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Life is a dream, make it a good one

I saw this quote painted on a wall when running through a park in my new home and finally felt the motivation to write this blog post.  To talk about Iceland, and Lund, and my transitory lifestyle in general.

Iceland was a bit of a dream.  What you have read about it is certainly not an exaggeration.  The scenery there is unreal, the people friendly, and the culture unique.  I am lucky to have gotten a unique experience there by seeing it more like a local and less like a tourist.

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My first day in Iceland, I got off a plane at 6am and was not the least bit disappointed that Gitta hadn’t planned much of anything.  We drove back to her hometown of Borgarnes and napped until mid afternoon.  Then we had milkshakes with her brother and packed up the car to drive up to a small music festival in Sauðárkrókur.

We met up with her best friend Ragga and a group of girls she knows from teaching.  We watched most of the acts of the first day of Gæren (named after sheep wools).  It was unlike other music festivals I have been to in the states.   Instead of focusing on one type of music, it had bands from all kinds of genres.  It was outside in an uninsulated building that smelled like sheep poo, making it also kind of cold.

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Gæren lining the stage.

The majority of people wore Icelandic wool sweaters to keep warm, and not wanting me to stand out as a tourist Gitta loaned me one of her brothers.  Here is proof:

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After the music stopped, one of the local bars had an after party with more bands.  Gitta and I stayed for a while, but the other girls went home.  The next day I went with the other Icelandic girls to the local farm and agriculture show.  There were lots of homemade crafts and livestock and display, and I even got to see them shear a sheep!  Afterwards we had a barbeque where we were staying and made it to the concert around 8.  It was kind of empty, so we spent the first half of the night sitting on the floor of the building.  Afterwards, I went with a couple of the girls to have a couple of drinks at the local bar before heading home.

On Sunday, Gitta and I went to a local pool with amazing views.  It was heated (thank goodness) and overlooked a fjord with an island in the middle.

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After we were done we showered and started home to make dinner with the family.  We were ahead of schedule so we stopped at one crater that was called “Mt. Grey Underpants” if you translate its name into English.  The sign did not, so I am still not sure Gitta wasn’t just making things up.  Her mom made an amazing lamb thigh for dinner with potatoes and salad.  We watched an Icelandic film on TV and then had local blueberries and ice cream for dessert.

Monday was our big tourism day, where we drove all over south-eastern Iceland.  Unfortunately, since I was being escorted around I am kind of unclear about all of where I was.  I will supplement with pictures.  First we went to the European-American divide, a valley that apparently grows a few centimeters every year and looks kind of crazy.Image

Then we checked out the “Geysir geyser” as we kept calling it, although the largest one there, Geysir no longer spews on a regular basis.  Although there is another really large one that blows around every five minutes.  We took a lot of silly photos.

 

Afterwards we began Gitta’s waterfall tour because as her sister says she is a “Waterfall Perv”.  The first one we visited was really wide and fell into a canyon.  The signs said that it was “better than Niagra” although I am not sure whether or not that is true.Image

The second waterfall was much higher and you could climb behind it.  This one was my favorite.

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And finally we saw a third one, which was also cool but not as unique as the other too.

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We ended up doing a lot of driving in one day, but the scenery and our ability to speed-tourist made it enjoyable.  We stopped for pizza on our way home and got in around 10:30.

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Tuesday we were both tired so we slept in for a while before heading out to a fourth and final waterfall.  I think it was worth the trip because it seemed to fall out of the rocks and was really incredible.

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Afterwards we went to a secret hot spring for a dip to complete my real Iceland experience.

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We went back to Borgarnes to have another dinner with the family and to pack up our things, but spent the night with a friend in Reykjavik because it is closer to the airport.  Gitta flew out early, but I stayed until around 10 because my flight was later.

Lund has been really great in general.  It was awesome to have someone to show me around everywhere, our school is beautiful and I seem to have lucked out in the housing lottery.  I finally joined a nation (Swedish social club) today, although the department plans to give us 60hour workweeks.  More to come on all of that later.


