Rails, Rock, and Ristretto: Starlight and Seattle

My sister drove us from Encino to Santa Barbara, regaling us with stories and facts about each of the towns and beach communities we passed along the way.  We took a quick walk around Santa Barbara together before she left us with many hugs and goodbyes at the train station…and two gigantic picnic bags for our journey.  Our train was delayed by more than an hour, so we took another wander down to the pier and beach before finally boarding the romantically named Starlight Express, which runs from Los Angeles to Seattle.  We scored seats with lots of leg room and no seats in front of us.  Slowly the train pulled out of Santa Barbara Station and we were on our way.

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For the first part of the journey, we kept the Pacific Ocean within sight as we wove along the southern California coastline.  Oil wells and dry ranches passed as we worked our way north, and eventually we left the beaches behind as we wended our way inland and through ripples of mountain foothills.  The scenery spread out before us as we leaned back in our seats, munching on hummus, veggies, and all the other delicious tidbits that we had packed for our three meals on the train.  Eventually, we ventured up to the observation car, where seats face wide windows and overhead windows let us look up at the darkening sky as we watched the sun set, sipping wine and beer from the canteen.  We could have reserved seats in the dining car…but we were stuffed from our delicious homemade goodies, so we didn’t really feel the need.  Late in the evening, we pulled into Oakland and then headed further north and we fell asleep with our seats leaned back, snuggled under our blankets.  The next thing I saw was the sun starting to ruse over Mt. Shasta as we neared the state border with Oregon.  The mountain scenery was wilder and still sported quite a bit of snow as we spent the morning in the observation car.  Local volunteers from a small town museum acted as tour guides, pointing out sights of interest and providing colorful background stories.  After a 24 hour ride, we got off in Eugene, OR to stay a few days with my brother, sending the Starlight on to Seattle ahead of us.

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We crashed at my brother’s over the weekend for a time of beer-swilling, Portland road tripping, Game of Thrones watching shenanigans.  On Monday morning, we caught the Bolt Bus for a six hour trip up to Seattle.  And of course, as we arrived, it was raining.  Nevertheless, we were able to hunt down the bus we needed to take us out to the suburb of Redmond, where we were welcomed in by my mother’s former work friend who has been living out in Seattle for as long as I can remember.  In fact, the last time I saw Ann, I was 10 years old!  It was pretty awesome that she opened her home to us and we enjoyed cooking and sipping wine with her.  The next morning, we took the bus into town bright and early with the morning commuters.  We got off near Pike’s Place Market and I took a very eager Sangbyeong for a cup of coffee at the first Starbucks, which was delightfully uncrowded at 8 AM.  Walking through the chilly air, we made our way to Seattle Center, the cultural area around the Space Needle, full of museums, art installations, concert halls, and so forth.  A bit of an aside: one of the architects who worked on the area’s revamp, around 2008, was the older brother of a college comrade.  Very cool.  We also spent a while admiring the outside of the EMP Museum, dedicated to the history of pop culture…namely popular music and science fiction.  The entrance fee was a little too steep for us, but the outside made for some lovely photos.

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Getting hungry, we headed back to Pike’s Place Market.  I love the quirkiness here and the  labyrinthine backways that host a whole cast of eccentric characters and fascinating shops.  We sniffed Tibetan incenses, flipped through sci-fi movie posters, pawed through bins of secondhand scarves, and tiptoed through some tulips.  Of course, we had to see the fish guys throwing fish…and pet the large metal pig…and there was the obligatory visit to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory (they had vegan marzipan!!!).  Over the next couple days, we would return to Pike’s Place Market a few more times to soak in its atmosphere of antique and off-kilter—the funny mix of tourists and local secrets.

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The following day, we dedicated almost exclusively to coffee and beer.  Seattle is rightly famous for its coffee culture, of which Starbucks is only the tiny tip of a very big iceberg.  We did find our way, completely by chance, to one of their concept shops that has roasting, tasting, and experimentation altogether in one place.  We also visited a couple other coffee shops before running from the rain into one of the city’s many beer houses that serve the super local microbrews on one of their 50-some taps and rotate their list on a weekly basis.  As we started to tromp back to the street where we could catch our ride home, we also managed to find the Jimi Hendrix statue.  That evening, Ann treated us to dinner at a favorite restaurant of theirs and we chatted the evening away overlooking the city skyline.

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On our last full day in Seattle, we decided to hop a ferry to the nearby Bainbridge Island, a sanctuary of greenery and peace away from the tall buildings of the city’s center.  For the price of the ferry, you also get the best views of Seattle’s waterfront and skyline from the water…not to mention amazing views of snow swathed Mt Rainier off in the distance.  Once on the island, we hit the nature trails hard, spotting plenty of birds and local flora.  There was also a harbor seal frolicking in the chilly waters as we walked past one docking area.  Aside from the gorgeous nature, there are loads of charming houses and well-manicured lawns, interspersed with public sculpture.  In the main street of town, we found amazing veg food and a lovely tea shop to rest our toes.

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Refreshed, we did a last circuit of trails and beaches, tasted some wines at a tasting room, and caught the ferry back to the mainland, complete with yet more amazing views as we rode on the prow.  By the time we got back to our host, we were exhausted, but happy to share one of the wines we had tasted that day with her as thanks for her hospitality.  The next morning, we carried our bags into town and explored a bit of the international district and eating at a Korean restaurant where our waitress was a very recent transplant from Seoul.

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By 11, we found our Bolt Bus (same driver, new bus), settled into our seats, and headed back towards Eugene for more sibling adventures…and beer…and Game of Thrones.

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