written by Cathy Carroll | photos by Ryan Hawk
Thirsting for a big-city fix, I set off for Seattle with my husband, who is a chef, and our 7-year-old son, Jahn, who is interested in penguins. Great food and zoos were at the top of our itinerary, but a major attraction was the journey by rail. I was excited to ditch the car and tap into my inner-metropolite. My husband was glad to forego driving three hours from Portland. Jahn was stoked to be free-range and explore the train, especially the snack-laden dining car.
At King Street Station in Seattle, we were greeted by the resounding cheers of thousands of fans, even if it was meant for the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. The red-carpet treatment was indeed intended for us, however, at the Grand Hyatt. As the sun set, we knew this would be the perfect weekend basecamp.
First, we walked a couple of blocks to Loulay Kitchen & Bar, named for chef Thierry Rautureau’s hometown of Saint-Hilaire-de-Loulay, France. Many of his dishes are rooted in his childhood memories, such as hot chocolate with brioche and salted butter.
Accolades for his French onion soup, rich with veal broth, proved to be justified.
We woke to clear blue skies—a perfect day for the Space Needle. As our elevator ascended 520 feet, a guide regaled us with fun facts (for example, the concrete foundation extends thirty feet underground). From the observation deck, Mt. Rainier appeared larger than the morning sun, and ferries cruised through Elliott Bay.
Back at sea level, we grounded ourselves at Jack’s Fish Spot at Pike Place Market, ordering steaming chowder and fish ’n’ chips from the salty cashier. The fare warmed us, elbow to elbow on the wobbly aluminum diner stools. A block away at DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine, the selection of artisan breads, cheeses, chocolates, prosciutto, pasta and olive oils is rivaled only by a stroll through a mercato in Italy.
On the second sunny day, we hopped the monorail a couple of blocks away and headed to the Woodland Park Zoo. At Zoomazium, an indoor, nature-themed play space in the zoo, Jahn scaled a twenty-foot “tree,” crossed a rope bridge and zipped down the slide repeatedly for a nearly hour-long attempt to set a speed record. Next, it was off to feed the Humboldt penguins, an endangered species. About fifty of the flightless birds waddled throughout a 17,000-square-foot outdoor re-creation of the rocky, arid coastline of their home in Peru.
The exhibit and the feeding was emblematic of how this zoo, despite having nearly 1,100 animals, somehow feels intimate and emphasizes saving animals and their habitats through conservation and inspiring people to learn, care and act. In a discreet pocket of the exhibit, a keeper let Jahn pick a few smelt from a bucket and offer them to the foot-and-a-half tall penguins. The peckish ones skittered forward, and the keeper greeted each by name: Sebastian, Cortez, Dora and Margarita.
We rode the train back to Portland, and at the Oregon Zoo Jahn got within inches of all kinds of animals, from orangutans and strangely endearing naked mole rats to half-ton polar bears gliding through icy waters. The Oregon Zoo helps educate people about polar bear extinction, expected by the year 2100 because sea ice—polar bear habitat—is melting. The zoo offers tips for easy things humans can do to help, from adjusting your thermostat just two degrees to not idling your car more than ten seconds. That was the “icing” on our polar bear- and penguin-friendly rail trip.
From our partners at Ontrak Magazine