I've fallen into a groove in Austin, and for some reason or another I always feel the need to escape the moment I detect a cycle. The way that most of us aleviate this feeling of being trapped is... well travel and vacation basically. It checks the emotions, and lets your being stretch out into unfamiliar territory.
A few weeks ago my friend Alex, who now lives in Seattle working on the front page of Amazon, visited Austin for a weekend where we ate, caught up with old friends, and gamed out. I've been to Seattle twice in the past and have always felt a connection with that city. One of the most vivid memories comes from when I went to Pikes Place with my brother and we sat down to a meal of collected items from the farmers market. Some chowder, smoked salmon, and rainier cherries.
I had about 2 weeks off, around the same timeline as SXSW, so taking a dive, I planned to take a trip during the second half of it.
I managed to convince Madaline, a girl who I've only met a couple times in the past, to go with me. I think our mutual love for Brew & Brew was all that we needed to convince ourselves that we would get along.
We took off to Seattle in the afternoon, and only after boarding our flight did we realize that the flight was 4.5 hours long, rather than 2 or 3... we went quite unprepared, no reading material, gum, and I thought I wouldn't need my sound canceling headphones either. She slept most of the time, head bobbing up and down since she didn't bring her travel pillow. I offered her the window seat so she could at least lean against the wall. The sound of the engine flooded whatever music I had to listen to, so I stayed awake, organizing and highlighting photos from the little bit of SXSW that I attended. Near the end of the flight she woke up and said she was anxious, I felt a little worried myself. I too did not know what to expect from this trip. We got some good recommendations from our friends beforehand, but everyday was largely unplanned.
We arrived in Seattle around 9pm, instead of taking public transport to downtown like we planned, we just called an Uber, a luxury us Austinites don't have. As we were waiting, I took some photos of her in front of this "interesting" mural made of bike lights, I felt instantly like my parents. Just 2 Asian tourists here, move along, nothing to see.
Alex's apartment is hella nice, figures as Amazon has been compensating him quite well for his past year or 2 of work. I asked him to guide us to at least one of his spots since I have a high trust in Alex's taste in food(we're probably the biggest ramen snobs from Texas next to the owners of Ramen Tatsuya).
After putting down our stuff we walked to a joint called Pike Street Fish Fry.
In the past, when I arrived late at night to visit my friends in New York, we would go on a grand food adventure, eating at obviously good spots in St. Marks, perhaps Ippudo to set the tone for the trip. I didn't really know what to expect from Seattle, and we were presented with this small and humble fish & chip shop.
We ordered the oysters and cod, both came with a huge side of fries and a dipping sauce to pair. We chose the lemon aioli and curry ketchup. One bite into these huge, succulent bastards was all we needed... we were fucking sold on this trip. Pike Street Fish Fry gets ridiculously fresh product, and they don't fuck it up. Just a light fry to encase and warm up the food, and a complementary sauce that goes well with it.
When traveling, you can maximize your ability to try new places by ordering a small amount at a given restaurant, with the intention to go to a different restaurant for the next course of your meal. App, 2 Entrees, Dessert, that's 4 spots right there. It's easy to do this in New York, but the thing we've noticed about Seattle is... food is relatively cheap, around 9-14 bucks at a nicer place and the portion sizes are huge, HUGE.
While we were eating, we heard "Dixon!!" , which is Alex's second name that he acquired a couple of years ago when he first interned at Amazon. Basically his friends thought "Alex" was too common of a name, and decided to give him a more fobby name. His friend Derek came in giving Alex shit for not hanging out with him. Typical Alex, keeping all the secrets to himself.
We couldn't stop eating the fries... and filled up entirely at the first stop. The next restaurant on Alex's small, yet strong list of places, was right across the street. Stuffed from our first stop, we opted instead to walk around the neighborhood, Capitol Hill, to see if there were interesting things a block or so away.
We passed by many interesting bars and clubs, a drag queen here and there, and some tech events that had just ended(free facebook cookies? okay, sure why not?).
I have 6th sense for gallery openings(which is really just spotting a large white space with people smoking outside). We walked into Vermillion Gallery and Wine Bar, yes a gallery + bar.
The bar behind the gallery was cozy, there was one bartender serving 4-5 people.
