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.

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