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Thursday, September 9, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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University District: Diversity abounds on a stroll along the Ave

Seattle Times Travel writer

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The walk: Sample Czech pastries and Yakima peppers, watch a cooking demonstration, visit two museums and sip Taiwanese bubble tea during this 2.5-mile loop around Seattle's University District near the University of Washington campus.

Park the car or take the bus to Northeast 50th Street and University Way Northeast (the latter known as "the Ave"), and start at the University District Farmers Market, where more than 50 farmers, cheese makers, bakers and flower sellers set up from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. every Saturday through Nov. 20.

First stop: The Little Prague Bakery at the market's entrance. You don't have to travel to Eastern Europe to sample authentic Bohemian pastries and strudels. Try a slice of kolach, a Czech specialty made with yeast dough and topped with Northwest blueberries and apricots.

Graze on free samples of organic cheeses and blueberries, stay for the weekly cooking by a Northwest chef, or seek free advice from a Seattle Master Gardener. When you've had enough, leave the market and head east along Northeast 50th.

Walk three blocks to 17th Avenue Northeast. Head south. This tree-lined boulevard is Greek Row. Ignore the advertisements for upcoming keg parties written in colored chalk on the sidewalk and admire the stately mansions that house the UW's fraternities and sororities.

Stop for a few minutes of rest or meditation in the little stone garden with a fountain outside the new Karen Mayers Gamoran Family Center for Jewish Life at 4745 17th Ave. N.E. Then continue straight until you cross Northeast 45th Street at the stoplight onto Memorial Way and the entrance to the UW campus.

Stay to your right along a paved walking path passing the Burke Museum, which specializes in natural history and North Coast culture. Take in the current exhibit, "Dinosaurs of Darkness," or browse the gift shop.

Return to Memorial Way. The angular green, glass building on the right is the 1-year-old William H. Gates Hall, which houses the law school and law library. The four flat-roofed glass pyramids to the south of the main building are skylights. Look down and you'll see students working quietly in the basement-level library.

The red-brick pedestrian plaza straight ahead is Red Square. Continue exploring the campus and feel free to go into any of the buildings, or turn right, past Meany Hall, the UW's performing-arts center, and continue west facing Interstate 5. The museum on your right is the Henry Art Gallery. Walk across a footbridge and down the stairs and continue a block west to the Ave. You'll be about 10 blocks south of where you started this walk.

Stroll north along University Way back towards the market. If you haven't wandered around the Ave for a while, you'll notice some changes. The city last year completed street improvements aimed at making the area less of a street hangout and more attractive for doing business or shopping.

Vacant storefronts remain, but the area is attracting newcomers. Among them is Ginko Tea, a Taiwanese bubble-tea shop, next door to the vacant former Pier 1 shop at the corner of 45th and University Way. With its faux granite tables, comfortable sofas and chairs and long list of cold teas served with squishy black pearls of tapioca, Ginko's a good place to quench your thirst before finishing up your walk and heading back to your car or catching the next bus.

Secret tip: The green "parking meters" on the Ave aren't really parking meters. They're "giving meters." Plunk in a dime or a quarter and you'll be helping the University District Youth and Community Project that aides homeless youth.

Snack stops: Graze the market for free samples and goodies-to-go, or stop for a sit-down snack. Here are a few suggestions:

• Still Life on the Oasis Cafe, 1405 N.E. 50th St. The original Still Life in Fremont is no more, but its soul lives on in this funky cafe next to the Grand Illusion Cinema. Settle into a comfy sofa near the fireplace or open up your laptop at one of the tables on the outdoor deck. Daily soup and bread specials for $3.20, plus black-bottom muffins and ginger cookies.

• Baci Café, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington Campus, 15th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 41st Street. Artful eating indoors or outside in the museum's sculpture garden.

• Ginko Tea, 4343 University Way. Taiwan pearl tea in dozens of flavors served with black tapioca balls and fat colored straws. Sleek, minimalist décor. Scrabble games and magazines in Chinese and Japanese.

Access: Barrier-free rest stops, benches and restrooms along the way. The market, Jewish center, Burke Museum and the UW campus and buildings are wheelchair-accessible.

Parking/bus routes: Metro bus routes 70, 71, 72, 73, 74 and 83 travel between the University District and downtown Seattle. Route 48 travels west and east. Limited free parking on side streets, plus metered parking.

Carol Pucci: 206-464-3701 or cpucci@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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