Friday, November 14, 2014

Recent Travels #1: Arizona

A few months ago, I decided I wanted to go visit my friends Rhiannon and Jaden in Arizona.  My only experience within the state's borders was at its northwest border when I drove from Saint George to Southern California.  So when Jaden got a job down in Phoenix after graduating from BYU, I thought I'd take the opportunity to visit a place I'd never been before.

I bought tickets on Allegiant Airlines for the third weekend in October.  The last time I flew on Allegiant I had a nine hour delay.  Allegiant is so much cheaper than other airlines, though, so I decided to risk it.  Luckily, I had no problems on this trip and everything went smoothly.

I arrived at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport on Friday night where Jaden and Rhiannon picked me up.  We got dinner at a BBQ place in Mesa (where I swear I saw the guy who plays Joseph Smith in the Joseph Smith movie) and then headed over to Bahama Buck's to get shaved ice.  I'll be honest, I was afraid it was just going to be a snowcone-like concoction but it ended up being amazing.  I chose cinnamon and wedding cake as my two flavors with chocolate ice cream in the bottom.  It was delicious!  I finally understood what all the hype was about!
We drove to Jaden and Rhiannon's cute little apartment in Phoenix to plan out the next couple of days.  They spoiled me with my own room and my own bathroom.  The next morning we went on a hike at a place I can't remember the name of but it was nice to get out and see the area before it got too hot.
The large hill we hiked up.
I needed a picture with a cactus :).
"How do I get down now?"
Rhiannon with a baby cactus.
After we got our fill of hiking, we went back to the apartment to get cleaned up before heading to downtown Phoenix.  Our first stop was at the Japanese Friendship Gardens.  It was like a little oasis in the middle of desert.
So posing for pictures isn't one of my strong suits.

The ponds in the garden were filled with Japanese Koi fish.  We chose not to buy food to feed them but that didn't stop them from following us around.  They sucked on Jaden's fingers, thinking they were food.
Opening their mouths for non-existent food.
We then headed out to check out Phoenix's downtown area.  It was very hot outside and I was wearing the wrong kind of jeans for the heat but it was fun to experience the culture of a desert city.  It was so different from cities like San Francisco, although I actually saw more cross-dressers in Phoenix than I ever have in the Bay Area.  It was kind of funny.
Downtown Phoenix
Jaden and Rhiannon's ward participated in a Down Syndrome Awareness carnival type thing so we went to help out at that.  Their ward was in charge of the cookie "booth" so we got to eat a lot of delicious sweets as well as check out some of the other booths.  It was fun to just hang out and watch the cute kids have fun playing all the games.

We got to sleep in a little bit on Sunday since Jaden and Rhiannon's ward doesn't meet until 1:00.  It's always nice to attend church in other places.  It reaffirms the fact that we are a world-wide church and that no matter where you go, the gospel is the same everywhere.  After we got back, we had a delicious Sunday dinner, reminisced about old times, and played board games.

On Monday, Rhiannon and I dropped Jaden off at work and then drove to the Phoenix Temple to attend the open house.  I had only been to two temple open houses previously (Sacramento and Draper) so it was a treat for me to experience another one.  The temple was beautiful!  They incorporated a lot of desert landscapes and plants into the paintings and carvings inside the temple.  It was awesome to go and feel the spirit that already resides within that building.
All too soon, it was time for me to fly home.  Thank you to Jaden and Rhiannon for being excellent hosts for the weekend.  It was great to discover some of the sites of Phoenix together and to catch up with each other!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Tourist in My Hometown

One of the great things about living near a city such as San Francisco is that a lot of people like to come visit.  As people have come to tour this great city, I've had the opportunity to discover more about the place I grew up in.  I know what it's like to live here but before this year I hadn't known what it was like to be a tourist here.  And let me tell you, the Bay Area has so much to offer to both people who have never been here before and to those of us who have lived here our whole lives.

A few months ago, some friends and I went into San Francisco to see the lesser-known sites of the city.  Even though I grew up only 30 minutes outside of San Francisco, I had never really been to anything other than the touristy spots like Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square.  It was amazing to play around in South Park, to see the view from the heights of Grand View Park, to touch the Dutch windmills in Golden Gate Park, and to explore the cave at the Sutro Baths.  I came to know and love that crazy but beautiful city by the Bay.

So when my friend Trevor from BYU messaged me on Facebook and asked about visiting San Francisco, I was excited to act as the tour guide and plan out their trip.  A few weeks ago, Trevor, his cousin from Germany, and my old BYU roommate Heidi came out here to have fun in San Francisco.  Our first stop was Monterey.  It had been a long time since I had been down there so we drove a couple of hours south to go to the Aquarium and see some other sites.
Point Pinos lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast.  It has been guiding ships to safety since 1855!
When we found out that the lighthouse was closed, we walked down to the beach and looked out over the ocean.  I swear we saw a whale out there!
Heidi and I on the beach.
Trevor getting his feet wet.  I've never seen someone so content to just let the water wash over him in all of my life.
After Trevor got his fill, we headed to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  I went to the Aquarium as a small child but hadn't been back since so I was excited to visit it again.
This little section had all of the fish from Finding Nemo.

We saw the penguin feeding which was pretty cool.

The Jellyfish section was awesome!

Hammerhead Shark.  It took me forever to get a decent picture of it.
Sting Ray
Trevor, Heidi, and I outside the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
After we had a blast in the Aquarium, we headed back to the San Francisco Bay Area to grab some dinner.  Trevor wanted pizza so I looked up pizza places in the East Bay.  Cheese Board Pizzeria in Berkeley came up as a possibility.  Trevor found out on a travel app that it is rated the 3rd best restaurant in Berkeley so we decided to go there.  The line was super long (as in out the door and down the street) and they only offered one type of pizza.  (The kind of pizza changes daily or weekly but they only offer one kind at a time.)  The woman in front of us heard us talking and said that the line moved very quickly and the pizza was always worth it.  When she found out that Trevor's cousin was from Germany, she started speaking German to her.  What are the odds?  Then the guy behind us (whose name was Alex) was very friendly and chatty.  We met some very nice people in that line (which strengthened my faith in humanity) and then we enjoyed the best pizza I have ever eaten.  It was amazing!  Who would have thought that corn pizza could be so good?

The next day was our day to explore San Francisco.  We left fairly early to avoid traffic and headed to Grand View Park.  Grand View Park offers a 360 degree view of the city.  It's one of the best views I've ever seen in my life.  But it was still pretty early when we got up there so the fog was very thick.  Despite not being able to see anything, we still took some pretty fun pictures.  We decided we'd come back later in the day to see if the fog had dissipated.

After that we went to the Moraga Steps on 16th Avenue.  It was my third time going there and it never gets old.  The steps were a neighborhood project and it's fun to see all of the names of the people who helped create it amongst all of the colorful tiles.
We drove down through Golden Gate Park to get to the Sutro Baths.  These ruins of an old indoor swimming pool are among my favorite sites in the city.  The views of the ocean are beautiful, the history of the Baths is interesting, and the cave nearby is fun to explore.

Heidi standing amongst the ruins.

Trevor standing on top of a crumbling wall of the Sutro Baths.

To get decent parking that didn't cost us an arm and a leg, we headed over to Pier 39.  We walked through some of the shops, bought the necessary bag of saltwater taffy, looked out over the Bay to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, and ate at Boudin's.
The sea lions at Pier 39!
After eating a delicious meal, we walked the short distance to Ghirardelli Square.  The ice cream is always fantastic!  Since it was Fleet Week, we also watched the planes fly all over the city from our vantage point at the Square.  It was awesome to see the Blue Angels and others show off their flying skills (even if there was far more traffic than we wanted to deal with as a result).

We went back up to Grand View Park to see the view and then headed toward the Golden Gate Bridge to take some pictures.  Trevor dropped Heidi and I off at home and we went and saw Meet the Mormons in theaters.  I definitely cried a fair bit.  It was a great ending to a really good day.
The next day Heidi and I went to my ward's Sacrament Meeting before meeting up with Trevor and his cousin.  Our plan was to go to Muir Woods and Muir Beach for a nice peaceful Sunday afternoon.  I love Muir Woods!  It's so beautiful!  And despite having absolutely nasty bathrooms, Muir Beach offers stunning views of the ocean.
So beautiful!

 Gotta love redwood trees!
Me between two large redwoods.
Beautiful Muir Beach!
We had some time to kill before dropping Heidi off at the Oakland airport so we decided to stop at the Oakland Temple first.  We walked up onto the top of the temple and enjoyed the amazing views.
My favorite temple!
It was a great weekend!  It was fun to catch up on old times and see cool sites with such great friends from BYU!  I'm glad you could come, Trevor and Heidi!  Thanks for giving me the opportunity to play the tour guide.  Come again!

Here's a video from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Heidi held a crab in her hand!