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Sleepless and Pennyless in Seattle !!! and I was both. Staying in a little paper manufacturing town of Camas, on the edge of the Columbia River Gorge which divides Washington State from Portland, in Oregon, gave me lots of oportunity to explore the surrounding countryside.
Most of all a chance to stay in Seattle and explore this very dramatic area situated on the borders of Canada. A short drive up and you find yourself crossing over into Vancouver in British Colombia, Canada.
I booked a ticket on the retired American Greyhound which goes by the name of Green Tortoise, for obviouse details....anyone who has travelled this way, will know exactly what I mean. Never heard of it? then I will be writing a reviiew about it shortly. The only way I can visualise it for you is to say that it is a bright green Hippy bus for anyone who doesn't mind travelling throughout the night sardine style. The cheapest form of transport around and the most entertaining.
I caught the Green Tortoise in Portland at the bus station. and we proceeded up Northwards to Seattle. A beautifully picturesque journey through the forests of Redwood trees flanked either side of the roads. Mount St Helens on the left, looking West and emerges in pride through the trees, towering down on them like a stately grand mother wearing a cloak of pure white snow. Should it be raining when you visit you will see it smoking in gentle anger, water against fire. This happens a lot as the rain always falls in the Northwest on the Far Side. It isn't called state of the Slug for nothing.
As you proceeded, rising higher and higher into the mountains Mount Raynier comes into view
Looking out of the tortoise windows, on the right, as you rise up further into the mountains you can see the Grand Lady standing proud above the tops of the trees, still covered in snow, a clear outline of white contrasting the beautiful blue skies behind. Mount Reynier is much further away than it looks, its size unimaginable until you drive up to it. But not until you have spent at least a good few days in Seattle exploring its hidden secrets missed by a rushed day around the town and moving on.
The road heads onwards and upwards surrounded by some of the largest Redwood trees, and many other varieties flanking the road on either side.. Little wooden shacks seemingly miles from anywhere display their wares for visitors to buy. Eventually the driver will pull into Seattle, but not before pointing out the wonderful views of the pacific coast, with its rocky shores and assorted sized islands half submerged in the calm waters. Little ferries, speedboats and fishing vessels, all leaving trails as they go about their business, to and fro to the harbour and docks.
As the coach reaches the centre of town the vista changes dramatically, street after street built in straight rows, full of modern chain stores, shopping malls, and designer office buildings. Skyscrapers where ever you look, spire into the skyline in dramatic shapes and colours.
For the benefit of those who have not yet managed a visit to the States the streets in the main towns in the U.S. are usually built on a very large grid system. Row after row of roads heading North, South, East or West, hence the names are prefixed with N.W. or N.E. and S.W. or S.E. The numbers on the buildings can also be confusing, with as many as five figures to each one. You can find yourself walking miles to reach the number you want. So be warned! It is very different in the towns for first timers. Having said that can you imagine how an America arriving here for the first time might feel, faced with the strange winding streets we have in some of our times.
But I digress, back now to Seattle, and the Tortoise is now parked up in the coach station in the centre of town. Walking down through the super stores with all their wonderful designer clothing is a real change from the drive through the forest of trees. That is if you have gone to Seattle to shop.
However there is more, Look overhead and you will see or hear the Seattle World's Fair Monorail, winding, yes winding along on its track above the streets, between the high rise skyscrapers. Travelling the 1.2 miles of the route in just 96 seconds. The View really does have to be seen to believed. The whole town flashes before your eyes taking in the pacific coastline and little islands in profusion floating in the waters down below. A ride that is a must before you leave, unless of course the fear of heights prevent you.
Don't worry though, there is so much more to see. After the coach trip you must really be feeling hungry, so one option is to head to the Seattle World's Fair Food Circus. Situated on the ground floor of this amazing Mall is a large, in fact very large arena, the little outlets, food stalls, bars and drink stands, each one displaying the cuisine of their own different country. Every country in world must have a stall here. Starters, main meals and fancy afters can be bought only as a take-away where you can take them to the centre of the arena to find an assortment of tables and chairs provided at different levels, with trickles of water winding its way around between. Fountains glitter in the lights, and soft music is played.
