Home » 2015 Seattle, San Francisco, and Sierra

Seattle, WA

Wednesday, May 6, 2015 - 12:45pm by Lolo
0 miles and 0 hours from our last stop - 5 night stay


Lolo of the HouseboatLolo of the HouseboatHerb had about a 10-day lead on me crossing the country, but I had the advantage of flight. He had just two wheels to take him an awfully long wait. When I left New Jersey, he was just cruising into New Mexico. I had spent much of his absence running a mission control center at home that rivaled NASA. Each day I would track his progress on Glympse, chat with him about places to see, look at radar maps to help him time his ride across tornado alley, Google places for him to stay or eat, etc. So now, not only would my adventure begin when I stepped on that plane, but his would take a new turn as well as he lost his virtual co-pilot.

As I mentioned in the trip cover page, this was a very different type of trip for us in that we were starting off separate, something Herb and I rarely do. He was finally realizing his dream of driving his Honda ST1100 across the U.S., and I was headed to Seattle to spend 5 days with Tommy, seeing his home, meeting his friends, and exploring the city. We spend a lot of time together as a family, but this would be the longest one on one time Tommy and I ever shared – I just hoped we wouldn’t drive each other crazy. Plus, as Herb and Andrew informed him, he had the responsibility of dealing with me on Mother’s Day. Let me just give away the ending now – his hosting ability and the fun we had together far exceeded expectations, I think for both of us.

Lake Union HouseboatsLake Union HouseboatsIt certainly didn’t hurt that I booked what is probably the coolest accommodation ever – a houseboat on Lake Union, at the Gas Works Park Marina, just a mile and a half from his house. It wasn’t hard for me to convince him to stay with me rather than at his apartment.

The setup was awesome. It wasn’t a huge boat compared to the ones around us, but it was cozy and comfortable, with views of Gas Work Park as well as the Seattle skyline. The best part was that along the entire back section of the boat were windows that slid completely open, letting in a beautiful breeze and allowing us to practically reach out and touch the paddle boarders and kayakers paddling by – not to mention the geese that I feared might fly in. There were two comfy leather couches by these windows that Tommy and I, after an active day of exploring, would respectively collapse on for a nap to charge up before heading out again to meet up with his friends at one of Seattle’s fine dining and drinking establishments – and there are many.

Day 1 – Gas Works Park, Microsoft Campus, Fremont Brewery, and Brouwer’s Cafe

Gas Works ParkGas Works ParkTommy had to work on my first day in Seattle, but he left me his car so that I could drive over to the Microsoft campus in Redmond to meet him for lunch.

That gave me the morning to wander through nearby Gas Works Park, which has to be one of the most unique public spaces I have ever visited. In a sort of tribute to (or reflection on) a bygone industrial age, this park contains the remnants of an old coal gasification plant, once used to produce coal gas, which was used for municipal lighting and heating before the advent of natural gas. The rusty old industrial structures with the backdrop of the modern-day Seattle skyline definitely made you feel like you were visually straddling two centuries.

Unfortunately, the big hill in the center of the park known as the Great Earth Mound was fenced off for a few months to allow new topsoil and grass to get established. Too bad, because I would have liked to have seen the unique sundial at its summit, where you, the viewer, is what casts the time-revealing shadow.

I then drove over to meet Tommy for lunch at the Microsoft campus. It felt a little weird for me, and I am sure him, because he had just accepted a job with Strava in San Francisco, but had not yet resigned from Microsoft, so this would be one of his last lunches here as well. The campus was very impressive – kind of a city unto itself, with banks, shops, playing fields, and dozens of dining choices. Microsoft had been a great first job experience for Tommy and one I am sure he will look back on fondly.

