Sightseeing around the Emerald City

As I’ve already mentioned, Janice and I did what tourists are expected to do in Seattle — visit the Space Needle and Pike Place Market. We did get rained on, but less than expected. There was no shortage of things to see in the city, and we got glimpses through the mist of the green and mountainous Northwest beyond.

Gene in Seattle
Looking out from Seattle

On Sunday, June 23, Janice and I went to historic Pioneer Square. We had a real character as our guide during the Underground Tour, and we also enjoyed browsing at the Magic Mouse toy store and the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. We also checked out the impressive modernist Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library, which was only a block from our hotel.

We walked up to Kobe Terrace Park, but we didn’t fully explore the International District, where many Asian-Americans live. After the harbor cruise the next day, we wandered among the tourist traps of various piers before heading to the Seattle Aquarium. It might be smaller than the New England Aquarium, but it was informative about how humans have both lived off the sea and (belatedly) tried to protect it.

We also saw some fun public sculpture and goats grazing beneath an underpass. As I noted in my blog post about Seattle food, Pike Place Market was great, while Pacific Place and other urban shopping malls cater to the locals and business people. I’ve been asked whether I was interested in visiting the headquarters of Microsoft (or Wizards of the Coast), but that would have been too much like work.

I’m glad that Janice and budgeted most of Tuesday, June 25, to see the Museum of Flight, which is next to Boeing’s sprawling campus. It featured lots of exhibits on the entire history of aircraft, from the Wright brothers through the World Wars and the International Space Station.

We’ve been to the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., as well as the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport, and this was as impressive as either of those. Among the aircraft we saw were the P-51 Mustang WWII fighter, the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, and one of the jets designated as Air Force One through several presidential administrations.

Wednesday, June 26, was the quietest day of our vacation, since we expected heavy rain (which never came). We went to the Seattle Art Museum, which had small but strong collections of ancient through modern art. I didn’t take many photos in the museums because most prohibited the use of a flash. Janice and I also visited some art galleries and shops of First Nations or Native American art such as Northwest Tribal Art.

The next day, Janice and I visited Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. We admired the architecture and meticulous gardens. The Royal B.C. Museum was one of the highlights of our trip, including a recreation of a Western town in which you could enter rooms in each building, ranging from a saloon to a train station to a fancy 19th century hotel.

We also checked out the spectacular dioramas at Miniature World, which is similar to Roadside America in Pennsylvania. I got a new sun hat at the Tilley store, and we viewed nature art at the Robert Bateman Centre before heading back to the clipper to Seattle.

On Friday, June 28, we walked to the Olympic Sculpture Park and Myrtle Edwards Park for a mostly clear view of the Olympic Mountains. We then walked to Seattle Center, spending our last afternoon in town in the same way we had spent our first one — near the iconic Space Needle.

The EMP (Experience Music Project) Museum focuses on popular culture. It was cool to see the artifacts from Jimi Hendrix, local band Nirvana, and the “Women Who Rock” exhibit. Of course, the exhibits on science-fiction icons, fantasy world-building, and classic horror movies were of particular interest.

On a related note, Golden Age Collectibles in Pike Place Market had a wide selection of comic books and games, and I’ve known Seattle for years as the setting for the Shadowrun cyberpunk/fantasy tabletop role-playing game.

At the Pacific Science Center, we saw the usual planetology and paleontology exhibits, as well as the Air Racers IMAX film, which was timely because of our visit to the Museum of Flight.

I did check e-mail periodically during the vacation, but it was nice to get away from the usual routine. I did follow the news, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on the Voting Rights Act, which I disagreed with, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which I’m glad was struck down, as were people who gathered at the courthouse near our hotel.

In future trips to the Pacific Northwest, Janice and I hope to see more of the great outdoors, First Nations and Asian culture, and maybe other cities, such as Portland and Vancouver. I’d be happy to return to Seattle anytime!

Since then, I’ve been busy catching with work (especially after the latest reorg), gaming, and genre TV. I look forward to seeing friends during the coming weekends.

