Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's in Seattle


I've never done New Year's Resolutions. I make (and break) resolutions all the time without a calendar coming into the equation. If, however, I was the sort of person to make a list of resolutions for the new year, keeping my various blogs updated might be one of them.

Though I've done plenty of touristy stuff whilst ping-ponging between D.C. and New York over the past couple of months, I find myself wanting to write about some of my previous, more substantial adventures. While I was at home and taking a break from baking epic Christmas cookies, looking at my parents' albums of their summer trip to the Pacific Northwest made me realize it's been five years since my own trip to Seattle. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see how important that trip was for me - the first trip I'd really planned and financed on my own, the first time I'd rented a car, the first time I'd spent several days traveling solo, and my first journey of 2009, a year that taught me a lot about travel.


My friends Meg and Devin were getting married on New Year's Day. I'd never not spent New Year's Eve in the same time zone as NYC, but on December 30th of 2008, I got on a plane to the west coast. We made a brief stop-over in Minneapolis, where machines sprayed de-icer in shades of purple and green onto the wings of the plane. (Super reassuring.) It was a sign of things to come - Seattle had just experienced its worst snowfall in over a decade, a fact which would eventually catch up with me.


Landing in Seattle, I only had a vague idea of how to get from SeaTac to the hotel. On the bus into the city, I asked several people for advice on what route to take. My friends, who had already checked in, weren't answering their phones. I started to worry, but an older lady stepped in and kindly escorted me through the cavernous underground station, up an escalator, and outside to a connecting bus. By this point it was dark, so I really couldn't thank her enough. Armed with an address, I was able to ask the bus driver to let me know when we reached the Silver Cloud Hotel. I arrived just in time to get ready for the bachelorette party, where all the east coasters ended the night as sleep-deprived zombies.


Jet lag helped the following morning, however, when I woke up nice and early and wandered downhill to Pike Place Market. I saw the famous flying fish and the restaurant where Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner grab a bite to eat in Sleepless in Seattle.


 From there, I walked to Pioneer Square to meet up with friends for the Underground Tour. Pioneer Square itself is cute - old buildings that give you a hint of what the city looked like a hundred-plus years ago.


The Underground Tour gave more insight into Seattle's early days, from its beginning as a timber and gold rush town, to waves of immigration from China and the ensuing backlash, to the great fire of 1889.  This fire was the impetus for a new city plan, which included raising the street level. The original sidewalks are preserved underground. For a while, shopkeepers continued to use this new lower level as well, but the city condemned the space in 1907 and it quickly turned into a shady underworld full of illegal gambling, drugs, alcohol, and prostitution.  All of which makes for a really fun tour.


We had a late lunch in Chinatown, then rolled our stuffed selves over to Uwajimaya, an awesome Asian food market. Strength in numbers, we grabbed a cab to cart us back up the hill to our hotel. We had a few hours to recover before catching another cab across the floating bridge to Bellevue for a New Year's Eve party at Meg's parents' house.


More amazing food awaited us, as well as some serious Guitar Hero competition. We watched as New York celebrated, then Chicago, then it was finally our turn. The TV showed scenes from LA and Seattle as we counted down to the New Year. When the party was over, the family had hired a bus to make drop-offs at each of the hotels, which was really thoughtful and very appreciated.

Still waking up on eastern time on New Year's Day, and with nothing to do until late afternoon, I walked over to Westlake Center to catch the monorail.  I'm pretty darn sure I managed to be the first paying customer up to the top of the Space Needle in 2009.  The view wasn't great - Mt. Ranier was obscured by clouds and fog - but it was still pretty cool to see the city from above.


After that, it was time for one more trip to Pike Place. I was glad I'd gone the day before, as now, the place was practically empty. It was, however, a great time to stake out the first Starbucks. The line (which often reaches out the door) was only a few people deep. Tea in hand - authentic, I know - I went in search of Post Alley. The famous wall of gum was pretty neat, from a safe and sanitary distance - here, the zoom on my camera came in handy.



Finally, it was time for the wedding. This being my travel blog, I won't go into too much detail. It was held at the fabulous Stimson-Green Mansion, featured the most amazing cake I've ever seen (it's the third and fourth one down on this Cake Wrecks post), and was just lovely and intimate and so very much Meg and Devin. Dancing the night away with friends I don't get to see very often (to an amazing playlist full of 80s hits) was the best way possible to end my time in Seattle.


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