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A CHANCE TO BE A TOURIST IN SEATTLE

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SEATTLE – My travel philosophy can be loosely summarized in six words: use any excuse for an adventure.

Last spring a family wedding was the excuse and Seattle was the adventure.

As usual, I enjoy recalling the journey as much as the destination.

Day 1: North on 101

It's overcast and drizzling as my husband Ted and I head north on Highway 101, but we pass splashes of light. Daffodils bloom alongside the road and a persistent sunbeam sets a mossy limb aglow.

The skunk cabbage looks especially healthy. Our plant book ("Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast" by Pojar and MacKinnon) calls the "Indian wax paper" an early spring famine food. We try to imagine being hungry enough to dig into the pungent yellow flesh.

Our own growling stomachs detour us to the Sugar Shack in Reedsport for a bakery fix (turn on Highway 38 toward Drain, drive through Reedsport's old downtown and look for the bakery on your right). The pretzel shaped doughnuts are irresistible.

At Depoe Bay, the horns are spouting onto the highway signaling rough seas, so we decide to picnic just north at Boiler Bay Wayside. It's ocean fireworks as waves boom on the rocks in front of us.

We stop for the night in Astoria and eat dinner at a waterfront restaurant. Oceangoing freighters passing by help compensate for a serious lack of crab in my crabcakes.

Day 2: Columbia crossing

As we cross the Columbia River, it occurs to me I could be happy driving back and forth on the Astoria-Megler Bridge all day long. Must be something about growing up in Portland. It's impossible to memorize all the Willamette spans in elementary school and not get bridges in your blood.

We remind ourselves to look up the bridge lady's book ("The Portland Bridge Book" by Sharon Wood Wortman) and sign up for one of her bridge walks.

It's snowing as we skirt Willapa Bay and we recall the area's reputation as a birding hotspot. Any shorebirds out today will need their stocking caps. The courthouse on the hill above South Bend looks mysteriously ornate and goes on the "next time" list.

We hit the freeway at Montesano and groan at the thought of four days of city driving. A glance at the map reminds me the Seattle metro area spreads out all over the place.

Experienced urbanites say big cities are less intimidating if you think of them in terms of neighborhoods. We decide to adopt this mind-set for Seattle.

Our first neighborhood is Federal Way, actually a suburb a few miles south of town and the site of the wedding. We get our bearings and go in search of a bouquet for the bride.

We discover Trader Joe's, an import store for foodies, along a boulevard of endless malls. We splurge on a few delicacies and an armful of pink hyacinths that smells like spring itself.

Day 3: The wedding

Snow falls like feathers outside the church windows as the bride and groom repeat their vows. Afterward, we drive to the reception along streets lined with flowering maples. I think I've stepped into a Japanese painting.

Day 4: Becoming a tourist

It's time to pack the dress up clothes and put on blue jeans and hiking boots. We drive to Discovery Park in the Magnolia neighborhood and enjoy the walk downhill to Puget Sound in what's known as Seattle's wildest park.

The waves have more froth than Starbucks lattes as huge ferries chug back and forth between Bainbridge Island and the mainland.

I dream about buying a ticket and riding with no particular itinerary in mind.

We head into the wind along a cobble beach to West Point Lighthouse. Built in 1881, it stands guard at the entrance to Elliott Bay, Seattle's harbor. Riprap surrounds the building to protect it from storm tossed driftwood.

It's low tide and the few exposed rocks are home to tube worms gently extending and retracting their flowery gills. We nibble cheese and crackers and watch them "bloom."

Then it's back up the hill for a look at some indoor marine life.

The Seattle Aquarium is downtown on the waterfront. Sea otters and river otters put on a playful show (shouldn't every back yard have a rock slide?). The salmon migration exhibit teems with hundreds of smolts, glittering exclamation points.

An enormous geoduck (pronounced "gooey-duck") is stuck in a tiny tank. We read with astonishment that the hefty clam can grow to 20 pounds and live 100 years.

Once upon a time, I ordered what must've been a centenarian for dinner, imagining it might be similar to a razor clam. After the first bite, I had to check to be sure the chef hadn't sauteed my hiking boots by mistake.

Dudley, the Giant Pacific Octopus is clearly the star of the show. He emerges from a dark corner of his tank in slow motion, one tentative red arm at a time. The movement is hypnotic and we almost feel like we're in the water with him, swaying along to his slow dance.

Dinnertime rolls around and I realize I'm still chilled from the wind off Puget Sound. We meet friends at a pho (pronounced "fuh") restaurant in the university neighborhood for piping hot bowls of the Vietnamese soup.

The cafe is pleasantly steamy and it feels wonderful to sit down. We start with glasses of chrysanthemum tea and are disappointed when the waiter tells us he just ran out of cream puffs, a curious first course for many diners here. We order pho with chicken.

The condiments come first – heaping plates of fresh basil, bean sprouts, sliced jalapenos and lime wedges – followed by vats of fragrant broth filled with chicken, cilantro and green onions. We add condiments and drizzle with hot or sweet sauce or both. This must be heaven in a bowl.

I'm finally warm.

Day 5: Exploring downtown

Day 5: The plan is to head downtown and munch our way through the Pike Place Market like caterpillars. (By now, it's obvious food is one of our favorite themes.)

We park on the waterfront and ascend the Pike Hill Climb to the market's upper level. There's parking topside, of course, but we like the sense of anticipation we get climbing 155 stairs.

Originally a farmers' market, Pike Place was organized in 1907 so shoppers could buy direct from local growers. Today roughly 100 farmers and fishmongers and more than 200 craftspeople sell their wares at the famous market.

I give Rachel, the portly market piggy bank, a pat and stand back while a couple of hammy fishmongers fling salmon through the air with a gleeful "Yaaaah!" at the Pike Place Fish Market. Theater is another market commodity.

Mountains of shrimp and mussels tempt us as well as shops filled with cheese and sausage, rows of fruits and veggies begging to have their portraits painted, garlands of peppers, buckets of daffodils and tulips, designer strawberries and fava beans so plump and shiny green I touch them to make sure they're real.

Then there are the non-edible goodies on the market's lower level. One shop is filled with miniature ceramic animals, a veritable zoo. Around the corner, tables are overflowing with snakes and lizards and frogs, all beanbags made from shimmery neon fabrics.

Ted bribes me away from the paper shop with a hot cinnamon roll. I'm sure I could spend all day there pouring over botanical prints, old postcards and luggage labels. Later I have to tear him away from the magic shop.

So many treasures, so little time.

Another snowstorm is threatening and we want to get out of town before the afternoon traffic but have promised ourselves one last stop.

A trip is incomplete for us without a visit to at least one bookstore and a friend just happens to own one. Vandewater Books is a secondhand bookstore in the Wallingford neighborhood just north of downtown.

Over lentil soup and tasty curries next door at India Cuisine, owner Marla Vandewater explains she used a small inheritance as seed money to start her business.

"I always thought I'd like to do something where I could indulge my love of books, movies and chatting with friends," she says.

The shop has a strong general collection and also specializes in railroad books.

I end our wanderings browsing essayist Bruce Chatwin's aptly named collection: "Restlessness."

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