Seattle 2013: Planes, trains, and boats

Janice and I vacationed in Seattle, Wash., from June 22 to 29, 2013. Although Janice had attended a conference there years ago, this was my first trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Seattle visitors
Arrival in Seattle

We flew via JetBlue from Boston’s Logan Airport, and we took a train into downtown Seattle. We found it quieter and cleaner than its counterparts in Boston or New York. Janice and I then walked up a steep hill to the centrally located Marriott Renaissance Seattle. Since the weather was nice during our first afternoon in the city, we went to the Space Needle, a landmark from the 1962 World’s Fair.

Contrary to popular belief, Seattle is not rainier than many other North American cities. The Olympic Mountains screen Puget Sound from rain coming off the Pacific Ocean. In the week we were in town, there were several overcast days, but we actually had more sun than rain. We also escaped the heat wave that had started affecting most of the U.S.

Sticking with the transportation theme, Janice and I took a harbor tour aboard an Argosy Cruise Lines vessel on Monday, June 24. The City Pass was a good deal for discount tickets to several attractions. We got good views of the Seattle skyline and massive container ships and cranes.

For the most part, Janice and I did most of our sightseeing on foot, and I’m glad that we didn’t have to drive anywhere or pay for parking. We walked to Pike Place, Seattle Center, and Pioneer Square. I was curious about the monorail, but trolley cars up some of the hills would have been more helpful. On Tuesday, June 25, we took a bus to the excellent Museum of Flight outside the city.

On Thursday, June 27, Janice and I took a Victoria Clipper to scenic Victoria, British Columbia. On the way, we glimpsed otters, dolphins, and numerous sea birds. There were fewer homeless people in the Canadian provincial capital than in Seattle, but everyone was friendly and polite on both sides of the border.

I’ll discuss restaurants and various attractions more in future posts.

Weekend in Newport

On Friday, 31 May 2013, Janice and I drove to Newport, R.I., which we had visited briefly about eight years ago during a small-ship cruise of the New England islands. We met her parents at the Wyndham Long Wharf, where we had a nice suite.

From there, we walked into town, browsing through the antique shops, art galleries, and typical seaside tourist traps. We had dinner at Busker’s, one of many fine pubs in Newport.

The next day, we took a sailing cruise of the harbor aboard the Madeleine. We were lucky with the weather, which was sunny and breezy, unlike the rains of Memorial Day weekend or the violent storms that much of the country has recently suffered.

Ready to sail
On the Madeleine

I dashed off to the Chowder Cook-Off for lunch. I got about two-thirds of the way around all the samples before I rejoined Janice and her parents to visit some of Newport’s historic mansions. We were impressed by the Breakers, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s mansion, which he called a “cottage,” as well as the Gilded Age opulence of Marble House.

We caught a bus back into town and had dinner at the Wharf Pub. That night, we played pool and watched Trouble With the Curve, which, like Midnight in Paris, was a movie I wouldn’t go to the theater for but still enjoyed.

On Sunday, June 2, we had breakfast at Belle’s Café in the Newport Shipyard before heading back to Massachusetts and Upstate New York. In all, it was a relaxing weekend. I look forward to joining Ken G. for the Creation Star Trek convention this coming weekend in Boston, as well as a trip to Seattle at the end of the month!

Watch City Festival 2013 and food outings

On Saturday, 11 May 2013, Janice and I met Beruk A. and Ken G. for the annual Watch City Festival in Waltham, Mass. We also ran into other acquaintances at the steampunk fair.

Beruk chatted with various exhibitors and fellow attendees, and Ken took pictures of people in neo-Victorian garb. Unlike past years, Janice and I tried to attend more panels and performances. It was interesting to see an academic track at the “Author’s Den.”

We sat in on “Ay-leen the Peacemaker’s” (Diana M. Pho’s) panel on “Steam Around the World: Steampunk Beyond Victoriana.” Her discussion of the multicultural aspects of the burgeoning subculture was interesting, and I was glad that Avatar: Legend of Korra was among the many works she cited. Exploration of social issues is part of the “punk” in steampunk.

We enjoyed a little of Shin Daiko’s drumming as we went to Margarita’s for lunch. We then browsed a bit among the vendors on the Waltham Common before attending artist James Gurney’s excellent discussion of “Dinotopia: Art, Science, and Imagination.” Gurney’s talk was a master class in how to combine elements for fictional world-building.

