Seattle - Separate state of mind
Fed up with fast food, strip malls and sprawling suburbia? Then come to Seattle, which prides itself on being different from the rest of the United States. The home of Amazon and Microsoft, grunge music and American café culture has preserved its pioneering spirit and exudes a rustic, independent charm.
No, he’s not really surprised. In fact, it’s what he expected. It has something to do with the taste buds, like when tasting wine, cheese or chocolate. “It takes practise,” says Chris Sharp. His guests look helpless and confused. They have just tasted a new variety from the Kenyan highlands: sniffed it, put a spoonful in their mouth, slurped, sloshed it around and even gargled a bit, but, if they’re honest, it just tasted like ... coffee! Not like Rwanda Premium or Ethiopia III. Nor can anyone say whether it’s different from or even the same as what they started out with. Mr. Sharp isn’t surprised.
This group of tourists comes from a small town in the American Midwest and he guesses that the choice of coffees there isn’t exactly overwhelming. “Just stay aware over the next few days,” he says, softening their disappointment, “and think about what you’re drinking, savor it before you swallow! I guarantee that by the end of the week, you will be able to distinguish between at least seven kinds.” Where are we? We’re at a public coffee tasting in the Victrola Cafe and Roastery owned by Chris Sharp. Chris is a caffeine fan and an “independent coffee roaster” according to his business card. And he’s in business in Seattle, naturally.
Nowhere else in the United States do people seek the ultimate caffeine kick like they do here. Close to 100 small roasting companies have made Seattle the country’s unsung coffee capital, and there’s naturally a Starbucks on every third corner (this is where the chain was founded). Tourists no longer visit Seattle just to explore Pike Place Market, to cheer on the SuperSonics or ride the elevator to the top of the 184-meter Space Needle.
Skyline, Water Sports and Alki Beach
“The mountain is out!” is what Seattlites say when the clouds part and majestic Mount Rainier appears on the horizon. An active volcano although it hasn’t erupted since the 19th century, Mount Rainier rises nearly 4400 meters into the sky some 90 miles from the center of Seattle and is well loved by ramblers and winter sports fans.
Water doesn’t just fall from the sky here, it dominates the scenery on sunny days, too. For one thing, there’s Puget Sound, which connects Seattle with the nearby Pacific Ocean, and then a number of lakes and canals within the city limits. With water covering more than 40 percent of the city area, Seattle is a fantastic place for sailing, canoeing and kayaking.
Alki Beach is the perfect city beach: a broad strip of sand that can get pretty crowded in the summer. Running the length of the beach, the promenade is ideal for strollers and skaters and lined with restaurants serving deep-fried fish. Only swimmers will be disappointed – or at least have to grit their teeth and bear the cold waves of Puget Sound.
Victrola Coffee, Art Museum and Pike Place Market
Welcome to the caffeine capital: The Seattle-based Starbucks chain sparked a new coffee culture that soon conquered the world. But in the city where it all began, the locals prefer not to frequent the global player, but one of the many small neighborhood corner cafés instead. One of these is Café Victrola, beloved of authors, bloggers and anyone else who likes to sit and work in a café.
Victrola Coffee: 310 E. Pike Street, Tel.: +1-206 462 6259. Open: Mon-Fri 6:30am-8pm, Sat, Sun 7:30am-8pm. www.victrolacoffee.com
Seattle Art Museum (SAM) Downtown:
Outside there’s a Hammering Man by artist Jonathan Borofsky – just like the one outside the exhibition tower in Frankfurt, Germany. Inside, the museum features mainly temporary exhibitions of contemporary art but also boasts many Native American artifacts. A three-hectare sculpture park right on the waterfront is also part of the museum – and can be viewed at no charge.
SAM Downtown: 1300 First Avenue, Tel.: +1-206 625 8900. Open: Wed-Sun 10am-5pm, Thu, Fri 10am-9pm. Admission: US$ 15 (reduced US$ 9-12). www.seattleartmuseum.org
Pike Place Market:
A wonderful place to shop and enjoy the spectacle: Nowhere else in the United States are the fish vendors’ voices louder, and the choice of fresh fish is truly huge. Farmers from the surrounding area have been selling their produce here since 1907 and now antique dealers and comic freaks have set up shop in the market building, too.
Pike Place Market: 85 Pike Street, Tel.: +1-206 682 7453. Open: Mon-Sat 9am-6pm, Sun 9am-5pm. www.pikeplacemarket.org
Photos: Thinkstock (2), Mauritius Images (2), Corbis (2), LOOK-foto