I’ve got a lot of places on my travel wish list. Many are overseas, but within the U.S., Seattle has been at the top of my uncharted territory list for many years, just waiting for the perfect reason to start planning the trip. Last year, when my friend (and favorite musician) Levi Weaver did a tour of almost-only house shows, he raved to me about his experience there. So, I told him (and myself) that the next time he played Seattle, I’d be there.
Back in December, I met a guy named Chris at my friends Jimmy and Emily Graham’s Christmas party, and remembered that he had moved from Lynchburg to Seattle within the last few years. I got in touch with him via Facebook to get some information on the best areas to stay, what to see, and how to get around.
He was incredibly helpful, and in talking to Jimmy and Emily about my plans, a better plan was born: we’d all go to Seattle together to see Levi play and visit Chris. Chris arranged for us to stay in his building and also made plans to fly his girlfriend, Holly, out to join in the fun as well.
With everything planned and just a few days to go, we got the sad news that Jimmy’s ailing grandfather had passed away. After weighing the options carefully, Jimmy decided to go home to be with his family for the funeral, but that Emily should go on to Seattle as originally planned. (The fact that Emily would have stayed with him gladly, and I would have understood completely, and yet he made the choice that was best for everyone ELSE speaks volumes about his character. We’re lucky to have him.)
So, Jimmy drove Emily and I to the airport bright and early (so, so early) Wednesday morning to begin our long trek to the northwest. The time difference is generous when traveling west, so even with nearly 8 hours of travel, we still landed in Seattle just after 10:00am. Chris picked us up and got us settled in, and then he went back to work for the day, and Emily and I hopped a bus for downtown.
First, we went in search of Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour. We’d heard the tours often booked up, so we needed to go buy our tickets first to see what hour we could get a spot on the tour. We walked up to the ticket counter at 12:58pm. We got two slots on the 1:00pm tour.
The tour guides participants through the underground passages that once were the old downtown Seattle, telling stories that the pioneers glossed over in the pages of Seattle history.
Before taking the tour, Emily and I had admired these skylights from the other side:
Next up was Smith Tower, and our armbands from the Underground Tour got us a discount to go up to the top. But first, we stopped to eat the best chocolate chip cookies in the history of the world (or at least of my world, so far).
Smith Tower is to the Space Needle what Rockefeller Center is to the Empire State Building – a cheaper, less crowded place to go see a nice view of the city. I find great joy in going as high up as possible and admiring what’s below, so it was a must-see for me.
Here’s Smith Tower from the ground:
And the ceiling of the “Chinese Room” at Observation Deck Level:
And the view:
You can see the Space Needle behind Emily here:
After leaving Smith Tower, we crossed to the other end of Pioneer Square in search of Waterfall Garden Park. We passed some neat graffiti on our way…
…and could still see Smith Tower behind us.
We stood looking around, trying to figure out where a waterfall might be in this very unlikely terrain. Then I spotted this lettering on a building ahead and heard the sound of rushing water.
We rounded the corner and walked into a serene landscape, hidden right in the midst of the everyday hustle and bustle.
We stopped in at a “dry soda” tasting while we waited for the next bus to take us back to Chris’ place. Emily tasted all of the flavors, which included lavender, rhubarb, cucumber and vanilla among more expected flavors like lime and orange. Kinda weird to me, but I’m a Diet Coke girl.
We were happy to once again make use of the free 99 bus across town. It dropped off right across the street from Chris’ apartment, where I took this picture.
And this one is from Chris’ balcony:
For dinner, we drove out to Alki Beach for some seafood before sunset. We parked along the strip and walked to Duke’s Chowder House, where we all chose variations on their fresh Alaskan halibut. Good food, and right on the water.
I even saw a familiar face as we made our way down the beach.
The sun started to drop:
And then I pulled a Beverly Stanley and said, “So, you know when we were driving here, and there was that spot where we could see the skyline? Can you take me back there?” Chris is a good sport, so he did, and we hung out there until the sky went dark. We even saw some otters playing. (I did not get any good pictures of them, because I was too busy saying, “Oh, otters!”)
When we got back, Chris was video-chatting with Holly, and Emily was face-timing with Jimmy, and so this happened as the next logical step: a video-facetime-chat with Holly and Jimmy:
The roof was calling my name, so I went out a took a few more pictures of the city lights.
