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Space Needle, Seattle

Our second day in Seattle was, miraculously, as wonderful as the first –weatherwise– and we meant to take full advantage of it. Our plans involved visiting the hallmarks of Seattle downtown and taking in a cruise to view the downtown from the water.

En route downtown, our first stop was the Fremont Troll. Located under the Aurora Avenue Bridge, the Troll is a unique concrete sculpture that is both droll and very interesting. Made of a dull gray concrete with a shiny metal for an eye, the troll crushes a VW Beetle with CA license plates, in his left hand. This design was the winning entry in an art contest hosted by the Fremont Art Council. Although I had read on the web that some people had trouble accessing it, we did not encounter any such difficulties.

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Fremont Troll

We planned to spend the next several hours in downtown so our first order of task was to find a good parking spot, close to Pike Place Market. After driving around a bit, we found one, just a block away. By the time we reached around 10 am, Pike Place Market was busy. As we approached, we saw a big group huddled outside the window of Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. We watched a part of the cheese making process for a while before heading inside and ordering a small “the World’s best Mac and cheese”. It was warm, creamy-melt-in-your-mouth, slightly spicy, and oh so perfect! I don’t even like mac and cheese, but I thoroughly savored a few bites of that one! I can’t remember the last time I ate cheesy mac and cheese at 10:30 in the morning. After some crowd watching, we headed next door to cleanse our palate with local gourmet coffee at Local Color. They had some of the best coffee we have ever tasted! In fact, this was one thing we enjoyed immensely in Seattle, the chance to stop and sip coffee at a variety of coffee shops! Blissful!!

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Iconic Pike Place Market sign
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Beecher’s menu
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Beecher’s Mac n Cheese

We then walked across the street to the bustling market scene. The Market is a veritable melange of colors, sounds, aromas and movement. You can hear vendors calling, customers talking, children squealing, the flavor of food wafting. Brightly colored tulips contrasted with shiny gray king salmon with glassy stares, on a bed of white ice. The neon signs of the shops, the garish lighting of the hallways, the bold colors of fruits on display, all combined to produce a scintillating effect. The unique experience that is the Pike Place also taught me interesting facts I’d never known. For example, I learnt that sausages come in a variety of flavors, at least about 20 that I counted! How did I not know that until that day?  We enjoyed strolling the halls of this seminal Seattle institution for the next hour, posing for pictures with Rachel the pig and taking in the liveliness of the place. I can still close my eyes and recreate the hustle and bustle of Pike Place Market to this day.

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Inside Pike Place Market
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Sea food store
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Variety of sausages

Walking away from the Market, we headed out once again, this time to visit the Original Starbucks store. Established in 1971, the store had a long line snaking outside and extending beyond the storefront. Mr. and Sonny JJ decided they had to visit the store and joined the line. Meanwhile, I walked a few paces down to join an equally slow but not quite as long line for Piroshky Piroshky. Piroshkees are Russian pies with a variety of stuffing, both sweet and savory, some with meat and others vegetarian. After waiting nearly 20-25 mins in line, it was finally my turn. I bought an apple cinnamon roll and a cinnamon cardamom braid, both of which made for excellent snacks later on that evening. By then, the boys were done with visiting the Original Starbucks. As we passed Le Panier, a French bakery, we were instantly drawn towards its colorful macarons. So, in we popped to pick some up before heading out of Pike Place.

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Original Starbucks store sign

With two techies and one techie-hopeful on tour, our next stop was a no-brainer. We walked a few blocks to Amazon Go. For several months, we had been debating about how Amazon Go would implement this store. What is unique about this store is that it has no check-out lines. You log into your Amazon account before entering the store, shop as you would elsewhere and then leave when done!

According to their website, Amazon Go shop is designed with technology that automatically detects when products are taken off a shelf or returned to them. It follows the purchases in a virtual cart and once the shopping is done, it sends a receipt to shopper and charges the Amazon account. Despite the employee who stood nearby, smilingly encouraging at us to leave the store with our purchase, it felt a bit uncomfortable not paying. I felt like I was shoplifting. My mind was subconsciously waiting for the alarms to start sounding as we left the store, but strangely all remained quiet. Of course, we got the receipt on our phone right as we walked out and all was fine with the world again.

From a childhood with no phones to the modern where phones with computers and apps can simplify the shopping process, technology has come a long way, indeed. One can only view with childlike excitement the wonders of modern-day technology. How did we live and manage life before smartphones? And to think that much of that change has come about in the last decade or so, is even more mind-boggling!

