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Trip Report For my birthday: Sun in Seattle and other fantastical beasts

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What do you do when you yearn for an exotic birthday trip, but your checkbook and most importantly, your schedule- won't allow it? Why...you combine your errands with a little fun...and of course hope for some sun.

Originally, I had wanted to fly to California for my birthday and catch a bit of sun. But every single flight I checked either conflicted with my work schedule or sleep schedule or ate too far into my weekend. Or all three. But then I told myself- you're being ridiculous. You could just go to the city right next door that people come from all over the world to visit. Also, I had to run a few errands there anyway. So, for Easter Weekend, it was off to the Emerald City.

And the weather gods co-operated, luckily- I hope all you Seattle Fodorites got to enjoy the sun. It was absolutely stunning on Saturday!

Anyway; on Thursday night, I drove down with my bike, which was bound for the bike shop. Unfortunately, traffic prevented me from getting to the place on time, so I needed to check into a hotel. I stayed at the Silver Cloud Bellevue Downtown. It's about what I expect from a Silver Cloud; nice, not the newest, but well appointed. It has a "garden" theme around the entrance and that's really attractive. It's really, really close to Bellevue Square, which is a major bonus for me. I knew I'd want Din Tai Fung at some point that weekend, but I also knew it had to be that night. I have learned my lesson: never, ever try to eat there on a weekend! I wandered through Crate and Barrel and then ate too many dumplings. A good start to my holiday.

On Friday, I took my bike to the shop and went to meet a friend of a friend who just moved to town. We went to Gasworks Park, which is really much bigger than I had expected. I loved the views. It's a really popular place to bring dogs and hang out. If you enjoy industrial design, I would make this a priority. We had a great deal of fun guessing what the purpose of various parts had been in the machinery's functional days. Afterwards, we road the bus downtown; I showed El how the orca cards worked and had to stop for a Rachel's Ginger Beer. El loved it. Yay! Another convert to the deliciousness!

I had wanted to go to Chinatown and then ride the new line of the light rail to Udistrict. Whereupon we learned a valuable lesson. Build it and they will come. I don't recommend counting on catching the first, or even second or third train to the airport around rush hour. It is packed when it arrives at Westlake. I think I probably could have bullied my way on; mostly everyone was clumped at the door. But we were both pretty tired and standing all the way didn't sound like fun. Ah, well. Next time!

After saying goodbye, I headed to Hotel Hotel Hostel in the Fremont neighborhood. I often mention this place to travelers but have never actually stayed there. So, I thought I'd do a brief report.

This hostel is for you if: you prefer neighborhood setting to downtown. If you cook, as their kitchen is better than City Hostel. If you are active, as it isn't accessible at all. If you prefer a bit older crowd, as this isn't a party hostel.

This hostel is not for you: if you have allergies as it's a bit musty. If you have a bike. If you are a light sleeper and it's a weekend. I don't know where the bar is or if it was live, disco or karaoke, but it was fairly loud. If you want a hostel with laundry.

My general impression is that it's a good hostel but it could be better. A lot of the "cons", though, are typical urban hostel issues. City Hostel is only quiet because it has its own building. This place is ten dollars less than CH but you'll easily spend it in transit so I don't think it makes much difference. What I really liked: it has better customer service than CH. The guests who stay there seem to be a little more on the older side, or at least not really partying people. I also really enjoyed staying in Fremont for a change, and I discovered some great new coffee spots. In particular, I really enjoyed Stone Way Cafe, so check that out if you're in the area!

What I didn't like: lack of hooks in the rooms, not a fantastic hostel in terms of socialization, few plugins, not great showers except one. For some reason, they've done some great decor choices but also some really terrible ones- like battered old lockers and industrial gray walls in the room. No laundry, no bike storage. I had stayed in the hotel the first night because it hadn't actually occurred to me that they would not have bike storage until I had double checked only to find out that they didn't. My bad! This is really the only thing I disliked, and to be fair, I do understand why they don't have it. This place is on the second floor, no elevator, so keep that in mind if you consider this place. However, one of the draws of the location for me would be biking; if my bike isn't with me, I'll be paying for either bus fare or parking downtown.

So, sadly, I would say that as much as I loved hanging out in Fremont, I'd recommend only staying here if you really want a hostel room. If you want a private room, stay at the Moore because the parking and location would amount to the same amount of money.

