I know it’s possible to find our own way around a new city but the easiest way to get a quick overview of the place we are visiting is to go on a city tour. That’s what we did yesterday.
We started with a visit to the ‘Space Needle’. This is Seattle’s version of the Eiffel Tower. It (along with a still existing short length of monorail) was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. In its day, it would have have been a revolutionary structure. It’s still an imposing sight as it towers over the harbour skyline, forming a beacon on the city skyline.
The Space Needle stands 184 metres high and was built to withstand very high winds. Its observation deck is 160 metres above the ground and it has a rotating restaurant, that on a clear day (not our luck) you can see across to the Olympic and Cascade mountains and Mt Rainier. During our visit here, the days have been mild but a little too cloudy to be able to see such extensive views. There are probably better views to now be had from some of the newer city skyscrapers but this is an iconic structure and a unique symbol of Seattle.
The downtown area of Seattle has a number of interesting buildings that contrast with the old brick structures of low rise buildings that were built after the great fire of 1889. The fire was started by an over-enthusiastic apprentice who was heating glue over a fire.The glue boiled over, caught fire, and spread around the building and eventually to other buildings that were all built out of timber. Ultimately, the fire destroyed much of the city. The 29 storey Rainer Tower caught my eye as one of the new buildings that had some clever architectural character.
The famous Pike Street Market was well worth a visit. It opened in 1906 as a place where local farmers could sell their produce. It now gets more than 10 million visitors annually. It has several levels with a variety of shops that includes fishmongers, fruit shops and a quirky variety of stores ranging from antique dealers, comic book and collectible sellers to florists selling beautiful flowers at very reasonable prices. Its many restaurants include the famous Athenian Restaurant where we had a delicious seafood lunch and a glass of wine. We liked it because it gave us a break from the very large fried meals coated with melted cheese that are so common in every-day American restaurants and cafes.
Below the market is the famous Seattle Gum Wall. This is a brick wall covered in used chewing gum and is now a local landmark. Parts of the wall are covered in gum 30 centimetres thick and up to 4 metres high. This rather revolting collection of gum is next to the door to the box office for the Market Theatre. The gum deposits began around 1993 when patrons of the theatre stuck gum to the wall and placed coins in the gum blobs. Theatre workers initially scraped the gum away, but eventually gave up after market officials deemed the gum wall a tourist attraction. In 2015, the gum wall received a total steam clean but gum began to be re-added to the wall within a few hours. Here’s how much there is today!
Across the road from the market is the original Starbucks Cafe. They haven’t done too well in Australia as our taste in coffee is more European with a dislike for the sweeter flavours that Starbucks offers. However, it is an international business that started at this store – even before they began to sell coffee. Over time, Starbucks mermaid logo has been modernised and is now a bit less risqué than the original one that is displayed on the window and awning of this store.
We had a brief stop at Starbucks roasting house. It’s an impressive building with a restaurant and coffee house around a central roasting facility. I don’t know how much of an area this facility serves, but they roast 2.25 tonnes of coffee each day. My friend Paul Beraldo has a very impressive automatic roasting and packaging operation in Melbourne, but this one s much bigger. Its large copper vats are ver impressive.
Continuing around the Seattle area, we saw the Ballard Locks that are a complex of locks at the west end of Salmon Bay, where the Washington Ship Canal connects the city’s fresh water lakes and waterways with Puget Sound. I understand that they carry more boat traffic than any other lock system in the USA. They are an impressive piece of engineering. Before out tour finished, we stopped at a park where we had nice view across to the city. It showed just how much the Space Needle stands out as part of the city skyline.