Hi Guys! I am back from my Salt Lake City trip and boy am I done with traveling far for the year. While the New York City trip (See HERE) was completely unplanned, this trip was planned years in advance. The reunion trip was to reconnect with a friend from my college days (she didn’t attend my colleges though). We met in person after 13 years on this trip so this was long overdue. During our time together, we shared many old memories and made many new ones. It was comforting to feel that no matter what phase in life either of us is in, we could find a commonality in the experiences we shared together. And that is what old friendships are all about. You meet someone you like, you spend time together and if the foundation is strong enough, you can be on the scattered ground, but still fall together as one when you reconnect in person.
I returned yesterday to find that the AMA’s were last night and the event brought forward so many memories from my childhood to college days. So today’s post is all about memories – making them and cherishing them.
For Kids/Young Adults
I know many people wouldn’t believe that one year (and one year only) the AMA’s were held in Pakistan. My grandfather was such a skilled diplomat and worldly leader that he had friends all over the world (and naturally enemies). I was attached to him so much and it was quite a devastating tragedy in our family when we found out he died in a plane crash in 1988. I will never forget that night in Islamabad when we found out about the crash or the months following the funeral when the outpouring from everywhere comforted us. I won’t tell who, but many of music industry stars of today grew up admiring him while their lives were in Pakistan. I know I met so many famous people because of who my grandfather was professionally and personally.
As surprised as we were that America’s music industry choose Pakistan as a location, we were equally proud to host the AMA’s in Pakistan. Yes, it stirred so much controversy during and after the event, many thanks to our neighboring country, India (no surprise here) that this event was the only AMA held outside the United States (wink wink). So my young readers can imagine what a privilege it was to actually see the AMA’s with my now-deceased grandfather. He called me his right hand as young as I was and quite a charmer (a snake charmer as someone clearly jealous of me called me in response to the title).
Anyways, I have faint memories of seeing Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Cardi B. Aretha Franklin, and Janet Jackson perform. I think Chris Harris and Kelly Clarkson performed too. It was my grandfather’s idea to have the young singers who were also students in the school system I studied in to perform in front of the world. These memories seriously bring tears in my eyes. The young stars couldn’t be over the age of 6 (my age or younger) and my memories of them now include seeing them like little adults. If you want to imagine what Taylor Swift and the rest I mentioned above were like, you do not have to imagine anything. They performed the same way back then as children as they performed last night at AMA’s 2018 – full of confidence. I do remember meeting the very shy Vanessa Carlton as well at my grandfather’s home afterward. I think she was apologizing for being too shy to perform because of which my grandfather laughed joyfully.
After the award show, Cardi B. and her mom and aunt talked to my grandfather and I right before they were flying out. I remember Cardi B. as respectful and surprising and I think she makes her voice up for branding purposes. She did that back then too, but I am trying not to spill too many beans here. Hmm… Her mom and aunt came to us to thank us for the opportunity to come to Pakistan. They briefly talked about their lives in America and before they could tell us what they thought about Pakistan, my grandfather ever so casually said he knows they feel the same about Pakistan. And I remember them just stopping surprised. It was one of the proudest moments because I “finally!” understood my grandfather’s wit.
Taylor Swift and I were very close as we both grew older. I remember my mom talking to her mom worried because they thought we a little too carefree. I remember playing with her at Evan Spiegel’s birthday party and ringing my doorbell randomly outside my house (twice!) on her bike after dusk, which made me so protective of her that I told my mom to tell her mom to talk to Taylor not to do that. She had the most gorgeous set of curly blond hair that she would get straightened sometimes and it was the most curious thing for me to look at because during that time it was all about the curls and it wouldn’t occur to me why anyone would straighten their hair.
