Archive | June 2015

Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano #ROMPeii

Disclaimer: I work at the Royal Ontario Museum, and do not have to pay the fee to see the exhibition (but I’m also a ROM Member). I was not involved in any way with the development of the exhibition, however.

In the week leading up to the opening of Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano at the Royal Ontario Museum there was an animation of the smoking peak of Vesuvius on the outside of the building. It got a little worse as the days went on – this was taken on Thursday night:


Then on Friday evening, there was this explosive display:

It was pretty spectacular! But does the exhibition itself live up to this excitement?


Much of it is fairly understated story of what life was like in Pompeii, to establish context. Although I’d seen a lot in UK/Euro museums about Roman life, the items on display are all very specific to Pompeii & daily life there, which piqued my interest. On top of that, there was a lot of great information about the geology of the area & how the eruption played out.

Displays on what everyday people wore, as well as nobles and the military started off the exhibition. There’s a great spot to see if you can tie a toga on and have it look as badass as the ones in the marble statues.

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Getting my toga on! #FNLROM #ROMpeii

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Information dipped into theatre, religion and sex too. Pompeii had quite a thriving drama scene, it seems – two major stadiums! I had no idea. (The first image below is that of two statues of actors). And then I was also enlightened to the fact that phalluses were a sign of good luck in ancient Pompeii/Rome, which explains this super fancy windchime.

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That last image is of an earthquake scene Pompeii had survived prior to the massive eruption – what a volatile area of the Mediterranean to live in. But it seems like overall, it was a beautiful area to live, right on the water with a gorgeous mountain right there and thriving marketplaces. I was most taken by the carbonized food remains found at Pompeii – as much as anything, an amazing snapshot of people’s tastes and diets. (Just don’t read too much into how they made fish sauce…) Bread, figs and olives, oh my!

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So – society, military, religion, fine foods.. what left but art? Gorgeous and usually functional pieces, friezes & mosaics pepper the exhibition. The glass at the end was found, likely having been trapped in an enclosed space set on fire by the eruption.


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Ocean mosaic #ROMpeii

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_DSF6899Of course, everyone knows that the story of Pompeii won’t have a happy ending. Moving through the exhibiton, near the end you will find yourself in a darkish space – a statue slightly in the distance, doomy gloomy lighting and a projection of Vesuvius erupting on the far wall. An infographic off to the side lays out a lot of the geological information, and the timeline that the residents of Pompeii would have experienced – and the time at which it would’ve been too late for them.

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After this, there’s a stark space that hosts a number of casts of the victims of the eruption, prone in their poses of death. The focus on their remains and their stories is really well done, with nothing to detract from that. (As opposed to the cast of the dog, pictured below, which is actually at the very start of the exhibition, and a pretty distressing thing to see straight up front.) I won’t show them all, as I think it’s worth going through the exhibition to learn about the lives the people of Pompeii led, and how unfortunate their deaths were.

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I think the sombre end to the exhibition is the best way to finish the story of Pompeii, without going on afterward. My overall impression is the flow & design of the space weaves through the displays very well (although some parts are prone to bottleneck). Lighting is great, reproductions of art used for negative spaces & bare walls makes a huge difference in enjoying the exhibition, and breathes some life into it. I especially thought the dramatic “eruption” space with the gloomy/flickering lighting was effective.

Even though most of my visits have been fairly brief, I’ve had a chance to learn some key information and facts, because the text isn’t presented in overwhelming chunks. Short blurbs, quotes, etc draw the viewer in easily, and those more keen on finding out more can read on further – and I think the very focused nature of the exhibition and its story overall can help stave off visitor fatigue. It definitely makes a visit to just one part of a very large museum easier, too.

If you’re in Toronto and want to check out #ROMpeii (best hashtag ever, am I right?) then it’s running until January 3rd 2016. It’s an engaging look at the life and death of Pompeiians, with family interactives and great information. There’s a lot of events going on, too. And if you’d like to read something about the exhibition not by me, head to Justin & Lauren’s blog about it here. (They’ve even been to the real Pompeii!)

Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano runs until January 3rd 2016. Tickets are inclusive of general admission and cost: $28 adults | $25.50 students/seniors | $20 children 4-14 years (toddlers 3 & under are free) | Members FREE.

The ROM is open daily 10am – 5.30pm (and to 6.30pm on Fridays), except December 25th. Check out Best Value Fridays after 4.30pm!

Terrarium Tuesday (yeah, I’m making that a thing just for this post) – my slightly dodgy how-to.

Recently I found myself wanting a little more green on my desk at work. I was browsing at a local Value Village and found a nice miniature glass bowl that inspired me to look into making a terrarium. After I picked that up, I went to a local florist who helped me pick some air plants (I don’t have direct light at my desk) and moss and I kinda winged it to make my first terrarium. Plus, I had that little dino guy just waiting to pop in there.

None of the ideas – moss, decorative rocks, fishbowl, dino – are my own original ideas, but had been sitting at the back of my brain after seeing terrariums pop up all over the place on the internet. A quick Pinterest search will find you up to your eyeballs in info on how to make terrariums, the best plants for them, etc. I certainly didn’t make mine using instructions nor everything a proper terrarium should probably have (the layers of sand and active charcoal…etc). There are incredible things you can do with planting/sculpting that makes everything basically like a tiny environment. I just wanted mine to look pretty – and enough friends asked how I did it that I thought I’d throw a quick blog up about it.

My Sunday evening:

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Terrarium time!

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I’d found three lovely, larger glass bowls/vases that were perfect (again at Value Village!) and stocked up on some more moss, plants and dinosaurs (totally necessary). I’d thought about more rocks, sand and maybe wood chips for decoration, but kept it simple. Maybe next time.


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I also found a super cute little ceramic pagoda at a bonsai stall in the neighbourhood that I put in the smaller cylindrical terrarium I made, now on my bedside table.

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This is so much fun.

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To begin with, line the bottom of your glass bowl with stones – enough to give a level where the soil will be able to drain. I had a cheap bag of stones from Dollarama which was big enough for me to use for this purpose, as well as a few for decoration (along with the bigger stones I had).


Next, with a little soil on top of the rocks, place your plants. For my selection I went mostly with succulents, a few air plants (placed after moss), and one spiky cactus (which, ow – getting those into glass bowls needs some more heavy duty gloves than I have). I don’t have much of a rule for this except try and mix sizes/shapes to something that looks good, and I didn’t have more than 3 plants in my fishbowl sized terrariums. Every plant had an inch or so of soil between the others.


Then fill the spaces around the plants, and up over the roots, pack it down and make sure there’s enough – then tidy it up a little.


Once you have enough soil around the plants, it’s time to place your moss. If you have a “sheet” of it, you might have to tear it up a bit (or if you’re using 100% air plants, you’d just plant it down on the soil and put the air plants right on top!). I put in clumps of moss and then just spread it around with the handle of my little gardening spoon (yes, spoon).


After you’ve tidied the moss and pressed it down, then it’s time to put any other decorations in there you like – nice decorative stones, driftwood, ceramic/plastic figures, etc. Find little nooks to pop your air plants down into at this point, if you have them. They sit nicely in the moss.

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Then if there’s soil/whatever that’s gotten anywhere on the glass, get in with a paper towel to give it a bit of a wipe, and then you’re all finished! Marvel at your creation and enjoy the little pod of green garden you’ve made for yourself.


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Questions/comments/suggestions? I’m hoping to try making some smaller ones of these in mason jars soon, as I have a lot of soil and moss left!! If I can find a cheap place for succulents/air plants, then I’ll stock up and go to town making gifts.

EMP Museum Seattle (review = image heavy!)

The EMP Museum in Seattle is like someone asked “what is Nicole a nerd about?” and made a museum (minus the board games, get on it EMP!). The EMP Museum used to be the “Experience Music Project” but has grown to be generally a pop culture – film, movies, music etc – museum in a gorgeous Gehry building.

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I was lucky enough to be in town while the Star Wars costume exhibition was showing, and made a beeline to see that first. It is a mix of costume and design information from the newer prequels, and also the original trilogy. Even though I’m not as much of a fan of episodes 1-3, the costuming is incredible and it was amazing to see it close up.

