Money to tight to mention Departing Vancouver Island - Tuesday 13th September
Well I was being tight - we had purchased a full tank of fuel up front so could drop the hire car off empty and that was my goal. I had eighty miles left in the tank and calculated that $8 would get us enough to make the trip back in good time to drop the car off, book our luggage on board the Seattle ferry, post some things back home and have breakfast.
$8 paid, the Satnav indicated 150km to destination and I had 180km of fuel left on my dash. Nothing could go wrong.
That morning, I was slightly off colour and tired. I wanted to ease myself gently into the day. As we left our accommodation and headed onto the road, Karen screamed and I nearly wet myself looking for animals, children or other indications that I was heading towards certain doom. "I forget to drop the keys in". Thank you for the wake up Karen.
Anyway I had forgotten about the hills and the 110km speed limit. Juice was burned up quickly and we floated in on fumes with the dashboard indicating 15km of fuel left. Chores done we refuelled in a local hotel restaurant and headed back to the Ferry Terminal to pass through US customs and board.
I think we're alone now The Victoria Clipper
Tiffany was our skipper - no not the singer or the Eastender - Bill Tiffany.
The Ferry itself was a catamaran designed for foot passengers only and would take us right into the downtown area of Seattle.
The sea was dead calm and we quickly glided over the waves at an impressive 30kmph. I kept seeing things that I hoped were dolphins or whales but most were just logs, cormorants or large pieces of seaweed.
The almost three hour trip passed without incident as we passed along the US coast amongst the islands that would lead us into Puget Sound and the heart of the city. The skyline appeared ahead and was augmented by the sight of the largest cruise ship I have ever seen. I have no idea which one it was but can vouch that it were a big un.
You're hot and you're cold
At some point during the day (it might have been at breakfast) Karen asked a waitress whether iced tea was a hot drink. This entertained me and completely baffled the humourless waitress who straight batted the question.
Stuck on you Arriving in Seattle later the same day
After quickly disembarking we took a very fast cab to our destination. At one point he had to make a detour as a truck had wedged itself under a flyover section that's was clearly too low for the height of the truck. Two thirds of the top of the truck had been peeled back and slivers of metal littered the road. The vehicle was well and truly stuck and the driver in all sorts of trouble.
After dropping our gear off at the motel we headed out. We were north of the downtown area, near University campuses and amongst suburbs. We found a local sports park and Green Lake a few blocks to the north. A stroll round the well-used Lake was followed by a Thai meal before we headed back.
Coffee and TV
Starbucks is literally everywhere. Each street has multiple stores so it must be one of the largest food based employer in the city. We avoided the sites wherever possible.
I can't say too much about the TV adverts here - they are certainly to the point and often medically adult in nature. If I say that Colon Flow is advertised using statistics on retained weight and toxins you'll get my drift. What I will say about the American approach to some pretty personal issues, is that they are much more get on with it rather than the doom and gloom Canadian take on things.
Smells like Teen Spirit Seattle Wednesday 14th September
Here we are now, entertain us!
But first, as UPS would say, logistics. We had one full day to explore the city but we needed to book our place on the next day's California train before we did anything else. We caught a bus and sat down in the only seats available (without a view) and then guessed when to get off. Having worked out our position on the map, we walked down the usual huge street to the station pausing to look at shops and have breakfast.
The Amtrak station is next to the two huge sporting arenas - Qwest Stadium (hosting the Seattle Seahawks American Football team and the Seattle Sounders soccer team) and Safeco Field where the Seattle Mariners baseball team play.
In this sensitive time there are lots of police with guns and large amounts of spare ammo at any public transport building - something unnerving for us Brits but also quite comforting. Having booked our tickets we headed back into downtown area to enjoy ourselves.
Bohemian neighbourhoods with quirky shops (lots of rug sellers) and old fashioned bars soon gave way to oceanside apartment blocks, art shops, expensive boutiques and hotels - one of which had a fire alert captured on camera by Karen.
Shortly afterwards we came across Pike Place Market, a mixture of an amazing fresh food market and Covent Garden type restaurants, stalls and shops. It is spread out over a large area and occupies several levels on the hill above the ferry piers. The fish shops have huge oysters, lobster tails and scallops as well as a vast range of fresh fish. We stopped for lunch and then headed to the Seattle Centre.
Seattle Centre has the famous Space Needle (that we did not go up), entertainment venues and a science centre. We visited EMP, the museum of Music, Sci-Fi and Pop Culture.
EMP seems to focus on exhibitions and at our time it had detailed exhibitions on Nirvana, Jimmy Hendrix, Battlestar Galactica and Avatar. Very impressively put together and strong contributions from surviving band members or cast and crew.
Having sated our cultural needs for the day we headed back to our little motel.
A day in the life Amtrak to San Francisco - Thursday 15th September
Well actually more like a day and a half.
Our 7.30 am taxi dropped us off in good time to book in our luggage and find somewhere for breakfast. We settled on Tully's, a chain of shops and sat and watched the world go by.
There are a lot of cops in the US (800,000 apparently) but most of them seem to be eating or drinking coffee most of the time. There was a small group in Tully's and often when I looked out of the window on the train I could see two or three patrol cars congregated at diners. It is as if Chief Wiggum in the Simpsons is their role model.
We had an interesting chat with a mad eye Murphy type character in the queue to board. He was a cool dude who looked like he had a good few days in town before heading back home to Portland in Oregon. The rest of the passengers were a mixture of races, ages and classes although there did seem to be a large number of elderly and infirm passengers who looked like they might not make it through the whole journey.
My thoughts almost came true as we had a medical emergency on the train (including the "is there a doctor on board") but the matter was dealt with without delay and we only stopped for a short extra period at a planned stop.
The Hispanic buffet car attendant kept everyone's spirits us with some banter over the tannoy as well as announcing the day's delights. We grabbed lunch from the café but decided to book a reservation for Dinner in the dining car. It would kill some time; mean a hot meal and provide a chance to meet fellow passengers. We sat with a retired couple from Southern California who were just returning from a golfing trip.
The train stopped everywhere, the track was often single so it had to wait for north bound trains to pass and it could only go slow speeds on corners and through mountain passes. A German train would have rolled over a greater distance in Europe in half the time (no pun intended but boy did I have to resist changing the first letter of pun). That said it was a great experience even if it did take us 24 hours from departing Seattle to reach San Francisco.
Are you going to San Francisco? Arrival - Friday 16 September
At 8.30 am, the train dropped us off at Emeryville which sits just under the east end of the Bay Bridge on the Oakland side of San Francisco bay. Bags were loaded onto a coach to finish the journey to the Ferry Terminal on San Francisco's waterfront.
After waiting behind a nice polite young lady going back home to LA and a random spaced out woman who thought that every time someone opened their mouth they were talking to her, we dropped our bags into left luggage near the Ferry building and went for an explore. This killed a few hours before we could grab a cab and book into our motel in the Marina district. by the time we sat on the bed we had been on the go for 32 hours!
Karen will pick up the adventures in San Francisco so for now it's tatty bye.