Poking around Pike Place

A moderately long bus journey could be useful for several things. My usual options would have been to doze off (on second thought, perhaps not, if I don’t want to end up in another county), read a book (if I had had the foresight to pack one in my bag), click photos until my phone dies (not a very wise option if I want to get back safely) or simply pore into my phone like everyone else around me. Since most of the former were not applicable, I decided to opt for the latter but use it to do something I had been putting off for far too long- writing.

So for my first blog post in over a year, I decided to not dredge far too much into my memory and just rewind to a few days ago when I decided to go off to Pike Place for Sunday breakfast with my roommate.

In lieu of our body clocks deciding that it was time for some essential weekend slumber, this breakfast plan transformed to brunch (which in hindsight is not so bad, reduces the effort of another meal and gives you the excuse to eat twice the amount; for the sake of two meals of course).

The question of where to go was of course answered the way that most questions are answered nowadays- Google. In our case, being more specific this implied moving on to the Yelp results and opting for the highest reviewed brunch place on the list – Cafe Campagne.

Cafe Campagne is a French bistro with the typical European outdoor seating but considering the weather at this time of the year, we had to settle for the indoor option. We surprisingly did not have to wait to get in unlike most of the other places in the area like Piroshky Piroshky (a wonderful Russian bakery with amazing sweet and savory pastry puffs that I personally prefer to visit on a weekday in the evening before 6 because even though they may have run out of most of their stock, I don’t have to wait around for long then), Le Panier (an upscale French bakery with really good croissants and macaroons), Starbucks (the first ‘original’ Starbucks that Pike Place is well known for) and Pike Place Chowder (yet another famous place in Post Alley that I am yet to explore) that appeared to have never-ending lines, which did not appeal to starving old me. So Cafe Champagne it was.

The menu at least by the titles at first, appeared to be incomprehensible unless one is familiar with French. This brought about a feeling of deja vu from Brussels earlier in the year when we had to resort to sign language to indicate our orders when faced with the rather unfamiliar language barrier of French. Thankfully we did not have to resort to any such tactics as the French titles were accompanied by English descriptions, and there was also Yelp for further visual help through images of each dish posted by previous patrons. We ordered Oeufs En Meurette (Poached eggs with a sauce of pearl onions, bacon, champignons in red wine – foie gras sauce on garlic croutons with a side of pommes frites), sides of French Toast Brioche and fruits, and Hot Chocolate with whipped cream. I would highly recommend Oeufs En Meurette just for the delicious sauce if nothing else, and I love the French/ European version of Hot Chocolate because it is exactly as the title states- pure hot yummy chocolate, and not the usual mainstream chocolate milk.

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With our tummies full, it was time to digest the food and start the stroll around Pike Place. Since Post Alley (which is where we were) seemed to be mostly made up of long lines at that point, we decided to head back down towards the Farmers’ Market. Since I had always visited Pike Place in the evening before this, I had never seen the Farmers’ Market and did not know how lively it could be. In retrospect, they are quite similar to the sabzi mandis back home in India, but one has a tendency to look at the same image through a different lens when certain elements of the composition change. In this case, the new location provides the exotic lens although deep inside, you do realize that it is akin to putting a polished frame on the same old image.

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Getting back to appreciating what we had right here (being a long way away from home), we were soon greeted by the chaotic charm of Pike Place Market. There were a plethora of things going on right below the main Public Market sign around the end of Pike Street. The first of these that greeted us was the ‘Free Hugs‘ sign being held up by three people who were (no prizes for guessing it) giving out free hugs! This is not the first time that I am seeing this sign but it has always been at a distance (physical and mental) where I have always counted myself out of the picture. But today, or rather on this day, I decided to indulge myself with a faint strain of adventure by going and hugging a stranger. ‘Warm hugs really are the best’ as my friend often says and I agree. It does not matter whether it is family, a friend or even a stranger. Warm hugs are like an instant dose of the ‘feel- good’ feeling without the need of any external concoctions like the kind that is legal in the state of Washington.

