Posted by Rachel
on September 23, 2016 at 11:50 pm
I am a big fan of Utah’s mountains. So when I realized a few months ago that it had been a couple years since I’d hiked to the top of one, I resolved not to let summer pass without doing just that. I invited my family to come along with Jason and me on my “hike-a-mountain day” and a group of them opted in. Together, we reached the crest of Desolation Peak. It was beautiful family-bonding time. Geeze, I am just full of monumental ideas.
We started out early but still didn’t make it back until late afternoon.
The path to Desolation Peak, at least the route we took, starts in Big Cottonwood Canyon and ascends 2,706 feet in total. About four miles in, it reaches Desolation Lake, which sits in a colorful basin 766 feet below the summit.
Desolation Lake was a perfect snack spot.
My sister, two of her boys, and my dad were our companions on this trek. Everyone but my dad started out early in the morning. He came up three or four hours later due to a scheduling conflict but it only took him an hour and a half to reach us as we were descending the tippy top. Yup, my dad is a rock star.
Desolation Lake was incredibly clear.
Our initial climb may have been missing a father but it wasn’t missing the gumption to go farther. We rose up that mountain like silk boxers on a bull rider and then took a waterside break at Desolation Lake. Desolation Lake was beautifully clear, vibrantly teal, and uninhabited… except by salamanders that didn’t seem to be dwelling it well because there were quite a few dead ones about the water. We ate lunch in this gorgeous bowl, away from any decaying lizards, and then we aimed for the summit.
The boys thought the undisturbed lake waters needed to be skipped.
Panoramas of Park City were a surprise bonus with this trek.
When we reached the saddle, we noticed ski lifts directly below us on the opposite side of the ridge. That’s when Jason and I had an aha moment. The valley on the other side was Park City. Desolation Peak, which tops out at 9,990 feet, sits directly above Jason’s favorite run at Canyons Resort (now part of Park City Mountain Resort), Ninety-Nine 90. Aha indeed.
Everyone made it to the summit without too much strain.
One of the best things about hiking a mountain is what you find at your feet.
The scramble from the saddle to the summit was a little tricky simply because there wasn’t an established trail. We circumnavigated most of the zenith trying to find a defined route before giving up on that and just climbing. That did it!
Desolation Peak’s saddle offered spectacular views of two valleys.
Desolation Peak was a fantastic 10-mile trek. The boys went against youngster tradition and did not complain at all but rather seemed to enjoy themselves. The weather was nearly perfect, not too hot; we did get rained on a little on our way down though. Even the wildlife indulged our undertaking. We ran into a moose mommy and her calf during our ascent and a bull moose as we were returning. Bully!
I’m glad this bull moose wasn’t nervous around people because a nervous moose would make me nervous.
I’d highly recommend this trail to all of those that love hiking and to all of those that don’t. The distance is decent but not strenuous and the compensation, in the form of outstanding views and waterfront opportunities, is lucrative. Also, I’d recommend hiking in general. There is something almost mystical about stepping up a mountain. The whole world seems to slow down to the rhythm of your feet. Moreover, it can stimulate conversations like few other activities can. When your primary goal is simply taking one stride after another, a talk about almost anything can be quite welcome. Yes, monotony becomes your ally and discussions erupt. So connect with your kin and nature. Go hike a mountain!
Posted by Rachel
on September 12, 2016 at 9:26 pm
I’m going to be honest; I was not planning on posting about our most recent trip to Las Vegas. Jason and I have visited Vegas so many times that its gaudy streets and maze-like casinos are beyond our notice or noteworthiness. However, on this occasion, Vegas provided a few blabber-worthy surprises… hence, the blabber.
Jason had to go to Las Vegas for a conference and I flew down to meet up with him less than a day later. Our pretty standard rendezvous ended up being not so typical in a few ways.
Surprise #1: the thorough groin pat-down I got at the airport. Apparently, those high-tech security machines sometimes mistake space for stuff. So loose-fitting clothes are not ideal travel apparel for those that prefer to pass on preflight groin massages. You learn something new every day.
