photo blog: Spring down to the bus stop

Let’s be serious: not everything in any city – even a pretty one – can look nice all the time. Seattle has sketchy parts and dirty parts. It’s resolutely grey and gloomy when it wants to be.

But today was so lovely that, even on a mundane walk down to meet the school bus, everything looked absolutely beautiful. I  grabbed the camera on the way out (mostly to take photos of kidlets for Mum) and snapped a few random pics. It was a clear, golden, sunny day. Breezy, but not too cold. I’m kind of amazed at how clear and gorgeous all these little things looked.

But first: Evan! Looking intrepid in his new dinosaur jacket as we set out. It’s actually a rain jacket, but I put it on him b/c the breeze was cool. As it turned out, I ended up carrying it home.

This is the street we walk down to get to the bus stop: Dexter Ave N. As you can see, it’s nothing special. That’s the city you can see, it’s about a 10 min bus ride.

Dexter is on a hill, so you get a few windows of view as you walk down. This is part of Lake Union and the buildings on the other side.

And this is similar, but coming home:

Now we get to the colourful bit. These red bushes are everywhere, and they’re vibrant. I love them with the blue sky (Actually, anything with a blue sky works well for me!)

There goes Evan down the footpath. Another of those red bushes, peeping out. And all the green is nice too.

Now, any gardeners reading can tell me what these awesome trees are. I just call them “awesome trees on the way home.”

And finally, because I couldn’t help myself, beautiful spring flowers in the gardens along the way.

And this rosemary is from the hedge outside our house. Lucky us!

I didn’t get a pic today of the iconic yellow school bus, but I’ll try and snap one soon, as it is so cute.

Hope you enjoyed our walk! It certainly lifted my spirits.


On Not Having a Car

Hi! Already I’m lagging behind with the blog posts! It’s been a busy time.

In the last few weeks, we have been lucky enough to meet some friendly, genuine, interesting people, mostly through school functions or mutual acquaintances. I feel very lucky to be making friends and feeling more connected. With each new acquaintance, we learn a bit about them, and we share our moving-across-the-world story. Among other things, we talk about how we’ve been exploring the city and getting around with the kids. The fact that we are living without a car comes to light.

The range of responses we get has been interesting. The single and/or childless people seem congratulatory, and can relate to varying degrees, since they are currently or have recently lived without a car. We talk about the bus system, and how it’s pretty good here.

Our fellow mums and dads, however, are fascinated, incredulous, or amused. We are a bit quaint, I think. Kids and no car! Imagine that. It won’t last. But they are supportive and helpful, even if they can’t imagine doing something so impractical.

And it may not last. We certainly have not ruled out getting a car, but I have no immediate aspirations. It’s not the driving that I mind. It would be lovely to go to Safeway and just put the groceries in the boot. It would be great to just dash up and down Queen Anne Hill to drop Joy and pick her up from school. And I won’t lie – it’s an absolute pain to wait at a bus stop in the pouring rain.

It’s just that there are also some perks to not having a car. Not having to sit in traffic is one. I don’t miss that! Not having to find parking is also a small joy.

And there are two other points which kind of warm my heart. The first is that we are really getting to know our little corner of Seattle because we are negotiating our way around on the buses. (I’m getting to recognise the bus drivers too!) We have time to look out the window and admire the view, and because have to plan our route, often we actually know a bit about where we’re going! It is true that we’d probably go on trips much further afield if we drove because it would be so much easier and direct, but I figure there’s time for that. If we have to go somewhere in the evening with the kids, like recently to Joy’s school concert, we take a cab. This happens fairly infrequently though.

Also, we walk! We actually exercise every day and we’re not even trying. Each morning after we walk down to the school bus stop and put Joy on, Evan and I walk along the bike trail next to the lake, pick up flowers, stones, and leaves, look at the view, and loop around back to our house. We often see and chat to the same dogs and owners out in the morning, and there’s a post man who once stopped me to ask about Evan’s bike. He waves now every time he sees us.

