(WARNING: Lots of pictures.)
I woke up early this morning, and had a decent continental breakfast in the hotel garden. They ran out of orange juice concentrate but I had apple juice instead. The setting was enjoyable and I chatted with some other guests. I set out early, about 8h40, for my downtown visit day. My first stop was Pike Place Market, of course, a Seattle institution that defines much of the way Seattleites live. But first, just out of my hotel, is the home of the second basketball team of the city, the Sonics, as well as the major show venue of Seattle: the Key Arena.
There is no real way to describe in words the rows of flower stalls, fine bakeries, fish and fresh produce stalls. The original Starbucks always has a line-up outside. You can also find a variety of hand-make jewels, bags, clothes and beauty products as well as the more touristy t-shirt-and-photos-0f-Seattle ones.
There is a neat little park with next to the market; amazing views on the Sound and a popular tourist spot.
After the market I headed down the (damn steep) hill to the waterfront, where you can find the Seattle Aquarium. The aquarium was nice, but disappointing after having been to the Vancouver one. It does not have the amount of species, nor the interesting exhibits and displays of VanAqua. It’s also way smaller; they only keep a few birds and some smaller mammals like otters. The nice thing about it is that it is situated directly on the waterfront, adding another dimension to the visit when you go outside to see the mammals. I also chose the day when, seemingly, half the elementary schools of Seattle decided to drop their noisy kids in the aquarium for a while.
My stay at the aquarium was short; it killed about half an hour. I couldn’t stand the noisy kids everywhere so I went quickly just to go faster than them. When I left I walked south along the waterfront to reach University street and the Waterfront Stairs, which to me looked like a way to make the ordeal of walking back up to 1st Avenue pretty, but still an ordeal. My next destination was the Seattle Art Museum.
The big hammering man is the icon of the SAM, and its modern and post-modern collection was particularly rich. I was really impressed by it, especially in a museum that is rather young (compared to the Met in New York). But Seattle is a notoriously artsy city, and contemporary artists are heavily represented in its permanent exhibit. The European collection is small and unimportant, and they have a bit of early American, but I know little about American art so I didn’t get much of it.
The collection has an early Monet, a set of Matisse sketches, a de Koening, a Pollock and a Rothko, most notably. I happened to walk into a presentation of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony which is held in another work of art titled One Time/One Place. I sat down when it was halfway through but it was still interesting to watch. The downtown part of the museum holds a little bit of the Asian collection, but the rest is at another location which I will tomorrow. An interesting piece was titled Some/One, and it was a mantle of military dog tags set on a mannequin frame and going down in a circle far on the floor. I was definitely impressed by the collection, and recommend it to anyone interested in modern, post-modern and contemporary art especially.
Then I went to a pub to have lunch before going to the retail core for shopping. The shopping wasn’t especially impressive; Nordstrom is just another Holt Renfrew. Most of the stores we get in Canada, and I don’t really like the J. Crew style, so I ended up just stopping by Victoria’s Secret. They even have a Lululemon, although it’s hidden in a corner of a rather quiet mall. Walking around downtown to Pioneer Square I saw some interesting architecture, mostly Beaux-Arts. On the contemporary side of architecture there is the famous Seattle Public Library, which in my opinion deserves an entry in Janson’s History of Art. There was also the Smith Tower, in its time the 4th highest skyscraper in the world and the first in the Pacific Northwest.
Pioneer Square doesn’t have anything really special, well at least to me. It’s the “Old Port” of Seattle, and even though bigger than Vancouver’s Gastown, it still doesn’t dethrone Montréal as far as feeling of history goes. However in this part of downtown you find the Elliot Bay Book Company, which every single bookstore in the world should emulate. Antique hardwood floors, bookshelves to the ceiling, three big rooms and three levels. I was awed. If I was into used books I’d spend my weekends there, just browsing the thousands of used titles in the back of the store.
Walking back to my hotel I saw some more stairs and a funny add. I was so tired and my feet really hurt, but I made it back by walking. Had I known the bus tunnel was free I would have at least taken it up to Westlake Place… Oh well. Calories well spent.
Back to my hotel, took it easy and watched TV while deciding what I would do the day after. My legs and feet really, really hurt.