Despite traveling to Seattle at the end of the rainy season with a forecast of rain for all 5 days, we only had one rainy day, and that was Thursday, when we drove down to Portland, Oregon to visit Emily’s childhood best friend, Nancy.
Chris very kindly let me drive his sports car for the day, so Emily took this picture for me. If you can’t tell from the rain, the sign says “Entering Oregon.”
Due to the dreary weather, we had to find some indoor activities in Portland. We started with lunch at a cute café that served a fabulous veggie burger. I got really excited about ordering a slice of cheesecake there, too, until I found out it was actually tofu-cake. That’s just not right, y’all. The waiter said it was a “healthy alternative.” I said, “where I come from, dessert is not supposed to be healthy.” Portland is the place to be if you have a dietary restriction. I’m not a fan of the word “diet” or “restriction,” so I just ate the regular stuff.
After lunch, we went to Powell’s City of Books – it fills an entire city block and is the largest new and used bookstore in the world. I had to bear in mind that anything I bought had to go home with me in a carry-on, but I did go ahead and purchase book 17 of the Stephanie Plum series at a great price. Emily decided to hop on that train, so she got book one!
We also stopped at another famous Portland location – VooDoo Donuts. I’m not a big fan of donuts, so I got dessert at a cute little cupcake shop. They had minis, so I tried two flavors – both were delicious.
As we drove around, I snapped some more pictures from the backseat, including this old Portland sign:
I only asked for a pull-over one time, and Nancy found us a great spot to look out over the rainy city.
And here we are, with awesome been-in-the-rain-all-day hair!
Emily and I had planned to have dinner at Galeotti’s Restaurant in Battle Ground, WA on our way back to Seattle that evening. It was only about 20 minutes from Portland, and we knew we needed to time our drive to get back either before Chris left for the airport to pick up Holly, or after he’d be back, so we could get into the garage. Time was really tight for us to get back before, so it seemed best to put dinner off for a little bit and spend that extra time visiting with Nancy and her husband, Jason.
It was approaching 8:30 when I thought I should call the restaurant and make a reservation if one was needed. But surprise! What I found out was that they were closing at 9 instead of at 10 as we had thought. They told us to come on in, so we rushed out the door and headed across the state line. It seemed like the drive was taking forever, and I was in a panic thinking of being those awful customers that come in at 10 minutes before closing. But, this was our one chance to go, so on we went.
When we arrived at Galeotti’s, there were a few parties still there, but they were clearly finishing up. Even so, we got a warm greeting from the hostess who seemed absolutely overjoyed that we were there. She seated us and took our drink order and told us that Michael was tending the bar if we wanted a cocktail. I said that Emily was pregnant and I was driving, so we wouldn’t be drinking, but joked that Michael (former member of Enation) could come over and sing for us. She then volunteered that Luke was working in the kitchen and she’d let them both know to come over and say hello. Moments later, they were at our table, all smiles and with an Enation CD for each of us. They signed the CDs and Michael said he could make any cocktail on that list sans alcohol if we wanted. I asked him for a recommendation, and he made us his favorite. It was delicious!
It was already well past 9pm, but no one was rushing us. Our waitress came over and gave us the specials, and then left us time to decide. It’s a family restaurant, and they were making us feel like we were guests in their home.
I ordered the pork chop, which had the most amazing BBQ sauce I’ve ever tasted, and it was the biggest pork chop I’d ever seen. Everything was perfect.
We were both full before we finished our meals, so we took dessert to go and got the check. They had comp’d our drinks, and even though it was past 10:00, they seemed sorry to see us go. It was a great experience and I’m so glad we got to go.
We had gorgeous views driving into Seattle at 1am, but Emily was asleep and I was driving, so there are no pictures of that, except for the ones in my head. When we got back, Holly had already fallen asleep from her long day of traveling, so we all made our way to bed pretty quickly.
Friday morning, I went back up to the roof and took (what I didn’t know then would be) the last dreary photograph of our trip.
We set out for The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival near Mount Vernon, WA. This was Chris’ idea, as he thought Holly would like it, and he asked if we had time in the itinerary to go. (Gotta love the respect for the itinerary.) We did indeed have time, and it sounded like fun, so off we went to tulip town. It was quite impressive.
I could not even believe these existed:
And look! Hyacinth! At the tulip festival! My favorite!
Yes, in the background of this picture, those are fields filled with tulips:
Our next destination was Snoqualmie Falls, which was wonderful!
