Seattle: The Creative City

So May is a bit of a crazy month. There’s four work related events that I have to attend and so it pretty much just means I have a lot of traveling in my future/past.

One of these events brought me to Seattle, my first trip to the American Pacific Northwest. If you’ve been following my blog you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been going to a lot of cities in America. I’ve been going so often that trips to America has kinda lost its luster.

However, Seattle was honestly really cool. I spent almost a week there and even on the first day I was really excited and impressed with the city. There’s so much to see and do and the city itself is so fun and beautiful.

Seattle from the Space Needle
The city and the seaplane.

I’ve realized over the last year that I really like the cities on the Pacific coast of North America. Cities like Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, all of them have a really cool vibe and I love the mountains and the ocean so it’s just wonderful walking around and taking in the scenery as well.

The first thing that really stuck out to me about Seattle was that the city was so creative. For one, it’s the hub city for huge tech companies like Amazon, Boeing, and Microsoft, and all three of these companies played a part of my experience in the city.

The Spheres
Relaxing by the Spheres.

When you’re in Seattle proper, Amazon is king. They have their headquarters there and you can really see the influence they’ve had in the city. For example, they have the Spheres, an alternative workspace where Amazon employees can go work if they want a different work environment.

It’s kinda neat. It’s essentially an office building housed in three biospheres filled with plants and water. The point of the place is that it doesn’t feel like a regular office and that it gives people a chance to commune with nature. It definitely does that and it’s really nice. I don’t know if I can personally work there though, it’s too humid and kinda warm.

Inside the Spheres
On the top floor of the Spheres.

There are also a couple of Amazon Go stores in Seattle. These are the fabled cashier-less convenience stores where you just tap your phone when you enter, grab whatever you want, and then just walk out. No checkouts, no cashiers, just a system based on computer vision that determines what you’ve picked up and walked out with.

It’s amazing.

I went twice and both times felt absolutely surreal. I just went about my shopping like normal. You know, with some hesitation with what to buy, checking out stuff that I haven’t seen before, impulse purchases, etc. And then when I was done I just walked out and eventually got an email with my receipt.

Really made me feel like I was living in the future.

Amazon Go
The stores of the future, today.

Boeing also has their headquarters just south of Seattle. They have Boeing Field where they test and prepare their planes, which is pretty sweet. They also have the Museum of Flight where they go over the history of aviation and spaceflight. Really makes you think about how impressive human technology really is.

The highlight for me was the Concorde they had there. It was neat because Concordes are cool planes and I saw one at the London Heathrow airport from a distance. This museum, on the other hand, actually has one where you can even go inside. That was cool.

The Museum of Flight
A Concorde half obscured by a sign.

Finally, Microsoft was actually the reason why I went to Seattle in the first place. I was invited to go to a developer event, and that was fun. I actually plan on writing a separate post just for that, so stay tuned!

Anyways, aside from the tech stuff, Seattle is just a really cool city with plenty of awesome public spaces and parks where you can kinda escape the hustle and bustle of the big city and just chill out and relax. My favourite of which would be the Seattle Center and the Gas Works Park.

The Seattle Center is a public area that was built for the World’s Fair and it has a bunch of stuff. The most notable being the Space Needle. The Space Needle is probably one of the most famous towers in the world and in my opinion, one of the nicest looking towers.

Fountain and Space Needle
The International Fountain and the Space Needle.

I’ve seen a lot of towers in my time, but the Space Needle is one unique and interesting tower. The only thing is that it’s pretty short. Not many things in the city are taller than it, but if you do a mental comparison with it to any other tower, it’s actually pretty tiny.

Still looks really cool though. And of course there’s some pretty magnificent views from both the inside and outside of the tower. My favourite is the one at Kerry Park where you see the Space Needle in the “foreground” and Mount Rainier in the background.

The Gas Works Park is also worth visiting as well. It used to be an industrial area with an oil plant and now it’s this awesome park with a view of the city over a lake. And well, the oil plant is still there, just all derelict and rusted over so it makes the entire area look like someplace out of the Last of Us or something.

Gas Works Plant
The old gas plant at Gas Works Park.

In addition to the stuff to do and see, there’s plenty of stuff to eat too. There’s so much good food in the city.

Naturally, since it’s by the ocean there’s a lot of good seafood. Pike Place Market is pretty much the quintessential touristy place in Seattle for food and stuff. They have some awesome clam chowders, cheese, and they even have the world’s first Starbucks there.

Speaking of Starbucks, since Seattle is the birthplace of Starbucks they have a Starbucks Reserve Roastery where they serve a bunch of cool menu items they don’t normally have at Starbucks. This includes alcohol which is pretty neat. I mean, how often can you say you got some alcohol at a Starbucks?

