Wednesday, August 10th
I approach travel day with a bit of trepidation now, thanks to years of experience of myself and my family letting stress get the better of us. Somehow it seems we can never finish packing for a trip without imploding upon each other. This time, however, we did OK!
Personally, I had clothes packed since Sunday and merely needed to add a few other necessaries; I busied myself cleaning the kitchen while I waited for the others to be ready. Karen was up late the night before getting ready but was relatively relaxed this morning. I felt a couple of tense moments, but not too bad. Erik got up only about an hour and or so before we were to leave the house; he was in a great mood, and with his extra time after getting ready busied himself by pestering Lara, as usual. Ah, Lara… today’s source of stress, she managed first to misplace her digital camera and spent a quarter of an hour digging through the rubble of her room. She did locate it. Wunderbar, situation resolved, right? Not so fast. She also lost her MP3 player! I don’t know how she does it. I tried to help her find it; I was convinced it was also buried in her room. To no avail; we gave up, because it was time to leave. I let her know it was OK, that eventually I would get her an iPod anyway (just not this moment, probably not even this month, as we are spending a small fortune on the trip).
All in all, we actually did very well as a family and got out of the house on time. Compared to most previous trips, earned an “A” for travel day readiness.
We made it to Oakland airport quickly; the traffic was light. We had over an hour and a half to kill, which was perfect, because we were all hungry. I could write a whole post about bad airport food, but everybody knows it, and who wants to dwell on that? We chose the least of many evils and ate at the cryptically named “Chili’s Too”. Too what? Too expensive, check. Too… not fresh?! You bet. Erik and I both had a bacon burger with fries, and the buns were quite stale. Erik uncharacteristically did not finish his, saying even the meat was not good, but I am always so hungry that I ate all of mine.
We spent a few minutes taking turns browsing the internet, and then it was time to board. Uneventful flight, that’s always a plus. We caught a break at Sea-Tac, as our checked bags all hit the carrousel quickly; we were probably the first group to get all our stuff and head off. Securing the rental car went smoothly too; so far, so good. Despite landing a few minutes late, we were on our way to sightseeing 45 minutes after our scheduled arrival. The plan was to check into our Best Western near the airport first, but we got a tip from the rental car lady: many of the shops at Pike Place, our first destination, close up around 5, so we did not go to the hotel but headed straight for downtown. Navigation was easy; I lucked out and chose the right exit from I-5, and soon we were driving west into downtown. Figuring out where to park was a challenge, but after several anxious minutes of driving around, I found a good, not terribly expensive garage in the heart of downtown, several blocks from the market. At last, we could explore!
I have been to Seattle once before, in the late 80s, and I loved it. Pike Place struck me as a wonderful, hustling and bustling urban market with the famous fish counters where the workers yell orders and throw the fish to sellers working the crowd. I was really looking forward to seeing it again. At first, it looked a lot different, and I couldn’t find the seafood counter pictured in my mind’s eye. Eventually, we did find it, and nothing has really changed.
The thing is, you know how sometimes you (OK, I do this) build something up as really neat, and then the family or friends you are with (I am with) are like, “meh”? Yeah, it was a bit like that. The crowds at Pike Place were suffocating considering it was just late afternoon in the middle of the week. I always underestimate the effect of tourist season. But the difference is, and I kept trying to explain this, Pike Place really is a working, local market, such that many of the people there really are locals who are shopping for fish, flowers, and produce. Or maybe not, I don’t know. There were a hell of a lot of people. We walked all around, looking at shops and keeping an eye out for where we might eat dinner. We got thirsty, and there was some crabbiness involved, so I steered us to a cafe with a view of the bay, and we had some cool drinks.
Erik and I needed some clothes, so we split up and let the girls go window shopping while we headed up 1st Avenue for the North Face store. Wow, $230 for a hiking jacket, no thank you. I really needed some sort of jacket, so I ended up with a very nice but over-priced windbreaker. I rationalized the purchase by telling myself, well, it has lots of neat pockets! Erik was short on socks, so we found a Ross store and took care of that for cheap.
When in doubt, talk to friendly locals and ask questions! In another stroke of luck, I inquired of the North Face salesmen as to Italian dining options, and without hesitation one guy recommended The Pink Door, on Post Alley near Pike Place. OK, this is the type of place we never would have found on our own, and it was fabulous. I had never seen a restaurant with absolutely no signage advertising its name. There literally was a pink (more orange-ish pink or peach, to me) door along the alley right across from an Irish pub called Kell’s, and that was it.
