Sunny Sunday in Seattle

Way back in June 2005, I spent my very first time near Seattle (Washington State) for the Microsoft BizTalk 2006 Technology Adoption Program. That's when I finally learned that Redmond - Microsoft's HQ - is located far/up North/West of the United States - with it's wet feet in Pacific Ocean - about 225 kilometers South of Vancouver in British Colombia (Canada). Apart from recalling the WTO riots in 1999, I discovered that the town of Seattle was founded as recently as 1850 (taking it's name from a famous local Duwamish chief), and that today it is not only home to Microsoft, but Boeing and Starbucks Coffee as well. Right away I rented I bike, circled Sammamish lake, drove over Mercer Island & Lake Washington into hilly Seattle and back to Redmond via the Evergreen Point Bridge. My second cold stay was in February 2006 for the .NET Architect Conference at Microsoft EBC (Executive Briefing Center), illuminating the Trustworthy Computing, Dynamic System and other initiatives. Below my account of the third and again extremely pleasant crossing, this time to participate in the Application Lifecycle Management Airlift in Bellevue (in between Seattle and Redmond). [Logo of the Seattle Seahawks left on top, the football team which lost their only Super Bowl from the Steelers when I arrived in 2006 ... even their gorgeous cheerleaders that time couldn't chase away the prevailing athmosphere of doom.]

Saturday 15th March 2008 - Journey to the West

The early news on the Tibetan riots got me and my wife Shanshan a bit worried that overseas countries might decide to boycott the Olympic games of Summer 2008 in Beijing. As I am selected as 1 out of 4 Atos Origin Belgian Volunteers to join the IT Team on-site (Atos Origin being the official IT contractor of the Games), the monks & civilian uprising could potentially overshadow this major sportive event, depending on the global reaction on how the People's Republic of China managed to tackle the issue. That worry was no match to my collegue's, who believed he was able to enter the States by carring just his Belgian ID Card (instead of an international passport, which he didn't apply for), so unfortunately he had to abort the entire voyage. The transit flight from Brussels took me to London Heathrow, where I boarded flight BA0049 to Seattle at Terminal 4. On board I met Kevin from Southampton (UK) - who was going to hike the Olympic Peninsula - and a tattooed Seattelite - working for Microsoft Marketing - who dreaded coming home after adventuring in Mozambique. Peeking throught the wet cockpit window to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, I also felt a bit like greeting an old faraway friend. Once touched down, I ventured onto the bus to downtown Seattle, and - at King Street Station - hopped over onto the 550 to Bellevue (this bus became my life-line with the city, a ride of about 50 minutes). To feast upon my own arrival, I treated myself to braised beef cannelloni, listening to old-fashioned crooners in Maggiano's Little Italy, where I got promptly reminded that you can almost feed an entire family with a single American portion.

Sunday 16th March 2008 - Sunny Sunday in Seattle

In fact I especially overstayed the conference for my colleague - whom I unexpectedly had to leave in Belgium - so I could as well scout the region on my own. First stop - recommended by yesterday's fellow passenger - was Pike Place Market, and indeed it was well worth getting completely lost in a horizontal and vertical labyrinth, emanating a pure sense of New Age & Magic Realism, which I digested with 1/2 dozen assorted doughnuts and a café latte served by jolly punks. At Tenzing Momo - one of the oldest apothecaries on the West Coast - I bought a book on "Compact Tai Chi", I wondered how Shanshan would have loved to eat the 75 centimeter long fresh and tasty legs of Beringer Spider Crabs, and I brainstormed on walking the Pacific Crest Trail (a.k.a. PCT) at Metskers Maps. Then I continued to Rei's flagship store at Eastlake Avenue, where I bought great North Face garments and a Ligero 50 performance backpack and some other outdoor gear. Next - due to the cheap dollar against euro rate - I was commissioned to drive all way up to Northgate, to buy a Nintendo DS and assortment of games at Best Buy. [Picture: Totems on Pioneers Square.]