A Scenic World

 

 

In order to reach some closure, I feel like one final road trip post is necessary.  In total, Molly and I spent a full month on the road and put just over 9400 miles on the Jetta.  Here is the approximate path in case you think I am exaggerating. 

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It was a really long month, and it wasn’t really what I had expected.  We spent way more time driving and less time having adventures.  In all honesty, I am not sure it is something I would do again.  But I do feel different.  There is something really grounding about seeing so much of the country.  Of driving some of the least tread paths, and seeing the most iconic scenery. It kind of made me look at my life as something I should live a bit more intentionally.  I had a great time, but it was also extraordinarily exhausting.  I have barely left the couch since we returned home.  For me, it was also a reminder of how lucky I am. At this stage in my life, I have an enormous amount of freedom and I am happy that I have been taking great advantage.  It was a great trip, and I felt so blessed to see so many of my friends and family.  Now on to the next adventure…


Last Call

We spent all day Thursday and most of the day Friday driving East.  By the time we made it to Boston I was kind of losing it.  We went out to dinner at a Sushi place near the Northeastern campus.  We drove back to Hughes’s to make plans for the rest of the evening and decided to head to one of his coworkers birthday parties near Fenway.  We took a cap to the Yardhouse and were surprised when the beer we ordered came in these humongous tapered glasses (apparently these were supposed to be “halfyard” beers).  We had a couple of more drinks before heading home for the evening.

Saturday Hughes made us breakfast like the gentleman he is.  Afterward I made Molly pick what we should do for the day while I worked on finishing my book.  She decided on the museum of fine arts, and Hughes dropped us off so we didn’t have to deal with parking.  The museum was really excellent, and we were especially impressed with a special collection displaying photography of Edward Weston.  The photos were taken for a special edition Leaves of Grass book.  The photos were taken on a cross-country trip with his wife, and included many of the same places we visited on our trip.  When the museum closed, we took the T to Arlington and sat near the duck pond people watching.  Our favorite was this one guy who was walking around the look with a boom box with “Armenia!” ducktaped to the side playing some superb Europop. 

Around 7 we walked to the North End to meet up with Hughes and Molly’s friend Katherine from Elon.  We walked around until we found a good looking restaurant and ate some delicious Italian food.  After dinner Katherine went home and we went back to Hughes’s to meet up with some of his friends.  We had a couple of drinks then walked over to some bar in the neighborhood.  His friends were pretty entertaining, and we stayed out a bit later than maybe we should have.  We got up and got on the road pretty early on Sunday, after grabbing breakfast at Dunkin Donuts that is, and made it home FINALLY Sunday around 10.


Chicago or bust

In our last rush to make it back cross-country, my blogging efforts were completely lost.  Two days driving across Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois, then another two driving across Indiana, Ohio, New York and Mass.  I feel like I gained a whole new respect for how vast this country is.  I am going to break this up a bit.

Friday we got up relatively early and drove East through Colorado ski country.  We got to Boulder in time for a late lunch at Centro Latin Kitchen and “Refreshment Palace”.  They had really awesome sounding drink, and Molly and I opted for Cherry Ginger Fizzes to go with our Mexican.  After lunch we decided to walk around Pearl street and went in several shops including a really incredible book store.  We got back in the car and started driving further East making it just into Nebraska before stopping for dinner.  While we were eating, the sky started getting much darker, and by the time we were back in the car driving the radio announced a thunderstorm with possible hail and gusts up to 60mph.  On one hand, the sky was spectacular as the clouds lit up with horizontal bolts of lightning.  But on the other, 60mph made us kind of nervous.  Especially in tornado country.  So we stopped at the Days Inn in Paxton, Nebraska for the night. 