Ken left for another event, and we then went to “Seeing What the Old Masters Sought: Thoughts on 19th Century Design,” by Steve Ebinger. It was a good analysis of how real-world architects, painters, and inventors reacted to the politics, trade, materials, and expectations of their time and how they’ve influenced the do-it-yourself ethos of those developing the alternative styles of steampunk.

Overall, the turnout for the International Steampunk City was good, but the cool, damp weather may have turned some people away on Saturday. Janice and I had dinner at City Streets Restaurant, one of our regular haunts.

The next day, we returned to downtown Waltham after Janice’s usual stint volunteering at the animal shelter, and the sun shone on a crowd that included families celebrating Mother’s Day. It was much easier to be in costume.

Steampunk fair May 2013
At the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation

We went to Brandon Herman’s panel on “Clockwork Beyond Thunderdome: Steampunk in the Movies.” While I think that Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome shares only a few aesthetic elements with steampunk and dieselpunk, the genres are inclusive. Granted, there have been more bad movies and TV shows — such as Wild, Wild West — than good ones — see The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

I do think the literature (including some tabletop role-playing games) is ahead of other media in terms of quality. I have fond memories of Tim M.B.’s GURPS 3e “Arth” and my “Gaslight Grimoire” scenarios. Speaking of RPGs, Janice and I then had an early dinner at the Skellig before heading home for the latest “Vortex: Terra’s Pride” telecom space opera.

In the past week or two, I’ve also eaten lunch with co-workers at the Newton St. Deli, Coconut Thai Café, and Taqueria el Amigo. Although I didn’t run the “Vanished Lands: Vistel’s Circus” fantasy campaign for my regular Monday night group this week, we did go out for dinner at Angelo’s House of Pizza and Seafood, watch the amusing animated Despicable Me, and discuss upcoming games.

The “Escapists” book club of former co-workers had dinner at Habaneros, one of Janice’s and my favorite Mexican-American restaurants in the area. At Lizzy’s, we had dessert and discussed Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, which I liked more than everyone else.

This coming weekend, I look forward to hosting Byron V.O., an alumnus of the Boston-area social/gaming groups who now lives in St. Louis. But first, I’ve got to survive the workweek!

Belated weekend outdoors

On Friday, 19 April 2013, Janice and I worked from home, partly because Waltham, Mass., was among the communities under lockdown because of the manhunt after the bombing of the Boston Marathon. After a tragic and tense week, we were relieved when the second suspect was caught. I hope that justice will be served.

That evening, college chum David I.S. arrived from Upstate New York with his lady friend Sandra K. Even though the Boston Comic Con was postponed indefinitely, we resolved to make the most of our weekend together.

On Saturday, April 20, Janice, Dave, Sandra, and I went into town for sightseeing. On the way, we visited Outer Limits Comics and had a buffet lunch at Kabab & Tandoor in Waltham. We parked at my office in Newton, Mass., before catching the “T.”

We walked from Back Bay, through the Public Garden and Boston Common, to Downtown Crossing, Faneuil Hall, and the North End. Lots of Bostonians and tourists were enjoying the nice weather and recovering from cabin fever.

We later met Thomas K.Y. and some of Sandra’s friends for dinner at Nourish in Lexington, Mass. The food was good, but conversation was difficult because a musician was competing with Dave’s stentorian voice.

Although we didn’t get to watch any movies or genre television together, Dave, Sandra, Janice, and I enjoyed discussing travel, food, work, relationships, and religion, among other topics. If just Dave and I had met, we would have stayed up even later analyzing comics, games, and more.

The next day, we went hiking in the Blue Hills Reservation after Janice’s weekly stint at the animal shelter. I was the slowest of our foursome. After stopping by Pandemonium Books & Games and Cambridge Bicycle, we met Thomas and more of Sandra’s friends for a good dinner at the Asgard. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see Thomas’ girlfriend Kai-Yin H., who was returning from a conference.

Hiking trails south of Boston
Blue Hills Reservation

Dave and Sandra left on Monday morning, and I’ve been catching up on work and other stuff since then. This coming weekend, I’ll be traveling to central New York for a wedding. So much to do, so little time!