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Trip Report Our week in Seattle...

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Day 1

Up at 4am EST for out 7:00am flight! Our on-stop from BWI on budget airline Airtran ($215 RT!) was a smooth 5 hours and 10 minutes, and we arrived at 9:20 am PDT. We went to the car rental and got a Ford Flex, a 6-seater with fold-down third row seats. Plenty of space for 5, and all the luggage fit, too! Group was me, DW, MIL, #1S & #2S. MIL was recently widowed and we thought a vacation with us would lift her spirits (it did).

We negotiated our way to the VRBO rental in Capitol Hill. Capitol Hill is a historic residential neighborhood about 1.5 miles from city center. The houses are turn-of-the-century Victorians, and our rental house is 1 block south of Volunteer Park, a beautiful public park that sits on a hill, looking west to the Space Needle and Elliott Bay. The house was huge, with 5 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a fully finished basement with media room, laundry and children's playroom, formal dining room and living room, big, well-equipped kitchen, backyard grill and playground, 3 TVs and more space than we know what to do with. It really is a bargain at $2,000 for the week, much less than 2 hotel rooms would have run. Once we were in, me and #1S walked a few blocks down 15th Ave to QFC to get lunch makings. Although the blocks surrounding the house are very residential, just 5 blocks south, things become much more commercial, with plenty of restaurants, shops, groceries, bakers, and coffee houses. Also, the main bus line connecting Capitol Hill and downtown (no. 10) was only steps away from the front door. We had picked the perfect location!

After eating a big lunch, MIL and DW headed back down 15th Ave to Safeway to get groceries for the week. The west coast ethos seemed laid back and friendly – very unlike DC! Then, we all rested for a couple of hours. The scenery there is gorgeous and sometimes startling. After a couple hours' rest, we headed north to Fremont, a neighborhood that lies directly north of Lake Union. #1S wanted to explore on his own -- Fremont is known to be fun,, full of outdoor sculpture and cool stores. The neighborhood also sponsors outdoor movies in the summer, and was showing "E.T." at 7:30. #1S thought he would stay for the movie, then take a bus back home.

After dropping off #1S, we drove on down to the waterfront, and parked near Pike Place, walking down about 200 steps from the street level down to Pier 55, where we were lucky to get tickets for the final 1-hour Harbor Cruise by Argosy Cruises. A cruise is a perfect way to relax and orient oneself to a city after 8 hours of travelling - highly recommended for any city that has water. Even for "repeat" cities like Paris. Anyway, we immediately boarded and then had a lovely cruise up and down Eilliott Bay. We saw the Port of Seattle (love those cargo ships!), Dewamish Waterway, Bainbridge Island, and lots of postcard-perfect views of the Seattle skyline. We got back to the house at around 7:00, and cooked a simple dinner. It was hard to stay awake -- our body clocks were catching up with us. Luckily, #1S ended up coming home earlier than we expected, because he decided not to stay for the movie after all and took the bus downtown instead. I think he was getting tired, too! So by 9:30 everyone was home, tucked into bed and sound asleep. It had been a long, and wonderful, first day.

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    Day 2

    We woke up pretty early, about 5:30. Our body clocks still hadn't quite adjusted to Pacific time. So that meant a very leisurely morning of reading the Sunday paper, breakfast, showers, doing crosswords and visiting until it was time to go to church. I had picked out Saint Mark's Cathedral, which was the closest Episcopal church to our house in Capitol Hill. It was only a 2-minute drive, sort of catty-corner on the far northwest corner of Volunteer Park (we were near the southeast corner). The church felt neither old nor new -- the outside is not very pretty, actually, kind of hulking. But the inside was airy and light and very beautiful. We went to the 11:00 Eucharist, which was a wonderful Rite II service with lots of familiar hymns, a terrific organist, and a very sweet women's choir (since the usual Chancel Choir was on summer break). The sermon was absolutely terrific, and opened with a reference to Baptist "sword drills" -- that is, seeing who can find Bible verses the fastest. The preacher's point was that good Episcopalians have no idea what sword drills are, since the only Bible verses they ever hear are during the Liturgy of the Word on Sunday morning.

