Tag: Travel

Montana and South Dakota (Part 1): Bozeman, Mt. Rushmore, Jewel Caves, Deadwood

Just the facts:

STATES: Montana
NICKNAME: The Treasure State
FOOD EATEN: Brunch at Jam!, dinner and drinks at Montana Ale Works, drinks at Lockhorn Cider House, brunch at Cateye Cafe, groceries at Community Food Co-op
GOOGLE MAPS ILLUSTRATION: A cowboy
PHOTOS: HERE

Fun as Idaho was, my roadtrip hit two minor snags early on.

Or rather, my ability to adult came under fire in the first two days of the roadtrip when I realized that (1) there was a fraudulent charge on my credit card and (2) my camera was broken.

#1 left me a credit card down, and #2?

Welp, thank god for Montana and their lack of sales tax!

Because goddamn, if I’m going to completely replace my Nikon, I might as well get it tax-free. Two camera stores and a D7100 later, I was in Bozeman, MT, which I had actually visited twenty years ago, during a trip to Yellowstone. All I remember from Bozeman during the summer of ’97 was my parents refusing to buy me stuff from the local shopping mall. And a bird pooping on my head.

Thankfully, my second rodeo with the Bozone improved by leaps and bounds, and I can proudly say that no birds have pooped on my head. Since I’d already been to Yellowstone, I opted to take it easy during the Montana leg of the trip, which meant lots of food. And beer, which is pretty much liquid bread, so that also counts as food.

Highlights included:

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Biscuit and waffles at JAM!

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🍺✈️ at #montanaaleworks (salmon fly honey rye, razzu, and beltian white) #latergram

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Shepherd’s pie at Montana Ale Works, topped off with a beautiful beer flight of Salmon Fly Honey Rye (Madison River Brewing at Belgrade, MT), Razzu Raspberry Wheat (Philipsburg Brewing Company at Philipsburg, MT), Beltian White (Harvest Moon Brewing at Belt, MT)

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Cider flight at Lockhorn Cider House, which is a wonderful place not just because of the cider, but because it is a dog-friendly cider house and there is no combo more wonderful than cider and dogs.

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The Cowgirl (= banana bread french toast topped with yogurt + marionberry sauce and whipped cream) at Cateye Cafe, whose aesthetic caters quite well to my cat-eye-glasses-wearing self.

Other than eating and playing with dogs and getting a replacement camera, I suppose I did other stuff in Bozeman. I went grocery shopping at the Bozeman Community Food Co-op, which my friend described as peak Bozone, and welp, I can’t say I can find the lie in that description:

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Artisanal bone broth exists in this world, and of course it is in a jar with a well-designed label with nice typeface.

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There were also some rad skeletons of dinosaurs at the Museum of the Rockies, so if dinosaurs and prehistoric stuff are your jam, you’ll dig it.

But if post-Civil-War US history is what you’re after, then perhaps the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument might be more your speed. Also known as the site of Custer’s Last Stand (remember your AP US History classes?!), this stop broke up an otherwise monotonous drive out of Montana.

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I am also including a gratuitous photo of huckleberry ice cream sandwiches, because only in convenience stores in Montana do they sell huckleberry ice cream sandwiches alongside old standbys like vanilla and chocolate. And they are delicious.

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Just the facts:

STATES: South Dakota
NICKNAME: The Mt. Rushmore State
FOOD EATEN: Dinner at Lewie’s Burgers and Brews, coffee at Pure Bean Roasters, coffee at Dixon Coffee Co.
GOOGLE MAPS ILLUSTRATION: A miner
PHOTOS: HERE

Huckleberry ice cream sandwiches and national monuments aside, the drive from Montana (to Wyoming) to South Dakota was pretty forgettable for the long stretch of distance I had to cover. Damn you Mountain Time Zone for your bigass states! On the plus side, there are higher speed limits and mountain views in Montana that are easy to take for granted. On the minus side? Eve-ry-thing else.

Love bugs stuck and clung to our windshield and made it nigh-impossible to see, rest stops are practically extinct, I was getting dehydrated, and instead of seeing small-town exits with gas stations/fast-food restaurants, you get unnamed exits that lead you into a hamlet, unincorporated community, or worse: somebody else’s backyard.

And yet, several hours later, we made it! To Rapid City, South Dakota!

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This, my friends, is peak South Dakota.

Okay, okay, to South Dakota’s credit, there actually is a lot to offer, and it truly is an underrated state, especially if you’re into nature and are willing to withstand some degree of tourist kitsch (because you’ll see so much of it to an unavoidable extent). We went to several national parks, all of which were clustered within a two-hour radius of Rapid City. If we squinted a little bit, we could even see some portrait busts carved into the mountains:

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The upside is that Mt. Rushmore is a quick drive from Rapid City, but the downside is the stretch of tourist hell so egregiously tacky that you cannot avoid. You think you’re screwed, and then you get inundated with a stretch of billboards you wish you hadn’t read. For the most part, Mt. Rushmore is a fairly quick trip:

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If you walk a little closer, you can see up Washington’s nose.

