Seattle, Mount Rainier, and Olympic Park

October 11 to 19, 2014

Re-reading this, I was struck by how little I remembered of the Mount Rainier / Olympic Park part of this trip. Only the Seattle activities remain in memory. (Also striking: I was really into exclamation points in 2014. I’ve removed some in editing, but…)

Climb every mountain (and slog through some rain)

We’re just back from a trip to the Seattle area. In retrospect, we ended up giving ourselves too many travel days: the Saturday to fly there and drive to our Inn near Mount Rainier; the Monday to get from Rainier to our Lodge in Olympic Park; the Wednesday to get back to Seattle and check into our hotel there. (Then of course, Sunday we just flew home. Today is the “day off work to catch up on laundry and get used to Eastern time zone” day.)

Then again—and this was our thinking while booking—we’d never been to the Seattle area before, and who knows when we’ll get back? So might as well pack in the sights while there.

And the sights are quite lovely:

Mount Rainier scene
Mount Rainier in the fall

Despite the ominous-looking sky in the photo, the weather was actually quite good for Mount Rainier in October; we didn’t get rained or snowed on at all during our park-visiting day. We did two walks and one big hike there.

The first walk was a very short one to get a better view of this rather cool mountain waterfall:

Waterfall in Mount Rainier

Our big hike was further in the park. Before leaving, Jean had noted that he wanted to do the Skyline Trail (5.4 mile loop, 1700 foot elevation) and it proved hard to deter him from that, even though the park guide warned us we wouldn’t get any views on top, due to the fog that day. But the guide did give us some good advice about starting out on the side that provided a more gradual ascent. That was where we got some of the best views.

Skyline trail
Hike up the Skyline Trail

At the top, it was not only kind of steep, but it was also snow-covered! Now, the trail quality here was good—it was wide with easy footing—but the snow made it more challenging. It was a bit like walking in sand—sliding underfoot, slower, more tiring.

And indeed, we had no views whatsoever.\
Snow and fog in Mount Rainier

Still, I suppose it was an accomplishment. 😊

On the way back—and the trail eventually became paved—we were surprised how many people there were, mostly starting at the steeper end. Imagine only a minority would actually do the whole loop, however. We only met a few people at the top part, and some later informed us they’d turned back before going too far in the snow.

And our final Rainier walk, after a late lunch, was a flatter one that allowed us to see the big trees of the area. They are definitely quite impressive.

Huge trees
Just a few of the very large, ancient trees of this area

So Monday we were on to Olympic Park, which includes some of the rainiest parts of Washington State (and maybe the whole country). Parts of it get an astonishing 150 inches (380 cm) of rain per year.

So we should not have been too surprised, as we took off for our short hike in the Quinault Rain Forest, that it started to rain. Pretty hard. I was carrying an umbrella, and we were both wearing rain gear, but we didn’t do the full length of trail we might have. We walked for about an hour, covering maybe 4 km.

Lake Quinault Lodge
Lake Quinault Lodge at Washington Park. Not where we stayed, but looked nice, even in the rain.

Arriving at our Lodge, we were greeted by some locals.

Deer in forest
Deer near Lake Crescent Lodge

Our Lodge was in a less rainy part of the park, and were quite relieved to see the sky clearing on Tuesday. In fact, it turned into just a beautiful day there, with some sunshine all day long, though not that warm.

Dock at lodge
Morning view from our Lodge, with the day already clearing

The hikes near the Lake Crescent Lodge seemed to be either really short, or fairly arduous. So we selected one of the lesser arduous ones, the Storm King Trail. This was described as “steep switchbacks up the mountain for 2000 feet.” And that was about accurate.

But at least this day afforded us some views once we got up there.

View of mountain range
View from the top of Mount Storm King

The trail itself was another fairly wide, easy walking one (just steady uphill!), but at the very top it became narrower and my vertigo kicked in. Jean peered up a bit and concluded the final part looked just too steep, so we called it a day there and headed back down.

Droopy tree in forest
Interesting trees in the forest there

Unlike the busy Rainier trail, here we met just one other person on the trail until we were back down on flat, where we encountered a school group.

That seemed like enough hiking for this day, so after lunch we drove to the Sol Duc Hot Springs spa. It was a model of simplicity compared with the baths of Budapest, where I had to pre-study all the procedures before attempting an entry. Here we just paid our entry fee and they pointed out to some pools down the hall, past change rooms.