    After church, we returned home and made a nice lunch for everyone. Then #1S was antsy to go -- he wanted to get out and explore on his own. He ended up doing a lot of walking, and seeing Pike Place Market, Olympic Sculpture Garden, Seattle Center, visiting the Science Fiction Museum, and riding the Monorail. But he didn't have a camera with him and didn't give us any details on his adventures, so .... enough about him! The rest of us changed into jeans and drove east on I-90 from Seattle to Snoqualmie, Washington, about 35 miles away. Snoqualmie is a little too self-consciously cute (one of the streets is called "A Better Way"), and was preparing for the coming weekend's big golf tournament, the Boeing Classic. In the tiny downtown, the Northwest Railway Museum offers scenic train rides from Snoqualmie to North Bend, with views of Mt. Si and Snoqualmie Falls. The round trip is about 75 minutes long. We got to town at 2:30, and bought our tickets for the 3:30 train. That gave us time to wander the museum grounds (lots of old locomotives, work equipment, and passenger cars), check out local artists' paintings, and have a snack at KoKo Beans Coffee House across the street from the depot. Once we boarded, #2S was in heaven -- a train ride is just as much fun as a boat ride! It was a low-key and enjoyable outing. At our turnaround spot in North Bend, we spotted Twede's Cafe, home of "Twin Peaks Cherry Pie". I remember Kyle McLaughlin eating a lot of cherry pie in that show, but I don't remember where the mythical town of Twin Peaks was located. Hmmm, may have to Netflix the series. Anyway, when we got off the train at 4:45, we bought a few postcards at the bookstore, then swung down the road about a mile to the Salish Lodge and Snoqualmie Falls Park. From the viewing platform above the falls, we got a beautiful view of the water's 300-foot plunge. There was a 1/2-mile trail to the bottom of the falls, which #2S was gung-ho to explore, but it was getting close to dinner time, and we decided to head back to Seattle.

    Back at the house, dinner at “home”, and then a walk around the neighborhood to explore some more. We climbed the water tower at the base of Volunteer Park, which has great views of the city and bay. It was a struggle to stay awake until 10:00, when "Mad Men" came on (season 3 has just begun). But we all managed to stay up later, so that we could get on the local time more successfully.

    Day 3

    Monday was great! For one thing, #1S graced us with his presence for the whole day -- we felt honored. We started the day by driving north and west to the neighborhood of Ballard, a formerly industrial, now gentrifying neighborhood. We were visiting the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, which control access through the Lake Washington Ship Canal, an inland waterway connecting Puget Sound to Lake Washington. The facility is managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, and it is gorgeous and a really fun visit. The locks themselves are fascinating: we watched two pleasure boats transit through the smaller lock. Then we walked down to the fish ladder and watched Chinook salmon trying to climb their way from the saltwater Shilshole Bay side of the dam to the freshwater spawning grounds in Salmon Bay on the other side -- leaping up 23 successive levels of concrete steps. I didn't realize what hard work it is for salmon to climb up a fish ladder -- no wonder they die shortly after completing their journey. Also on the grounds is a lovely botanical garden, with some very desirable military housing in the middle of the park, where the commanding officer for the locks facility lives.

    After 90 minutes at the locks, we headed to the nearby Archie McPhee store for some much needed practical items. Afterward, we went down one block to a wonderful Neapolitan pizzeria called Tutta Bella, which has received the Sigillo di Autenticita, or seal of authenticity, that the restaurant adheres to the culinary discipline of Naples' traditional pizza making: organic San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and an approved wood fired oven. We were in Naples in May and it sure tasted authentic to us, and we ate every morsel of our pizzas, appetizers and salads.

    Our next stop was just another mile or so east to the Woodland Park Zoo, a well-designed and attractive private non-profit zoo that is small, compared to the National Zoo or -- gulp! -- the San Diego Zoo, but very enjoyable. The big draw was the new Penguin exhibit, with Humbolt Penguins from the coasts of Chile and Peru. They were incredibly cute, of course. We also saw the animals of the African savanna, which MIL loved -- it brought back wonderful memories of her recent 50th anniversary trip to South Africa and the good times they had together. We stayed at the zoo a little under 2 hours, then all met up and hopped back in the car for our last stop: the movies.