Steps led down below street level, but it looked very comfy and inviting, so I decided right away that’s where I wanted to eat. We got ahold of the ladies by cell phone and directed them (not very well) how to find us, which they did. Once we sat down and relaxed, we had a great time. The food was excellent, and the ambience was great — a mix of locals and some tourists like us. Very friendly, timely service, and interesting decor. We found it amusing that the guy bringing water was all over the place, and he took his job quite seriously, as he must have refilled our water glasses a hundred times. We dubbed him “Peppo the Water Waiter”. I had tuna over roman-style gnocchi, and it was delicious. Everybody loved their dinner. We were too full for dessert, at least right away, so we decided to walk around and get treats later.
We checked out the Gameworks arcade, which is cool, but surprisingly the kids didn’t really feel like playing arcade games, so we left. I was continually amazed by how many people were all over downtown. I like people-watching and the diversity of cool metro areas, and Seattle delivers.
However, we were all tired to some degree, so we found our car and headed toward our hotel about 20 minutes south of downtown as we discussed dessert options. Downtown has lots of chocolate stores, but sadly most places close early. We checked out the lame menu at the hotel restaurant and quickly skee-daddled, opting for the tried and true IHOP down the street. Lara and I were craving pie, and Erik and Karen usually want sundaes or shakes, and we were all satisfied. I changed my mind at the last second and ordered fruit crepes instead of pie (it’s the sugary fruit that I really craved). Again with a stroke of luck, the waitress read my mind and suggested I could have both strawberries AND blueberries in my crepes, half and half, so I was in heaven! Yum.
All in all, it was a typically tiring travel day, but we did the best we could with limited daylight hours, and it was a pretty good start to the trip. Mt. Ranier National Park is on the itinerary for the next day!
Thursday, August 11th
Why do I always wake up so early, even on vacation?! But I felt pretty good, so I got up, checked Facebook, and wrote most of the stuff above. Love the quiet of the early morning! We were in no particular hurry, so I let everybody doze. As usual, Erik was the sleepyhead, and eventually we had to harass him to get up. The “continental” breakfast was actually pretty good: make ’em yourself waffles, sausages, and the usual cold stuff like bananas, yogurt and cereal. In fact, I did eat all of those! Hey, we planned to do some hiking, I needed energy!
At any rate, everybody seemed to have slept well, and after breakfast we piled in the Impala and headed for Mt. Ranier. I was discouraged by the overcast skies, but Karen said the forecast indicated the skies would eventually clear up. The drive seemed slow, because the traffic was surprisingly heavy for mid-morning. I have to say, based on very limited experience, Washington drivers go very slowwww-ly compared to Californians. I’m used to getting passed around where we live, but I felt like a leadfoot trying to go 60. Good grief, don’t they have to be somewhere?! It took us nearly two hours to reach the first visitor’s center. On the other hand, I was impressed that the inhabitants of greater Seattle can reach the mountains in less than 2 hours.
The best part as, as we entered the national park, the skies were clearing, and by the time we reached the area grandiosely called Paradise, the skies were perfectly clear and blue!
We are very lucky; the weather today could not have been better. All I can say is, we experienced another gem of a national park, and you kind of have to see it for yourself. I learned a lot. I never knew Mt. Ranier is an active volcano (just relatively quiet for the past 5,600 years). It’s over 14,400 feet tall, and we were viewing from about 5,000 feet. Normally the snow at our level would have melted away by July, but this year there was still plenty of snow around, even on the easy Nisqually Vista Trail that we took, and despite temperatures in the 60s.
With sneakers on, we were unprepared for the slippery parts, but we completed a small loop anyway and enjoyed hearing a park guide talk about the mountain. It was fun wearing short sleeves and walking in snow! After a decent lunch at Paradise Inn, we did another relatively short hike along the snow Lakes Trail — no snow, so the going was easier. The weather was just beautiful, and the scenery was lovely. Karen and I especially enjoy the wildflowers.
Driving along the road to get to the Lakes Trail, we passed a turnout with a view of a beautiful canyon — the haze and the forest reminded me of the Smoky Mountains.
By late afternoon we were ready to head out of the park. We knew we had a lot of driving to do to get back to our hotel, and we needed to stop for dinner. I picked out a restaurant from the AAA guide book, a place called Northern Pacific Coffee Company, in part because it was along our intended route and did not require making it back even to Tacoma. We found it in a neighborhood called Parkland, and it was very interesting to say the least — a funky little cafe that serves sandwiches (as well as beer & wine) and attracts college students. There is strange looking artwork on the walls, bookshelves on one wall, and a tiny platform for live music (although none was playing at the time). The sandwiches were good, and we liked it for its quirkiness. Lara and I later got smoothies at a nearby shop, and then we drove back to our hotel in Seattle. I wish I could say we went out and did something wild and crazy, but we were pretty worn out from the hiking, so we watched some TV and used the laptop until bedtime.
We like “collecting” national parks, so on this day we got back to nature accomplished our goal. Mt. Ranier is definitely a major highlight of the trip! 🙂 Tomorrow we have more sightseeing to do in Seattle before heading up to Vancouver.