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Do you understand this equation?

It’s okay, neither did I. But now you know that Thomas Jefferson authored the first ice cream recipe in America! #themoreyouknow

That afternoon, we headed to Jewel Caves, which I found fascinating. Apparently, my camera didn’t find them very fascinating, according to the number of blurry photos I amassed, but look, if there’s anything The Magic School Bus taught me, it’s that caves are Pretty Dope:

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Once we got out the caves and drove through the Black Hills, we stopped at Deadwood, a cute little town that’s been historically preserved to retain its likeness as a gold-mining town, saloons and all.

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You can even catch a glimpse of history at the Deadwood Mountain Grand, where we missed a live concert featuring everybody’s favorite 90s alt-rock acts like the Barenaked Ladies, Vertical Horizon, Fastball, and Everclear by

ONE.

FUCKING.

DAY.

No, I’m not salty. You’re salty.

Idaho: Shoshone Falls, Sun Valley, Craters of the Moon

Just the facts:

STATE: Idaho
NICKNAME: Gem State
FOOD EATEN: Potatoes. HAHA, jk. I went to Twin Falls Sandwich Company in (surprise) Twin Falls and Cristina’s Restaurant in Sun Valley
PLACES VISITED: Shoshone Falls (via Twin Falls), Sun Valley (via Ketchum and Hailey), Craters of the Moon
GOOGLE MAPS ILLUSTRATION: Potato farmer
PHOTOS: HERE


For those who don’t know, I’m on the road before I head off to grad school. While I could make things a heck of a lot easier for myself and stay in one location, I did have a bucket list item I wanted to complete, come hell or high water. Or, rather I had 13 bucket list items that I wanted to complete, and those were all the states I hadn’t yet visited:

  1. Idaho
  2. North Dakota
  3. South Dakota
  4. Nebraska
  5. Kansas
  6. Oklahoma
  7. Minnesota
  8. Iowa
  9. Arkansas
  10. Mississippi
  11. Alabama
  12. Georgia
  13. Vermont

This is probably a terrible time to mention that I haven’t driven regularly since I was in high school, right?

While most of these states can geographically be grouped together, it did mean that I was going to have to zigzag my way through the US. To go out of my way just to hit up Idaho OR Vermont makes zero sense to the average person, but hey, I’m committed.

In fact, the first state I checked off was Idaho. There are two things I know about Idaho, and those are (1) potatoes and (2) Napoleon Dynamite.

Speaking of which, it’s been 13 years since Napoleon Dynamite was a thing?!

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite make it to Preston, and after hours of driving through the Tahoe/Reno area and bits of Nevada along I-80, I was quite happy to see some form of civilization in the form of Twin Falls, ID: home to Chobani yogurt and CLIF bars!

Mostly, I was just plain hungry, hence this chicken pesto panini from the Twin Falls Sandwich Company, with lots of fries because being in Idaho warrants a metric crapton of potatoes.

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Appropriately fueled up for the rest of the leg, I eventually made it to our first real destination: Shoshone Falls! Dubbed the “Niagara of the West” but careful enough to disassociate themselves with the tourist kitsch that defines the real Niagara we know and love (to hate), Shoshone Falls boasts the type of waterfalls that TLC told you not to chase:

channeling TLC β›²

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That night, we drove to Sun Valley, aka the ski area where Ernest Hemingway used to spend his winter vacays. By May though, Ketchum and its surrounding environs were quiet with little residual mounds of snow, which is to be expected when the ski season is already over, but that didn’t stop us from walking around the main town, Ketchum*, the next day and grabbing coffee and a meal at Cristina’s:

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DAT RIGATONI was excellent (10/10 would eat again), and a good walking distance away from Ketchum Cemetery, where you can find the graves of Hemingway & co, should you know where to look:

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We then headed to the Hemingway Memorial at Trail Run, which is nestled between a park and a golf course.

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That afternoon saw us driving out of Sun Valley and onto our next Idahoan destination: Craters of the Moon! A national monument and preserve in central Idaho, Craters of the Moon is an endless expanse of dark volcanic ruins. Equal parts weird and stunning, Craters is made of dark lava flows, cinder cones, and sagebrush that look both futuristic and jurassic.

As we walked along the trails, the landscape looked largely like this:

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with the occasional trees poking out:

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with a few ice caves:

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Like, damn, Idaho. Who woulda thunk that you’d be able to come across this post-apocalyptic aesthetic in this neck of the woods?

*Yes, of course I thought of Pokemon. What, you think I was just going to roadtrip and not play Pokemon Go?

Central Asia, Part 5: Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Hey! Hi! SUP. Yo. You’re reading about a trip that took place 11 months ago (May – June 2015), which means that I am sadly no longer in Central Asia. However, the trip was awesome enough that I feel compelled to write about it in a series of blog posts, because it’s unsurprisingly … kind of difficult to write about three different countries and so many different experiences’ worth of text and consolidate that sucker into one blog entry. Also, I’m likely a) nostalgic, b) itching to travel again, c) guilty about having so many orphaned photos on my HD, or d) all of the above. HERE WE GO.


