Sep 282006

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Next day we went to Grand Teton, a national park located south of Yellowstone. We drove for almost 100 miles. It wasn’t the best day to visit Grand Teton, since it was hazy and one can barely distinguish the silhouettes of the beautiful mountains that are the attraction of the park. Probably the Teton range looked better in the early morning, but our friends got up late and with all the driving we got to the park at around 1 PM. We drove to Jenny Lake in the south of the park, took a boat to the western shore of the lake and hiked a small trail to the Hidden Falls and to a panorama point called Inspiration Point from where we could see the entire Jenny Lake at our feet. All around this area there were signs advising people that bears are in the area: do not try to feed them – who would be crazy enough to try that? – don’t leave your backpack lying around etc. The hike was pretty, even though a bit crowded with people. On our way back through Yellowstone we passed a sign marking “Continental Divide” which I had no idea what it was but later found out – thanks to wikipedia – that it is “a line of elevated terrain which forms a border between two watersheds such that water falling on one side of the line eventually travels to one ocean or body of water, and water on the other side travels to another, generally on the opposite side of the continent”. In this case the Continental Divide separates the watersheds of the Pacific Ocean from those of the Atlantic or Arctic Oceans.

For dinner we decided not to eat in the park like we did the previous days but go to West Yellowstone. At Alin’s insistence we choose a pizza place. I’m not a big fan of pizza so I ordered macaroni and cheese, comfort food for the soul 🙂 In the menu the m&c; of Wild West Pizzeria of West Yellowstone was advertised as “world renowned”. I don’t know if it is really world renowned but it was very good and it reminded me of a dish that we eat in Romania. I have to say that this was the first time that I ate macaroni and cheese which must be a record of some kind since I’ve been living in US for 10 years and m&c; is pretty popular here. They used to serve it in Intel’s cafeteria from time to time but I never had the curiosity of trying it.

Sep 252006

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On our second day in the park we went to see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The impressive sheer drop and the canyon’s yellowed walls made for amazing views. We spent the entire day circling the canyon, stopping at different points of belvedere along the north and the south rims, admiring the two waterfalls – the Lower and the Upper Fall formed by the Yellowstone River – and doing short but steep hikes along the two rims. All in all it was a lovely day.

Sep 232006

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Our accommodation in West Yellowstone was a rental house way to big for us, but since we were paying by the person it still came cheaper than a hotel. It had four bedrooms, two on the second floor and two in the basement and a living room and a kitchen on the first floor. It came equipped with a cable TV and grill which came in handy in the evenings. The best part about the house was that is was located very close to the park’s entrance so we didn’t have to drive additional miles – the park is big enough as it is.

On our first day in Yellowstone we went to see the geysers and we started with the most famous one. Old Faithful is where everybody goes and we were lucky to get there 10 minutes before it was scheduled to erupt. Old Faithful erupts every 80 minutes and it’s probably the most predictable geyser in the park. Based on the duration of the last eruption, rangers are able to figure out a time frame for the next eruption. There were crowds of people sitting on benches around the geyser perimeter and waiting patiently in a complete silence like some religious ceremony was about to take place and our voices would ruin the experience. It started with some steam and a little spray and then it erupted into a tall stream of water and steam. The show finished and everybody started in the direction of their car but we decided to stick around and see the rest of the geysers in the upper geyser basin.

We followed a trail to the Observation Point up a little hill where we got a good view of the entire basin. On the way to the Observation Point we passed very close by a bison – our first encounter with the creature which used to roam these lands 150 years ago before it was hunted close to extinction during the 19th and early 20th centuries. We were to see many more the following days so I guess they’re no longer endangered. After Observation Point we went around the boardwalk at the upper geyser basin and looked at even more geysers while being surrounded by an all mighty rotten egg smell. Castle Geyser started erupting and it went on for half an hour. We saw Old Faithful erupting one more time, this time from a different angle and we headed for the Old Faithful Inn.

The inn is a rustic looking lodge made of logs dating from the beginning of the century. It’s very impressive looking on the inside and the lobby was full of photographers trying to capture a image of the log work above us. We decided to eat dinner at their dining hall. The badge of the girl at the reservation counter read her name and underneath it “Romania” so I started to talk to her in Romanian. She’s been working on a 3 months temporary contract in Yellowstone and she was very happy to meet us. I guess she didn’t meet many Romanians during those 3 months. But we couldn’t chat long, since there was a line behind me. Cris and Alin tried to be creative when ordering food and they ordered bison and elk but frankly my lamb was much better. From this early dinner we went to catch the sunrise at the middle geyser basin by the Grand Prismatic Spring which colors looked spectacular at dusk.

Sep 212006

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Ketchum wasn’t in our initial plan, but we decided to stop there because it was highly recommended by a friend of us. It was a bit out of the way but the detour wasn’t too long. As we were driving towards Ketchum we passed a small field full of American flags. A big sign by the highway read “Flag Memorial”. Someone in the car remembered that the next day was September 11. The memorial looked beautiful and I’m sorry we didn’t stop to take a picture. Ketchum looked a lot like Tahoe City, a town by the shores of Lake Tahoe where we go skiing every winter. It looked nice but familiar, the quintessential American mountain resort. We had lunch on an outside terrace in Ketchum and afterwards drove for 30 minutes past the town through Sawtooth National Recreational Area, an area of forested hills and mountains with beautiful skylines in every direction. Since we had planned for one more stop and had to be in West Yellowstone by 10 PM we decided to turn back and head for Craters of the Moon National Monument.

