Feeling splendid in Seattle
By Patrick Michael
Friday, May 25, 2012

Walking through Canada's largest city is the best way to drink in the sights and sounds —but nearby Niagara Falls is far more likely to take your breath away

FOR YEARS, I, like many other tourists from outside the US, laboured under the misconception that it rains in Seattle for the better part of the year.

A whirlwind trip to windy Seattle, courtesy Emirates airline, changed my perception of this ‘coffee capital of the world’ where the weather is, by turns, windy, cloudy and prone to light showers with the sun daring to peep out on some days.

It was my lucky day. There so much to see, so much to do and so little time to take it all in. No wonder you are always sleepless in Seattle!

We took the bus route for a quick zip around city with stops at all the right places, including one where you can see the hardest working sculpture in the city: the 48-feet tall, 26,000 pound metal Hammering Man hammering in slow motion outside the Seattle Art Museum and two fragrance-free chocolate making factories.

But our first place of call was the famous Pike’s Place, the heart and soul of downtown Seattle. No matter how many times you visit this quaint farmers’ market that bustles with life, you just can’t get enough of it.

You can spend hours here browsing through the artefact shops that line the streets, alleyways and walkways or have a steaming cuppa from the rather rundown first Starbucks coffee house, grab a chair and watch the world go by while listening to the street musicians strumming their pain with their fingers.

Seattle offers something for everybody. If you 
are the restless kind of tourist who wants to take in the sights without wasting a moment, the city abounds in it: the inspiring Boeing Museum of Flight, the Children’s Museum, and the Experience Music Project/Sci-Fi Museums, among others.

Then, there is the not-to-be-missed Space Needle at the Seattle Center, a 605-feet tower that offers stunning views of the city skyline and clear views of the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Elliott Bay and the islands surrounding the place.

Once there, you can also spend a lazy hour or so over a leisurely lunch at the SkyCity rotating restaurant and shop for gifts 500 feet up in the air.

Seattle is a café-lover’s paradise and you could just spend an entire 
day occupying a prime seat at one of its many cafés, reading a book, 
sipping an espresso or even apple cider which they serve up during cold winters, and simply watch the rain come down silently outside.

There’s another other thing I loved about the 
city: it has the most number of bookstores I’ve 
ever seen in any US city and, unlike the large bookstore chains, these are quaint indie stores where friendly staff will welcome you with a smile and guide you readily.

Seattle has a rich tradition of indie music so try and attend one of its many musical events. Every time hunger pangs strike or you feel like a quick drink, head for one of its many restaurants and bars that serve up an innovative mix of cocktails and glo-cal cuisine. Don’t miss a visit to the South Lake Union, the stunning new urban development project catalysed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen 
that has transformed a shabby industrial locality into a swank new urban village with elegant boutiques and galleries.

With a clear six hours to spare, we also took in the sights of the towering steel, granite, bronze and fiberglass sculptures at the The Olympic Sculpture Park, a project of the Seattle Art Museum. Few urban cities have the luxury of having works of art of this scale (by renowned artists such as Richard Serra and Alexander Calder) on a waterfront and the icing on the cake is that these installations blend perfectly into a green carpet of old trees, shrubs and a profusion of wild flowers and ferns, set against the splendid backdrop of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound.

If you head to The Locks, you can see the Fish Ladder that provides a way for adult fish to go around the dams or man-made barriers on the journey upstream to their spawning grounds. It’s a neat little trick they’ve come up with to trap salmon. The amount of water — called attraction water — going through the fish ladder is regulated. It flows swiftly and moves in the opposite direction that the fish climb. Because returning salmon instinctively know to swim upstream, the downstream movement of the water attracts fish to the ladder, as does the “smell” of the water from the salmon’s birthplace stream. If you are lucky you may even see the trapped salmon.

No visit to Seattle is 
complete without a trip to Rainier National Park, 
opened in 1899. You’ve got to have a look at its 26 glaciers, 382 lakes and the 63 different species that thrive in its eco-system. 
The national park is a veritable paradise with snowfields, meadows full of wild flowers, towering snow-capped mountains and awe-inspiring views of nature in all its glory.

Pack your hoodie, some light warm clothing and weather-proof boots when you go: you don’t want your day spoilt just because of a few showers. 

Catch me if you can!

THE BEST tourist draw at Pike Place Market is the fishmongers’ stalls.

I love seafood — all the bounty of the ocean when transferred to my plate, after having been cooked to perfection (no matter which cuisine) is always an appetising sight. That said, I’m a bit loathe to touch these scaly creatures of the sea, much less gut or clean them.

But it all changed a few weeks ago in Seattle, the home of corporate stalwarts such as Boeing and Starbucks.

