I’ve been looking forward to this trip for ages. To be honest, Alaska wasn’t ever that far up my travel list until I went to the states on my sabbatical 2 years ago where a very wise tour guide suggested I’d love it. With no direct flights from the U.K. to Alaska, I figured I should transit through somewhere I hadn’t been before (and tick another state off the list, after this trip I’m now at 35 out of 50) and so had a 48 hour stop over in Seattle.
Seattle is around a 9 and a half hour flight from the U.K., flying over Greenland and northern Canada. Some pretty spectacular mountainous scenery on the descent into Seattle, and after a 9.25am departure from Heathrow, I arrived in Seattle at around 11am local time. Super-swift US immigration for once, and then quite a long walk through the airport to the light rail station. Downtown is around a 40 minute ride, but cost only $3 – bargain!!
After checking into my hotel at around 12.30, I caught the end of the Belgium-England group game in the World Cup (American soccer commentary is something else…) I headed out to explore. First stop was the newly opened Sky View at the Columbia Center, the highest viewing platform west of the Mississippi. Despite it being cloudy, obscuring the mountains from view, you do get a pretty good view of Seattle from here.
Afterwards I wandered around the ‘original’ part of Seattle, Pioneer Square and Occidental Square. There’s a really great underground tour you can do (which I did the following day www.undergroundtour.com), basically Seattle was burned to the ground by a fire in 1889 and then rebuilt on top of itself, leaving former shops and sidewalks buried underground.
I also went to the Klondike Gold Rush Museum – really informative about the gold rush and impact on the area and into Alaska, and it’s free! Then I headed to the Great Wheel on the waterfront for a few slow rotations before giving in to the jet lag and heading back to my hotel.
The next day I was up early and after a typically hearty American breakfast of eggs, bacon and roast potatoes, I headed off to the Space Needle. It is walkable from downtown, or you can take the monorail from Westlake Center. Entrance tickets to the Space Needle are timed, and even then it took almost an hour to get to the viewing deck, which was undergoing renovations. To be honest I was very underwhelmed and would recommend doing the Columbia Center Sky View over the Space Needle if you are short on time.
I also went to Chihuly Glass and Gardens, which is right by the Space Needle. This was in all the lists of top 10 things to do in Seattle but I was a bit undecided about it. Turned out to be one of my favourite things in Seattle! Lots of amazing and really cool glass sculptures.
I walked back to downtown via the Olympic Sculpture Park (slightly underwhelming) and a very brief look at Pike Place Market, which I was saving for the following morning before my flight to Anchorage.
In the evening I decided to take in a ball game. Kansas City Royals were playing the Seattle Mariners at the Safeco stadium, which is only a handful of stops on the light rail from downtown. For $30 I got myself a seat in the bleachers. With a hotdog and enormous beer in hand, I settled in to watch. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best game, it took a few innings before the first run was scored. A few spots of rain arrived during the game which meant the roof was closed on the stadium – an outdoor game became an indoor game. The Mariners won comfortably in the end, and I made a swift exit to avoid most of the crowds on my way back to the hotel.
I had a final morning before heading to the airport at lunchtime. I headed off early to Pike Place Market to avoid the crowds. My first stop was the Gum Wall, which is completely covered in chewing gum – very random!!
Pike Place Market is one of the oldest continuously operated markets in the United States. It’s been operating since 1907 which, for a European, is practically yesterday. It’s also houses the site of the ‘original’ Starbucks. I’ve stuck quotation marks around the original because the first Starbucks was at a different location. But this, I guess, is the oldest Starbucks, and retains its original signage.
It also comes with an enormous queue which extended a long way down the street.
After a leisurely wander around the market it was time to gather my bags and head back to the airport and head onwards to Alaska, which will follow in another blog as I’ve gone on a bit here…
There were some other parts of Seattle it would have been good to explore if I had a couple more days, including Fremont and Ballard, and it would have been nice to have seen the mountains behind the clouds. But all in all, Seattle made a great stopover break, and also gave me chance to get over my jet lag!