After the busy time in San Francisco, CA, it was time to pack our bags and head towards Seattle, WA. On our way we were faced with the hushed side of American history, including seamstresses and party planner women, and we also tried to find the Bigfoot from Oregon’s vast redwood forests. We also met real, living Seattle nerds and some really smelly native habitants of the coast.
Let’s start with the smelly part. After the overtly cute elephant seals we decided to visit some sea lions in a naturally formed huge cave on the coast. I think it was sometime in the late 19th century when the cave was discovered, and it’s the only known place where sea lions like to hang around on land. The place has been open for public since the thirties and the place has been operated by one and the same family the whole time. Originally you had to climb your way down to the cave, but now there is an elevator which takes you directly to the sea lions.
The first thing I noticed about the place was the very friendly staff. The second was how windy it was. Well, the wind comes from sea and there is absolutely no cover, so… And the third one, as soon as we stepped out of the elevator… the most horrible wet stench of mold, sea, sea lion poop and fish. ~:P My stomach rolled over immediately and I kept trying to keep my breakfast down the whole time. Joonas didn’t mind it as much as I did and I think he compared the smell to a barn – he’s spent some time countryside back home. Yuck. Well, I think I was alone with my sensitive nose since no-one else there turned green. But the smell aside, the place was pretty amazing. We were literally just a few meters away from these amazing wild animals, behaving as animals do. Making noises, pushing each other, just posing there on a rock and sometimes fighting over the best place on some huge stone. Rather laid back life. The interesting thing was, the sea lions didn’t really seem to care about us humans standing there. I suppose they could smell us (hard to believe over that horrible stench), hear us and could even see us moving there, but the whole place had been constucted so that as little disturbance as possible was caused for them.
If you decide to visit this place, be warned that there are many steps present despite the elevator. There are also two places outside where you can see the seals laying low on a cliff outside the cave, but the smell is so thick it flows all the way up to us humans. And at times it’s possible to see whales passing by, or killer whales (orca) come by the cave to hunt the seals.
There are a great many old ghost towns in the USA, but most of them are ghost towns for a reason. They are close to nothing and today it’s almost impossible to get to them with a normal car, designed for city driving. Thus Shasta’s small ghost town is a great place to visit, since a highway from Redding, CA, towards Eureka, CA, drives straight through it. The place is only a semi ghost town: a few people have made it their home. Shasta used to be one of the waypoints people used to travel to the gold rush town. It also burned down at least once, so they made it mandatory that all new buildings should be built with bricks instead of wood, ensuring that in the dry Californian desert climate the remains of the town are still visible to us. The place has only very few standing walls left, but it’s still an interesting place to stop by if you are driving by it. As an interesting building in town you can find California’s oldest Masonic lodge. It’s still in use.
We stopped in Oregon to see the famous redwood forests. Of course, we had been driving in redwood forests for a while, but in the Oregon Redwood Forest Prairie Creek National Park there are a number walking trails of different lengths and terrains for everyone to enjoy. The highway 101 rides straight through the forest so it was really easy to find the place. There are also many helpful park visitor centres where we got a very helpful recommandation on a walking route we could take in the forest with the one hour we had to spare.
It just happened that once we parked the car and took to the forest by foot, we chose a very different path from the recommended easy one and got the whole route almost completely to ourselves. It was amazing to walk among so high, old trees. We took some photos, but they won’t look even half as spectacular as the real thing. The trees are just so big that they are impossible to photograph. And just as the photographs make the trees look smaller, also our brains had trouble understanding their size. Many times we looked at some fallen tree in front of us and thought it would reach us to our hip and when we finally got to it it was taller than we were!
As for the bigfoots who are supposed to live in these forests, we didn’t see any, but maybe it/they saw us. Walking in the forest focusing on our steps on the uneven paths, we tought it would be no wonder if someone was there standing just a few feet from us. Because in the forest it was next to impossible to watch your surroundings due to the huge trees and the plants which managed in the shadows of the great redwood forest.
We had found out about the underground tour from the internet and decided to go to Sacramento just for it. We were so surprised when we found out there is actually a huge old town area in Sacramento which has old Wild West era buildings still in place and use, and the place is surrounded by many museums and stores. Since we had only reserved enough time for the underground tour we had to settle for a short stroll around the town. Not a bad thing since most of the American stores seem to offer pretty much the same items despite where you’re at.
The underground tour we took was really interesting and quite fun thanks to our funny tour guide who managed to get the whole group in a good and relaxed mood – something the Americans seem to be very good at. The tour was both a history lesson on Sacramento and a tour underneath people’s houses. You see, Sacramento was originally built on low land and the semi-annual floods wiped the city flat, taking away with it its housing and pretty much everything else. Instead of moving the city the town’s people decided they would raise the whole city up by one floor. Since they all had houses already, the only solution was that pretty much every male in the city would come to one house at a time and together they would lift the house with similar wrenches that cars are lifted with. The families of each house stayed indoors, of course, when their buildings were lifted and surprisingly only once one of the houses fell down on its side during the lifting operation. The story goes the inhabitants just rolled out of its windows and apparently everyone survived.