Chris braved the bottom-most overlook with me to take this picture. The force of the waterfall meant we were both getting VERY wet. I was delighted, though.
Back in Seattle, we had a little time before Levi’s show, so we spent it looking around the famous Pike Place Market, watching the fish-throwing, smelling the flowers, tasting the fruit…
…listening to old men play street music on a very inappropriate street instrument…
…realizing that there’s really such a thing as a “Gum Wall” (gross)…
…observing Seattle’s unhealthy coffee obsession…
…taking pictures off the dock…
…and sampling cheese curds at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese before picking up dinner.
We headed off to Levi’s show with an address and looking for a yellow door. When we found the place, we had our names checked against the list at the door, and then we walked up three flights of stairs in a building that looked in essence like any downtown office building might. When we reached the top, we found ourselves standing on what appeared to be the back patio of a cute cottage-looking structure atop the building, which was the destination for our show.
Kristen and Carrie Watt, who run Seattle Living Room Shows, greeted us on the patio like old friends reuniting after an absence that had gone far too long. And that theme carried inside, where Levi was greeting guests and entertaining us with travel stories that could only ever happen to him.
An hour before the show, the room was already filling up. Of course, I had no idea at the time of how full it would be at showtime! The space was gorgeous – exactly the kind of place I’d love to live in.
Chris, Holly, and Emily snagged the couch for the four of us while I slipped back outside to talk to the Watt sisters some more, and watch a few more happy arrivals.
I didn’t take very many pictures in the course of the evening, opting instead to just sit back and take it all in. There was a great energy in the room, created by a group of people who shared a mutual love of great music and were really excited to have found it.
I did snap a photo of Carson Henley, opening up the evening with a very svelte voice:
And of course, one of Levi wow-ing the crowd:
I couldn’t begin to capture the magic of that room with simple words, but I’ll opt instead to name my two favorite parts of Levi’s set. One: he played Good Medicine, which will always hold a special place in my heart, as it’s the first of his songs I ever heard, and when those first notes begin, I still feel a little bit of that great awakening that took place in my soul when I heard them for the very first time. Additionally, the audience was so entranced, hanging on his every word, that their reactions to understanding the weight of the lyrics was actually audible – involuntary vocalizations of awe. Two: He played a brand new song! (I really love it when he does that.) He’d just finished writing it that day, and once again, he proved that he just keeps getting better. I used the video feature on my camera to record the song (though the picture is of the ceiling), and I have listened to it about 100 times since. I even transcribed it, so I could read through it. Yep. It’s that good. I cried when he played it, and then I looked at Emily, and she was weeping, too. Listening to the playback so many times, I definitely heard sniffles that didn’t belong to either of us. Beautiful song.
Bonus: I got my vinyl copy of “The Letters of Dr. Kurt Gödel,” and a physical copy of “I Am Only a Tiny Noise.” Once I get a record player, his album will be the first one I spin.
Saturday morning, we woke up to a gorgeous day – perfect for our plan to drive way up the mountain to Hurricane Ridge.
Here is a picture of Emily and Baby Graham sporting their Levi Weaver attire before we set out for the day’s adventure:
And of the Space Needle, which had gotten a face lift since our arrival – painted “gold” (the locals were grumbling because it was orange) for the 50th anniversary.
We had to take the ferry to the other side of Puget Sound to get where we needed to go, so after driving the car on board, we were free to go up to the top deck and look around. The views were lovely and the wind was strong. One of the most impressive sights is of Mount Rainier, which is over 50 miles outside of Seattle, but is so massive that it looks like part of the Seattle Skyline. I love how ghostly it looks.
The open water:
The Olympic Mountains, where we were headed:
The drive up the mountain was a big part of the experience. I was grateful Chris was driving, so I could look around the whole time, and take pictures out of the sunroof. We also stopped at the first overlook on the way up, just as a preview:
Those orange sticks you see are there so that the road crews know where the edge of the road is when they’re pushing snow. We estimated them to be about 15 feet tall.
We made it to the top! This looks like one of those “king of the world” type photos:
And then he fell through the soft snow:
People were skiing!
Avalanche? Where? Oh. OK. I’ll stay back.
The group obliged my need for more pictures by letting me stop at some more of the overlooks as we drove back down the mountain.
