I spent my first few hours in Seattle breathing in sea breeze and getting accustomed to the lack of sunshine. Having walked down the waterfront, I halted at the end of the road right in front of the Pike Place Market. Although I’d heard about the iconic market, I had no idea what to expect. From what I’d heard from friends, it’s the ultimate destination for all types of fresh produce and oceanic catch.
As I climbed the stairs, leading to the market, I noticed weird facades and odd-shaped stairwells leading to and from the corners. Set atop hills, the city of Seattle and the market area in particular, have no flat surfaces. Not only did it feel as if I was climbing a hill on top of a hill, but it also felt as though I was riding up and down waves that were the curves of the hills.
Life teemed in and around the market. It was a Wednesday, and despite it being midday when most people would be in their offices, the market resembled a Sunday carnival. When I reached the top, a little sign welcomed me with information and a map of the market. Trying to be smart about my strategy, I took the elevator all the way to the top floor so I could walk down each floor missing nothing.
When the lift doors opened at the sixth floor, a wave of dim light and buzzing voices greeted me. It was as if I’d taken the lift to a dark movie from the 70s. Facing me was the entrance to a supermarket selling all types of candy, weird foods, and random home items. Wondering what about the market attracted so many eyeballs and footfalls, I began walking around the floor, and then from floor to floor, observing the many stylistic and curious shops.
Each floor I stopped at had a variety of stores. From eerie stores selling Halloween and magic merchandise to a magazine shop selling vintage Playboys and Time magazines from the 40s, to a saloon that invited customers, every corner filled up with something worth staring at or dropping my jaw on. Tibetan artefacts, leather bags, indie artist studios, thrift shops, liquor stores, stationary, carpentry shops, jewellery stores, clothing like t-shirts, hats, ties, and belts, pet care, human care, hair styles, Seattle mementoes, and thousands of other little and large shops lit up as customers thronged.
As if that weren’t overwhelming enough, the pillars of the building itself told stories of the history of the Pike Place Market.
By the time I reached the ground floor, I’d seen so much more than I’d ever thought I’d see in a lifetime. It wasn’t the end, though. The ground covered more shops, most of which were food and perishables. On one corner, farmers from all over Seattle displayed fresh produce, some even handing out sliced fruit for samples. Gorging on the freshest piece of plum, I kept walking along the market, my eyes widening at the sight of fruits and vegetables in quantities and quality like never before. On another corner, young fishermen entertained onlookers by playing catch with 10-pound fish. Even more fishermen posed with their catch sprawled on ice blocks for tourists clicking photos at will.
A little further away were cafés, bakeries, restaurants, and smaller family owned businesses. They sold products like coffee, tea, chocolate, jams and condiments, and even a noteworthy pepper jelly.
Walking by so many shops, it was only too easy to get lost. Every time I tried to find my way back, I ended up finding something new altogether. That’s how I came upon the world-renowned Gum Wall. Although I knew it was somewhere around the market, I didn’t know how close it was until I ran into the pungent smell of stale gooeyness and deafening roar of a drilling machine. Though it’s been a symbol of love and an icon of the city for many years, the Gum Wall was messy and repulsive when I saw it. For better or worse, it was the first of a scheduled two-day cleaning of the wall. Each year, authorities scrape away old gum, fumigate the wall and its surroundings, and then re-stick the gum to its former glory. It’s become a necessary cleansing ritual because of the thousands of visitors who enter the alley every day to freeze the Gum Wall in their wall frames.
It was in the same unintentional way that I found the Pike Place Brewery. The moment I stepped in, scores of posters and beer references stunned me. It’s a bar with their own brewery underground. Loud music followed me to every corner of the bar as I scanned the wall shelves for interesting bottles and eye-catching displays.
Drunk by all that I’d seen, I exited the brewery and the market to stuff myself with some homemade cheese.
I’d had no idea Seattle had so much to show.