We got some drinks, and ordered some mac n' cheese, one of the only items they had on their food menu.
A lady next to us, a regular, started talking to us, and after we figured out that she knew her stuff, we hammered her for recommendations. She gave off a similar vibe to Eve, one of my previous coworkers who gave me all the travel tips that I currently employ.
Brunch, coffee, dinner, dive bars, oysters... it was a good list. Very Eve like.
Looking for a nightcap, we passed by a very fancy looking bar that ended up being a Mexican restaurant and Mezcal bar called Mezcaleria Oaxaca. Had a couple of the best margaritas that I've ever had, and then we headed back for the night.
Alex still had his comfy couches from back in the college days, Madeline fell asleep in the small one, but quickly moved over to the larger couch. I took the floor, the bed I would have for the next 4 nights.
We woke up pretty early despite the 2 hour difference between Austin and Seattle, got Alex the hell out of bed, and started our day. We headed towards one of the recommendations we got the following night, Manhattan, but it was closed for another hour that day, so we headed towards an alternative breakfast spot suggested by Alex, Skillet Diner.
I ordered the grits, since I fucking love grits. The portion was... well huge, as the trend goes in Seattle. Skillet Diner is a great place if you're a fan of eggs and porkbelly, as all their breakfast items seem to have it. If you aren't a super big fan of grits... you should probably get the hash instead. It's a bit more balanced.
Alex ubered off to work, and we went towards a nearby cafe, Stumptown Coffee. We accidentally walked into Cafe Presse, were sat down at a table, realized what had happened, confessed to our waitress, and were guided through a hallway to the correct coffee shop.
I got a drip coffee, Madeline ordered a cold brew, which I totally recommend if you visit. It's even better than chameleon cold brew, and a bottle of it is enough to split between 2 people.
Madeline had some work to take care of for 3DS, and we took advantage of their nice bar height seating.
I noticed someone picking up an issue of Seattle Weekly, so I copied him, and read through one myself.
There was an article about an Isamu Noguchi x Qi Bashi exhibit at Frye Art Museum, and we took off towards there after dropping off our laptops back at Alex's.
Photo Cred: Madeline
Taking photos inside was pretty hard, even with my sneaky ways. Madeline pretended to sit down and check her phone... and managed to get a shot off. Isamu(American) is more known for his sculpture and furniture, but he lived a couple years in China studying under Qi Baishi learning about the medium of Ink Painting. Isamu's ink paintings were elegant, giving form to his subjects with only a few long brush strokes. There was one painting where he represented a foot resting on a pillow with only 4-5 strokes, pretty sweet.
Link: Frye Art Museum
We took a break at Bauhaus Books & Coffee, then went off to Pikes Place.
The core of Seattle is actually small, and despite their amazing public transport, we found the best way to get around is to walk. You can get from Capitol hill to Downtown in 20 minutes.
People always talk about how gloomy Seattle is, but the rain is usually quite temporary and spotty. When you look up, clouds move fast overhead, the rapidly changing weather adds an interesting dynamic to the city. Through the contrast, you gain an appreciation for the lighting of certain situations. The manhole reads "City light, city bright." A slightly ironic motto for an iconically rainy city, but in some ways it's quite fitting.
Even though Pikes Place is a tourist destination, it serves as Seattle's main farmers market.
We walked along it, picked up some salmon jerky and fruit for Alex, and got some fresh Uni from the right most seafood vendor, the one with Mr. Miyagi in it.
Uni is a hit or miss with some people, it really comes at you with the flavor of the sea, and it's soft texture envelops your tongue. Maybe people should make more savory puddings.
We had a meal at Pikes Place Chowder, as usual, we took a bajillion photos of our food, but in a large part the chowder looked like prison food, despite being quite good really. We walked around a bit more and headed back to Alex's.
Downtown is incredibly urban, very similar to the Market district in SF. People of all walks of life, an incredibly rich place to take some street photos.
My Seattle native friend Woody Austin(yes that's his name) recommended Revel, an upscale Korean restaurant. At first this throws some red flags in my mind... in the past I haven't had the greatest experiences at these "upscale" and fusion Asian restaurants. My theory is that most of the flavor in Asian food come from strong flavors and spices such as fish sauce, soy, ginger, garlic, chili oil, star anise... they're cheap, they hit you in the face, and they're hard to work around, so why pay more?
