Bogotá by Amanda Oliver

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I can usually tell if I will like a city within five minutes of arriving. With Bogotá, it only took three. Part of this instant knowing was my hired driver, Marta, who greeted me warmly at the airport and got me safely on my way to the hotel. But it was also the street art and the liveliness and the looming mountains that easily won me over. 

Below are some of my favorite photos and experiences from the trip. They're recommendations for a visit to the city, yes, but I encourage anyone visiting Bogotá to wander and find their own magic. This city is full of it. While you're at it, forget everything you've heard about Colombia, except for how great their coffee is (totally true).

STREET ART

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You won't have to look hard for street art...it's everywhere. Politically charged and socially conscious. Beautiful and encouraging. Americanized and thought-provoking. It's varied and worth stopping every few feet for. 

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CHICAQUE NATIONAL PARK

Only thirty minutes outside of the city, Chicaque National Park is a stunning cloud-covered forest. We hiked from the entrance to the lookout point ("La Playa", about an hour) and then onwards to El Refugio (another hour or so), which gave us a great overview of the park. El Refugio is a mountain hostel built entirely of wood, with accommodations for travelers and a restaurant with an incredible balcony viewpoint, plus delicious traditional Colombian food. 

If you decide to explore the park, be sure to wear something other than jeans (oops)...not pleasant for the ever-changing jungle climate. Also, we hired a car back up to the top, but you can also go by horse!

MONSERRATE

Monserrate is the mountain that dominates Bogotá's city center. 10,341 feet above sea-level, reachable by funicular, cable car, or climbing, this gorgeous pilgrim destination is well worth a visit. The quick rise in elevation (we opted for the $4 roundtrip cable car ride) had me breathing shallow and feeling a little light-headed. Locals advise you to drink coca tea at the top to help ease the altitude sickness; plenty of the shops have it.

After wandering and taking photos of the Monserrate church and mountain-top scenery, My friend Vanessa and I enjoyed coffee at the lower restaurant, "Casa Santa Clara", and then indulged in truly one of the best meals I've ever had at the upper restaurant, "Casa San Isirdo". You can see all of downtown Bogotá, south Bogotá and some sections of the north of the city from the top. 

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BOTERO MUSEUM

Located in La Candelaria neighborhood, the historic center of Bogo, the Botero museum was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Colombian artist Fernando Botero donated 208 art pieces, 123 of his own and 85 of other intnerational artists (Picasso included!), to the Bank of the Republic in 2000. The museum is free(!) to the public, with a gorgeous outdoor courtyard, cafe and restaurant ("La Manzana"), and, of course, a collection of incredible artwork.

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Other photo and destination favorites

Tequendama Falls

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Santa Lucia Boutique Spa Hotel

Donostia

Estes Park, COLORADO / Above the Timber Line by Amanda Oliver

I was challenged once to write without putting myself in it. No ownership, no "I"'s, no reactions or feelings.

I became angry at the person who suggested the exercise, then I became self-deprecating, thinking how maybe all I was doing was working through my own "stuff" by writing.

I wonder whether the latter is really all that bad.

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

I was dizzy and shaking when I arrived to Estes Park. Out of breath after lifting my suitcase up two flights of stairs to our log cabin. I chugged four pint glasses of water before making the descent back to the driveway.  Altitude sickness was not something I had ever experienced before and I spent most of the first day enjoying the views from windows and visiting with family.

On the second day, we made our first climb into the mountains.

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Colorado smelled like pine trees, especially driving into Rocky Mountain National Park.

This is the part where I default to talking about myself because the world around me was difficult to describe. Describing it feels like a disservice to those who will never go and an insult to those who do. I don't want to tel it wrong.

Alluvial Fan Overlook, Rocky Mountain National Park

Alluvial Fan Overlook, Rocky Mountain National Park

I have traveled to many beautiful places in North America, but the Colorado Rockies were special to me years before I'd been more than ten miles outside of my hometown. Michael Martin Murphy's "Carolina in the Pines" and John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High (Colorado)" were in constant rotation in my family's minivan and, even then, I understood the importance of this place. No music and words I loved so much could come out of anything less than breathtaking, I was certain.

Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park was an affirmation more than two decades in the making.

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Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park

Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park

Experiencing Colorado for the first time with my family was perhaps the best part. My Uncle Jimmy passed away earlier this year and, when I looked around at everyone's faces and especially at the rows of mountains, it seemed more likely that he was there than not. 

