21 July 2009

utah's national parks

The parks we visited in Utah were absolutely breathtaking-- and absolutely hot. We camped for almost two weeks and showered about twice during that time (be glad you weren't with us then). Most campgrounds didn't have showers, and some didn't even have water, but we were generally right inside the parks, which made being stinky totally worthwhile.

Here are some highlights.

Arches National Park:

Canyonlands National Park:

Capitol Reef National Park with its rainbow-striped mountains:

Bryce Canyon, the crown jewel of Utah for good reason:

Zion National Park:

- our first glimpse from the car:

- my partner hiking up with chain assistance in 105F heat (we regretted that one later):

- the river running through the canyon (a reward of our afternoon hike):

Next up: Arizona's Antelope Canyon and the Grand Canyon. Except that I fell behind, and now, we're boarding a plane to Australia and New Zealand.

So, we'll be back in a month, unless we find some friendly internet cafes. See you then! Happy August!

20 July 2009

from the prairies to the mountains...

Traveling across the U.S. has shown me just how impressive and majestic this country is. And how incredibly vast. I can't imagine traveling these thousands of miles by wagon, stage coach, by foot-- or even without air conditioning, as we've hit highs in the 115F range.

We drove from the prairies of South Dakota and Nebraska into Wyoming, which was so untouched with its valleys and plateaus that I wouldn't have been surprised if we had seen a brontosaurus ambling out from behind the next rolling hill.

We visited a friend in Denver and then drove into the Rockies. Denver was an adorable (and surprisingly flat) city which reminded me of San Francisco or Boston because of its size and population: small city with a cute downtown, beautiful architecture and tons of young, athletic and attractive people.

We were there on a Wednesday evening, and an army of pub crawlers in Hawaiian attire rode by us on their bikes. Apparently, "Don't any of these people have jobs?" is a common question asked in Denver.

Here are some more Denver shots:

And their fire trucks are white. I remember being surprised when I saw that fire trucks in Hawaii were yellow. I wonder what other colors are out there.

Next up: Utah and the mindblowing national parks in the Four Corners region.

19 July 2009

south dakota

I used to think I was a city girl, but seeing South Dakota just confirmed that (for me, at least) what Mother Nature has to offer will always trump any city. (This photo is of Sioux Falls.)

Yes, cities are different: Vienna is different from Shanghai, which is different from Dakar, which is different from Casablanca and Chicago and so on. But they sure do have a lot in common, too.

Nature, on the other hand, awes me, makes me quiet (for a change) and reminds me how magical the world is.

Here are the Badlands (or White Hills):

We were thrilled to hear we might see buffalo and practically jumped up and down in the car when we sighted our first buffalo in the Black Hills.

And then, we saw one just strolling along right next to us.

As we drove along, we also saw deer, antelope and prairie dogs.

Then, they warned us that there might be animals around.

One antelope with perfectly curved horns was so close to our window, we froze and didn't take a photo of it. Being face-to-face with an antelope is pretty humbling-- I was awed by its perfect beauty. (And for the trivia dorks out there, I thought it was interesting to learn that the difference between deer and antelope is that deer have antlers and antelope have horns.)

My partner is a big history buff, so we visited Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, both well worth seeing. Mount Rushmore can be seen from the winding road, so you can save yourself the $10 parking if you don't want to visit the museum.

I was surprised to see that Washington and Lincoln appeared to be facing one way, while Jefferson and Roosevelt were facing another. It was a beautiful sculpture, though (especially considering it was 'sculpted' mostly by dynamite), and for those who say it's small, I'd say that a sixty-foot-high face is quite large enough for me.

And man, they have a lot of work to do to finish Crazy Horse, but it will be incredible when it's complete.

Here's the design (flip 180 to match with above photo):

We saw the Mammoth Site, an archeological dig site where 57 mammoths have been unearthed, and gazed upon Washington's profile one last time over breakfast before heading through Nebraska and Wyoming down to Denver.

12 July 2009

pittsburgh and chicago

Pittsburgh was, contrary to popular belief, a very cool city surrounded by three rivers and tons of bridges, with cute neighborhoods, an old pharmacy-style ice cream parlor and cool converted spaces (from warehouses that have been made into lofts to churches that have been converted into bars and restaurants).

We had dinner at Brew Works, a former church that serves a wide variety of yummy fare and brews their beer right in the altar:

And we got to see Nik Wallenda, a seventh-generation descendant of the Flying Wallendas, walk across a 1000-foot tightrope above the Allegheny River about 200 feet in the air with no safety net.

Chicago was a huge and beautiful city, also surrounded by rivers and bridges, and so far, the most expensive destination we've hit. Parking was $25 for the afternoon, tolls getting in from Pittsburgh added up to almost $20 and the architectural boat tour along the river was $30 per person. It was a nice way to see the city, but Chicago is tough if you're trying to travel on a budget.

On the positive, I loved the silver bean in Millenium Park, we got to go to Taste of Chicago (where many popular restaurants shared their specialties), walked around Navy Pier (accurately described as a cross between Vegas and a country fair), strolled through the picturesque Old Town and picnicked along the shore of Lake Michigan.

The bottom line: this was a quick trip, but we'd definitely go back to Pittsburgh (and see the Andy Warhol Museum) and Chicago (to explore their art and culinary worlds).

06 July 2009

new york, philadelphia and dc

Going almost a week without internet feels like a real vacation. We saw three siblings in three cities in three days, and because we'd already spent time in New York and DC, we just hung out with our baby nephew and niece in these two cities. Philly, however, was new to us, and it was neat to see how easily it could have been the capital of the United States.

Traveling in the U.S. has shown me just how huge this country is. Not just the sheer size but the grandeur and history of its cities. It was neat to have planes take off and land just meters away in both in Newark and Baltimore, to be dwarfed by armies of shiny skyscrapers in each city, and to learn that Philadelphia was the nation's first capital (my knowledge of American history is laughable) and again the temporary capital from 1790 to 1800, while Washington, DC, was being built. And that other cities and towns were also former capitals of the U.S., like Columbia, Pennsylvania, which was capital of the United States for one day as the founding fathers relocated during the war.

Our first stop in Philly was a trek up the Rocky stairs after dinner (we have our priorities), and we explored the historic downtown the following morning, visiting the Liberty Bell, the oldest and second-oldest banks in the nation, and the U.S. Mint.

Everything was Ben Franklin in Philadelphia. Pancakes. Inns. The old post office. You could buy tickets for "Breakfast with Ben" on Saturdays. We even saw this Ben Franklin lookalike just sitting in a park.

We tried a famous Philly cheesesteak in the afternoon, which was sadly uninspiring, but I guess you get one in Philadelphia for the experience:

And hey, we stood in Rocky's steps. Twice.