Clockwise: Ferry at Waterfront departing for Victoria, Magicians' store Pike Market Down Under, fresh fish supplies from the Pacific and Beringer Strait and Main Arcade

Shopping all done, I headed straight to the Space Needle, which I vowed not to miss this time. On the way there, I noticed that my walking compass (my loyal travel companion) got way off track. Research later at home showed that the magnetic declination (i.e. difference between the magnetic and geographic North Pole) in this place of the world is almost 21 degrees !!! Then I arrived at the celebrated landmark - sometimes jokingly referred to as "flying saucer on a pedestal" or "sexy tripod" - where Tom Hanks finally met Meg Ryan in "Sleepless in Seattle" ... not surprisingly it also started to rain. All above I listened completely relaxed to live jazz, sipping white wine, while overlooking Puget Sound. Inwardly I imagined the Sun setting behind the clouds, just like observing the sunset a couple of months earlier atop the Eiffel tower in Paris. Earthbound some Seattle natives caught the lift boy & guide off-guard with an esoteric tale about the "Weedle on the Needle", but frankly until now the clue of this story escaped me completely.

View on Space Needle + Downtown & First Hill, left before and right after sunset
... while the jazz band is playing.

Monday 17th March 2008 - Saint Patrick's Day + Tuesday 18th March 2008

Touring the city over the weekend, a cunning old man in green suit and ditto top hat reminded me that today is Saint Patrick's Day, my namesake and patron saint of Ireland. However no free beers, but an early power swim to get in shape for the conference instead. A lot of the content during the conference was presented under NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) with Microsoft, anyway it doesn't exactly feature well inside a travel blog. Anyhow in case you wish to know more about Application Lifecycle Management, rush to or ring Atos Origin and especially ask for me to present this new solution offering for your Business ;-) Besides of stuffing our heads with prime knowledge, the Team of Jos Stassen - Partner Sales and Marketing Manager of the Developer Division - entertained us with an "Amazing Race" fact finding mission throughout Bellevue, a dinner at the Seastar Restaurant in Bellevue, and another dinner at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Woodinville (where I struggled a bit to network in Spanish at the Latin American table).

Wednesday 19th March 2008 - Bettye Lavette gives Soul away at Dimitrious' Jazz Alley

When the conference closed after 3 days in the afternoon, I immediately traversed into Seattle again, determined for a Jazz night out. First I savoured a light wonton soup at Fun Lin in Chinatown (near Pioneer Square in the International District). Not that they serve exceptional dishes, but it so happened that I already ate there during my 3 stays, conveniently located at the South entry of the city. Over dinner, I got into a conversation with a friendly aged hippie - wearing shorts, socks and sandals in this cold rainly weather - who talked about how bad Chinese and Japanese were treated in the 19th and 20th century (anti-Chinese riots of 1886 and the internment of Japanese residents during WWII).

On my way downtown, I crossed the cute Danny Woo Japanese District Community Garden, where squirrels vehemently came solliciting for food. Following 4th Avenue, I ran into a anti-war demonstration at Rainier Square, where protesters called out for peace in Tibet, Iraq and Gaza in one go. A virtuoso going solo on his electric guitar reminded me that Seattle also gave birth to Jimmie Hendrix. To be on time, I had to speed up to Dimitrious' Jazz Alley at the intersection of Lenora Street and 6th Avenue. The reason I choose this venue above Tulla's (another Jazz place), was the performance of Bettye Lavette, winner of the "Blues (Female) Artist of the Year" and Most Outstanding Blues Singer" awards in 2007. With her 62 years of age, she shamed the audience with an outburst of vitality, including songs from her latest album "The Scene of the Crime" and an earlier album "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise".