That evening, Tommy and I walked from the houseboat over to the Fremont Brewery to meet up with a few of his friends. We weren’t the only ones with this idea in mind, and the place was packed, mostly with people half my age. Fortunately, Tommy’s friends were really awesome and welcoming and didn’t make me feel like I was old and boring. After having one of Fremont’s fine craft beers, we moved on to dinner at Brouwer’s Café, which was extremely crowded, as it was Seattle Beer Week, and this was one of the stops along the way. I knew that the beer selections would be awesome, but was pleasantly surprised as to how good the food was as well.

By the end of the night, I felt like I was in my 20s again. Maybe that was just the beer talking.

Day 2 – Chihuly Garden and Glass, Space Needle, Olympic Sculpture Park, and Bainbridge Ferry

Lolo in Chihuly GlasshouseLolo in Chihuly GlasshouseThe next day was Friday, and Tommy had taken the day off from work to spend showing me around Seattle. We had a big day planned, so we got an early start – not quite early enough, however, as we missed the early bird half price parking by the Space Needle by 5 minutes, a fact that much to Tommy’s annoyance I couldn’t stop bringing up throughout the day. “Get over it,” was more or less his attempt at closure.

Our first stop that day was Chihuly Garden and Glass, a brand new (as of 2012) museum in the Seattle Center, which showcases the work of Northwest glass artist Dale Chihuly. I have been to a lot of art museums, but I would have to say that none of them has blown me away as this one did. It was absolutely breathtaking.

We first wandered through the eight rooms that make up the indoor galleries. Each room was more beautiful than the next and continued to push the boundaries of glass as an art medium.
My personal favorite was a room that housed two rowboats that seemed to be floating in water, each of them overflowing with glass objects in a myriad of size, shapes, and colors. It made me think of Christmas in Venice -- and I’ve never even been to Venice! Thank goodness for digital cameras, because we would have run out of film in the first room.

After the galleries, we entered the Glasshouse, a 40-foot-tall glass enclosed structure filled with natural light and housing one of Chihuly’s largest suspended works, a 100-foot floral and vine-like sculpture in reds, oranges, yellows, and amber. It was unbelievably beautiful.

Chihuly GardenChihuly GardenLast but not least, was the outdoor Garden, where we wandered along winding paths past more amazing glasswork, whose colors and shapes both blended with and complemented the beautiful trees, plants, and flowers they were set amongst. Four of Chihuly’s larger works anchored the corners of the garden and the iconic Space Needle loomed above.

Talk about sensual overload!

No self-respecting tourist visits Seattle without going to the top of the iconic Space Needle, so as expected the line to go up was already quite long. Fortunately we had had the foresight to make lunch reservations, which allowed us to cut the line and walk right up to and into an elevator which scooted us to the top within 5 minutes of our leaving the Chihuly Museum. We felt very important.

We had an 11:30 lunch reservation (the only one we could get at such short notice), so we had time to go up to the observation deck first. We had actually wanted to eat here on Mother’s Day, but since everything was booked, we voted to move the holiday up 2 days.

Lolo Dining in the Space NeedleLolo Dining in the Space NeedleAs we expected, the views of the Cascades, Mt. Rainier (we were lucky that day that the mountain was out), downtown Seattle, and the ferries and boats crisscrossing Elliott Bay from the observation deck were spectacular. We tried to see if we could find our little houseboat, but although we could see Lake Union and Gas Works Park, we couldn’t pick it out. I think it was behind the trees at the far end of the park.

When the time came, we took the staircase down to City Restaurant and were immediately seated right be the window. It was really cool how the hostess station in the center area stayed put, while the donut-shaped dining area surrounding it slowly turned. Tommy made the mistake, or rather the intentional jest, of putting my camera on the window sill. Luckily I grabbed it as it was about to pass me by – or I could have waited the 47 minutes it takes to rotate to collect it again.

Our expectations for lunch were fairly modest as we thought that with such an incredible setting, they didn’t have to try too hard with the food. Boy, were we wrong. We agreed to order different things and then split. Tommy ordered the Macaroni and Cheese with Dungeness Crab and I ordered a salmon sandwich—you can’t not have salmon when in the Pacific Northwest. Both dishes were absolutely delicious and the helpings were so surprising large that we wrapped up half to eat later.

