Canada and USA 2016: soccer in Seattle

Although I don’t understand enough about football (meaning English football or soccer) I love the atmosphere of a live game so jumped at the chance to see the Seattle Sounders play. Tickets were a steal at $30 each!

The stadium is downtown near King Street station and purpose built with wide corridors for entry and plenty of parking right beside it, an immediate plus for being much easier to get to and enter than a London ground. If you feel like it you can meet the home fans an hour before the match in Pioneer Square and walk to the stadium with them. We took a look but there weren’t many people there so we felt a bit awkward and went on alone!

Finding our seats was a little tricky as they were right up top with their own entrance, but we loved the customer service from the stewards. Soccer here seems to have a much more family focus and in stark contrast to the scary security guard types you often find at London games, the stewards seemed to be a friendly bunch of retiree soccer fans who were happy to be there and keen for us to have a great time.

On finding our seats we still had an hour to kill until kick off so spent some time admiring the great views over Seattle from the top of the stadium.

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Another couple of things we noticed at this point:
1) it’s fine to take beer into the stands (all be it you can only buy two at a time per person before half time and one after). In the uk there is strictly no alcohol allowed in the stands and the blinds of the boxes where you can drink have to be closed so as not to inflame the crowd through their being able to see the booze. It was a good indication of a much better behaved crowd.
2) there were lots of signs warning against obscenities and we didn’t hear anyone swear. It was a pretty wholesome atmosphere and seemed suitable for young children.

The hype at the start of the game was long! I enjoyed it, Ben could have done without it. There were performance of both teams national anthems, fire works, pitch based chat and presumably assume other things I’ve forgotten as it lasted a good 20 minutes! When play kicked off we saw the next big difference to the atmosphere at an English game: the crowd was largely silent until prompted by the must energetic hype guy I could imagine. Basically one area of the crowd seemed to be designated for people who wanted to chant and rather than it happening organically the hype guy would tell then when to start and sing along with them from a mic. Watching it was seriously impressive and at some points almost like watching a Zumba class as he had crowd jumping and waving their arms. It looked exhausting! The pic below shows the flags in this area but doesn’t do justice to the full spectacle!

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The game itself was fun to watch although sadly seattle lost. It was also really easy to get out. None of the hour long queues along congested London pavements not designed to cope with the volume of the crowds. We were out and in our bus a few blocks away within half an hour of leaving out seats.

All in all a great fun way to spend an evening!

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Canada and USA 2016: Amtrak from Vancouver to Seattle

We had a few options open to us including driving, flying and a bus ride  for this journey but rejected them all in favour of taking the train. I love the idea of train travel and with advance booking (we booked around 10 weeks ahead) our tickets for the four and a half hour journey were a steal at around $20US each.

We took train 513 which left Vancouver at 6.30am. We arrived at the station by taxi at 5.30am which our guesthouse owner felt was far too early but being totally risk adverse we were glad we did. Not least because our driver didn’t know where the amtrak station was and we didn’t know what it was called. Luckily I’d kept an emergency map on the screen of my phone! It doesn’t say the name on the eticket but it’s Pacific Central station. That should help avoid a similar situation.

Anyway, our taxi from waterfront took about 5 minutes at that time of day so we still arrived in good time. On arrival the first thing you’ll see right in front of the main entrance is a table with US customs forms. In an unexpectedly lovely gesture pens shaped like flowers are provided for travellers to fill in the forms.

Once you’re done with that you head on to the coach (or business class if you went for that) check in desk where the conductor allocates your seats. This was the start of what continued to be amazing customer service throughout the journey. The conductors went it off their way to be friendly and welcoming and just created a really nice vibe for the ride. We asked for and were given seats on the coastal side as we’d heard it was beautiful.

Next up we went through US immigration which was fine. The only blip was being charged $6 each for “I94”. We asked what this was but the border agent wasn’t forthcoming. We remain confused as we both had our ESTA. If anyone knows please feel free to comment!

Anyway, the process was quick and easy and we then found ourselves at baggage check. You’re allowed one carry on and one 50lb checked bag each. In keeping with the great customer service they weren’t fastidious about this. I checked a 51lb bag and travelled with two small carry ons rather than one large.

That done, it was on to the train. We found our coach seats very comfortable for the duration of the trip with plenty of legroom. I didn’t take pictures but they were leather upholstered, clean and seemed fairly new. They also had working power sockets and decent free wifi (capable of trip planning and minor instagram, not netflix). The driving cab of the train itself was a shock to our British eyes. It was massive! Maybe because we’re used to boarding from a platform but here we were alongside the rails? It was cool anyway!

We set off around 20 minutes late but this wasn’t a problem as the train made it back over the journey. After a brief nap while we left Vancouver it was time to enjoy the views which were, as reported, absolutely incredible the whole way.

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The conductor informed us well ahead of time that there would be a check when we crossed the US border about an hour in. The whole process was quick and easy. You wait in your seats from the time the border agents board to when they leave, they walk by, check your passports and collect the customs card you filled in earlier. If you ticked that you have food they asked what it was but we didn’t see anything get confiscated (it seems like the only thing that’s an issue is fresh fruit which you’re asked not to take on board).

That done, the train moved on and we checked out the bistro car. I’d bought snacks with me so didn’t eat but it was reasonably priced by European standards. My tea cost  $2 and Ben has a breakfast bagel for $5. He did say it wasn’t very nice but that it was an understandable consequence of train food. They also provide free water and I was impressed that the oatmeal is fresh rather than the instant pots you’d likely find at home.

We ate in the lounge car which was really spacious and a great place to go if you were unlucky with the view from your seat or the people sitting around you.

After that it was back to our seats to watch the world go by for the last couple of hours. I am really not good a doing this kind of thing for more than an hour but on this trip it was easy. The scenery as so unbroken and spectacular the whole way. The sense of space in the US and Canada compared to the UK is just unreal. Also, one if the conductors was a bit of a comedian which added to the experience.

In arrival in Seattle the checked baggage is unloaded airport style. You get off the train, go into the station and on your right you’ll see a baggage room with a carousel. After about 10 minutes the bags arrived and you’re done! As a bonus, Seattle King Street station is gorgeous.

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A great way to finish the journey. So in conclusion this was easily the most amazing, best value train trip I’ve ever taken. Not to mention clearing US customs was so much less stressful than at the airport. I can’t wait to plan another trip, maybe San Francisco to LA this time!