I had assumed they would have towels we could use, but they did not, so we had to buy one. And also unlike the fairly elaborate system of pools in Budapest, here they just had four near each other, of varying temperatures, all somewhat smelling of sulfur. (The pools are man-made but the water is natural hot spring.) So we just sat for a while in the hot, then slightly hotter one, and back and forth. Probably was helpful in reducing muscle soreness.

We slept really well on all our nights in the two parks.

Running around Seattle, seeing stuff

While we did take some time to stop and eat, meet with friends, read, and relax while in Seattle, this post will focus on the activities we managed to pack in.

The initial weather forecast for Seattle wasn’t that great, but after we got there (in the rain), made it to our hotel, had a snack, and were ready to head to explore, it had become very nice and sunny. Our hotel was right by the famous Space Needle, so we decided to take the opportunity to go up that right away, while the weather was cooperative.

While at, we also bought a City Pass, which gave us access to four other sights along with Needle, saving you about half the cost in entry fees, if you visit them all.

You do get some nice views of Seattle from the Space Needle:

High view of Seattle

But overall, the experience is a bit underwhelming. They have some interactive displays of other Seattle sites up there, so we virtually checked out the Pike Street Market area, but overall there isn’t that much to do. I think the CN Tower and Empire State Building were somehow more impressive.

Though it must be said that the Space Needle involves much less rigmarole getting up there (at least in October)!

We had some time before dinner, so we also walked far enough to get an actual view of the Pike Street Market, and some of the waterfront. Seattle looked very pretty:

Seattle Ferris wheel view

Thursday was supposed to be cloudy, but Thursday didn’t get the memo, apparently, and instead was beautiful and sunny all day. So we focused on outdoor activities.

We started at the Olympic Sculpture Park. It wasn’t quite what we had pictured in our minds, which was that it would be a traditional park, only with city art installed in it. It had more concrete barriers and paths than we were expecting, and it wasn’t that large.

Olympic Sculpture Park

But it did contain some rather interesting art:

Face sculpture

And a very cool fountain:

Fountain in park

Our City Pass included a one-hour Seattle Harbor cruise, so we walked to the waterfront next to get tickets for that. We had lunch in the Pike Street market area, and on the way to the restaurant we happened by the famous bubblegum wall (where that walls are full of designs in gum). It’s both interesting and gross.

The cruise was quite informative. We got a bit of a history of the pier and of some of the buildings viewed from shore, like the hotel where people could fish outside their window, and the office building that met the city height limits without losing any floors, by giving all tenants low ceilings. And we learned about some of the tourist sites, like Space Needle, built for a World’s Fair, and the Ferris wheel, a more recent addition.

Sailboat in Seattle harbour
Seattle skyline

We got a closeup view of the boat loading operations, whose cranes look a bit mysterious from the shore:

Cranes near boat

We also got an excellent view of Mount Rainier—unlike when we were actually there!

Close-up of me
Mount Rainier in the background [This wouldn’t have been my photo selection for this, but Jean did the selecting…]

We also saw some sea lions. And the tour guide talked about the Seattle weather, noting that the annual amount of rain there is less than many other American cities—such as Honolulu! But it’s just that those cities tend to get heavy rainfalls during a short season, whereas Seattle has a very long season of light rain.

Once off the boat, we walked to the Pioneer District, which is the oldest part of Seattle. We noticed that it was more run down than the other parts of the city we’d been in, with more homeless and litter. It was fine during the day, but I wouldn’t want to be there at night.

While there, however, we did take the Underground Tour, which was fascinating! (Though low on pictures.) It was funny, because on the way there, I was asking Jean, “Which city was it that they raised the whole level of by adding dirt, or something?” And he looked at me like I had two heads, as he had never heard of such a thing.

Well, Seattle is that city! It’s still a pretty hilly place, but back in the day, it was even more hilly, and the lowlands had problems with flooding and issues with a lot of stuff—like raw sewage—flowing down and pooling where people were trying to live. So when the whole of downtown Seattle burnt down, they decided to tackle this problem by moving some earth down off the top of the hills, making those less steep, and raising the lowlands, actually pushing the water line back.

Sounds a bit crazy, but was actually a good idea that worked well. Only problem is that to complete the whole project was to take a good 10 years. And Seattle businessmen did not feel they could wait that long to rebuild.

So they didn’t. They rebuilt immediately, but with the intent that their second floor would eventually be the main floor, and that the first floor would be underground.

On the Underground tour, apart from learning about all this (and more), you tour the old sidewalks and lower levels of buildings, still located underneath the modern sidewalks and main doorways above.

It’s a very interesting tour, all day presented with a lot of humor—highly recommended if you ever visit Seattle.

This had made for a lot of walking in a day, so on the way back we took the light rail, then the monorail—an almost absurdly short ride, but it’s cool. (We later learned it was built for the World Fair, and just never expanded from that.) And on the way back to our hotel, we found a new path through Space Needle Park, featuring another neat fountain:

Fancy fountain and space needle

Friday offered up some of that famous Seattle light rain we’d been hearing about, so we decided it would be museum day.

We started at the Pacific Science Center (City Pass!), whose special exhibit was the science behind Ripley’s Believe or Not. We were surprised to see a Government of Ontario logo on the way in; turns out the exhibit was developed at Science North in Sudbury! It was a good exhibit—fun and interesting.

And we visited the butterfly room.

One of these types of butterflies landed on me and refused to depart. It had to be shooed away by an attendant.

Our City Pass had included an IMAX movie, so we saw Sharks 3D. It was well done, really, presenting the efforts to better understand great white sharks and encourage their protection.

The next stop was the Chihuly Museum (where we also had lunch). Chihuly does incredibly beautiful work in glass. Some of it was featured in indoor galleries, other pieces outside in a garden.

Elaborate Chihuly scupture
Floating glass art flowers

Our final museum du jour was the Seattle Aquarium. (This is a true research aquarium—no dolphins doing tricks here.) While not the most impressive aquarium we’ve ever visited—it was a bit small—we did enjoy seeing the tropical fish, their good collection of sea birds, and the various types of otters. You’ve got to love otters! It was also interesting to learn that animals here aren’t necessarily stuck for life; where possible, they get released and replaced with new ones (who are later released, too).

Clown fish

Rainy Saturday morning, we polished off our City Pass with a visit to the EMP (experimental music projects) museum. As predicted in advance, I found it much more interesting than Jean, so we have very few photos!

It had special exhibits on:

  • Horror movies
  • Icons of science fiction
  • Jimi Hendrix in London
  • Nirvana: Bringing punk to the masses
  • The art of the music video
Mr Pointy display
Mr Pointy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer – part of the horror movie exhibit, and our only photo from the EMP

Unlike Jean, I found something of interest in each exhibit, though the music video one was probably my favorite, Interesting to see some of the more recent innovations in that art form (interactive, 3D, remixing, fan versions)—along with the more familiar history—as I really don’t keep up with music videos anymore. I also spent a bit of time in the room where you experiment with the keyboards (and many other instruments), learning how to play along with famous songs and such. Fun, though I didn’t have much time.

The afternoon cleared up, so we visited the Capitol Hill neighborhood. It’s characterized by a lot of interesting shops—bookstore / cafe that specializes in technical and science books (from science fiction to heavy computer programming); music stores highlighting all types of music, not just the most popular—that sort of thing. There’s also a Jimi Hendrix statue there, and Broadway St. features some dance steps on the side walk.

(But I don’t have pictures to prove any of that…)

I think we got a lot in, including a lot of walking! Despite all that, we missed a few items on the list:

  • Doing a wine tasting and bringing some Washington or Oregon wine home (weren’t in the mood when we walked by the place)
  • Visiting the Museum of Flight (too far; closer to the airport)
  • Visiting the Seattle Museum of Art (ran out of time)
  • Taking a culinary tour (just going to restaurants won out)

I guess there’s always next time…

Sleeping in Seattle

Near Mount Rainier, we stayed at the Copper Creek Inn, which provides an unusual “do it yourself” experience in hospitality. You pay the cost upfront—not unknown in online booking online—but then they send you an access code and directions for getting into your room. That is, you never check in: You get there and let yourself into the building, then into the room. The all-important wifi password is posted on the wall, and any other documentation you might need is also in the room.

No one makes your bed or gives you fresh towels for the second day, either (though apparently, if we had stayed a third day, that would have happened). And when you’re ready to leave—you guessed it—you don’t check out; you just leave.

It was odd, but fine. The room was really cute, with a seating area, apart from the bedroom, and even a small hot tub. It also had some nice touches like an iPod dock.

