Savoring the relaxed lifestyle of Seattle and Portland is easier than ever with a new direct flight. Liu Weifeng reports
My first impression of Seattle came from Tom Hanks' 1993 movie Sleepless in Seattle. This is a city of romance and a city of rain, I thought. My recent trip provided a glimpse into the city I had longed to see.
Though playing host to a spate of world-class corporations like Starbucks, Microsoft and Boeing, Seattle is a rather cozy place to stay, compared to other cities on the west coast of the United States, like Los Angeles and San Francisco.
People here start their day in a relaxed way: walking dogs or jogging in parks, then sip a cup of coffee before heading to work. Office hours usually end between 3 pm to 6 pm, much earlier than most big cities.
Seattle's slow pace of life is similar to that of Chongqing, its Chinese "sister city", with which it established ties in 1983.
For most travelers, the century-old Pike Place Market is a must-see. The cheerful fishmongers yell to each other all the time while picking the fish and wrapping it up for customers. They also throw the fish through the air to one another, staging an interesting "flying fish" show.
The first Starbucks store, established in 1971, is also in the market. But to my surprise, it looks much smaller and shabbier than most of its outlets in Beijing.
Bruce Lee (1940-73), the most influential martial artist of the 20th century, is also an icon in Seattle, where he completed his higher education, got married, ran a martial arts school and is buried.
His grave in Lake View Cemetery attracts constant flows of both kung fu fans and tourists alike. Every day fresh flowers are presented by loyal fans in front of the gravestones of Bruce Lee and his son Brandon, which is testimony to Lee's lasting influence.
Another iconic figure of the city was Sealth (1780-1866), whom the city was named after. He was a leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish Native American tribes in what is now the state of Washington, and is known for his devotion to pursuing land rights from white settlers in the 1850s.
His gravesite is located at Kitsap Peninsular, which is just a half hour ferry ride from Seattle. Kitsap is not only an attraction for tourists who want to know about the history of the city but also a popular weekend getaway for locals.
The Bloedel Reserve on the peninsular is a place where people can enjoy a tranquil and refreshing respite in natural surroundings.
It was home to the Bloedel family for many years - it gave the property to the public in 1970 and established the Arbor Fund, a non-profit foundation that manages and maintains the reserve.
The reserve's 61 hectares are a unique blend of natural woodlands and beautifully landscaped gardens.
Reservations are required and only 20 visitors are allowed in at a time to ensure the sense of seclusion for which the reserve was intended. No wonder that during our two-hour hike, we did not meet any other tourists and had the reserve to ourselves.
After staying in Seattle for three days, we continued our journey to Portland, Oregon, which is 40 minutes by air or three hours by train from Seattle.
The city will be familiar to many NBA fans in China as it's the hometown of the Portland Trail Blazers, whose guard Brandon Roy is admired by lots of Chinese fans.
But for me, I was attracted by its "greenness". Surrounded by mountains, hills, woods, lakes and waterfalls, it is more like a nature reserve than a city.
Eating my first meal in Portland, the first thing I noticed were the humming birds buzzing around outside the restaurant window, which I had only seen in books. I was so excited that I rushed out to take pictures of these beautiful tiny creatures.
Actually, the most romantic part of Portland is revealed in its nickname: "Rose City". Thanks to its abundant rose varieties and production, Portland holds a rose festival and a themed parade every year, usually in June, when everyone comes out to watch and celebrate. Live TV broadcasts also allow people across the US to join in the big party.
Blessed with a good climate, Portland is also home to some of the country's best wines.
Sitting outside, facing acres of vineyards, tasting different wines and listening to stories of each kind of wine is an unforgettable experience for most visitors to Domaine Drouhin and Sokol Blosser.
People can get there by coach, car or helicopter. A Konect Aviation helicopter ride enables visitors a spectacular bird's-eye view of snowcapped Mount Hood and centuries-old bridges, and even naked bikers.
For most travelers, shopping is a must-do. Especially, in a sales tax free place like Oregon.
For those wanting to buy souvenirs, Saturday Market, the largest open-air market in the US, should definitely be on the list of places to go. It's a trade and show venue for local craftsmen and folk artists. All the products are handmade and each is a piece of art.