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Seattle: exploring the Emerald City

Space Needle against the Seattle skyline.

Seattle: exploring the Emerald City

One of the nice things about being a digital nomad is that you can do it anywhere. We had some Southwest points, so we decided to do it in Washington, where we have some friends we were excited to catch up with. 

A very long time ago, I introduced my college friend, Joanne, to her husband, Ivar (who I met at my first job out of college). Joanne and Ivar have lived in Washington for many years. A week-long visit with them allowed Clay to get to know them better, and it also gave us built-in guides to the beautiful Puget Sound area. 

Depending on who you ask, Seattle is known as the Emerald City to celebrate its lush forestry, but you might also hear it described as Rain City (which it was for much of the time we were there) or the Coffee Capital of the World (it’s where Starbucks got its start).  

All of these descriptions work for us as we love trees, rain and coffee. One of the nice things about exploring with friends is that they show us things they’re passionate about, rather than just the places we can find in guidebooks and on the Internet. 

Purple glass flowery things against a natural garden background
I love the combination of man-made and natural art, and it’s all over the place at the Chihuly Garden.

Glass Houses

We started our visit at the Chihuly Garden and Glass, located next to the Space Needle. While I love so many forms of artistry, glass is one of my all-time favorites. I had visited before, and I really wanted to experience it new through Clay’s eyes. 

Celebrating the career of artist Dale Chihuly, the exhibition includes eight galleries, a centerpiece glasshouse and a garden that’s a beautiful myriad of natural and glass landscaping. I’m not exaggerating when I say this place is reason enough to visit Seattle. You can spend hours enjoying the intricate glass and steel sculptures of boats, plants and hanging glass fixtures. The glasshouse is a 40-foot-tall glass and steel structure covering 4,500 square feet of light-filled space containing a 100-foot-long sculpture in a palette of reds, oranges, yellows and amber. And you can get some great shots of the Space Needle from there.

Shot of the Space Needle from behind a yellow glass piece of art.
We highly recommend getting the Chihuly/Space Needle combo tickets.

Chihuly Garden and Glass is open year-round, with occasional adjusted hours for private events. There are combination tickets for Chihuly and the Space Needle as well. We’ve been to the Space Needle before, so we skipped it this time. If you haven’t been, this is a great way to experience one of the most famous landmarks in the country, which was built in 1962 for the World’s Fair. With a theme of “The Age of Space,” its futuristic design symbolized humanity’s aspirations during the Space Age. Or, if you’ve seen Men In Black, you know that it actually is a spaceship disguised as a building. Situated in the heart of Seattle Center, this iconic tower provides visitors with Seattle’s only 360-degree indoor and outdoor panoramic views. From this vantage point, you can take in breathtaking sights of downtown Seattle, Mount Rainier, Puget Sound, and Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges.

Danish wooden horse with artwork painted on it.
We’re excited to learn more about hygge, and what makes Nordic countries some of the happiest on earth.

Exploring the Area’s Nordic Roots

Joanne and Ivar had been hearing about this museum for awhile, and our visit gave them an opportunity to visit it. The National Nordic Museum, which is located in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, celebrates the history and culture of the country’s Nordic immigrants, which includes Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the regions of the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Åland and the cultural region of Sápmi. 

In exploring the museum, we learned that nearly two and a half million people emigrated from the region to the U.S. due to the “Long Depression” caused by political and economic uncertainty and numerous poor harvests. 

We also gained insight into what makes Nordic countries some of the happiest places in the world — it’s all about the hygge (pronounced “hooga”) lifestyle. Although it doesn’t have a single, concrete definition, it involves stepping away from the daily hustle and spending quality time with loved ones or even embracing solitude to enjoy life’s simple joys. This is a concept we can definitely get behind, though it will take some work. And yes, we get the irony of that.  

Though many of these countries were already on our travel wish list, they got moved up after our visit. 

