Erica and Cristen Visit Salt Lake – Part 2

The tricky part about showing people my hometown and state is that Utah is so big and the landscape is so diverse. I would have loved to take Erica and Cristen to visit one of our national parks, but the closest one is still almost 4 hours away and our weekend was too short for that. As an alternative, I decided to take them up to see the Spiral Jetty… and since I had a professor of US History with me, we had to stop at the Golden Spike National Historic Site.

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The last time I visited there, they re-enacted the meeting of the trains, but it was too early in the season for that. However, a bunch of visitors got to caravan over to the shed where the ranger told us all about the event.

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And then we were off to the Spiral Jetty. I was worried that my little car would have a hard time with the dirt road, but I figured if it survive the road to the Sun Tunnels, it could make it to the jetty. And actually, the road was just fine. I had seen some pictures of my friend visiting the Spiral Jetty just the week before Erica and Cristen came to town and the jetty was almost covered in water. I was kind of hoping it would be the same for us. When I visited before, the jetty was encased in salt, so I was hoping for a different view.

The water was a little higher than my first visit, but the jetty was still in full view.

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After climbing down to walk along the spiral path, we decided to climb up a littler higher to see it from above.

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Although, I wasn’t really willing to climb to the top of the hill like Erica did. (Although, after seeing her photo from up top, I might try it next time.)

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I decided that we had enough light left to make another stop on our way back into Salt Lake from the jetty. I took them to Antelope Island. I’ve only been there once before, and though I did see some bison, they were just little brown dots in the distance. This time we saw some almost immediately upon entering the island. And they were close!

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They even crossed the road right in front of us to get to a little pond of water.

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Mostly, I loved how excited Erica and Cristen were to see the bison. That made it even better. We drove a little further hoping to see a few more, but mostly saw some vistas and photo ops.

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Since we weren’t seeing any more bison along the road, we turned around because I wanted to make it to the beach before sunset. We got there just in time.

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I didn’t end up taking many photos during the rest of the trip. We brunched at Ruth’s Diner, shopped for souvenirs, and then I had the brilliant idea of taking them up to Silver Lake. It’s such a beautiful spot. I didn’t even think about how it would still be completely covered in snow.

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Oh well… that’s what happens when you visit Salt Lake in March. They’ll just have to come back again in the summer so we can enjoy the mountains more.

Erica and Cristen Visit Salt Lake – Part 1

I thought about titling this post “Reunited and It Feels So Good!” because it’s been 7 long years since Erica and Cristen and I were all three together. My friendship with them pre-dates this blog, so let me explain. They were my lifelines during the two long years we were in graduate school together at Purdue. I’ve seen them both separately since we graduated in 2007. Obviously Cristen and I went to Europe together almost two years ago, but she also visited me in New Orleans. Erica and British Kevin visited me in New Orleans, too, (although, that never got blogged about because they visited in between blogs) and I visited her back in our old stomping grounds in Lafayette. But the three of us have had to rely on Facebook chats while watching Project Runway and group text messaging. Until they so kindly came to visit me in Salt Lake last weekend. (I know it was just so they could both add another state to their lists, but I’m grateful they came anyway.)

I had to work during their first day of exploration, but on the next day, I was excited to show them around Temple Square and the crown jewel of Salt Lake – the temple.

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I took them to the South Visitor Center to see the model of the temple, but they were much more interested in finding their family lines on the computers set up with Family Search. It was exciting to find our great-grandparents and grandparents in census records and immigration forms.

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After touring the Beehive House, I showed them one of my favorite little gardens behind the Beehive House and Lion House and we found one of the first blossoming trees I’ve seen this spring.

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We took the elevator to the top of the tallest building in Salt Lake City and saw the view from 26 stories up.

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Having visitors gives me an excuse to go places I usually don’t, like on a tour of the Conference Center. Our tour guide was Buff, and she was pretty much amazing. She flies into SLC from Arizona every Friday to give tours of the Conference Center (she’s a flight attendant, so she can do stuff like that). She told us all sorts of interesting facts and showed us all the art.

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And then she took us to the rooftop garden. It would have been more lush in the summer or later in the season, but the views were still pretty great.

