Sleepless in Seattle
Deborah Martin spends a day indulging in Seattle’s weird and wonderful side. And she’s so enchanted, she forgets to sleep
It’s mid-afternoon and I haven’t slept for twenty-four hours. I’ve travelled right through the night and as my bus finally rolls into Seattle, all I can think is: “I want a really strong cup of coffee”. Luckily I’m in the right place, as Seattle is famed for being the highest caffeine consumer in the United States. It is also the home of Starbucks; being where the mega chain first opened its doors in 1971. With my first coffee in hand, I gather my bearings and fuel myself for a day of exploring.
The first area I visit is Pike Place, the century old waterfront market where you can purchase comics, antiques, lobsters, fine wines or itching powder. It’s a one-stop shop. Rainbow strings of sweet peppers swing from stall fronts and vendors hurl silvery fish across countertops. In the corner, a bearded man is dragging a violin bow across a woodcutter’s saw, creating a surprisingly haunting version of ‘Over The Rainbow’. He winks at me. This is my first indication that Seattle is nothing like I had imagined; it is much more curious.
Curved over seven hills on the Pacific Northwest Coast, this sea-soaked, coffee fuelled city was once a welcoming port for mariners, gold rush dreamers and travelling circus showmen - dragging stuffed gorillas and shiny unicycles across America. And the city’s tolerance of eccentricity is still very much in evidence. I find it all rather charming and my eyes dart around, seeming to have completely forgotten their lack of sleep.
I leave Pike Place and make my way across town to my cosy hostel, located on the Ballard seafront, to drop off my backpack. The owner recommends I visit the downtown area of Fremont and, with Seattle having already broken through my barriers for weirdness, I am now pretty much open to any suggestions. So, to Fremont I go.
A magnet for artists and eccentrics, Fremont has a motto that says it all - ‘De Libertas Quirkas’ (‘The Freedom to be Quirky’). It seems to be the collective aim of the residents to decorate every square inch of space with obscure amateur street art. Blank walls are non-existent and instead everywhere is stencilled, stickered or sprayed with colourful designs.
Around the corner a genuine space-age era rocket hangs on a storefront. Fated for the scrap yard, the locals rescued it, repaired it and launched it on a five-minute sub-orbital flight. It’s just the kind of thing that Fremonters do and I am charmed by the philosophies of this place and their lack of normality.
Feeling a little burnt out, I decide to get another caffeine fix at the laidback Fremont Coffee House - which is a million miles away from your average plastic cup coffee hive. I enjoy a cappuccino with a head foamy enough to support a dozen harp playing angels. I then head back to the hostel, where I spend the early evening sitting on the balcony watching lighted boats sail along the Ballard seafront. I still haven’t slept yet, but the funny thing is I don’t even feel sleepy. This city is wacky enough to keep even the most tired eyes awake.
That evening I decide to take a walk along the beach. I’m all alone (apart from a few hungry gulls), when I hear the screeching of brakes behind me. It’s the hostel owner, gesturing from a van. ‘Jump in, you’ve got to meet a troll’ he yells. Bewildered and powerless to argue, I hop into the van and he zooms along the highway and then parks beneath the Aurora Bridge. I’m not sure why we’re here, until he points out the 18ft stone troll looming above us. He tells me that the troll is famous in Seattle. And I have to admit, it is rather impressive. Teenagers lounge on his knuckles and sip beer, and schoolchildren draw flowers on his cheeks. I clamber up onto his shoulder and give him a kiss on the nose.
Reluctantly, I realise that it might be time to head for my hostel bed. It’s been a non-stop day and in this time I’ve managed to experience some of the wonderful oddness that Seattle has to offer, and all without breaking the bank. I’m going to have some crazy dreams when I do eventually get to sleep, that’s for sure.
Deborah stayed at Hostel Seattle, 6200 Seaview Avenue, Seattle, $25 (£16) per night for a dorm bed, $60 (£40) for a private room, www.hostelseattle.com