It’s fun and it gets us moving. Both of the kids have accepted walking to get to the shops or park as a normal part of our lifestyle and I think it’s benefitting us all. It’s different to what we are used to. (Largely probably because we never exercised enough before. But anyway.)

So we are doing stuff and meeting people, which also helps with our homesickness. We have all sort of entered a refreshed stage of missing home, both for family and friends, and also for our favourite and familiar places. Being out and about and meeting people does help. And hey, I didn’t even get to tell you about my Spanish class (which I know you’re all dying to hear about) or how it was sunny and 21 c today. Amazing!! I will get to that next time. xx

Places to drink…coffee

Now I know that not everyone drinks coffee or even likes it. So I guess this post comes under the category of ‘It’s my blog and i’ll post what I want to’? It was inevitable, really. Well, never fear – I also address croissants, hot chocolate, and ambience.

There are lots of coffee shops in Seattle. The following are some of the ones that hit the spot for us, not only for the coffee.

1. Boulangerie Nantaise, 2507 4th Ave

As I mentioned, this was one of the first we went to, as it was located at the ground floor of our building. It is small, warm and cosy, and as you probably gather, has a French look and feel. They sell all kinds of breads and rolls there as well as croissants and cakes. Plus they have delicious sandwiches and French onion soup. (I basically wanted to just dunk my whole face in.)

In the first few weeks of our stay in Seattle, it was often grey and cold and/or snowy out. This place was a warm little refuge for us, and on a couple of days (before I had footwear that actually allowed me to step safely on icy footpaths) taking the lift down and having a hot chocolate was our outing for the day. It was pretty tough, as you can imagine.

2. Repast, 1418 31st Ave S

One Saturday morning after visiting a language school for Joy in Mt. Baker, Chris said: “What I’d really like to find is a nice coffee shop or patisserie, where we can get some yummy hot chocolate and coffee, and some kind of croissant.” We literally stepped off the bus and walked into Repast. (We really ought to get him to try that again for something else.)

The coffee here is Amazing. Seriously close to Melbourne coffee, which as we all know, is vastly superior to Sydney coffee.

But, also, as we were sipping away and devouring croissants (one almond, one chocolate) we were all a-flutter to notice that one of the women working there was kneading and shaping the dough for the croissants to be baked in store. Nice. Repast is a tiny piece of cafe heaven, hidden on a pretty suburban street.

3. Java Jahn’s, 1428 NW Leary way

Evan’s been going to Gymboree for about a month now (it’s very similar to Gymbaroo in Oz, but with more school skills/crafty classes.) He stays for 2 hours and does all kinds of physical, musical, and art activities, while I go and shop/drink coffee. He absolutely loves it and it seems to be a successful first childcare experience for us.

Anyway. For the first couple of sessions I didn’t know where to go and hang out while Evan was playing. That is, until I found Java Jahn, which sidles up alongside paint and automotive shops in a fairly boring industrial area. This is the cutest, most friendly, and unassuming coffee shop I’ve been to here. The ladies there are always welcoming and friendly, they seem to know all the regulars by name and order, and the coffee is awesome. And since they also have free wi-fi, I can bring the iPad and read, chat, and generally waste time as I see fit. It is wonderful.

4.Uptown Espresso, 2504 4th Ave

Uptown Espresso, like Boulangerie Nantaise, is on my list for sentimental reasons. It is a chain, open early in the morning and fairly late in the evening. It is basically a big long room, with mismatched chairs and tables, and casual baristas, just hanging out until you go over and order. The ambience is nothing special, and I never ended up trying the cookies or snacks. But it’s easy to feel comfortable there. You can drink and chat and even play with your kids and it’s no big deal. The coffee is fine.

One evening the kids and I met Chris there, and while we were waiting, I saw two young women at a small table for two. One was reading a textbook, the other was sleeping, her head on her arms on the table. After a while, her mobile buzzed and she woke up, stretched, and then started reading. It’s so comfy at UE, you can even snooze there.

