, which teems with ferry boats, luxury cruise liners, sightseeing tour boats and myriad pleasure craft. The Seattle Aquarium, close by, offers a 40-foot, 55,000-lb. viewing window, a new 120,000-gallon showcase exhibit where I watched a diver feed fish, including sharks.

Olympic Sculpture Park was just north of the Edgewater, a nine-acre park featuring a 2,500-foot descending, Z-shaped path that takes visitors past a range of permanent and rotating sculptures and major works by world-renowned artists while simultaneously allowing us to absorb the panoramic view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

We walked to Seattle Center, scene of the 1962 World’s Fair, a 74-acre urban park and home to the landmark Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, Experience Music Project, Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Intiman Theatre, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Seattle Children’s Museum and many other attractions.

The Music Project, invented by Microsoft co-founder, Paul G. Allen, is dedicated to exploring creativity and innovation from rock ‘n’ roll, to jazz, soul, gospel, country, blues, hip-hop, punk and other genres. Frank Gehry designed this bizarre 140,000-square-foot museum to feature artifacts including the world’s largest collection of memorabilia of native son, Jimi Hendrix.

The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame is co-located with the Experience Music Project featuring artifacts and memorabilia that include works by Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin, H.G. Wells, George Lucas, Gene Rodenberry, Canada’s James Cameron and Steven Spielberg.

At the Pacific Science Center, a hands-on learning opportunity for kids and families, along with a thousand kids, Miriam and I took in a terrific 3-D movie in the Boeing IMAX Theatre whose screen stands six stories high and 80 feet wide with 12,000 watts of stereo sound to outdo the kids.

Seattle’s Pacific Science Center has risen to the occasion to make even their washrooms a teachable experience. I’m confronted with informative posters that change a mundane routine into fascinating discovery. I learn: in France in the late 1600’s it was considered an honour to speak to King Louis XIV while he perched on his secular throne. Every day we manufacture 4-8 cups of urine. The average person passes a lifetime 9,202 gallons which would fill 315 bathtubs. In England in the 1700’s, doctors convinced people that they could turn urine into gold. The average male takes 45 seconds to finish his business while a female takes 79 seconds, hence lineups at the ladies’ facility. Eating beets turns your pee red, and there are people in the world who actually drink pee because they believe it’s healthy. Fresh urine is cleaner than poop, spit or the skin on your face because it harbours no bacteria.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for the Seattle Art Museum or the Seattle Asian Art Museum, but we did visit private galleries downtown. When we return, we plan on taking ferry rides to the nearby islands.

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada’s largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington’s View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan