Monday, August 18, 2014

Abbotts go West Part 1: Bloomington to Utah

So we said goodbye to our friends...

... painted our walls (remember when we first moved in?) ...

... packed up our things ...

... and hit the road!!!

We smartly made plans to stop in St. Louis that first night because we were exhausted after the long week month year day and most definitely couldn't make it all the way to Oklahoma, where we would visit Ben's sister, Jenn, and her husband, Uchenna, and meet our newest niece! Before we could do that, though we needed sleep, and before even that, we needed food. First stop: Greenup, Illinois! We found this awesome BBQ place just off the highway. Ben thought a numbering system was best for these food pictures. And he matches the decor!

I was seriously nodding off (in the passenger seat) as we rolled into St. Louis. We found lodging through a site called airbnb - it is awesome! Basically, people either rent out rooms in their apartment/house or have entire separate homes for people to rent. It's a really organized and safe program with the hosts receiving a LOT of guest reviews. For example, the host we stayed with in St. Louis had 130 reviews in the past YEAR. It is comparable to the price of a motel/hotel but with the added appeal of staying in a home - you get to experience the local architecture in an actual neighborhood rather than a cookie cutter, looks-the-same-everywhere hotel room in the industrial outskirts of town. And, depending on what the rental situation is, you get to meet and interact with new and interesting people. We were only at this place the one night and rolled in kind of late, but our host, Maria, greeted us with her upbeat and spunky personality. Hung around the apartment were these altered paintings (where you take an existing painting of a landscape or cityscape and jazz it up with your own touches) she had done, like the one below. The room was super cozy and cute - an awesome stay! And she recommended a great breakfast place we could walk to in the morning!

One thing we learned immediately is that we packed way too much. Maria's apartment was on the third floor so we had to lug our large suitcase, a small suitcase, and our backpacks up two flights of stairs. We clearly overestimated how much stuff we needed with us for our road trip and it was instantly clear we would have to downsize for the actual 5-week tour once we paused in Utah.

We had breakfast at this super fun diner called the City Diner, where they have deep fried french toast. Guys. Imagine the best french toast you've had. This was better than that. Ben is matching the decor again and this is number 2 of 2 (the last in the numbering plan). Also, there were large displays of retro Barbies on the walls!

This is not a picture of where we stayed... just a cool building...

Then we drove down to Oklahoma and it started pouring as soon as I took over... Our visit was so wonderful and we stayed up super late talking because Uchenna had to leave for work before we got up the next day.

It was a short but lovely visit before getting on the road again. This day we drove through Kansas. Kansas is just the worst (we have not driven through South Dakota, which is apparently worse). But it wasn't quite as bad as we remembered, and we were in fantastic moods. Plus we decided to sing along to Les Mis and Wicked. (Listening to Wicked in Kansas was an unplanned coincidence but after seeing a billboard for the OZ museum, the felicity of it was not lost on us.)

We decided to stop at Freddy's because they had frozen custard, we had just listened to a podcast about gourmet hotdogs, and we'd never heard of Freddy's before. We were not disappointed! The frozen custard, especially, was delicious. I modeled mine after a cookie we in the costume shop often ordered late at night from Baked! the local cookie delivery shop: chocolate custard with mint and Oreo pieces. It was successfully very much like drinking a blended frosty version of the cookie and I thought fondly upon the many memories of eating them at 3am as a work-break with my dear ones.

That night we arrived in Denver! We were staying at another airbnb a couple blocks from downtown, right around the corner from my mom's apartment and an excellent strip of cool restaurants and shops. I was excited about this stay because it was specifically a bed and breakfast. Our host, Alexandra, was so adorable. She reminded me a lot of Julia Child and I instantly wanted to talk more with her and here about her life - she was so charming! Ben was a little overwhelmed after the long day of driving by her energy and the orientation she gave of the house, but I instantly liked her, and after some sleep Ben really liked her too. We had a few long and interesting conversations with her over the two days we were there - she is an awesome woman! She started doing airbnb in 2008 when the DNC used the service to house people attending the convention, which we had not heard about it. Apparently, the Republican party tried using it in Chicago for their convention and it was not as successful. The house had a ton of character, and there was another couple staying there that we visited with over breakfast. We definitely plan to stay here again when we visit my mom in the future.

By chance, we happened to pass through Denver, heading West, just as our friend, Ariel, was passing through going East! So we met up at this rad Asian and ping pong restaurant called Ace. The food and drinks were excellent (they had some incredible sodas!) and you get 30 minutes of ping pong free when you eat there!

Then, we met up with my mom! We got to see her apartment and played a few rounds of rummy before heading out for dinner.

We thought it was an illusion of the setting sun but this is actually an ombre building, with darker bricks on bottom and lighter bricks on top!

We tried another recommendation for dinner, Steuben's. It was literally right next to Ace... and it was another great meal. I was so excited to see that they served a watermelon, mint, and feta salad - which is something I love making during the summers but haven't made so far this year - that I couldn't resist trying it - it was almost as good as mine!

The next stop was Laramie, Wyoming. Driving through Wyoming was lovely and we got a kick out of our stop in the Nation's Smallest Town for a pit stop.

We drove through Laramie on our way out to Bloomington three years ago, but, of course, seeing the town from a gas station on a highway is no way to really see a place. Dian, a woman who initially connected Ben with many of the people he interviewed for Questions of the Heart, arranged for Ben to perform Questions at a local theatre and invited us to stay with her and her family. We had lunch with them downtown in an adorable bookstore/cafe - my favorite kind of bookstore or cafe. The street we were on for lunch eerily reminded me of Pismo Beach, California because it was the last street before a large swath of open plain (as opposed to the last street before the ocean) The family was so incredibly fun to be with. Dian and Aaron have three kids, all grown and in their early- to mid- twenties. We just talked and talked and laughed! Then we all split up to prepare for that night's performance, which Ben wrote about on our Inquisitive Theatre website.

The theatre was gorgeous! It was made early on in the town's history and it has a ton of character, like these painted panels of the town's history, or these painted ceiling panels from the 1920s (or late 1800s...)

The show was successful, with a great audience and talk back following the performance. We attended church the next day- we love getting to visit the varied LDS wards across the country! - and were back on the road by early evening.

Thank you to the Bretones family for great conversation, food, and laughs!

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