View from the Bainbridge Island FerryView from the Bainbridge Island FerryThe final sightseeing event that I had chosen for the day was to take the Bainbridge Ferry, not to actually get off on Bainbridge Island, but just to get out on Elliott Bay for a different perspective of this beautiful city. We walked the 2 miles to the Ferry Terminal at Colman Dock, stopping briefly in Olympic Sculpture Park, a lovely waterfront park that used to be an industrial site, but has been transformed into an open space for art. The grounds, which are part of the Seattle Art Museum, are home to works by such artists as Alexander Calder, Richard Serra, and Mark di Suvero.

Every time we are in Seattle, we make sure to stop here, and each time we are treated to something new – this time, a dramatic 46-foot tall, totally white, figurative head created by Jaume Plensa, a Spanish artist known for creating public sculptures that are both monumental in scale and meditative in subject. In this work, Plensa used computer modeling to elongate and abstract the face of his 9-year old model’s features. He named the piece “Echo” after the mountain nymph from Greek Mythology whom Hera punished for her part in helping to conceal Zeus’ licentious behavior. How appropriate that this figure, with eyes closed as if in a state of meditation, looks out over Puget Sound in the direction of Mount Olympus, named for the ancient Greek home of the gods. Hera’s punishment was to deprive Echo of speech, only allowing her the ability to repeat the last words of another. In an interview for the New York Times about this work, Plensa said, “Many times we talk and talk, but we are not sure if we are talking with our own words or repeating just messages that are in the air.” I certainly can think of a few people like that.

Red Calder in Olympic Sculpture ParkRed Calder in Olympic Sculpture ParkWe continued our walk along the waterfront under the noisy, elevated Alaskan Way Viaduct, an eyesore of a highway that thankfully is going to be replaced by an underground tunnel in the coming years, and finally arrived at the Colman Dock where the ferry to Bainbridge Island departs every 45 minutes or so.

The ferry was the right thing to do. It was a beautiful day – don’t believe what anybody tells you about Seattle weather – and the scenery couldn’t be beat. For 35 minutes, we sat back, put our feet up, and ate the rest of our Space Needle lunch, watching the sailboats, Ferris Wheel, and skyline go by. For security reasons, we did have to disembark on Bainbridge Island, but then we got right back on again and did the whole thing in reverse. The fare for the round trip was only $8 – a true bargain for a boat cruise on Elliott Bay.

By the time we got back to the houseboat we were exhausted – but in that way that feels kind of nice, and satisfying. We threw open the back windows and collapsed on the couches for a power nap. Once rejuvenated, we sat out on the back deck of the boat enjoying the view and a refreshing beer. It didn’t get much better than this.

Day 3 – Rattlesnake Ledge Hike, Golden Gardens Beach, the Walrus and the Carpenter

Rattlesnake LakeRattlesnake LakeWe awoke to another spectacular sunny day in Seattle. The weather couldn’t have been any better – the perfect day for a hike.

About a month ago, I had sprained my ankle quite badly while running, and then twisted it for a second time just before leaving for this trip. Although it had improved quite a bit, I was still wearing an ankle brace and would sometimes feel the occasional twinge. Fearing he would be held responsible if I hurt myself again, Tom chose a relatively moderate hike that would give us a lot of bang for our buck – the 2-mile (each way) hike up to Rattlesnake Ledge.

Seattle has a very outdoor-oriented culture, so when a sunny Saturday comes around, half the city empties out into the surrounding mountains to enjoy one of its many beautiful hikes. Since the hike to Rattlesnake Ledge is only 45 minutes from the city and not terribly strenuous, it was, as we expected, extremely crowded. However, with my ankle the way it was, I was just happy to be doing something. I was so nervous about twisting it again that I kept my eyes peeled to the ground looking for rocks and roots that might trip me up – so much so that I had to remind myself to stop once in a while to look out at the spectacular view. Tommy, good son that he is, kept a close eye on me and was always there to lend a helping hand if required.