Bourbon at a Starbucks
Having some whisky at a Starbucks.

Overall, Seattle is awesome. I really enjoyed my time there and I just liked walking around the streets. There was always something interesting to see. Like, I was taking a bus to see this troll statue under this bridge and on my way there I see this statue of Lenin. Weird.

Or how right underneath Pike Place Market was this alleyway just covered with gum. The entire area just had this gum scent and it was equally cool and gross.

I think Seattle is probably easily my favourite American city that I’ve been to so far. It kinda has all the things that I like from cool tech stuff, good food, and beautiful scenery. I definitely wouldn’t mind going back and I’m looking forward to my next trip there.

Atlanta: The City with the Aquarium

Last year I had the opportunity to go on five work trips. They were pretty fun and they give me a chance to visit random places in North America. I had a bunch of trips lined up in the last few months of 2018 so I had a bit of a break in 2019 since I just got back from my first work trip of the year, a visit to Atlanta.

When I was in high school I went to Atlanta with my family so I’ve been there before. I honestly don’t remember too much from that trip but one thing really stuck with me and made me incredibly hyped to revisit the city: the aquarium.

I’m pretty excited that they’re expanding the aquarium actually.

Now, I love fish and the ocean, so I enjoy going to aquariums when I visit new places. I’ve been to a bunch so far but the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta was the one that always impressed me the most. So this time, I wanted to make sure I revisited it.

So, after work was done on my first day, I went back to the aquarium to check it out.

There was a ton of people there. I didn’t remember there being so many people went I went and visited.. a decade ago. But regardless, the aquarium itself didn’t really change that much. The main exhibits were still there and the only real change I saw was that they added a VR station.

A bunch of people and a new VR station.

But, that was fine with me because the main reason why I love the Georgia Aquarium is due to their shark tank. Most aquariums in the world have the same style of tank where they have some sharks and other fish in there. The Georgia Aquarium is the same but with one big difference.

Whale sharks!

People watching a whale shark.

It’s one of the few tanks in the world that are large enough to hold whale sharks, and man, they are so cool. To be able to see the biggest fish in the world just chilling in the tank in front of you is absolutely wonderful.

I remember just watching the tank for such a long time when I went in high school and this time around it was no less majestic. Such a cool aquarium. Highly recommend everyone to go. The sheer size of the tank and the fish in there is absolutely amazing and I can honestly watch them for hours at a time.

The shark tunnel, featuring manta rays.

One day, I will swim in that tank.

Anyways, aside from the aquarium, I thought Atlanta wasn’t that exciting. They have a bunch of random things like the Coke Museum and CNN, but those are all paid entry stuff and so there’s not a lot of pure sights to check out, if that makes sense.

Considering how I was in Atlanta for work, times didn’t really work out for me to visit the museums or whatever, so unfortunately I didn’t really do too much. Pretty much every day was just wake up, walk through the Centennial Olympic Park to the convention center, eat, then do something random before sleep.

The (fenced) Olympic Rings at the Centennial Olympic Park.

One of those random nights was when I was walking around and randomly bumped into this guy I’ve met before at a couple of conferences. It was pure coincidence but it worked out since we grabbed some food and drinks at the Krog Street Market and then walked around the city a bit on the way back to the hotels.

We stopped by this one bridge that had a pretty good view of the city. Atlanta’s skyline isn’t the most fantastic but the view from the bridge was pretty nice. Plus, apparently the Walking Dead was filmed there, which is kinda neat.

The view from Jackson Street Bridge.

Other than that I didn’t really do too much. I did go out of the downtown core one time to buy some stuff at a Target though, but man, once you leave the core the city gets kinda dark and sketchy.

So a bit of a shorter entry this time, but I really don’t have too much to write about. Honestly I think Atlanta is worth visiting just for the aquarium alone, but I know that not everyone finds them interesting.

I have a bunch of work trips scheduled over the next few months so stay tuned for more posts about American cities!

Oslo: The Quiet Capital

The last stop on my trip to Norway was Oslo, the capital. To be honest, whenever I think of visiting Norway, I think of checking out the natural sights like the fjords and mountains. I don’t particularly associate Norway with large and exciting cities so I didn’t really know what to expect from Oslo.

I made my way to Oslo from Flåm via train and it was a longer ride than I initially expected it to be. Looking outside it honestly felt like half the time you’re just looking out into the tundra. The ground was covered in snow and the skies were covered in clouds so everything was just white. Then, we got closer to Oslo and all of a sudden it felt like we were in civilization again.

