16th Jul 2012 - 20th Jul 2012
Sleepless in Seattle
From San Francisco we went to a Silver Cloud in Seattle. The Organiser had hit the “Give-me-a-bargain-mystery-hotel” button on Expedia and the place it selected for us was right next to the stadiums in Seattle. Anywhere else and this would definitely NOT have been good. Here it couldn’t have been much better. From the airport, it was a simple train ride, and from downtown, a 25 minute walk.
Of course, every silver lining has a cloud – in this case it was the outlook. The first room we were given would have had a lovely sea view if the docks with their huge stacks of shipping containers hadn’t been in the way!
The other thing, which wasn’t immediately obvious, was that the goods trains servicing the port don’t get put to bed at night. Remember us mentioning that every time a train in the USA gets near a level crossing it sounds a loud horn? In Seattle’s port that means a train horn is heard roughly once an hour throughout the day AND night. One night of that was enough and a bit of negotiation got us a room with an excellent view of the ‘courtyard’ fountain, the room opposite and about two square feet of sky. It may have been dark in the room 24 hours a day, but at least it was QUIET!
Just south of Seattle, there’s an aircraft museum. One of us wanted to visit the museum and the other NEEDED to go to a hair salon. So I went to look at planes whilst she went to the alchemist to have silver turned into gold. The Seattle Museum of Flight isn’t bad –it’s just not quite in the same league as Duxford, Hendon, the Shuttleworth Collection, the Zeppelin Museum, the Pima Air and Space Museum – or even the aeronautical galleries of the Deutsches Museum…
Over the next few days, we tramped the streets of Seattle and, amongst other things checked out the fish-throwers of Pike Place Market. We thought this was very overrated and figured it must have been scaled down since all the guidebooks were written. We spoke to a resident of Seattle a little while after our visit and he says it was always rubbish! We went up the Space Needle and rode the monorail, both left-overs from the 1962 Expo. The monorail is pretty much useless as a means of transport, because it doesn’t really go anywhere, but it is wonderfully nostalgic. The only thing missing is a voice saying “Thunderbirds are Go!” as the doors shut.
Earlier this year, Chihuly Garden and Glass opened to the public on a site right next to the Space Needle. This is the latest exhibition of Chihuly’s work – it seems that he has works, if not exhibitions, in about half of the states in America – and he designed it. Not bad for a local glass-blower (from Tacoma) who was blinded in one eye (when he went through a car windscreen), and had to stop blowing glass after injuring his shoulder a few years later.
Again, this is one of those things which photos can’t really capture, but we tried!
From Seattle, it’s a relatively short drive to Everett and the Boeing factory. For a mere $18 they’ll show you round the giant building which houses the assembly lines for the 747, the 777 and the new 787. We didn’t actually learn much about the way planes are built, and the tour itself felt very rushed, but the sheer scale of the place is astounding. In the 747 part of the building were three 747 freighters in the final stages of construction, plus the beginnings of three more.
There’s really no way to describe the size of this (section) of the building except to say that, looking down on them from the viewing gallery, the aircraft looked small – like toys. A photo might help; but they didn’t allow cameras (see below).
For those of you who give a toss, I’ll just say that the lines for the 747, 777 and 787 are quite different, both in layout and the way they work. 747’s are pretty much built entirely at Everett, as are 777s, whereas only final assembly of 787’s is done here. Large parts of the 787 are built elsewhere and are shipped in to be (simply) glued together here.
After the rush round the factory, we spent an hour or so looking round the little museum they have here. In many ways this was more interesting than the Museum of Flight, even though it’s somewhat biased towards Boeing’s achievements.
I booked the tour by clicking a few buttons, and every single Web-page relating to it gives a comprehensive list of items prohibited on the factory tour. Basically you couldn’t take phones, cameras, food, drink, handbags and especially, weapons. Fair enough. To get to the line-up leading to the security checkpoint, it was impossible not to have seen this list at least five times. One could therefore only speculate why three people had to turn back at the very last minute and hastily put handbags and cameras into the lockers…
We were admitted a theatre for the inevitable corporate promotion video. This was screened only after we’d all been addressed by, what must have been, a primary school teacher high on strong coffee and Sunshine Yellow.
Firstly, she stressed that there were no bathrooms on the tour, so if we needed to ‘go’, we should raise our hands and we would be escorted to a facility. Then she carefully told us about tour groups. That the little cards we’d just been given indicated which group we were in. The red “A” meant the holder would be in Group A and the blue “B” meant the holder was in Group B. Then she pointed out the two doors at either side of the stage and clearly said which of these Group A would use. She then asked the audience which door the blue card-holders would use.
The answers were surprisingly consistent, but, leaving nothing to chance, she confirmed our suspicions that Group B would not use the same door as Group A. When she finally shut up, it was very clear why firearms were prohibited.
It is our considered opinion that Seattle is a very nice city. Exactly why, we’re not sure. But it definitely has a good feel about it.
After Seattle, next stop was Vancouver. We decided to use Amtrak for this part of our trip because, for much of the journey, the railway runs along the coast, thereby affording its lucky passengers some excellent views.
Our ‘lucky-dip’ hotel was only a 10 minute walk from the Amtrak platform at King Street Station and so, keen and excited, we rose early on Friday morning and left the hotel just after 06:30 to walk 400 yards to the station. 5 minutes after leaving the hotel, the light but penetrating drizzle turned into a deluge! Accompanied by cries of “oh bother”, “bless me, it’s a bit wet”, we trudged merrily through the rapidly flooding car park and arrived at the station damp, but in good spirits. Joining the back of a very large stationary queue didn’t seem like a good idea, so yours truly asked if we were in the right place. Picture the joy on our faces when we were told that there were no trains that day, we were going to Vancouver by bus.
Sopping wet, we boarded the ancient bone-shaker and squashed into the second row seats. Needless to say the boarding process wasn’t quite as smooth as it should have been, but eventually the official grasped the concept of one arse per seat and we were off.
Talking of arses, we’d unfortunately sat right in front of a bloke with one of those slightly nasal whines, often heard on US comedy shows, who spent the entire journey talking tedious drivel to the man next to him. Only when the bus finally stopped did the talkative one introduce himself to his unwitting neighbour. So he’d been boring the tits off a complete stranger for four hours without even saying who he was!
They don’t allow firearms on buses either…