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But I did get the most, nostalgically, out of the older info, designs and costuming. I especially loved the sketches and inspiration cited for many of the costumes, and the droid design. Beautiful stuff.

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Next stop were a couple of smaller exhibitions as part of the (what I believe to be) permanent displays. I didn’t know they were part of the museum (I planned my visit poorly, obviously) and I was so excited to wander through. The first was “Can’t Look Away: the Lure of Horror Film“. There’s a little bias on some of the content due to the directors that consulted & curated clips of their favourite films (Roger Corman, John Landis, and Eli Roth), but it does a great job at looking at the genre overall, highlighting the history of the iconic movies in the genre, looks at monsters and fear and has loads of cool artefacts on display. I legitimately flipped out at the Sean of the Dead shirt. It had a lot of great information, and was a good primer for those not familiar with horror movies. And the design of the space, plus the audio playing around there, was perfect.

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Heading out of horror into Sci-Fi, the Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction exhibition has a bit less of a narrative, but still showcases the vastness of the genre  in film and TV very well, old school and new. Terminator 2 is one of my fave all time movies, so I geeked out a lot at that little glass case, but really enjoyed all of the stuff on display. So much is from a private collection, I’d love to be in a place to have that stuff in my own collection!

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Onto something slightly more laid back, the Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic exhibition was thematically a gorgeous space (down to the stone walls, magic tree structures and fake pine needles on the floor) and had a lot of my favourites in there. I really enjoyed the interactives they had on various screens in this exhibition too – taking quizzes to see what kind of fantasy archetype you are, creating a map of a fantasy kingdom etc. It was a real treat to see the Princess Bride costumes and weapons!

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I wandered the “main” part of the building after that, popping into the Indie Game Revolution exhibition and also checking out the very cool Sound Lab interactive (I learnt to play a little hook on the piano!). Marveled at the massive guitar installation, too.

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My last stop was the Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses exhibition. I came a little late to being a fan of Nirvana, but in the mid 90s I was a huge fan of grunge in general, especially Pearl Jam. And that also influenced a lot of the music I ended up getting into, especially other punk and riot grrl. This blurb about the exhibiton says it as well as anything else: “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses explores the public and personal story of a single band, but it also invites visitors to discover the underground music scene in which Nirvana developed.” I very much enjoyed the look at the band’s development in context of the local scene, and especially the ‘oral history’ of music around that time, which was accessible at screens throughout the exhibition to sit down and explore. There were also lots of music stations throughout the exhibition to listen to Nirvana’s music from certain periods, along with their peers.

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I felt a lot of emotion and connection to the exhibitions I saw at the EMP Museum. Usually when I’m visiting a museum in a city, it’s pretty history-centric, about a place/culture/environment. This was about stuff I loved, and it was great to have that experience when visiting a museum.

The EMP Museum is open daily, you can buy tickets online & also (like I did) get them as part of the Seattle City Pass. The price is a little high, but for the extensive content on display, I believe it’s worth it – especially when you are passionate about pop culture!

Things I Love Thursday – a little esoteric ramble.

In many places on the internet, my username (when it’s not Nicole) is “iheartmuseums”. Back when I was trying to go with something a little more personal but not my actual name, I figured.. well, this is pretty accurate! Despite all the other things I’m into, I’m a museum lover for life. I’ve had a few people wonder recently about my username and what it is I love so much about museums, so I figured this irregularly scheduled TILT  can be about that!

(I’m just going to pepper this post with some of my fave museum pics from the large Flickr set I have, to make it not a giant wall of text!)

I grew up in a rural town not near any large cities with museums. I was lucky enough to travel each summer to Sydney with my mum and/or grandmother, and would frequently visit the Australian Museum and the Powerhouse Museum. It was astonishing and awe-inspiring for a kid like me who grew up watching all the Attenborough docs she could to be able to walk around institutions like those and see the collections and research and exhibitions all around me and realize there were people doing this as their jobs and their careers.