Our balcony gave us a rare chance to observe Vegas from a peaceful perspective.
Surprise #2: the lightning storm that bombarded the hills around Vegas with constant surges of power the first night we were there. Our room’s balcony provided prime seats for this display and I think it was a better show than most I’ve seen in Vegas. I’m relatively certain the people swarming the streets below us didn’t have a clue that beyond the hotel towers and overpowering neons, nature was flashing them more enthrallingly than those girls in the club they just walked out of.
I didn’t bring my SLR camera to Vegas so I was forced to use a point and shoot on this lightning storm. It was almost unbearable.
Surprise #3: the weather. It wasn’t blistering hot. We’ve been to Vegas many times in the middle of summer and on none of those occasions would I call the weather “pleasant.” But this time, clouds and splatterings of rain cooled Vegas’ blazing temperament and left us comfortable.
Even during the day, Vegas was intriguing from above.
In other ways, Vegas was very standard during our stay. Its stellar entertainment did not surprise. Our first night, we went to Jersey Boys, which was fantastic. Jersey Boys is closing this month after running in Vegas for eight years so I’m glad we didn’t miss it. The next night we saw Evil Dead: The Musical. This show was silly and ridiculous and drenched in fake blood and crude remarks. It was just what we expected. I laughed so hard in a couple parts that my jaw froze.
I guess Vegas has been hiding a few aces up its sleeves all these years because this trip wasn’t our standard Nevada venture.
Posted by Rachel
on September 6, 2016 at 4:54 pm
In this post, I cover the last couple days of our European vacation. And you thought it would never end…
Day 7: Spicy Masterpieces
Since we had been getting up between 6:30 and 7:30 every morning in order to have enough time to sightsee before attractions closed at 5 PM, we welcomed a dawn when this wasn’t necessary. Sleeping in until 8:30 felt delightful. We spent the bit of time before our train ride to Amsterdam doing a little shopping in Antwerp, the city of fashion.
At the Rembrandtplein, a pleasant park, The Night Watch has been turned 3D.
After we arrived back in Amsterdam, we headed to the Rijksmuseum. We only had an hour and a half before the gallery’s closing to check out some of its more noteworthy compositions like Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and Vermeer’s The Kitchen Maid. In all, we covered a fraction of one of the museum’s four floors but the masterpieces we got to experience in that brief time were… well… masterful.
Indrapura, an Indonesian restaurant, specializes in rijsttafel. A rijsttafel is about 20 different courses.
To finish off the evening, we ate rijsttafel at an Indonesian restaurant called Indrapura. During the Netherland’s colonial days, the Dutch found Indonesian food too hot so they paired all native cuisine with rice to diminish its spiciness. This style of meal became known as rijsttafel and it’s Indrapura’s forte. Apparently, rijsttafel is all about stuffing your face with 20 different dishes while simultaneously stuffing yourself with rice. That’s what our dinner entailed. Jason ordered a dessert after our 20 rijsttafel courses, which I thought was a little ridiculous.
Day 8: Revolving Marvels
We spent our final day in Europe at the Zaanse Schans. The Zaanse Schans is an open-air museum that features eight working windmills and a collection of historical buildings. Bounded by the Zaan River on one side and idyllic fields dotted with grazing animals on the other, the setting at the Zaanse Schans is charming. However, its tranquility is lessened by the herds of tourists surging about. We still quite enjoyed it though.
The Zaan district, the oldest industrial region in the world, once contained over 1000 windmills.
It took some seriously-fake muscles to pretend to push this over-5000-kilo edge runner.
Fortunately, we visited the Zaanse Schans on a day when the wind cooperated with mill operations. All the windmills, fully-functioning pieces of history, were turning enthusiastically in the spirited breeze. Their bright sails contrasted strikingly against the cerulean sky as they performed their circular dance.
The Seeker was built in 1676. It still squeezes and pounds linseed into oil.
We were able to go inside The Cat, The Seeker, The Young Sheep, and The Colorful Hen. We loved discovering their rotating wheels and climbing through their narrow passageways. The power behind their spinning blades was exponentially more apparent, and a little scary, up close.
