Stage 3 - The Unites States of America (yee ha!)

Trip Start May 06, 2010
Trip End Dec 17, 2010

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Where I stayed
IYH Hostel, The American Hotel, Chinatown

Flag of United States  , Washington
Friday, July 2, 2010

I have a tour starting in San Francisco on the 1st August and it took less time than expected to cross Canada so I making the most of the opportunity and seeing more of America than I had ever expected to.  With that in mind, I wanted to be in America for Independence Day as I imagined there would be a spectacular atmosphere.  I booked the Greyhound to Seattle to arrive on the 3rd July.  This did however mean that I didn't have time to take in Victoria in Canada as it takes a long time to get there and for a a day trip, I decided it wasn't really worth spending the money. 

The journey to Seattle obviously goes through Customs and it took forever!  We arrived in Seattle over 2 hours late as we had spent so much time at border control.  For some reason they took exception to two of the passengers so we had to wait until it was clear whether or not they were being allowed to enter before we could resume our ongoing journey.  They both got through in the end so not sure what it was all about?

To my surprise I actually found the USA customs people a lot less scary than the Canadian officials.  You get asked the usual questions and get your fingerprints taken and then have to pay $6 for the priviledge of entering the United States!  I'm not sure why you have to submit the ESTA form because you have to re submit the same information all over again at the border. I guess it allows them to check you out prior to arrival and flag you on the system if they think you're dodgy so you can be interrogated if necessary!  Thankfully they decided I wasn't worth bothering with so I got through with no hassles at all.

The landscape on crossing the border isn't vastly different to the outskirts of Vancouver so I kept forgetting I was in America.  After an hour or so on the bus I saw my first flag flying with the Stars and Stripes and then I had a wow, I'm in America moment and got excited!

The first views on entering Seattle city from the bus are lovely.  You get a panoramic view of the skyscrapers and the Space Needle all huddled together on the edge of the water and in the evening burnt orange sunlight, it is beautiful.  My hostel was based in Chinatown which was a short drive from the city centre.  The hostel website does have directions to the nearest metro link but they always state go north or south and when you've just arrived somewhere you don't know what direction is which so it isn't very helpful- left or right would be a lot more user friendly!  I got a taxi to the hostel and got ripped off but less so than I would originally have done.  His first price quote was $30 which I told him was far too expensive so he put it down to $15, (which is as good an indication as any that he was on the take!).  I agreed as I wasn't sure how far the hostel was but when we got there it was clear that $7 would have been more appropriate as it wasn't that long a drive.  He certainly didn't get a tip!  Oh well, you live and learn, one to chalk onto the experience board! 

The HI hostel is beautiful, it is much nicer than most B&B's and even some hotels I have stayed in.  Apparently it got quite run down and had a bad reputation a year or so ago so they closed it for refurbishment.  It is now immaculate and they have all mod cons.  No kettles, just those taps which supply boiling water 24/7, microwaves, dishwashers, ice machine(!).  They have excellent cooking facilities, everything you would have at home and the whole kitchen is fitted so it looks lovely.  Some hostels don't even have a functioning tin opener so this place is luxury!  They have a very comfortable TV room and even a study area!!  There are cleaning staff there all day keeping the communal areas tidy and they have a concierge there every morning to give you help and advice on where to visit and how to get there which was brilliant.  Really for a hostel, this place is top notch!  It is also a "dry" hostel, ie no alcohol consumption allowed, which would probably put some people off.  I however appreciated the fact that people weren't shouting and screaming all night and banging doors at all hours so Sleepless in Seattle, this place definately is not!!  I got the best sleep ever here!

My first mission on getting to America was to buy a notebook!  I had got so fed up of extortionate internet charges and not being able to do things I wanted ie my blog, upload photos etc because I couldn't afford the usage fees. I had tried the public library route but most of them also charge or you can only get limited access ie half an hour per day which isn't enough time to do anything meaningful.   I knew the notebook would pay for itself in a very short space of time so I spent my first day trying to find a computer shop. I failed but I had a really good wander around the city and the sun was shining so I had a great day anyway.  Realising that the next day was Independence Day so most places would be shut I asked the hostel staff where I could buy a computer and they directed me to an out of town shopping mall, specifically to a store called Best Buys so I got the bus there that evening.  An hour or so later I was the extremely pleased owner of a HP netbook for $245.  I have realised this is a very good price as most local people thought I would have paid $300 or more for it and were really shocked that I got it for the price I did.  Even better!

My first experience of Seattle city and I really liked it.  It is actually similar to Vancouver in many ways; similar buildings and a lot of water around.  The atmosphere is much more chilled out though.  All the street-side bars and cafe's are buzzing all day and and seemed to be full of people that you would normally expect to see working (ie people in their thirties and forties) so I did wonder who was working and how people could afford it all?!  I suppose it makes perfect sense with such a cafe culture that Seattle is the home of the original Starbucks!  I didn't go to see it as I'm really not a coffee person so it wasn't very meaningful to me!