We got up really early (I think we were on the road by 6?) and drove all day across interstate 80 through Nebraska and Iowa.  It was a horrendously boring day but we did make it to Chicago by our deadline rolling into Lincoln Park around 7:30 to celebrate our friend Alicia’s birthday.  We were able to park right outside of Andrew and Ariel’s place and as soon as we had changed into something slightly nicer we walked over to Las Fuentes for some Margarita pitchers and food.  Afterwards we went back to the apartment for some delicious cake and another drink before going out.  I am pretty sure the plan was to go “bar hopping” in the neighborhood but it just never worked out that way.  We started at a bar called Delilah’s, which I was a fan of for their $3 nightly whisky special and just never really went anywhere else.  We were met by a couple of Andrew and Ariel’s friends.  Someone was having their bachelorette party or something and Alicia made me steal like 4 different bottles of bubbles with bows on top.  Around 2 Andrew was hungry again so we went to some other Mexican place for late night food before crashing at their place.

Sunday morning Andrew and Ariel made us breakfast before we left for Alicia’s house on the North Shore.  Alicia is an AmeriCorp Volunteer and lives in a house with 4 other AmeriCorp Volunteers.  We spent most of our time in Chicago staying with her.  After we all had showered, Andrew and Ariel drove up to Highwood and we had a late lunch at Real Urban Barbeque that was kind of phenomenal.  It was awesome because I did not feel like we had enough barbeque on our trip.  Afterwards we went to Fort Sheridan beach to soak up some sun.  Molly and I were really exhausted so once Ariel and Andrew went back to town we hung around watching the Olympics with Alicia and one of her housemates and went to bed early.

We were clearly wiped out because the next day we slept until noon.  By the time we hopped a train into Chicago it was 2:30.  We had a quick lunch on the walk to the Art Institute.  We were only able to spend a couple of hours there and spent most of the time checking out the photography and contemporary art.  We were also intrigued by an exhibit called “tiny rooms” which were literally miniature reproductions of rooms from different countries and eras.  After the museum closed we walked through millennium park before taking the train back to Highwood.  Alicia fed us some snacks and I hopped in the car to drive up to Madison for the evening.  My friend Kristin got off of work at 10 and I made it to town around 10:30.  We immediately walked over to a bar called Vintage, which had $1 Wisconsin beers.  We played some darts and hung out with my friend Emily from graduate school when she showed up.  At the end of the night Kristin took me to Ian’s for pizza.  They are famous for putting mac and cheese pizza but I got a traditional pepperoni.

On Tuesday, Kristin showed me around Madison.  We had breakfast and walked through the capital building.  It was kind of crazy to see how similar the layout was to the national capitol.  One key difference was the lack of security that allowed the presence of protestors.  They stood in the rotunda singing songs about peace and criticizing the Governor.   We also walked around the University campus and sat on the patio of the union.  Around 3 I left to drive back to Illinois where I picked up Molly from Alicia’s.  We had dinner at my friend Ashley’s house with her family.  They are really nice people and it was great to hear how well my sorority little is doing at Vandy. 

Wednesday I got in the car around 9:30 and drove up to Michigan to check in on my farm.  In case you missed it, I spent 11 weeks last summer living and working on a farm in southwest Michigan.  I was surprised to find one of my former coworkers there as well as the farm manager.  Jesse had to run errands in town anyway, so we grabbed a couple of beers and caught up.  I spent most of the afternoon hearing all of the gossip about the state of the farm and discussing the nature of becoming a “real person” with Jesse (some people think it’s funny that I contrast that with my current state of transatlantic rambling).  I left the farm around 8 and met a former camp friend for drinks, making it a really strange day for me.  I spent all day discussing summers past.  It was really good to catch up with Megan though and to reminisce on our lives as camp counselors.  Even though it has been a few years, I still miss camp.


American Landmarks

There are some things in life that you cannot mentally prepare yourself for.  When we drove in to Vegas, I remember thinking that the films and pictures cannot compare to the spectacle itself.  When we made it to the Grand Canyon the feeling was even greater.  No panoramic lens can capture the vastness of the canyon.

I was kind of stressed out when we got to Vegas.  It was already 9:30 and we needed to shower and eat before hitting the town, although it was vegas and it seems that a lot of it is open all night.  We checked in to the Flamingo to find that we had been upgraded from the budget room to a king-suite.  It was a pretty epic looking room with double doors at the entrance, two flat screens, a full living room, a bar, and a master bathroom with an enormous shower and bath.  It was significantly more glamorous than our standard for the trip (sleeping on the floor of a tent that is) and it had a nice view of the city.  We both took really long shower and I watched the Olympics some while I waited for Molly to finish.  We ventured down into the lobby and found a suitable looking place to eat in Carlos-n-Charlies.  The food was not awesome but they had a decent margarita selection and the staff was entertaining (dancing and such).

