Back to America, Part Two (Summer 2016)

So we left off with the husband and I travelling back up to Salt Lake City and civilisation in general last post. That will be short lived. But first, we get to see my parents again! Mom and Dad came to rescue us from the airport and take us back to theirs’. (After a quick stop for lunch and a venture around the nearby Super Target of course.)

Man, going back to my parents’ house felt like no time had passed at all, but in the same vein I was coming back after a year gone and now with a husband in tow. Still, all changes were good changes, and it was fantastic to see everyone again! We passed on offerings of Percy Pigs and Jaffa cakes, and Dad made some delicious chicken enchiladas for dinner. We capped off the night by hanging out in the new pseudo-pub my parents have built in their basement. Seriously, it’s awesome.

The next afternoon M’s parents arrived in town to see the sights before we all came back to my parents’ for the big party in a few days time. When in the region, you absolutely have to go and see Yellowstone National Park, so that’s what we planned to do. Tuesday morning we all piled in a car and headed up to Wyoming/Montana.

The first day was a mosey about the western side of the park, following the river and the hot springs at the edge of the caldera. We ended the day by driving to Cooke City, Montana and having dinner on the Main Street before heading to our rental cabin for the evening to relax and play some card games. By the end of the night, you could start to see visible withdrawal symptoms from the internet and phone service from M.

img_0632img_0633img_0636

The next morning we went in with more focus on what to see, only to be further stalled by the copious amount of bison on the roads. The attitude towards seeing bison in the wild changed vastly from the beginning to the end of this journey. They are majestic creatures though, even if they insist on standing in the middle of the road.

img_0666

We continued our waterways trend, but this time went to the famed Yellowstone Canyon, for which the park is named. The walls of the canyon have a distinct yellow hue to them. M and I separated from the pack and wandered down a trail on the side of the canyon, which looking back on it now may not have actually been an official trail. It was nice enough though until we found the way barred by fallen trees. From there we turned around and had to get back to the vehicle in order to see our next point – Old Faithful!

img_0669img_0676

Old Faithful is indeed pretty faithful, but its timing has changed due to earthquakes in the area over the years. Since 2000, it erupts about every 45 minutes to 2 hours. The nearby Old Faithful Inn has signs posted outdoors with approximate times for the day. The geyser isn’t the tallest in the park, but its eruptions can shoot  3,700-8,400 US gallons of hot water up to 106-185 feet in the air for about 2-5 minutes.

The Old Faithful Inn is an attraction unto itself once you’ve witnessed the geyser go off. It’s the largest log hotel in the world and has a massive stone fireplace in the main hall. It was originally constructed in 1903-1904 and was advertised for having electric lights and steam heat. It offers all that and paid wifi these days, which I witnessed M seriously considering at the time. We distracted him with ice cream cones from the shop off the lobby and headed back to the cabin. Slowly. Through a herd of bison. Dinner, you will be glad to hear, had free wifi included.

Thursday we popped into a Main Street cafe for breakfast and then drove into the Mammoth Hot Springs area. We admired the features of the massive buildup from slow geyser growth, as well as a moose roaming the village. Feeling quite enough outdoors for the time being and needing to get home to help Mom finish setting up for the party, we headed back after a quick lunch stop.

img_0700

And now, you must wait in further suspense to hear what this epic party was all about – unless of course you were there. In which case, shhh. I’ll tell it next week!

 

— Kate

 

 

Back to America, Part One (Summer 2016)

It was bound to happen eventually. Yes, I went back to America last summer for three weeks. Man, that was an adventure. 🙂

We began our journey in London, boarding on to a plane and sitting there for the next 10 hours. As it seems to be a tradition by this point, the significant otter had just gotten off night shift and wasn’t too fussed with the soon to be 7 hour time difference. I didn’t sleep quite so soundly.

However, we arrived in good spirits into Salt Lake City airport, collected our bags, and headed over to border control to enter the country. I’ve gotta say, it’s a pleasant moment to know that someone actually has to let me into a country for a change. My favourite person was a bit overwhelmed by the burly customs agent with his weaponry and questions about where we were going and who we were staying with, but I happily chirped the answers and he let us in with no trouble. I’m not sure why M seemed to think there’d be any trouble for an Englishman coming to visit America with his American wife. I suspect he just needs a baseline level of things to worry about.

