Friday, August 12th
A flexible attitude is essential for good traveling. The plan for today was basically to see the Space Needle, but it turned into so much more! Because the morning started out overcast (big surprise), we realized it made no sense to go to the Space Needle right when it opened at 9am. So, we drove to Discovery Park, 500+ acres of open space on the waterfront northwest of Seattle Center for a morning walk. In reading about the park, I was under the impression that it was a wide-open nature preserve and wetlands. I have to say I was disappointed, but it’s just a case of uninformed expectations.
We decided to walk around the 2.8 mile Loop Trail, which I thought would take us along a scenic waterfront. It was a nice path, but most of it went through the woods in the middle of the peninsula, and in fact there were many private residences next to the park and roads running all through it. Eventually we came out of the woods and found a “historic” area with an old church and some other buildings, sort of on a hill. There may have been nice views from there, but it was very foggy.
It was near the old church that we came upon the “Bunny Fields of Seattle”. In a little clearing were the most fearsome, deadly, treacherous rabbits this side of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. When we first spotted them, they were feasting on a dead zebra. There must have been hundreds of them, and they were huge, with sharp fangs and terrible claws. When they saw us, they fled into the wood, dragging the zebra carcass with them. It was a horrible sight, and we were afraid for our lives.
Having survived that ordeal, we continued our stroll and found a small beach, which must be nice for the locals on a sunny afternoon. Alas, it was still an overcast morning. Many locals were running along the trails and walking dogs, etc. I think Discovery Park is a lovely area in that respect, being only a couple of miles from downtown. Now that I know it is no Point Lobos or Marin headlands type of place, I can appreciate it for what it is.
From there we drove to Seattle Center and somehow found parking for a reasonable rate. We decided to tour the music and science fiction museums. The Experience Music Project is not a large museum, but it’s very cool. It pays tribute to Seattle’s rock and roll contributions, with in-depth exhibits about Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana as well as a the evolution of the electric guitar. One of the coolest things I saw was the white Fender guitar Hendrix used to play his famous version of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock. There were also pieces of some of the guitars he busted during his performances and some of the wild outfits he wore. I never knew he was from Seattle and had served in the army. Because he first hit it big when he went to London and formed a band, I always thought he was British. His group Jimi Hendrix Experience soared in popularity in ’67 and ’68, but it lasted less than 2 years. It is still shocking to remember how he didn’t even make it to the end of 1970 before dying at the age of 27.
Kurt Cobain followed a similar path and tragically died young, but Nirvana was much more integral to the Seattle music scene. The museum’s exhibit covered a lot of info about how the group formed and made its way to grunge band stardom. Quite a few of the bands actual instruments, including Cobain’s favorite guitars, are on display, and there are videos of band members and other artists talking about Nirvana. One wall has a life-size photo of Cobain crowd-surfing while playing guitar.
All of that is great, and I only wish the museum had more exhibits than it does; they really need to expand it. There is a cool wall-size “map of Seattle bands” – a sort of hand-lettered chart with band names and arrows pointing out the connections between the groups. Naturally, Nirvana and Pearl Jam are right near the center, but otherwise Pearl Jam is hardly mentioned and deserves its own exhibit, IMHO.
In the same building is the Science Fiction Museum, but that drew a big yawn from me – the only two significant exhibits currently are one about the movie Avatar and one about Battlestar Gallactica, to both of which I am indifferent. It’s neat that visitors can do an interactive video — sort of a short digital capture of you as an avatar in 3D animation. It might be more interesting if a few professional actors took turns; however, watching talentless, wooden tourists looking confused in 3D is really not all that much fun! And since nobody in our family is delusional enough to think we have acting talent, we did not wait in line for that.
Sometimes we are damn good with our timing. Just as we finished up with the museums around noon, the sun came out!
We walked right over to the Space Needle and picked up our tickets at will call. There was no wait for the elevator to the O-Deck at 520 feet. Although I have been on much taller buildings (such as the CN Tower in Toronto), I love the views of Seattle from the Space Needle, and we had a great time. All the fog had burned off, and we enjoyed a spectacular, warm, sunny day. You can check out the Space Needle’s webcam online if you can’t make it to Seattle.