By the time we had eaten it was already pretty late, but we wanted to walk around some.  At this point I feel the need to admit, that we did not do Vegas very proud.  When spending as long as we have on the road, you can’t pressure yourself into doing too much or you will be miserable.  Molly and I aren’t typically the very crazy type.  We did our best though.  We walked around the Bellagio and the Paris and had a few more drinks.  We gambled at a few different slot machines, but apart from winning $7.50 worth of beginners luck (which we of course lost again) it wasn’t really our thing.  Maybe I am stupid, but apart from the most rudimentary machines we could not exactly figure out how they worked.  Vegas was really cool looking though.  There was a lot of glitz and glam, a lot of bright lights, and a lot of really interesting people watching.  By 2:30, however, we were tired and not particularly interested in checking out the other casinos.  I guess I also felt like I would be back there too.  If nothing else, to indulge Jason (my ever crazy friend from high school).  So when Wednesday morning I felt the need to get the hell out of there and away from all of the crowds, we settled with taking a single set of pictures in front of the hotel’s namesake flamingos and getting the hell on the road.

It was almost noon by the time we left Vegas (because we weren’t going to leave our glamorous room before 11am check out) and we were getting hungry so we stopped in Boulder City at a place called Little City Grill.  It was surprisingly charming and the food was pretty good.  Around then we started seeing signs for the Hoover dam.  Because we were not particularly in a hurry, we decided to stop and check it out.  I am glad we did.  It wasn’t a particularly life-changing experience but it was really an impressive dam and I felt like it completed our trifecta of Americana for the day (Vegas-Hoover-Grand Canyon).  We stayed a very short while and took some photos and awed before getting back on the road to the canyon. 

We got to the Grand Canyon around 6:30 with just enough time to pitch our tent before tracking down a spot to see the sunset.  Although the sky was lovely, I was mostly awed by the canyon itself.  It is incredibly huge and deep and multi-faceted and impressive.  Okay, it is one of the seven natural world wonders.  I really have no idea why its impressiveness was such a shock.  Once we had elbowed a bunch of tourists aside to get some sweet photos we climbed back in JJ to find some sustenance.  We had noticed a Mexican place coming in to the park and decided it would be a good option for dinner.  I clearly forgot we were in Arizona, because I was kind of surprised at how awesome it was.  I had a chicken mole (I had forgotten how much I love a good mole) and Molly got some other smothered chicken type thing.  While we were at dinner I began scheming our next move.  We are both getting kind of tired of the whole road-tripping thing (we will be gone three weeks tomorrow!) and our next concrete destination is Chicago where there are lots of people we love.  So I formulated ambitions plan “Brooklyn” (yeah I just named it right now, think “No Sleep ‘til Brooklyn”) that involves us driving our bums off for the next three days in order to make it to Chicago by Saturday night. After dinner we drove home and I pretty much went to bed so we could have an early start today.

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We checked out of the campsite in record time and went into the Village to buy breakfast and send postcards.  Then we decided the thing to do was to check out the visitor’s center and took a ton of photos at Mather’s point.  Then we started driving. 

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MOOOOSEEE (Although I think this is technically an Elk, I was still surprised to see it)

We set Steve (the GPS) for monument valley and once again I was shocked at how phenomenal the scenery was.  Apparently they film a bunch of westerns there because it is essentially a section of desert with all of these awesome looking plateaus and rock formations.  We stopped at some visitor’s center there (woo being tourists) and took a bunch of photos again before getting back on the road. 

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Monument Valley, UT

One thing that has really surprised me in these national parks is the number of international tourists.  I guess for some reason I was convinced that the Europeans only came to Florida and California but we saw a ton at both the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley.  It was weird to entertain myself by playing “Spot the Europeans” in the states, since “Spot the Americans”  is kind of one of my favorite forms of people watching in Europe.