5. Cherry Street Coffee House, 103 Cherry St

At Cherry Street Coffee House (also a chain) you get big mugs of coffee. Real mugs, with nice round handles to hold. In a space where paper cups rule, this to me is pretty awesome. The staff is friendly and the coffee is good. It has an interesting, shabby chic decor, they play old fashioned music, and there’s a little section of wall for you to pin fliers for your friend’s/brother’s/teacher’s play/gig/exhibition. We were there on a Sunday morning when it was quiet, and in the more boring part of downtown, it was a pleasant and funky stop off.

So there you have it! The short list for just right now. I’m pretty dedicated, so I’ll…keep researching. *wink*

Afternoon in the sun…snow…sun

Looking back through these posts, I realise I haven’t addressed the weather here. And from the photos I’ve strategically chosen, you may be getting the impression that Seattle is a sun-drenched mecca. Haha.

You know that Seattle has a reputation for terrible weather. One of the quotes from Sleepless in Seattle goes like this:

-“It rains 9 months of the year in Seattle!”

– “I know! I do not want to move to Seattle.”

The thing is, when you’re contemplating moving with your husband and two young children across the world, to what’s likely a demanding job, in a place where you know no one, a bit of rain doesn’t seem like that big a deal. And as I mentioned, the first few days were utterly gorgeous.

So let me be straight with you. It does rain a lot here. You have a stretch of a week or so where five days it’ll rain or be drizzly and two days it’ll be clear.

It doesn’t rain heavily; you don’t get mad flashes of rain and hail or torrential downpours. It’s a drizzly rain, you look out the window to see if it’s rain, mist, or sleet. And then you just rug up and head out anyway. It doesn’t stop anyone from doing their normal stuff, which I think is kind of cool.

However, the weather here is also seriously changeable, today providing the perfect example. Evan and I headed out this afternoon with his little green glider bike, for a ride before school bus pick-up time. It was sunny. F-r-e-e-z-i-n-g, but sunny. We’re bundled up for the weather, so no worries. He’s riding along having a great time when it starts to rain lightly. This is pretty standard; a bit of light rain, a bit of sun in the distance. Very Seattle.

We’re approaching the bus stop on foot  (I’d also brought Joy’s scooter along so she could scoot home from the bus stop) when Evan and I both notice that it’s started to snow. Actual, light, feathery snow. It’s not settling, but definitely soft and icy to touch.

At this point, I’m wondering what’s going on. And how it is that it’s grey and windy and snowing, and I’m walking around outside with both a bike and a scooter. No one around me is bothered. I gape at two joggers running by us in bike shorts,  t-shirts, and wet hair, who although were caught out by the unexpected snow, were not at all deterred by it. Madness, I tell you.

We huddle under the shelter and wait with the other near-frozen parents and siblings for the school bus, and we collect Joy with no problems. And then, to my utter amazement, the snow stops and the sun comes out. Blue sky and everything.

So what do we do? We ride, walk, and scoot home with the sun on our backs.

Ode to Belltown

Our first ‘home’ in Seattle was an apartment in Belltown, right next to downtown and also Lower Queen Anne. This is the street – 4th ave.

My understanding of this area is that it’s regarded as a bit ‘sketchy’. As in other parts of downtown Seattle, there are some homeless people, and I think there’s been some violent crime there. We heard sirens many nights when we were there, but I won’t lie, being 19 floors up does give you a feeling of security, even if it shouldn’t.

Another description was ‘party town’, and I know there’s a live music venue there – The Crocodile – which is supposed to be cool. (Bombay Bicycle Club played there, so I think it must be cool!)

Party town isn’t really my area of expertise, but for me, Belltown was our warm, convenient first-home-in-Seattle. I still look out for our ‘old building’ when we go downtown on the bus. And though perhaps it’s a bit melodramatic on my part, I feel a slight sense of – perhaps not nostalgia – but maybe just a fondness for it.

When we first arrived, Chris hadn’t started work, and we were treated to a few successive days of cold but brilliantly clear weather. We just walked about like tourists and enjoyed the city’s sights. From Belltown, it’s easy to walk to the main shopping area in the city, to the Space Needle and Children’s Museum, and to Elliot Bay Park for a run around. Lots of buses to everywhere go though there too. Sometimes, we stopped for a coffee and hot chocolate at Boulangerie Nantaise on the ground floor of the building – delicious. And then back to our apartment to stare at the view.

