We were staying with family in the Portland area and fortunately were able to borrow a vehicle to make a drive north to Washington State for a week mini-break. Three hours drive and we were passing through the city of Aberdeen. As you pass the city line the welcome sign reads, “Welcome to Aberdeen. Come As You Are”, a fitting tribute to Aberdeen’s most famous past resident, Kurt Cobain. Driving through Aberdeen we found ourselves once more linking with Highway 101, some 1,300 miles north of where we originally started on this Highway in San Diego. Two hours further and we got our first sights of Olympic National Forest, lush green rain forests and Redwood trees encompassing deep canyons and tall mountains reaching towards the clouds. This forest area encompasses Olympic National Park, a pre-historic land of beauty and variety. Exploration can take you from breathtaking mountain vistas with meadows of wildflowers, to colourful ocean tide pools. Nestled in the valleys are some of the largest remnants of ancient forests left in the country as well as over 60 miles of mist covered coastline.
Olympic National Park is also the setting for the incredibly terrible Twilight Saga, and many of the scenes from the trilogy were filmed in the area. As I was in the company of a vampire loving female, whose birthday happened to fall on the weekend we were in Washington State, it meant only one thing. Twilight Tour. I won’t go into too many details but this meant driving around the town of Forks to see locations used in the movies, seeing a truck that belonged to Bella, eating vampire themed burgers, taking a Twilight quiz, shiftily taking snaps outside Bella Swan’s house, and walking along a number of the beaches surrounding the small coastal town of La Push. Despite the cringe factor I have to admit the scenery was nothing short of beautiful.
Other highlights of the Olympic National Park area included Lake Crescent, nestled in the northern foothills of the Olympic Mountains. The pristine waters of this deep, glacially carved lake make it an ideal destination for those in search of natural beauty. The brilliant blue waters and exceptional clarity, caused by a lack of nitrogen in the water which inhibits the growth of algae.
As well as the Hoe Rain Forest. Throughout winter season, rain falls frequently here, contributing to a yearly total of 140 – 170 inches of precipitation. The result is a lush, green canopy of both coniferous and deciduous species. Mosses and ferns that blanket the surfaces add another dimension to the enchantment of the rainforest.
After experiencing the many faces of Olympic National Park we headed east to the coastal seaport city of Seattle. Situated on a narrow isthmus between Puget Sound (an inlet of the Pacific Ocean) and Lake Washington, and around 100 miles south of the border of Canada. Seattle is an awesome place, where you will find some of the best seafood and coffee in America. First on the agenda was a visit to the famous Pike Place Market. Opened in 1907, Pike Place is one of the oldest continuously operated public farmers’ markets in the United States. Freshly caught, local fish and shellfish are the major draw, as well as a diversity of fresh fruit and vegetable producers. There’s no denying the giant lobster tails and local Puget Sound oysters are some of the best you’ll come across, although prices seem high here for tourists, maybe that’s not the case for the in-the-know locals though. Still a joy to wander around and sample Washington’s finest produce.
Just outside of Pike Place Market is where it all began for Starbucks. In 1971 life started for this humble coffee bean roasters and retailer, before huge expansion into the global company we recognise today. The original location still bares the vintage brown logo sporting an image of a twin-tailed mermaid, or siren as she’s known in Greek mythology. The logo was streamlined in 1992 to the more familiar green mermaid, apparently due to controversy over the siren’s provocative bare breasts.
Another ‘interesting’ landmark in this area of the city is Market Theatre Gum Wall, a brick alleyway wall now covered in used chewing gum. Established improv theatre company, Unexpected Productions, began leasing the building in 1991. Soon after, a patron waiting in the ticket line to see “Theatresports”, a popular competition improv comedy show (still running today), stuck a piece of chewed gum to the wall and topping it with a penny. Others followed suit and by the end of 1995, the wall was covered with coin-topped chewed gum offering. One day, someone in need of money took all the coins, but left the gum. And to this day the idea stuck, literally. Creators of the gum wall have taken their time, spelling out their name or their significant other’s name along the wall. Others have posted their hometown or their home country, and a few have even put up messages of hope and peace. Seattle residents are known to use the gum wall in a variety of ways, even as an unusual backdrop for wedding photos, something the theatre staff at least once a month. Disgusting, but kind of cool in a weird way. Although mostly just disgusting.
