On a short city break it’s easy to feel like you’ve jetted in, ticked off the highlights from a checklist, and flown home again without ever really engaging with your destination. An unexpected highlight of this whole holiday was that as well as the more obvious tourist attractions, we were able to get at least some feel for local life too.
Key to this was our accommodation choice for the first portion of the trip: an AirBnB in Seattle’s Mt. Baker neighbourhood. Our initial motivation was financial; three nights there would be cheaper than a single night downtown. Since at least the first day after a UK → west coast flight tends to be a write-off, it simply didn’t seem worth heading straight for the city centre. On arrival we found that Seattle was in the midst of a heatwave that proved even more draining than the jetlag, so taking it easy for a few days rather than dashing from one sight to the next was definitely the way to go.
Fortunately by booking an entire apartment we’d get far more space than a hotel room (ridiculous upgrades aside): this would be true of most AirBnB properties, but ours went even further by being situated on an urban farm. So as well as a separate lounge and fully-equipped kitchen in addition to the bedroom, the appropriately named Goat Hill House Apartment gave access to a lovely garden, shared with goats, chickens and a slightly confused dog. I’m not sure any hotel could rival the experience of having supper on the porch during the kind of pleasantly warm evening that follows an oppressively hot day, whilst a pair of hummingbirds dart between the table and nearby flowers!
Without staying there, Mt. Baker would just have been a fleeting glimpse on the light rail between downtown and the airport. By self-catering we were also forced to interact with the local area instead of just shuttling too and from it each day. Thus we shopped for groceries at a small supermarket chain, QFC, which seems to only exist in the Puget Sound region; supplemented by an Italian bakery nearly a hundred years old – we also had to get the hang of Seattle’s recycling rules! Exploring on foot revealed a series of challenging hills for which the rewards were superb views: Mt Rainier, Lake Washington, Bellevue and the floating highway to the east; and Seattle’s downtown skyscrapers to the west.
Throughout, we got the sense of a welcoming suburb that seemed at pains to point out that this was very much not Trump country. One property had set up a giant scoreboard-style countdown clock to his departure on their balcony; many had signs which declared allegiance to a whole assortment of causes from race and gender equality to the right to clean water. But kindness was further demonstrated by deeds, not just slogans: most streets had a ‘little library’ to take from as you see fit; and in Colman park someone known only as Jay sets up a tea urn and seats each day, so that passers-by may better contemplate the mountain before them.
After a couple of days of failed acclimatisation we decided to beat the heat by taking to the water, to rediscover a destination I had fond memories of: Bainbridge Island. Just a short (and affordable) boat trip allowed us to trade the bustling city for a more relaxed pace of life. I’m genuinely sad that our schedule wasn’t compatible with this, for instance:
As I tried to retrace my steps from some eight years ago, I was pleased to find things much as I left them (but photographed them all again anyway). We got complemented on our travel cutlery at an excellent independent cafe. We checked out the work of local artists in the island’s art gallery. And we wandered happily around the harbour and parkland, at least until we learnt of the terrible potential of tsunamis bearing killer clams:
Although the ferry is just that, and not a sightseeing tour, it has views worthy of one: from the iconic Space Needle, through the rest of the skyline, to the harbour / docks and that distant yet constant anchor, Mt Rainier.
The second portion of our time in Seattle took a more conventional route through tourist attractions, but on our final day we chose once again to eschew the big sights in favour of somewhere less commercial. North across the Aurora Bridge another old favourite, Fremont, easily fit the bill: offering up local art, coffee and beer in an easy-going waterside neighbourhood. From there I remembered it being an easy walk to Gasworks park; with the heatwave still in full effect, that was less true. But this unusual power-plant-turned-picnic-spot still offered great views across Lake Union, as well as the entertainment of parkour practitioners – and passing formations of jet planes!