Saturday, March 24, 2012

Why I love Seattle best. (Sorry, New York.)

Despite the rainbow heralding our arrival as the ferry sailed closer to Seattle's shoreline, I couldn’t help but think about how much I loathe city-based vacations.

I live in a city. Why would I want to relax in a city? Cities are crowded. They're polluted. There's crime. And city people are mean.

But in less than two days, Seattle managed to defy all my expectations.

Here are the top three reasons why every vacation I take from here on out will be in Seattle:

1. Seattleites are the nicest people ever. (Seriously Toronto, you could learn a lesson or two from Seattle.)

This may be a little contentious to admit, but I LOVE it when people live up to stereotypes. I love Russians sporting speedos, gold chains and unibrows; I love Germans with inverted triangle bodies and back tattoos that read "Life Is Pain" in gothic fonts; and I love Australians who have dreads and work as sheep shearers. (All real people.) I'm a big fan.

So when I heard flannel-clad Seattleites talking about composting, music and alternative transportation methods, I almost wet myself.

But it got even better.

Everyone that we met in Seattle was outrageously friendly. Somehow, the Albertan in me had completely forgotten that in some places, people actually engage in conversations with strangers.

We had extended conversations with servers at every restaurant we went to. Bartenders spent their time recommending drink options. When we said no to people who were begging, they didn't hurl aggressive slurs in response. I was even given a free towel at the hostel instead of having to pay to rent one (presumably because I looked miserable and hungover—although there is the off-chance that I just smelled like I needed a shower).

The friendliness never felt obligatory or like "good customer service." It was just good West Coast sensibility. I like that.

2. Looking for a good cup of coffee in the morning isn't a chore. 

I've been a coffee snob since the age of 15. When you're pulling my shot of espresso, I'm looking over the bar to make sure the crema looks like the tail of a mouse. I drink my coffee black, prefer Americanos, hate Tim Hortons (I know, I'm a terrible Canadian) and think that Starbucks' drip coffee is too acidic.

Coffee should never be bitter and every morning should start with a cup of it.

So here's the thing: When I was at the Vatican, I didn't bother going to see the Sistine Chapel. I still haven't been to the Tower of London. I will probably never go to the Louvre. Basically, if it's a hackneyed tourist destination that involves a line-up, I'm going to skip it because, well, standing in line is pretty much the worst.

But there was no line at the "first" Starbucks and it was only a block away from our hostel, so there was no excuse. And get this—the coffee was actually good.

3. A beer cost less than $5.00. 

I suppose cheap drinks isn't actually Seattle-specific. (We also had the benefit of crossing the border while the Canadian dollar was strong.) But I like a city with unpretentious bars, cheap booze and good music. Seattle hit all these points in stride.

After two nights in Seattle, we drove back up the Olympic Peninsula and back to Victoria. At Mike's apartment, I lay exhausted on the couch. Seattle had defeated me, in the best way possible. While I caught up on my email, Mike made dinner. (Life lesson: always befriend chefs.)

“What did you make?” I asked him. “Mushroom ravioli,” he said, handing me a plate complete with truffle oil and grated parmesan. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it."

If You Go: 

Where to Stay: Short-lived romances, late nights drinking and instant friendships can often influence how you feel about a hostel. Sometimes it’s about the place, sometimes it’s about the people and much too rarely it’s actually about the facilities.

But in the case of Seattle’s Green Tortoise Hostel, we were there for far too short of a time to let outlying factors influence my opinion. So let me just say this—for $30/night, the Green Tortoise is one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in. Ever. (And I've stayed in a lot of hostels.)

I’m not big on privacy (again, I've stayed in a lot of hostels) so the appeal of the curtains on the beds was kind of lost on me. But I did love the individual lamps above each bed, the private washrooms (!!), the electronic key cards and the hostel-organized activities. And you can’t beat the location—it’s directly across from Pike Place Market. 

Don't miss the EMP. I've heard mixed reviews on the Experience Music Project, but the museum was the perfect hangover-day activity. Mike claims he learned to play the guitar in 10 minutes flat, I got to see Mr. Pointy (oh my, how quickly this blog is digressing into all matters of, "Look at me! I'm a nerd!") and we both got our scream-on.

Go bowling on Capitol Hill. Seattle pretty much had me at hello, but finding out that there was a bowling alley downtown sealed the deal (breaking 100 for each game didn't hurt). Garage Billiards (1130 Broadway) has a $5/hour late-night lane specials and shoe rentals for $3.50.

(Don't worry Seattle. I'll be back.)

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