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Our bags packed and ready to go, Rebekah and I were on the train to our second Uzbek destination: Samarkand! Was I excited or was I really freaking excited that I could now visit the one elusive place that refused to be crossed off my travel bucket list. If there was one place that inspired this entire trip, it was Samarkand, the historic town that became an UNESCO site for being the Crossroads of Cultures, the Silk Road hub, the capital of the Timurid empire … the list goes on and on. If Bukhara felt like a town that was pulled out and recreated from a time-machine and Tashkent felt like a modern city breaking out of its post-Soviet shadow, then Samarkand was an intersection of the two. There were a lot more cars! Bars! (Granted, this wasn’t exactly pub crawl territory, but there were at least more signs of life during the nighttime.) People! Like this gent below:

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The man above, Timur / Tamerlane / Amir Temur, was the leader whose dynasty had revolved around Samarkand (and overall, Persia/Central Asia) and whose statue now watches over one of Samarkand’s biggest intersections. He also has a pretty awesome mausoleum dedicated to him:

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Gur-e-Amir (also known as the Amir Temur Mausoleum) is a mausoleum (duh) that contains the tombs of Amir Temur himself, his sons, grandsons, and teacher. Only the foundations, entrance portal, and one of the four minarets remain, but even what’s been left (and restored) is nothing short of stunning. Can we talk about how incredible the azure mosaics are? Or the intricate patterns on those domes, because damn, son. And to think, we got to walk past this beaut day in and day out as we ventured outside.

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In fact, the first day was largely spent visiting mosques, mausoleums, and minarets (the three Ms), and honestly something you could have made an entire trip out of. We had hit up Amir Temur Mausoleum as shown above, Bibi Khanym Mosque, Shakhi Zinda, Ulugh Beg Observatory, and Rukhabat Mausoleum, in a day, making good use of our walking shoes and sunscreen. By the time we passed by the crown jewel of Samarkand, Registan Square, we had only enough energy to buy ice cream sandwiches and plop down on the nearby park chairs and people watch. Which, to be fair, blows all other summer afternoons out of the water, when you’ve got a view like this:

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The main public square of Samarkand, Registan Square is to Samarkand as Times Square is to New York, even though that’s a gross comparison to make because Registan doesn’t feel like a tourist-ridden hell, despite being the main go-to for tourists.

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Ulugh-Beg Madrasah

A wide sprawling square, Registan is flanked on three sides by madrasahs, which were actually schools! With dorms and colleges and lecture halls — the whole she-bang. Look, I’ve visited plenty of gorgeous college campuses before and have studied at a university with an impressive neoclassical-style campus, but going purely off architecture here, the Ulugh Beg Madrasah (above) might just school all the other schools out there.

Also, I’m not sure if I’d get enough schoolwork done, because I’d likely do what I did the first day and eat ice cream all afternoon on the grass. Not that this was terribly different from what I did on weekday afternoons in college, but.

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Tilya-Kori Madrasah

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Sher-Dor Madrasah. Check out them tiger mosaics!

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Also, don’t these close-up shots make you so mad? These mosaics, man.

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Inside Registan Square, there are several bazaars tucked away where you can buy different goods and souvenirs to bring home.

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As you can tell by the bajillion photos that I just posted, Registan was so fucking big that it totally justified Rebekah and I spending our entire second day there. However! We of course needed enough nutrition and sustenance to last us in the 90-degree desert heat, and Uzbek food happens to be such a largely-untapped goldmine of carb-fueled cuisine that it deserves its own mention. Standouts included:

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Lagman. We ate this in Bishkek, but in Uzbekistan, they were generous with the dill and this one was more soupy, like the type of dish you’d want if you were stuck inside during a particularly cold day. Cold-weather comfort food, if you will.

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When paired with non (Uzbek bread), it’s carby heaven. Also, non is etymologically similar to naan, so of course it’d make sense that all carbohydrate-y goodness happens to be related.

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Manti are traditional Turkic dumplings about the size of a fist. Usually topped with butter or cream, they contain lamb meat with added fat for all that savory goodness.

My absolute favourite Uzbek dish, though?

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Plov, hands down.

As a general fan of rice (having grown up on that stuff as a kid), I’m already naturally predisposed to love plov. If you take any dish with a rice base, and add garlic, carrots, chickpeas, and lamb, consider me sold. However, in Uzbekistan, plov is a national institution. It’s the national dish, of course, which already gives it some legitimacy, but there are cult-like levels of enthusiasm where there are restaurants that make large batches of plov and only plov and they sell out before noon. Could you imagine if that happened with every brunch place in America?

Fun fact: plov = pilaf. Rice pilaf, get it?

Weirdly enough, the plov game was strongest in Tashkent, where there are incidentally a higher concentration of cafes and restaurants and of course, a much larger demand. But more on that in my next post! I’m already getting hungry just waxing nostalgic about it.

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A photo posted by Cindy (@cindypepper) on

A photo posted by Cindy (@cindypepper) on

A photo posted by Cindy (@cindypepper) on