As I got older I traveled to Sydney each year less and less. My connection with museums waned. It wasn’t until my last (or second last?) year of high school that it sparked again. My ancient history class took a field trip to Brisbane (about a 5 hour drive from where I lived!) to visit the Antiquities Museum at the University of Queensland, as well as the Anthropology Museum at the same campus, and also the Queensland Museum. I remembered that same wonder and awe, being surrounded by objects and information and stories.

A few years later, I ended up attending the University of Queensland. In my first semester as an anthropology/archaeology student, we visited both the museums I’d been to back in high school and I had this weird feeling. Not (just) of deja vu and realization that hey, I was back in these places, but also that I belonged there. That finally I’d decided to study something and be in a place where I could engage with museums not just as a visitor but as a student, a theorist, a collection manager, and… well, and a nerd.

Sure, you say. I get excited about museums. But why do I heart them?? Hold your breath.. There’s quite a few reasons. Starting with that physical feeling – being surrounded by the architecture of museums, the large gallery spaces, the historic buildings and the enormity of that. The interesting and necessary research being done behind the scenes. Being in exhibitions that show you the history of a place or of a people. Learning things outside your limited experience of the world. Expanding your understanding of the world and how that can positively impact your respect of the environment, animals and people living in it. The beauty of objects, natural or made by humans (or even sometimes animals).

What draws me in most of all is objects. This really reached out to me during my studies, and shaped my interest and focus on museums and material culture. Objects have such power and history and information and stories contained in them. Every little thing about a piece in a museum’s collection says something. Be it a stone tool from Africa, a fossil from China, a textile from India.. Where did it come from, what is it made of, who made it? When you look at the texture of it, you think about how it came to be. What was it used for? Natural history specimens tell a whole story of their own, not being made by humans – but their origin and genetics are key; a lot of research is done looking at museum collections over many years to see the narrative of the change of species and their environments. There are quite a few museums with specimens of extinct species, which as objects are full of information and history. Looking at a Dodo in Oxford was something that sparked a lot of things for me.

Nothing drives me more as a museum visitor and as an enthusiast than fascinating objects and how they connect me to the world. When I’m working in a collection, I’ll always crave finding out more through the databases and object history files. When I’m in a gallery, I’ll always seek out interpretive information. Objects have stories – some of them short, long, interesting, simple – and museums go a long way to sharing those stories. I love that, and I love museums.

Seattle #vegan eats!! Warning: contains delicious, don’t read while super hungry.

One of my favourite travel things is seeking out and eating new and delicious vegan foods in cities I go to. My friend Susan had been to Seattle last year and raved about the eats there, so I was pretty excited, and armed with a great list of recommendations. I didn’t get everywhere I wanted to (it’s time consuming bussing around Seattle), but what I tried I was overall very pleased with!

I’d like to get my couple of sad experiences out of the way… Flying Apron gluten free bakery. I had my suspicions, considering everything Adam & I had tried making from their cookbook was not great. But yeah. Sad gluten free goodies. When you know how light, moist & amazing GF can be, rock hard scones & sad crumbly donuts/cookies are such a disappointment. I didn’t try any of their savoury stuff, so can’t speak to that. The brew was a nice one, from a local roast. Sorry, Flying Apron 😦


My other less than enthusiastic experience was Cyber Dogs – a veggie hot dog place/internet cafe. It may have been that I was in a rush, or that I really just picked the wrong dog for me, but I wasn’t impressed with the quality or the taste. This is the Chicago-style dog. Maybe I’d try them again next time if someone can recommend something not so overwhelming.


I missed out on Violet Sweet Shoppe, which I hear is a great Seattle bakery – it was just a bit too out of my way for the time I had to get there! I did make my way to Cinnamon Works in Pike Place market the afternoon I was wandering around there. I marvelled at the GIANT vegan cookies they had, and then scoffed this wonderful cinnamon bun (which they slightly warmed for me!). They also have GF goodies.


I also grabbed a bag of these when I spotted them in Pike Place market. Tasty and spicy, but not salty enough!


