A fishy kind of theatre was underway in the Pacific Northwest. Dungeness Crabs, royalty amongst the crustacean species in the American West Coast, stared back at us with beady black eyes, their fiery orange claws beckoning us from the carts they lay upon. Freshly caught fish of all shapes and sizes glistened from the sidelines. Beneath placards announcing the arrival of the Copper River Salmon, rubber overall-clad fishmongers tossed robust fish at each other and chanted in tandem. A crowd had gathered for this piscine entertainment.
We were at Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. Armed with cups of iconic Original Starbucks coffee from the first store of the chain (some things have got to be scratched off the bucket list), my husband and I were witnessing the famous Pike Place phenomenon one early morning in 2015. The business model of these energetic fish-sellers has inspired case studies at universities, schools and a book-documentary called ‘FISH! Philosophy’.
With its warren of hundreds of shops selling everything fresh from cherries and chocolate to tea picked by monkeys somewhere in China, Pike Place is the throbbing soul of Seattle.
Now, we were caught in the midst of one of the worst heat waves the city had seen. Gasping for chilled beer, we traipsed the streets of Seattle’s downtown. Yet we carry a sizeable bag of memories — gaping at the Space Needle; tasting beers at microbreweries; contemplating whether or not to queue up for ‘handheld pies’ at Pike’s Russian bakery, Piroshky Piroshky.
With our love for anything that’s atmospheric, we were caught up in the charming Pioneer Square of Seattle where a saxophonist serenaded us with jazz.
The perfect way to get in touch with the history of Seattle is to set out on Bill Spiedel’s underground tour. We were transported to a time when Seattle did not have its modern-day icons of Microsoft, Nordstrom and Starbucks.
In those days, the news was all about the first settlers of Seattle. They were a certain Denny Party, a group of Americans who arrived in 1851 at the westernmost Alki Point that juts out into the Sound. At place where the settlers would have arrived and surveyed what lay before them, we sat and had some of the best fish & chips we’ve had from a chippery called Spud Fish & Chips, along the waters of the Sound. Across lay the sweeping Cascades.
Back in time, the Denny Party shifted base to Pioneer Square in 1852 and set the plan in motion to raise the city from its original mucky tide flats. A significant change in the fortunes of the city took place with the Great Fire of 1889 that destroyed Seattle’s central district. Subsequently, the Yukon Gold Rush brought in a host of gold-diggers and get this, women were shipped into Seattle to marry its bachelors. And yes, Seattle had its share of powerful madams who ruled the roost.
The eco-friendly, health-conscious and vibrant culture of the Pacific Northwest was introduced to us by my sister-in-law, her husband and two children during a month-long holiday in Washington State’s coastal city of Seattle. During this time, my trivia was culled mostly from our 9-year-old nephew.
One afternoon we went on a cruise that hugged the shores of Lake Washington. There we saw waterfront properties, the stomping ground of billionaires including Bill Gates. But my attention was riveted by the towering presence that hangs over the city’s horizon – the heavily glaciated and ethereal Mount Rainier. This highest mountain of the Cascade ranges also happens to be an active volcano, and is a beacon of beauty. I went with the intent of hiking the volcano’s many trails. I had also hoped to get near a glacier or two but the ghastly heat made me do an about turn.
So there we were sipping on Bloody Marys aboard the boat and keeping a lookout for those fantastical futuristic houses, some of which had funiculars connecting them to the shores of the lake.
For sunset, we headed the posh Sunset Hill quarter in downtown Seattle with its mansions, where we watched the sun go down in a blaze of colours.
The Pacific Northwest
Leaving life in the fast lane behind in downtown, we set off on long drives through the incredibly beautiful countryside of the Northwest. Stretches of evergreens for miles and miles skirted shallow creeks. Native American names popped up very often. Skykomish, Sammamish, … It felt like we were in another world.
Not too far from Seattle are little villages and towns such as Snoqualmie with its beautiful waterfalls, Edmonds, and Snohomish which has been dubbed the ‘antique capital of the Northwest’. The historic town of Snohomish was chock full of the prettiest antique shops, chatty owners and vintage dress shops that set my heart aflutter.
A favourite feature of mine was drive-in espresso booths. Really with the Seattle-ites’ coffee culture, it is unthinkable not to give in. If you are particular about milk, they offer a bunch of different options — hemp, goat and soy to eggnog, almond and rice. Also, try beating this one: The largest mug serves a whopping 1,000ml of coffee.
The coffee jargon had to be taken in stride too. Did I want a wet or dry cappuccino? A ‘wet’ drink, it turned out, has creamier milk. The ‘dry’ drink stays insulated and hot longer with a generous topping of froth.
My coffee-loving genes had no complaints.
There were days when we took the ferry to 19th-century logging towns such as Port Gamble. Time stands still there. We followed it up with an Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive that took us to Sequim (pronounced Skwim), a town at the base of the Olympic Mountains renowned for its lavender farms. There the senses were steeped in the fragrance of lavender. Lavender iced teas and lavender ice cream and what not. Later, we drove high into the Olympic National Park where thick fog swirled about us and it was all so mystical and beautiful. Just like a holiday should be.