    I had researched in the morning's Seattle Times for the show times and locations of the new Japanese animated film "Ponyo" by director Hayao Miyazake, and, fortuitously, the closest showing was just a couple of miles south of the zoo, in the University of Washington neighborhood (Go Huskies!). #1S had already seen the movie, so he saw Paul Giametti in "Cold Souls" instead, which would start just 5 minutes earlier. Since we were 40 minutes early, we had tapas, sangria, etc. at the Spanish restaurant next door to kill time. The two movies ended within minutes of each other, and we all enjoyed ourselves, especially #2S, who adores going to the movies.

    We returned to the house at about 7 pm, and I cooked dinner for all. #1S wandered down to the neighborhood cafes for an hour or so, and the rest of us watched TV or vegged out until bedtime.

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    Day 4

    We hung around the house all morning, having a leisurely breakfast and an extended crossword puzzle solving session. After a tasty lunch of sandwiches with all the fixings, we packed up to go down to the Seattle Waterfront. Upon arriving, we split up: #1S and ML went to the Seattle Art Museum, and spent a wonderful two hours exploring the eclectic collections there. There was an extensive collection of "First People" art and artifacts, from prehistoric to very modern. There was also a small, but lovely, collection of Andrew Wyeth's work.

    Meanwhile, DW, #2S and I went to the Seattle Aquarium, which focuses on Northwest aquatic environments, including fish, mammals, and birds. I especially loved the sea otters and river otters, who were so playful and fun to watch. A group of children played a game of "Orca Marco Polo" with a museum docent, where the orca had to find his dinner using echolocation. Each kid in the lineup shouted its name (jellyfish, squid, banana split, salmon), and the blindfolded child playing the orca had to find the salmon using sound alone. It's a very nice aquarium, manageable and focused, with well-designed exhibits and a very enthusiastic staff.

    We had a meet-up scheduled at the edge of Pike Place Market, though #1S passed since he had already scoped out the market on Sunday. DW, #2S and I had walked through the market on our way back up from the Aquarium, and we thought the market crowds were a little intense for #2S, so #2S and I peeled off to walk up to the Monorail station. #2S and I rode the Monorail to Seattle Center (where the Space Needle is), and #2S made a happy beeline for an family amusement park area (with a roller coaster, ferris wheel, log flume ride, and all sorts of Midway games). I hate roller coasters, but rode along (eyes closed) to make #2S happy. So, that left DW and MIL to explore Pike Place. They stopped at the fish stand to see if any were being tossed, but there was a big crowd of "Looky Lous", and no buyers, and the fish don't fly if you no one buys. DW & MIL chatted with vendors and tasted their way through the top level of the market, stopping at Beechers Handmade Cheese for a little snack for later, and then the original Starbucks for a quick picture. We all (minus #1S) met back to the parking garage, and then I dropped DW, MIL and #2S off at Pier 55 for the Tillicum Village cruise and salmon bake. They loved it, but I just can’t take any sort of pre-packaged “cultural experience” - no matter how high the quality. My loss, perhaps.

    Anyway, their tour began with a 45-minute narrated cruise from the Seattle waterfront to Blake Island State Park. Chief Seattle of the Suquamish tribe was born on the island. Historically, he gets the credit for the successful founding of the city of Seattle. The first settlers had tried to establish themselves on Alki Point, across the sound from the city, but it was exposed, cold and miserable in the winter. Chief Seattle explained that eastern side of the sound was much more protected and better suited for permanent habitation. Once they arrived at Tillicum Village, they received a friendly welcome with steamed clams and were shown into the longhouse for a delicious alder-baked salmon dinner. After dinner, they were treated to a terrific show of Pacific Northwestern Native American dancing. Then we had a half hour of free time to explore the trails on the island before the boat left the island to return to Seattle. DW, MIL, & #2S grabbed a taxi at the dock, and were back to the house by 9:30. #1S had split off after the art museum and return about 10pm – we have no idea what he did for 8 hours (he didn’t want to say and I was afraid to find out). I relaxed at the house and read – some blessed time alone in a week we had all stuck together.

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    Thanks for the great report. I'm so glad your rental worked out. It's just a couple blocks from where I live! Glad you enjoyed the neighborhood!! Isn't Voluneer Park beautiful, I an lucky to consider it my own "backyard" right in the city.

