From Mr. Dodge to Durango

21 05 2015

Crossed Colorado from upper right to lower left, from the Midwest to the Southwest, from tornado country to the peaks of the San Juan Mountains. On our coast-to-coast trip, this is the state in which we have spent the most time and seen the most stuff. I love it. I want to move here.

Interesting. "Colorful Colorado."

Interesting. “Colorful Colorado.”

It started on a hopping Friday night in a downtown Denver burger joint with another total blast from the past. My 10th grade history teacher (I date myself… it was 1984) retired to Denver about a year ago after spending more than three decades in Singapore teaching at an international school. I last saw Mr. Dodge in 2006, when I was there myself on business.

Mr. Dodge is a very popular guy and I am thrilled that I got into his agenda with just two days’ notice. He shared my Facebook post about our meeting on his own timeline and that post got more likes than I actually have FB friends.

Stops along our colorful trek across colorful Colorado included Boulder, Vail and Durango, all places I could see myself setting up shop if I had endless resources and did not have to rely on an employer for a regular income. They are charming, eccentric, beautiful and weird in their own ways. We met a blizzard in the Rockies, but as I understand it, that is nothing unusual for this time of year.

Durango and Silverton, a traditional Old West settlement in the mountains, are two of the most adorable towns I have ever seen, with old-style small-town main streets offering everything from saloons to yoga studios. The majestic hotels date back to the days of splendor and riches brought by the mining industry and the railroad, funky boutiques with unique jewellery and fashions, fine restaurants which serve only locally-grown ingredients, and of course the obligatory establishments for your recreational drug-consuming needs (since 2014).

The Grand imperial Hotel in Silverton.

The Grand Imperial Hotel in Silverton.

We didn’t leave Colorado till we struck gold ourselves, at the Ute Mountain Casino and Hotel in the far southwestern corner of the state. We walked in expecting to drop about $150 for a room, dinner and blackjack. We walked out the next morning – having slept, eaten and gambled well – $100 richer than the day before. It’s been a while since we made 250 bucks that fast and easy.

“Alperose” in Colorado

19 05 2015

I have never crossed the Rocky Mountains on land, so therefore I have also never actually physically been in the Rocky Mountains prior to this trip. (I have skied in Lake Louise, but that’s in Canada, so it doesn’t count.) But every October I watch the World Cup ski races from Beaver Creek, which is, for all intents and purposes, Vail.

So when we planned an overnight pit stop in Vail, I was thrilled to finally be able to see what a Rocky Mountain ski resort actually looks like. And, well, it kind of looks like… a ski resort in the Alps, just lots bigger. Here we are in the center of the continental United States and I had no idea I had landed back in Europe. We have “Austria House” next door to a hotel called “Sonnenalp”, which houses a restaurant called “Swiss Chalet”. I have not seen this many Swiss flags since I left the Confoederatio Helvetica more than two years ago.

Ode to the Confoederatio Helvetica!

All this alpine glory (and I will be honest, Vail is beautiful… I wish I could afford to come here during ski season) made us truly hungry for the Old Country. So for dinner we stopped in at “Alpenrose” and chowed down on Wiener Schnitzel with Spätzle followed by warm and heavenly Apfelstrudel.

Oh boy... Yum!!!!

Oh boy… Yum!!!!

Many of you may simply associate the word “Alpenrose” with a bucolic high Alpine meadow, and the cute little flowers that are the definition of clean air, water, nature and… wholesomeness.

I, however, having spent 9 years living in Switzerland, tend to associate it with Swiss rock singer Polo Hofer whose 1982 song by the same name (sung in a Bernese Swiss German dialect, understandable only to those who have grown up speaking it, like my husband, who translated it for me) has become a de facto national anthem. It is played/sung/karaoke-ed at pretty much every festival/concert/birthday party/wedding/graduation/funeral in Switzerland.

It tells a fairly simple story, really: A summer love between a hiker and a lady-friend, set on one of those bucolic mountain meadows amid those cute little flowers. When the fall comes, it starts snowing and she takes off. And every time he looks up to those Alps, he remembers her and wishes it wasn’t so.

As we finished up our Apfelstrudel in Vail, I almost half expected to see Polo himself walk out of the kitchen crooning, “Alperooooooose chöme mir i Sinn…..! Alperooooooose sy das gsy denn…. Alperooooooose müesse das gsy sy….. Wo näbe üs im Höi gläge sy!”

Four dudes on a mountain

17 05 2015

Wow. I mean. Wow.

How… monumental. How very… American.

Four white guys on a mountain.

We finally made it to Mount Rushmore, tucked in the Black Hills in southwestern South Dakota. A pain to get to, but worth the effort.

The cockamamie idea to carve massive 60-foot heads of four presidents into the side of a South Dakota mountain was born in the 1920’s in the midst of this continent’s golden age, and it took something like 25 years to actually bring it to completion. Hundreds of workers, hanging from ropes off the side of the mountain, blasted, chiseled, hammered and shaped the granite into the faces we see there today. It was both a sculpting and engineering feat that was pretty impressive for the day and age in which it was done (without computers and sophisticated programs). The memorial was not actually dedicated until 1991.

