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On the Road to Nowhere: Part One or Salt Lake City & Antelope Island

2020 turned out to be a year when everything went upside down, and our crazy family of five, having firmly decided to ride through the storm in the eye of the hurricane, had no choice but to cancel yours truly's dream trip to France and re-book our airplane tickets for Salt Lake City instead. You might think that Utah sounds less exciting - at least that's what I had thought - and oh, how wrong was I to think that! If you want to find out how the great American West can blow your mind to the point that one might - even if only for a moment! - forget about their Parisian dreams, read on!

Day 1

We woke up at the crack of dawn on - or, to be more precise, at 4:45 am, drove to Jacksonville, Fl, jumped on a plane, then on another one, and at noon Mountain Time we were already in Salt Lake City. Harsh but fast, and both of the plane rides were as smooth as they could be.

Salt Lake City met us with the beautiful Wasatch mountains, scorching heat, and - alas! - empty streets. My most vivid first memory of Salt Lake City were scooters and bikes that were available for rent in the street - which was so very cool - but no one seemed to be riding them and some scooters were just left laying on sidewalks, which left us all with an indelible impression that the city was in a post-apocalyptic state, recovering after a zombie invasion. Come to think of it, I guess it somewhat was.

We stayed at the Radisson hotel downtown, with an amazing view of the mountains and the Capitol Building, and we had a feeling that the hotel was really great, but it was hard to tell since pretty much everything was closed - the pool, the restaurant, the room service. Overall though, the hotel was in the great location, and the front desk agent who checked us in was very polite - so this property gets 4 stars out of 5, in our humble opinion. It was also at this hotel, that we, the Harrisons, firmly decided that we were not going to let "The-Virus-That-Must-Not-Be-Named" and everything associated with it play tricks on us, and therefore, the conditions and circumstances that were related to the state of society in July 2020 will not be mentioned in this post anymore. We shall deliberately focus only on the positive aspects of the trip and life as a whole.

The first day went by as if in a haze. From our hotel, we walked to a beautiful mall (which, as I later found out, was City Creek Center) with multiple high-end boutiques ranging from Tiffany & Co. to my favorite L'Occitane. As moms out there would know, shopping with your entire family in tow is pretty much impossible, so I just kept ogling the immaculate shop windows all the while trying to find a place where we could finally eat. After traveling for over six hours, all of us were starving, so when we spotted Johnny Rockets among multiple shops and restaurants, we headed over there without a moment's hesitation. The spicy hamburger I pretty much swallowed there to utter astonishment of my whole family was probably the best burger I had in my life. Then again, every time I fly, I get absolutely ravenous, especially for burgers, and they always taste so good! (If anyone knows the answer to why this keeps happening, please let me know. I've been dying to unravel this mystery for quite a while!).

After the delicious lunch, we walked across the street to Temple Square and walked around there for a while, gawking at the jaw-dropping, monumental buildings and admiring multicolored flowers that seemed to be pretty much everywhere! The heat, however, was unbearable (even though we live in Southeast Georgia and are used to hot weather, the heat in Salt Lake City felt entirely different - like you were being sauteed on a frying pan), so we hurried back to the hotel for a nap.

After waking and relaxing in our room, we decided to venture out to Park City, which is only about a 35-minute drive from downtown Salt Lake City. It's a quaint town famous for its world-class skiing and proximity to the 2002 Olympic Village. We were planning to have dinner there, but, still jet-lagged and confused, we didn't realize that almost every eatery would be already closing down at 10:00 pm. Oh well, every first day of every trip tends to be a bit of a wash - yet most memorable and heart-warming wash of all! So we drove around Park City, admiring the beautiful restaurants and shops - all aglitter with multicolored lights - from behind our car window and realizing that they were all either closed or were about to be closed.

