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July 03, 2007

Road Trip Part 2: Go West!
(this is part 2 of a 3 part series on our recent vacation to the northwest, with a comparison of what we saw there with life in Silicon Valley and Los Gatos)

Daisies in downtown SpokaneLos Gatos is home and we love it. Sometimes, when you travel one of the biggest benefits is the renewed appreciation of one’s own home. And that has certainly been true in our recent roadtrip to the beautiful Northwest.

The kids and I enjoyed our time in and around Spokane, Washington. But after a couple of days there, it was time to say goodbye to our friends in Ritzville and drive west to Seattle. Happily, the car cooperated fully from that point on.

The Columia River in eastern Washington, June 23, 2007. Photo by Mary Pope-HandyFrom Spokane it’s about a six hour drive to Seattle (less from our starting point). The ride begins with those eternal wheat fields. The Columbia River, which for many miles denotes the border between Oregon and Washington, is more northerly at this point and must be crossed again to reach Seattle. Here, too, the mighty Columia sits amidst true desert lands – amazingly stark and nearly barren for about as far as the eye can see.

My kids have been through the California and Nevada deserts, but this is a little different to see a huge river but only scrub along its banks. The contrast is stark.

Eventually we saw foothills, and more greenery as we drove west. And then we saw the first of the gorgeous Cascade Mountains and made our way through the Snoqualmie Pass. Amazing to think that so much skiing and all the other winter sports were just one hour from Seattle. The scenery was truly beautiful and what a shift from the arid side of the state just 3 hours prior!

waterThe Cascades looked a lot like the Sierra Nevadas to me – but these are far closer to a major city than our range is to San Francisco or even Sacramento. Being June when we passed through, snow was continuing to melt and many waterfalls dotted the roadside as we made our way to Seattle. The beauty and familiar feeling of this landscape made me realize that perhaps living in Seattle would feel a bit like living in the Bay Area – at least on the ski trips.

The drive went quickly – perhaps because we had driven so many hours to Eugene and then to Spokane that a 5 hour journey didn’t seem like much at that point. And with the scenery changing so much in that time, it was quite interesting.

Andean Band in Seattle, June 23, 2007.In Seattle we met up with an old college friend, who had picked Jim up at the airport and met us downtown for some fun with her family and mine. As the afternoon progressed our group grew with other family members and by the end there were 10 of us enjoying the afternoon together.

Downtown Seattle is a very cool place to vacation. It’s a cool place to just hang out, for that matter. Our teens enjoyed the arcade while the adults got caught up at a nearby coffee shop and did some people-watching. It was a great respite after a long car ride for us (plane ride for Jim). We loved hearing an Andean street band and joking about how many coffee shops we could count.

Free Hugs Guy in Seattle, WA with Mary Pope-Handy,  June 23, 2007. Photo by Jim Handy.Something new to me was The Guy Who Hugs. Yeah, there’s a nice man in the downtown area with a “Free Hugs” sign. I had heard about someone like this somewhere – but wasn’t sure where or who. I asked him if he’s the guy a documentary was done on but he said no. I was glad to enjoy one of his hugs: he was a great hug-giver! I have to say, this is something we don’t have in Los Gatos.

Margaret Yaeger's Pike Place Market Ghost Tour, June 23, 2007One way to learn history is to attend a ghost tour, and there are several in Seattle from which to choose. My friend, Denise, arranged for us to attend the Pike Place Market Ghost Tour with her friend Mercedes Yaeger (who was featured in the newspaper for this very tour the next day!). The one hour walking tour was fabulous and I’d recommend it to anyone spending time in Seattle. (Even for the non-ghost believers in the crowd, it was an interesting tour with cool architectural and historical information.)

Seattle is such a great city, and so beautiful too with an abundance of water and lovely hills, and this is just the tip of the iceburg on our doings there. We enjoyed visits all around the city with family and friends. We saw The Space Needle (see webcam), a cool exhibit called “Experience Music” and a Sci Fi exhibit on the campus of the Space Needle, and so much more.

DigiPenWe did make it to three colleges in our 4 days in Seattle: the University of Washington, Seattle University, and DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond. (Our son is very interested in DigiPen.) I was impressed with all three of them.

When I consider how Seattle is like and dislike our Silicon Valley (and Los Gatos in particular), I have to admit that Seattle has a lot going for it: natural beauty is everywhere, diversity is great, cultural opportunities abound, there are plenty of colleges and universities, and there’s no shortage of high tech. People are west-coast friendly (not as reserved as in some parts of the country), which I like. Home prices, while high for Washington, aren’t bad compared to what we’re used to. Locals only gripe about two things: housing and traffic. Both seemed like less of an issue there than here (but I haven’t lived there, so it’s entirely possible I just don’t appreciate the gridlock commuters in that area experience daily).

Downtown Seattle waterfalls and potted plants make for a scenic area.So I would not mind having my kids choose to go to college in Seattle. I visit there as often as I can since we have so many friends in the area. If I could afford a vacation home, Seattle would be a fun place in which to have it.

There’s just one issue that for me would make life in Seattle difficult: the weather. We were there in late June and it was cold. Ok, maybe “cold” is an exaggeration. But it was cool. It was like Los Gatos in March, it wasn’t like summer at all. I asked one friend from Mill Creek and one from West Seattle if this was normal. Both told me the same thing: “summer doesn’t really get here until July or August”. Well, it is a thousand miles north. I did notice that it was light out until almost 10pm. But where was the summer warmth? It just hadn’t arrived yet. And precipitation? In the San Jose – Los Gatos area, a normal year is about 15 – 20″ of rain per year. Seattle boasts 36″.

My friends in Seattle jokingly tell me to inform people in the Bay Area that it rains in Seattle constantly. They don’t want it any more crowded in their Emerald City (now you know why it’s so green) than it already is. They are used to the rain. In fact, one friend told me that if it doesn’t rain often enough (to clear the air and make everything smell good), it bothers her. While we were there, it rained and we even got a lightening display, to her delight.

For me, Seattle is an “almost”. It’s almost as nice as the Bay Area (and if truth be told, it is prettier than many parts of the Bay Area). It enjoys many of the things we love about home, but with skiing that’s really close and a whole lot of boating and water sports. I could live there, “if only” it didn’t rain so darned much. It remains for me a fantastic place to visit.

But Los Gatos, with the beach to its back and the bay and San Francisco and Berkeley all within an hour or so, is definitely home. Our weather isn’t just good: it’s great. This is “The Valley of Heart’s Delight”. The climate is so favorable that it was once said to be about the best for health anywhere in the world.

What more could you want than to Live in Los Gatos?