Tuesday, January 22, 2008

International District and Pioneer Square

On MLK day I had a holiday and Robb managed to switch his schedule around so that he could take the day off too. The weather was forecasted to be cold, but clear, so we decided it was time to head back to Seattle to explore some more neighborhoods. We decided to take the bus so that we could save money on parking and just avoid the stress of driving around downtown Seattle. We started out in the International District. This is Seattle's version of Chinatown. However, it's referred to as the International District because several different Asian countries, not just China, are represented in this section of Seattle. We walked around a little and found a city garden that could potentially be very pretty in the summer, but of the course the winter weather didn't show its best side. However, there was a beautiful view of the city, down to Puget Sound, from the top of the garden. We then headed to Uwajimaya Village. This is actually a VERY large Asian grocery store/shopping center, complete with a food court and Asian bookstore. We walked around for quite a bit to view the strange vegetables, fruits, and seafood among the more traditional grocery store items. After the grocery store we decided on a restaurant for lunch, Hing Loon. Robb saw the menu for this Chinese restaurant in the window, along with several local awards. We ordered 1) Udon Noodles with Beef and Black Pepper and 2) Singapore Noodles. Both dishes were incredible. With free hot tea and the best fortune cookie I've ever had, our total bill was less than $20.00. Delicious deal.
After the International District, we walked down the hill to Pioneer Square. This is the oldest part of Seattle and we decided to visit Smith Tower first. Smith Tower, when built in the early 1900s was one of the world's first skyscrapers, at 42 stories high. I'd read that the view from this building is better, and a lot cheaper, than the Space Needle view. So we decided to brave the old-fashioned cage elevator, still manually operated, and go to the 35th floor observation deck. Getting out of the elevator you step into the Chinese Room. The wood and porcelain ceiling, and other decorations, were given to L.C. Smith in the first part of the last century by the Empress of China. The views were magnificent. The pictures can speak for themselves. We saw the Puget Sound with the Olympics as a background, the Space Needle, and our football and baseball stadium.
Our next stop in the Pioneer Square was the Underground Tour. This 90 minute tour takes you "underground" to see old Seattle. In 1889 a fire burned Seattle to the ground. The city planners decided to take that opportunity to rebuild Seattle, and decided to rebuild one level up. What does this mean? Well you'll have to take the tour to get all the history on it, but basically the ground floor for most buildings became the basement. And the old streets and sidewalks were preserved underneath the current streets. Way back when they first created this underground, a lot of people still went about their daily business by using the original front doors of the buildings. Now that they were underground though, they couldn't really see in the tunnels, hence sidewalk sky lights. Confusing? Yes. Good tour that explains it better than me? Absolutely. So the pictures show the skylights as well as an old bank vault that we walked through. At any rate, the tour was really interesting and we learned a lot about Seattle history.
Our final destination of our day-long excursion was to check out some local shops in Pioneer Square. Magic Mouse Toys was one of the most interesting and fun toy stores I've ever been in (Robb bought a new yoyo string). Cow Chip Cookies had some decent-tasting chocolate chip cookies (pretty yummy, but some flavoring that I wasn't crazy about). And Elliot Bay Bookstore is always a delight (we got a couple of used books about Seattle). The picture of the bookstore doesn't even begin to do the store justice. Imagine room after room of books, looking just like this picture. This place is huge.
We caught the last bus home from Seattle at 6:32. We accidentally got on the wrong bus though, so yes, it took us home, but yes it took us 1.5 hours and we were subjected to the rude and thug-like bus patrons. Now we know. Avoid Route 174 at all costs! But all-in-all, besides the bus ride home, our day was beautiful and perfect. Good exploring day.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Spokane in January