Anyway, we decided that we should stop for lunch a bit past monument valley, but there was NOTHING there.  Actually nothing.  It wasn’t until 6:30 when we reached Moab, Utah that we found a place we felt like eating and I think we picked pretty well.  We went to the Moab Brewery where I had a Scorpion Pale Ale and a Gyro salad.  Molly had a Lizard Wheat Ale and a pesto pasta.  The food was really good and our server was friendly.  Now we are heading onward to Grand Junction where we hope to stop for the night. 

Anyway, day 1 of plan Brooklyn has been a success and I believe we are only 18-hours of drive from Chicago!!!! Tomorrow we are going to drive east through Colorado and hope to get into Nebraska before stopping for the night.  Then we are conserving our last book tape to do the final drive through Nebraska and Iowa into Chicago! 


On to the west coast

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Molly and I with our feet in the Pacific

After spending over a week driving across the sweltering south, the cool of California was quite a relief.  After arriving in San Diego, we put in our laundry (finally) and Janey quickly sped us off to a company dinner.  She works at a small marketing firm, where everyone is very close so it was as much a dinner among friends.  Her boss made a kale salad and a healthy version of meatball subs (because they were all on a 30-day fitness challenge of some sort).  The food was delicious and everyone was friendly, but we headed home kind of early because Molly and I were wiped.  Janey took Friday off of work and showed us to a breakfast place called The Mission.  I had a delicious burrito and Molly had some pancakes.  Then we showered and worked on our laundry while Janey went in for some kind of meeting.  When she was finished we checked out a beach at Torrey Pines and although it was more crowded than in Corpus Christi, it was nice that it was cooler too.  Later on we went to a restaurant called the Brigentine for happy hour.  We sat on the porch overlooking the racetrack so we could watch the horses run.  I know nothing about racing, and it was a bit far away but it was still interesting.  We had some dinner and drove back to Janey’s kind of early to watch the Olympic opening ceremony.  

Saturday morning we packed up the car and drove to Los Angeles.  The traffic wasn’t terrible, but I was glad that Molly was driving because Californian drivers are kind of impossible, especially in the cities.  When we got to the area we met Kristin at her friend Bryn’s house in El Segundo.  They had been brunching most of the day (it was 3 by then) but we had skipped lunch so Bryn showed us the way to a beer garden called Rock and Brew (or something along those lines) and is partially owned by Gene Simmons.  The décor was appropriately rock and roll and they had a good selection so I ordered a California IPA and Molly and I split a pizza.  We followed Kristin back to her apartment in Santa Monica and after unloading our stuff went for a walk on the cliff.  It was incredibly beautiful weather and the beach below was packed, as were the lawns above.  When dinner time struck we drove out the Pacific Coast Highway to Cholada Thai.  We ordered Pad Thai and a curry they had listed as “Kang Dang” which was delicious and amusing.  We did a lot of people watching and chatted over dinner.  Afterwards we went to a Bugsby bar to have a drink and watch the Olympics some.  We watched Michael Phelps lose and then men’s gymnastics before the bar grew too loud and we headed home. 

For some reason we decided it was a good idea to get up and take advantage of Nike Santa Monica’s run club.  Kristin agreed to sign up for the 3-miler with us, although she may have regretted it when we were the slowest in the group.  It still felt good to get some exercise.  After showering we were all starving so Kristin suggested we go out to a place she new in Malibu for lunch.  It didn’t occur to her that on a weeknight afternoon the traffic on the PCH would be terrible and it took us over an hour to get to Lily’s café and pastries.  It was really not at all what I had expected.  While the name suggested a fufu place with flowers on the table, in reality it was a to-go burrito place.  Not that we were disappointed.  I had a phenomenal breakfast burrito that came with a killer hot-sauce.  I ate nearly the whole thing and was really full on the car ride to Yosemite.