We walked in to leave a name - an hour wait - but we got a whiff of the kitchen. The restaurant is basically one big room, with a very large island which divides the kitchen and diners, but also serves as bar seating and serving station for the kitchen. This makes the restaurant warm and inviting, and it's entertaining to see the chef's at work. We got a couple drinks at the bar and sat around a fire on the patio waiting for our table.
If the menu is any similar the next time you go, If in a larger party(3-4 ppl), get one selection from each section, which should be Salad -> Small App -> Pancake -> Noodle -> Rice bowl, and skip dessert(they aren't good).
The food in general is decent, I enjoyed the roasted cauliflower salad and oyster pancake the most. In general though, you can get a similar pancake at any given Korean restaurant for the same price, and probably get 2x-3x the amount. If you're alone, it's totally cool to just slip in at the bar, and order a noodle or rice bowl, which is a great way to enjoy the ambiance, get a satisfying portion, and only pay $9~.
For Austinites, Revel is basically like Sway, only that it's Korean, not Thai inspired(the differences are actually marginal in this case, which doesn't make any sense), and their desserts aren't good. Many of my friends like and enjoy this place, so it's worth a try.
We called an uber to pick us up, and while waiting I thought I sniffed another interesting bar. We entered and were sat down at a table... woops, just wanted lay low and hang out without consuming anything. We apologized and left.
Friday... a pretty jam packed day, which ended with a couple rounds of Street Fighter of course.
"ALEXXXX!" I told Madeline it was her turn to wake Alex up. A couple more screams and a few hits from a pillow and he was up. We headed towards Cafe Presse, a spot that Madeline's hair stylist recommended to her.
I've never seen cherry blossom trees before, and these sakura trees are scattered across the city.
For some reason or another, we kept passing by this particular IHOP. It was always full of happy people.
When we arrived at Cafe Presse we were like, "Hmm this is right next to Stumptown Isn't it?" Well, it turns out it was the restaurant we accidentally walked into the day prior. We managed to find some nice seats at the edge of the bar.
Cafe Presse's menu items are all titled in French, which made things interesting. I took French in middle school, but by now I don't remember a thing. "Omelette du fromage" came to mind.
Despite getting bread for free already to start off the meal, we ordered the Pain au chocolat - a baguette with dark chocolate in it. It went quite well with coffee.
As our suggester suggested, we ordered the the Croque Madam, which is basically like a panini, but they put more cheese on top of the bread prior to... panini-ing. Cheesy, hammy goodness, all with an egg on top, which apparently is the difference between a croque Madam and Monsieur.
We walked back to Alex's and took the car to gas works park. I fired up my 90's playlist, an homage to the roadtrips of my childhood. The first song "Closing time" proved to be too cheesy for Alex's taste. But everyone likes a little bit of Incubus and Dido right?
The weather was stereotypically Seattle, cloudy, windy, a bit of mist. A lot of people were taking advantage of the wind by flying kites in the park, and the diffused light gave the grass a nice glow.
I tried to use my 15mm since you can get a pretty decent view of the city from the park, but no matter how I tried to process the photos, they look kind of weird. So here's a photo I took with Maddie's phone.
By the restrooms there was a pretty large area for kids to play in, it had a mini, colored representation of the gas works, and picnic tables for families to eat on. I found the light in it to be quite mellow and soft, so I tried to take some photos.
We then drove to Snoqualmie falls, about a 40 minute drive from Seattle. Mid trip, Madeline asked if I had a r&b playlist, this was the best I could offer. "Give me 2 pairs..."
During SXSW I met Tyson, a Seattle native, at a small party, and he told me some directions on how to bypass the touristy part of Snoqualmie so we could get right up to the falls. This involved skipping the signs for the falls, going on a trail, and hopping a fence. There was a road closure, and we only could figure out how to get to the normal part open to the public.
Photo Cred: Madeline
So as advice, I would do research on how to get up right to the falls rather than take the normal trail, which leads only to a lower observation deck.
On the drive back we set up a reservation at Shiro's Sushi, one of the more popular sushi places in Seattle. We had about 3 hours to burn, so we went to Whole Foods to get a snack. I got some samosas for me and Alex, and Madeline got a nice juice with kale in it. That was good.