It was a wonderful place to start getting acquainted with our new city, and I think it made all the difference to making us feel all excited about the move.

As sketchy as it may be, Belltown will always have a special place in my heart.

Home Sweet Home

So you know that we’ve moved to Seattle, and that I’ve been getting to know our local area. But I haven’t yet talked about where we actually live, so I thought I would do that.

Welcome to Lake Union, just north of downtown Seattle.  Gasworks Park in Wallingford is at its North, South Lake Union – home of Amazon – to the South, Eastlake and Capitol Hill to the East and us at its West.

(Aside: The shape of Lake Union and its bays is undeniable to me. Have a look at the map and tell me if you think it resembles anything.)

Our place was listed by the realtor as Queen Anne, but I’ve since been reliably informed it’s more like Westlake, or West Lake Union. We live in a comfy three bedroom house with what I like to call “water glimpses”. More tantalising than a complete view, you understand.

Down behind that white van you can see, there’s stairs leading down to the lake. The trail around the lake is popular with joggers and cyclists and other energetic types, but in terms of shops the area is mostly Marinas and boat shops. (It is sadly lacking in a good French cafe/patisserie. I’m just saying.) It is, however, fabulous for riding and scooting, which we tested out last weekend. The bike trail goes all around Lake Union, but we like to follow our edge around to South Lake Union Park, which is  a new and lovely outdoor riding/running/playing area with a water feature and a great view. You can watch sea planes take off and land there, which is fun too.

This is kind of a hopeless picture that I lifted from somewhere, but you get the idea (although I think perhaps the colour may have been punched up a bit!) I’ll take a better one to show you.

It’s is about a 20 minute scoot from our house, so usually requires some kind of hot drink stop-off to revive us. If only there was some kind of ubiquitous coffee shop chain to stop at along the way. Hmm.

So that’s our backyard! Welcome, and more soon!

The People (and Playgrounds) in your Neighbourhood

How well do you know your own city?

Back in Sydney, we usually stayed in the general area of the leafy northern suburbs, where we and most of our friends and family lived, played, and schooled. But we never shied away from checking out a map and venturing to a new area, especially if it was to visit friends. There are many areas of Sydney though, that we just never went to. In general, I guess it’s natural to find those familiar and favorite areas and stick close to them.

Now that we’ve moved, we find ourselves hungering to explore new places every weekend. It’s as though we’ll feel more familiar and ‘at home’ if we cover more ground! For me and my kid-oriented goals, this means finding a great combination:  supermarket + coffee + playground in 1 bus  = high score (We are currently carless, which I both love and hate.) Throw in a public library for extra points.

We are pretty bus-savvy now (more on that later) and have recently found our way to Fremont, Ballard, and Wallingford (more on those too!) We are very lucky in that all of these places are a 10-15 minute bus ride from our place.

Of course, when we speak to new Seattle-based friends and workmates, we discover that most of them have never been to Wallingford, let alone know about the bus that goes there. Or a bus that goes anywhere. So suddenly, we are like experts!

(Wallingford, btw, scores pretty highly. It is a convenient, flat neighbourhood, with loads of shops and restaurants. This is Meridian Playground, which is an awesome open, grassy space with a great playground.)

And then there are moments of revelation, where you discover things you probably should have known. (Like in Sydney when you realise there are actually suburbs north of Mosman or Chatswood!)

We visited a suburb in SE Seattle called Mt. Baker. It’s very pretty.  We were walking around the wide, attractive streets, killing time while we waited for the bus, when through the trees I caught a panaoramic view  of Lake Washington, and the huge I90 bridge that takes you to Mercer Island. Lake Washington is huge. And beautiful. And there’s all these other places on the other side of it like Bellevue and Kirkland. And here I was feeling like such an expert because I’ve been to a few suburbs around Lake Union!

Well. We have lots of travelling to do. I’ll be keeping you posted!