Seattle Mini-Vacation

Seattle wasn’t on our bucket list of post-COVID travel destinations. But a few things came together to make a Seattle mini-vacation our first trip since our Las Vegas to Phoenix adventure in early 2020.

man sitting in a red chair near a red metal sculpture

Why Seattle?

Here’s how it happened… It all started with a Parkinson’s diagnosis in the immediate family. That “one degree of separation” pronouncement got me interested in Parkinson’s research. Which led me to the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI). There are several pathways to participation in this international study, as outlined on this page on the Michael J. Fox Foundation website. As someone age 60+ without Parkinson’s, living in Canada or the US, I filled out the onboarding questionnaire and requested a scratch ‘n’ sniff smell test.

Four booklets of scratch ‘n’ sniff samples arrived by mail, 40 test pages in all. I waited until wildfire season was over so that my sinuses were less plugged, and completed the test. Scents ranged from apple and rose to gasoline and garlic. My home office was pretty stinky by the time I finished! It was easy to submit the answers online.

A couple of weeks later, I got a call from someone with the PPMI study. She asked if I’d consider enrolling in the next phase of PPMI – a blood draw and a SPECT scan (a detailed scan of the brain cells that produce dopamine, taken a couple of hours after an IV injection of a radioactive tracer). The Michael J. Fox Foundation would pay travel expenses for me and a companion to make the trip. Seattle is the nearest clinical site to Calgary. (Side note – there are currently three participating clinical sites in Canada, but they are much further away.)

After some back and forth on scheduling, partly to accommodate a couple of Seattle events that came up via Google search and partly to accommodate the PPMI travel expense guidelines, Mr GeoK and I flew from Calgary to Seattle on October 4, returning on October 8. We opted to pay out-of-pocket for two extra nights. Here are the highlights…

Day 1 – Travel

Seattle is a two hour flight from Calgary, with several flights between the two cities each day. We opted for a morning flight, hoping to spend the afternoon and evening visiting a couple of interesting-looking parks.

Our plan kind of fell apart after we landed at SeaTac. Firstly, it took WAY to long to get the eSIMs we’d purchased at YYC installed and working on our phones. As a result, we ended up in a really long line-up to catch a shuttle bus to the car rental center. Once there, we were further delayed by the equally long line-up at Thrifty. Our rental car was booked by PPMI, and only cancelable with at least 48 hours notice, so we had to stick it out. But by the time we made it to the service desk and then waited in line again to leave the parking garage it was almost 2 pm by the time we stopped for a late lunch at a nearby mall.

Day 1 – Gas Works Park

Fortunately, the I-5 Expressway into downtown Seattle was free flowing. We made it to our first planned stop – Gas Works Park – about 3:30 in the afternoon. The reality did not live up to the images we’d seen online. Now that I go back and look again, it’s clear the fencing has been there for some time. But in our pre-trip planning, I totally missed the chain link fence that made it impossible to get any up close and interesting photographs. At least we got to stretch our legs a bit!

fenced in rusting coal gasification plant turned into a public park in Seattle

Day 1 – Evening Photo Walk

After checking into our hotel, we headed out to pick up a couple of things, including two parcels waiting for us at the Amazon pick-up counter at the Westlake Whole Foods. This is also where we grabbed a quick supper. Then it was back to the hotel to offload our purchases and grab our cameras. Finally, we were back out the door for an evening photo walk. Outgoing stops included the Frank Gehry-designed / Paul Allen-funded Museum of Pop Culture (aka MoPOP),…

…the Space Needle,…

looking up towards the top of the Seattle Space Needle free standing tower from just outside the line to the ticket booth

…and a peek through the gates at the Pacific Science Center.

illuminated 1960s era 100 foot tall white arches at Seattle's Pacific Science Center

We hoped to explore Olympic Sculpture Park, but it closed for the day about 10 minutes before we got there. So we retraced our route with a couple of additional stops, including the Mural Amphitheatre…

night photograph of an abstract multi-colored tile mural in front of the Space Needle in Seattle

…and the Meeting of Minds sculpture outside the Paul Allen Institute.

Day 2 – Sightseeing

Prefer to watch a video instead of reading? Mr GeoK put together a great Relive showcasing highlights of our Day 2 sightseeing.

