LAX, SEA and CLT
07.12.2010 - 11.12.2010 14 °C
After 14:30 in my Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to Los Angeles, I was happy to get out of the airplane. It was a good flight, mind you. Firstly, it is not everyday that they offer you lobster in economy class (not that that is what I ate, though…), but also, Seat Guru was quite right about the extra spacious economy seats. On Thai Airways' Airbus A340-500 used for the BKK to LAX flights, they have 36'' seat pitch, ie 36'' between an identical part of the seat in front or behind. This compared to what appears to be an industry average of 32'' for most intercontinental flights with 34'' being the longest I found anywhere else, with good old Swiss, Lufthansa and Air Canada using anything between 31'' and 33''. Those few extra inches meant that I could place my fist (as an example of the space - not my usual posture) between my knees and the seat in front, rather than the usual scenario where I spend the whole flight with my knees pressing against the seat in front. Luxury! I do have to admit that I enquired as to the cost of being bumped up to Premium Economy on the flight. In this case, it would have been about 30000 baht or 1000$. A bit much for 14.5 hours. Another fortunate turn of events for me (not Thai Airways) was that only half of the seats in economy were booked, so I actually got a window and aisle seat and managed, somehow, to lie down in this constricted space and got about 4-5 hours sleep, which is a first for me on a flight.
I also figured it was the last time for me to watch a Thai movie. It was a romantic drama that was rather entertaining.
Anyhow, back to Los Angeles, and the cold. It was 14C. I cruised through customs (not that there was any reason I wouldn't) and then got to wait 45 minutes in a t-shirt and cotton pants for a shuttle to the hotel I'd booked for the night. 45 minutes, when you are tired, cold and jet-lagged is one of those things that feels a little bit like eternity… Anyhow, the hotel, a Travelodge, though nothing extraordinary, permitted me to have about 4 hours sleep despite the fact that 19:20 in LAX was 10:20 in the morning of the next day in Bangkok.
The first thing that struck me in the hotel room as I was trying to get organized was that I didn't need to get a bottle of water. Potable water from a tap! It had been a while and it felt rather odd to fill a glass from a faucet and drink it and brush my teeth without using bottled water. I hadn't been able to do that since I left Switzerland (perhaps I could have in Istanbul, but I didn't try - you certainly didn't want to try that in India and most of South East Asia).
Another odd fact for me in the US is my reaction to it. No clear idea why but the US was pretty much the only place in my trip where I didn't feel safe (ok, there was also one neighbourhood I walked through in Cairo that was fairly dicey…). I'm not sure where that comes from. Perhaps from watching too many American TV shows growing up? Perhaps from the level of criminality? The fact that you can be detained for an indeterminate amount of time by "officers of the law" (DHS) on the arbitrary suspicion that you are a terrorist? Perhaps the fact that somebody could trip on your bag at the airport leaving you with an inordinately large legal bill? Not sure what it comes from, but I had the same initial reaction when I visited California a couple of years ago. It usually dissipates after a day or so… Sort of the same thing like swimming in shark infested waters (you stop thinking about it - No, I didn't mean that there was any similarity between said sharks and Americans in case you were wondering…)
I want to start by thanking my friends Simon and Stacie for welcoming me to Seattle. It was great to see them again!
I was also greeted by the cold in Seattle, but I was expecting it, and oddly it didn't feel quite as cold as California. Two or three t-shirts covered by my kiwi rain coat were sufficient to keep me mostly warm. (ok, I should point out that I keep referencing the cold, because with the exception of 2 days in England where the weather was below 20C, I've pretty much been living in 20C+, 30C+ and even 40C+ weather since May… In Bangkok, the whole week before I left, it was 34C without factoring in humidity (with humidity, it was 41C)… So yes, I've become fairly sensitive to cold!) On the first day, I got to visit Alki Beach which is nice, but apparently too cold to swim, at least in the Winter. I then got to see Pioneer's Square briefly and an old gas factory that had a nice view onto the Seattle skyline. I also got to see locks where, if you are there at the right time of year, which is basically anytime but now, you get to see salmon heading either up or down the river.
