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Published: Verve Magazine, Travel, March-April 2006

Home to Microsoft, Boeing and those fabulous Starbucks frappuccinos, Seattle, the vivacious city on the ‘upper-west’ side of America, is a ski-jump away from Vancouver. As it always does at this stage – when flying for business takes precedence over flying for pleasure – SITANSHI TALATI-PARIKH’S rendezvous with the Emerald City began with a business seminar…

Seattle

A typical East Coast sentiment kicks off with a nasty red-eye leaving me with a whopping two hours of sleep that night. Straggled and disconcerted, I peer out at the city through heavy-lidded eyes and get accosted with a whiff of the sharp ready-to-rain-anytime air that chills and warms you at the same time. I happen to have the day free before I start spending quality time indoors at the seminar, and I quietly contemplate the best use of my precious hours of freedom. Many, many hours behind on sleep, I crave the much-advertised soft beds of my hotel. As I swing into Downtown, however, my eyes pop open and my body surges with adrenaline.

The adrenaline didn’t abate until I got on that flight back home, and even at this moment, I can still recall that heady feeling. I knew the moment my cab snaked its way into the city that this would be one memorable trip. With fatigue threatening to take charge, I could sleep in or check out the city. The choice was easy. For that one day, I shed the business suit and became the camera-clicking tourist – backpack and all.

The hilly roads that can get steep without a moment’s notice all lead to the most fun place of all – Pike Place Market. A cut above the designer stores in their typical city décor, this market is just downright homely, with ‘fresh’ being the operative word. Miles and miles of the most beautiful and fresh flowers lay spread out before me, of every hue imaginable. I purchase some of the fresh farm fruits from those ever-smiling vendors, surreptitiously sample some of the homemade honey and gourmet chocolates, and join the onlookers watching cheese being churned by hand. Guiltily, I purchase a Seattle shot glass for my collection, a Chinese wall hanging and a sketch of Starbucks. The joy of strange little souvenirs. Compare the inviting little café-style restaurants with tantalising aromas and cuisines for every palate, to the airline’s ‘generous’ serving of pretzels.

My personal favorite remains the scrumptious Mediter-ranean sandwiches at the Sister’s European Café. I went there every day in lieu of the seminar lunches. They are just that good.

A local market singer strikes up a song about my T-shirt, and I realise a bit too late. As I begin to draw undue attention from the crowd, I look down aghast, at the words: ‘Guys make nice pets!’ Somehow, the Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt didn’t seem like such a big deal when I actually bought it! A trifle nonplussed, I decide it’s about time I scram and I quickly clamber onto the nearest vehicle heading out. Turns out to be a bus going to the Seattle Space Center. Checking out the area, I also discover a Science Fiction Museum and something called the Experience Music Project. And then, my eyes catch a sign for ‘Ride the Ducks of Seattle.’ I was intrigued.

Could anything be more fun? The vehicles used are actually World War II relics and they go on land and water, giving a 90-minute tour of the city! I was in it for the ride.

We learn the duck sound and the tour guide-cum-driver is just brimming with jokes. Every age group is present and the racket we make is quite extraordinary. The people in this city are so friendly, even the harried business sorts (I’m not one of them today) actually stop by to wave and some even do the duck waggle! We do a by-land and by-water tour of the city and its skyline, check out the Art Museum (there is a Van Gogh Exhibit this week), the Seahawks Stadium, and an ancient refinery….

The most interesting part about this city is the diversity from one part to another. The Belltown District where the Space Needle is located is only alive when there are tourists around. The Space Needle (surprisingly) originated as a science project by some students and is now a famous Seattle landmark.

After a steaming cuppa’ at the Space Café, I ride to the top of the Space Needle to check out the real-time web cams. Zooming into the city, I can almost spy my husband, Sahil, sneaking furtively into a Banana Republic when he should be busy taking some business away from Microsoft!

The next stop was the Pioneer District that is actually underground. When that part of town was rebuilt, the roads ended up covering the first floor of a number of buildings.

Glowering totem poles stare watchfully at me, daring anyone to make a comment on this strange part of town. It feels like something out of Alice in Wonderland, where life exists at a subterranean level, very separate from its sunny counterpart. Taking an Underground Tour brings to light a dark sort of existence.

The Fremont is the artsy area, what with naked bicyclists, alternative and grunge music. Downtown has classy shops and restaurants, the theatre and Pike Place Market. The harbour area is always busy, and catching a ferry or a cruise to a nearby island is a piece of cake.

Taking a short ferry ride to the closest island, Bainbridge, is fun. The Island is small and cosy – I really feel it’s quite possible to walk from one end to the other! Leaning against a colourful mural in front of a little art gallery, it all looks very serene. The painting comes to life and the fields seem to extend endlessly behind me. After a quiet lunch, the ferry ride back is invigorating. The wind whips past my face, as I take in the Seattle cityscape in sharp relief against the clear blue sky. I sigh contentedly as Seattle has generously kept her ubiquitous rain clouds away from my weekend trip.

After such a memorable few hours, I can’t imagine a day spent indoors. There are lunch breaks though, I console myself, with much the same I’m-so-busy-but-oh-so-mournful look sported by the business sorts. And after 5pm, strolling down the streets of Downtown is something to look forward to. Incredibly fabulous Italian restaurants like the Palomino and Vivanda are at an appetite’s length; I noticed Fox’s Sports Bar earlier and some interesting breweries. Or I could catch a musical nearby. It’s not like there’s a lack of entertainment, just a lack of time.

The seminar paled in comparison to the mysteries of the city. I can think of a dozen more things I would have liked to do whilst there, but isn’t that the case with any new place? These are the moments when mixing business with pleasure comes to life….

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