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    Day 5

    Wednesday was our day to explore Seattle's historic district, Pioneer Square, and then visit the iconic Space Needle. We drove down to Pier 52 and parked under the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Pioneer Square is a 9- square block neighborhood that was the heart of downtown Seattle from its founding in 1851 through the late 19th century. But in 1889, a fire raged through the city, and the entire area was rebuilt, with most of the buildings being designed by the same architect, Elmer Fisher, which gives the area a distinctly uniform architectural style. The area is unique because during the rebuilding after the fire, the streets were raised to counteract a "malodorous plumbing problem", and the 2nd stories of all the buildings became the de facto ground floor. There is a whole subterranean Seattle that can be visited in the Underground Tour, but we passed because a 2-hour guided tour was too long for any of us.

    So instead, we conducted our own walking tour, using a Frommer's guidebook. #1S peeled off at this point (surprise!), preferring to explore on his own. We fortified ourselves with Starbucks coffee and donuts, then began our tour in the triangular plaza at the heart of Pioneer Square, with a bust of Chief Seattle and a well-traveled Tlingit totem pole. The original totem pole that stood on this spot was stolen from a village in Fort Tongass, Alaska in 1938 by Seattle businessmen who were visiting on a cruise. After an arsonist's fire in 1938 that destroyed the pole, the Seattle mayor sent a check to the Tlingit tribal leaders in Fort Tongass, requesting a replacement pole. They sent a letter responding "Thanks for paying for the first one. Send another check for a replacement." We admired the Smith Tower, which was the tallest building east of the Mississippi when it was competed in 1914. We ambled around the block, checking out the interesting shops. Then we relaxed for ½ an hour in Occidental Park, with four colorful totem poles and a bronze statue honoring Seattle's fallen firefighters. This is a popular park with the homeless population, so we didn't linger too long, even though a couple of musicians were setting up to begin playing. Instead, we walked on to the enclosed Waterfall Garden Park, then the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, which, despite the name, is really a museum, not a park. (The National Park Service museum has a sister facility in Skagway, Alaska). The 1897 Klondike gold rush turned Seattle from a sleepy town to a booming metropolis, as more than 100,000 gold seekers outfitted themselves and departed on ships bound for Alaska and Canada. We enjoyed collecting stamps and rubbings as we explored different stations on our way through the well-organized, fun and interactive museum.

    It was definitely lunchtime by the time we were done, so we decided to move on. We walked back to the car and drove north about 10 blocks into downtown, to have some "Serious Pie" -- pizza, that is. Seattle celebrity chef Tom Douglas owns and manages five downtown restaurants, and if our lunch at Serious Pie is any indication, he knows what he's doing! We had wines,appetizers, pizzas and salad, and delicious desserts. Now we were ready to tackle the Space Needle. We walked on through the commercial heart of the city to Westlake Center, an upscale urban mall that is the southern terminus for the famous Monorail. The 1.5-mile system connecting downtown to Seattle Center was built in 1962 for the Seattle World's Fair, to connect the fairgrounds to downtown amenities. Although it's really a tourist-mover and not a true public transportation system, it was a lot of fun to ride, especially as it passes directly through the Experience Music Project rock music museum that sits in its crazy glory next to the Space Needle. In addition to these two attractions, Seattle Center also has a family amusement park (which #2S and I had already checked out on Tuesday), the Science Fiction Museum, and the Pacific Science Center. The line for the Space Needle was very short, about 5 minutes, and we listened to Peruvian folk music as we waited. Then we were whisked 600 feet up in a glass-front elevator. The views from the observation deck were fantastic. Mount Rainier was out and very visible, and Elliott Bay was full of cargo ships, tugs, and pleasure boats. We could clearly see Volunteer Park and could almost pick out our house. We sat with cups of coffee and admired the view, before heading down and taking the Monorail back downtown.

    We reached the car just as our parking expired at 4:05, then headed back to Capitol Hill, where it was DW’s turn to make a big dinner. While DW was cooking, MIL and I took yet another walk in the neighborhood and Volunteer Park and enjoyed the Seattle Art Museum's Asian Collections building, the Conservatory, the colorful blooms around the grounds, and the top of the water tower. Then it was time to take it easy, watch some TV, and prepare for our road trip to Olympic National Park.