A few steps forward and swish! Something sliced through the air. We looked up just in time to see a giant fish being tossed across the crowd between two of the fishmongers in the market amidst the aptly-timed gasps and sighs from the audience that had collected to witness the show.

The background to this was provided by musicians who were playing beautiful music but unfortunately did not have a very attentive audience. It reminds me of the ‘Titanic‘ where the musicians of the Titanic Orchestra played on until the very end to keep up the spirits of the passengers who weren’t even paying any attention to them; a scene forever etched in my mind thanks to the wonderful movie that introduced us to the not-so indestructible Titanic. This was not really a dire situation in that vein but the chaos in the vicinity did provide a similar setting. Here is to hoping that next week’s storm does not do any waving damage (Update: It did not and it did not end up being as much of a storm as predicted with just some winds and rain).

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My roommate had heard about the Chewing Gum Wall, which is just down one flight of
stairs from the market and as its name states is a wall with a mishmash of used chewing gum of all different colours plastered onto it. A few years ago, I might have been mildly disgusted by the idea but now I saw it for what it is intended to be seen as today- mildly eclectic art. After all, art like beauty and everything else in the world, depends on the perspective of the beholder. This art or more specifically, alley was also accompanied by quite a few interesting posters including quite an extreme one on the infamous Trump.

Walking a little further ahead, we realized that Pike Place Market consists of five levels of shops, with us being at the fifth level and the other levels going down all the way down to the Waterfront (that consists of all the Piers, the Seattle Aquarium and the Seattle Great Wheel).

The store or rather the find that I was the most excited about was the Golden Age Collectables store which is not just a comic store as the title seems to be too limiting as it seems to have collectibles for a wide array of pop cultures from Harry Potter, Marvel & DC to Doctor Who including the slightly elongated Van Gogh Exploding Tardis poster that I had been looking for. There were quite a few other stores as well on the lower levels but we thought that we would keep that for another time and another paycheck considering that the previous store itself would have started straining on my wallet if I had spent any more time there.

Going back up to the main level, we were back in the midst of the literal flying fish. Dodging that (not that we were in any really danger with the expert tosses that we saw), we moved towards the handicrafts and clothes side of the market which did have quite a few signs that dissuaded potential customers (or not) from touching the objects for sale, so be wary of that.

But at the end of this very lane is a world map with pins that have been placed by visitors from all over the world indicating the place that they identify with as their origin or that they belong to. The pins were free but we did have to check with the shopkeeper there before picking them up to place on the board. It was mildly surprising to see pins on remote places like Greenland but more so for the ones that had been placed right in the middle of the ocean. Maybe it was an unmarked island too small to be identified on this map, a mere bluff or who knows, maybe it was merpeople or possibly even visitors from the long-lost city of Atlantis. Everything in the universe would have some probability of being true.

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Getting back to the context of sabzi mandis (vegetable markets) as they are in India, and looking upon its counterpart in this part of the world- the Farmers’ Market.

The collection of the available fruits, vegetables and other goods of the ilk, may vary in kind based on accessibility and the import trends of the country. But in essence, the farmers’ markets of the world and the sabzi mandis in India are quite similar – the loud calls of the vendors, an eclectic mix of smells in the air, and gradually moving crowds trying to reach a different stall. What I found quite interesting here were the humorous signboards that accompanied the stock on display (as seen below).

Meandering along the sidewalks, we came to the waterfront views right outside the farmers’ market area, that on a clear, sunny day provides the beautiful view of the Great Wheel set against the background of Mount Rainier in the distance, and the glistening waters of Puget Sound all around. Unfortunately, this day was a bit overcast so there was no Rainer sighting available.

As the walk back home happened to cross by the tourist-laden spot of the very first Starbucks in existence, we did consider stopping by for a hot drink. An idea that we quickly abandoned, looking at the queues lining the pavement outside. On the bright side, they did have entertainment to sweeten their wait, with an excellent street musician performing his songs next to the Starbucks entrance.

If you’re ever in Seattle, and do decide to stop by Pike Place, try coming early in the morning on a weekend to sample the freshly- baked delights from Piroshky Piroshky, the tourist haunt of Starbucks and the vibrant Farmers Market before the crowds flock in.

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