We took an Uber from Alex's to the restaurant, and our driver was really talkative, telling how much she enjoyed being a driver, and that she loved work. The job creation fueled by Uber is quite cool, driving a taxi seems like a nice and comfortable job, and you get to meet all sorts of people.
Shiro's was probably the most hyped up place in Seattle. Fresh seafood means good sushi, right? Apparently the sushi chef here has ties to Jiro, from the movie... Their menu also featured a lot of standard izikaya items, so I was really excited.
We ended up getting the Omakase, the one that doesn't include a dessert. The omakase featured above was $50, which in the grand scheme of things... is actually quite averagely priced given the quality. If you want some decent sushi that wont double your travel cost, I'd recommend Shiro's, it's really quite good, the sushi rice was better than anything I can find in barren Texas, and dat fatty tuna was the bomb. Try to sit at the bar when you can, table seats suck dick at sushi restaurants.
The roll in the omakase, while containing saba(mackarel), wasn't that great... and served as filler. Next time I go, I'd probably order more hot dishes(fried stuff, fish collar, black cod, omeletes) and a piece or 4 of nigiri.
At this point, the trip had been pretty awesome, we had done a lot of exploring, artsy stuff, outdoor activities, and eating... and it got me thinking, "What would Anthony Bourdain do?" I looked up some clips from The Layover, and found out he went to a peculiar Vietnamese place. Madeline checked out the menu(she's fluent), and said it was worth checking out.
Another morning of bombarding Alex again until he woke up.
Given the option of walking to our breakfast selection, Tilikum Place Cafe, we chose instead to Uber again.
"An hour and half wait." was the estimate that the front of house lady gave us for a table without a reservation(I highly recommend making a reservation). Luckily for us a party canceled as we were looking up another place, and we were sat at a table quickly after.
If you're in a group, rather than getting a single coffee, get a French press, it's large enough for 2, even 3 people.
The Dutch baby pancakes were amazing. We chose the savory version, which was squash, goat cheese, and sausage, mixed in with pancake batter, eggs, and baked in a cast iron skillet in the oven. It comes with syrup... and boom, now you can have a mc griddle and not feel too bad about it since it's locally sourced. It was fucking awesome. Like a pancake - quiche hybrid with warm pockets of goat cheese, sausage, AND you could pour syrup all over it.
The cafe is also conveniently located next to the needle thing, and EMP museum, which was our next destination.
When you walk into EMP, there's a huge screen playing music videos. I found it kind of amusing that people would sit and watch videos you could easily watch on youtube. But the selection was well curated and interesting.
I recieved quite a few recommendations for the museum, which features music, pop, and sci-fi exhibits. As far as "mainstream" museums go, I think it's pretty cool, but something I don't think I could whole heartedly recommend. Definitely look at their website before you go to see if buying a ticket is worth your time. Currently they have a lego exhibit, which features the worlds tallest buildings built out of legos, a Nirvana and Jimmy Hendrix exhibit among other things. A lot of the interactive exhibits were catered towards kids, so if you're traveling with someone younger, this could be a great place to go.
Afterwards we were craving some juice again, but we ended up at Top Pot Donuts instead. Fill the void with something, right? There was a buy one get one free, so we got quite a few donuts, most notably one with St. Patrick's day shamrock sprinkles, and a pink one with coconut shavings on top. I like how their donuts are not too sweet, and it mainly serves as a nice cafe or coffee shop with plenty of place to sit and work.
EMP didn't quite fulfill my museum craving, so I looked up some galleries nearby.
I found A/NT Gallery, which describes itself as a "non-traditional artists' collaborative," It's a great place to go if you want a feel for local art.
There are 3 floors, with about half of the offerings being photography. In all honesty the level of photography was pretty mediocre, with a few good photos, but if I lived in Seattle I'd totally want to become a member of this space, it has a lot of potential.
We tried to actually get some juice after visiting the gallery, at a crazy upscale food court(What Mueller should have been) in the Belltown district, but the juice bar was closed.
With the bit of daylight we had remaining, I took some photos of Madeline's outfit.
Tip: In the Spring time, Seattle's weather varies between 40-70 degrees in a given day. Very similar to San Fran, except that the weather forecast will say that it will rain everyday. The thing is, this rain usually very temporary or light, so it's best to pack a sensible light rain coat that doubles as a windbreaker for when it's not raining. Waterproof bags, pants, and stuff are also recommended.