The shops on the floor above are modern designer shops, Woollen Indian Clothing and Rugs are abundant. Everything you would expect for a Mall catering for residents and visitors alike. My favourite store is the sweet store. A very clever sweet maker. ( what else can I call him,). Performs his magic to entertain the shoppers and produce, after turning, throwing, twisting and winding the hot sugar substance, creates a perfect confection for you to purchase.
Now it is time to move on. The Old part of town is calling, waiting to be seen. Starting of course with the market. A wonderful old building with many little shops selling jewelry, made mostly of American Indian Silver and the world famous Torquoise. Indian Ponchos, and the most beautiful wooden carvings of wild animals, such as bears, bald eagles and fish, plus many more too difficult to resist. The main attraction is of course the Fish market stall, where fish arrive directly from the fishing boats below in the harbour. Morning fresh and very, very big, these fish are a delight to behold. Or should I say "hold". To the delight of the customers the fishmongers through these huge fish from one to the other, high into the air, being caught again, and again from one to the other and finally flying in the direction of the purchaser, who automatically puts up her hand to catch it, this fish is retrieved by the market fisherman seconds before it is caught, wraps and packs it before presenting it grandly to the surprised customer, while the public, by now many of them, are falling about laughing, before purchasing their own.
Enough now of shopping and markets. It is time to walk down the back stairs, onto the pavements below leading down to the ocean. First it is time for a rest and where better than the green on the banks, where plants surround the grass, but the best surprise of all is sighting those wonderful tall, colourfully painted, intricately carved American Indian Totem Poles. Displayed along the edges in all their glory. Probably some of the most photographed objects in Seattle.
Take off your shoes, buy one of those glorious Ice-creams, cool down and relax in the sun, that is of course if the sun is shining, Seattle can be famous for its rain. It's Emblem is not the Slug for nothing.
Finally the last but not least of the sight seeing , not to be missed, is the old town shops, a long street of really old buildings half buried under the street surface, with all the new high rise sky scrapers built directly on top of them, such a strange sight. The actually have tours down into the old shops that are still retained in the ancient décor, which must have been a hundred or more years ago.
If you still have time on your trip to the North West, Far side. A drive or coach ride north up to the border and over into Canada would be well worth while. Vancouver and Vancouver island are a picture, with gardens full of blooms, but don't forget to take your camera.
Before I finish this review I must just explain the reason for my title. Yes I was really Sleepless and Penniless in Seattle. On the penultimate day of my stay, I looked for and found a card machine, only to discover that my cheque had not been transferred through to my account. I had used my last dollar earlier. I was hungry tired and had nowhere to sleep, until I caught the Green Tortoise at 10 am the following morning. I had gratefully taken tubs of yoghurt from the teenagers handing out samples of a new taste. These had sustained me, but now that wasn't enough. I was also very tired. The Youth Hostel didn't take cheques.
Like a sudden flash I had an inspiration. The Green Tortoise, the most familiar place in town. I had travelled with them to many a different place, the drivers were always very helpful. That was it, I had found the answer. I met the Tortoise at the bus station when they arrived at 6 that evening. Smiling sweetly at the drivers and telling them my situation I asked if I might sleep on the bus over night. They agreed to let me as long as I swept out the bus first. No Problem I was very happy to sweep out the bus. The drivers have their own sleeping compartments at the back of the bus. As soon as the bus was clean, they both invited me to join them for a cup of coffee. Wow was I in need of that. More was to follow, coffee, and a grand evening meal, all expenses paid. After a really good nights sleep. I woke to be invited once again for a coffee, this included waffles, strawberries and cream, the famous Danish pastries and even more coffee. Fully replenished, we welcomed all the passengers onto the bus and had a great journey back to Portland in Oregon.
My faith in the friendliness of the America people firmly established in my mind.
I hope I have convinced a few of you that Seattle would be a wonderful place to spend a different and interesting holiday there.