Lunch came recommended by Patrick McMurray of Starfish Oyster Bed and Grill in Toronto. His book “Consider The Oyster: A Shucker’s Field Guide” as well as a back and forth Twitter conversations brought us to Elliott’s Oyster House, located on Pier 56 of Seattle’s waterfront. The oysters at Elliott’s come directly from the cold, pure waters of the Pacific Northwest region. All are cultivated and harvested in certified, sustainable growing areas. Elliott’s is known for serving the freshest oysters in Washington, through its long-standing relationships with local growers. In fact the extensive oyster menu is updated twice daily and includes over 30 varieties, from the buttery Olympia to the bold European Flat. We chose to sit at the mighty 21-foot long oyster bar to witness the lunch oysters being shucked first hand. Happy Hour meant shucker’s choice oysters on the half shell for a dollar, and weren’t we glad the choice for today was local favourite Pickering Passage from South Sound, Washington. I love these oysters and would describe the eating experience beginning with a mild ocean saltines, followed by creamy sweetness, and finishing with the fruity aftertaste common to Pacific Coast oysters. Elliott’s oysters come with a scoop of frozen mignonette, a tangy sorbet of shallots and champagne, which is perfect accompaniment to the rich oysters. All washed down with a glass of Pinot Noir or pint of house-brewed amber ale, you’ll be sure to be in oyster heaven.
Cupcake Royale was also mentioned to us as an essential stop when in Seattle and despite us not feeling a hankering for a cake I rarely turn down the opportunity to sample home-made ice cream. Flavours are heavily inspired by local, season produce. When we visited choices included; Oregon Hill Strawberry (featuring local Oregon Hill strawberries), Washington Hazelnut Brittle with Salted Ganache (chunks of house made salted ganache and hazelnut brittle) and Triple Vanilla (Tahitian vanilla beans, vanilla bean sugar and Singing Dog Vanilla from Eugene Oregon). Although I went for Stumptown Coffee with Dark Chocolate Ribbon (using Portland favourite Stumptown Coffee), where as Lucy chose Burnt Caramel with Sea Salt (using Yakima smoked sea salt). In short, ice cream crack of the highest order.
Such heavy amounts of food left us brimming on the edge of a food coma, so we decided to break up our eating with a visit to the trendy Capitol Hill district. Known as a bastion of musical culture in Seattle, and the neighbourhood most closely associated with the grunge scene from the early 1990s. It’s therefore not surprising that while wondering these streets we stumbled upon a bronze statue of guitar genius Jimi Hendrix. Seattle’s favourite son rocks out eternally in this sculpture by local artist Daryl Smith, showing Jimi on his knees wailing on his guitar. While in Capitol Hill we also made a trip to Lake View Cemetery to pay our respects to the late Bruce Lee and son Brandon, whose graves lay side by side atop a tranquil hill overlooking the city.
If you ever find yourself in the Capitol Hill area be sure to make a trip to Volunteer Park, especially to see the sun set over the Space Needle and downtown Seattle. The accessible Volunteer Park Water Tower is not to be missed. Ascend the winding stairs over three floors and reach the top where you will encounter a cage like structure and barred windows that yield wonderful 360 degrees views of the city below you, and to the east you will even be able to make out Lake Washington in the distance. The tower itself is not particularly aesthetically pleasing but the view once you get to the top is beautiful. Best of all, it’s free, which makes it more worthwhile than paying to wait in line with all the other tourists heading up the famous Space Needle.
With the days earlier eating digested our attention once again turned to food. Poppy, located on Capitol Hill’s East Broadway draws inspiration from thali style small plates, using seasonal ingredients with exotic spicing to masterful effect. The thali of the day included oyster with spiced beurre blanc, tempura salmon with harissa aioli, sichuan peppercorn stuffed egg and avocado walnut spread all served with an in-house made nigella and poppy naan. Each bite size component was well thought-out, seasoned perfectly and made enjoyable eating while sipping on a couple of expertly mixed cocktails (buffalo trace bourbon, bonal and clear creek apple bitters), something reminiscent to an Old Fashion.
Seattle is a wonderful city. We found it to have a depth of culture and person rarely found across the United States, while staying true to its sense of belonging in this quite corner of the country. The food and drink on offer here is particularly wonderful and showcases the many talented chefs that have found a home in Seattle, using only the freshest, locally grown and reared produce, as well as the plentiful seafood and shellfish thriving in this area of the Pacific Coast. I would recommend a trip to the city that stakes claim to the perfect brew, the birth of grunge and everyone’s second favourite fictional radio host, Fraser Crane. Second of course to our very own Alan Partridge.