I arrived at about 7 pm so it was already night time. My accommodation wasn’t very far from the train station so I figured I’d just walk.

The Oslo Marina at night.

It was about a 15 minute walk and the city felt so dead. Like, there were almost no people on the streets and aside from the random street car rumbling by, there weren’t even that many vehicles on the road.

It was a bit odd since I thought the downtown core of the country’s capital and largest city would be.. busier. It wasn’t even all that late so I was just a bit confused.

I looked it up afterwards and found out that Oslo has a population of about 650,000 people, which is honestly not a lot. I mean, Ottawa has a larger population and I always associate Ottawa with being a small city.

“Hold up lemme divebomb these seagulls real quick.”

I mean, I guess it makes sense. All of Norway has a population of like 5.5 million people so you can’t really expect one city to have millions of people. It just felt weird though since I always compare Canadian cities with other larger European and Asian cities and so I always have this impression that our cities aren’t that big. But here I was in a city that was objectively tinier.

And so the end result was that the city just felt.. quiet. There were a few streets which were a bit more lively but if you even went a street over the amount of people would drop significantly.

I think as a tourist who enjoys walking around and exploring big cities, having a more lively atmosphere is definitely a plus. Although I can see how it might be a pretty nice place to live in though since there are definite benefits for living in a city with less people. It’s just less busy and less stressful I think.

Docks in the Aker Brygge area.

And I think that was the main thing about Oslo as a city. I could see it being a great place to live in and raise a family or something but honestly it was kinda a bit too quiet for my tastes. There wasn’t too much to do and everything was even more expensive.

For the most part, I spent a lot of time checking out museums and random sights around the city. One museum that I really enjoyed was the Nobel Peace Center, a place dedicated to showcasing the recipients of the award and to further it’s message.

They had a nice exhibition went I went called “Tell the World About Us”, a photo and story collection of people around the world who undergo systemic suffering and injustice. It was pretty dark and depressing but at the same time it was incredibly powerful. Really makes me think about how fortunate I am to live the life I do.

The Tell the World About Us gallery.

Another museum that I went to that was pretty neat was the Viking Ship Museum, which if you couldn’t figure out from the name, is about viking ships. It was a bit small but it had a few real ships on display which was cool. The vikings were a group of interesting people and so I’m always down to check out more stuff about them.

Other than the museums, there really isn’t too much to do in the city. They have this fancy opera house by the water which looks pretty cool, but if you’re not really into opera then you pretty much just go and check out the building and leave.

One cool thing I did though was take the metro outside of the city. When the trains are in the city they’re underground but after a bit they move above ground. The specific line I took essentially goes into the mountains so you have this pretty great view from the side of the mountain down to the city.

I missed the train but got this photo.

That in and of itself was a pretty neat ride. I personally like to people watch and observe how the local population lives their lives so it was cool since a lot of people had skis, sleds, or snowboards and just casually took the train up to enjoy a day in the mountains.

People always say that the Norwegians love their skis and honestly it was pretty wholesome to see so many families and school trips on the train with their gear. It doesn’t seem like it’s too much out of the ordinary but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.

At one point I even saw some people just casually ski/snowboard straight to the train platform. It was such a casual slide down to the platform and then dismount and wait for the train. Fairly common with bikes, but probably the first time I’ve seen it happen with winter sports gear.

Holmenkollbakken, a ski jump tower.

Anyways, the mountain itself had some pretty good views of the city. That was my last day in Norway and just walking around in the snow was a pretty nice experience. It was a good time to reflect upon the trip and to just kinda take it easy.

Speaking of snow, the weather wasn’t cold enough to actually have snow accumulate in the city, so the only place I saw it was outside of the city center. One thing I noticed when I was there was that they don’t salt the roads.

In Canada, every time there’s snow they pour literal tons of salt and sand on the roads which does a great job of melting the snow and ice but it creates this disgusting slush and brown snow. But in Norway, it didn’t seem like they even use salt. They just shovel the roads and sprinkle some gravel.

The end result is that the roads are clear and the snow still looks pristine. It was honestly really nice since I love the snow but it always ends up looking disgusting in Canada due to the salt and sand. It genuinely looked so much better without the salt and it’s definitely a lot better for the environment too.

A wintery road in the mountains.

Overall, Oslo was alright. I don’t think it’s the most exciting city I’ve been to. It’s quiet and there isn’t too much to do. Probably a great place to live in, but for tourism, it seems like it would be better off as a transit hub to get to other places in Norway.

I know I personally don’t really have an urge to go out of my way to visit it again, but if I was there for a night or two on-route to another city or something, I’d be ok with that.