Unluckily, my meeting with the singer, Kelly Clarkson was not a pleasant one. She came up to say hi to me, while I was being bullied by a much older girl (come to think of it only she, along with one other girl had the courage and stupidity to bully me my entire life). I am not going to name any names (this girl was a white Buddhist btw) here since she was a former friend of mine. I got protective and told Kelly Clarkson to leave, but she was just as crazy protective of me. I only met her once, but the meeting left a lasting impression on me. I think her song “Stronger” may be about that event. Only she can confirm it though.
My time at Berkeley was divided with work, school, and accidentally meeting young stars of today everywhere. I have loved kids all my life (maybe that’s why I loved being a teacher when I taught briefly). It was quite natural for parents to show-off their talented kids to me. According to them, there were rumors that I was working on something big with friends that would change the world and they wanted their children to meet me. Well, hello social media! But, this post is not about that. It is about sharing memories I have of these young girls that are role models for millions of young girls of today.
Some tidbits I remember from the time include Ariana Grande getting mad because I misspelled her name by including two “r’s”. It was terrible from the beginning because everything I said made her mad. I told her I don’t know how to spell Berkeley and she was like “what!” and then I said her last name reminds me of Starbucks AND you get the idea. She had a spark. I hope she retains it still. Then came the meeting with Camila Cabello who was no more than 5, I believe (how old is she, kids?). She knew Ariana or heard about my encounter with Ariana. I thought she was the sweetest thing when she said that she will be nice to me because I didn’t understand Ariana. And I knew exactly what she meant that I told her that I thought Ariana was just as sweet as her so not to worry. Then carrying forward the lesson I was teaching her I told her that she had a pretty voice and that she reminds me of Selena. She didn’t know who Selena was, but she knew Madonna. Her grandmother told us to say a little prayer and we said our goodbyes.
I loved teasing Taylor Swift even when she was a young teenager because I knew her and her family since our Pakistan days. I reunited with Taylor a few times in Berkeley. There was this one time at a bookstore when she was literally just picking up a copy of Tess D’Urbervilles (See HERE) and I told her she can’t do that. If there are any adults here who have read this novel they can understand why I said what I said and if they are not understanding of my actions, I’d like to highlight the fact that I was probably between the ages of 20-22 at the time. Another meeting was on Telegraph Ave in Berkeley and this time her producer was with her as well. This was such a whirlwind meeting because while Jack Dorsey (See HERE), who I was with and I were chatting with those two, Camila Cabello had shown up with her grandmother (see above). So Jack and I decided to split to give each of them equal attention. The last meeting at Berkeley was quite hilarious…now. Jack Dorsey and I were walking off campus and stopped at the intersection of Shattuck and Telegraph Ave. We were in the middle of a pretty heated conversation and I don’t remember what happened, but I chose to walk away from the conversation. As I walking away, literally Miss Taylor with her aunt and a guitar in her hand showed up and said she wanted to sing a song for me. I must have looked so angry, but she was so excited (and cute). She had no clue what was going through my mind. I gave a dirty look to Jack and said, “sure Taylor, play a song for me”. And then I noticed Taylor picking up that negative vibe and pausing for a little bit. I panicked and said, “sure Taylor, play a song for me” cheerfully this time. She started singing and I think she may have sung “Wildest Dreams”. Yes, a hilariously painful experience at the time, but utterly delightful to remember today. At the end of the song, I laughed quietly and I told Taylor I was proud of her. For those curious, yes, Jack and I made up later.
For Young Parents/Adults
- Where I Stayed in Salt Lake City
I flew Delta to Salt Lake City, Utah and took a cab to Crystal Inn Hotel & Suites (See HERE), a mere 15 minutes from the airport, but located centrally in downtown Salt Lake City. I really liked this hotel. There was free wifi and a lavish breakfast served each morning. The staff is courteous and helpful.