The Zaanse Schans contains a quiet fishing village full of unquiet tourists.
The Young Sheep, seen here through The Cat’s cap winder, was rebuilt in 2007 from detailed diagrams.
At the Zaanse Schans, a quaint fishing village has also been preserved. There we saw how clogs are made. Touristy? Yes! Fun? Absolutely!
The Cat, the last paint windmill in the world, offers lots of nooks, gaps, and motion.
We made it back to Amsterdam in time for a tasty Italian dinner at Eatmosfera and a stroll through our hotel’s private gardens. Relaxing by a warbling fountain as the night darkened around us (It was around 11 PM but it wasn’t black yet.) was a perfect way to end our vacation.
Europe was lovely, and tiring, and intriguing, and stressful, and unfamiliar, and delicious. We didn’t enjoy every minute of it but we enjoyed 90.2574% of its minutes and I think that’s pretty significant as far as vacation statistics go.
Posted by Rachel
on August 31, 2016 at 11:01 pm
The details of our days in Europe continue in this spectacularly captivating post. Well, it’s spectacularly longwinded at the very least.
Day 4: Going, Going, Gogh
We woke up early to check out the Van Gogh Museum. The Van Gogh Museum holds 200 of Van Gogh’s paintings and 500 of his drawings. It was a pretty remarkable place with some fascinating insights into a creative and complicated man.
Antwerp’s Centraal Station is the prettiest train depot I’ve ever pulled my luggage through.
After Gogh, Jason and I headed to Antwerp. This required just a 1.25-hour train ride, which sounds easy enough until you add in luggage, unfamiliar public-transportation systems, and incomprehensible languages. Then, a short jaunt quickly spirals into the fatiguing realm.
The grandeur of the Cathedral of Our Lady took nearly two centuries to finish.
The Cathedral of Our Lady’s Gothic nave is enormous.
However, our exhausting relocation didn’t keep us from checking into our Antwerp hotel and then promptly checking out Onze-Lieve Vrouwe Kathedraal or the Cathedral of Our Lady. This magnificent church dates back to 1352 and features works by masters like Peter Paul Rubens. Plus, you can walk through its crypt. Yes, the Cathedral of Our Lady was stunning, artistic, and creepy.
The Brabo Fountain is centrally situated in Antwerp’s Grote Markt.
Day 5: Lace and Chocolate
We spent the following day in a place that hasn’t changed much since the Middle Ages, the town of Bruges. Bruges was enormously wealthy until the River Zwin silted up in the 15th century, which completely halted its development. The last five centuries have passed Bruges by but the tourists haven’t and for good reason. Bruges oozes old-world charm from its arched bridges to its colorful medieval buildings.
The canals in Bruges are surrounded by well-preserved building from the Middle Ages.
Our first stop in Bruges was the Markt, its 13th-century market square. Then, we took a half-hour tour of the canals on a motorboat before checking out the Gothic Hall in the Stadhuis and the massive 16th-century alabaster, wood, and marble chimney next door in the Brugse Vrije.
The Markt in Bruges has served as the town’s center for over a thousand years.
Next, Jason insisted on getting a Bruges waffle, believed to be the best waffles in the world, and subsequently insisted on spilling it all over himself in the middle of the Markt. Nicely done Jason!
At the Heilig Bloed Basiliek, we saw one of the holiest relics in Europe. The Basiliek’s sacred phial was brought to Bruges during the crusades and is believed to contain a few drops of the blood of Christ.
Bruges’ Stadhuis dates back to around 1400.
Afterwards, we visited Kantcentrum. Belgium was once known worldwide for its exquisite handmade lace. Although lace is now made by machines, the craft of lacemaking has not been entirely lost in Bruges. At Kantcentrum, we witnessed bent 90-year-old women tossing bobbins faster than our eyes could follow. It was kind of amazing.
After being thoroughly impressed by Bruges’ lace artisans, we walked down to the Begijnhof and Minnewater lock gate. Yes, Bruges also once had a sanctuary for non-nun-non-non-nun ladies. I guess it was pretty “in” to be a nun that wasn’t a nun 700 years ago.