Lying as it does on the north-west Pacific coast, its seafood offering is magnificent. And I had a glimpse of the thriving fishmonger business when we visited Pike’s Place in downtown Seattle.

A word about Pike Place Market: founded in 1907, it is the oldest continually operating farmers’ market in the US and offers an abundance of fish and other seafood including salmon, the famous Dungeness crab, shrimps and a variety of other fish.

A quaint section of town, Pike Place Market is one of Seattle’s top tourist attraction and draws about 10 million visitors annually.

So naturally, I endeavoured to contribute to that statistic and was keen to find out just what it was about Pike Place that drew people by the droves. I had heard — and read — about the fish throwing but wasn’t quite sure what to expect or indeed what it meant. I didn’t know then, but this expedition would challenge my aversion to touching dead fish.

As we entered Pike’s Place, which houses the Farmers’ Market, I couldn’t but help being drawn by a crowd around a largish fish shop that had neat piles of fish and baskets of crustaceans loaded around the store. About five lively 
men were in charge of the shop and kept yelling something unintelligible every time someone bought their wares.

The guy manning the store on the outside would hold up the selected fish, holler and then throw it in one sweeping arc to his buddy at the counter who would catch it as expertly as Jhonty Rhodes! To my complete surprise, the throwing of the fish was the actual reason that attracted visitors because they were encouraged to participate in this throwing ritual.

There I was standing around clicking away furiously when one of the guys yelled out to me and asked whether I would like to participate in this game.

He held up this fish (I’ve no idea what it was), but it was about 15-inches long. There was no way I was going to touch, much less hold that cold, scaly thing looking at me with its big, flat and dead eyes!

My wife, who had just volunteered to display her fish catching skills, raised an eyebrow. That raised eyebrow, I have learnt over the years, could mean anything. ‘Scepticism’, ‘annoyance’, ‘disagreement’, ‘sarcasm’ but in this case, I read it correctly as ‘challenge’. Well, there was no way I could now let that challenge pass and suffer her smirks for the rest of the trip.

I reluctantly — but bravely — agreed. The fishmonger demonstrated how I should stand, the way I should position my hands to catch the fish that he would throw to me — over a distance of about six to seven feet over the heads of the bystanders behind the counter on the inside of the store where I would be standing.

It looked easy enough — what’s the big deal in catching a fish?

I practised the stance a couple of times, self-conscious under the gaze of at least 30-40 bystanders some of whom were brandishing cameras ready to catch the action in whichever way it panned out.

I was given an apron to protect my T-shirt. Then I heard the guy on the outside of the shop hold up the fish and holler loud and clear. I braced myself, suddenly thinking that this may not be so easy after all. What if I dropped the fish (as I had seen two previous ‘performers’ do)?

As the fish came sailing over in a perfect arc, I waited for it to come across. It all seemed like a long-drawn out film vignette in slow motion but it must have taken less than five seconds!

The fish landed in my hands and then I could feel it slipping from my grasp… but my reflexes must have reacted fast enough for me to dig my fingers into the side of the fish thus preventing it from falling.

It was when I heard the cheering. Hooray! Giving the fish to the shopkeeper, I threw up my hands in victory after which I realised that my hands had a certain aqua slime on them and were smelling ... well, a bit fishy. But in that heady moment, I did not care at all!

My victory was short-lived. I returned to Dubai and I’m now the official household buyer and cleaner of fish. You will find me every now and then on a Friday morning in the Karama fish market.

Top-notch chowder

ON A CRISP chilly day there’s nothing like a steaming cup of chowder to warm you up.

The award-winning Pike Place Chowder near Post Alley and Pine Street in Seattle is where you should head to when hunger strikes.

It’s a quaint, no-frills, no table service joint about the size of two decent sized bedrooms and almost always packed with residents and tourists digging into the most delicious, clam chowder. They say, “it is the best in the whole darn country.” I’ll vouch for that.

There are varieties of chowder to pick from. There’s New England clam chowder, a smoked salmon version, a seafood bisque beaten in tomato-basil cream, a broth chowder that features crab and bay shrimp and even a vegan one done with corn and chilies and wild mushrooms.

The size of the helpings is proportionate to the size of of your appetite and the chowder is served in a bowl, a cup or a hollowed-out sourdough depending on how hungry you are and on how much you want to shell out.

There’s nothing else on the menu here. Just chowder. You stand in the deli line, pick your chowder and grab a table and chair outside — if you are lucky to get one! Then just dig in. It’s heavenly.  Don’t miss out on this. Even San Francisco Bay chowder comes nowhere close to this.

Getting there

  • Emirates has a daily direct flight to Dubai to Seattle.
  • Visit:

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