Golden Gardens BeachGolden Gardens BeachThe hike begins near the shores of lovely Rattlesnake Lake before heading into a lush second-growth forest along a well-maintained trail. A series of switchbacks made the 1,175 elevation gain to the ledge relatively easy. Once atop the ledge, we (and about 200 other people) gazed out over Snoqualmie Valley, Rattlesnake Lake, and Chester Morse Lake below out and at nearby Mount Si and Mount Washington. Last year we had hiked to the top of Little Si. I wish I had a pair of binoculars so I could have looked to see if the red cooler we left behind on its summit was still there. The ledge was actually quite exposed with a very steep drop-off, so I wisely stayed back from its edge.

The hike down was uneventful, by which I mean I did not hurt myself. So, we called it a success and headed back to the city to hit the beach in Golden Gardens Park on Puget Sound, right across from the snow-capped Olympic Mountains.

As with the hike to Rattlesnake Ledge, we were not the only ones in Seattle that had the idea of going to the beach on this absolutely gorgeous day, so it took us awhile to find parking. Having lived in a suburb of New York City my entire life, I am not used to finding such a beautiful beach within city limits, and I was definitely not used to seeing snow-capped mountains from my blanket. However, Jersey beaches do have the advantage of warmer water.

Back at the houseboat, we took our customary power nap, before heading out to what Tommy promised to be the quintessential Seattle dining experience – slurping down oysters at The Walrus and the Carpenter. I had to shamefully admit to my son that I had never had oysters before, but I had a good excuse. Herb is allergic to shellfish, so I avoided them in deference to him. Well Herb was about a thousand miles away, so there was no better time than this.

Tom on Houseboat DeckTom on Houseboat DeckIn a city known for its excellent seafood, it’s hard to go wrong, but this place is recognized as one of its best. It was even featured on one of Anthony Bourdain’s “The Layover” episodes. Tommy warned me that the wait would be long, so we went and put our names on the hostess’s list and were told to come back in about 2 hours. We walked around Ballard for a while and stopped in one of its many drinking establishments for a beer.

The two hours passed quickly, and at 10 o’clock, we headed be back to The Walrus and the Carpenter and were told they were ready for us. Tommy chose to sit at the bar because then we could watch the guys shuck the oysters – boy were they fast. There were three of them and they all looked the same – like ruggedly handsome fisherman. This was fun.

There was a large list of oysters to choose from on the menu, each distinguished by the cove from which they were harvested from, which determined where sweet or briny they were. Since neither of us had a particular favorite in mind – I hadn’t even known before I got here that there were this many different varieties – we ordered a sampler with their recommendations. We also ordered a plate of smoked trout, kind of as a backup in case I didn’t like the oysters, but that turned out not to be necessary.

They gave us each a plate of 6 oysters, arranged from sweet to briny. At first, the slimy texture freaked me out about a bit, but soon I was enthusiastically slurping them from their shells,

or, as Lewis Carroll so eloquently put it:

     O Oysters,' said the Carpenter,
          You've had a pleasant run!
     Shall we be trotting home again?'
          But answer came there none —
     And this was scarcely odd, because
          They'd eaten every one."

What a great experience and what a terrific day it had been!

Day 4 – Stone Gardens Climbing Gym, Fremont Farmers Market, and Fremont Public Art

Lolo and Beer on Houseboat DeckLolo and Beer on Houseboat DeckThe last couple of days had been pretty action packed, so we decided that for my last day in Seattle we would slow the pace down a bit. We decided to spend it the way that Tommy would normally spend a Sunday, and just have me tag along.