Although not the best picture, it will have to do because there aren’t any others of Jason and me together in Europe.
Our last mission in Bruges was very critical. We needed to buy lots of chocolate. We accomplished this task with finesse. Between our endeavors in Bruges and Brussels, we came home with over 10 pounds of cocoa goodness. If you are nice to us, we might share… maybe.
Before we caught the train back to Antwerp, we stopped for dinner at a Flemish café. Jason decided that herrings are better suited to unpickled waters but the local fare suited me fine. I especially enjoyed the mussels I ordered; they were the best I’ve ever eaten, mostly because they didn’t taste like sand and kelp had been added as flavoring agents. As yummy as they were, I couldn’t gobble all of the roughly 50 I was given.
In Bruges, I relished the tastiest mussels I’ve ever eaten.
Day 6: Cathedrals and Pis
The next day we took another train, this time to Brussels. In contrast to some of the other towns we toured, Brussels felt busy. It was still worth the visit though.
We went from the train station directly to the Grand Place. This square offers 360 degrees of historical and architectural brilliance. Its Hotel de Ville and town hall were built near the end of the 15th century and its ornate guildhouses were added in the 17th. We didn’t know where to gawk first.
The Hotel de Ville was completed in 1455. It is commonly regarded as the most splendid civic building in Belgium.
On our next stop, we checked out a whiz kid. The Manneken Pis is a two-foot-tall statue of a boy relieving himself into a pond. This tiny urinator has become a symbol of Belgium, like a cheeky leaky Eiffel Tower. The Manneken Pis has also become an ambassador for Belgium. He regularly receives outfits from dignitaries worldwide; he wears three such ensembles a week on average.
The Grand Place is encircled by gilded guildhouses.
After the wee whizzer, we ate lunch at an “American” joint called Rachel. Perhaps you can guess our reason for picking this particular restaurant. Its burgers and bagels didn’t seem very familiar to us but they were quite tasty. We watched the couple next to us cut their hamburgers up using forks and knives with amusement and then did the American thing. Yup, we made a mess.
The Manneken Pis is unimpressively small but his cheeky stream makes him endearing.
Space invaders don’t usually attack via urine but when in Brussels…
Later, we stopped by the Cathedrale Sts Michel et Gudule. Though not as impressive as the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, this church contains some beautiful stained-glass windows and a huge baroque pulpit. Plus, it gave Jason the chance to visit another crypt. That made him happy… and me uneasy.
We spent the rest of our time in Brussels shopping (More chocolate needed to be purchased, obviously.) and walking around the Quartier Royal where the Parc de Bruxelles, a green created in the 1770s from a duke’s hunting grounds, and the royal palace are located. The park’s tree-lined paths, mossy statues, and peaceful fountains were a quieting break from Brussels’ bustle.
Return next week for the particulars of our fascinating return to the Netherlands. Hey, someone might find it fascinating; there are a lot of boring people out there.
Guildhouses form one side of Antwerp’s charming Grote Markt.
A Few Traveler Tidbits
Renting a car is not necessary in many parts of Europe and, frankly, probably increases stress. Jason and I did not get behind a wheel at all during our stay. We took trains, trams, and metros everywhere, along with using our footsies plenty. This worked out pretty well but we did experience a few tense moments while trying to navigate these unfamiliar transportation systems, like when we took the metro going the wrong direction. (They go both ways… who knew?) Or when Jason randomly decided to jump on a train that wasn’t even coming in on the correct platform because his phone told him to. (Tip to men: always listen to your wife over your phone.) It’s not easy to use a system you know nothing about, especially when its signs are in a language you don’t speak. But we never veered too far off course.
Posted by Rachel
on August 26, 2016 at 11:45 pm
Since I had a little break between my summer and fall semesters, Jason and I decided it was the perfect time to take a trip to Europe, a continent we’d been contemplating traveling to for a while.
