Sunday, December 27, 2015

Montana & Yellowstone

My father grew up and went to college in Montana, so when my sister and I were kids we would take road trips there often to visit his sister, who still lives there, and her family, as well as explore the many wonders in that beautiful state and in Yellowstone National Park, which is right next door. I consider Montana one of my heart-homes, and I still like to get out there at least once every few years. Tyler had never been before, so we decided to take an epic road trip through Montana and Yellowstone last September, right before I started graduate school.

As you might imagine, the exact details of the trip are a little hazy more than a year later, so this post will mostly be pictures and recollections regarding them.

Once we crossed the Idaho-Montana border, I insisted on honoring a tradition established with my sister in 2012: huckleberry milkshakes and bison burgers from a little retro diner in St. Regis, called Frosty's. The picture below is definitely not Frosty's, but a cool little co-op restaurant in Missoula at which we brunched the next day. Look, I still have platinum blonde hair in these pictures! I miss it.

Missoula is one of my favorite towns in Montana. It's beautiful and walkable and has tons of great restaurants, bars, and shops because of all the college students and visitors.

After Missoula, I made Tyler go to the Lewis & Clark caverns I remembered from my youth. They are beautiful and fascinating. When I was little, I was really afraid of this one natural slide -- maybe it was called the Beaver Slide? -- but this time I could have done it again and again.

Our next stop was Bozeman, the city where my father went to college. We stayed in a really cool AirBnb house. Unfortunately we had so much driving to do on this trip that we weren't really able to linger anywhere; I would have liked to enjoy those surroundings a little more.

The next stop was Gardiner, one of the gateways to Yellowstone National Park. We purchased a pair of binoculars, then drove to the Boiling River, which is just inside the park a ways. The Boiling River is a lot like the river Tyler and I bathed in in Iceland at midnight: thermal activity makes part of the river scalding hot, but where the ice cold river water and boiling hot vents intersect are perfect little pools of hot tub-temperature water. Venture too far in either direction and you could suffer hypothermia (or be swept away down the river!) or a burn. Although there were warning signs everywhere, both in the steam from the groundwater and the literal signs posted by the river, they couldn't keep an unlucky couple from disappointment. It's also a little perilous to get to the perfect spot without solid water shoes (I really missed my Teva sandals), but once I did I didn't want to leave!

Once we'd had our fill, or at least had convinced ourselves that we should try to see more than just one river that day, we carried on to Mammoth Hot Springs. It was elk rutting season and I was excited to see a handful of elk walking around. The hot springs were as beautiful and interesting as I remembered them, too.

That night we had dinner at Lighthouse Restaurant, a weird place with great food. It was weird because it was almost totally empty, BYOB, and had a strange arcade game set up in the back, which would someday house lobsters.

I chose the silliest BYOB drink I could find in the tiny local supermarket.
As we drove home from dinner, Tyler missed a sign in the dark that indicated a reduced speed zone. We were soon pulled over by the world's most polite and apologetic cop, who truly regretted giving us a ticket, he really did, but there are elk and other animals on the road and you've got to be careful.

More to come in part two!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

An American blogger in Grenoble (and Frankfurt)

Part one and two of the June 2014 trip to France.

Well, now that it's been more than a year, I suppose I ought to talk about our trip to Grenoble. Our friend Aaron was living in Grenoble at the time as a facet of his PhD program. (So. Lucky.) He purchased train tickets for us, with the warning that there had been a lot of strikes of late. As luck would have it, our train was canceled due to strike as well, but Aaron told us to simply get on the next train about twenty minutes later. Exchanging tickets was a huge hassle, but even that didn't prepare us for worse yet to come.

The Horrible Train Adventure
We didn't understand that people who had originally booked the second train had reserved seats, so we just chose the first seats we saw. The first embarrassing part happened when I asked the gentleman across the aisle, "Est-ce que vous travaillez à Grenoble?" I meant to confirm that we were on the right train by asking him if he was traveling to Grenoble also, but it had been such a long time since I'd taken any French classes that I actually asked him if he worked in Grenoble (the correct verb would have been voyager). He sounded confused and I realized my error - but not before he switched to impeccable English. *face palm*

Just as he was trying to help us, another gentleman stepped up and asked us to get out of his seats. We bounced from seat to seat for a while, fruitlessly trying to find a spot that wasn't already claimed. At one point, we asked an attendant where we were supposed to sit, and the entire train car chuckled softly at us, filling me with impotent rage. We noticed other hapless patrons of the idiotic French rail system sitting on stairs and on the floor, so we squished ourselves into an open luggage area, next to our suitcases, and prepared ourselves for a miserable few hours.

Eventually, the train got on its way and I spotted an unclaimed seat. I forced Tyler to take it, since he's a leggy fellow and much more uncomfortable tucking himself into a baggage compartment than I am. Luckily, a nice gentleman who saw us split up offered us his seat and the empty one next to it, and relocated himself. (My theory is that I was a cute girl and he felt guilty making me sit on the floor. I'm usually not a fan of benevolent sexism, but this time I fairly leapt at the chance.) Tyler felt embarrassed the whole way to Grenoble afterward, but I was satisfied.

Grenoble was worth the only horrible experience I've ever had with a train. Our apartment was huge and quaint, the town beautiful and framed with imposing mountains. Few people in Grenoble seemed to speak English, but they were all really friendly. Also, Aaron was there, so I could finally relax and let someone else drive the Frenchmobile at restaurants and such, for the most part.

We had a great time in Grenoble and ended up wishing we had spent the majority of our trip there instead of Paris. We tried chartreuse and a variety of walnut-flavored things (they're big on walnuts there), including an amazing ice cream.

Aaron took us on a little side trip to Annecy to visit our friend Denis and his fiancee, who met us at the train station with three bikes despite being on roller blades. They took us back to Denis's parents' home, where we ate ice cream and bread, and then to a lake. The lake was fun until I got out and found a teeny tiny LEECH attached to the webbing between my last two toes. I nearly threw up from terror, because I'm a big baby but also because leeches are fully disgusting. Happily, the leech was no match for my freak-out and fell off of its own accord within a couple of minutes. Its memory lives on, though: Aaron and Denis will tease me about it forever.

On our last night with Aaron, Tyler and I joined him for a free classical concert in an outdoor park. It was a beautiful and relaxing way to wind things down.

The next day we flew to Frankfurt, Germany, for a 23 hour layover. We ended up so glad that we'd decided to visit! We tried schnitzel and spaetzle at Klosterhof; explored the beautiful city center; visited the old Jewish cemetery adjacent to the Jewish Museum; and drank tons of Apfelwein, a delicious hard cider and a Frankfurt specialty.

Thumbing his nose at us!

These gents weren't impressed.

I had never seen the word "vulva" graffiti'd anywhere.


I was fascinated by these weird geese.

The names of those who died in the Holocaust. The wall is really long..

The old Jewish cemetery.

Anne Frank.

From what we could tell of the many celebrations going on around Frankfurt, few people were boycotting.

And that's it! At last.
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