Clay standing on the beach on a cloudy day.
Clay before his fight with the cliff. We didn’t get any afters because we have a “no blood” policy on this site.

Rain City and Scars

Ivar is a big adventure guy and it gave him great joy to take us to Deception Pass State Park in Oak Harbor, Washington. Deception Pass features 1.2 miles of ADA hiking trails, three miles of bike trails, six miles of horse trails and 38 miles of hiking trails. We explored several miles of trails, including the beach, which was actually not a walk on the beach. While Joanne and I took the “easy” way around, Clay got talked into climbing down a cliff face on a rope. We found out later that Clay was the only adult Ivar had ever talked into taking that route, and for good reason.  We had a scary moment when Clay lost his footing and slammed into the cliff with most of his body. The good news about that? Chicks dig scars. 

After our harrowing adventure at Deception Pass, we visited La Conner, a small town full of unique shops, restaurants and bars. We enjoyed lunch overlooking the water at the Waterfront Cafe, which boasted that it was home to the Big Elvis. A quick inquiry let us know that the proprietor’s brother is “the” biggest Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas and now we need to go to Vegas to see him! Stay tuned for that update. 

Pike Market

While Chihuly is enough of a reason to visit the Seattle area, you should also stop by Pike Place Market, known for its skilled fish throwers.

The area’s original farmer’s market has been a Seattle icon for more than a century, and shares:

Clay shooting video of a fish guy at Pike Place.
Watch the video at the top to see what Clay captured at Pike Place. It involves fish throwing.
Wall of chewed gum.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a “no chewed gum picture” policy.

“Considered by many “the soul of Seattle,” the Market spans nine historic acres in the center of downtown, where everyday locals and tourists alike shop, visit, eat and discover. Founded in 1907, the Market is one of the oldest and largest continuously operating public markets in the United States and is brought to life by the hundreds of farmers, crafters, small businesses, and residents that call it ‘home’.”

We took full advantage of this wondrous place, enjoying shopping, coffee and the best (no exaggeration) grilled cheese sandwiches we’ve ever had at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, where you can watch skilled artisans making cheese by hand. 

Though it’s not nearly as appetizing, the Wall of Gum has become a favorite spot for influencers and artists. Nearly 50 feet long, visitors have been sticking their gum to the wall since 1990, many in artistic shapes. 

Jazz Alley

Out of everything we experienced on this visit, Ivar was most excited about taking us to Dimitirou’s Jazz Alley in downtown Seattle, where we enjoyed the music of the Jeremy Pelt Quintet. Pelt has recorded with jazz favorites throughout the world, and he put together an eclectic mix of experience and energy for our show. You can choose the non-dining option, but the food and prime seating were so great, I’m not sure why you would. 

Basil and cheese on zucchini.
Clay had the chance to play sous chef and learn some things from Joanne. Chicks also dig guys who can cook.

It’s always nice catching up with John and Carrie. Especially when there’s great food!

Yes, the food was divine

We enjoyed many great meals at home, as Joanne is an excellent chef, while also getting out and exploring many of Puget Sound’s restaurants. We met Clay’s long-time friend and his partner, John and Carrie, at the Lakehouse in Bellevue. Located on the 2nd floor of Lincoln Square South, this upscale restaurant celebrates its farmers and other supplier relationships, letting you know where your food came from. In addition to delicious food, the service fee is built in, so tipping is neither expected nor encouraged. 

More About Digital Nomadness

One of the challenges with the lifestyle we have chosen is that we’re never truly on vacation. While we get to visit very cool places, we’re also working full-time most of the time. Pounding our laptop keyboards at Joanne and Ivar’s home, with the rain pouring down outside gave us a preview of what it’s going to be like to live and work in Portugal. The good news is that we liked it very much. 

We’re heading to San Francisco in early December for our visa appointments. It’s a short trip, but we’ll share some tidbits then!

Jackie Shelton, APR, is a strategic communications veteran who, after 30 years still has a hard time focusing on one particular aspect, so she has stopped trying.

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