Thursday, 22 November 2012

SCHOLARSHIP DAY 84: Seattle Space Needle Trips, Pacific Science Centre, Butterfly House, Jimi Hendrix Exhibition, Seattle Surburbs and Sunset on the Beach!

I awoke at 7:30am and peeped out the sash windows of room 212; the blue sky hopefully a precursor to what would be a pleasant day weather-wise. All that had vanished during the course of eating my breakfast; it was as if someone had took a large paint brush and a pallet of the most depressing colours and smeared the sky with it. I left the hostel with my wet weather gear at the ready, anticipating a typically spontaneous Seattle downpour at any moment. Well it came, but a potentially great day of exploration was ahead of me, and it would take more than water to phase that!

Today, I planned to make two trips up one of Seattle's most iconic towers: the Space Needle. From ground level, one can only imagine the monumental efforts of construction workers to form what is, I'm happily to admit, a unique design. My first trip up to the top 'observation deck' would be during daytime, giving me a chance to survey 360 degrees of city life, and so I boarded the elevator. Travelling at about 10mph apparently, the trip up 600 feet only takes 40 seconds or so, and the experience is enhanced by the fact that you have views out of the windows of the lift throughout the entire skyward journey.

The views are all-embracing. I circled the tower several times, taking in the blanket of this urban landscape. Just as you are viewing my journey, here on this blog, there I was following thousands of people's morning journeys; commutes to work, walks to grocery stores, strolls with the dog. The sky may have been cloudy, but the scenes below them were inspiring. It's up here that those imaginings of construction workers hanging from ropes, securing this viewing tower, become more of a reality. You're able to understand the sheer scale of height up here much better than at base level.

The Space Needle Team even produced this photo for me, free. It's a little animated but great for a postcard, don't you think?

When I had my feet back on terra firma, I decided to head to the Pacific Science Center. From the outside, it looked impressive, and busy, so I guessed it was worth a try. The complex is split into three sections, but all attempt to make science more accessible not just for young people, but anyone with a passion for it. The first exhibits were the dinosaurs. Oh, how long has it been since I've walked around a dinosaur museum? Too long, I'd say, and in this particular one, the dinosaurs (with the aid of motors) even move!

I found it very interesting to see what types of dinosaurs would have been occupying Seattle at the time of their existence, and there's quite a few. Perhaps the most familiar is Stegosaurus. The next building centered more on general science, and it reminded me a little like the Discovery Center of Anchorage's museum; I explored that on my first day in this scholarship! How long ago it feels! There were all kinds of exhibits here in this room, from planetary gases, to the tides and currents of Washington State. Through interactive displays, you could look at the CO2 concentrations of Seattle for the last three days- that is very interesting- and there's a display that focuses on world health issues such as TB and Malaria. As a central display, this globe shows the changes in world ice coverage from season to season and also mean annual temperatures.

The final room is for the entomologists! Insects galore! I wandered round, viewing tank by tank, each one showcasing one particular species. Some I had seen before, like the cockroach, some I had only seen in other zoos such as the tarantula and the scorpion, and some species I hadn't set eyes upon in my life, like this little fella!

My admission to the Pacific Science Center included one 3D Imax movie of my choice and I selected Flight of the Butterflies. It's a documentary that tells the life story of the Monarch Butterfly; the extraordinary species that makes one of the longest migrations in the world. It's a compelling narrative which follows each stage of this beautiful butterfly's life cycle. In Imax, the sound of fluttering butterflies surrounds you as if you're air-borne yourself, but in 3D aswell, transforms the whole experience. At times, you just wanted to reach out to grab a butterfly from your seat; I resisted the temptation, although some young children in the seats in front of me, made quite a few attempts- all of which were expectedley unsuccessful! What next for cinema? 

I returned back to the real world, where 3D isn't as impressive, and decided to explore the final exhibits in this Pacific Science Center. Conveniently, almost as if I had planned it, it was the Butterfly House. At 25 degrees C, I was allowed to stroll quite comfortably around this large humid greenhouse. The moment I walked into it, a butterfly landed momentarily on my head; I knew this would be, once again, another one of those unique memorable experiences. The butterfly that had landed on me was in good population, here in the house. It was a Blue Morpho butterfly; simply stunning patterns and colours on it's outer wings, but it gets its name from the bright blue complexion of its inner wings.