Tempted by the convenience of a direct flight, we decided to land in Amsterdam and tour sections of the Netherlands and Belgium. In case you are wondering, even ten hours on a plane is agonizing. Sure, you basically just sit, sleep, and eat but boy is it miserable. Our trip was fabulous though. Here’s my full account of more recollections than you’ll recollect wanting.
Day 1: Royal Jetlag
Although long flights are about as fun as colonoscopy parties, the hardest thing about going to Europe isn’t the plane travel but the jetlag. The eight-hour time change is exactly enough for Europe to be getting up when it should be going to sleep. Thus, our early days there were hazed by jetlag’s cloud of drowsy oblivion.
Jason and I arrived in Amsterdam around 8 AM, midnight back home. We had only slept an hour and a half on the plane but we were determined to stay up as long as possible to exhaust ourselves out of jetlag quickly. This plan worked better than expected, at least initially. The options for distractions were plentiful.
The Koninklijk Paleis is still used by the Dutch royal family.
First, we set out for the Anne Frank Huis but ended up going on a tour of the Royal Palace (Koninklijk Paleis) instead. Once Amsterdam’s town hall, that royal residence was opulent and stately. After a brief respite to eat a cheese sandwich in a tiny outdoor café, we were off to the Anne Frank Huis once more but somehow ended up searching out the Begijnhof instead. Long ago, the Begijnhof was a sanctuary for a group of ladies that lived like nuns without taking vows. These women sought to assist the sick and educate the poor. Houten House, Amsterdam’s oldest house and one of its two remaining wooden-fronted residences, is enclosed in their once-haven. (Wooden houses were banned in 1521 due to their propensity to go up in smoke.) The Begijnhof was a peaceful place worthy of the term “sanctuary.”
The Begijnhof’s gates have been providing a sanctuary for single women since the 1300s.
Next, we were off to the Anne Frank Huis again but ended up in the Amsterdam Museum. How did that happen? I blame our unfocused jetlagged brains. The Amsterdam Museum is an intriguing institution devoted to all things Amsterdam. Its collection includes everything from a giant Goliath statue to a Rembrandt. (Who doesn’t have a Rembrandt in Amsterdam?) Unfortunately, shortly after we entered the museum our jetlag became insurmountable. The museum’s fascinating signs and videos became blabber that floated around us like an incoherent soup. We stayed at the museum until it closed, a little over an hour, but the last 10 or 15 minutes we were both having a hard time not falling asleep standing up.
At that point, our empty stomachs and Amsterdam’s curiosities were completely forgotten. All we could think about was snoozing. We went to bed at 6 PM and, with the help of a couple sleeping pills and our lack of sleep, we were able to rest 12 and a half hours, waking up at 6:30 the next morning. Our jetlag was under control and didn’t manifest itself too severely thereafter… well, except for the occasional falling-asleep-without-knowing-it episode.
Day 2: Anne and the West
Before Jason and I left on our trip, I vowed to eat nothing but chocolate, cheese, pastries, frites, and waffles while in Europe. I broke that vow during our very first breakfast with delicious smoothies and fresh fruit. But I did eat a lot of cheese and pastries during that meal so my promise was not entirely hollow. Incidentally, the pastries in Europe weren’t as good as I remember but the cheeses were even better.
The canals in Amsterdam don’t resemble Farmer Joe’s waterways at all.
Following breakfast, we were off to the Anne Frank Huis again. This time we actually made it, after a little dilly-dallying to check out points of interest in the Jordaan neighborhood. However, it turns out that getting into the Anne Frank Huis is not as simple as just making it there. We had to purchase tickets online for three hours later because admission was completely sold out until then. In the meantime, we decided to go on an hour-long canal tour. This proved quite interesting. Then we visited the Westerkerk church, which was built in 1620. There we walked up 186 of the steepest steps I’ve ever ascended, so steep in fact that we had to come down them backwards. The views of Amsterdam from the top were impressive though and worth the rung shenanigans.
From the Westerkerk’s tower, the tallest in Amsterdam, miles of colorful rooftops and canal grids are visible.