There are lots of shopping centres in the main area which are all immaculate. In fact, the whole city is very clean and tidy.  I went to Pike Place Market in the city centre.  Pike Place is one of the cities major tourist attractions, if not, the main attraction. It is situted on 1st Avenue, sitting on the waterfront and is one of the oldest markets in America.  It opened in 1907 and has been trading every day ever since.  It is fairly large and full of florists, fruit & veg stalls, fish stalls, clothes, jewellery, antiques and arts and crafts stores.  There are also a number of cafe's and bakeries so plenty of opportunity to find something nice to eat.  The cafes reflect the multicultral make up of the city so there is food from many different countries available.   They had a massive pasta stall there.  There were row upon row of different types of pasta.  I had no idea you get so many kinds!  Mind you some of them were sacriledge ie chocolate flavoured!  I'm sure Italians would turn in their graves if they saw that!  They did have tasters bit I didn't try it.  I once lived with a couple of Italians, (ciao Cristiana & Andrea, bacci!) and it was then that I learnt what food was really about.  Experiencing first hand their love of food and in particular Andrea's mums cooking, I have loved Italian food ever since so as a wannabe Italian I felt chocolate pasta was too gimmickey, I couldn't go there! 

There are also a number of cafes and restaurants facing the market and there are many street performers there so all in all a buzzing place with plenty to see.  A people watchers paradise!

I then took a wander along the waterfront area (Puget Sound).  There has been a major redevelopment project going on in Seattle due to the Olympic Games so the area has a lot of attractions and walks and a man made beach running along the coast line.  The walk away from the city centre takes you along to a large harbour with massive cruise ships moored there and it is very pretty.  The views over to the other parts of Seattle are also very attractive and I took some time out and sat on park bench taking in the views, listening to the water and just relaxing.

On my return to the city centre I visited the Olympic Sculpture Park.  I have to say it didn't do anything for me!  There is an area of scrub with lots of wild flowers which was very attractive and then there are some random sculptures thrown in.  One of them is a washing machine- hmmm????  As I said previously, me and Modern Art don't gel!  You can see the Space Needle from the Sculpture Park so I walked through the city to view it closer.  It is a nice building although there is another tower in the city, Colombia Tower, which our concierge told us was higher and offered better views of the city skyline.  I didn't go up the needle.  Unless touristy things really are a one off then I'm not doing them as I can't afford it!  There are a couple of museums at the foot of tower which are very interestingly shaped buildings.  Truly modern architecture and they were really nice to view.  One of them housed the Museum of Sound and I can't remember what the other one was!  I headed back toward the hostel as I had been walking for hours and had a wander through 2nd-7th Avenue on my return home.

4th July- Independence Day.  Total let down!  Nothing happened, I want a refund!!!  I met a guy in the hostel the night before who is English but lives in Vancouver.  We went out together during the day trying to find the action and drew a blank.  There was nothing going on at all!  I was very shocked, this is America for God sake and it was an opportunity for all good Americans to demonstrate their patriotism.  I thought there would be a party on very street!!  All we were aware of was that there was fireworks late at night but they were miles away so we didn't bother going so all in all a huge disappointment.  I think had I been in Washington DC or Philadelphia I would have been treated to a lot of festivities but Seattle was obviously not the place to be!  Maybe another case of the recession biting?  I was really glad Canada Day was a lot more hip and happening or I would have been really disappointed!

On our tour of Seattle we went to the Glass Blowing factory.  As it was Independence Day the factory wasn't operating but the merchandise on display was amazing.  There were some quite huge pieces and they even had kitchen sinks.  You really do wonder how on earth they are constructed.  It would have been nice to see the pieces being made but I have seen it before in Venice, albeit a long time ago, so I didn't feel too short changed!

That day and the following day were pretty miserable weather wise so I didn't do much and I had thousands of photos to upload onto my computer so I spent hours doing that!  I also started to update my blog as I hadn't done it for weeks and it was really behind.

After a couple of days largely indoors I decided to make the most of the returning sun and went out to get some photos of Seattle.  I revisited the places I had walked to a few days earlier and captured them on camera and spent the day waking around absorbing the city atmosphere.

The following day was an absolute scorcher so I took the water taxi across to West Seattle and went to Alki Beach accompanied by my MP3 player and a good book!  The beach is about a 2 mile walk from the taxi drop off but it is a nice walk and well worth the effort, even in the heat!  It was soooo hot.  You couldn't walk on the sand with bare feet or sit directly on it as it was scalding hot.  I have never experienced that before.  A couple of hours later and it was getting near 1pm and it was just too hot to sit around in the sun so I went to grab lunch in a fish & chip shop that I had been told about on the taxi.  It was then I realised how sun burnt I was!  I had cream on but my legs were lobster and my back was scarlet, really, really bad!  I was glad I had moved out of the sun when I did or I would have seriously burnt my back.  (A week later and it has just about stopped peeling and returned to normal, it was sore for days.  Not good when you have to carry a heavy back pack - ow ow ow!!)

Having burnt myself to bits I avoided being out in the sun too much after that!  I actually had to plan my next moves as to where to go to next so I got to see more of California.  I eventually decided to go down to LA and then make my way back up to San Francisco so I could see a lot of the coast.  It took 2 days to get my trip planned. I had a nightmare finding hostels that were (a) available and that (b) I could stay at consecutively.  I only had 1 option for both San Fran and LA as everything was really booked up with only the odd night here and there available but nothing over 3 nights in one sitting!  It was actually really irritating and quite stressful but I got there in the end!  So I booked my Greyhound Bus and started to look forward to seeing LA.

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