We have just spent five days in a very hot and steamy Seattle. Prior to visiting we were anticipating rain. All the blogs say this is a rainy place to be. But the city, like the UK right now is basking in big sun.
Ofo bikes are OK!
We of course travelled around the City mostly on bikes and against my better judgement signed up to the local bike sharing system ‘ofo’. (Note: ‘ofo’ for those who don’t know are those ‘leave anywhere’ yellow bikes that litter street corners in London or alternatively find themselves dumped in canals, bins, back alleys…..but here in Seattle most people appear to be on board with the system and it seems to work pretty well. People leave the bikes in a number of key spaces and there are so many bikes you can pretty much get off and on one when you want. I guess it is able to work partly because of the size of the city and partly because of a smaller number of destinations as compared with London – and no TfL).
That said, we learnt that hiring the bikes does come with a health warning: a need to check the brakes because some local wags seem to think it is rather fun to cut the brakes and hence put every driver at risk of injury or death.
Arriving and staying….
Over our stay we managed to visit and experience every one of Seattle’s central neighbourhoods and have some good tales to tell. However before getting into the detail a couple of introductory points:
1. How to approach the City. By ferry from Bainbridge Island. The skyline gradually reveals itself and you get to understand how the City works before you step foot in it.
2. Where to stay. Well for us there is only one answer to this question- on the water. This is a city that revolves around water. Lake Union sits in the middle and provides a unique and stunning setting for the City. Boatyards and marinas (commercial and leisure) surround the lake and all manner of boat craft sit on the water, including to our delight a range of floating streets and walkways fronted by an eclectic array of houseboats and more permanent floating houses.
Given this water focus the only place to stay was a houseboat and so we found ‘Turnip,’ a small but perfectly formed wooden boat on the west side of the lake, tucked in between some bigger more fancier houseboats and cruisers.
On arrival we loaded our bikes on board, took a shower and cracked open a couple of local beers and got down to researching where to go for the evening. We were geographically sitting very close to Queen Anne neighbourhood so I started to look for a local restaurant in the ‘hood’. After a bit of looking we selected: ‘ How to Cook A Wolf’ , well how could we not, what a name (more about that in a minute).
A good place to eat in Queen Anne….
Google maps told us that the restaurant was 1.5km away and so of we went. Now another very important point to note about Seattle is that it is very, very hilly. We rose up from sea level to plus 100metres in what seemed a very small distance, we climbed and climbed.
Eventually we get to our restaurant and managed to get a late table. After a bit of discussion with our waitress and the two people at the table next to us we learn about the owner of this restaurant, a local legend: Ethan Stowell, who owns several of the City’s restaurants.
We then learnt about the restaurant name. Apparently named after a wartime cookbook by M.F.K Fisher who took simple ingredients and transformed them into imaginative and tasty dishes. The book was written to inspire those daunted by wartime shortages to make more out of less and its content has in turn inspired Ethan and the restaurant’s simple Italian dishes.
After a bit of chat about the book the food arrived and yup a taste sensation. Sharing plates. Not a good start for us. As Ruth says: an excuse for lazy chefs to throw food at you in a random and somewhat unsatisfactory order. BUT not here. We ordered and the food arrived in perfect sequence, comprising a pickled cucumber and fennel salad, followed by chicken liver pate with cherries, followed by burrata with wild berry jam, followed a roasted beetroot salad and walnuts, followed by a meaty pasta. So all sounds pretty straightforward. BUT the herbs and spices and food combining produced a taste sensation that we gobbled up.
The walk home was not anywhere as stressful as walking to the restaurant. Although we did get lost and ended up scrambling up a motorway bank and climbing over a wall.
Fremont: A brewery, a fish restaurant and an unusual park….
We now come to day 2 and its off to neighbourhood number 2, Fremont which is famous for its troll under the motorway. Tedious and I can’t be bothered to tell you about it. Of far more interest is its brewery and coffee shops and the home of our second legend restaurant RockSalt. This is the place for fish where we sampled our first Pacific oysters. Very different to our own, more subtle and creamy and not such a slap in the face with the ocean…..but very yummy. We then ate an array of other fishes cooked in a variety of different ways. We also loved the space: a simple industrial loft space…perfect!