We started the day meeting one of Tommy’s friends at Stone Gardens, the rock climbing gym Tommy belongs to in Ballard. This is not as crazy as it sounds. I love climbing and also belong to a gym back in New Jersey that I go to three times a week. I think I held my own pretty well at the gym and achieved my goal of not hurting myself and even more importantly, not embarrassing Tommy.

The Fremont neighborhood of Seattle is a very cool place to live, especially if you are in your twenties. Every Sunday afternoon they have a Farmers Market with tents selling fresh produce, crafts, and a wide variety of food ready to eat.

Vladimir Lenin StatueVladimir Lenin StatueHowever, when Tommy learned that I had never had a gyro, he said we had to go to Sinbad Express, one of his favorite spots in Fremont to pick up a quick lunch. I felt like I was at the point in my life where our roles had become reversed and he was the one now pushing me to expand my horizons and try new foods. As with the oysters last night, he was right again. I really need to get out more.

Fremont is known for its quirky, and sometimes controversial, public art, so after finishing our gyros, I asked Tommy to show me some of his favorites. In no particular order that I can remember, he showed me:

  • The Rocket – located at the corner of Evanston and 36th SStreet, this iconic Fremont phallic symbol was constructed from a 1950s-era Cold War rocket missile fuselage. It has Fremont's motto on the side of it, "De Libertas Quirkas, " which appropriately means "The freedom to be peculiar".
  • A giant, and somewhat controversial, 16-foot bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin, brought to Seattle from Slovakia by the American Lewis Carpenter, who found it lying on the ground after it was nearly destroyed in the 1989 revolution. The statue is often the victim of various artistic projects (sometimes referred to as vandalism). When I was there, his hand had been dipped in blood red paint. The statue is actually on sale for $250,000, but so far there have been no takers.
  • The Center of the Universe, a guidepost put up in 1991 by a group of Scientists that decided, after several beers at a local alehouse, that Fremont (and more specifically, the corner of North Fremont Avenue and 35th Street) lay at the center of a special geophysical gravitational force. The guidepost is interesting in its own way, pointing you to the various pieces of public art in Fremont, as well as the North Pole and the Milky Way.
  • Waiting for the Interurban, which depicts five life-size people and a dog eternally waiting for Seattle’s old interurban rail line that no longer runs. The statues are often decorated with costumes to celebrate various events. While I was there, they were all wearing nursing uniforms to celebrate National Nurses Week.

And my personal favoriteLolo with The Fremont TrollLolo with The Fremont Troll

  • The Fremont Troll, an 18-foot tall concrete sculpture of a troll crushing a real Volkswagen Beetle in its left hand that sits lurking under the north end of the Aurora Bridge. I am not sure if there is any significance to the fact that the Volkswagen, which appears to have been swiped from the roadway above, has a California license plate. He has only one good eye (made from a hubcap), as the other is covered by scraggly hair. One of my favorite photos from this entire trip is one of me sitting perched on his right hand. He almost seems to be protecting me.

It certainly is easy to see how the quirky and free-spirited neighborhood of Fremont has earned the nicknames, "The People's Republic of Fremont" or "The Artists' Republic of Fremont."

Day 5 – Bye Bye Seattle and my first Uber experience

Monday morning. Time for Tommy to get back to work and for me to catch a plane to San Francisco to have the next son entertain me. Rather than take a ½ day off from work – especially on the day he was going to resign – Tommy suggested that I take an Uber car to the airport.

I’ve heard a lot about Uber, but had never used it myself. However, I had downloaded the Uber App onto my phone before leaving home. Tommy suggested that I get all my bags ready first, because when you request Uber, they come pretty fast. He wasn’t kidding. The App already knew where I was, so all I had to do was enter the Seattle airport as my destination. Immediately I was told that my driver would be there in 6 minutes, and I even got a picture of the driver and his name.

I can see now why this service has become so popular. It’s quick, inexpensive (only $32 for the half hour drive to the airport), and the driver was very polite and friendly. It definitely made me feel more confident about traveling alone. With the mere pressing of a button on my phone, I knew I could be picked up and delivered practically anywhere I needed to go – and at a reasonable price.