We planned our first full day in Seattle to take in the sights of greatest interest to us. But first, we headed out in search of breakfast. We ended up sitting outside Sugar Bakery to enjoy coffee and fresh pastries.

cinnamon brioche and cafe latte

From there, we headed off towards Olympic Sculpture Park, stopping to take a couple of photos at Climate Pledge Arena along the way. I was impressed at how much Mr GeoK knew about the arena project (he played hockey for years growing up, recreationally as an adult and is an NHL fan).

It was great to see Olympic Sculpture Park in daylight. But I liked it better at sundown, so more on this attraction later. For now, take a look at these two photos of the Eagle sculpture by Alexander Calder. Side-by-side, they’re a great example of how different positions and different lenses can make a massive difference in how something appears in a photo…

Chihuly Garden and Glass

During our pre-trip planning, we both homed in on Chihuly Garden and Glass as a “must see” attraction. We purchased tickets in advance and opted for the morning time slot, arriving just as it opened at 10 am. How wonderful to visit during the fall! It was quiet enough that we could lay under the Persian Ceiling to really take it in.

As for the photos, Mr GeoK’s new iPhone 15 Pro Max took amazing images. And I had a lot of fun with a fish eye lens.

carefully arranged and illuminated glass orbs and stalks in two float boats
steel and glass house with red, orange and yellow glass flowers hanging from the center beam
lime green, turquoise and royal blue glass "plantings" in a natural garden

I would definitely visit Chihuly Garden and Glass again. To change it up a bit, we could maybe opt for an evening admission time slot.

MoPOP (Museum of Pop Culture)

After indulging in fish and chips at the Armory Food and Event Hall, we headed off for our afternoon time slot prepaid admission at MoPOP. Unfortunately, we just missed the daily architecture tour, so will have to plan for that if/when we make a return visit, for the opportunity to learn more about this Frank Gehry building.

But it might be just as well we missed the architecture tour. As first time visitors, we found there was plenty to see (and photograph). We explored 5 of the current exhibitions: Science Fiction + Fantasy Hall of Fame, Indie Game Revolution, Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic, Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction, and Sound Lab.

Our 23 year-old, who is studying Video Game Design at university, would have loved the Indie Game Revolution exhibit. I was struck by some of the recorded interviews and information boards. “In the next ten years there’s going to be more and more diversity in the creators of games. This is going to take us in directions we couldn’t even imagine.

resting dragon in a cage
man looking at exhibit of guitar / amp pedals

We also walked past Guitar Gallery…

a two-story column of guitars all sculpted together

…and spent quite a bit of time in Sky Church.

Before leaving, we took a few photographs of the space. There are plenty of openings for natural light, but I bet it looks great in the evening, too. The exterior certainly does!

Return to Olympic Sculpture Park

We returned to Olympic Sculpture Park just before sunset, joining hundreds of others who gathered to watch the sun go down. These photos include a few shots from our morning visit, as well. Want to see even more photos and videos from Olympic Sculpture Park? Check out Mr GeoK’s Relive video recap.

We also walked out on Pier 70, below Olympic Sculpture Park, where there were good views of port infrastructure and some of the boats on the water.

Day 3 – Medical Appointments

My first medical appointment was at 7 am. This is where the data-only eSIM we downloaded at YYC and activated at SEA failed me! I was unable to make wi-fi calls (dead air) and ended up wandering around outside the VA Hospital, thinking I was going to have to ask someone if I could borrow their phone. Then I heard, “Are you D….?” Thank goodness I’d forewarned my PPMI contact that I might have phone challenges. She came outside to look for me!

Anyhow, first appointment went well – a simple blood draw. Then we headed off to Harborview Hospital for the SPECT scan. I was pretty happy when we spotted Despi Delite Bakery en route, because I was required to fast at least 12 hours prior to the blood draw. They had excellent Filipino pastries and decent percolated coffee, all very reasonably priced.

As for the SPECT scan appointment, it comprised three parts: 1) drinking something that tasted (to me) like cold herbal tea, containing lots of iodine and potassium to protect my thyroid; 2) about an hour later, an IV injection of a radioactive tracer; and 3) about 2.5 hours later, the actual scan, which took about 35 minutes.