Ferry seen from Alki Beach
I'm not sure I could handle the weather in Seattle. It can be both sunny and raining at the same time just a short distance off. Also, the weather changes so much that if there are clouds over what you want to take a picture of, you sometimes only need to wait ten minutes for the clouds to be gone, and another 10 to return. But I must say that the light in Seattle is quite magical. I can imagine it is possible to take some wonderful pictures here, just because of the light.
Another pleasant surprise with Seattle was that they seem to have a good food culture. For example, good produce at the Pike Place Market. I particularly enjoyed the dried sour cherries either straight or in their chocolate-cabernet coating… as well as desiccated vegetable chips that were cut thickly enough that you could really taste the vegetable with minimal oil and salt. As well as a good selection of restaurants where attention to quality is present.
I enjoyed Pike Market and got to have a good apricot stuffed croissant at a French bakery that had nice pastries. I didn't realize at the time that the Starbucks next door was the original and first Starbucks… I wanted to go back and give it a try, not that I'm a Starbucks fan (though I should point out that I'm currently sitting at the Starbucks at Atlantis as I type this, though mostly to warm up, as it is cold with 19C and 30 mile winds outside… So much for heating up in the Bahamas ;-)
Pike Place Market
The following day, I visited the Space Needle, and revisited Pioneer's Square to visit the Underground city. Basically, at the turn of the century, Seattle burned down thanks to a clumsy worker who spilled glue on oil and started a fire that spread to the city's supply of dynamite and other combustibles… Anyhow, the idea was that as the city of Seattle had many recurring problems, such as exploding toilets (you had to be able to make a mad dash away from a toilet when you flushed as the 4 inch pipes from higher up the hill would also be pressured from the incoming high tides, leading to "water spouts" up to 4 feet high coming from the toilets in most of the lower and mid-city. That and they had parts of the streets that would sink up to 8 feet down and be large enough for a wagon to be parked in… So anyhow, they decided to rebuild the city about 15 feet higher, the problem is that this work would take several months, and the shop owners decided to rebuild their shops because they wanted to open immediately. So they built shops, and as time went by, the streets were raised with dirt about 15' higher than the entrance of the shops.
Weather change... ten minutes before...
Ten minutes later...
The first Starbucks...
Entered this building through its second floor window at street level and got to see its ground floor under the sidewalks...
Simons' building in Pioneer Square
This implied that for a time, you had to take a ladder down from the street into the shops. Not to mention people falling in. Seattle had their own AA program. It was the one step program where people having imbibed too much would fall from the roads and injure themselves or die. Colourful history for a city with a colourful set of founders… Crooks, thieves and prostitutes, basically. Anyhow, without going through the whole history of Seattle's founding, I recommend the Underground City tour in Seattle. You get to walk under the current sidewalks to the base of shops where people today actually enter through the second floor. You get to see remnants from a time past, including the original entrances of shops, see pieces of the original pot-holed streets, and the infamous "water" (sewage) spouting crappers… A good way to spend 90 minutes or so and so rich in information.
That same night, I took a 22:20 flight to Charlotte North Carolina. The flight lasted 4:40 minutes and I didn't get to fall asleep as I wasn't reassured by the very loud cracking noises coming the the exit I was seated right next to. The bulkhead would crack loudly every few minutes with the changing altitude and whenever we struck turbulence. Not particularly reassuring! Anyhow, as the flight landed at 3am Seattle time or 6am Eastern time, I decided to simply stay up and have an "American Breakfast" in "America". I walked around the airport and watched a couple of movies to pass the time.
I also thought that I was really tired of taking the plane and decided to count how many flights I'd been on since the beginning of the year. I realized that if I include my initial trip to the Bahamas as well as my trip there for the TTC, I've gone through 33 take-offs and landings… And by the time I get back to Montreal, I'll have had 35 take-offs and hopefully as many successful landings. Not bad for somebody who doesn't particularly like flying and I'm glad to think that after I get back to Canada, I won't be taking an airplane for a couple of months. Calculating the times, I will have spent 91 hours or so if I include the two trips to the Bahamas or 77 hours or three days if I just look at my round the world trip. Nuts, really!