Summer in Seattle

By Celine Choo • Seattle, Washington

Image of the Seattle Space Needle and the city’s skyline.

Before you visit a city for the first time, it isn’t really a place more so than it is a concept. It’s an accumulation of google searches, travel articles, videos of the scenery, word of mouth stories of the exciting adventures, the great food, the ‘you have to go here’. It’s everything you’ve seen of it in the movies, all of the biggest landmarks you’ve heard about. But once in the retrospective, it becomes a set of memories: a smell, a taste, a playlist, a car ride, an inside joke or two (or ten). No place, once visited for long enough, stays as just a place. It becomes stitched into the fabric of time.

To me, Seattle is a combination of three months, several rental cars, about fifty songs, and ten friends. It was the freedom of every weekend, the King County Sound Transit system (the 255 line and each of the quirky bus drivers), the food, the parks, the hikes. I was there for an internship at Google, but during all of the off-work hours I spent time exploring the city’s nooks and crannies. It was unlike any city I’d been to before.

My housemate and I, who were both there for a summer internship, had found housing in the University of Washington (UW) area, and thus spent the summer living with six other UW students. The day I arrived on the plane to the city, my subletter gave us a tour of the campus, which was my first taste of the city. We went to the “Harry Potter library” (I guess every campus needs to have one alleged “Harry Potter library” — see: E.B.White in Uris Library), we walked through the Red Square, which, when populated with students, looked almost like a town square in a European city, and eventually arrived at Rainier Vista. At the vista, I immediately felt jealous of the students — every day they had access to an amazing view of Rainier, decorated with trees on the side and a fountain right under it. Everything from the exterior architecture to the interior design of the buildings to the outdoor areas looked beautiful. I found myself noting, “I’ll study here next time” and then quickly realized I wasn’t enrolled at this institution.

It was on this first day that I realized immediately that Seattle is probably the greenest city I’ve been to. Between the hilly streets, there are pockets and patches of trees, mini-parks, and rows of bushes. On my walk home from work every day, I would pass by a street close to UW’s frat row that looked too beautiful to be true. In the evening light, it looked like one of those picturesque shots in a movie set in Boston: between two blocks of colorful houses, the street was divided by a stretch of grass lined symmetrically with trees and little stone blocks. Images like these formed my entire memory of the place.

I could tell that the university cares very much about the beautiful environment in which it was built. Aside from the Rainier Vista, one of my favorite parts of the campus is the area near the Husky Stadium, where they also have the Recreation/Aquatic Center. The center offers very affordable hourly prices for renting canoes, kayaks, and rowboats. When split between a couple of friends, it’s practically free and definitely worth checking out. I remember it was during one of our last weekends that my friends and I rented a four person canoe for an hour and waded around Lake Union, playing music on one of our slightly crude phone speakers and admiring the beautiful view around us.

There is also a small, under-advertised area called the Marsh Trails, a set of paths along the border of that same lake. I only thought about going to this place because the beautiful lily pads in the water caught my eye as I crossed the bridge one morning before work. A couple of weeks later, I found time to visit the area — one of the few places I visited that someone hadn’t recommended. But as I walked through it, I realized that even the underrated places in the city were beautiful; the trails felt like a magical wonderland, from the lily pads to the rickety boardwalks to the tiny detours. It felt like a meditation walk, a siloed part of the world that seemed to float in peace, isolated from the worries of its neighbors.

Lily pads along the marsh trails.

But of course no Seattle street beats the beauty of Washington’s hiking trails. One of the major things that I did, especially in the first half of the summer, was go on hikes in the areas southeast of Seattle.

As someone who hadn’t gone hiking before this summer, I dove into a pretty intense hike the first weekend I arrived. My intern friends and I rented a couple of cars and embarked on an adventure to a trail called Snow Lake. Little did we know that it had such a name because most of the trail was covered in more than a foot of snow during the earlier months of the summer. Upon arriving, we quickly learned this for ourselves as we hiked nearly half of the trail on all fours, clutching the snow to keep us from sliding down the sloped terrain. Nevertheless, we persisted and made it to a significant milestone, where I had my first breathtaking view of nature. Most weekends afterwards we found new trails to follow.

By far one of the most beautiful hikes that summer was at Mount Rainier, the tallest mountain in the continental US. The mountain itself takes at least some training and a couple of days to hike to the top. Though we heard many good reviews of this experience, we didn’t have the time and dedication to scale the actual mountain and so we went on the Skyline trail.

The base camp for Mount Rainier.

It was still totally worth it. We woke up early, packed ham and turkey sandwiches with white bread and a slice of cheese into ziploc bags (Later we learned we miscalculated the sandwich to hungry person ratio and had to share a couple, but it’s those mishaps that make a journey memorable, right?), brought a bunch of fig and granola bars, threw enough water bottles into our backpacks to weigh us down, and embarked on a day trip to Rainier. Every once in a while we would hit a very picturesque area where people gathered around to admire the view and take pictures. At one point, we even reached a snowy hill where people were sliding down a small portion of it, using a trash bag and passing it on to the next person.

On days we didn’t want to exert too much energy, we found our way to great parks and little areas to relax. Gas Works Park was one of my favorites. Half of the park looks like an abandoned steampunk movie set and the other half a picturesque field with a great cityscape view. Those familiar with San Francisco would probably describe it as the Dolores Park of Seattle (imagine the hill, the bubbles that someone is always blowing, the smell of weed, music playing on nondescript speakers somewhere in the park). I remember sitting on the hill on my second to last week there, zoning out and staring at the flickering lights of the city on the other side of the lake.

Gas works park embracing its half steampunk, half Dolores Park-like feel.

Sitting there long enough made me want to stay there forever. A picnic blanket, a notebook, a couple of drinks, a handful of close friends, a sunset, staring at the boats making little water capes behind them as they waded through the lake. It was the kind of view you’d want to see while lying down after a long day.

A peek into the cityscape from Gas Works Park.

At one point, we decided we wanted to have a bonfire. A couple of quick searches told us that Golden Gardens, a place in the western area of Seattle, would be our best bet. On a Saturday, a couple of us woke up early to go to the beach to claim a pit (because there was a limited supply, it was known that the pits ran out quickly on the weekends). We bought a couple of huge Subway sandwiches, brought a couple of drinks and snacks, claimed the spot by throwing down our stuff, then ran into the water to enjoy the ocean (or really, dare each other into dunking into the freezing cold water).

By chance we met another group of interns that also worked at our company, so we grouped together and blasted music, played generic beach games, barbecued hot dogs, talked, and made s’mores until the sun went down. It felt like one of those movie scenes with a crackling fire and a bunch of young people talking about uncertainty and their fragile identities.

For me, the summer was one of diversity because it exposed me to new experiences I hadn’t had before. Whether it was our discussions about our backgrounds, experiences, political views, or even music tastes (we each queued songs onto the car’s speakers, which ranged from Bollywood music to Chinese ballads to alternative rock to indie funk), we were all accepting of each other and the differences we had. It was through so many shared journeys that I was able to experience a variety of places and people.

About the author: Celine Choo is from Holmdel, New Jersey. Her favorite city is either Seattle or San Francisco (she needs more time to decide).

About Guac: Guac is an award-winning travel publication run by an interdisciplinary group of students at Cornell University. We aim to inspire our readers to celebrate cultural diversity and view the world with an open mind through delivering unique stories from people around the world.

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