Annoyingly, Picasa (the software I use to upload photos etc to my blog) has just started failing on me so now I have to upload everything (full-size via the webform). So it will probably take me most of tomorrow to get up-to-date!
On Sunday, after an offensively early wake-up, I caught the free shuttle to LAX without managing to trip over teh kittehs which were just lying on the steps of the hotel.
The airline had my name down as "Colinjohnmr Field" so unsurprisingly I needed assistance checking in. Hopefully this won't be the case with all my flights, or it might be worth checking in online beforehand!
The flight was on a Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ-200) which was novel and, with the engines being a long way aft, was very quiet indeed. The flight was pretty straightforward and I used the time to write most of the blog updates you benefited from a couple of days ago.
Once I arrived in Seattle, having caught the rail link from SeaTac with another traveller (Ari) who turned out to be coming to the Hostel as well, we discovered that the hostel was literally just across the street from the railway station, which also happens to be Chinatown. So our hostel is the large beige building partly obscured by this traditional Chinese archway...
The hostel itself is incredibly nice, I am in a 4-bed male dorm and each of us has 4 plug sockets next to the bed, a wall fan, and a reading light! Luxury indeed. There's a big TV room and numerous common rooms and a laundry and of course a good continental breakfast. Nothing to complain about then - apart from the location, which isn't hugely central, and in a part of town that I would think twice about venturing into after dark...
Upon checking in, and it being far too early to go up to my room, I immediately went out exploring the city. I had heard that there was a free walking tour around Seattle which comes well recommended to travellers, so I made my way to Pike Place Market (free buses!) and waited around there for the tour.
I have noticed that Seattle does seem to attract even more homeless and begging people than LA and Seattle. Chatting to a local about this later, I discovered that the state of Washington has a lot of welfare programs and I guess that this attracts a lot of people to the area. I was approached numerous times for change, for help, and passed tens and tens of people sat on the floor with their pitiful cardboard signs asking for change or, amusingly on one occasion, pot. At least he was honest. Really, it's not a kindness to give cash to these people but I was surprised that there was just so many of them! I guess they do congregate where the tourists were heading anyway though, one of which was the garden just next to Pike Place Market where I was waiting.
Anyway, I digress. The tour guide turned up soon and was easily recognisable by the sign he carried above his head. With about 9 other travellers, from Canada and Germany and Israel, we set off on the tour, heading first into the Market itself.
Following like Sheep
The first thing we saw was the 'original' Starbucks (as original as it gets, considering that the actual original was a coffee cart, and then the first actual shop burnt down). There was a big queue of people getting their coffee fix from here. I wonder if they know that it's just the same beans as everywhere else? However, next door was an award-winning cheesery which I found much more interesting :-)
We then headed into the market proper, which was set up by a co-op of local farmers when the middlemen started squeezing the price of eggs and fruit. It's been going strong ever since, and is now both a tourist attraction and a very successful market for local produce. Many of the stores (especially outside) are only open at the weekends, when the farmers have the time to come and sell the produce they grew that week.
Something I actually really like about the USA is the prevalence of the 'independent shop'. You would have thought, by the fact that we are being overrun by chain-stores (especially US ones) in the UK like Starbucks, Subway, Currys, Tesco etc, they would be all the more prevalent here. Not the case. There are many more independent shops, like Mike's Lock and Key or Saveway Supermarket or some small local Subs shop, than chain stores and it is refreshing to see. Not sure why small businesses thrive out here while they die in the UK - maybe there is a culture of getting your supplies from a local merchant (a sort of local pride), or maybe the local councils are more hospitable to small and medium enterprises, or maybe the American people are just a bit more entrepreneurial. But it's a good trend and I like it.
So, back to the market. We ventured inside and visited this fish market. In an attempt to try and get world-famous, the guys here put on a bit of a show - when they all start chanting to each other, you know they're going to chuck a fish somewhere into the audience! Where one of their number will catch it and present it to the person who ordered it. Anyway, they seemed to be doing a great trade with fish flying everywhere and clearly their strategy worked. We got to sample some dried fish here too.
Next we went into lower Pike Place, where there is an independent cinema with an infamous 'gum wall' where thousands of people have deposited their gum. Originally the city insisted that they scrape the wall, but now it's a tourist attraction, so they've stopped nagging them....
(Voted the 2nd most unhygienic attraction in the USA)
We explored some other shops down Post Alley (where the horses, belonging to those visiting PPM, were tied up) and some of the other key sites in Downtown Seattle. Our guide enjoyed mentioning the steam system wherever he could - so you can imagine my pleasure when we found actual steam rising up from some manhole covers!
Free steam for everyone!!
The tour eventually led us to the seafront, where we were treated to some free samples of Chowder at Ivar's Salmon. We also had a bucket of chips, which we could eat if we wanted, but seemed explicitly put there for the feeding of the seagulls which was strongly encouraged! I managed to feed a couple.
What do you call a Seagull flying over the bay? A Bagel, of course.
Our tour took us past the aquarium and the newly erected ferris wheel. All the cool cities have these (see the post on Santa Monica pier). So here's the Seattle skyline at the end of the tour:
And, of course, its most famous piece of architecture:
After enjoying the sites down at the seafront, I wandered back to the hotel before Ari showed me where to find the massive Asian supermarket. You can get almost any kind of Asian cuisine here, plus all the ingredients you can handle. I settled on some proper sweet and sour sauce and some hot and sour soup for the day after. Then I went back and ate the food. And eventually went to bed. You don't need to know all this stuff!!!