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Wednesday 10 September 2014

Seattle & Portland Trip

Towards the end of the long Summer break we went on a week long vacation to Seattle and Portland.

I had planned on sharing our trip as we went, but apart from writing a post about the Seattle Gum Wall (simultaneously the grossest and most colourful place I've ever visited!) on the first day I just didn't find the time to write anything else. At the end of each day I was just exhausted. Sometimes vacations are tiring. And the kids were tiring. Oh so tiring!

Now that Summer is over and the big kids are back at school and preschool I feel a little less stressed. A little less exhausted. Time to get back into blogging mode.

So lets go back a few weeks and have a look at that trip of ours because, while it was tiring at times, we did an awful lot of fun stuff and saw some pretty amazing things. Seattle and Portland are great cities and we really loved both of them. Oh, and all that rain and gloom that you hear about in the Pacific Northwest? Well, it must've been on vacation at the same time as us as we didn't see it at all. Not a drop of rain. No grey clouds. Just blue skies and lots of sunshine. I think we lucked out and got the one week of the year when it doesn't rain in Seattle or Portland!

To start off, I thought I'd share a quick look at what we did each day of our vacation. Then I'll share more detailed posts on each of the destinations/activities/tourist attractions. Expect to see a lot more of Seattle and Portland coming soon!

Day 1
We started our day with a morning flight to Seattle from Oakland. We headed straight to the Ace Hotel in the Belltown neighbourhood, our home for the next four days and a great spot close to most tourist destinations. We ate lunch then headed out to nearby Pike Place Market and the Gum Wall. You can see my Gum Wall post here. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the waterfront before getting an early night. We were all exhausted from our early start and we had a big day ahead of us.

Day 2
Such a busy day! We started out with a visit to Pike Place Market again and a morning coffee from the original Starbucks. I've never seen so many people lining up for coffee (and I thought Philz Coffee in Berkeley had queues!). After a detour to buy hats we took in the sights of the markets before heading down to the waterfront for a harbour cruise. Back on dry land we headed underground and learned a little of Seattle's past on the Seattle Underground Tour. Then we stopped for candy apples at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory where the girls insisted that the over sized stuffed bear wearing a polo shirt was really Daddy! Look, there's a family photo below to prove it!
As if all of that wasn't enough we finished the day with a ride on the Seattle Great Wheel.

Day 3
The Space Needle and Seattle Center were the center of our day. We headed to the famed pointy tower after a late breakfast and spent quite some time taking in the views over the city from the top. Back on the ground we checked out the amazing exterior of the nearby EMP Museum (although we didn't go in) and then spent most of the afternoon by the International Fountain, quite possibly the most wonderful fountain I have ever seen. The girls stripped off to singlets and shorts and spent hours playing in the fountain which is something they can't do here in California due to the drought (Berkeley and San Francisco have turned most fountains off in an attempt to make it look like we're conserving water. Don't get me started!). It was Beatles Week at the Seattle Center (in celebration of the 50th anniversary of their visit to Seattle) and the fountain had been programmed to shoot water in time to a soundtrack of various Beatles songs. Much later, when we managed to drag the girls away from the fountain, we hopped on the monorail for a return trip before heading back up to the viewing deck of the Space Needle to view the city lights at night.

Day 4
A much quieter day than the past few. We headed to the neighbourhood of Ballard, home of the Chittenden Locks and Fish Ladder. In the lead up to our trip the girls had been super excited about seeing the Fish Ladder (pretty much locks for the salmon to help them swim up stream). The girls weren't disappointed and loved watching the salmon from the underground viewing area. Mathilde was mesmerised by the fish. Up on the locks we watched small yachts going through the narrow side and tugboats going through the wider side. We stopped at the visitor center where Ava and Lola bought themselves each a plush toy with their lemonade stand money. Ava purchased a sea otter (which she has been saving up for since our visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Lola purchased a plush salmon. As you do!
We enjoyed lunch in a great cafe (where Lola dressed up "tough" with their napkins on her head) then headed to the Olympic Sculpture Garden.

Day 5
Our day on the road. Or on the tracks to be precise. We hopped on the Amtrak Coast Starlight and headed south to Portland. This was our first trip on Amtrak, and I can tell you now that it won't be our last. The views, especially from the observation car, were beautiful. The seats were comfortable, the food in the dining car wasn't bad, we could get up and walk around, and it was all a fun novelty for the kids. Much more relaxing than flying or driving.
We arrived in Portland in the early afternoon. Our first stop after checking into our hotel? Voodoo Doughnut, of course! We took our sickly sweet treats to eat by the riverfront where we found yet more fountains for the girls to play in. Hooray for places that aren't in drought!
We walked along the river before heading back to the hotel for a swim. It was Mathilde's first time in a swimming pool and she seemed to really like it. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take my camera into the hotel's fitness club area so I wasn't able to get any shots of Mathilde enjoying her first swim.
During our stay in Portland we lived (as Lola likes to put it) at the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower which, surprisingly, was the most value for money hotel I could find. We don't usually stay at business hotels when we travel but I'm so glad we did this time as the kids loved the indoor pool.

Day 6
We started the day with a visit to the International Rose Test Garden and neighbouring Japanese Garden. Both lovely places to spend a few hours, especially on a warm sunny day like the one we were blessed with. From the gardens of Washington Park we headed back to the downtown area for lunch at a great sandwich shop called Lardo. Kim was pretty pleased that we arrived during happy hour. We took a little stroll around the streets and the girls were excited by the amount of public art on display. They were also intrigued by the bubbler drinking fountains that appear quite regularly. With the water running constantly there's definitely nothing like that here at home! 
Back at the hotel it was time for another swim followed by late night food cart dinner.  

Day 7
The last day of our trip. We took in more of Portland's street art and sculptures before heading to the aerial tram that takes passengers up to the Oregon Health & Science University's main campus. The views from the aerial tram, as well as from the university campus, are amazing.We then headed back to Voodoo Doughnut to get a big pink box of assorted doughnuts to take home. We nearly didn't make it though as after almost an hour of queuing it was time to head back to the hotel to collect out luggage for our flight home. Note to self; always visit Voodoo Doughnut on a weekday or at an obscure time like 3am! Three hours before your flight on a Saturday afternoon is not a good time!
We just made it back to the hotel in time then jumped on the light rail to the airport. Can I just say how fantastic Portland's public transport system is?  

Goodbye Seattle and Portland. We had a great time visiting you!

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