The problem was, though, that the city wasn’t as fast with its movements and for many years the citizens lived in houses which were one floor higher than the road so everyone had to use stairs to get up to their houses. And while they were still in the middle of building those roads, there were a few “missing” roads here and there, and there were reports of people falling down from the road after drinking too much “KoolAid” as our tour guide put it. (There were children on the tour with us.)
But that’s pretty much how the underground sacramento was built. Below the old buildings there are cellars on the old ground level and from their earth floor people have dug out old artefacts telling about the townsfolk’s lives. There were “party planner” girls’ old hairbrushes and pipes. The tour guide knew some entertaining stories from the old darker side of the city, including one about a silly cowboy who tried to leave without paying after partying with one of the girls and ran butt-naked on the streets, the party planner on his heels.
The only problem with the Old Sacramento underground tour was that there wasn’t that much to see in the end. In fact, the tour is totally dependant on the tour guide. If s/he’s not good, the tour won’t be. Fortunately ours was. So if you can choose, pick Harley – I think that was her name.
We took another underground tour in Seattle and once again got a good piece of the city’s history. Just like Sacramento, Seattle used to be a waypoint to the gold discoveries of Alaska and elsewhere. Seattle’s story is quite similar to Sacramento’s, except that the Seattle people really liked to do it the hard way. First they settled on a small island, which was supposed to be big enough for everyone – except they forgot it was low tide and once the water got higher, half of the island disappeared under the water. Next they noticed there was a reason the native Americans hadn’t inhabited the island: the next winter their whole town was blown away by the harsh winter winds – not once but twice. Thankfully they learned fast – this time – and moved to mainland. Unfortunately, just like in Sacramento, the Seattle people wanted to build their town as close to the water as possible, making it a victim of constant flooding. Since the village was built on a mud flat, its houses kept sinking. And since the ground water was so close, all the street crossings became so mushy under cartwheels, in a few years the worst street corners had turned into pools of water and mud, many feet deep, and one year a boy drowned in a street corner. The solution? Well, you’d think they’d fix the streets but instead they taught all the kids to swim and added flotation devices next to the deepest pools.
The other problem was the sanitation. The great thing was that the townsfolk were excited about these new Crapper toilets and everyone got one. The bad thing: no plumbing. So they built a sewer onto which every toilet in the city was connected. It was made of wood, and on the hills it worked well, since gravity made sure everything moved forward and downward. Unfortunately at the bottom of the city the ground was flat and thus the poop moved forward only if there was enough of it to push it forward. Quite naturally, the pipes ran to the sea… which had low and _high_ tides. You see, things were good with the low tide because then all the poop traveled far away from the city. Too bad the high tide brought it back and onto the treets. Oh, and that plumbing… Well, on high tide, you know the pressure, it started to push in the other direction. The result was that if you flushed your toilet during high tide you’d fly up in a geysir of [beeb!] many meters high! The best solution would have been to fix the plumbing, but in the truest Seattle spirit they just ended up printing all the high and low tides on the newspapers so that people knew when to use their toilets.
Change came one day when the whole city burned down in a couple of hours. There was a small fire at a soap factory (I think?) and the worker there had some weak moment, since first he tried to put down the fire with wood dust, and then with water (it worked like trying to put down grease fire with water) and then the fire spread to all the nearby buildings. According to another tour guide it next spread to a gunpowder storehouse, and it was low tide so the firefighters couldn’t get any water in the first three or so hours of the fire. The whole city was destroyed but amazingly no-one died. At least no-one worth noticing. They labeled the whole thing “solving the problems” and started anew.
Since the city was gone the townspeople decided it was about time to do something about the continuing flooding and sanitation problems and the city decided they’d raise the whole city by one floor. The townsfolk were ordered to build two main entrances in each house – one on the first and one on the second floor. This led to a situation where the roads were risen, but just in front of the houses at the modern walkways the ground level was still on the original height, thus making two different levels of streetsthroughout the city. And in the lower lewels, since they were deep compared to the road level, people got robbed and killed every now and then. Only a recorded fourteen people died climbing the ladders between the street and walkway levels.
The good thing was, when they finally built walkways they just ended up covering them, and now in the Seattle city center all the streets are hollow! The underground tours take the groups down there to see the amazing way in which the town is constructed. Just like in Sacramento there are still some artefacts from the past visible underground.
There is also an adults-only tour to the underground Seattle, but we decided to skip it. Once again this tour gets better with a good tour guide. We can recommend our tour guide, whose name we totally missed, but he’s an Elvis look-a-like. You’ll know him when you see him.