By far and away the most amazing sweet treats I had while in town were Mighty-O donuts. I made a mad dash my last morning in town to make sure I didn’t miss out on trying them, and I’m so glad I did!! I had these beauties for breakfast (i’m still thinking about the incredible apple fritter…), and took a box to go for a little Seattle taste on the plane & work the next day. Such a delicious place with classic, amazing donuts.



I went to Cafe Flora for a nice team dinner with my gaming team & supporters (we took part in the Gauntlet board game fundraiser at Mox Boarding House!), and it was a great evening! A wonderful little restaurant with friendly service, and flavourful food plus a nice wine list  – but also lovely local cider for folks like me! Everything from the starters to dessert was a hit, and I would go back there in a heartbeat because there’s so much more I wanted to try – it’s a vegetarian restaurant, but they have lots of vegan options and GF is well marked too.

Starters – and coconut tofu

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My main – a delicious portabello mushroom french dip with side salad.


And a couple of the many desserts we tried!

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Once upon a time way back in the day, I visited a Veggie Grill in Los Angeles, and was in love. The chain’s expansion into Seattle is a little less fast food-y, more a mix of burgers and proper meals and sides than I recall. I ate at two seperate locations in one day because it was so great  – but I forgot to snap a pic of my 2nd meal which was an incredible Crispy Chikin’ plate – with mash and greens and gravy nom. Below is my lunch burger, a grillin’ chikin’ and also my face.



In a quite hungover state one day, and in need of some really filling comfort food, I made my way to the Wayward Vegan cafe. I wish I’d been staying closer to Wayward so I could’ve tried their breakfast and lunches too! It was amazing. Their massive ‘chicken fried’ seitan smothered in gravy, with greens and hash. Plus a bottle of nooch & a sprayer of Bragg’s on every table! Yaassss.


I really liked the decor there! Nifty painted plates, plus my table which was made of part of a bowling alley lane!




On my last full day in Seattle I was in dire need of refuelling between museum-hopping. Not far from the EMP Museum (plus the Space Needle, etc) is Bamboo Garden vegetarian restaurant. They have a huge selection on their menu, but I decided to go for a lunch combo so I could have a little of a few things. It was great value for money, tasty and filling. I had the hot & sour soup, and the plate with spring rolls, ‘chicken’ fried rice, sauteed green beans and broccoli, and sweet and sour ‘chicken’. I don’t get out much for Chinese food here in Toronto, and I think this would be the kind of place I’d want to have anyhow.

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As a refreshing way to end my last full day in town, I had some bar time with friends! I met them at Capitol Cider where I had this really delicious cider flight. I would drink this again and again.


Then we walked up to the Highline, a vegan bar in Capitol Hill. They had a really nice canned cider I hadn’t tried so far in my trip, plus bingo! Plus AMAZING tacos. Seriously, incredible. We got the ‘fish’ tacos. Oh my god. A crumbed and fried soy protein with some nori for flavour, plus a cool slaw and fresh cilantro. They have a great range on their vegan menu (almost everything had a drink pairing suggestion, too!), and I’d go back for the not-so-divey dive bar food any day.



I’m bummed to have missed out on Violet Sweet Shoppe, like I said. I also didn’t make it to Plum Bistro which I’d heard both good & bad things about. Next time. There’s also the pie truck (High 5) and the vegan food truck (No Bones About It) that I missed. Plus loads of coffee shops, and a couple of other bars that I wanted to visit.. so yeah, Seattle will be seeing me and my appetite again sometime!!

Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle

One place I don’t think I’d have considered going to without having it recommended to me is the Chihuly Garden and Glass gallery, right at the base of the Space Needle in Seattle. I’d heard a couple of mentions of it here at work, and also from people in the Seattle area. Although not as focused (I suppose) as the Chihuly museum in Tacoma (were Dale Chihuly is from), it is still a stunning showcase of his design and work.

Much of the time I like to visit museums rather than galleries – I always find the former to be more engaging and the latter to usually be aesthetically pleasing more than anything else. (On occasion I am wrong!) While there’s a little interpretive info in the Chihuly Garden & Glass gallery, mostly you are there to walk among the stunning pieces and to be dazzled. I audibly gasped at many of the pieces. Inside the gallery, bold colours & shapes along with dramatic lighting create an intense experience.