Spokane, WA is a very cold place in the winter (and I’ve been told, very hot in the summer). Thursday morning my boss (D) and I flew to Spokane (about a 50 minute flight) for meetings. We left Seattle and I would say the temperature was in the upper 30s and no snow in sight. Well flying over the rest of the state showed that weather conditions were not similar to my home. Snow covered the ground all the way from Mt. Rainier to Spokane. While it wasn’t snowing while we were there, it was cold enough in Spokane that snow stays on the ground once it lands. It never got above freezing Thursday or Friday. Our meeting Thursday was fairly short, so D and I checked into our hotel early and relaxed in our rooms for a couple of hours. (And I have to say, I had been looking forward to watching cable again. I was disappointed. Nothing good was on. I guess there’s a reason that we decided it wasn’t worth ordering cable in WA!) Then in the late afternoon D and I went on a walk so he could show me downtown Spokane.

The city is much prettier than I thought it would be. The Spokane River goes through the city and our hotel sat right on the river. You can tell that in the summer it would be nice to have a drink in the outdoor seating area of the hotel. We walked along the river and crossed one of many bridges to go into downtown Spokane. It’s a sleepy-feeling city compared to the hustle and bustle of Seattle. D told me that I had to see the Davenport Hotel. He described it as a luxurious, old hotel that housed many a foreign dignitary in its day. We got to the Davenport and walked into the lobby and the place took my breath away. I have NEVER seen a hotel so elaborately decorated before. This place looked like one of the many castles I toured in Europe. But this was no castle; it was a hotel that people pay to stay at now. The pictures I’ve posted below really don’t do it justice, the detail of the trim was incredible. And you walked into a room and just felt glowing gold everywhere. We walked around the public areas and looked at historic pictures of when they first opened. After leaving the Davenport, we then walked by a building that is named after Bing Crosby. Apparently he went to college in Spokane (Gonzaga University, a Catholic college) and the city is quite proud of their claim to fame. We also saw an impressive monument to runners. Spokane is home to the annual Bloomsday Run. This 12 kilometer run has boasted more than 60,000 participants (in a single year) in years past. I was told that it was one of the largest races in the United States. So we came across a series of statues in mid run, obviously racing. That was pretty cool.

That evening D was tired so I went to dinner by myself. When researching Spokane earlier in the week I had read something about a restaurant called The Mustard Seed, and we happened to pass it earlier that day so I knew where it was. So I took the rental car (which I could drive, even though I’m not 25 yet, because I’m a state employee…ooh the perks of being a state employee!) and went to dinner alone. It was a nice restaurant that had modern Asian fusion food. I had the Beef and Mushroom. It had several awards posted in its doorways, claiming that Spokane had voted it as best Asian food in several different years and publications. It was very good, but nothing special. Nevertheless, I’m always excited to try local restaurants.

Friday was filled with meetings and we left Spokane in the afternoon, just as cold as when we arrived the previous morning. I’m very glad to have seen a different part of the state and to be so pleasantly surprised at the beauty of the city.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Driver Licenses

Wow, to get a drivers license in Washington is quite the hassle. Even though you're supposed to get a license within 30 days of moving, Robb and I have been avoiding it. Mostly because it's expensive: $45 for a first time license in the state! And since we were unemployed, it wasn't really something that we wanted to use our precious little resources for. But, because I'm a state employee, I needed to have a state drivers license and it was time to stop avoiding it.

It took me several days to get to the DOL (it's called the Department of Licensing here, not the DMV). I planned on going during a break at work because there's an office right across the street from my building. It took me several days to get there because one day I forgot my checkbook, one day I forgot my lease for proof of residency, and one day I actually forgot my wallet that had my current proof of identity in it. I finally made it to the DOL with everything (I thought) I needed: my Florida license, my Social Security card, my checkbook, and my rental agreement. When I finally got to the counter, I discovered not only was my FL id and SS card not enough to prove my identity, but also discovered that a lease is not proof of residency. Mmmh'ok. I just pay that much for rent in Washington because I think it's fun; I don't actually live here.