Well, it's time I moved off
But it's been great just listenin' to you
And I might even see you next time I'm passin' through
You're right there's so much goin' on
No one seems to want to know
So keep well, keep well old friend
And have another drink on me
Just ignore all the others
You got your memories

Thursday 20th March 2008 - Philosophical Dialog with Steven Wilssens from the Development Division at Microsoft Redmond Campus

For my final day, I scheduled a meeting at noon with Steven Wilssens, whom I also met a week earlier in Ghent when he was a speaker at Heroes Happen Here (the Launch of Visual Studio, SQL and Windows Server 2008 in Belgium). Steven is a former Belgian employee and MVP (Microsoft Valued Professional), who made a career-move to Redmond, and who is now in charge of and the Web-2.0-isation of MSDN (the Microsoft Developer Network). We got connected through Luc Van de Velde's (from the Microsoft Enterprise Partner Group), and my intention was to tap into his vast experience for the Business Case as part of my VUB (Free University of Brussels) Post-graduate Thesis on "Open Innovation & Web 2.0" for the Master in Business Information and Information Systems Management. First I had a stop at Barnes & Noble - a gigantic bookstore in Bellevue centre - where I stocked literature on/from Graham Greene, Innovation, Chinese Emperors and a biography of Zhou Enlai. Then I grabbed a cab to Building 41 on the Redmond Campus, housing the computer geeks of the Visual Studio Team. Obviously Steven was completely engrossed in his work, as he constantly kept talking, while studying metrics on this computer screen. Dragging him away from the monitor for lunch did the trick, and I had a constructive discussion, while consuming a portion of fried rice and general Tso's chicken. While going for coffee (after all this is Seattle), Steven briefly talked to a young chap, which he afterwards identified as the son of Walid Abu-Hadba, Corporate Vice President of the Developer & Platform Evangelism Group. [Picture left: Giant Product Box at the entrance of Building 41, signed by the entire Visual Studio Team. Picture right: Steven racing against time.]

Back to Seattle, my ingenious travel planning got impeded by antiquated Amtrak employees. Intention was to put most of my lugguage into storage at King Street Station (3 dollars a piece). However the clerk refused, as I had no train ticket to show. So off to the ticketing desk, were I requested the cheapest train ticket available. Little did I know that I opened Pandora's box. The other clerk went straight to his supervisor - a sturdy spectacled black lady - who gave me the worst blast imaginable, accusing me of making plain abuse of passengers amenities offered by Amtrak. When I came to my defence - claiming that lugguage lockers were part & parcel of the European railway services - I ran out before I had my head cut off. [Picture: Old Jackson Street Station, a disused train station next to King Street Station.]

However I generally refused to get angry over petty travel woes, so I set off to the Seattle Museum of Art - with the Bill & Melisa Gates foundation as one of the prime sponsors - were I spent the rest of the afternoon (after dropping my lugguage at the cloakroom) amids American native, African and contemporary (pop) art, as well as porcelain, American & English Realism, Egyptian, Greek and Roman artefacts, Brussels Carpets, Flemish primitives and Antwerp painters of the Rubens era. Obviously the museum very well adopted the eclectic style of the city itself. Nearly missing bus 194 - which was running through a new transit tunnel instead of aboveground - I made it to the airport in time to enjoy my last hazelnut latte prior to boarding flight BA0052. After being stuck in London Heathrow Terminal 4 for 6 hours, I was greeted in Brussels by sudden snow, my colleague Kamran who just returned from Egypt and my wife and daughter, who were eagerly anticipating the opening of the gift treasure trunk I was hauling behind me. [Picture: Artwork "Innopportune" from Cai Guo-Qiang in the hallway of the Seattle Art museum.]

Left the address of Metskers Maps, right the Fun Lin restaurant (nothing fancy, but my personal & practical favorite). Best up-to-date reference on events, music and other spectacles, visit or buy The Stranger. To find my way around, I heavily relied on the Lonely Planet Seattle City Guide (with pullout map) and GM Johnson's detailed City Map of Seattle & vicinity.

Attachment: Soul-singer Bettye LaVette in ABbox on Tuesday 8th April 2008 (couple of weeks after I saw/heard her performance in Seattle).

Bettye_LaVette.pdf69.66 KB