It was a pretty long drive, and we stopped at one point to buy some sandwiches and groceries.  By the time we got to the park it was dark.  Yosemite is huge and we drove for nearly 2-hours in the park before reaching the campsite.  We were both in awe of the views of the cliffs and the stars.  By the time we pitched the tent I was exhausted and went to bed.  In the morning we were moving kind of slow and left the campsite around 11.  We stopped at several of the pullover spots on the ridge to take photos and to marvel at the views.  Seeing El Capitan blew my mind, especially at night when you could see lights where the climbers are camping.  We checked out the visitor’s center and ate some lunch then took a shuttle to the trailhead.  For such a big park the trail wasn’t especially well marked so we lost it about half an hour in (at a road with other trails, not in the woods) so we wondered around for a couple of hours but we were pretty tired so we didn’t go much further than that.  The trail was nice and even though it was in the valley it had really great views of the surrounding rocks. 

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El Cap is so cool!!!!

After hiking we decided to see if they had fixed the projector on the “Spirit of Yosemite” video just for the heck of it and got soft serve ice creams before checking out the village grocery store.  We bought materials to make hot dogs and smores over the campfire.  When we returned it was already 6, so we cracked some leftover beers and went to work trying to make a fire.  Despite the fact that I have camped quite a bit and even backpacked some I am not especially skilled pyromaniac.  When we used to camp with our high school friends, the guys would never let us touch the fire unless it was to fan it or something.  The downside of dealing with eagle scouts.  We did ourselves rather proud, however, and within 20minutes it seemed hot enough to cook over.  After eating we read around the fire while it was still light out and watched the neighboring camp kids play.  They must have been having a family reunion or something because there were 8 or 10 of them pushing each other around in this stroller type thing.  We went to bed earlyish after putting a dent in our respective books.

On Tuesday we woke up kind of late and packed up the campsite.  We drove south in the park hoping to see the giant sequoias at the Mariposa Grove.  Like elsewhere in Yosemite it was so crowded seeing the trees was going to be an affair.  We decided we didn’t feel like sparing the time of parking twenty minutes away, then taking bus back before we could walk to the Grove because the nearby parking was full.  We had a lot of driving to do.  It took us about 2 hours to get back out of Yosemite, and I had fun driving on the winding roads with the sun-roof down.  Once we hit the first  major town we stopped at some pizza joint for lunch before getting back on the road. 


Heading West

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After repeated consultations with the Texan members of my family, I became convinced it was a better idea to head North, further into Texas before driving west instead of driving the most direct way into New Mexico so on Sunday we packed up JJ again and drove north, stopping around mid-afternoon in San Antonio.  I had been there several times due to my family there but Molly had not and we both felt that a trip through Texas was incomplete without visiting the Alamo.  We parked in a lot downtown and walked over to the complex and took the appropriate pictures and walked around a bit.  Then we decided to check out the river walk, although we didn’t stay long because of the heat.  I bought a sno-cone on the way back to the car but could only finish half of it because there was so much sugar.

Initially, we were planning on making it all the way to Lubbock but we got out of Corpus late so we booked a motel in Abilene instead.  We stopped for dinner in a town called Mason at the Willow Creek Café and were pleased with the food there.  The motel was clean but not super nice, and we took our time making plans on Monday morning.  We passed many wind turbines and ranches on the way to New Mexico.  We drove first to Roswell expecting a cute town with a lot of alien paraphernalia.  Instead we found a not so cute town with a lot of paraphernalia.   We had lunch at a place called El Toro Bravo, which had really decent Mexican food for a hole in the wall place.  Then we went to the International UFO museum for kicks.  It was much lower budget than I expected with printouts framed similarly to my high school photo projects.  It was interesting, however, to read about the Roswell story and to see some of the crazy dioramas they had set up.  I must admit, it was easy for me to believe that the US government was hiding something from the people of Roswell back then, although my first guess would not be “aliens”.

We took a few photos and came to the conclusion that there was really no reason for us to stay in Roswell and it was only about 5pm so we decided to keep driving towards Santa Fe, where we were hoping to spend some time Tuesday.  I found a campground called “Black Canyon” that was only about 7 miles outside Santa Fe.  We made it there just as it was getting dark to find that it was pleasantly cool so we threw on some sweatshirts before pitching the enormous tent in our slot.  We paid $10 at the self pay station, because I am always a fan of giving my money to the national park service, then went into town to find a grocery store.  We found a whole foods and bought stuff for tomato-mozzarella sandwiches and some yogurts for breakfast. 

