Thursday, 4 August 2011

Taking in a View of the Rainy City

Leaving Portland, Jules and I have our first Amtrak railway experience heading northward toward Seattle. The four-hour trip was comfortable and passed quickly, but as we approached there were signs of rain. This was not at all surprising as people had warned us about the dodgy weather in Seattle, even in the height of summer and it was living up to its original nickname of the ‘Rainy City’. When we arrived it was drizzling, but we could hear the sound of seagulls, hinting of its close proximity to the shoreline. We were immediately surprised by the steepness of the streets that led down to the harbour, with some we estimated to be a forty-five degree angle (they certainly felt like it anyway). Early into our visit we decided to learn more about the city’s history, so we signed up for the popular underground tour. It takes you underneath the city through a series of tunnels that were created after it’s forefathers decided to build up the ground level in the mid 1800’s. We were told that this major engineering project was undertaken as a means of improving the poor sanitation system of the time and there definitely appeared to be an ongoing fixation with toilets. In fact we found Seattle toilets to have one of the most violently flushing systems that we‘ve ever encountered! As we walked through the tunnels, we were actually looking at the ground floor of many of the original 1800’s buildings that had been the setting for a range of colourful activities including gambling and bootlegging. Back on the surface, we found that Seattle had developed into a typical modern American metropolis. Sadly, many homeless people and beggars frequent the streets providing evidence of recent hard times in the US. In contrast, skyscrapers continue to be built and multi-lane freeways weave in and out of the business districts, creating an ever-present traffic echo, while trams also move throughout town as well as a monorail running overhead. This mode of transport was actually built for the 1962 Worlds Fair and leads to the city’s most iconic landmark, The Space Needle. Looking like something straight out of ‘The Jetsons’, it stands sixty storeys tall and still attracts visitors from all over the world to take in the view. The recently built ‘Experimental Music Project’ designed by Frank Gehrey, that stands close by, has further assisted its popularity. Jules and I chose to avoid the queues and head back down town to the less popular, but far more elegant ‘Smith Tower’. One of the original high rise built at the turn of the century, it still has the original Art Deco brass elevators that take you upward to the grand Chinese Room, from where we managed to take in a rare sunny view of the city and harbour from the open air balcony. As we looked out toward the harbour, we could see snow peaked mountains that reminded us that this was our most northerly US pit stop and our gateway to Canada.

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