- Eating Places in Salt Lake City
I was quite impressed by the selection of restaurants in downtown Salt Lake City. I researched ahead some recommended places. A restaurant that was recommended by Utah bloggers was Spitz (See HERE). A non-halal Mediterranean restaurant, it offers many things like vegetarian options and an outside eating area. The food portions were aplenty and the ingredients tasted fresh and locally grown. I had the “Donner Basket” and replaced the meat options with falafel balls. I even had some bites of their “Cinnamon-Sugar Pita Strips”, which are nice to have as a snack.
The second place I will recommend is Caffe Molise (See HERE). A little more formal than casual dining, this restaurant had the most authentic Italian food in my opinion outside Italy itself. The decor of the restaurant is beautiful and the service was impeccable yet friendly. I ordered the “Penne Di Caprino”, which was absolutely divine.
The third place I would recommend is Zest Kitchen & Bar (See HERE), which is an organic and vegan restaurant in the heart of Salt Lake City. This is not a family friendly restaurant as no-kids under 21 are allowed. The menu sounds quite delicious and the food was very good. I ordered the “Baked Zuc & Cheese”, which was very heavy given it was vegan. The cashew-based cheese was so heavy that I was done with dairy for the rest of the trip. That’s the thing about vegan food sometimes. It feels heavier even though it is a healthier option. I would recommend their salads instead. They looked really good especially the beetroot one.
For those extra tiring days, I chose the easy route and had dinner at McDonald’s and Denny’s near my hotel. Denny’s had very limited vegetarian options outside their breakfast menu and McDonald’s was the same. I had fish at Denny’s one night and McDonald’s Fish Fillet meal another. Both locations weren’t clean so I wouldn’t recommend them in Salt Lake City.
A cafe I have to rave about is Campos Coffee Roastery & Kitchen (See HERE). Kinda nestled in an odd location between a parking structure and office buildings, the cafe is walking distance from Spitz. My friend and I chatted for about two hours there. In the end, we still had the stamina to hold a lovely chat with an employee who told us that the secret behind the delicious coffee taste here is the blends of different coffees from around the world. They source coffees from Africa, South America, and Central America. Other cafes were recommended to me, but I didn’t have time for were Atticus Coffee in Park City and 3 Pines in Salt Lake City. Check them out!
- Sights To Explore in Salt Lake City
This Is The Place Heritage Park
This was my fourth attempt to catch fall colors and this time around I got lucky. I saw my friend and her husband for dinner on my 2nd day there and then my friend and I spent each following day together for the rest of my time. On the 3rd day, we decided to explore the “This is the Place” Heritage Park (See HERE). Not popular with the SLC tourists looking to ski only, it is also inaccessible without a car. However, I couldn’t recommend this place for families enough. My friend and I drove there on a Sunday when tickets are cheaper. Since I went off-season too, a lot of attractions were closed such as the ice cream and donut shop. It was very quiet and for a while, it seemed like the only tourists there were the two of us.
Their gift shop is to die for. They had all sorts of gifts and souvenirs to tickle your Utah fancy. You will find Native American stuff, rocks, jewelry, soaps, metal souvenirs including such as copper, silver, and gold, seasonal decor such as Halloween decor, and much more. The staff was so friendly and attentive.
The first activity was to take the train ride. I would highly recommend this for families with kids or for people who do not want to hike the vast and hilly heritage village. The train ride is a perfect way to enjoy the towering mountains, life-size replicas of the original village buildings, and a cup of coffee all while listening to the train conductor, Eric teaching us about Mormon pioneers settling and living here.
I would also recommend This Is The Place Heritage Park for summer and winter. While summer can offer great weather and plenty of children activities such as horseback riding, winter is all about Christmas festivals (See HERE).