As the famous proverb states, misery loves company, and it was at that very moment that it occurred to yours truly that the car we had rented (a Jeep Odyssey) was too small for us considering what a long road was awaiting us ahead. I was tired, hungry and frustrated, so, instead of sleeping on it, I started whining and complaining about the vehicle we ended up with. Plus, we couldn't get any wine anywhere :). Which made me even madder. (On a side note, buying wine in Salt Lake City turned out to be virtually impossible.) Chris suggested getting a Domino's pizza (which made the kids super-excited) and some fruit, cheese and bread from a grocery store - which was exactly what we ended up doing.

As the sun sank behind the dark mountains and the kids strategically fell asleep after consuming the entire large pizza in the car, Chris and I rode in silence, taking in all the magnificent beauty around us. I squeezed his hand, apologizing for being a whiner, and he squeezed it back, as if to say that it was okay, he was used to it :). The road curved, and suddenly, a golden sea of lights lay in front of us. Salt Lake City. Way larger than we had expected and so-very-unforgettable. The first day of our trip was coming to an end, and all the worries that are usually associated with air travel and getting started with everything subsided, replaced by kaleidoscopic images of what was yet to come. Oh, what a trip it was going to be!

Day 2

I woke up to a quite impressive view of the Capitol Building and Chris whispering to me that he was going to get our car exchanged for something bigger. Even if I'd felt a little guilty for being a party pooper the night before, all my doubts faded away when we saw the brand new white Ford Explorer that Chris brought back from the airport. Invigorated by our new ride and anticipation of the adventure, we jumped in the car and headed to Antelope Island.

Antelope Island is the largest of ten islands located within the Great Salt Lake and is home to wild pronghorn, bighorn sheep, American bison, porcupine, badger, coyote, bobcat, mule deer, and millions of waterfowl. Its natural beauty can only be described as otherworldly, and I would say that it's a definite must-see if you are ever in Salt Lake City.

We spent about three hours driving around the island, stopping to enjoy the unforgettable views and taking pictures.

During that time, we were lucky to encounter a huge herd of bison who crossed the road right in front of us, as well as to stumble on a minion rock that was sitting on a large stone in the middle of nowhere. The kids were very excited and spent an hour arguing whether they should keep the minion and hide it for someone else to find later on. Funnily enough, no one managed to win that argument, since we lost the minion rock somewhere between our car and multiple hotels that we stayed at while we were on the road. Perhaps the minion decided it was causing too much havoc and decided to sneak out? :) Alas, it looks like we will never know an answer to this question.

We finished our outing to Antelope Island by having a fabulous picnic and taking a stroll along the lake (which was very stinky, by the way).

This is one of those pictures where we were all supposed to jump together, but that instead turned out to be plain funny :)

Upon our return to Salt Lake City, we relaxed in our hotel room for a bit and then headed over to the Gilgal Sculpture Garden - a rather curious small public park, which is also a must-see, in my humble opinion, if you are ever in Salt Lake City. The carefully thought-through ensemble of unique sculpture pieces - the most famous one of them being the Sphinx with the finely carved face of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith - is like a puzzle that you are trying to solve as you walk around the green park in search of the seemingly illusive answer to life's mysteries.

After visiting the sculpture garden, we made our way to Trolley Square, a very cool partially enclosed shopping center. Trolley Square is composed of barns that were built in 1908 to house Salt Lake City's streetcars. The streetcar system was dismantled in 1945, and the barns were converted into a two-story shopping center in 1972. Trolley Square is full of colorful shops, boutiques and restaurants, and I could just imagine yours truly spending hours there on a wild shopping spree. I had to pull myself out of the hypnotic reverie and remind myself that we had come to the shopping center to have dinner at the iconic Old Spaghetti Factory. The dinner was really good, and our son Max was a big fan of their giant meatballs (even though at first he didn't want to go to the restaurant, since he was convinced that they were serving old spaghetti there :)).

After I promised Max that I would look up how to make the Old Spaghetti Factory meatballs (in case you are interested, the copycat recipe can be found here), we drove around the city for another hour, checking out different neighborhoods and soaking in the vibe.

When we finally got back to the room, full after our three-course Italian dinner and tired after the day of adventure, we were ready for bed. So we fell asleep, dreaming of the road that was calling us. The road to the Grand Tetons...

To be continued (Part Two can be found here)...

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