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    suze, Yes - Volunteer Park makes for a lovely "back yard" - it never gets old. We didn't end up using any of your restaurant recs but appreciate the advice. We started out with a 2BR high rise condo near Pike Place until we decided to invite MIL to join us. Then we cancelled the 2BR and scoped out VRBO for 3BR ones, but they simply don't exist in that nieghborhood. Which is why we ended up on Capitol Hill and I'm so glad we did! It would have been a VERY different (though still good) vacation had we stayed downtown all week. On to day 6:


    Day 6

    On Thursday morning, we (DW, MIL, #2S, & I) got out early enough to catch the 8:45 ferry from Seattle west across Elliott Bay to Bainbridge Island. After the 35-minute crossing, we drove north through the towns of Suquamish and Poulsbo to Port Gamble, where we crossed the Hood Canal on the famous floating bridge. It was a good thing we weren't taking this trip earlier in the summer, when the bridge was closed for maintenance -- it would have been a LONG detour down through Tacoma and Olympia, then back up the Olympic Peninsula. The Hood Canal bridge is built on concrete pontoons, and is the third-longest floating bridge in the world. As we crossed, we could see the beautiful Olympic Mountains in the distance. Next, we skirted Discovery Bay and drove through the lavender fields of Sequim (pronounced "SKWIM"), and before lunch time, we were in Port Angeles, the gateway to Olympic National Park. We had a heavy fried seafood lunch at a waterside restaurant, and then entered the park, stopping first at NPS headquarters for a map.

    U.S. Route 101 encircles the entire park, but no roads go through the park. So there was quite a bit of driving involved. For example, our first stop in the park was Hurricane Ridge, only 17 miles from Port Angeles, but a 45-minute drive. Hurricane Ridge is 5,757 feet in elevation, and has a spectacular view of the mountain ridge, which, even in late August, had snow and glaciers covering the craggy tops.
    DW, #2S and I took a short 1/2-mile hike around the ridge while MIL drank in the view from the wonderful visitor's center. We wended our way back down the ridge, back through Port Angeles, and headed west toward Crescent Lake and Marymere Falls, in the very center of the park's northern tier. In less than an hour, we arrived, and since it was a little too early to check in to the Lake Crescent Lodge, our accommodation for that night, we parked and hiked together down to Marymere Falls, a 1.5-mile roundtrip through old-growth hardwood forest, many trees draped with airy club moss, hanging like matted beards. The falls were lovely, cascading 90 feet down to Barnes Creek, which in turn feeds into the breathtaking Crescent Lake, which has been called the most beautiful lake in Washington State.

    After our hike, we checked into a tiny cottage at the Lake Crescent Lodge (two queen beds, a bathroom, and no room for much else, all the furniture lovingly made from polished tree limbs). During the planning phase, by the time we decided to visit Olympic Park, this single cottage was the only Lake Crescent accommodation available. If you decide to stay at the park (which you need to do, due to distances), reserve room(s) ASAP. A cheaper option I wish we had considered was to stay in the town of Forks – especially so we wouldn’t have been 4 people in one room!

    The main lodge building itself, which used to be called Singer Tavern, is almost 100 years old. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once stayed here, and during his visit, advocated the establishment of Olympic National Park. After check-in, we had a restorative coffee in the comfortable main hall of the lodge, which featured plenty of lounge furniture, board games, a bar, and a big sun porch. Then we walked down to the dock (first changing into our bathing suits). Crescent Lake is glacier fed and pretty doggone chilly, even at 4:30 pm on a late August afternoon! We decided against swimming, except for #2S, who reveled in jumping off the dock and swimming around to the ladder, just to climb up and do it all again (and again, and again). He wore himself out after an hour, and we changed for dinner at the lodge, which featured northwest cuisine. DW and I shared a bottle of wine, and then played a somewhat woozy game of Scrabble, before turning in. It was tight quarters -- we made a seat cushion bed on the floor for #2S -- and no one slept as comfortably as we had back in Seattle, but what the heck, it's only one night! Of course, I found myself wondering what #1S was doing on his own in that big, 5-bedroom Capitol Hill house. I pictured the Tom Cruise scene of him dancing in his underwear from "Risky Business"...