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Our time downtown was cut short because I had to pick up my car at the mechanics before 5:30, but we had just enough time for one more visit, the very posh Hotel Utah (aka the Joseph Smith Memorial Building). We got on the elevator to view the lobby from the mezzanine, but I was distracted by people and didn’t actually press the button for the mezzanine. When an employee saw us with our cameras, he assumed we were riding all the way to the tenth floor. I had no idea what was on the tenth floor (my experience with the building has been limited to the first two floors, really), so I was delighted to see a different, more on-level perspective of the temple.

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And when I was showing them the beautiful chapel where Matt and Izzy once attended church, I learned something new. It used to be the grand ballroom for the Hotel Utah (before it was renovated to be the Joseph Smith Memorial Building). It still has the grand ceiling.

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More of our adventures to come.

the Romantic Road: Dinkelsbuhl and Donauworth

Welcome to part one of the most disappointing day of the entire trip.

It’s my own fault really. In all the planning, this was one thing I just didn’t plan well. I really thought two days on the Romantic Road would be enough. It wasn’t. I should have known. The distance we were trying to cover on the Romantic Road over the 2 days was 541 km (or 336 miles). And hey, I’m from the West in the U.S. of A. where we drive 100 miles without thinking twice. But when I explored Southwestern Colorado last year, I only traveled about 250 miles over the course of three days. And that was just about perfect. So I knew ahead of time that we were pushing it, but I hoped it would be enough.

The other reasons it was such a disappointing day were not my fault. I was sick. Horribly, miserably sick. And also, it was foggy and rainy.

And also, and maybe this is my fault, I had really high expectations. This is the part of the trip that I was really looking forward to. For years, I have wanted to return to Bavaria with a car so I could visit some of the smaller, picturesque towns. I hoped to take it slow and easy. Stop when and where I wanted. I was planning to drive the mountain roads of the Alpenstrasse. Sigh… it was going to be amazing.

It started off great! We spent the night in Dinkelsbuhl at a really cute, friendly guest house called Goldenes Lamm. Our room was really nice, and right above the eponymous golden lamb.

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After breakfast, we went exploring around Dinkelsbuhl. It’s a really beautiful town. The most popular town along the Romantic Road is Rothenburg ob der Tauber, but I think Dinkelsbuhl holds its own in charm and interest.

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So I need to explain the next photo. Nerd Alert: I have a slight major obsession with the Lego Minifigures Series. Just before I left, they came out with a new series that included a Bavarian man in lederhosen. I packed Fritz along with me thinking he might like to see his homeland.

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I think he appreciated it. I mean, who wouldn’t want to walk these streets?

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We couldn’t stay forever in Dinkelsbuhl. After all, we had 223 miles to travel, 4 towns, and one major castle. (Yeah, I was much too optimistic about how much we’d be able to see.) We headed toward Nordlingen, but ended up on a detour. We didn’t mind, though, and you wouldn’t either if your detour looked like this:

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Yes, the day started off pretty amazing. Somehow, with the detour, we missed Nordlingen, though, and kept going toward Donauworth. As we neared the city, we saw fog rising from the ground. It was eery and beautiful, but a little distressing because it foreshadowed the weather we had up ahead.

The streets of Donauworth are lined with colorful gabled buildings.

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As we walked along the street, we suddenly found ourselves walking through a pink gate outside the walls of the city. There was a lovely little path along a canal or creek that we took. It was just a really pleasant way to spend the morning.

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But the morning was pretty much gone, and we were still quite far from our ultimate destination – Neuschwanstein Castle. I decided that, as much as I wanted to see the other towns along the Romantic Road, I really wanted to get to the Alps, visit the castle, and then enjoy the vistas of the Alpenstrasse. So as much as it hurt, we got on the Autobahn to high-tail it to Fuessen and Neuschwanstein.

But more of that later.

Prague Castle

After the Old Jewish Cemetery and a little bit of wandering and shopping, we took the tram up to Prague Castle. Even though I had read about Prague Castle before the trip, it wasn’t at all what I expected. In fact, I think I had this idea before I went to Prague that Tyn Cathedral was actually Prague Castle. They are in completely different locations. Prague Castle is actually a complex of different buildings, including Saint Vitus Cathedral, the Basilica of Saint George, and several old palaces. You can choose to go on a long visit (including pretty much everything) or a short visit (including just the highlights). We opted for the short visit, since it was already late in the afternoon.