All the way through Idaho we saw signs marking “Historical Sites”, in fact marking the Emigrant Trail, the road taken in the 19th century by the emigrants from Eastern US to move west towards California and Oregon. Craters of the Moon was a very pleasant surprise. It’s a huge field of cold lava molded in weird shapes. It sits in the middle of nowhere which makes the landscape look even more wild and remote. I hope it stays that way. There isn’t anything active at the moment and the last eruption took place around 2000 years ago but I read on a sign that geologists believe that future events can occur. A seven miles loop road allows access to a small portion of the park. We saw cinder cones, spatter cones and craters and what seemed very exciting to us caves or lava tubes which we decided to explore. We spent about 3 hours on different small trails and hiking through caves and I took tons of pictures. When sunset approached we started on our way to West Yellowstone.

Sep 182006

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The first day of the trip wasn’t much to talk about. We drove for 700 miles, passing from California to Nevada and Idaho, ending up in the town of Twin Falls. We left our friends house in Sunnyvale, CA about 10 AM and got to Twin Falls around 11 PM local time. We stopped to eat at a fast food place off Hwy 80 where the food was awful. We spent the time chatting with Laura and Alin, catching up with everything that happened during our four months absence. The scenery was pretty all the way to Idaho. Nevada looked a lot like the desert part of Southern California. Yellow fields stretching to meet the horizon. Black cows here and there. Plus the occasional casino in the middle of nowhere. We were pretty tired when we got to Twin Falls and since we had one more day of driving in front of us, we called it a night soon after we arrived at the hotel.

Next day we managed to get ready to leave the hotel at around 10 AM. The reason for our stop in Twin Falls was to see the Shoshone Falls. I wasn’t expecting much since I read somewhere before the trip that the falls are at their best in April when water flows are high but that the flows diminish significantly over the summer due to irrigation. I figured that wasn’t much left by September. They looked impressive in the pictures I’ve seen on the web but I was sure that those pictures were taken in spring and probably in good years too. We drove for three miles past the main street in Twin Falls and found ourselves at the entrance gate. For $3.50 we were allowed to pass and got a brochure that described the falls as – how else? 🙂 – “The Niagara of the West”. The brochure even boasted that Shoshones are 50 feet taller then Niagara. Unfortunately I was right in my expectations. The falls did not look like the web pictures. They were nice but not that impressive. We took a few pictures and hit the road again, heading for Ketchum.

Sep 092006

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Yesterday I went to see a Monet exhibition at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum. I drove there and I hunted for a parking place for about half an hour. I’ve never seen so many people headed for an exhibition. San Franciscans must really love art. There were simply no parking spaces and meanwhile there were 30 cars, mine included, circling the parking lots. After half an hour I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown when I finally managed to find a space to park. And then I noticed that I forgot my wallet home 🙁 No money to pay the entrance fee. Looks like I’m taking up after Cris. One in three times we go out he can’t find his wallet. I returned home very upset. Then I decided to wake up early today and be there at the opening time. Art demands sacrifices. I got there around 9.35 AM and surprise… There were no places to park. Some people must have camped there overnight. I left my car out in the woods and headed for the museum. Twenty minutes walk, $15 entrance fee, $6 audio guide and here I am, ready to enjoy “Monet in Normandy”.

The halls were already packet with people. Really packed. It was difficult to move about the room. But I liked the exhibition. Monet seemed to have painted Normandy all his life and there were paintings from 1865 going to the famous water lilies of late 1800 and early 1900s.

He moved with his family to Le Havre in Normandy in 1845 when he was only five and after going to Paris he returned to the shores many times until finally settling in Giverny, on the other side of Normandy. Some of the early paintings were in realist style – I would not have guessed they were Monet’s. I liked one painting in particular, the Rouen cathedral at sunrise. Many pictures were in series, Monet liked painting the same subject at different hours and in different seasons. The exhibition is closing on the 17th and since we’re leaving for Yellowstone tomorrow morning and coming back on the 16th, there wasn’t too much time left to see it. I’m glad I got the chance.

Sep 022006

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Our plane landed at San Francisco airport about 12 hours ago. It’s about 3.00 in the morning local time, and I can’t sleep. That’s because I’ve slept in the afternoon – against Cris’s advice – being tired because I didn’t sleep on the plane – again, against Cris’s advice. I don’t know why I wasn’t able to sleep on the plane. I usually do. The flight was pretty smooth. We had seats in an exit row, so I had place to stretch. I watched two French movies which were ok, nothing memorable. I tried to read but didn’t get too far. We had an hour layover in Paris and I was afraid we won’t catch our connection but we did. In my opinion, CDG is a well organized airport.

The apartment smells a bit funny. It’s going to take a few days until the smell goes away. I thought I’m going to feel a bit weird after being away for so long. After all, we stayed in Romania for more than 4 months. But I found the place as familiar as always, finding my things around the house like I just left yesterday. I looked out the window at the view. It was a bit foggy but I took a picture.

The car started at the first turn of the key, so no towing this time. Cris went to the Russian store on Clement and 32nd and now we even have food in the fridge. Of course we forgot something in the fridge when we left and that something almost came alive during these four months. One thing we noticed was how quiet the apartment was in the afternoon. In Bucharest there’s always dogs barking, cats meowing, the neighbor remodeling his apartment, cars passing, children yelling. Here it was so quiet. I guess it’s because we live on a hill, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown.

Today I’m going to be very tired. And I have 4 months of mail to go through. A long weekend just started.