We waltzed through the gates and back into the land of my birth, headed towards the car rentals. The doors opened and we were immediately hit with the dry, hot, oppressive air that is Salt Lake in late June. I thought it was glorious. The husband thought he had walked into an oven. Perhaps 97°F (36°C) was a bit much to introduce to the sweets straight from England, but we were going to be in a desert in some form for most of the trip, so I suppose it was best he learned then.

The hotel we crashed at for the evening was across the street from a Cracker Barrel. Of course we had to go in. He needed to witness the American-ness that is Cracker Barrel. And to see what a proper US biscuit was. He survived on a steak and I revelled in the fried chicken. It was a win for all. After dinner, we popped over to a Walmart for his second American experience and picked up some supplies for the next day. I have to say, I was disappointed he wasn’t particularly shocked by it.

img_0619

The next morning we were both wide awake at 7:30 thanks to the jet lag, so we decided to go see the Salt Lake before the temperatures rose. I remember visiting the lake last in a cool March afternoon, and forgot some of the things about Salt Lake that are wise to remember.

  1. It is indeed salty, but doesn’t have the tides like the ocean. Therefore when hot, it smells quite strongly of fish and salt spray.
  2. It is really, really sunny in Utah.
  3. The midges like to take over the edges of the lake on nice warm days. Like Biblical swarms that you don’t see until you walk into their lair and they all start to fly away.

On the plus side though, it’s still a phenomenal thing to witness in the middle of a desert, surrounded by mountains. It’s also still beautiful, and the water was lovely to stick your feet into. 🙂 We explored the perimeter near the Salt Air building, then took the causeway over onto Antelope Island inside the lake. There are bison roaming the island! M took it as a mission to try and capture one on camera. I was content to just drive and enjoy the breeze.

img_0483img_0486img_0501

We went back into the city when the afternoon arrived and had a wander around the area for the rest of the day before calling it an early night. When in Rome and all that meant that we had to go look at the Mormon temple. It’s honestly not as big as the photos all make it look, but it’s very distinctive in the centre of a bunch of modern city sky scrapers.

The next day I woke up sunburnt to a crisp, whilst the sensible husband was fine from his constant slathering of sunscreen the day before. Thankfully we had a bunch of water in the back of the car from the shopping before, and so we continued our journey out of Salt Lake City and down into southern Utah to see Zion National Park.

If M thought SLC was bad, he didn’t know what he was getting into. When we arrived into Zion it had reached 107°F (41.6°C) and the park rangers had put up warning signs everywhere to drink loads of water. Even the local wildlife was parched.

img_0540

We started at the top of the canyon and drove inwards, then carried on through and explored through the Zion Canyon at 3,000 feet deep on foot. The top of the canyon is entirely desert, but in the basin where we were was forest and the North Fork Virgin River. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go into the Narrows this trip, as we were just too hot to safely continue walking long distances. Zion never fails to feel like an otherworldly experience though. It really does feel like stepping back in time, and the photos never do justice to the actual sight. I cannot recommend the park highly enough.

 

img_0523img_0529

As the sun slowly began to drop in the sky, we left Zion and headed to St. George, Utah to sleep for the night. We had found this really interesting place called Inn on the Cliff online and booked it because A) it had a beautiful view and a connected restaurant and B) it was next door to a private airport and M wanted to peep at any prop planes going through it. It turned out to be probably the best hotel we stayed in on the vacation, and I wish we’d had more than a night there!

img_0558
The view from our room.

Day three began and we got to watch the £ plummet in value. Oh yes, Brexit happened the first day we arrived. Yeah, that was only slightly traumatic.I don’t think any of the English family are still overly keen to discuss it at any get togethers. We felt a bit separate from the world at that point though, going from one desert wilderness to the next. Sighing at the news and packing our bags, we headed to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Just like Zion National Park, photos do not do justice to Bryce Canyon. Oddly enough, the area is not actually a canyon, but a massive collection of giant natural ampitheaters along the Paunsaugunt Plateau. These are filled with distinct geological structures called hoodoos, which have been formed over the years by the constant cycle of snow, rain, water and wind. Though only 70 miles away from Zion, Bryce is much higher in altitude with the rim varying from 8,000 to 9,000 feet. It doesn’t feel like it when you’ve driven up to near the top of the rim, but you certainly feel it when you start walking and gasp like you’ve been running.

img_0586img_0576

After catching our breath and marvelling in the natural beauty, we reluctantly got back into the car and started to drive towards Salt Lake City again. I’ll leave you here in this tale and continue next post!