Then second highlight of this district the Fremont brewery and most definitely the place to go on a Friday night after work to sup a variety of beers and pretzels ’til the sun goes down.
Final highlight, Gas Works Park. The site of an old gas works that has been allowed to rot and rust and forms a very striking silhouette adjacent to Lake Union and a great place to view the City from.
Ruth’s last day….
Day three. A bit of of a discombobulating day as we had to try and find a bike box for Ruth so that she could transport her bike back home. So it was a bit of a tour round Seattle’s bike shops to find what we needed. Not much to say here apart from the shops with the most helpful and lovely staff: Wright Bothers in Fremont and Gregg’s in Green Lake. The shop with the most unhelpful, arrogant, pain in the arse staff: Velo in downtown Seattle. The shop might look mighty fine and contain some flash kit but I was saddened by the lack of help given by one particular member of staff to Ruth.
After this rather stressful event the only solution was a swim, a kayak around the lake and another fine dinner. As it was Ruth’s last night she got to choose and requested a pizza to die for…..We found the Ballard Pizza Company and yes the pizza was truly awesome, washed down of course by some fine Seattle IPA and lager and a bit of Washington State Cab. Sav. We found out later that said pizza place was owned by that man Ethan again. He seems to be able to put his hand to all food types.
Then sadly it was time to say good bye to Ruth. She left in a rather large SUV early on Sunday morning. A great couple of weeks had been spent and I take a moment to express how much I will miss her in emojis (❤️😘😢👩❤️👩)
Downtown buildings and Pike Street market….
After she had gone and feeling rather bereft and lonesome it was time to get on the bike and explore downtown. This time the objective was to take in all that is new and shiny in Seattle’s architecture. From our amblings we enjoyed the older buildings/ warehouses around Pioneer Square and of the new City buildings: the library by OMA and the Rainier Tower by Minoru Yamasaki.
Seattle is, however booming and is about to be transformed. Downtown is currently one big building site and there are apparently another ten towers to be built. Looking at the images it would appear Seattle is having a major architecture-off and some new weird and wonderful forms will take there place on the skyline.
The latter part of Sunday was spent Pike Street market. Part of us wanted to give this site a miss as it was just another food market. But it is very impressive, much bigger than Borough Market and much more varied. BUT, note to self don’t go on a Sunday it was rammed. The fish market is particularly amazing: super size calms and prawns and massive Alaskan salmon. We zoomed through and took in most things and then strolled back through neighbourhood number four, Belltown.
Another great restaurant: The Walrus and the Carpenter….
Another swim to cool down followed and then to another amazing local restaurant with an unusual name. This time the Walrus and Carpenter and another super local chef: Renee Erickson
Located just in Ballard in an old warehouse this is a great spot and another delicious food experience. We began with a drink in the next door bar- Barnacle, owned by the same restaurant group. Then moved into the main restaurant. Another cool simple bright loft space with yellow and white chairs ( a detail, but they made an impression!). Top dish: clams, bacon and sweetcorn.
Yoga, books and granola….
This then brings us to our final day and Claire and I decided to visit our final neighbourhood: Capitol Hill. We got up early and joined a drop in Yoga Class at Eight Limbs. A perfect Monday morning class in a lovely space, surprisingly leafy with street trees overlooking Pike Street. This was followed by a legend breakfast in the Wandering Goose. (Note: After much searching this spot delivered the best espresso, the best granola, yoghurt and fruit and the best muffins. Everyone else around was tucking into eggs, grits, etc and these looked very good too…..so would recommend this place).
Then we spent the rest of the morning in Elliot’s bookshop, selecting a book each followed by a trip to Pike Street Market to pick up some food for dinner on the boat. A quiet evening was spent packing up the bikes and then early to bed.
Up early and off….
The next day we got up at 5.30 and left our boat and Seattle.
So Seattle: In summary a great place to spend time, eat great seafood, ride bikes safely ( a great network of cycle lanes) and finally a very beautiful city to walk around – although like any city, it has its share of depravation and those who are clearly struggling. But something we hadn’t expected, and seems to stand out – every garden and public space supports an array of lush and well maintained colourful plants and flowers….the City and its population appear to be really into their own gardens and the planting of their public realm and in return for this interest the plants themselves seem to thrive in the environment.
So in short we loved SEATTLE!