A good companion to the underground tour is a ghost tour of Seattle. I’m a bit skeptic about ghosts, but I believe there might be some truth to them, but in a way science isn’t able to explain yet. The tour was lead by a man calling himself a ghost hunter and many times in the tour he referred to some research he and his team had done in the tunnels. He even played some recordings they had recorded in the underground city and also showed us photos and videos of the ghosts spotted around Seattle. Most of the ghosts were from old times but the most shocking one was a story about a Japanese performance artist who had fallen down from one building in the middle of a performance and died. The shocking part was there is a video of the accident and we were shown it on our tour.
Since the tour was about ghosts it was also about death and tragedies, and the tour guide made it very specific that if someone felt the things were getting too intensive, we could always tell him we’d heard enough and he’d move forward. Luckily we had a cute puppy on the tour who kept us safe so no-one needed a breakfrom the tour content.
The walking tour was about ghosts, doomed buildings, haunted hotel rooms and also about the history of the city. Both Joonas and I thought the ghost tour and the undergroud tour were a great pair together, complementing each other. Definitely take the underground tour first! And as for how scary was it? The good thing was the tour was based completely on the stories and not on cheap spook tricks. The scariness of the tour was completely caused by our own imagination – and the homeless drug addicts which take over the streets of downtown Seattle after office hours. Just like the tour guide said: it’s not the dead you have to fear but the living. Just to give you a clue: the next night Joonas stayed up half the night due to nightmares.
One of the places we had to stop by were curiosity cabinets. In the US you can still find a few places where all sorts of curios of the world are displayed. We were expecting some places where you pay for entrance but both in Long Beach and Seattle the curiosity cabinets were stores, which just happened to have their walls and ceilings filled with curiosities from all over the world. The common thing for both of the cabinets was that their main exhibit item was a mummy. The Long Beach curiosity cabinet had a mummy of a half-man-half-alligator. The Seattle curiosity cabinet had two natural human mummies and on the ceiling hanged two mermaid mummies. Both also had collections of shrunken heads and all sorts of items from farming tools to a genuine kamikaze pilot flag. Quite exciting and weird.
Long Beach: ***
Next to the famous, amazing Space Needle lies a museum which concentrates on music, science fiction and popular culture. Can this awesomeness even be true? It can and it was. Though the place is funded by companies involved with music so all the rest of the topics were left on the side, who cares when you get exhibitions this good!
The exhibition we went there to see was called Icons of Science Fiction. *drool* There were plenty of items from famous and classic scifi products. For example there was Captain Kirk’s seat and Uhura’s dress from the Star Trek original series. How cool is that?! And there was Captain Sheridan’s uniform from Babylon 5! And Starbucks’s clothes from Galactica! And demo from Portal! And, and, and.. The most surprising part was the Anubis helmet from the Stargate series. I stopped watching the show at some point when it lost its touch, but I never would have imagined (or noticed) how fantastic a job they had done on the helmets.
When we were done with the exhibition we noticed there was an exhibition about horror movies called Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film, so there we went. Even though the exhibition was quite small and based almost completely on a few horror movie directors telling about some of the groundbreaking horror movies, the exhibition was so well put up you didn’t even notice the lack of items. But there were still some choice treats like Buffy’s Mr. Pointy and the original Mummy mask from the 1930s movie. How cool is that!
Since we were in Seattle where grunge was born, we also went to see the exhibition about Nirvana, called Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses. It was quite nice, cute items and such, but for a casual visitor maybe a bit too abstract. I listened to Nirvana in my teens like almost everyone did, but I never saw it necessary to read everything about them so I could have used a bit more hand-holding and explanations at the exhibition.
P.S. I never understood the fame of the Space Needle before I saw it myself. It’s just an amazing construction. The shape, the colours… The only bad thing is it costs a fortune to get inside, but who cares. If you are inside you can’t enjoy its looks. 🙂
Seattle nerds with jobs
Joonas has been a member of an internet community called Gamers With Jobs for some years now. When we found out we’d be going to USA and Seattle he asked if there were any get togethers coming up during our trip, and in Seattle we were lucky enough to meet some genuine Seattle gamer nerds. They were most kind enough to invite us over to one of the regular meeting places, a nerdy shop called the Card Kingdom, where they had reserved a gaming room for us. The Card Kingdom was an amazing place which sold board games, card games, roleplaying games, puzzles, family/child friendly games and miniatures. The great thing was that on the side of the store was a bar, from where you could reserve the gaming rooms like we had, and you could order food and drinks while you played games. The Card Kingdom had dozens of games for clients to borrow, and in the bar each table had a game being played, with drinks and food on the side. And the best part of it: the place was open until midnight! Can you imagine if we’d have a place like that in Finland! *nerdgasm*
Well, the gamers we met were all very nice people and very soon we almost forgot this was our first time with this crowd. Besides there were other visitors, too.
And as a credit to Edwin, who most kindly took us under his wings, he also helped us get US phone contracts and took us to his shooting range as his guests, and was just the most awesome host you can have. So a big thanks to Edwin and all the rest of the Seattle gamers with jobs! <3
Next week I’ll be telling you about Canada where we are at right now. Coming up: dinosaurs, native American art and fireworks.
Mia & Joonas