(Nononono, at the time it never occurred to anyone that there should be anything other than four white guys… Women, Native Americans and people of color were not up for nomination. Come on. It was the 1920’s.)

For those of you not versed in U.S. presidential history, the four dudes are (from left to right): George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln – all presidents who did something monumentally positive for the life of this country for which they will be remembered. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, Washington kind of pulled it all together right after his army kicked the Brits out, Lincoln freed the slaves and Roosevelt was an early voice in conservation and established the National Parks System.

And these creatures here were the main beneficiaries of that. Aren’t they spectacular?

Aren't they spectacular?

MMMMHHH… munchmunchmunchmunch…

Two buddies just chilling out.

Two buddies just chilling out.

Thank GOD there were wise people around back then who literally saved the bison from extinction.

Welcome to the great wide nothingness

15 05 2015

It’s only when you try to drive across this continent that you realize just how darn big it really is. And if all you are doing is watching the miles tick down on your GPS, you will truly go nuts. Or fall asleep.

(Unless you are driving in South Dakota, where the speed limit is an unbelievable 80 mph/128 kmh. It is wise to pay a little more attention to the road when traveling at that speed plus 10%…)

Lots and lots of space.

Lots and lots of nothing.

So it’s lots of fun to look out for the sign along the side of the highway that tells you that you are about to cross into a new state. They are quirky, colorful and tell you a little something about the place you’ll be spending the next few hours of your life in.

At the outset of our road-trip, we planned to cross into 16 states and one Canadian province (which could easily be a state as far as I am concerned…). Here are a couple of these “Welcome to…” signs we found so far, not necessarily in the order in which we passed them.

Didn’t it used to be “Yours to discover”?

And Mount Rushmore was indeed a highlight.

Maybe a little too much information to digest while speeding by at 65mph?

Simple, straightforward. Kind of like Kansans.

Everyone’s claiming rights to Lincoln now??


There’s a river and a sun in Missouri.

It says something about independence but it was the middle of the night and we were already exhausted.

Sweet. The good life.

Yes it is.

Wow… the people of Iowa welcome me personally! Imagine that!

From the Persian Gulf to Omaha, Nebraska

14 05 2015

I rarely get to bring all of my worlds together.

Growing up as a third culture kid in Europe and Asia, then leaving the homeland again after graduate school, there are few times when all of the important people in my life can gather in one place. My wedding in 2008 was one of those rare and precious moments… folks came from near and far, 8 countries were represented, and my many lives finally intersected.

But beyond something like that, it’s hard. Everyone has their lives and their priorities, their kids and their careers. That’s not bad, it’s just the way it is. It’s kind of part of growing up.

So on our trip across this vast and varied continent, we decided to take the opportunity to see some folks that we haven’t seen in a very, very long time… or in my husband’s case, ever. One could argue that we were just in the neighborhood… and a few hundred extra miles is no good reason not to stop and say hello.

I first met Jeff many years ago, on a floating city in the middle of the Persian Gulf, amid the winds of war. We had taken very different paths to the moment of our first handshake on the steel deck of USS Abraham Lincoln, but we both had come from the same place.

USS Abraham Lincoln: My home away from home for two months in early 2003.

USS Abraham Lincoln: My home away from home for two months in early 2003.

After he graduated college, Jeff joined the Navy and saw the world. I had had the privilege of studying Journalism at Columbia University, and working for a global news agency which gave me the opportunity for adventure. He was the press officer on board, I was the eager and curious reporter covering a massive, globally relevant story.

Though we were each firmly seated on opposite sides of the traditionally adversarial journalism-PR divide, Jeff and I quickly became friends when we realized that we both grew up in southern New Jersey, two towns apart. (What were the odds…?) And we only found out much, much later that our fathers worked for the same company, in the same plant, at the same time, and could also have been friends, or at least colleagues. They have both passed on, so we will never know.

On ship back in those heady days of early 2003, Jeff’s red hair earned him the nickname “Mr. Strawberry”, I quickly became “Ms. Vanilla”, and a third south Jersey kid on board, Billy Ray, who is black, was “Mr. Chocolate”. We were unlikely buddies in an unreal place at a crazy time.

When my assignment on Lincoln was over and I returned to my home in Berlin in April, 2003, Jeff and I kept in touch, even as the logistics of life took over. He had three kids to raise and a nation to serve. I was just trying to manage a journalism career as the industry began an existential fight for survival.

I invited Jeff to my wedding, hoping he too could come to the place where my many lives would finally meet, but his orders had him deploying to Afghanistan that same week. And while we did manage to meet up for nachos in San Diego in 2004, lunch in Philadelphia in 2011, and drinks in Boston in 2014, there were plenty of other situations in these past 12 years that had us passing like ships in the night… geographically close, but just not close enough. Thankfully, there is Facebook, but it’s not a great replacement for the real thing.

Jeff retired from the Navy two years ago and settled in (land-locked) Omaha. And since we were in the mid-west this week, I finally got the chance to introduce my husband to my friend. Jeff and Monika welcomed us into their home with open arms. It was very special.

From that first handshake on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the middle of a hostile environment, to a heartfelt farewell hug in the middle of downtown Omaha yesterday, I am so thankful for my friends.


Monika, Jeff, R and me.