The state of Washington has a reputation for being a rather “liberal” state, in American terms. There are many “alternative” groups of people here. But actually, the state is rather divided into two half's: On one side of The Cascades - the mountain range dividing Washington State - people are mostly liberal. On the other side of the range there is a higher concentration of rightwing voters than elsewhere. It was quite clear during the last mid-term election a few weeks ago. On the TV screens it was all blue on one side (Democratic) and all red (Republican) on the other side. In my native Denmark the party colours are vice versa... It takes some getting used to! :-)
Anyway, people around here generally rather liberal. We have been told that the number of “alternative” people around here will not necessarily be an indicator of the split in the rest of the nation. So far we have not yet seen many “different” people. As in any other modern society there are individuals distancing themselves from the “mainstream”, and here perhaps a few more than what we know from Denmark or Germany. But then again, by now we have seen so much during our journey, that we are not easily impressed!
But the good thing about the US is that there is actually room for everyone here! And plenty of room for the “square pegs in the round holes”. No one will look at you strangely if you are not appearing like the most. People are very protective about their constitutional rights, ensuring individual freedom and the right to live the life you want. Almost. Of course there are limits to what the society can allow, but the general tendency across the US is that the authorities interfere as little as possible in how people live. Which suits most Americans. They do not know anything else. In Washington State you are also allowed to carry a weapon. Openly. This is, however, a bit strange for a European visitor. Thankfully we have not yet seen anyone do this. Then again, what they wear under their jackets we do not know. The weapons laws around here are very loose.
We have been visiting our very first American National Park. On a beautiful, sunny Sunday we went to Mount Rainier National Park. With white frost on the grass and leaves and the sun shining on the snow-covered mountain tops we drove along curvy roads, through deep coniferous forest, over beautiful bridges and along roaring rivers. It was all very beautiful and in a much larger scale than we have gotten used to in New Zealand. And the New Zealand nature impressed us quite a bit in so many ways! But the mountains here in Washington State are even bigger and the open nature is so much larger. It is not as diverse as in New Zealand, where it is absolutely unique. But it impresses nevertheless! As we drove further and further up the mountains frost turned to snow, and the layer of snow became thicker and thicker, right up until the point where the road further uphill was closed. We stopped and had a great few hours of fun, building a snowman and just playing around in the snow. We were not the only ones with that idea. There were many visitors that day! Not many skiers though. This was not a ski sport place. But a few, very skilled skiers did come down the hills, between the trees. I assume they had walked uphill on snowshoes. We saw many people walking on those.
We have also been to Seattle a couple of times. It takes about an hour to drive into one of the major train-stations near the airport. From there we took the train into the city center. We do not want to drive the rented Ford Fusion all the way into downtown Seattle. The Americans do have a rather “brisk” way of driving - almost like the Italians - which takes its toll on your senses and concentration. And I - being the most frequent driver - prefer to just sit back and enjoy the trip, so I am quite happy with the train rides.
Seattle is a rather interesting city. Apart from housing the headquarters of Boeing, Microsoft and Starbucks it also has the most vibrant and exciting market, “Pike Place Market”, where you can buy everything from art and crafts to an almost endless row of international delicacies. A few times we have been to the German butcher Uli, who runs a sausage stall and a small dining room on the market grounds. Obviously a popular place with many guests, and the sausages are delicious! Also fruit, vegetables, flowers, meat and fish can be found at Pike Place Market. Not the cheapest, but certainly among the best!
And just across the street from the market you find the very first Starbucks Café to ever open. It was back in 1971. The café is not very big, and there is a constant looong line in front of it. We did not want to queue up, so we just watched for a while before we walked around the corner to the next Starbucks (just slightly younger) and bought the same cup of coffee. This café had plenty of room. But we saw the first one, and could tick it from the list.
We went to the “Space Needle” which opened for the World Expo back in 1962. Back then it was the tallest building in western US. Now it is the seventh tallest building in Seattle! We jumped on the futuristic mono-rail which also opened in 1962. With its 51 years in service it does appear quite modern, even timeless. Needless to say it has been modernized and maintained over the years, but all in all, the entire complex around the Space Needle still looks very modern. The view from the observation deck was however a bit disappointing after having enjoyed views from the top of Empire State Building and Rockefeller Plaza in New York, Baiyoke Tower in Bangkok and Eureka Tower in Melbourne (tallest building on the southern hemisphere). Perhaps because the entrance fee was rather significant! But Anton thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience, so who are we to complain?!
Seattle is built over the classical, American city planning “grid”, with streets and avenues crossing each other perpendicular. When you are standing on the top of a hill in the very city center, you can actually see straight between the skyscrapers all the way down to the harbour, or the other direction straight towards the mountains. This always fascinates me! Furthermore, this way of designing the city structure is quite practical. As long as you know which street number you are walking on, it is easy to find your way around.
And once again I am fascinated by how they manage to mix all the architectural styles. All the classical styles are mixed with all the most modern styles, giving the skyline a vibrant and interesting profile that, in my opinion, is very positive. An average skyscraper can house thousands of employees at any given day, creating the foundation for lots of businesses in the surrounding area. Corner shops, bars, cafés and restaurants. It creates a lot of “city-life” when people walk and drive to, and from, work. In fact there has been made quite a few studies about the positive impact of skyscrapers. Studies that seem to be completely ignored in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I have lived most of my life. Unfortunately! I love skyscrapers!
Not too far from here there is a children’s “museum”. “Hands On Children’s Museum” in Olympia. This is a paradise for children within the age of 2-10 years. They can play and learn about many different professions. There is a mini veterinary clinic, a fire station, a medical clinic, a harbour with cranes and ships, a restaurant, a workshop, and much, much more! All beautifully made and very engaging for the kids. This way they can get familiar with many aspects of life, and at the same time even the adults can have some fun. As we are in America, needless to say they also have a stage with a laughter and applause machine. The kids must learn how to be performers in the very country where showbiz was born! However, no musical instruments...
We have been to the Hands On Children’s Museum several times now and every time Anton is having a blast! He can literally spend hours upon hours here, where there is plenty for him to do, both inside and outside. Spread out on several floors...
Another absolute highlight for us all was the LeMay America’s Car Museum in Tacoma. An amazing experience with hundreds of very well maintained cars, right from the very birth of the car industry here in the US up until today. We found many of the most iconic models, and Anton went hunting for all of his friends from the “Cars” movie, where all of the characters are inspired from real life classic cars. They did not have any specific theme display, but it was great fun nonetheless to search for them. The whole museum just opened last year and it is really well designed. We spent several hours here, and could easily come back for more.
Every time we go for a ride here in Washington State we are greeted by the mighty Mount Rainier. The tallest mountain here. It is so big and tall that it seems to be “omnipresent”. As a lonely, majestic giant it seems to be watching over the entire state. Beautifully capped in snow, changing its colours as the sun and sky changes throughout the day. You have to remind yourself not to stare for too long, especially if you are the driver and have to focus. There is something magic and alluring about this mountain!