I took a few hours to sit by myself in the park on our third day there. I thanked the gravel in my hands and the mountains in my view for this year of challenges and changes. What better things to express gratitude to? What better way for so much family to quietly take turns saying our goodbyes, as I am almost certain we all privately did?

Colorado was everything I hoped it would be.

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Four of Michael Martin Murphy's biggest fans

Four of Michael Martin Murphy's biggest fans

Lisbon, PORTUGAL / Photo Favorites by Amanda Oliver

I can only imagine how much more I would have fallen for Lisbon if I had more than three days to spend there. I was immediately drawn in by the tiles and bright colors, the friendly people and thoughtful packaging of every item I purchased, the innovative food and commitment to quality, the winding streets and Fado music. 

While it's emboldening and often deeply satisfying to travel to places that do not easily or quickly win you over, there is something electrifying about arriving to a destination you instantly love. Lisbon jolted me with energy immediately—from the metro to the markets and the day trips to the hilly landscape, every inch of this place encouraged wandering and photographs, leisure and little indulgences.

Matching colors on a side street near LX Factory

Matching colors on a side street near LX Factory

Espresso, pastel de nata with a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a ham and cheese croissant. Portuguese cheese is some of the best I've ever tasted.

Espresso, pastel de nata with a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a ham and cheese croissant. Portuguese cheese is some of the best I've ever tasted.

The Initiation Well, Quinta da Regaleira. Sintra, Portugal.

The Initiation Well, Quinta da Regaleira. Sintra, Portugal.

Rua Nova Do Carvalho. Locals smiled when I tried to ask "Where is 'The Pink Street'" in Portuguese. Locals smiled pretty much all of the time, really.

Rua Nova Do Carvalho. Locals smiled when I tried to ask "Where is 'The Pink Street'" in Portuguese. Locals smiled pretty much all of the time, really.

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A few of my purchased goodies, many from A Vida Portuguesa. They carefully (and beautifully) wrapped all of my items I bought to give to loved ones.

A fresh spin on canned mackerel at Can the Can Lisbon.

A fresh spin on canned mackerel at Can the Can Lisbon.

Livraria Ler Devagar, LX Factory.

Livraria Ler Devagar, LX Factory.

Cascais, Portugal.

Cascais, Portugal.

Glacier National Park, MONTANA / Photo Favorites by Amanda Oliver

"The Park" to locals and something unnameable to visitors. Everything untamed, wild, free. Winter one day, spring the next. Hidden mountains, closed pathways. Glacier National Park, and all of Montana, really, made me wish I had been born a painter...or maybe a fish in one of the mirror-like bodies of glacier water....!

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Up with the Sun, Out with the Trees / Snoqualmie Falls, WA by Amanda Oliver

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The sun rises differently here. Slower, up over the mountains. 

That was the first sleepy thought I had on the Saturday morning car ride from Seattle to Snoqualmie Falls. As 6:30 stretched into 7, there were still only deep blue outlines of discernible mountains around me. A new acquaintance had informed me that there was "Nothing in town", but this turned out to be the kind of mistruth only city-dwellers, who rarely leave the invisible lines of "their" metropolis, speak. 

Snoqualmie had everything. Steve's donuts (try the glaze), SnoValley Coffee (the Cuban Latte was the perfect mixture of sweet and espresso), and a stretch of other shops. My ultimate destination was Snoqualmie Falls, but I was happy to wait out the early parts of sunrise in town.

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The first view of the falls from the observation platform made me say "I live in Washington" out loud three times, like Dorothy clicking her shoes. The air was dotted with mist, my stomach was doing the "STAY BACK" flip-flop, and the color of the water was just starting to show its clean blues


The descent down to the river and lower viewing deck is more of a nature trail than a true hike. The old trees and signs marking plants and animals guide the way and, with a 250-foot descent over 0.4 miles, this is an easy trail for most. 

Photo by Justin Danks

Photo by Justin Danks

You have two choices at the bottom and I recommend doing both: walk the boardwalk or go down to the riverbed.

The view from the end of the boardwalk:

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The view from the riverbed:

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As a quick Google image search will tell you, it is possible to go past the end of the boardwalk and closer to the falls. From what I could see, it involves carefully hopping part of the fence and climbing some rocks down. I couldn't quite work up the courage to do so this visit. Maybe next time.