 

— Kate

 

Essay Week

Blood, sweat and tears have been spilled, but the word count has been reached and the grammar has been checked. The module one essay was turned in Monday morning and I’ve been trying to recover since. Have finally gotten to the tail end of whatever gunk I caught, just in time to start a new module. The lesson learned from this? I should never, ever become an ethicist. If it’s not practical and real world work, I’m out of my element. Needless to say, it’s not been an exciting week of traipsing the English countryside for me, though if the weather isn’t too miserable I may go check out Abbey Park this weekend. The Weather Channel is predicting only a 20% chance of rain Saturday, but trusting the weather forecast here that far in advance is lunacy.

Aaaaanyway… I was lame and did not go out for Bonfire Night. Instead I wrote on my essay and watched fireworks in the distance from my flat whilst hacking up a lung and going through obscene amounts of camomile tea. Actually, I watched fireworks go off for the next 3 nights after and got the most spectacular text from it:

I mean, I feel it'd be a reasonable excuse.
I mean, I feel it’d be a reasonable excuse.

For most of the week it was some variation on this grumbling, but somehow between the frantic bouts of inspirations and the frequent breaks for Buzzfeed articles a miracle happened and a paper appeared. From this point I’m just choosing to not think about it any more and start focusing on the next looming deadline – presentations.

Back home, it seems that my parents have gotten SNOW already, and tonight the weather is threatening -20 to -40 F with the Arctic chill sweeping through the North American continent. I will take drizzle any day over that, thank you very much. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point of walking outside without a jacket when the sky is grey because “it doesn’t smell like rain outside” and it’s accurate. I’m impressed with myself.

Oh! Speaking of dying, I got to visit a real-live NHS doctor’s office this week. Was actually just for the routine check up I booked before coming down with plague, but that’s life for you. Of course, this is only one clinic in one city, but I was really impressed with the service. At the front desk I signed in through a touch screen that told how many patients were ahead of me and then sat down in the waiting room. In the room was a scrolling marquee that would chime whenever a patient was to be seen with their name and the room they should go to on the screen. When it came to my name, I walked to the room and was greeted by a friendly nurse who took my vitals and asked what I needed to be seen for. She updated my prescription and even helped me out with it because there’s no direct version of it here in the UK. (Definitely check your medicines before studying abroad for this!)  It felt really weird just walking out of the building after without talking to the front desk about billing. It felt even weirder filling the prescription. It literally consisted of me handing over the paper, the pharmacist finding the pills and putting the data in the computer, then handing them to me. No insurance fuss, no dread over what the final bill was going to be. Granted, I didn’t have to pay for my medicine in this case, but not all medicine in the UK is free. It’s a complicated system, but it’s still much clearer and less dread-inducing than medicine in the US.

Otherwise I’ve been more resident than tourist, so I tried to get a few photos of just everyday things around town that stood out in one way or another. Some of the things that get me the most are the food products. Sometimes the food is exactly the same as in the US, sometimes it’s arbitrarily renamed, and sometimes you’ll find something completely unique. I’ve learned to not go into the shops for groceries with any preconceptions.

I’ve also been really missing my fuzzball kitty and I’ve been told he misses me, though it seems Mom and Dad have been excellent cat keepers thus far as he’s snoozing behind their heads on the couch in the evenings. It made me sadder to see this poster on a street coming home, but it gave me some faith in humanity to see what people had added.

Lost Cat Poster

My kitty, safe with the parentals, looking surly as usual.
My kitty, safe with the parentals, looking surly as usual.

And to end this fascinating blog update, there was this weirdness I ran into today walking to the Fees Office on campus and laughed harder at than I probably should have. There were no gardeners in sight and though overcast it wasn’t raining. However, it looked like someone just kinda thought, “Meh, this is good enough for now,” and just walked away from it. Maybe it’s just the adjustment of living with what feels like a ‘meh’ mentality here from most people, but I found it hilarious. I dunno.

"Meh, this is good enough for now."

I guess if I’m laughing at a lone lawnmower it’s probably time for me to get some sleep. Hope all is well where you are, and I hope to write again this weekend!

— Kate