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Hello! Huddled over my computer in a Starbucks on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, I’m feeling more hungry for an internet connection than the Chai Latte in front of me…A week into our big trip, here are the top 7 things that have surprised, delighted, and entertained us during our first days on the road. Besides, who doesn’t like a greatest hits list?

#1 Tyler’s Parents. Are amazing and continue to surprise us with the extent of their generosity and thoughtfulness. When we arrived to their house, travel weary and glassy eyed at dinner time on Friday night, they had a wonderful home-cooked meal ready and waiting: BBQ ribs, corn on the cob, garden-fresh salad and lemon meringue pie as the piece de resistance. On top of that, they refused our money for Davey’s food and litter supply for the next four months, and sent us on our way the next morning with bacon & eggs, best wishes, and big hugs. How can a person not fall in love with these people?!

#2 North Cascades National Park. Recommended by Toby, a co-worker of Tylers’s, this westbound route may not be the most direct road to Seattle (it’s definitely not the fastest). But being in no hurry, we took his advice and commenced the winding route through peaks and valleys, from desert-esque tumbleweeds, to rolling wheat fields, to the summit of lush green forest with towering Red Cedars and Douglas Firs scenting the air. As we both ride motorcycles, we’ve agreed we’ll be back to do this curvaceous route on bikes – there were lots of them. Traffic was slow being the Monday of the Labour Day long weekend. We took our time, stopped a lot, and were rewarded with jewel blue lakes, stunning panoramas of jagged peaks, and again, huge ancient cedars that smelled of the crisp woodsy outdoors as no pine-scented air freshener could ever duplicate.

#3 Smiles are Free. Standing on a street corner, just outside of the famed Pike Place Market, we peered (with apparent confusion) at a crumpled tourist map of downtown Seattle, attempting to remember/locate where we parked our car. Within seconds of stopping, a friendly Seattleite Bylaw Officer stopped to ask “Is there anything I can help you with”? I guess I must walk around with a confused expression on my face more often when I think. I got the same question while in the Seattle Wal-Mart, standing in front of the produce (no thanks, just trying to decide if I’m in a red or green pepper mood). We haven’t yet come across the brash, loudmouthed, Americans so often discussed over the Canadian family dinner table. The people we’ve encountered are well mannered, respectful, kind, helpful, and willing to tell you a bit about something (or anything) if you take a moment to stop and talk.

#4 Pike Place Market. We arrived to Pike Place Market at the crack of 9:45am only to find the vendors weren’t open yet. Wandering through the empty corridors of the lower marketplace, we felt like a rude dinner guest arriving to the party before the hostess has applied her makeup. So, we decided to let Pike Place put on her rouge and lipstick in private and sat for a bit in a small park overlooking the harbour, listening to a well tuned guitar and poorly tuned busker belt out Beatles tunes and bleary eyed Seattleites stumble out of Starbucks with their morning caffeine fix. We waited an appropriate 30 minutes before we headed back to Pike Place and when we did, it had been fully transformed into a hustling, bustling, fish mongering, flower selling, jelly tasting, trinket hocking, granddaddy of a farmer’s market. The fish were literally flying. Samples were freely offered. Fresh cut flowers were selling for $5 an armful. While apart from a few grocery necessities (if you can call ginger-flavored red pepper jelly a necessity), we didn’t buy much, but we thoroughly enjoyed the experience of Pike Place Market.

#5 Coffee Culture. As the Birthplace of Starbucks, we knew coffee was kind of a big deal here. Even as we neared Seattle, small coffee shacks and espresso kiosks speckled EVERY roadside turnout and EVERY one-horse town (no matter how small). Heading into the coffee mecca of the Pacific Coast, it was VERY apparent that the city of Seattle runs on Starbucks. Signature green straws, and mermaid-esque logos swam the streets morning, noon and night. Neither of us being coffee drinkers, we felt a bit left out, though we did take advantage of a prime photo op in front of the world’s first Starbucks location. We watched with amusement as a family of four, 8 and 12 year old (I’d guess) in tow, emerged from Starbucks, each family member clutching their very own made-just-for-them morning beverage. These pre-teens were definitely Starbucks addicts in training.

#6 EMP (Experience Music Project). It was only when we took a ride up the glass elevator of the Seattle Space Needle, that our elevator host pointed out the curving, jagged, colorful non-conforming building below that we first learned of EMP (elevator guy explained the building was designed to look like a smashed guitar from above, with the Monorail line protruding as its fragmented neck). Post-tour, we both agreed that it was well worth the $20 each – specifically attributed to the amazing collection and extensive historical timeline on Nirvana. From Dave Grohl’s drum set, to Kirk Cobain’s famed brown cardigan, to smashed guitars, to original concept artwork for the band’s Nevermind album, to the original crumpled set list of Nirvana’s last concert – the display was an impressive combination of original memorabilia, audio/video commentary, and stunning graphic displays of the origins of evolution of the Grunge genre. EMP also boasted separate galleries for Jimi Hendrix (also originally from Seattle), ACDC, History & Evolution of Guitars, Rolling Stones, and quite a few other interactive and very cool displays.

#7 Sol Duc Hot Springs. For Canadians, this spot once was comparable to Banff with wealthy foreigners flocking by boat and then shuttle to soak up the promised healing properties of the mineral rich hot pools. The spot once boasted a luxurious full service hotel, settled like a jewel in the crux of the remote mountain valley. A fire in the early 1900’s destroyed the chateau-esque hotel, however the hot springs remain and are a beautiful, relaxing stop along the drive through the Olympic Park area.

Two for the road

#8 REI (Recreation Equipment Incorporated). REI is the inspiration for what so many Canadians know and love as MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op). As you approach REI from the outside, a rugged and winding test mountain biking trail appears out of nowhere. Beautiful foliage, towering trees, and a crashing waterfall flank the entrance. You are transported instantly from downtown Seattle to an outdoorsy person’s paradise. The traffic from the busy city street fades in the distance, the rush of the waterfall and breeze in the leafy trees muffling the urban din. Massive cedar framed doors swing open at your feet and you are instantly greeted by two, massive floors of all the outdoor, camping, hiking, climbing, biking equipment you could dream of. True story: I blew my shopping budget for the trip within 30 minutes of crossing the threshold.

#9 Travelodge Seattle Center. A block and a half from the Seattle Space Needle, this location cannot be beat. We ditched the car while staying at the Travelodge and walked to the Space Needle, EMP, Pike’s Place, and pretty much everywhere else we wanted to go. The rooms were simple, fairly spacious, and well maintained. Great breakfast in the morning with hot & cold options (we had fresh waffles), nice pool & hot tub, free WiFi. Overall, we were impressed!

And now for some photos…