Day 3 – Between Appointments

We parked in the public parkade at Harborview, then Mr GeoK headed off on a photowalk while I went in for parts 1 and 2, as described above. Then I walked down the steep hills to meet up with him at the Seattle Public Library, main branch, for a bit of a photo shoot.

The design is still appealing after 20 years. But I like the new, main branch of the Calgary Public Library better.

From the library, we wandered through Pioneer Square, generally heading towards King Street Station. But we got sidetracked by Smith Tower, where we deviated from our pre-trip planning and paid admission to go up to the 35th floor observation platform (the bar was closed until evening). It was a bit nerve-wracking watch Mr GeoK put his brand new iPhone 15 Pro Max through the metal fencing to take unobscured photos from on high! Fortunately, we left with all camera gear – including phones – intact and in hand!

We did eventually make it to King Street Station, but due to security, we weren’t able to check out the interior. So it wasn’t really worth it.

From there, we trouped back up the steep hill to Harborview for part 3 of my DaTscan appointment, then off for a pretty unremarkable supper (we need to do a better job of researching restaurants).

Day 4 – NorthWest Chocolate Festival

Before agreeing to an appointment date for PPMI, I browsed through upcoming events in the Seattle area. Two caught my attention, the first being the annual NorthWest Chocolate Festival! Our 27 y.o. raves about Dandelion Small Batch Chocolate every time he goes to CA for work. Yhey were one of the more than 100 exhibitors and our first stop!

three people at a chocolate festival

Who knew that I would ever say “no” to dark chocolate. But honestly, after an an hour a half of sampling amazing bean-to-bar dark chocolate, I started saying “no thanks” unless I was really intrigued by the story or other people sampling at the booth were oo-ing and ah-ing. We came home with about 20 artisan chocolate bars, including some from Iceland, Norway, Canada, the US and South America. Want a deeper dive into our NorthWest Chocolate Festival experience? Watch Mr GeoK’s Relive video.

We really enjoyed this experience, and would definitely try to time any future trip to Seattle to coincide with the NorthWest chocolate festival, which seems to take place the first weekend of October each year.

Day 4 – Seattle Water Lantern Festival

The other event that caught my attention was the annual Seattle Water Lantern Festival, later in the day, same weekend as the NorthWest Chocolate Festival. We opted against getting tickets for this one. While we wanted to photograph lanterns on Green Lake, we didn’t feel compelled to make and launch our own lanterns.

That turned out to be both a good thing and a bad thing. On the plus side, we are still guarding against COVID, so would have been very uncomfortable sitting up close with hundreds and hundreds of lantern makers.

ducks swimming on a lake at sunset

But that also meant that when we saw the crowds across the lake from where we parked, we quickly decided to find a more distant location from which to take photographs. That worked okay – just! But because the lanterns are somehow hemmed in, to make post-even collection and clean-up easy, they didn’t float towards us and showed up as a glowing line of light right along the shoreline in our photographs.

Day 5 – Homeward Bound

After four jam-packed days in Seattle, we flew home the next morning. No hassles turning in the rental car (although we were subsequently dinged with a $10 service charge for a $3.20 toll after we had to take a toll road due to an accident on the I-5). I almost left my phone behind in the family washroom at the car rental center (shout out to Mr GeoK for going next and saving the day). And I thought I lost my keys leaving the YYC parkade after having to hop out to use the QR code on my phone as proof of payment. But other than those two cortisol-releasing hiccups, it was smooth travels. 🙂

Final Thoughts

Our Seattle mini-vacay was great! We’d definitely consider a return visit that ties in with the NW chocolate festival. Changes we’d make next time around:

  • Visit Chihuly Garden and Glass in the evening, to see how everything looks when illuminated;
  • Spend more time at MoPOP;
  • Catch the architecture tour at MoPOP;
  • Visit the Pacific Science Center (including an architecture tour, if available); and
  • Spend more time scoping out restaurants and eateries.

PPMI put us up at a clean, quiet and comfortable hotel just across the road from Lake Union. The area was clean and safe, with lots of e-scooters, e-bikes and bicycle commuters using the on-street network of bike lanes. Seattle Center was within easy walking distance, as was a Whole Foods and a range of restaurants. We saw lots of tech company buildings while walking, and would look into whether there are tours of the Paul Allen Institute.

Live in Seattle? Visited Seattle? What else should we incorporate into our plans for our next visit to Seattle?

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