Thursday, November 27, 2014

In and Around Seattle

I was in Seattle for the IEEE NSS MIC earlier this month. Interestingly enough, there was no rainy welcome. The weather was in fact uncharacteristically dry and surprisingly chilly. A packed schedule left me with very little time for exploration. But I managed to squeeze in a quick trip to the boisterous Pike Place Market and the city's popular landmark, the Space Needle. The conference banquet was held inside the Seattle Museum of Flight, which has a splendid collection of aircrafts from all eras, particularly those used during World Wars I and II. On the day after the conference ended, I went on a hike to the Big Four Ice Caves. A fairly nice trip overall, although I was chilled to my bones on more than one occasion. A brief photo tour follows starting with the splendid display of jumbo crabs at the Pike Place Market on my first day in the city and closing with one such succulent crustacean on my plate on my last day!


Pike Place Market

The Pike Place public market has a great variety of shops. With heaps of fresh catch straight from the ocean, it is a paradise for seafood lovers. The farmers' market there is fairly nice too. I stumbled upon some exquisite handicrafts. Starbucks fans would be thrilled to visit the first Starbucks store which is located at this market. Small and crowded, the store has a neat collection of souvenir mugs for purchase, that is assuming you can actually make your way into the store past the perpetually long queue of tourists!
The grand opening: Jumbo crabs at the Pike Place Market
At the first Starbucks store
Look, they have a Boston St!

Space Needle

The city's most well-identified landmark can be accessed by a 3-minute monorail ride from the downtown area. Beware though, the monorail service is cash-only — which could be a minor botheration if you are not in a habit of roaming around with a pocketful of green bills. Rather fortuitously, I visited the Space Needle around sundown. That meant I could enjoy both daytime and nighttime views from the observation deck of this 605 ft. tall tower. The view is quite remarkable and includes the surrounding downtown skyscrapers, the sprawling water bodies, and the misty peak of the distant Mount Rainier, an active volcano. Adjoining the Space Needle is the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum, one of the most popular destinations in the city. I had found the 2011 Chihuly exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts absolutely breathtaking. The Seattle museum will have to wait until my next visit I suppose.
The Space Needle
View of Mount Rainier from atop the needle
The city at dusk
Sunset
Before sunset
After sunset
City lights, twilight, and Mount Rainier


Seattle Museum of Flight

The conference banquet was held at a most awe-inspiring venue — the Seattle Museum of Flight.  The banquet took place in the T. A. Wilson Great Gallery with myriads of fighter planes floating overhead, including a Lockheed M-21 Blackbird in the center.  With its records of 85,000 ft. and 2,193 m.p.h., the Blackbird (model SR-71), to this date, remains the highest-flying and fastest piloted jet in history. There were some fascinating exhibits with fighter jets from around the world used during WWI and WWII. The museum famously features the historic Red Barn, the original manufacturing site and birthplace of the Boeing aviation company. 
[T. A. Wilson Great Gallery] Conference banquet at the Seattle Museum of Flight underneath the Lockheed M-21 Blackbird “Mother Ship”.
[WWII Gallery] A Curtiss P-40N Warhawk,  an American single-engined, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground-attack aircraft
[WWII Gallery] A Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, one of the largest and heaviest fighter planes in history to be powered by a single piston engine
[WWI Gallery] A Ni√©uport 24 reproduction.  The 24s were used by France, Russia, Belgium, Italy, and Britain during WWI. 

Hanging planes in the T. A. Wilson Great Gallery
Inside the Boeing Red Barn exhibit, featuring the company's original manufacturing plant.

Big Four Ice Caves

On the last day, I accompanied some colleagues to the Big Four Ice Caves. A short, easy, and family-friendly trail takes you to the caves. It was an icy and wintry morning when we started. The ponds adjoining the trail were half frozen with gorgeous ice formations. The ample rain in the area makes way for a great diversity of mosses and ferns giving the vegetation, otherwise predominated by evergreens, a slightly tropical touch. The ferns were encrusted with delicate ice crystals as was the dry shrubbery lining the trail. The trail takes you over a bridge across the Stillaguamish river. The tall trees with sunny mountains in the backdrop make way for breathtaking views. The trail ends in a clearing with the magnificent ice caves standing tall in the face of a loftier mountain. True to the name, the caves are an all-ice structure. Colossal chunks of ice lie scattered on the cave floor. Avalanches are fairly common inside these caves making it rather dangerous and hence not advisable to be inside. Nevertheless, we decided to take a quick peek. Inside the cave in an open area, sunlight streamed in through an opening at the top illuminating a majestic waterfall (now nearly frozen). The flowing water was replaced by gorgeous icicles - a uniquely beautiful sight. My hands though were nearly frost-bitten from wielding my camera relentlessly. After the splendid hike, we went for an equally splendid dinner to a restaurant in Chinatown. Thus concluded an otherwise busy trip to the West Coast.
A Stellar's jay at the Big Four Ice Caves. These colorful, plump birds scavenge for leftovers around picnic tables in large, noisy flocks not unlike urban pigeons.
Ice crystals on the pond surface
More crystals
Even more
Ice on the shrubbery
Frosted branches up close
Ferns encrusted in ice. The ample rain makes way for a great diversity of mosses and ferns in the area giving the vegetation, otherwise predominated by evergreens, a slightly tropical touch.  
The bridge across the Stillaguamish river
The Stillaguamish river
Lichens on tree trunks
Tall trees in the forest
An arboreal sculpture
Icmadophila or fairy barf lichen on a fallen tree trunk
The magnificent Big Four Ice Caves. For sense of relative proportions, the little vertical lines in front of the cave entrance are humans!
The cave entrance up close
Mountain ranges viewed from within the cave
Another view
Semi-frozen waterfall in the cave interior
Icicles
Chunks of ice scattered on the cave floor
A whole fried fish shaped like a bowl — at a Chinese seafood restaurant in Seattle.
The grand finale: Mouthwatering jumbo crab cooked in the Chinese style

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