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    Day 7 - final day

    We were up and packed early on Friday morning, ready to see more of the park. After a lengthy breakfast, with slow and scatterbrained service from our waitress who hadn't gotten enough rest after her dinner shift the night before (and was unprofessional enough to tell everyone, as well), we checked out and headed west again on U.S. 101, toward the last-chance town of Forks, perched in the middle of nowhere on the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula. Again, though the drive was only about 45 or 50 miles, it took an hour and a half, because of the winding roads that followed the shoreline of Crescent Lake. In Forks, we stopped at a big grocery/general/hardware store for sodas and snacks, and then pressed on, driving south and then east to the Hoh Rain Forest, deep in the interior of Olympic National Park -- in fact, the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center is the jumping off point for climbers making an ascent of Mount Olympus, which is in the dead center of the park. MIL browsed the gift shop and hung around the visitor center while DW, #2S and I hiked for about 1.5 miles through the rain forest. The Hoh Rain Forest was crazy beautiful -- more of that club moss hanging everywhere, big fungus formations, quiet, tea-colored pools, and dizzyingly tall trees all intermingled. People hiked very quietly, almost as though they were in church.

    After our hike, we headed back up to Forks and bought sandwiches and chips at the same store for a picnic lunch. Now we were on our way north and west to Rialto Beach, one of the 12 beaches strung like jewels on a chain stretching 30 miles along the Olympic National Park Coastal Area. It was cool, windy, and very foggy on the beach, and we couldn't see the water from the picnic table because of a high wall of enormous logs and driftwood. It was ghostly and surreal. We could not believe it when we saw a guy coming in from surfing in the water -- it was not more than 55 degrees outside, and who knows how cold the water was -- plus the killer floating logs in the surf, and the wildness of the waves. After eating our chilly lunch, we walked along the beach, which is composed of millions of smooth black rocks. There were wonderful, weird rock formations off the shore, but we couldn't see them clearly because of the fog. I am sure that this part of the Pacific Coast is incredibly beautiful on a sunny day, but on a cold, foggy afternoon, it is a little freaky .... It felt like we might wander into a horror movie set.

    Now it was 2:00, and time to start the LONG drive back to Seattle. We stopped in Port Angeles once again, to gas up and hit a drive-through espresso shack. We were lucky to catch the 5:30 ferry at Bainbridge Island because it was 15 minutes delayed, and were back at the house by 6:45, exhausted but thoroughly pleased with our trip to Olympic National Park.

    At around 7:30, DW and I went out to dinner, while MIL and our sons ordered pizza. We were much too tired to drive anywhere, so we walked a few blocks south on 15th Avenue to Smith, a terrific bar with 40 different beers and good, satisfying food. We started with local cheeses, cured meats and olives, and then shared a brick-baked chicken half and rich bone marrow on toast. We rolled out at 9:00 and headed back for an early night.

    All that was left was to pack and leave on Saturday morning. We needed to be out of the house by 7:30 or so to make our 10:25 flight home. The flight home was smooth, and the high heat and high humidity at BWI was oppressive. I wanted to go back to Seattle right there and then. Fortunately, the DC summer ended the next day with temps now in the 70’s and low humidity.

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    Thanks for your terrific trip report. I too stayed in Capitol Hill when I visited Seattle for the first time ever last year (although much closer to the Pike/Pine corridor) and it was nice to re-visit one of my favourite US cities through your eyes. How nice that Mount Rainier came out for you when you were up high on the Space Needle :).

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    Wonderful report, bardo! You covered a lot of ground. Hurricane Ridge is one of my favorite places - spectacular views in every direction. And believe it or not, as kids we'd go swimming (well, wading) in that freezing ocean water all summer. The hardiness of youth. :-)

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    Thanks for the report, we enjoyed a lovely weekend in Seattle at the Fairmont Olympic earlier this summer. Two visits to Pike Place Market, the Space Needle at night, the Ride The Ducks Tour and meals at Etta's, Cafe Campagne, Union and The Georgian Room were highlights of our trip. ***kim*** ((#))

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    Loved this report! We went to Seattle in February and hadn't planned to drive to Olympic National Park but did on a whim and thought the Elwah River Valley was amazingly beautiful. We never made it to Hoh or Rialto Beach as my husband said no more driving for the day.

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