Seattle — the Emerald City

Seattle is called the Emerald City because it has a vast number of evergreen trees that remain green and beautiful all year long.

Hotel rooms in Seattle are very expensive. The moderately priced ones start around $200 per night. Since Theresa and I have experienced many albuergues in Spain, we were curious about American hostels and thought this might be a good time to test the waters. Green Tortoise is promoted as ‘Seattle’s Best Hostel’ and was close to Pike Place Market.

We opted for the HI Seattle Hostel in Chinatown because it seemed to be a quieter area and we could get a private room with bath for about $145/night. They also offered less expensive options like a room with a shared bath and also dormitory rooms with several bunk beds.

The building behind the arch is Union Station, part of a major transit hub that includes Amtrak, Link light rail, and Seattle Streetcar service. For a few dollars, the light rail can get you from the airport to Chinatown or to downtown.

We were somewhat apprehensive about staying in Chinatown. When friends and family heard we were staying there, they warned us that it could be dangerous, ‘don’t stay out after dark’, etc. We found it to be anything but dangerous. It was a warm and friendly neighborhood. The housing buildings looked new and modern. Streets are wide, clean and well maintained. Restaurants, tea shops, a dumpling house, bakeries, chicken and Korean hot dogs could be found a footsteps from our door.

On the block past our hotel was Hing Hay Park which translates into Celebrate Happiness Public Park. Built in the 1970s it features principles of feng shui and is a popular spot for martial arts practitioners, quiet morning meditation, a meeting place for local families and the center of many festivals and celebrations.

A stunning gateway steel structure resembles origami art.
Two elderly gentlemen were playing ping pong at 9:00 am on a Monday morning. The ping pong tables were made of concrete.

When we checked-into the HI Seattle Hostel, I was delighted to find that it has an elevator. Hauling my almost 50-lb suitcase up a flight of stairs would be devastating. We were greeted by Jessie, a delightful receptionist who checked us in. She provided the necessary details about our stay and how everything worked. It was easy to tell that she loved this building and the neighborhood. She said she has been a local resident for about 14 years and had nothing but praise for the neighborhood.

We enjoyed meeting Jessie — she is delightful, informative and a great conversationalist.

The hostel featured a couple community rooms, a kitchen and a laundry room. Breakfast is included and offered between 7 and 9 am. Guests choose from coffee, fresh oranges, bananas, granola bars, instant oatmeal and cereal.

Guests have access to a full kitchen.
Dining room had plenty of tables and a view of the Chinatown arch.
Laundry machines take credit cards and soap pods are included.

The HI Seattle Hostel is an older building and our room was basic, functional and immaculate. The bunk bed had a double bed on the bottom, a single on top. The memory foam mattress was comfortable.

Hosteling International: HI Seattle Hostel
View from my window: a pleasant neighborhood on a sunny Saturday morning.

Each bed had four electrical outlets a fan and a light. Very comfortable. A desk, a couple chairs and open closet shelving rounded out the room. Nothing fancy about the bathroom which had a tub and shower. Towels and soap included.

Our room’s window faced King Street. On Saturday morning we heard a lot of talking and activity across the street in a parking lot. There is a super big Asian market a block away and we thought maybe these people were going there to shop. However it appeared to be clusters of young adults, mostly men dispersed throughout the lot. They didn’t seem to be going anywhere and there was a lot of loud cars and vroom vroom action. Eventually I found a few friendly-looking faces and inquired about why they were there.

It was a car meet-up. They gather in this parking lot once a month on Saturday mornings to be social and show off cars and see what’s new. I was told they intentionally meet at this lot to support the shops and restaurants in the neighborhood.

The dude in the middle is the owner of this car and he obviously takes great pride in his vehicle.
Why take the time to open the hood to display the engine — just remove the hood … don’t even have to park, just keep rolling through the lot.
This not-so-new Honda Civic was fitted with scissor wing doors that rotate vertically at a fixed hinge rather than outward like a conventional door.

The Hop-On Hop-Off bus is a great option if you have limited time for sight seeing. This one hits all of the essential Seattle must-see sights.

Across the street from the HI Hostel Seattle is the Chinatown International District stop for the Hop-On Hop-Off bus.
What could be better than a birds-eye view from the top deck of the bus on a sunny day in Seattle?
Stops included Capitol Hill, Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market, the Space Needle and waterfront. In addition we had a great view of lush flowers hanging from light posts.

One lap around on the Hop-On Hop-Off took about an hour-and-a-half. Back in Chinatown, we needed a lunch break. We picked up Korean corn dogs, mango milk bubble tea for me and a strawberry smoothie for Theresa. We retreated to the Hostel kitchen-dining room.

A Korean corn dog has a crispy outer layer of french fries attached. There are about a dozen sauces to choose from and just about as many different corn dogs to pick from. Lots of people walking around eating these.

After our lunch break, we walked over to the Uwajimaya market and Kinokuniya book store. This place is fairly new, super large and offers a massive variety of groceries, liquor, cookware, novelties in addition to a food court with many authentic and interesting choices.

Uwajimaya market offers an endless assortment of goods.
The fresh fish section is almost as interesting as an aquarium.

“Rice is Nice’ t-shirt … a perfect souvenir from Chinatown.

At the Kinokuniya book store, I found the perfect gift for my squirrelly 10-year-old nephew Graham. It’s a Squirrel in Underpants car air freshener. I can’t wait to see whose car he hangs this in — mom Alisa’s car? Tony or Ellak’s, Grandma Susan would love to drive around with a Squirrel air freshener. Or perhaps he’ll hang it in his room.

The Kinokuniya book store was full of unique items like this Squirrel in Underpants car Air Freshener. I don’t remember seeing very many books there.

We walked back to our King Street hostel block and decided it had been a long enough day and it was time for a beer. On the corner next to the Chinatown gate is Joe’s Bar & Grill. Not many customers when we entered but it soon filled.

Some sort of Komodo dragon climbing the light pole oversees Joe’s Bar & Grill.
One-by-one an array of characters filled the bar stools. They were locals.
This guy wins the prize for most interesting head gear. Yes, that is a coyote he’s wearing on his head.
Aaron told us the whole story about his coyote hat that came from the family farm in Missouri. When asked if his coyote has a name he responded that he had too much respect for the animal to give it a name.
Lulu our waitress was a firecracker of entertainment who kept us laughing.
Lulu has waitressed at Joes for many years. This is one of her portraits that graces the wall. The other one is too obscene to post.

Hunger set in and we wandered down the block. There were a dozen or so restaurants to choose from but somehow we narrowed it down to the Shanghai Garden. The quiet, calm and peaceful ambiance was appreciated as was the attentive service. Being adventurous, we tried two dishes that were new to us.

Barleygreen with Pork Chowmein (above) and Happy Family hot pot with chicken, beef and squid got our thumbs up.

This happy surprise-filled day was so much fun but it wore us out. We were tucked into our bunk beds by 8:30 pm (10:30 pm Minnesota time). It was an unplanned but full day of adventure. Looking forward to whatever Seattle has to offer tomorrow.

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Jane is a resident of Browndale neighborhood in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

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