Monday, August 23, 2010
Secret Agent Man and I escaped the brutal August heat in Austin with a trip to Seattle. Even though I've been back a week (ish) already, I am still dreaming of the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps that's why I keep comparing the pile of work I've been managing since our return to the insurmountable Mount Rainier?
We enjoyed our trip so much, I am already hoping we go again next August. Really, we plan to win the lottery and buy an August house there. That's right, all summer is too long to live apart from our peeps in ATX, but I think a month would suit us just fine.
Here's how it went down:
We arrived at our hotel, and were hit with a surprise at check in: the room awaiting us had two full-sized beds. Hmmm, we are not small people--our combined height is nearly twelve feet. We simply don't fit into a full-sized bed. Since we'd booked a king (using miles Secret Agent Man had left over from his days on the road), he asked the clerk to check again. She found us a junior suite! Except: the bed was a queen-sized murphy bed. Yes, a bed that folds down out of the wall. I was suspicious, but she assured us that the mattress was still heavenly, and we checked in. Sure enough, we had to pull our bed out of the wall. But it was as comfortable as a regular bed, and our view was fantastic.
As I freshened up, Secret Agent Man decided to do some recon around the hotel. Naturally, this meant he found the pool and hot tub, and then settled into the hotel bar for a beer and a chat up with the bartender. Peter, our very helpful bartender, was wise and knowledgeable about places to go and things to do. We'd already done a lot of research, and had a list of "to do" and "to eat," but Peter was helpful in steering us away from, say, places SA Man had seen on television and wanted to try despite lukewarm reviews online.
First stop: Etta's. We'd made it in time for Crabby Hour, and I'm so glad we did. We ordered several little taste treats, but by far my favorite was the Crab Roll. Secret Agent Man expected something sushi-like from the name, but I thought it would be more like a lobster roll. It was, and it was fantastic. Fantastic like I could've eaten two. I wish we'd made more time to eat at Tom Douglas' other restaurants, as I'd heard excellent reports about Dahlia Lounge in particular. Next time!
We'd made a plan for the evening based on a Living Social coupon that had come up about a month prior. (What, you don't sign up for groupon and LS (etc.) in cities where you'll be vacationing? Do it!) It sounded weird and fun, and lucky for us, it was both. We scored seats and champagne in the VIP Section at the Can Can. The service was terrible--luckily we'd followed Peter the Bartender's advice and not planned to order a meal--but the show was very entertaining. It was part Cirque du Soilel, part comedy, part weird stuff. Our front row seats were good (Secret Agent Man got pulled up on stage to shake his booty, a dude swung out over our table on ropes) and bad (one of the fellas flung sweat on my arm, ewwww!), but worth every discounted penny.
What's a trip to Seattle without a visit to Pike Place Market? Day 2 happened to be a weekday, and even though the market was crowded, it wasn't unmanageable. We walked around and explored for a while, and all the vendors where we stopped were friendly and chatty. Secret Agent Man was delighted by a go cup of crab cocktail (chunks of fresh crab covered in cocktail sauce, sold by one of the fresh fish vendors), and even though we joined the crowd at the famous fish flinger for a while, we never saw a toss. Perhaps one has to actually purchase a fish to get the flying show? In any case, Secret Agent Man was hungry for crab, and the seafood vendors suggested Cutter's. It was close, but I'd rate it just okay. Everything was fresh, and tasty, but of all the great places we dined during the trip, this one would be my least favorite--simply because the others were all so good.
After lunch, we wandered over to the Seattle Aquarium. Honestly, we both thought it was boring. Sure, they had the big weird octopus, and the cute seals and otters, but I think we would've enjoyed the place more if we brought or were kids.
Luckily, our next stop was a lot of fun: Underground Tour. The tour begins with a 20 minute presentation on why there's an underground to tour in the first place, and the gal speaking to the group was funny and informative. From there, our very large group split into four groups of about 30 - 40 people each. I'd hoped for the same tour guide who started us out, but our tour guide was still entertaining. (Just not "hilarious" like the ticket sellers suggested.) I think next time, we might enjoy checking out the Underworld Tour (same company).
Dinner that night was the realization of Secret Agent Man's dream of having a pile of steamed crabs poured on our table for him to eat cave man style. And this is where Peter the Bartender saved the day: he told us that the popular (tourist) choice that Secret Agent Man had seen on tv was not the place for us. Really, he was giving us the one eyebrow of judgement that we even wanted such an option, but whatev. Peter suggested Fisherman's, and it did not disappoint. We ordered the Crab Feast, and we both nearly needed a benedryl at the end to curb the start of an allergic reaction from eating so much seafood. Our dinner started with clam chowder (yum), a bucket of clams and mussles (which I did not try because I prefer not to eat foods that share the same texture as loogies), and the main event: a pile of dungeness, king, and snow crab legs. Here, Secret Agent Man, who in the past has so kindly broken down the crab for me and presented me with lumps of delicious meat, decided it was time for me to learn on my own. Newsflash: breaking apart crab legs isn't difficult. It's just extra nice when someone else does it for you.
This day, we got ambitious. We rented a car (from a convenient location right across the street from the hotel), and drove to Mount Rainier National Park for some nature walking. We were armed with Secret Agent Man's gps and my list of suggested hikes from Frommer's website.