To pair with this, bring a sweater so you can semi layer up at night when it drops to 40.
We went back to Alex's where we watched the grand finals of Final Round, a fighting game tournament. "How much longer??" Madeline asked as she sat there, snacking on potato chips, waiting for us to leave for dinner. "5 minutes." was our answer just as they revealed the new character in the next version of the game. It wasn't 5 minutes.
Driving through some pretty rain and traffic with a ton of detours, we finally arrived at Rainier Street Restaurant and BBQ, the place we found out about from Tony Bourdain. From Madeline's guidance, we ordered the ong choy beef salad(water spinach salad), banh xeo(crispy crepe, with pork and shrimp, with lettuce, mint, and basil), and the smallest set meal. The salad was refreshing, I've never had raw water spinach before. The strands of the vegetable were succulent, bursting with moisture, and along with the prawn peanut dressing, beef, and chili sauce, it turned out to be quite a killer combo.
The set meal came with thit kho - pork belly and eggs - which is very similar to the Taiwanese pork belly recipe... and you can't really go wrong with that,
canh chua(a sweet and sour soup with fish), and negligible chicken and vegetable dish.
Highly recommended if you don't live near or in Houston.
We returned home to the now familiar scene of Madeline sitting on the couch editing photos on the VSCO iphone app, and Alex and me playing street fighter.
Madeline and I woke up at 8am - "I'm wide awake." We decided not to bother Alex for once and set off to get an early breakfast.
We took some photos along the way.
Oddfellows was our destination, a cafe in Capitol Hill right next to the fish fry where we started everything. It's quite a spacious cafe, so much so when you walk in... you might not know what to do.
We walked up to the counter and I ordered an Americano and slice of quiche, a latte and granola + yogurt for her.
Our server turned out to be Derrick, a friend of Alex's that we met earlier in the trip. Small world right?
I've noticed that it's harder to get a pour over coffee in Seattle. Most cafes seem to have espresso drinks, which I used to drink a lot of in the past. Espresso hits quite hard and I only can pick up on a few flavor profiles, so recently I've taken a liking to well brewed coffee instead.
The cafe had large windows letting in a bunch of light, so much so that when we sat down along the row of window seats I was actually blinded by the amount. We stayed put, too lazy to move our plates and drinks.
The insides of the quiche were soft and decadent, with a tinge of sharpness from the cheese they used at the edge of the palate.
They had a really cute back patio that Derrick suggested for photos. None of them turned out that great in the end.
We went across the street towards a bookstore we saw earlier.
But not before taking some photos of some locals doing their thing.
Elliot Bay Book Company is a huge book store, with a small book store feel. They have a well curated list of selected books, and a bunch of local magazines and gifts you can buy.
Not knowing where Madline went off to, I left to a store next door called Totokaelo. I want to say that this store is a typical high end store that you could find in Soho, but it isn't.
It's a well curated space for design and fashion.
I was happy to find that they had several issues of Apartmento and they even had 3 issues of Synonym! (Inner zine geek coming out).
They had a mens store downstairs. Here's Queen Madeline with her servant Ryan. We took a couple more photos down there, but they weren't that good.
Madeline had a call to take at 11, so we headed back to Alex's. He actually left to work, and left his door unlocked so we could get back in. The tricky part was getting up to his floor since the elevator required a prox card. We figured out we could just get in the elevator with someone or wait for someone to call it up and then use the stairs from their floor. Just a couple of affluent Asians here, getting off at the same floor as you.
Feeling unfulfilled by our first outdoor venture, we wanted to see some real shit. Luckily, Alex left his car keys for us, and we took off. Just a pit stop to buy some potato chips, tea, and water, and off we went to Rattle Snake Ledge.
Tip: Do not follow google map directions to "Rattle Snake Ledge" like we did, and definitely turn around if signs are telling you to do so. There are several tips on yelp or google on how to get to the actual hiking trail. The drive in general was quite serene despite getting lost.
We found the 2 mile hike to be quite challenging, but probably because we came in with a stomach filled with light brunch food and potato chips(Or maybe this is an excuse because we're actualy just out of shape Texans).
