Friday, May 7, 2010

Seattle's Best

We tried to cram absolutely everything humanly possible in our whirlwind four-day trip to Seattle, which also included lots of Deadliest Catch and CatchCon activities. Thank goodness the Edgewater is located so close to everywhere we wanted to be!

The main lack of planning on our part was to research the fact that everything from the Edgewater is STRAIGHT UP HILL! Seventy-one steps from the water front to the street above! We were adventurous at first, then decided to take the ELEVATOR on subsequent trips!

Only a few blocks away is the famous Pike Place Market, and what a wonderful place that is! More on our visit there later. After the boats finally arrived on Friday, we made the trip up the hill to the Market for lunch, then caught the free bus to Pioneer Square for the Seattle Underground Tour.
First I want to mention what an incredible example it is of ingenuity and enterpreunership. It resulted from one man, Bill Speidel's, determination to save an historic area of Seattle, and in so doing created a fascinating component of the local tourism industry. Our tour was absolutely packed, necessitating three tour guides - imagine how many dollars these tourists dropped into the local economy! Everyone from the tour guides to bartenders and foodservers to bus drivers and hotel staff benefits from another reason to visit Seattle.
So now on to the tour. First, do you know the origin of the term "Skid Row?" Listen up, because now you'll be able to say that you do. This is it. This hill, which now has about an 18% grade originally had a 40+% grade. The hills above were heavily wooded, and the ships moored at the waterfront needed the old-growth timbers. The most efficient way to get the trees to the waterfront was to "skid" them down the hill.

Later this area, inhabited largely by mariners and loggers became of a slightly (an extreme understatement) unsavory character. The types of businesses that flourished catering to their needs were cheap rooming houses, saloons, gambling rooms, opium dens and prostitutes (or seamstresses as they were known locally), so naturally there were a lot of behaviors that upstanding citizens didn't approve of. The term Skid Row became a euphamism for this type of area.

The street is today named Yesler Way. It seems that the founding fathers of Seattle didn't exercise as much forethought as would have been prudent in planning out a city. First, they settled on an area uninhabited by the local population of Native Americans, giving no thought to the fact that maybe there was a reason the natives didn't live here.

Today the original elevation of the business district of Seattle surround Pioneer Square sits one level under ground. The original area, sitting nearly at sea level was constantly being inundated by the tide. What started out as a nuisance soon became a serious health concern once Thomas Crapper's invention reached Seattle. The invention of course, is the flush toilet. The sewer pipes ran from the hills above through the Pioneer Square area and dropped the waste into Elliot Bay. The only problem was that at least twice a day the output became the input when the tide rose above the level of the pipes. Peoples toilets became fountains of sewage as the tide pushed the contents back up the pipes.
Probably not welcome at the time, but salvation came in the form of a devastating fire in 1889 which destroyed twenty-five square blocks of the original town. Now the city planners had the opportunity to do it right. Doing it right would take a considerable amount of time however, time that the businessmen of the area didn't feel they had. They rebuilt immediately on the same elevation as the existing development, except this time they built of brick and stone.
However, they also built a second "first floor" on the second floor. As time went on, canals were constructed over all the streets. Water was used to flush mud from the hills above through the canals. when these canals were finally filled with dirt (years later), they were paved. The sidewalks were at the original street level, while the streets were one full story above. Eventually the sidewalks were covered over so the businesses could then be entered via the second floor, now the first.

In order to make it possible to still conduct business on the original street level, skylights were installed to bring light to the under world. Once again, given the character of the men inhabiting the area, it's not hard to imagine the kinds of businesses that thrived under ground. Just like before, saloons, opium dens, gambling rooms and of course, seamstresses (you would have thought they needed more light to work - apparently not!). Before long the formerly thriving passageways were abandoned and forgotten, until Bill Speidel campaigned to save this gem of Seattle history.
Even if you don't know about the underground tour, you are walking right on top of it on the sidewalks of Pioneer Square.

I hope I haven't given too much away about the tour. My goal is to pique your interest enough that you want to make the trip yourself. You won't be disappointed. Sunday morning after waking to a quiet waterfront with the Wizard and Northwestern gone, we packed up, stored our luggage with the concierge and made the trek up the hill - again taking the elevator!

Pike Place Market is a gathering place for all of Seattle, including those taking full advantage of their First Amendment rights. These protesters were drawing attention to Chinese genocide.
The two Seattle sports arenas, Qwest and Safeco fields are clearly visible from the Market.
On the advice of the desk clerk from the Edgewater, we chose The Crumpet Shop for breakfast. Not only was the breakfast wonderful, but the food preparers were amazing. The young man in the foreground never wrote ANYTHING down. He just kept on working as new people came in and placed their order. When he was done with a meal he would call out the order and move on to making the next one. The customers came and picked up their food, and if two people had happened to order the same item, he knew just who the food had been prepared for. I'm sure at one time he had a dozen or more orders stacked in his head, yet he never made a single mistake.
A delicious egg, ham and pepper Crumpet.
A window into how they make all of those delicious Crumpets.
Pike Place market is truely an eclectic attraction. Of course there is the marketplace, but then there are the characters. Street entertainers of every kind abound on every street corner. We heard banjos...
whatever kind of instrument this is (it was great)...
a guy specializing in playing the guitar upside down (he could also do the hula hoop, spin a book in one hand while simultaneously solving a rubiks cube one-handed with the other, all the while maintaining a spirited monologue)...
and an accordian. And these were only the ones we took pictures of. It is customary to drop a donation in their cases for the privilege of taking a picture, and we soon would have been broke if we took pictures of them all.
Of course then there is the market. The fresh produce, seafood, handcrafts and all manner of unusual items were simply unbelievable. We only carried on our luggage, and were maxed out so we weren't able to buy anything to take with is, but I would have like to have tried that chocolate Linguine among many other things!
And the flowers!
Block after block of amazing flowers! We spent some talking to the vendors and found that the flowers are all raised locally. As the different varieties bloom, thats what you'll find in the market.
Pretty much the same holds true for the produce vendors, although some did admit to importing varieties they don't raise or ones that aren't mature yet locally. After all, they need to maintain a constant supply to keep their customers. We ate enough samples to know that all were of the highest quality. I had to take pictures of these Morels, as I haven't had time to look for any locally - these might be all I see this year.
Of course, what makes the market is the Fish market. This isn't THE fish market, but it was so picturesque I just had to show it. The live tanks were ingenious.
This is part of the original fish market, the ones with the famous fish-throwing tradition.
And there you have it - we're almost done with our visit to Seattle. You'll only have to wade through one more post to finish the trip up.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

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