I live in the backcountry of Alaska, about 200 miles from the nearest road. This time of year, we are well into winter, and the entire landscape is blanketed in deep snow and solitude.
Life is wonderful in the wilds. Shopping for the holidays is severely limited.
So, this past weekend my daughter Mandy and I decided to take a local trip -- meaning we only had to fly 3 hours and 1,500 miles -- to explore the holiday festivities of Seattle's colorful Pike Place Market.
Our first stop was the Inn at the Market. We checked into the bright boutique hotel tucked in off of Post Street, just steps away from the entrance. A good sign at the inn: The lobby smelled like gingerbread and there were warm cookies on the counter.
We dropped our bags and headed out to dinner. We didn't have to go far. Directly across the courtyard from our hotel was the bistro and wine bar Marché offering a small-plate menu perfect for our late-night dining. In fact, we often prefer bar menus rather than dedicated white-tablecloth meals when we're on the road. We can barhop (without drinking) and sample a wider variety of local cuisine through little plates.
I chose a fat house-made mushroom sausage served on a bed of braised red cabbage and apples. Mandy picked Comté cheese-dressed pasta swirled with garlic confit and truffle butter. The lights of the market twinkled outside as we planned our upcoming day.
Something not to miss is the unfolding of the market early in the morning. There are several cafes that open at 6 a.m., but you might stop in at the original Starbucks coffee shop on Pike Place. No comfy tables or wifi here: It's locked and loaded for hard-core tourist traffic, but in the early hours, you can forego the long lines that will form later. Chat with the friendly staff and learn all about their one-of-a kind still-hand-operated espresso machine.
Pike Place is home to hundreds of artsy and crafty vendors, food stalls, cafes, bars and shops of all kinds. There's an aged patina to the entire place -- it's been here since 1907 -- and along with soulful street musicians, mimes, balloon makers and other show-folk, there's an undeniable old-world vibe.
We followed the crowd and braved a lunch line that wound out the door and down the street to try Russian-style handheld pies sold at the Piroshky Piroshky shop. After staring into the glass case at a formidable selection of savory and sweet pies, I picked a salmon and onion beauty. Mandy chose a cheesy meat and onion filling and we happily continued along our market tour.
We sifted through old treasures and new jewelry, tie-dyed baby clothes and local honey. We looked for a collectible Ken Griffey Jr. baseball card and thought about getting our fortunes told.
Pike Place holds true to its origins in selling locally grown produce and Northwest food products. There are the famous fishmongers who throw fish in the air and shout when someone in the camera-thick crowd actually buys something. Fish weren't on our shopping list, but most vendors in the market will pack to ship for 48-hour transport. They'll even deliver to your hotel. You can bring home a mighty Alaska King salmon, cheese, honey, fresh apples, herbs and more from the Pacific Northwest as souvenirs. This might go farther at home than the glow-in-the-dark keychain with the Space Needle on it.
We had a drink at the Alibi Club, one of the many pubs, cabarets and wine bars sprinkled throughout the market. There are no lack of evening activities, but we chose to continue the carnival theme of the day and took a short drive to Teatro Zinzanni, a wild, campy dinner theater housed in a turn of the century stained glass and velvet adorned spiegeltent, Dutch for "mirror tent".
From the moment we walked into the foyer of the tent and were greeted by a trio of blond swing sisters with champagne in hand to the last brush of a feather boa swooshing by us, the evening was fantastical. The cabaret format follows loosely a musical storyline of the life of diva Liliane Montevecchi, a lively octogenarian who danced, sang, stuffed diamonds down her front and embarrassed young men in the audience. A contortionist, prima ballerina, tumblers and singers swirled around us in the glittering sparkle of mirrors and light as we dined on our five-course meal.
An early morning wake-up call at our hotel provided a last glimpse of the glowing red Public Market sign. Mandy had wrapped our presents in the hotel's complimentary gift-wrapping room and our bags were packed. We took a last whiff of the gingerbread-infused lobby and headed for home. Treasures in hand, we agreed that a dose of urban festivity during the holiday season is good for the soul.