We passed by a group of older Chinese women heading back down the trail, one on her cellphone, the other in Uggs, so this is definitely something you can do very inadequately equipped (like me in my non grippy shoes).
Tip: Bring a pair of grippy trail shoes if you think you'll be doing hiking in Seattle.
The ledge was covered in snow. The patch of slush to the right of Madeline was made by my ass, cause I just slid down the rocks.
It was a beautiful view. We took a couple photos of each other and headed back down the mountain. We got out of the hiking trail just before sunset.
It was already close to 10pm when we met Alex back at his apt. Having only had a light brunch and a bag of potato chips in the stomach for the whole day, we were super hungry.
We wanted somewhere easy and close to go to. Luckily Ba Bar, a swanky pho restaurant/bar was still open.
The interior was amazing, and yet the food was modestly priced. If you visit, Pho is a good option, with that, try the pate chaud(in the pic above) which is a puff pastry filled with meat. Ba Bar's is topped with an egg. We also picked up a few pastries for the road.
The end right?
No, it was St. Patricks day, a holiday that the whole city celebrates adamently, and Alex's friends Derek and Ahmed were giving me shit for not going out(Derek comped an Americano at Oddfellows so I felt heavily obligated). One 5 hour energy and I was out the door... Madeline stayed at home, already sinking into the couch with some work to finish up. Luckily I brought a green shirt on the trip...
In a stark contrast to SF, where if you wear a hoodie into a bar, everyone will try to look at the logo and judge you accordingly, Seattle offered a more well rounded mix of people. I was sitting at a table with 2 Amazon employees and several service industry people, everyone got along and had a good time, no one really cared.
Woke up to my 7:30AM alarm and started packing. Madeline was still sleeping soundly, unphased by all the alarms and rustling. Woke her up to give her enough time to pack, and for some reason she couldn't all of her stuff in her bags despite not buying anything on the trip. We called an uber and set off to the airport. After we passed through security we bought some crappy breakfast bagels and bought some gag gifts for our friends as we waited for our delayed flight.
It's a good thing when the only mediocre thing you did on an entire trip was getting shitty bagels at the airport right before the flight back home.
I probably wouldn't have even done half of these things if Madeline didn't come on the trip(would have played more street fighter and gone to more galleries).
It was nice getting to know her better. I was surprised by her creativity, kindness, innocent sense of humor, and thirst for adventure. As you can probably tell, we got along pretty well.
I also learned that she's a crazy cat lady, and her cat Junebug likes to be patted on the butt, a lot. Learn something new everyday.
She's interesting. So follow her: Here's her blog, and her instagram.
So that's it. A vacation. A small span of time, with photos which consist of even smaller slivers of time than that.
What does this trip mean to me? What good will these photos do in the end? After the hard drive they're stored on decays, after the paper they're printed on fades away? What good is the camera anyways? That's the beauty of it. The camera doesn't really matter. The photos don't actually matter. The power is in the idea of getting the chance to record something seemingly meaningful. The motivation to go out and see something new and different. To enjoy our small and precious bit of time.
When you breathe in, you'll notice that the air in Seattle is suprisingly crisp, with a tinge of moisture right before you exhale. The rain gives the city a beautiful shine, which highlighted even more once the sun peeks out from behind the clouds.
Seattle is worth a trip. Put on a light rain jacket, a light smile, and be ready to take in a city ready to offer you as much food, outdoors, and culture as you can possibly consume.
Yup, next round of photography classes are coming up in about 2 weeks! Sign up now!
Sign up here: snapfocus.photography
In case yall were wondering, I brought my Ricoh GR point and shoot, as well as a Leica M9P, with 15mm f/4.5, 28mm f/2.8, 35mm f/1.4, and 50mm f/2 primes. A bit overkill, but every lens got its use at some point. Oh, and I used my iPhone for some too...
In the future, my ideal traveling set up would be the Ricoh GR with a wide adapter for landscapes, and a Fuji X100s or Sony RX1 (both 35mm equivalents). I've found that the 35mm focal length works out great for portraits, general scenes, and detail shots. 50mm, which is usually considered "normal" is a bit too zoomed-in for me.
At the end of the day though, most of the photos I took were taken with the GR. If I really had to pack light, I would be comfortable with just that camera.