Anyway, back to Friday night! I scored a parking spot right in front of Hotel Hotel, and decided to stay out for the evening. I chose to try dinner at the Whale Wins, a Renee Erickson restaurant. Erickson is like Douglas; she has a few different restaurants including my favorite place in Ballard, The Walrus and Carpenter. The Whale Wins was recommended to me by a local acquaintance and is really a cute place; it's open concept and nautical themed. Don't miss the Whale drawings on the side of the building. It's very much the sort of place I would take out of town visitors- except for two drawbacks and I'll get to those in a moment.

Anyway, for an appetizer I had the pickles and bread and butter. Delicious. For the main, I ordered the half chicken. It was a bit salty but really well prepared otherwise. I had huckleberry ice cream for desert, and this was hands down what I would return for. It was fantastic! Service was good, and while the cocktail list wasn't really to my taste, the bartenders know what they're doing.

I flipped through the yelp reviews a bit afterwards because I hadn't looked before. The overall rating isn't very high, and I think that two factors play heavily into it. The first is that they do charge a mandatory 20% service charge, and that is not something that goes over well with a lot of people. It might have bothered me if I'd ordered a bottle of wine, but generally speaking, I consider 20% to be a a fairly standard tip for eating out in Seattle. (Erickson is not the only one doing this in Seattle; there are a few different restaurant owners who have done this to make a point about wages and COL).

The second is the menu, and I think they hurt themselves there. I'm a fairly enthusiastic foodie, and I know quite a bit about ingredients and preparation. Yet, the menu descriptions are almost too brief. It doesn't bother me to ask for descriptions, but they could probably save their servers some time if they were just a little less succinct on the menu. It does bother a few of my family members to ask for descriptions; they're very shy and taking them somewhere like this would be like pulling teeth. That's a pity because I think the food would appeal to large range of people- despite whatever awards this place has won, it's not "fancy". Anyway, fairly sure that won't matter to most here, but it's something that crossed my mind.

On Saturday, I went for my "birthday treat"- salty's Easter buffet. So many people have recommended this to me but I just couldn't justify the cost in previous years. I definitely ate my money's worth in Dungeness Crab and fisher scones. Yum! This was a lot of food and it was made even more fun by the fact it was a rare day of sunshine. Glorious views!

Next I went to the Terra-cotta Warriors exhibit at the Pacific Science Center. Catch this while it's in town! It's really well done, and fairly typical of the the PSC. It has both good scholarly information and also some fun "what if" and interactive bits. I had not realized that the tomb was still intact, and that is because of both conservation reasons and health concerns. I also didn't realize that the warriors were all painted originally. Like Roman statuary, which we tend to picture as monochromatic, the terra-cotta figures at the time of their making would not have looked out of place in Vegas. Very colorful. But also amazingly detailed. Like so many artifacts from the ancient world, it's hard to grasp how much labor went into creating them. It's even perhaps more difficult to understand the challenges involved in restoration and conservation. I found it pretty incredible that they came all the way to the US, and the exhibit made me really want to actually visit the site in China. China is not high on my bucket list for political reasons, but maybe someday!

I was too tired to hang out downtown, which is what I had planned on originally. Instead, I went out to Redmond to see if I could get a last minute ticket to Cirque Du Soleil- Luzia. If you go, make sure you head out a little earlier than you think you do. The traffic is quite heavy and the parking situation is time consuming. It costs $15 to park- both cash and cards accepted, but you'll park quicker if you have cash. Anyway, this was a great end to my birthday weekend- Luzia is a colorful show with some fantastic costumes and performers. I got a discount ticket for down in the front, the expensive section, and I don't recommend sitting there. It's really close to the stage and some of the effects are really best seen from a distance. I enjoyed it, though, and it's a lot of fun to be close enough that you can really see the performers expressions. I hadn't been to Cirque Du Soleil before and wasn't sure what to expect. It had a bit of everything- acrobats, clowns, storyline. It's a guilt free circus to me- I love the circus but rarely attend because I'm always thinking about how the animals may or may not be mistreated. Rather ruins the performance. Here, the animals are people- crocodiles playing trumpets, playful acrobats dressed as hummingbirds, a jungle cat made up of men under a stylistic body. Anyway- the stage rotates, so you can sit anywhere, but if you want the most interaction with the cast, sit front and center. It's in Redmond through May 21, and it's a fun way to spend an evening.

On Sunday, I picked up my fixed bike-- my lovely is already for summer--and headed home. It turns out that a "staycation" is much like a trip to California after all- I'm little bit sunburned, achy, and above all on a diet...until the next jaunt, at least. Thanks for reading!

(If you are trying to drive between Mt Vernon and Seattle this week, keep in mind the tulip festival is happening, and it makes it a lot more congested. If any of you have been to the festival- what day would be best to go? Will Friday mean lower crowds, or should I just tolerate the traffic and go this weekend?)

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