Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Ringway to Sea-Tac.

My alarm went off at 0220hrs. The silliest of silly'o'clocks. Even more so if you consider it was 1820 the previous day at my destination and I was to be awake 27 hours straight. Of course it's easier to drag yourself out of bed for a holiday than it is for work so by 3am I was making small talk with an Iranian taxi driver as we glid through the London streets in the near dead of night.

A cup of tea and a pain au chocolat in Caffe Nero, Heathrow T4, later I was on a KLM flight to Amsterdam. The enormous bump about five minutes after take off scared me but the Brazilian girl next to me looked unperturbed and, more importantly, so did the cabin crew. But it was nice to touch down in Schiphol and take advantage of their free WiFi.

On my Delta flight to Seattle I lucked out. There was a spare seat next to me so I moved over to the window hoping for views of Iceland, Greenland, and Canada.

There's something about flying that seems to make me extra emotional and I must confess I had a little cry reading about a guy whose mum died in a car crash when he was a lad and whose previously loving father became an abusive drunk. The guy followed in his father's footsteps and eventually ended up being jailed for life by the Old Bailey. He'd changed his ways but it sounded like a long and painful 'journey' that had, no doubt, damaged untold numbers of people. All because he thought that was how a 'man' should act. The older I get the more I realise you don't have to be 'hard'. It's OK to be a cissy.

My actual journey was long but not at all painful. Patches of England revealed themselves in the wispy cloud gaps. A river. A stadium. A conurbation. A beautiful patchwork of yellow and green fields. The oblivious crazy paving of olde Albion wishing this traveller adieu. It really does look beautiful from eight miles high.

As we flew over the more rugged, but equally awesome, Western Isles of Scotland the cabin crew offered drinks. I broke the habit of a lifetime and washed my pretzels and peanuts down with a Coke and not a red wine.

There was tortellini'n'turbulence, coffee, crackers'n'cheese. Then an orange coloured mousse. Delta Airlines were spoiling me with FOUR desserts. I assumed, judgementally, that this was just the way Americans ate now. But I was informed by the lady serving I got extra because I'm a 'nice person'. All I'd done is say please and thankyou and occasionally smile but maybe even that level of common courtesy is rare now? Either way I felt a warm glow of pride and you can't take that from me.

I didn't see much of Iceland or Greenland because of cloud cover but the Canadian landscape was dramatic. Barren. Icy. Mountains. Mountains. More mountains.

As we descended the skyline of Seattle, with Mt.Rainier standing snow capped and proud in the distance, I felt a chill of excitement and anticipation shoot up my back. Maybe some altitudinous over emotion, sure, but also genuine joy to be embarking on a new adventure and discovering new places.

I took the Link Light Rail into Seattle proper. I worked those ticket machines like an old hand but I wasn't so bright on the train itself when I missed my stop at Westlake.

Never mind, I could improvise. I got off at the next one. Capitol Hill. A university district with lots of rainbow flags and a statue of Jimi Hendrix. The sun was beating down. It felt good to be alive and even better to be on holiday.

To get my bearings I popped into a Starbucks. Normally a sign of lack of imagination but as they're a Seattle firm I'll cut myself some slack. The service was great. The coffee was crap.

Turned out I wasn't far at all from the First Hill area where I'd booked my airbnb. I walked it. I got confused by the US system of street numbering and bewildered by lock boxes. I asked a man for directions who turned out to be visiting from Idaho.

But I got there. The apartment was lovely. David wasn't there to meet me but his dog Luli was. She was lovely. She followed me round the place as I checked out his vinyl (or vinyls, I'm not fussed) and the views from the balcony.

Earth, Wind, & Fire and James Brown shared space with more classic rock tropes next to the record player and the vista was of Seattle's tallest building. The dark monolithic 73 storey tall Columbia Center. Nearly 1,000 feet high it's the second loftiest edifice this side of the Mississippi.

I freshened up and descended the steep hill down to the waterfront. The weather still glorious. Clapboard huts dished out clams, crabs, oysters, and the like. You could take a boat ride across the Puget Sound. You could ride a ferris wheel. You could just sit and relax.

Predictably I plumped for the latter option and, even more predictably, I found a bar to do it in! Clams - no! Seattle Beer Co? Yes!

I've no idea, but I should've asked, what a 'growler' is so I took a small glass of Red Hook ESB and watched the world go by.

At Kells Irish Bar off the bustling Pike Place Market I chatted briefly to Rory the bartender. To the strains of 'Hills of Connemara' he explained why orcas no longer visit Elliott Bay (the boats play havoc with their echolocation) and recommended crab joints. I didn't have the heart to tell him I was a veggie! He said he came from Belfast but his accent told a different story.

I finally caught up with my friends Gareth and Rebecca in the Alibi Room down the road for a couple of Northern Brewing Lagers. The Rough Guide to The USA describes the Alibi as 'swanky'. That'd not be my preferred adjective but it was absolutely fine and great to catch up and hear of their experiences in Portland and Vancouver.

Wandering around looking for food we came across a plaza with couples dancing to Jolene. It was sweet and not necessarily what you'd imagine from the city that gave us Nirvana, Mudhoney, and The Screaming Trees.

We didn't stay long. We were hungry. We'll hopefully be more imaginative later in the trip but we tried veggiegrill. A vegan fast food chain with possibly the friendliest service I've ever encountered. The food was none too shabby'n'all.

I ate the Santa Fe Crispy Chickin' and washed it down with a Scuttlebutt blonde. It was then time to walk back up that hill.

When I arrived back on Cherry Street both David and Luli had turned in. It wasn't even 10pm Pacific Standard Time but I wasn't far behind them. Tomorrow is a new day and there's exploring to be done.

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