Some of the stairs spiraling through the Westerkerk’s spire are so extreme they have to be descended backwards.
Finally, we got to tour the Anne Frank Huis. Seeing the untouched bookcase, the dim rooms with their blackout shades, and Anne’s bedroom walls covered with movie-star ornamentations was quite sobering yet powerful.
The Westerkerk is just down the street from the Anne Frank Huis.
After visiting the Anne Frank Huis, we did some more wandering and then enjoyed our hotel-room balcony until the breeze became too chilly. Sitting out on that perch at 7 PM when cathedral bells assaulted us from every direction, Amsterdam’s 20+ churches all seemed to be ringing at once, was one of my favorite moments of our trip. When the balcony got too cold, we headed downstairs for a fabulous dinner at the Bord’Eau Restaurant Gastronomique.
Day 3: Royal Blue
We decided to take a train to Delft, the home of Delftware and Vermeer, the next day. We toured the Royal Delft factory where hand-painted white-and-blue porcelains have been created since the 17th century. I may have purchased some of their uber-pricey knickknacks. Maybe.
Delft is famous for its blue and white pottery. Rembrandt is famous for a few things.
Next, we climbed 370 steps to the top of the Nieuwe Kerk, the second-tallest church in the Netherlands. These wooden and stone steps twirled around a tiny turret with significant gaps between them. I must admit, between the stair rifts and the dizzying views from balconies where the railings barely came above our waists, I had some height-dread moments. But what a scene! On a side note, the Nieuwe Kerk is the burial site of William of Orange and many other royal family members. It is still the burial site of choice for Dutch royals.
The Oude Kerk’s tilted tower adds skewed interest to Delft’s pretty scene.
The Nieuwe Kerk is the second-loftiest church in the Netherlands. It felt like it after 370 steps.
Delft’s Renaissance-style town hall was built in 1618.
The Oude Kerk, AKA Old Church, was our next stop with its crooked spire. Built in the 13th-century, it’s the final resting place of 400 Dutchmen, including the painter Vermeer and Leeuwenhoek, the inventor of the microscope. Both the churches we visited in Delft were a little morbid but intriguing. Their floors were paved with gravestones ornamented by a bizarre mix of skeletons and cherubs.
The Oude Kerk’s tower went wonky in 1325 during its construction.
I was utterly delighted by Delft. Its Markt, surrounded by outdoor cafes and quaint shops, was charming and quintessentially European. It was there that I ate one of my favorite desserts of the whole trip, a vanilla yogurt curd served with oranges. Wow!
Delft’s Eastern Gate was built around 1400.
My wordy account of Europe will continue next week… whether you want it to or not.
A Few Traveler Tidbits
Here are a few of the notable differences between the Netherlands and the USA:
- Stop signs have not made their way to Amsterdam. A few stoplights adorn Amsterdam’s busiest streets but at most intersections you are on your own.
- Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. In fact, it seems that many Dutch people skip it entirely. So finding a breakfast spot outside your hotel can be challenging. Luckily, most of the hotels provide excellent breakfasts.
- Although bikes in Amsterdam outnumber cars, no one wears a helmet. Even the little kids being transported via wheel-barrel-like bike attachments don’t… no one.
- Most of the people are a normal weight. America really does have some fat issues.
- Street musicians are much more talented. We heard Mozart concertos and Bach toccatas gracefully performed by groups on curbs.
- Meals move at a different pace, as do their checks. Although the Dutch value efficiency, when it comes to food they take their time. Asking for your check can prompt confusion.
- Cars are minimally present compared to bikers and pedestrians.
- In July it doesn’t get dark until about 10:30 PM. I can only imagine how miserably black it is in the winter.
- Tipping isn’t done very regularly. It’s hard to include a tip at many restaurants because there isn’t a spot on the tab for it. Some Americans would probably enjoy this change but we felt obligated to figure out how to leave a tip anyway.
- Besides restaurants, almost everything closes at 5 PM. This means you have to get up pretty early to make the most of your time. We usually arose between 6:30 and 7:30 AM… so much for a relaxed vacation.