Neil Silver travelled to the wonderfully vibrant and diverse city of Seattle in the US state of Washington, home to a UNESCO World Heritage tropical rainforest. During his travels he found out how the city’s unique glass sculptor Dale Chihuly was inspired by spending time on a kibbutz, so he investigated for himself!
Sometimes it requires a flash of inspiration to spark a genius into life.
Famous Glass artist Dale Chihuly found his inspiration at kibbutz Lahav, in the Negev Desert, in the 1960s.
Chihuly arrived in Israel as a rebellious youth, often in trouble with the police, following the sudden deaths of his older brother in a Navy flight-training accident and of his father from a heart attack the following year.
But life on the kibbutz had a profound effect on Chihuly and he left the following year as a man. Not just any man, but one who would go on to light up the world with his stunning talent for creating works of art out of glass.
Chihuly, now 73, reflects on that time by saying: “Before Lahav my life was more about having fun, and after Lahav, I wanted to make some sort of contribution to society. After the kibbutz experience my life would never be the same.”
I had the chance to enjoy Chihuly’s work during a visit to Seattle, in America’s North-West, where the Chihully Garden and Glass is located, and I never realised that I could be blown away (pardon the pun) by such fantastic glass art.
The main hall of the museum felt like it belonged in Oompa Loompa land inside Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, such was the fantastic myriad of colours and objects.
However, there is a lot more to the state of Washington than Chihully’s wonderfully colourful glass.
My trip was one highlight after another, ranging from the town of Forks, which is the setting for Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, to the Hoh Rainforest and Olympic National Park World Heritage site, and the town of Aberdeen, home of tragic alternative rock legend Kurt Cobain of Nirvana fame.
Seattle can be reached by a direct flight of not much more than nine hours thanks to Delta’s daily non-stop service from Heathrow. I sampled their Business Elite class of travel, but I would call it “first class” such was the comfort and whole experience.
You often hear the joke that one of the best things about being Jewish is the food. So it was fitting that I started my trip just a short walk from my hotel, the Mayflower Park Hotel, with a Savor Seattle Food Tour, which takes you on a tasting tour around Pike Place Market, the oldest continuous farmer’s market in the US.
The sights and sounds are just awesome, as our American friends would say. Our guide Nick fed us donuts, salmon, cheese and cherries, all of which were delicious.
One of the highlights of the tour is the tradition which sees the fishmongers throw fish to each other to entertain their customers, and another is seeing the site of the very first Starbucks coffee shop, which opened in 1971.
Apart from the coffee chain, other major companies whose home is in Seattle include Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Boeing, who boast the world’s largest building by volume.
Another must-see attraction in town is Seattle Center, the site of the 1962 World’s fair. Here there is a park plus arts and entertainment centre, where the iconic landmark feature is the Space Needle, a tower which offers stunning views of the city, and which also boasts a revolving restaurant – I can vouch for the food matching the quality of the view.
One of my hosts suggested that Seattle is not the place that first time visitors to America choose to go, as cities such as New York, Boston, Washington and San Francisco are popular tourist haunts. But Washington offers something none of the others can which makes it a worthwhile destination: a rainforest – and our journey there was via a number of interesting attractions.
Our first stop was Deception Pass where our guide, Jeff from Evergreen Escapes, dropped us off so we could walk more than a quarter-of-a-mile across the breath-taking bridge and on to Whidbey Island. We could see a line of fisherman standing patiently on the shore 180 feet below, hoping to catch salmon in the stretch of water separating Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands.
We were able to sample some freshly caught salmon during lunch at the Captain Whidbey Inn, located in the heart of Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, and it was among the tastiest I have ever eaten.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which defines “Wilderness” as areas where the earth and its communities of life are left unchanged by people, where the primary forces of nature are in control, and where people themselves are visitors who do not remain.
So where better to witness that than our next stop: Hurricane Ridge, a spectacular vantage point to view the majesty of Olympic National Park. The park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, in recognition of its exceptional natural beauty and outstanding diversity of plants and animals.
For the nature lover there are species of plants, animals, amphibians, fish and insects which are unique to the park, such as Flett’s Violet, the Olympic Marmot, the Olympic Torrent Salamander, Olympic Mud Minnow, and the Olympic Grasshopper.
Equally impressive is the Hoh Rainforest. I have never seen such huge trees, some of which are 250 feet tall and 60 feet in circumference, while the Hall of Mosses walking trail looks like a magical scene out of Narnia.
We were only a few hours from the hustle and bustle of Seattle, yet we were worlds apart.
As much as I enjoyed the mountains and the rainforest, I am really an ocean type of guy, so the best had been saved for last when we visited picturesque Ruby Beach, with a meandering creek, dramatic sea stacks, and drift logs.
The view was quite simply stunning, as the waves rolled towards the shore and emitted a calming sound in the air. It was topped off by the beautiful sunset at our accommodation for the night at Kalaloch (pronounced clay-lock).
In case you think the journey from Seattle to the tip of the Pacific Ocean may be boring (we spread ours across three days with overnight stops in Port Townsend, Lake Crescent, and Lake Quinault) then think again – especially if you are a film fan.
Port Townsend is a quaint Victorian seaport town where they filmed An Officer and a Gentlemen, which starred Richard Gere and Debra Winger.
We also stopped briefly in Forks, where fans of Twilight can check out the hot spots frequented by Bella, Edward and Jacob. The population is only about 5,000, but at the peak of its boom the sleepy town had 74,000 visitors in 2010, such was the popularity of the film.
I may not be a fan of grunge music, but it was a moving experience to also stop in Aberdeen on our way back to Seattle. This is the birthplace of tragic music legend Kurt Cobain, and a visit to the Museum of History gives you a great insight into his life story.
Curator Dan Sears is the resident expert on Cobain and he took us to see the house where the troubled musician grew up – currently on the market for $500,000 despite being in a neighbourhood of houses worth no more than $70,000 – plus the bridge under which Cobain would sit and watch the world go by, pondering on his troubles and composing the lyrics to his songs.
The state of Washington is so diverse and is one of the world’s most scenic places. It is hard to believe you can be in a bustling city one minute, then on top of a mountain or in a rainforest the next, and we crammed a lot into our week there.
It was fitting that our tour came full circle and passed through Tacoma on the last leg, as that is the birthplace of glass artist Chihuly, and it is worth checking out his Bridge of Glass, which houses cabinets containing more than 100 pieces of his art.
I shall never forget my trip to Washington as it gave me so many new experiences and opened my eyes to a side of nature and a diversity of ecosystems that I had never seen before. Seattle may not be top of everyone’s “must-see” American destinations, but please make sure you find a place for it on your list – it really is a glass act in more ways than one!
Delta operates 11 nonstop daily flights from London Heathrow to six U.S. cities and one daily flight from Manchester to Atlanta.
Delta recently started flying nonstop to Seattle and Los Angeles.
Lowest economy fare with Delta from Heathrow to Seattle starts at £263.00 plus £391.86 taxes.
A friendly and efficient Meet and Greet service at Heathrow is offered by Happy Days Parking.