Lately, I’ve taken steps outside my comfort zone. On purpose, and, it’s been pretty neat.
After a lengthy afternoon visit to MOHAI, Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry standing squarely on the south bank of Lake Union, I discovered, among many stories of our region’s past, that European influence was significant. Because Washington was a U.S. territory until it reached statehood in 1889, it surprised me that Spain, Great Britain and Russia had laid claim to land so late in our history. Of course, Native tribes and American interests were well entrenched, too.
My time in MOHAI made me want to learn more about how the Pacific Northwest, and specifically Seattle, grew out of a melting pot of natives, immigrants, cultures, work ethics, commerce and opportunity. With a renewed, piqued curiosity, I know there’s so much that goes into our history – Chinese and Japanese immigrants, the Klondike Gold Rush, Chief Seattle of the Duwamish tribe and the arrival of many of our city’s recognizable families.
I zeroed in on Ballard, where many immigrants from Scandinavia landed after first arriving on the east coast. Feeling more at home because of the Evergreen landscape alongside vast stretches of water, seemingly in all directions, many saw the area as ripe for timber production and fisheries.
The new Nordic Museum popped into mind (current exhibit: The Vikings Begin). I’d been waiting for an “excuse” to get over to Ballard because it always seemed so out of the way. All that traffic, the unpredictable raising of the 15th Ave bridge to allow taller boats through Salmon Bay…and, oh the parking…it’s so hard to park “over there.” Spontaneity won the day.
I make it my mission to find all the good bakeries around Seattle, and I just read about Cafe Besalu in Ballard. Just up the street from the Nordic, I stopped in for a mid-morning pain au chocolat and an 8 oz. latte…my favorite combination. All I can say is that Besalu did not disappoint. More on my passion for local bakeries another time.
The Nordic Museum has quite the presence on NW Market Street, the main drag through the center of Ballard. Architecturally, it’s a clean but stark design with minimal landscaping. Plenty of free parking is available along street but ample paid parking behind the museum (really, the front entrance) is nominal.
As I approached the entrance, I’m struck even more by its sturdy simplicity and lack of windows, transported, by imagination only, as to how this building was engineered to protect visitors and contents alike from the harsh winds and winters of Scandinavia.
I couldn’t help but notice the bustling Freya café as I walked in. The menu offers excellent presse coffee (imbibed on a return trip a week later…and so good!), fresh salads or other light Nordic favorites. Already satisfied by my stop at Cafe Besalu, I paid the $15 entrance fee and immediately became mesmerized by the towering, all white, wall map of the Nordic countries. The display offered a simple introduction to this part of our world, prompting such questions as “Do you know which countries make up Scandinavia?” Hint: Only three. Answer below (1).
I continued to admire the clean lines of the Nordic’s interior design, the the exhibits taking center stage throughout. I’d no idea just how much the Nordic people had contributed to the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Ballard.
Slowly walking through these new halls of history, displayed in a straightforward, interesting manner, I became enthralled by their journeys, contributions and innovative spirits. Nordic values – openness, social justice, connection to nature and innovation – are identified as persistent threads throughout their ancestral culture, values that trailed these courageous people across the Atlantic, the American West and into our Emerald region as they settled among the trees or along the banks.
As Ballard’s Nordic settlers proclaimed, all of my renewed interest in regional history has created a deeper appreciation for these noble values that are obviously ingrained in local culture today, but also, they acknowledge an intense “awareness of place” whether in Northern Europe or in what they found in the PNW.
The experience I discovered inside the Nordic Museum moved me to consider not only the countless stories of place itself, but to ponder what my place is in the thread of Seattle’s story.
(1) Scandinavia includes Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The Nordic Countries include Scandinavia + Finland and Iceland. The Nordic Council includes the Nordic Countries + Greenland and the Faroe and Aland Islands.
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