The Temple Square
The tour on the 4th day was quite informational for me and my friend. Neither of us belongs to The Church of LDS, but we wanted to learn more about it. I signed up for the free tour online (See HERE), which lasted about an hour. However, I got there 45 minutes before to acquaint myself to what was about to happen. The mother of all coincidences was that I reunited with a missionary who I talked to way back in 2001 in Spain. Sister Hussein is a Portuguese who converted to The Church of LDS from Islam. It was such a pleasure to discuss Islam and The Church of LDS extensively with someone who had knowledge of both. I told them my personal experiences with Christians, Jews, and Muslims and different perceptions of anti-monotheistic religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. And you won’t believe it, but Sisters Dias and Mindola, who gave this tour were also with Sister Hussein in 2001, but I think I may have met them when they were in Italy.
On the tour, we learned about the Mormon lifestyle. It was interesting to learn that The Temple Square is where people come to learn about the Church of LDS, but it is not a place of worship. However, scattered throughout the world are churches where Mormons congregate and they don’t call themselves Mormons and they read the “Book Of Mormon” in addition to the “New Testament”. Another interesting aspect of The Church of LDS is their adoption of many Judaic words such as “Zion” and “Temple”. Beautiful space this place is!
You can also attend free choir and organ recitals at the Tabernacle (See HERE)!
- Things To See In Park City
We were done with This Is the Place Heritage Park (See HERE) in a couple of hours, although you can easily spend an entire day here. My friend drove me through a small part of Emigration Canyon to show me some fall colors, but do not go there after sunset, especially if you have kids. It is a windy two-lane road and can seem quite secluded at night. The next thing we did was drive East to Park City. It is about 30 minutes from Salt Lake City and the drive is very pretty because of the fall foliage you see. It was so cold here that there was snow on some of the mountain peaks as well. After reaching Park City, my friend showed me the Olympic Park (See HERE), which is still used year round.
From there we headed for Main Street aka Downtown Park City. I didn’t know what to expect here since this was a completely unplanned stop. I can’t describe how beautiful this part of Park City really is. I had seen nothing like this before. I would compare it to an Americanized version of Switzerland – quaint, not charming. The roads here get smaller and the entire town is scattered on the hills covered with color-changing trees and snow. The houses are expensive and come in bright colors and shades of browns. Down below is Main Street aka Downtown Park City. This street is surrounded by classic looking shops that reminded me of a Christmas village. I could walk the entire street if I had enough time or stamina, but I choose to ride the free trolley that goes up and down Main Street. There are no trolley stops so you just tell the driver you want to get on and where to get off.
A cute little find is Dolly’s Books & Gifts (See HERE). A charming bookstore that reminded me of my old “bookstore days”, it was so much fun reliving those moments before Amazon (See HERE). I just walked around the space surrounded by books of all sorts. There were the classics, coffee table books, fictional novels, and non-fictional books that were a book lover’s dream (or his nightmare!). The bookstore is right behind The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory (see below) so you should have no issue spotting it from Main Street.
- Places To Eat in Park City
We had lunch at Crystal Park Cantina (See HERE), a Mexican restaurant right on Main Street. The service was really nice although the food was spicy. The salsa that came with tortilla chips is prepared in-house and it is very hot. However, when it came to the meals, you have options on how spicy you want the meal to be. I had vegetarian enchiladas since I had never had enchiladas before in my life and made it medium spicy. I know there were so many good options on Main Street so I would recommend this place only for its nice Mexican food. The decor is charming and the place is clean so an all-around win for me.
Another place we had food was Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory (See HERE). This little shop is very charming where you can purchase desserts including caramel apples and watch fudge being made. I helped myself to a large amount of chocolate by buying a cup of hot chocolate and sharing with my friend, my very first caramel apple. Eating the Oreo Caramel Apple was much cleaner than I thought since they slice it for you halfway so it retains that classic look.
- Helpful Points
Ubers are convenient modes of transportation and since the city is so small, they are not an expensive option either. You will hear a lot about Salt Lake City murals or graffiti walls, which are tourists traps. Most of them are not in good parts of the town so avoid them. I was interested in seeing “The Book Mural” because it was highly recommended by travel blogs, but the moment I went to that part of town, I didn’t feel safe. So just be cautious!