It took weeks of planning and constantly shushing the two brothers and a husband who kept forgetting the top secret designation it had been given. Despite the warnings (known as glares from mom and discreet shaking of her head), the fact that a hostel was involved was leaked (in the best of intentions) at the dinner table. Crisis was averted when I had someone else “accidentally” leak that we were doing something at the Portland Hostel, thus leading the Birthday Girl in the wrong direction of speculation entirely. Weeks of details like how to get to the train station, what to pack for her to wear, what to do with the pets while we were gone and how was I to get all of my work done before leaving were muddled over.
The day before the trip, the dog (Copper) was taken to a kennel. Of course, first, we had to take her to the vet for $80 worth of shorts, then to the kennel. What will we tell Nicole when she asks where the dog is, I wondered. No worries. The observant child never noticed Copper wasn’t home. J
Thursday morning multiple alarms went off at 6 a.m. In hushed tones, we loaded pre-packed duffel bags into the car. Tickets? Check. Money? Check. Litter box out for the cat? Check. Time to wake Nicole.
I went into her room and flipped on the light, stating loudly that, “Good morning! Good morning! You are the grand prize winner of the 21st birthday sweepstakes. Get up and get dressed.” The rest of her instructions were written on a tablet telling her to give me her laptop and dress warmly. Before we walked out the door, she put on a blindfold.
We drove to the train station, stopping only for coffee along the way. When we got to the station, we had her take her blindfold off. She was utterly confused. Where was the Portland Hostel?
We unloaded baggage and Nicole just stared at it. Where had it come from? We walked in and I scanned our papers to get our tickets. Then, finally, we revealed the plan. Two nights and three days in Seattle, staying at a hostel. She was shaking, she was so excited.
The train ride there was smooth as ever. We were given the four facing seats which was awesome and then one just across the aisle. Everyone took turns napping and reading on the way there, while Coryn checked Facebook and worked on his Nanowrimo book. Once we arrived in Seattle, we walked about five blocks to our hostel, getting lost along the way, naturally.
The hostel was great. Neither Joseph nor I had ever stayed in one before, but of course, Nicole spent the last five months in them. The rooms are as plain as you can get—we got adjoining rooms. Two sets of bunk beds in one, and a bed with a double futon on the bottom and single up top in ours. The bathrooms are down the hall. It is a lot like a college dorm room. We were on the fourth floor and out of our window, we could see the colorful entrance to ChinaTown. We set down our stuff and then headed out to Seattle. The weather was picture perfect. Sunny, about 65 degrees and a bright blue sky. Unheard of for November in the Pacific Northwest.
Our first stop was Uwaijimaya, a Japanese super store. We ate at the food court, each of us trying something different. Then, Nicole and I went to the stationery part of the store. GREAT fun for us (the boys wandered through manga and counted minutes until we were done.) This store has the BEST journals and stationery sets for $10 and under. Our biggest problem is restricting how much we buy.
Next up, we took the underground bus through the tunnel to the Westlake Mall. We got off and bought tickets for the Monorail. This is a very short trip but so cool, because you are up above the traffic and see great sights of the city. It took us to the Space Needle. If you’ve never been, the Space Needle is pretty amazing but also very expensive. To get in the elevator and ride to the top is $18 per person. Yikes. So we explored the gift shop instead and then, in one of those moments you just know you will remember for years to come, we all sat on the outside steps and listened to a group of South American musicians who were playing tiny guitars, and pan pipes. (Yes, Tami bought the CD.) We soaked up the sunshine and just BEING there. It was a wonderful moment indeed.
Back to the Monorail, and back to the mall where Nicole and I had to check out Daiso, a dollar store type place with Asian products. Our goal? The paper aisle, where we got fountain pens and stationery sets for $1.50 each.
By now, it was long dark and it was cooling off quickly, although still a gorgeous night. We took a walk that turned into a WALK. Now, keep in mind that in the middle of all of this, Joseph has a rotten cold and Tami has a hip problem that ended her walking routine a month ago. Despite these factors, we forged on, step after step, block after block. We searched for a place for dinner and found ourselves in an area where dinner was almost impossible to find but guys lurking in dark doorways and making snide remarks were plentiful.