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Amazon Go
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Inside Amazon Go

Coming out of the Amazon Go building, its impossible to miss the Amazon Spheres, located next door, that opened in January of this year. Intended to be a green workspace for Amazon employees, the Spheres have brought the cloud forest to Seattle. Home to over 40,000 plants, the Spheres create a peaceful and vibrant workspace. Although entry is free, guests are restricted to the displays on the first floor. Access beyond is only for employees, although there are ways to take a guided tour of Amazon HQ. The exhibits give good information on the flora that livens this place, as well as the design and the science that went into building this unique structure. Marvelous and a must see next time you are in Seattle!

By then, we were famished, a chill wind was blowing causing a drop in the temperatures in the shadow of the downtown buildings. Our plan was to take a cruise with Argosy Cruises as they had convenient access from the waterfront, the perfect cruise duration for our needs and convenient timings. Since we did not know how the day would turn out we did not book ahead. We called and made reservations for the cruise as we walked away from the Spheres, looking for a place to eat. We booked the 2:45 pm departure, giving us ample time to finish lunch and head to the pier.

When I later looked at their website, I realised that had I booked online, as a AAA member, I could have gotten a 20% discount, something that could have made an impact in our ticket prices. Oh well! Lessons learnt!

Our search for food lead us to Mamnoon Street, a Mediterranean eatery with a load of vegetarian options. The hot lentil soup (Shorabat Adas) warmed us up. And the Falafel sandwich was healthy and full of flavors. Since we were crunched for time and ruthlessly hungry, we felt a bit impatient waiting for the freshly prepared food to be served, but otherwise felt very satisfied with this place.

We were headed to the pier for the cruise when we realized the parking meter would run out of time soon.  So we caught a Uber taxi who took us to our car to load up on time and then took us to the Pier 55 entrance. The line for our cruise was already forming as we joined.

Argosy offers several different choices of cruises . I was intrigued by the Lake Union one as well as the Tillicum excursions and the locks cruise. But having just visited the Embera Village in Panama and the locks, we decided to forego those. The Lake Union tour was not available from the Pier 55 dock. The harbor cruise was shorter and fit in better with our schedule. I also liked that Argosy emailed the tickets to us that we scanned and used, thus avoiding paper tickets and their hassles.

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Our vessel for the Harbor Cruise
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Seattle downtown as seen from the cruise

As we pulled way from the harbor front, the guide went on to point out the highlights of Seattle’s downtown buildings and their history. Seated on the top deck of the vessel, huddled against the biting chill of the wind under an afternoon sun, we enjoyed the beauty of the bay. As we went further down, everyone waited with bated breath for the moment of truth! It happened to be one of the few days in the year when Rainier was visible. The harbor cruise offers stunning views of the Olympic Mountain, the huge container ships and Mount Rainier, in additional to the waterfront and downtown areas. There was a full service bar on board but we did not make use of it, having just finished lunch.

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Olympic Mountain as seen from the cruise
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Mount Rainier in the background

Back on land, our last stop for the day was the Space Needle. It was clear the tower was open but under renovation. After obtaining our tickets, we walked in and the lady at the entrance told us that only a part of the observation deck was open. She gave us the option of either proceeding or getting a refund. We went to get a refund but the lady at that desk convinced us that it was worth the trip to the top since only a portion of the tower was closed. Mr. JJ decided we would go since we might never return to see the Space Needle again.

Having stood on top of several towers, this one turned out to be a disappointment as several sections were blocked off. Certainly not worth the $29 per person price we paid. While I did not mind paying a fee to visit, I think visitors would have been better served by slashing admission prices to maybe half the original. At least until renovations were complete. Once downstairs, we spent some time looking at the art installations on the grounds, before heading out for a coffee break. The Chihuly Garden and Glass was quite inviting but we didn’t have the time to visit.

Leaving Seattle downtown we drove across the floating bridge on I 90, that connects Seattle with Mercer Island. A unique system of bridge building, barges of pontoons are tied together to form the foundation and the road is laid on top of this system. It’s a very innovative design and Washington has five such floating bridges. Originally opened in 1940, the bridge stood the test of time until a part of it collapsed in 1990. It has since been reconstructed and now there are plans to add a light rail section to this bridge. Read more about the history of this bridge here.

The very last stop of the day was a quick trip to the massive Microsoft Campus in Redmond, to see block after block of buildings, all belonging to the conglomerate. It’s striking how much real estate Microsoft occupies! For those in town during the weekdays, the company offers tours.

For our maiden trip to Seattle, we were fortunate to have a warm welcome from our nephew, the weather and Mount Rainier. There’s a lot to see and do here, we have just scratched the tip of the iceberg.

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Rachel the Piggy Bank at Pike Place