It's hard to say enough good things about Seattle. You have the verdant scenery of the northwest; the familiar brick buildings and cobblestone streets; the twisting coastline of the Sound. There are the plentiful waterfront walks, the numerous indie eateries, the beautiful University of Washington campus, the hills and the hilltop views. The people are nice and it's not too crowded, even when you head to the more touristy parts of town. Everything seems to be within walking distance — or a short bus ride away, at worst. Beer and coffee are consumed in copious amounts. And all this before the backdrop of the magnificent Mount Reinier, head high in the clouds.
I spent the first half of my stay at the City Hostel, conveniently located downtown, right by the water. The walk from the train station was about two miles, testing my endurance with the 40 pound backpack for the first time. (I managed, albeit slowly.) Inside the hostel, there were three floors full of mostly four-person dorms, plus a basement floor with some extra areas. Each residential floor had its own kitchen and a few individual showers and bathrooms. The ground floor additionally had a small library and a computer lab, and the basement contained a homemade theater, table seating, and a patio. Each room was decorated with murals, and ours was even signed by an artist. Aside from the key cards, there wasn't much newness to the place: the paint was peeling a bit, the furniture was rickety and mismatched, and a variety of random objects were scattered throughout the common areas — books on socialism, disturbingly untuned guitars, out-of-place succulents. Yes, my friends — it was certainly my kind of place!
I spent a lot of my lunch money at the Pike Place Market, which happened to be just a five minute walk away from the hostel. Even though it's considered by some locals to be a tourist trap, it also reportedly has some of the best small eateries in lower Seattle. I really enjoyed all the different chowders at Pike Place Chowder, and I can even say that the New England variety was better than any I've had in Boston or San Francisco. The Le Panier café had some really good pastries and espresso, and Piroshky Piroskhy featured some very authentic Russian-style baked goods. (Though I take issue with the fact that they transliterated their ж-s as "sh"-s!) I also had a great bowl of tomato soup and mac-and-cheese at Beecher's Handmade Cheese while watching industrial machinery churn milk through the observation window.
One of the things I liked most about Pike Place was just how illogical it was. The market is surrounded by roads of different elevations and angles, some of which intersect in surprising ways. You can turn a corner and suddenly find yourself walking through an arch at a sharp downwards incline towards the water, while different side stairs spiral out into yet-undiscovered areas above and below you. There are also small alleys that wind through the surface level buildings, each with their own confusing geography.
Inside the market, it's simply impossible to find anything. Each floor is full of winding passages leading to a variety of shops, expressed with no thought to any order. Just when you think you've found every shop on a floor, you run into a hidden corridor leading to another dozen. If you're looking for a landmark, good luck: when I was meeting up with my friends, they kept telling me that they were by the "bronze pig" and the "neon sign". I later discovered at least three different instances of each.
As a result of this mess, walking through the market was rather delightful. You never knew what you would find around every corner! Sometimes it was a makeshift stand with hand-drawn greeting cards. Other times it was a street musician playing in front of a bunch of eateries. Occasionally, you'd run into a winding line that acted as a recommendation for an otherwise unassuming joint. Vendors were yelling out stuff about caviar while throngs of tourists eagerly snapped their photos. Hand-written signs advertising fresh fish and chowder were plastered all over the walls, alongside bits of sculpture and swaths of murals. Compare this to something like Fisherman's Wharf, where everything is new and orderly and almost feels like an amusement park. However gimmicky the market might be, at least it feels authentic.
The mix of the calming waterfront, several avenues of interesting stores, and the nearby skyline of the financial district made this area a great layman's introduction to Seattle. I'm really glad I got to see the other parts of town, but as a central hub, the City Hostel was right in the middle of the action.
Up next: Alexei goes visiting, and a trip to Fremont!