Seattle seemed that little more colder when I left the basking warmth of the Butterfly House, but still I must say, travelling outside is so much more bearable than Alaska. I didn't have far to walk; my next location was the EMP museum, otherwise known as the 'Experience Museum Project'. The idea behind this building is obvious from the title; it engages the public with music that has been central to Seattle's history. For those who experienced it in the hay day, it's a chance to relive those gig memories and see the actual guitars, drumsticks and keyboards that your favourite band members famously used. For those younger, like me, it's an opportunity to strengthen my musical knowledge and compare what was considered 'prime' in those days to what is considered that now.

Jimi Hendrix- you can't escape him here! You enter in the front entrance and see him on widescreen; you exit at the back and there he is on another large screen! Hendrix was born and brought up in Seattle before he made it 'big' in London. You can see displays of his iconic gig clothing, including that velvet flowery jacket- my Dad's probably nodding his head right now- and his famous guitars. Nirvana exhibits makes up the second half of ground floor. I found it quite fascinating to view the scribbles of lyric drafts, and the handwritten messages sent from band member to band member.

The central display for the EMP, is this instrumental collage. From floor to ceiling, guitars meet violins, keyboards meet banjos, drums meet cellos. A column of metal and wood, and just another example of Seattle's successful and enthralling artistic experiments with space.

My afternoon would be left for exploring the northerly portion of Seattle on foot. As you travel outwards, you immediately face a different environments; there are no towering sky-scrapers here, but small one story blocks and apartment buildings. Heading north, I would soon be meeting an elevation increase, that is known as Queen Anne's Hill. Most of the hill is home to the Seattle's inner suburbs; historically, this hill accommodated wealthy families with mansions. To access it, I made my way through one of the many city parks Seattle has to offer: Kinnear Park.

It was great to be amongst nature again; I have missed foliage. Maple trees accompanied me as I made my way up this steep two tiered park, and I often passed glacial boulders. The trees here are giant specimens compared to the skinny Birches of Alaska. Just the leaves are impressive!

I left the park at the top, and entered a neighborhood. The houses here are significantly different; this was true Burgess Model fieldwork! Modernity engulfs this neighborhood; polished and well cared for cars are parked in well swept driveways, although some properties have garages and some have only the road. Gardens here display contemporary designs; box trees are trimmed precisely to shape, and topiary is frequent here. Where houses overlook Elliot Bay and the docks, windows are well polished and balconies are set up with carefully positioned deckchairs, supposedly in their owner's favorite 'spot'.

Seattle amazes me. One moment I'm walking alongside hilltop houses, and the next I'm walking along the coastline. Here's a city lucky enough to have a coastline and a beach, although I'm fairly sure this will be a frequent attribute to cities scheduled on my trip southward. The coastal trail is constructed organically from wood chippings, and makes a very agreeable walk in late afternoon.

Sunset in Seattle. My explorations of Seattle's small sandy beach had come at the right time, just as the large gas giant was going to bed. A narrow column of rippling waves reflected the fiery glow, as if someone had dispersed dye into Elliot Bay. Wildlife, including Seagulls, were also making sure they didn't miss out on the spectacle; their elegant flight only augmenting mine.

By the time I had returned downtown, it was just about time for my second and final visit to the observation deck of the Space Needle. I timed it just right, getting up there just as the dark blues of an unlit sky were slowly but surely creating night-time as you and I know it. So the question is, do I prefer these views during the day or now, during at night. Well, there's a romance here; it reminds me now of The Great Gatsby. Down below, Seattle revealed it's effulgent beauty in the twilight. It was sitting up there with a hot chocolate that I realised, once again, the incredible day I had experienced. There was only one problem; it had to end, and so I regrettably made tracks back towards the hostel. Why couldn't I be a bird and enjoy these formidable views daily. Better still, why not a butterfly?

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