And, it was right above a restaurant. The placed focused on more “homey” food like potatoes and pie, but on our first supper there, we concluded that everything was quite good. Our waitress was also great. We were hemming and hawing over which Washington wine to try, so she brought a tasting portion of all five house reds! (All quite decent, and we settled on a blend.) We also found the prices really reasonable—$90 for two fish entrees, which came with soup or salad, two pieces of pie, and the bottle of wine.

So except for one lunch in the park cafeteria, we ate all our Rainier meals there—breakfast and dinner.

Lake Crescent Lodge, at Olympic Park, had a beautiful setting:

View of lake

But we almost had crisis there, because we didn’t have wifi in our room! We knew about the no TV or phones (staff there communicated via walkie-talkie), but no wifi? That’s crazy! (I was also out of cell phone range, so that was no help.)

Fortunately, we found that there was wifi at the main lodge. Not as convenient, but enough to feed the addiction. 😊

Our room at Lake Crescent featured cool-looking wood furniture, but was overall more barren than at Copper Creek. They were very environmentally focused: It was the first hotel room I’d ever seen with a compost along with a recycle bin. Possibly related, the shower water temperature was somewhat… Uneven. But it was otherwise a comfortable place to stay.

And the food at their restaurants, my friends… That was good stuff!

Meals there admittedly tended to be more than $90 for dinner, but it was a more gourmet approach than Copper Creek, as per this fancy plate presentation:

Heirloom tomatoes with sorbet, arugula, and toasts

And the items generally tasted as good as they looked. Particular standouts were their roasted Brussel sprouts and boar bacon appetizer, the crab Hollandaise breakfast (Jean had that), the pictured Heirloom tomato appetizer, and the seared scallops with lemon foam:

Scallops in lemon foam

We ate all our meals at that restaurant, while in the park.

In Seattle itself we stayed at The Maxwell Hotel, a very modern-looking place with a bright colour scheme. Our room was quite spacious and had all the amenities one could want, including open wifi (though that was a little flaky at times).

They also had pretty friendly staff, offered free cupcakes daily (tiny but good), and the food at the bar restaurant was considerably better than we’d expected it to be.

But that was the only meal we ate there. We were in Seattle! Too many other options to explore.

  • Breakfast daily was at a cafe three blocks down, that the hotel staff recommended. I don’t seem to have noted its name, but it was very good, offering a lot of crepes.
  • Local 360 had a menu focused on ingredients from within 100 miles (or something like that). It was also the first restaurant I’d been to that wouldn’t seat us until the other two members of our party arrived, Hmm. And, the print on its menu was too small for me to read by candlelight. Grumble.
    But on the plus side, food was good—weirdly, I started with a cheese plate while Jean had salad—and the waiter was very helpful with wine suggestions (given I couldn’t read the menu myself!).
  • Black Bottle was an excellent tapas restaurant. The highlight were the clams in garlic sauce, rivaling those we’d had in Spain, but no complaints about any dishes, which included deep-fried olives, raw oysters, and lemon tart on a lavender crust. On arrival, we feared the place would be too noisy, but they sat us in back where the volume was quite reasonable.
  • The Chihuly Museum had a good restaurant in it, the Collection Cafe, which was quite convenient for lunch on our “running around to museums” day in Seattle. With museum entry, you got a free small appetizer or dessert with your meal.
  • La Vita e Bella was a very enjoyable Italian restaurant, with generous serving sizes and very well-prepared food, Jean had a rigatoni with chanterelle mushrooms in white wine sauce, which was very delicious. I couldn’t resist having fish again, so went with their fresh halibut special.
  • Cafe Presse, in the Capitol Hill area, effectively revived memories of our trips to France with its menu of rillettesfromage, and olives marinés. (Our French pronunciation on ordering threw the waiter off a bit, though! Menu items really were in French, but with English descriptions.) We ordered only appetizers, but still ended up with too much food. All good, though. And French wine.

Making several of these meals more special was that we had another couple joining us! (And we even got a delicious, home-cooked brunch out of the deal.)

E. and I were matched as “pen pals” (remember those?) many years ago, when we were both around 13, via some teen magazine. I had quite a few pen pals back in those pre-email / Facebook days, and some of those correspondences endured for years. But only this one has endured to this day.

This was the first time we’d spent any amount of time together “in person”, filling in those details of real life that you’re never going to write each other about. And, it was the first opportunity to get to know E.’s husband in his own words, not hers. It was great. Jean commented after the first meeting how comfortable it all was. By the end of the trip, he was musing that spending time with them might have been his favorite activity of all.

There is a magic in long-distance friendships...

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