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wpid-dsf6727.jpeg wpid-dsf6738.jpeg wpid-dsf6742.jpeg wpid-dsf6744.jpegThose sea-creature-esque bowls in one of the last rooms before the garden were possibly my favourite thing. So delicate and rich with pigment. The way they were displayed around the edge of the room like some sort of coral reef was gorgeous. Of course, there were many beautiful and seemingly impossible pieces inside – on the way out, these pieces in the walkway above floated, but I don’t know how the weight was supported!

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It is hard to believe how someone could dream these things up, let alone make them! Out in the courtyard/cafe, they have glass blowing demonstrations that gives you an idea of the difficulty and time involved. (It seems like quite a bit! But fascinating to watch.)


I also enjoyed seeing these pieces, design ideas/sketches for glass art from Chihuly:


The more external pieces are equally as stunning in daylight, rather than the spotlights of the gallery. The way every piece is integrated into structures or to the gardens is masterful, and it’s so refreshing to see art presented in this way. I haven’t ever before been so impressed by presentation of installations like this, nor by glass art itself.



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I highly recommend a visit if you are ever in Seattle. I had a ticket as part of my Seattle CityPass, and you can also buy combined tickets with the Space Needle, which makes sense given the proximity! Find out about visiting here.

Seattle’s sights, and seeing them.

I did a bit of non-museum wandering while in Seattle – whaaat! While I pause for the moment on writing about the museums and galleries, here’s a little about the sights I saw. I also will be writing up on the food I enjoyed – and I have already written up my thoughts on the game cafes I visited while in town over at the Daily Worker Placement.

Now I think about it, I regret not taking any photos of the UW campus, which I should have – it was lovely and green – but that’s where the Burke Museum‘s building was, so you can see at least the outside of it there. First day in town I had a wander around the Pike Place Market general area in the downtown/central part of Seattle. I wasn’t interested in the actual market – especially the gross fish throwing, blergh! – but I saw some nice little nooks and crannies and it was a good way to have a relaxed and less focused visit somewhere.


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I found this wonderful little urban garden – and there was a lovely view from there! It was such a wonderful little oasis, with lots of veggies & herbs growing, that I believe are used by some of the restaurants in the market.

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A couple of little quirks I found wandering in the quieter parts of the market. Yes, the dudes washroom was XY.

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I then hit the streets and little alleyways of the market’s surrounds. I saw the ‘original’ Starbucks which was hella busy, but I honestly just wished there was a really good indie coffee store around there somewhere! When I went to the gumwall there was a wee cafe called ‘Ghost Alley Espresso’ which wasn’t too bad – and it was a nice spot to chill out and watch people be grossed out by the gum 🙂

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More random wanderings – first pics are from a neat installation near MOHAI. My second morning in town I took a really nice walk from where I was staying in Ballard over to Fremont. I was aiming to get a bite to eat at one of the vegan places in the ‘hood, but I also came across random Lenin, and visited the Fremont troll!

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Whenever I go to a city with a big ol’ tower, I love to go up in it. I love getting the perspective! I love the views from the CN Tower here, and although the Space Needle isn’t quite as high, it’s lovely views. I had a pass that allowed me to go up both at night and during the day, which was great! Unfortunately, the daytime was too hazy to see Mount Rainier 😦

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Bonus views from the elevator ride of the tops of nearby buildings/museums:

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They had lots of great info for visitors, and interactives – like having an automated camera take your photo (included in your ticket price) that you could email to yourself, interactive live/archived views to look through on big screens, and interactivity like sharing your selfies or putting yourself on the visitor map.


There’s so many sights I didn’t see, and much that I didn’t photograph as I was busy hanging out or wandering around. I would have liked to see the statue park, take a little cruise, ferry to Bainbridge Island, and also do a bit of area-visiting like seeing Mount Rainier properly, and visiting the filming locations of Twin Peaks. But that means just more to go back and enjoy next time!