But first we had to get there. I had read that it was a beautiful walk down to the cathedral, so we took the tram one stop up and walked in. It allowed us to see some of the amazing buildings nearby (and to grab some lunch first).

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(Remember how I said the sidewalks had all different patterns? There are a few on display in this post.)

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We happened to arrive at the castle at the changing of the guards. You could tell because there was a huge crowd. Of course.

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I am a believer in being a tourist. But I also got kind of tired of tourists (even though I was one, too), and I’ll tell you why. People like this guy.

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Obviously everyone was trying to get pictures/video of the changing of the guard. You can see that everyone is crowded around doing it. And what does that guy do? He stands right in the middle of everyone’s view. In fact, he was so in the way and wouldn’t move when the guards were coming out that they had to physically move him aside. That’s why people hate tourists, and I left Europe determined not to be that kind of tourist.

Let’s get back to how awesome the changing of the guard was.

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I’m a sucker for pomp and circumstance and tradition. And those booths they stand in are pretty great, too.

Once inside the Prague Castle complex, we went straight to Saint Vitus Cathedral. I have already visited a few cathedrals on this trip, and it seems like I liked each one better than the last. And that might be true with Saint Vitus. The stained glass was so vibrant.

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It’s the kind of building that can’t help but inspire awe and reverence. Unless you’re these kids.

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We walked through the old palace (no photos allowed in there and it was basically the main room) and then went to the Basilica of Saint George, which is quite a different kind of structure than the cathedral, but no less impressive.

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I was really excited about the Golden Lane because it looked so quaint and charming. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but most disappointingly, it was really shady and crowded and hard to take pictures. And I hate to admit it, but my enjoyment of a place is highly correlated to my ability to take photos there.

So we just went outside. Lots of people were gathered around, and apparently there is a boy scout equivalent in Czech.

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Either that or this troop has the best field trips ever!

There was an incredible view of the city from up at the castle. It was the perfect place to linger for a while and just enjoy the scenery, the weather, the joy of being somewhere amazing.

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And then we walked down the stairs through the Prague Castle Gardens. Mostly we did this out of laziness because I didn’t want to have to walk all the way back up to the castle entrance. There is a separate fee to walk through the gardens. It’s not very much, but we had minimal cash with us. Luckily I was able to scrape together the entrance fee, but I had to dig into my foreign coin reserves to do it (I always try to save a sample of coins from different countries). I think it was worth it, and in fact, I wish we had taken more time walking through it.

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A walk along the Charles Bridge

As I mentioned, the best piece of advice a friend gave me for my trip was to get up early and walk across the Charles Bridge. I assumed it was because she knew I would want to see it in the morning light, and perhaps that was it, but the real benefit became clear as soon as we left our apartment around 7 in the morning. No one else was around. The streets were almost empty. It was glorious! And it was the perfect way to see one of Prague’s most famous landmarks. I’m just going to let the photos do the talking.

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East Side Gallery and Berlin Graffiti

Berlin is a city that I’ve always heard of, but didn’t really know much about. If I were to list words I associated with Berlin, it would probably go like this — Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, graffiti, Bauhaus, techno, graffiti, art house cinema… honestly, I am probably just embarrassing myself here because these are such stereotypes, but it’s really all I knew about it. I wish I had more time to spend in the city to move beyond those surface characteristics. But since we only had a few days, we wanted to see the sites so indelibly associated with the city.

Graffiti was easy. We saw it as soon as we walked out the door.

And the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall was only one U-bahn stop away from our apartment. Well, one stop with an incredibly long transfer. And of course, there was a little walk from the U-bahn stop to get to the East Side Gallery. We learned the hard way to avoid the bike lane.

The East Side Gallery is a stretch of the Berlin Wall that has been turned into a memorial with over a hundred paintings. They were incredible, so I’m just going to post lots of pictures of it.

And of course, we had to take some photos of ourselves with the one of the world’s most famous backdrops. Don’t mind my goth-inspired attire. All of my clothes were still drying on the rack at the apartment.