Hey, did you know that national parks often don't have a physical address you can enter into your gps? It's best to find this out before you are on the interstate. Print maps in advance, friends! Still, we made it to the park in time for lunch at the Copper Creek Inn. The menu is mainly burgers, but mine was delicious, and Secret Agent Man declared his a winner as well. Save room for their blackberry pie, for sure--even if you're like me and say you'll only have a bite or two, trust me when I tell you that you'll end up hoovering up at least half a slice. You need energy for the nature walking, right?
We picked an easy trail at Paradise. It turns out, when you are at a higher altitude than normal, and hiking what seems like straight up a mountain, you will be quite happy when you breathlessly reach the scenic falls, even if they're a little crowded. Even if the best view of the falls is down a steep rock staircase that you'll dread climbing back up later. The views were lovely, and the walk back to our car was quite nice (and downhill). Our next stop were the Reflection Lakes. Except, on windy days, the lakes don't exactly reflect. Still, it was a nice walk around the lake, as it was flat and much much less crowded.
From there, we considered checking out Sunrise (yes, we entered the park at the opposite end my handy list of hikes suggested), but decided to try and get the rental car back before the place closed at 7. Our drive back, mostly northwest through the park, was lovely. Except where we were driving alongside a steep cliff and could not look out the windows on that side of the car due to extreeme fear. Good times!
We didn't feel like venturing too far (or too fancy) from the hotel for dinner, so we went with another Peter the Bartender suggestion and headed over to Red Fin. I'm so glad we did! From our table, we could see over to the bar where the sushi. . .uhh. . .roller? chef? maestro? was putting together rolls and nigiri. The menu had lots of creative roll options, and we arranged our own little taste test to determine which crab nigiri we liked best. (Verdict: king for the win!) We also got to confuse our waitress with our cost guessing game. See, we each guess how much the total bill will cost. Whoever is closest gets to pay. That's right, we are both trying to pay for dinner. This game is much more fun than taking turns or something reasonable like that. And I set a record at Red Fin: I was $.05 off the total. It's like I won both showcases! Yay me!
Our last full day in the Emerald City, boo hoo! We water taxi-ed to Alki Point to eat and check out the ocean. Brunch at Salty's turned out to be an excellent choice. I'm not normally a fan of a buffet, but there were so many delicious options that we went for it. Once again, Secret Agent Man ate himself into a stupor on crab legs, so even though brunch was not inexpensive, I'd say we got our money's worth.
Unfortunately, our day went awry after brunch. Allegedly, there is a free shuttle that drives around the penninsula, dropping water taxi-ers off at various points of interest. We had a shuttle schedule, and were waiting at the appointed stop on time, but no shuttle. We could see the beach from the shuttle stop, what if we just started walking and hopped on the shuttle when it went by? Friends, on an unseasonable hot (90 degree) day in Seattle, you do not want to walk 1.5 miles to the Alki Beach. I know, without the oppressive Texas humidity, it will seem like a good idea. After all, the ocean awaits! But shade along the path does not. If you're pasty pale like me, you're going to want sunscreen, and lots of it. Remember, you will sweat off the sunscreen along your hairline: yes, that's the reason for the sunburn you'll find there later. Your new farmer tan is an added bonus.
And then there's the beach. We walked past sand volleyball courts and grassy knolls, all full of beach-goers. We'd read glowing reviews of the fantastic Seattle skyline view from the beach. Nothing prepared us for the actual beach. It was rocks. Rocks the size of my fist and smaller. Rocks! So much for our plan to walk barefoot along the beach, dipping our toes into the Pacific Ocean. Still, we'd come this far. We peeled off our shoes and socks, and gingerly picked our way down to the water line. Guess what? The Pacific Ocean is freakin' freezing. I may have screamed a little bit as the tide came in and covered my feet. Also, as Secret Agent Man observed, the water looked like a mojito. After less than a minute of the Pacific Ocean experience, we hobbled back into our shoes and made for the closest shuttle stop.
Frankly, this was mostly a waste of a day. We can look back and laugh--in fact, we laughed at each other on the "beach"--but we won't go back to Alki on our next visit.
We hoped to redeem ourselves with our dinner options. SA Man had scored a couple of groupons, and we wanted to try and use them both. We went to the first stop for an appetizer. It was fine, noteworthy mainly because our taxi tried to drop us off at a parking garage. Umm, no thanks. (And I don't remember the name of the place, whoops!) But our late dinner at Seastar was a very pleasant surprise. (Also a surprise: the strength of the mandarin orange vodka with fresca cocktails the bartender mixed up for us. I mean, we'd had these before, but Yowza!) Once we were seated, we opted for a starter of crab deviled eggs with bacon. Except allegedly the kitchen was backed up, so they brought us some free crunchy shrimp things (and fresh drinks) that were very tasty while we waited. And then our deviled egg order was mysteriously doubled. I could've eaten my weight in those, so I wasn't too sad when Secret Agent Man could not overcome his dislike of the deviled egg and I ate the remainder of his order. (For the record, he was a good sport about trying the devil egg, in case his love of crab and bacon could overcome his hatred of "the creepy white part" and any use of mustard in the recipe.) For our entree, we split an order of wood-fired (or something or other) king crab legs, and they were not only delicious, but pre-cracked. Did we order dessert? Maybe. Maybe I'd been overserved in the drink department and it's been several days since our return home so I don't recall. I plead the fifth.
We hopped about the light rail train, rode it to the airport, and flew back. The wall of heat and humidity as we walked outside from the baggage claim area, and the interior temperature of the car rivaling the surface of the sun were a friendly reminder that we were home.
Ah, vacation! All I ever wanted.