I was provided a list of those items that would count, most of which I do not have. So the next time I went into the DOL, I ended up bringing in my FL id, my SS card, my work ID, proof of auto insurance, and a letter from the state saying I was employed by them. Thankfully these items were accepted and I was given my drivers license. (By the way, I was very shocked when they asked me my weight. In FL they don't do that because weight fluctuates so much. So that's kind of a bummer to have my weight on my ID again.) Luckily, that day it only took me about 15 minutes to get in and out of the DOL. Poor Robb, on the other hand, went to the Federal Way DOL on the same day and was there for two hours!

And in WA they give you temporary licenses at the DOL. Your actual license doesn't come to you in the mail for 5-10 days. (In FL they just print the whole thing up and laminate it while you wait.) Incredibly though, it only took about 3 days to get them in the mail. Our next step in becoming real Washingtonians is changing our registration/license plates from Florida to here. It may take a couple of months, but it will definitely be done soon because they expire in March. Can you believe that I've already been here for 5 months?

Friday, January 11, 2008

My Cubicle and Vanpools

Well another work week down, thousands and thousands to go. This week was somewhat boring. I was supposed to take several day trips for meetings, but they all happened to be postponed, which led to not a lot to do this week, and the stuff I did do was very boring because I just sat in my cubicle all week. But next week my boss and I fly to Spokane on Thursday and come back Friday. Spokane is right on the border of Idaho and Washington, and about a 5 hour drive from Seattle. I'm super excited about flying across the state for business. Seems grown up, no? I'm doing a lot of traveling this month to meet with key players and start the planning process for a new project (that I was specifically hired to work on.) It will be exciting to see so much of the state, even if it is for business.

The only "exciting" thing that has happened this week is that I joined a vanpool. Intercity Transit (public transportation for the Olympia area) provides the van. "A vanpool is a group of 8 to 15 people who commute together in a comfortable passenger van. We [Intercity Transit] own, maintain, manage, insure and license a fleet of 8-, 12- and 15-passenger vans. These vans are assigned to commuter groups and driven by volunteers who share the commute. You must live at least 10 miles from where you work to start a vanpool." So I joined a group (7 people besides myself) that travels from Federal Way to Lacey. I go to a local Park and Ride where the van picks me up. We then make a quick stop in Tacoma to pick up some more people, and am dropped off in front of my office in Lacey. Almost all of the people in the vanpool also work for the government, so our hours and experiences are very similar. The only real negative to the vanpool is that I do have to leave the apartment a little earlier. If I drive myself I leave at 7:15 to get to work by 8:00. To get to the Park and Ride, I need to leave at about 6:55 for a departure from Federal Way at 7:05. And at the end of the day, I get home a few minutes later.

However, it is totally worth the slightly less sleep. First, I don't have to drive. I might eventually go take the class to get certified to drive the van, but the head of the vanpool usually prefers to drive. I would just get certified as a back up. But secondly, and more importantly, I am going to be saving a TON of money. To drive to Lacey every day is very expensive in gas. I was filling up ($30ish) every 3.5 days. The vanpool for the entire month only costs $74. Plus, once I get signed up through the state of Washington, the state will give me a $40 voucher to help pay for the vanpool. They encourage car pooling and taking the bus to relieve traffic congestion and pollution. So ultimately, it will cost me less than $40 every month to commute. Plus, I will save wear and tear on my car, and my car insurance should cost less since I'm not driving to work. Oh and I am helping out the environment too!

So that's about it for me. I see Robb for about an hour before I have to go to sleep most nights. He's a little frustrated with his job right now because they haven't been great about keeping track of his paperwork. (He had to refill out his W-4 and I-9 forms. He hasn't received his discount card yet, even though he should have weeks ago. The union didn't even know he existed, even though Met Market was supposed to let them know about him.)

Oh, and the Union is a whole other story which will be saved for another day. Other future installments will also include the hassle of getting a Washington State drivers license. Stay tuned...