On Tuesday I woke up feeling completely out of it.  Even though I loved Santa Fe I think it was my only truly cranky day on the trip so far.  We first stopped and drank some coffee at Burro Alley Café and then walked around to several cute shops, most of which were way to classy for our price range.  There was also a cathedral at the edge of the square and a market set up along one edge where many people were selling various jewelry and crafts.  I found Santa Fe completely charming, although I have mixed feelings about the “adobe” looking buildings.  Some of them are beautiful, but others look too much like fake sand castles.  I bought a turquoise and sterling ring from a women at the bazaar and we ate fajitas from a street vendor.  We fed a few more coins into the parking meter and walked into a shopping plaza that had beautiful Mexican embroidered stuff.  I bought a top of white linen with multi-color embroidery.  I felt kind of extravagant buying two souvenirs from the same place, but neither were expensive.  Then we loaded up the car to check out the cliff dwellings and Bandolier national monument.  By the time we drove the 40minutes out there the sky in that direction was navy blue and lightning was striking in the distance.  We decided that hiking out there in a thunderstorm was a bit to adventurous for us and headed back south instead.  We drove through some really rural country time and had to stop several times for roadwork before stopping for the night in Alamogordo near the White Sands National Monument.  We stopped for dinner and booked a motel.  It was kind of an ugly town with a beautiful view of the mountains. 

The next morning we headed to the White Sands to see the museum and take a short hike.  It was really interesting to learn how the enormous hills were formed from gypsum.  It is also one of the most interesting examples of adaptation in the US because it contains many of the same animals as the surrounding areas, but these have adapted to a much lighter color to camouflage in the white sand.  We decided on taking a nature walk that was expected to take about an hour because we didn’t know how we would fare in the heat.  It was a nice walk with several panels explaining different aspects of the habitat.  We then loaded up in JJ to drive out to Tucson to visit Tom.  He is a good friend of my mothers and came with her to visit me in Budapest.  He worked in DC but had moved to Tucson since his retirement and his place was really awesome with a gorgeous patio with a view of the surrounding mountains.  He called me during the drive to ask if we were okay with going to his neighbors for dinner, since apparently she owed him one, and I am really glad we agreed. 

We sat out on Tom’s patio drinking beers for a while, then went over to Cindy’s around 6:30.  She was an incredibly charming Scottish woman with another gorgeous home.  She was incredibly fun and we enjoyed sitting around with her and another friend Chris for the evening.  It was great to see that Tom had such good friends in Tucson.  Cindy served us black cherry martinis and a jalapeno-cheese dip, followed by veal marsala with snap peas, and chocolate lava cake.  The food was amazing and we drank some red wine to go with it and talked a lot about traveling and various other things.  According to Tom we got off easily because they skipped the usual post-dinner tequila tasting that night.  We had a really great time and were glad to have met Cindy and Chris.

Tom was slightly worried when we slept in so late on Thursday (he got up at 5:20, we slept until 9:30) but road tripping is more exhausting than I had expected.  We had some berries, granola, and yogurt for breakfast and then went for a swim in his pool.  It was really lovely and he had a floating lounge chair that was incredibly comfortable.  I was tempted to stay in the pool all day, but we had to get to San Diego so we left around noon.  The scenery driving into California was really interesting.  We saw one area with sand dunes like the Sahara, one with large mounds of rocks and a few with typical desert landscape.  We also got stopped by the border control a few times (because there were check points not because we were suspicious) which surprised us.  We had a hard time answering questions the first time because they asked us where we had come from and where we were going which are kind of loaded questions with us.

Currently we are hanging out in San Diego and heading to LA tomorrow.  We will spend most of Monday at Yosemite national park and head to Las Vegas on Tuesday and then the Grand Canyon.  I will try to post again when we hit Vegas, but we won’t have internet much before then.