Seattle, Washington State

I only have 1 day in Seattle, and plan to spend the bulk of it at the Boeing Factory out in Everett, a fair distance outside of central Seattle. But first, coffee is required, and I find a reasonable cappuccino at a coffee shop that turns out to be attached to the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. There’s not much choice on a Sunday morning, but the 4th Avenue Espresso Bar serves up some basic café food and decent coffee.

It’s not easy to get to the Boeing Factory by public transport, and seemingly more difficult on a Sunday. Both Citymapper and Google Maps indicate that it will take at least two hours or longer by a combination of bus and walking. Train travel seems just as slow. Uber it is then, for about $US46 for a 27 minute door to door service. I’ve already pre-purchased my ticket for the 1pm tour, which is advisable to do as there is a sign at the ticket counter when I arrive that the next tour with available tickets is at 4:30pm.

The tour will start at the Future of Flight centre, and there is plenty to do there whilst waiting – the Future of Flight centre showcases ‘what’s next for Boeing’ for aviation and space travel, there is a sizeable café and Boeing store, and an upper deck with a view over the airstrip. These are the only areas where photography is permitted. To take the tour, you must be ‘hands free’ with no bags, food or drink, phones or cameras, in case they are dropped from the gantries above the factory floor. As the introduction to the tour points out – you break it you pay for it, and the starting price for a plane is $US200m. Kids must also be 4 four tall or more to take the tour as they must be able to see over the gantry wall, with no lifting or climbing allowed.

It’s not the tour for you if you can’t manage stairs or walking through tunnels, or you don’t like heights. There is one woman in a wheelchair, who is moved around by golf cart rather than bus, and who takes an elevator to the gantry level along with a carer and a security guard. It’s a 90 minute tour, which is kept moving by the guide. Boeing seem to run tours starting every half hour, split into 2 groups with around 35-40 people per group. It needs to run like clockwork in order to keep everything on track.

It’s well worth seeing the planes on the assembly line – the first part of the tour looks at the 747 and 767 assembly lines, with passenger, military and cargo planes sharing the production line. The second part of the tour looks at the 787 and 777 lines. Apparently the test flights for the 777XR are due to start ‘soon’. Each plane on the assembly line has a banner with the airline that the plane is being made for, and where it stands in the number of planes of that model that have been produced for that airline. I didn’t see any Qantas planes in production or waiting for delivery, but Japan Airlines seems to have a few planes waiting to be delivered.

Probably the most impressive aircraft there is the ‘Dreamlifter’, a modified 747 that flies partially assembled components around the world. One of the four in existence is parked in front of its operations centre, near a few new but grounded 737 MAX planes waiting for delivery.

I do a hopeful check of the public transportation options back to Seattle, but it’s still at least 2 hours by bus and walking. An Uber trip back to Seattle costs around $US45, $55 with a tip on top, so it’s an expensive day out even if the actual tour cost is a very reasonable $US25. On the plus side, each Uber trip has been easy, with the car arriving within 2 minutes of booking.

The only other thing I want to do in Seattle while I’m here is to check out Amazon Go, which was the first store in Amazon’s foray into ‘walk-in walk-out’ grocery shopping. It requires the Amazon Go app using either an Apple or Android device, with a payment method added, and given it’s Sunday there are only a couple of Amazon Go stores open. The original 7th Avenue store is open until 9pm, so this is the one I end up at. Entry is by scanning the app to open the barriers, which are your typical modern office entry barriers that can scan a barcode. Every time you pick up an item, it is added to your ‘virtual’ basket. The selection of food is equivalent to a Woolworths Metro or Coles Express in Australia – prepared salads, drinks, yoghurts, snacks, fruit. There is also wine and beer available, and areas to heat food to ‘eat in’. Walking out through the barriers generates a payment, and the receipt is emailed. Seemed to work flawlessly – I receive a receipt as soon as I leave for the 4 items I bought. It seems to be what 7-Eleven should be aiming for – removal of the tedious check-out process. Amazon sends me a notification that I was in the store for precisely 8 minutes and 13 seconds.

This Amazon Go is in a newly developed area of the city, full of new or under construction apartment buildings, with some old relics along the way such as the strip club occupying a corner location that must be some form of property ‘land-banking’ for the future.

Downtown Seattle seems to be an interesting mix of Art Deco buildings and new builds, and a concentrated effort to gentrify the waterfront area. The waterfront is lined with ‘finger wharfs’ of a similar vintage to those on Sydney harbour, but a bit earlier in the refurbish/repurpose development cycle. On the city side of the road running along the waterfront, there is a lot of demolition and construction, from what looks like may have been an elevated roadway.

Up the hill is the Pike Place Market, an old fashioned multi-level rabbit warren of odd shops, ranging from fortune tellers to organic supermarkets. Out on street level is the fresh food market, which at 6pm on a Sunday stinks of fish. There are some interesting alleyways with boutiques and bars, and the level of gentrification of the area can be seen in the upmarket furniture retailers such as B&B Italia.

It’s starting to rain as I walk back to the Hilton Hotel. Seattle looks like an interesting city, albeit an expensive one for food and accommodation. Public transport though seems like excellent value for money. I wouldn’t go out of my way to return to Seattle, but equally wouldn’t worry about a return stopover if necessary. Tomorrow’s plan is the Amtrak Cascades train from Seattle to Vancouver.

View from the Hilton Seattle
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