On the way, we found a fantastic toy store that was still open. We went in and explored it and I was laughing about how I still loved stuffed animals and wanted to take one home. Unbeknownst to me , Nicole slipped away and bought me an adorable, soft koala bear which she gave me later that night. Naturally, his name is Seattle. I also admired these amazing kaleidoscopes, designed entirely differently than anything I had ever seen. They were beautiful!
After the toy store, we finally found a restaurant open called Jimmy John’s—similar to a Subway. We gratefully sank down into chairs (some of us more than others) and ordered sandwiches. We had our picture taken there as well and then began the long, long trek back to the hostel. On the way, we encountered an older gentleman (“Be 70 in two weeks,” he proudly told us) wearing a purple velvet hat with leopard spots. He was a former radio/TV sports announcer, he explained (and his voice certainly sounded like one), and he would be happy to answer any questions we might have about the city. Before we could even think of one to ask, however, he began telling us about how popular his purple hat was. In fact, he said, a man had offered him a $50 bill for it just the other day but he had turned it down. Even more colorfully, a woman had offered him sexual favors of several kinds in return for the hat and yet, he had still turned her down because, he said, “I am a man of morals, you know.”
While he was talking to us about his hat, a person came down the apartment stairs next to us and walked by. This person was clearly male—full 5 o’clock shadow and six feet tall—but dressed as a hooker with little taste—short leather skirt, tank top and heels. I felt my eyes widen and turned to look over my shoulder at Caspian, whose eyes got bigger as well. He nudged Nicole, who nudged Coryn and we all just smiled and kept listening to our purple hatted storyteller.
After walking for what felt like close to forever, we returned to our hostel, gratefully slipping into pajamas. Then, grabbing books and postcards and pens, we all headed down to the Common Room in the hostel. One of the best parts of a hostel is the Common Room. People gather here to hang out, read, eat, talk, write, whatever. You meet people from all over the world. The ambiance is exciting and fun. We would spend many hours here before the weekend ended. When the clock struck midnight, Joseph stood up and asked everyone in the room to sing “Happy Birthday” to Nicole, which they did, and it was a wonderful moment.
Friday morning we got up and decided to start the day off at Pike Street Market. We had been there before and it was such an exciting, exotic place. It is sensory overload . . . . the smells of lavender and fish, flowers and fruit . . . the sounds of multiple languages, offers to taste this apple or that grape, children laughing and the live music that is performed around every corner . . . splashes of color, from fruit markets to tie dyed clothing, from shaped glass to sparkling jewelry. Everything is expensive enough that we are selective, but we did buy two handmade, cloth bookmarks and some tie dye shirts that were on sale—one was free for Nicole’s birthday. We also bought some jam for Joseph’s mother—a tradition when we go there.
The fishmongers are the most popular spot in the market and there was a TV crew filming their antics this morning as the workers threw fish back and forth. One fish (very dead) hung over the side and when people went to touch it, it would flip up and startle them. You could see the guy pulling the string on the other end and he was laughing as much as everyone else.
We had planned to eat at the Crab Pot, a restaurant that we had gone to several times before and we walked many blocks to get there, only to discover a HUGE waiting line. Standing in line didn’t sound very appealing at this point, so we began walking the Puget Sound walkway in search of something else. After almost 20 blocks of additional walking, we settled on Red Robin, yes, a chain, but we were beat by now. You see, that lovely weather I mentioned from our first day was LONG gone. This day was cold, wet, and windy. Not slightly. I mean, POURING rain, harsh winds and temperatures that didn’t go above 45 degrees. Miserable weather to be walking outside in (especially when umbrellas were something you neglected to pack). So we were more than ready to come in out of the weather and sit down. Fortunately, Red Robin was a great choice. The food was good and Nicole was served her first legal drink—a strawberry margarita. Which she LOVED, I might add. She even got sung to by the crowd and a free chocolate sundae.