There is no In-N-Out Burger in Washington state, but Seattle has something just as good and inexpensive: Dick’s Drive-In. Yum! The one we found on Broadway looks like it still occupies its original building from the 50s, and the long lunch lines suggested they do booming business. They don’t have car-hops, and there is nowhere to sit, so we ordered our food and ate in the car.
We accomplished so much during the first part of the day, and it’s a good thing, because little did I know the drive to Vancouver would take so long. We suffered through very slow traffic on I-5 North, and that part of the trip took about an hour longer than I expected. We were good and tired, but not yet hungry when we checked into the Best Western in the suburb of Surrey, southeast of Vancouver. We rested for a bit, and then we asked the front desk for a recommendation for Italian food. Voila! A superb place called Villa Verdi was right across the street. The waiters were very friendly and efficient, the décor was understated and lovely, and the food was great. Lara and I had fettuccini with seafood – the prawns, scallops, mussels and baby shrimp were fresh and succulent. Erik loved his pasta with prosciutto, and Karen really enjoyed her pasta primavera. Although Walnut Creek has some very nice restaurants and good Italian food, it occurred to us that we cannot think of a really classy, upscale Italian restaurant with an emphasis on fancy dishes and great service. We were so full that we didn’t order dessert, but later that night we found Häagen-Dazs at a store next door to the hotel. All in all, it was a great day other than the driving we had to do.
Saturday, August 13th
I have been looking forward to seeing Vancouver again for so long, and this day did not disappoint. It has once again leapt to the forefront of my favorite cities. Like San Francisco, it boasts a wonderful bay (Burrard Inlet) as well as other waterways, and it has a very international, cosmopolitan ambience. The characteristics that set it apart are that it is superbly, incredibly clean, and in nearly every direction are beautiful mountains, which are snow-capped most of the year. And yet, it enjoys a moderate climate. Naturally, in August we are catching perhaps some of the best weather for this area, but from what I can tell it is fairly temperate year-round, with a good portion of rainy days that I have not experienced. I cannot say enough about the beauty of this urban metropolis in such a forest-green and bay-blue setting.
It took us about an hour to drive from Surrey to our first destination, the Museum of Vancouver just west of downtown. I recommend this museum for its comprehensive and focused exhibits about the history of the city. In addition, there is a wonderful wing containing interactive videos and musical instruments about Bhangra, an Indian/middle eastern style of dancing and music. Luckily, we basically had the wing to ourselves, so I could be myself. Let me just say I hope Karen does not post video on FB, because I danced like crazy trying to keep up with the dancers on the huge screens on the wall, and Erik did too. I thought that part of the museum would be lame, but it was really fun! Lara thinks Bhangra is sort of similar to Zumba, so we plan to look up more info about it when we get home.
It has become our habit on this trip to find excellent places to eat, and the AAA guide book served us well again. We found a very good, very local/untouristy place on 4th Ave. called Sophie’s Cosmic Café. While not as good as, say, Toasties in Pacific Grove, Sophie’s is really great for big portions of breakfast food served all day. My Spanish omelet was perhaps not what I would order were I to go again, but everybody else really loved the food, and the décor was very funky and interesting.
After brunch we drove to the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park. I highly recommend the aquarium and everything about the park should you visit Vancouver. We saw shows about sea otters, beluga whales and dolphins, and the marine animal exhibits are first-rate. I give the Monterey Aquarium highest marks for its setting right on the bay, but this aquarium is right up there. One section covers the Amazon rain forest, in similar fashion to the California Academy of Sciences.
After the aquarium we took a nice walk around Stanley Park along the waterfront with a view of the sail-topped Canada Place, where the cruise shops dock, and with a front-row view of the harbor with all of its boats and float planes landing and taking off. Again, the afternoon weather was perfect, only starting to cool off a bit as we finished our walk around 6pm.
For dinner we found a very good Indian restaurant on Broadway, not too far from Sophie’s. For dessert, across the street was a great place called Death by Chocolate, specializing in chocolate desserts and coffee.
After driving around downtown looking at all the interesting nightlife and hangouts, enjoying the lights and sights, we drive back to the hotel in Surrey. I could spend weeks in Vancouver; I simply love it that much. There is never enough time to see everything, but we had a great tour of some of the best the city has to offer!