And of course, we wanted to leave our mark. Cristen just happened to have a Sharpie in her bag.

As interesting as the East Side Gallery was, I was probably more fascinated by the graffiti art on many of the buildings that surrounded the wall. I was surprised at the large scale of them. They were just incredible.

We decided to stop by another Berlin landmark, Checkpoint Charlie. On our way back to the U-bahn stop, we walked underneath the Oberbaum Bridge.

We passed an old section of the Berlin Wall on our way to Checkpoint Charlie – one that hasn’t been turned into a memorial.

Checkpoint Charlie was exactly the tourist trap that you would expect. There were men dressed as officers (maybe they were real officers? maybe not?) posing with tourists for a fee. And you can get your visa stamped (or something) for another fee. There’s a museum. We mostly just passed by, after getting yelled at by one of the (faux) officers for getting too close to the visa stamps.

And since we’re just wandering around Berlin in this post, let me also point out another Berlin trademark – the crosswalk figures. I didn’t realize how well-known they were until I saw them in every gift shop. I admit, I bought a magnet of the Go man because he’s pretty adorable. I love that he’s wearing a hat.

Berlin Bundestag and the Brandenburg Gate

When I was researching things to see in Berlin, I read about the dome at the top of the Reichstag building. I’m such a sucker for rooftops and views of the city from above, not to mention things you can do later at night after the museums and other attractions have closed, that visiting the dome went near the top of the list of things to do in Berlin. Luckily, I read about it a few weeks before our trip because you have to request permission in advance. You give your name, date of birth, and a few options for when you’d like to visit. Then, a week or so later, I got an email giving us a time slot and an attached PDF to bring with us.

Our visit to Berlin landed about 10 days into our trip, just when we were pretty desperate to do some laundry. We used airBnB to rent an apartment (one with a washer and dryer), so after arriving at the (huge!) train station, we took two buses to our apartment that we discovered was on the 3rd floor (4th floor if you use the American way) and thus, up 63 steps! That’s a lot! (But it still wasn’t as bad the 6th floor walk-up I rented in New York once, so I guess it’s all about perspective.) Once we were up in the apartment, we sorted out our laundry and found we had four loads. AND it turns out that the “dryer” listed on the apartment was actually just a drying rack so doing laundry pretty much took up our afternoon. We finally finished all our loads in time for dinner.

The great thing about renting an apartment is that our host left a list of recommended restaurants. We decided on a vegetarian one not far away. It was such a charming little cafe. I wish I could pinpoint what it was, but sitting there, reading the menu, looking out the window, people-watching the other diners, I just had one of those little thrills that you get while traveling and you realize that you’re somewhere completely new and different. I love that feeling. I really wanted to take a picture of it, but it’s not the type of thing you can really capture on film (err, digital), so I just got Cristen’s delight in her German beer.

Dinner took a little longer than expected (they always did), so we had to rush to make our time slot at the Reichstag. Sadly, I also realized that I had forgotten my printed permission for our visit, but we did not want to climb back up those 63 steps to get it. I had an electronic version on my phone, though, so we hoped it would be alright. We made it there just in time, and the electronic version worked just fine. They gave us some visitors badges, so we felt official.

We took the elevator to the top, picked up our audio guide (yes, I actually got one!) and stepped out onto the roof to take some photos. It was a little darker than I hoped when I selected the time, but that only made the lights brighter.

The dome has a ramp that spirals all the way to the top and the audio guide points out different buildings and tells you about the history. I also really enjoyed hearing about the German government. It was actually pretty interesting, but mostly it was space age awesomeness.

Probably the only really interesting thing that I remember is that the dome is open at the top. It was raining while we were there, but the rain is collected and then reused.

We didn’t have time to get any photos of the Reichstag before going up to the dome, so we attempted to take some pictures afterward. It was a little dark.

Just down the road is the Brandenburg Gate.

It was super crowded with lots of tour groups of teenagers. I have no idea what all of these tour groups were doing there because it seems like school should have been in session by then, but the biggest problem was that when we tried to get a donut at the Dunkin Donuts nearby, the students had picked the place dry of all the good options. We hated them so much!