Lots of walking, a bus ride, more walking, stairs, more walking, escalator, more walking, and then back to the hostel, wet, cold and happy to be back. PJs, the common room, postcards once more. This time, the kids played several rounds of Foosball, Joseph read his VW manuals and talked to people and I wrote more postcards. We ordered sandwiches in from Jimmy John’s (they delivered by bike in LESS THAN 15 minutes) and then later, extra food left over from an earlier event was shared with everyone in the Common Room. Chicken satay, fried rice—all good but too spicy for this woman. Sleeping that night was challenging—Joseph kept coughing and my hip felt like someone took a sledgehammer to it thanks to all of those miles we walked.
Admittedly tired this time, we had plans in place to head over to Vashon Island off the coast of Seattle to visit some friends. Coryn had stayed with them in the past and we were eager to meet the family. We got directions on how to get to the right ferry dock first. We had to walk about 10 blocks to pick up a bus. The walk was actually very pretty—not raining at the moment and in the middle of the city where the architecture was fascinating. We finally got on the bus, and rode it to the dock, about 30 minutes away. We got off, paid for tickets and got on the ferry. That was great—a big ship with lots of comfy seating and amazing views out of the window. The ride itself is only about 15 minutes or so. We got off, met our friends and climbed in the minivan they had borrowed to fit all of us.
Vashon was a lovely place and our friends’ home was amazingly beautiful. Many acres with a forest of riotous color and texture that made you keep looking out the window. We had a delicious meal and found out that this couple is a LOT like us—heck, they even look a little like us. I have a feeling we are going to be friends for years to come and this was the first of many visits. (I hope so!)
After eating and chatting, they dropped us in the small town of Vashon, and we grabbed some coffee. That was when chaos kicked in. Already a little concerned about time, we found out that the bus we thought we would step out and get, only came once every hour. The next one wouldn’t arrive for 45 minutes—and we would never make it. After all, to get to the train station from where we were meant a bus ride, ferry ride, another bus ride, a 10 block walk, a stop at the hostel for luggage and then two more blocks to the station. We had 90 minutes.
Here is what happened . . . . Nicole and Coryn had a friend who owned the bookstore in Vashon. We ran back to her, explained the situation. She called her boyfriend. While we were waiting for him to arrive, a man in a bandana scurried over thinking that our little cluster was a group of pot smoking peers and he hoped to join us. How disappointing to find a hectic set of parents and their kids waiting for a ride.
The boyfriend picked us up in a TINY car . . . Nicole, Joseph and I squeezed into the back and Coryn literally LAID across our laps. Cas got in front. We raced to the ferry dock, got on, rode 20 minutes . . . . got to the dock and caught the next bus. We asked directions to another bus so we wouldn’t have to walk those 10 blocks again. Got it, got off, found the bus stop, got on the bus and got dropped right in front of the station. At this point, I pulled out the tickets and discovered instead of boarding at 5, it boarded at 5:30. That HELPED.
So, Joseph and I headed to the train station (three more blocks), while the kids raced (and I mean RACED) back to the hostel to get the luggage we had stored there. Then, they raced (and again, I mean RACED) to the station. THEN, I get out the tickets and there are FOUR, not FIVE. Joseph’s ticket is missing. EEEEEK. We ask what to do at the information desk and are told that even though the computer system shows we have FIVE tickets, we have to HAVE five tickets, so we had to BUY ANOTHER ONE. Eeeeeeeeeek again.
BUT, we did it. We got on. We sat down. We finally started breathing again. The train started. The trip home was brightened by meeting a young woman dressed in medieval garb behind us. We commented on her lovely outfit, began chatting and soon bought her wonderful CD, which ALL of the kids like (a rarity indeed). Caspian spent most of the trip talking to a young man and woman across from him, plus a non-English speaking grandmother next to him had her granddaughter call and ask him to help her get off the train and meet her in the lobby.
Other than a 30-minute delay while the train repaired a broken air hose, the trip was smooth. We arrived in Portland at 9:30, got in our van and came home. As much fun as we had, it sure felt good to be back in our house again. It was a fabulous trip—with so many memories created, I know it will linger for a long time to come. For now, I will wait for my hip to heal and forgive me.