Tourist, Not Tourist: Lessons from a Weekend Exploring

Seattle is amazing. I’m a total fangirl. I continue to find brilliant little gems that make Seattle unique. I accidentally ended up in an incredible neighborhood. Just a quick jaunt a few blocks from my apartment ends with brilliant Puget Sound views, or a delicious bite of pho, or a buzzing street market. Seriously, what could be better?

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Ok… the views. The views are better.

My first weekend here that wasn’t filled with moving and nesting was filled with galavanting. What started as a morning of intentionally aimless wandering ended up in an 8 mile urban hike through unexpected neighborhoods.

Here are a few things I’ve learned.

The Meaning of Hill

Not a single person ever thought to warn me. No one ever bothered to mention. Not even Grey’s Anatomy adequately summarizes the meaning of ‘hill’ in Seattle. This isn’t some gentle, rolling landscape. It’s like a kid was drawing zig-zags with topography.

East Highland Drive as a 23% grade and it’s not even the steepest in Seattle!

Hills are an important part of Seattle history. Apparently the city was built on seven hills, which were created by glaciers during the Pleistocene ice age (I’m trying my hardest to sound smart). More recently, parts of the city were dramatically regraded to keep the city from being swallowed by the Puget Sound. Also, something about a fire.

Seriously take a look at this website… it’s super cool.

Even with the demolition of the worst offenders, Seattle still has many ferocious hills. Though it appears most Seattle residents are in denial. No one ever complains about being out of breath or how much their calf muscles burn from the incline. I haven’t heard a single story of a run away car rolling into the water (yet). For more than a decade the city didn’t even salt the roads during winter storms – until a particularly bad winter in 2008 made them decide otherwise.

Bus, Streetcar, Light Rail, Ferry

While most of the time I choose to walk around the city, the public transportation here is nothing to sneeze at. The Orca Card can get your pretty much anywhere in the city, and who doesn’t like an apex predator as their transportation mascot?

Don’t want to walk up the f*cking hill? Take the bus. Don’t feel like taking a bus? No problem! Hop on the light rail which will take you all the way to the airport (or conversely the Apple Store). Don’t need to travel far? The streetcar will take you on a leisurely path through the city. Really want an adventure? Ferry rides are always an option! There are people in my office that take a boat to work. A BOAT! How weird is that?

There are two other great bonus points of Sound Transit. First they make excellent ads which validate my decision to go automobile-less. Second, the One Bus Away app is one of the best public transport apps I’ve seen. It’s even open source… how progressive.

Art made Accessible

There is a troll. Under a bridge.

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Billy Goats Gruff, anyone?

That’s just one of the many ways Seattle brings art into every day life. The sidewalks are interlaced with witty sayings and dance lessons. Maybe it’s just a result of having never really lived in a city before, but Seattle seems to have gone out of its way to hide art in plain sight. It makes the city feel so much more human, so much more playful. Even on the dreary cloudy days, I catch something fantastical out of the corner of my eye and immediately my day is brightened. I’m hardly an artist myself but I can appreciate the personalization of street art all around me.

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Speaking of Playful

My epic weekend walk began when I decided to check out Gas Works Park. This incredible place began its life as a gasification plant that turned dinosaur skeletons into iPhone food (this is my basic understanding of the process of gasification). The plant was decommissioned when more efficient ways of exploiting our natural resources was invented. Since then, it’s been memorialized in a children’s playground and breathtaking viewpoint – and most importantly as a prime kite flying spot.

That's right, kite flying.
That’s right, kite flying.

Any city that values kite flying enough to build a hill specifically for it – well, what can I say? I love it here.

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