I did feel a little sad leaving. I had had such incredibly fun time with Tommy and gotten a chance to see just how unbelievably awesome Seattle is.


Chihuly RowboatsChihuly RowboatsThe following is in no way meant to be a comprehensive guide to Seattle, as there are entire guide books devoted to just that. However, the following is a brief description of some of the sights in and nearby the city that I enjoyed during my stay.

Gas Works Park is a 19-acre public park located on the north shore of Lake Union with panoramic views of the lake and the downtown skyline. The park was originally the site of a coal gasification plant, which operated from 1906 to 1956. When it was purchased by the city and became a public park in 1962, Seattle landscape architect, Richard Haag, incorporated many pieces of the old plant into his design – industrial towers, stacks, pipes, and a boiler house which has been converted into a picnic shelter. In addition to the remnants of the plant, the park contains a Great Earth Mound, molded out of the rubble from on-site excavated materials and covered with fresh topsoil. At the summit of the mound is a sundial which uses the shadow of the viewer to tell the time of day and season.

Chihuly GardenChihuly GardenChihuly Garden and Glass is a museum that opened in 2012 in the Seattle Center that showcases the works of the world-renowned Northwest glass artist, Dale Chihuly. There are eight galleries displaying a comprehensive collection of his work, demonstrating how he pushed the boundaries of glass as an art medium. The centerpiece of the museum is the 40-foot tall Glasshouse, enclosing 4,500 sq. ft. of natural light-filled space, with an expansive 100-foot floral-like sculpture in reds, oranges, yellows, and amber suspended from its vast ceiling. The third section of the museum is the outdoor Garden, anchored by four monumental sculptures, and filled with glasswork complementing in both form and color the trees, plants, and flowers along its winding paths. Admission for an adult is $23.

The Space Needle is the iconic 605-foot tall spire that rises above Seattle, visible from almost everywhere. It is located at the Seattle Center, and has an observation deck at 520 feet and the rotating SkyCity restaurant right below at 500 feet. The restaurant rotates 360 degrees in exactly 47 minutes – just enough time to make a complete rotation before you finish lunch. From the observation deck and the restaurant, the views of the Cascades, Mt. Rainier (if you are lucky), downtown Seattle, and Elliott Bay are breathtaking. When it was built for the 1962 World’s Fair, it became the tallest structure west of the Mississippi. The trip to the top via elevator takes 41 seconds and costs $18 – unless of course you have a SkyCity reservation, in which case the ride is free.

Tom with Mount Rainier and Space NeedleTom with Mount Rainier and Space NeedleThe Olympic Sculpture Park is a nine-acre waterfront park that was transformed from an industrial site into an open space for art. The grounds, which are part of the Seattle Art Museum, are home for works by such artists as Alexander Calder, Richard Serra, and Mark di Suvero. Admission is free

Rattlesnake Ridge, located 45 minutes east of Seattle, is the popular 2-mile (each way) hike to Rattlesnake Ledge where one is greeted with tremendous views of the Snoqualmie Valley, Mount Si, Mount Washington, Rattlesnake Lake, and Chester Morse Lake.

Golden Gardens Park, located in Ballard on Puget Sound, is a popular destination for Seattle beachgoers. While the waters are quite chilly for swimming, the extraordinary views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains from its sandy beach make it a lovely spot to spend the day. The park also has two wetlands, a short loop trail, and a fishing pier. Watching the sunset over the sound gathered around a bonfire is another popular activity.

Fremont Public Art -For a neighborhood of its size, Fremont has a disproportionately large number of quirky statues and public art, which has resulted in it sometimes being referred to as "The People's Republic of Fremont" or "The Artists' Republic of Fremont." Some of the most famous examples include the Rocket, a 16-foot bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin, the Center of the Universe Guidepost, Waiting for the Interurban, and, of course, the Fremont Troll.

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