I thought it was cool to see the layers of snow built up along the road:
And then we were back on ferry, Seattle-bound. Mount Rainier was more visible in the afternoon light.
Also, our ferry wasn’t as full as it had been in the morning.
We ventured out on foot for dinner at Serious Pie. While we waited, Emily made our mark on the pig outside the door. She inscribed “_____ was here” for all four of us, using the nicknames we’d given each other that day: Preggers, Grandma Dori, Outlook, and Hiccup. I’ll let you figure out who is who. Hint: Emily is pregnant.
Sunday was our last day there, but since our flight didn’t leave until 10:00pm, it was as if we had another full day. We started it with breakfast at Voula’s Offshore Café, where the portions were so big that I think I had food for three left on my plate when I was positively stuffed – and I don’t go lightly on the breakfast food!
With our bellies full, we set out toward Gas Works Park, as it was less than 2 miles from the café. The park was in Chris’ original list of suggestions of places to see, but with so many choices, it didn’t rank high on my list. I’m extremely grateful that with the enticement of a tasty diner breakfast, Chris said that would pair well with a trip to this park. It was beautiful – a perfect place to spend a sunny Sunday in Seattle.
We walked around for quite a while, marveling at kids flying kites, and adults sun-tanning, biking, and skateboarding around the park. We watched several sea planes taking off from downtown Seattle and then flying overhead, to the chorus of excited toddlers bellowing “AIRPLAAAANE!”
When we left the park, we had to do a bit of searching to find The Fremont Troll. Once we found the right place, he was easy to spot, clutching a VW Beetle in one hand and guarding the bridge with one hubcap eye. There was a steady stream of people coming to climb on him and take funny pictures. It took a while to get a clear shot of him.
Some of the other folks checking out the troll were delighted by Emily’s shirt. So, this is to commemorate the moment.
Unfortunately, the troll put a hex on Chris’ car, because when we got back in, it wouldn’t start. We could rule a few problems out, but that wasn’t getting us very far. We got Chris on the phone for troubleshooting and ruled out a few more, and then it finally started, but was shaky and running hot. We were going to try to get it back, but even with the heat on, the temperature was rising, and after sputtering up a hill, I saw a spot to pull it over and seized the opportunity. Chris came to rescue us in his Jeep, and Emily’s AAA came to rescue the G. I go from zero to meltdown pretty fast when car trouble is involved, so it was extremely helpful that Chris was so cool-headed. He found the problem (the fans had stopped running) and said he had long ago resolved that whenever you have a car, you’re going to have a problem at some point. I’d have liked that to not be when I was driving it, but all things considered, it worked out pretty well. It didn’t break down on top of the mountain the day before, Chris was able to come get us in his secondary vehicle, no one got stranded alone, Emily’s AAA covered all but maybe $3 of the towing bill, and Chris has an extended warranty.
After the car was on its way to the shop, Chris dropped Emily and I off at the Space Needle so we could keep on track with our tourist-ing. We didn’t have to wait long to get to the top, and of course, the views were great:
The area around the Space Needle (Seattle Center) was pretty neat as well. We walked around and took some photos before utilizing the monorail to get to Westlake Park.
Westlake Park was interesting to Emily and I for different reasons. For Emily, there was Sephora. For me, there was a fountain and painted blue trees.
And a very large game of chess:
Walking to catch the bus for dinner, we passed by some snake handlers. Well, I passed by the snake handlers. Emily said, “Ooooh, snakes! Can I hold one?” That was a somewhat disturbing development in our friendship, but I stood back and snapped some pictures at a safe distance.
No snakes in the other direction:
We re-joined Chris and Holly for dinner at Local 360, which as the name implies, serves dishes created with ingredients that could be found fresh within 360 miles of Seattle. Their menu was a little on the weird side for me, but I appreciated the idea of it, and the attractive waiter who kept bringing me ice and answering all my questions.
We got a candle on our table between dinner and dessert. Don’t Chris and Holly look romantic?
Walking back to the apartment, I saw this sign and had to stop and take a picture. Seattle folks get really excited about the sun shining. I hardly saw it do anything BUT shine, but I hear it’s rare.
Alas, we’d reached the end of our visit, and we had to finish packing up so we could get to the airport. I was pretty much packed, so I had time for one last trip up to the roof to catch the sun going down.
Right about the time the sun disappeared, my camera declared, “Memory Card Full,” and I knew it was time to go home.