Monday, October 5, 2015

Our Trip to Denver: Part III

The next day, we planned to spend half our time with James before breaking off to explore Cherry Creek and downtown Denver. James was staying at the same hotel as us, so we told him to meet us for breakfast bright and early at 6:30 am. Lucy and I were ready to go, but Paul was very exhausted from the day before and just kept sleeping. I finally shook him awake and told him that we were going to be late for breakfast if he did not get moving. That got him into the shower, but then he spent close to 30 minutes just percolating in the warm water. We were very late. Poor James had been ready to go on time. Paul had decently texted him that we were running late about 5 minutes after we should have been there (how magnanimous of him!), and blamed our tardiness on me. Wasn't that nice of him?

After finishing breakfast, we headed out to see Red Rocks Amphitheater - an impressive rock structure that serves as a natural outdoor venue for many concerts and shows. We took a little hike around the formations and up the side of the hill. I enjoyed this a lot - it was so neat! Along our hike, we were spooked by a giant spider that very much resembled a Hobo Spider. Paul did not want to continue on the path any further after seeing that, but after much coaxing and promises of red meat for dinner, he overcame his fears and soldiered on.

I took lots of pictures. Lucy took a very long nap.

People come to workout up and down the many, many steps of the amphitheater.
You can't tell from the pictures, but there were a lot of fitness enthusiasts there this particular morning!!

Oh and look! We found John Denver.

After Red Rocks, we drove over to the Coors factory for a tour. I'm not a huge fan of Coors, but their tours are free and family-friendly so we figured that we'd give it a shot. I'm so glad we did, because it turned out to be really fun and informative. I discovered that Coors actually owns the only beer I like - Blue Moon - as well as Redd's Hard Cider. The tour was self guided with these hand-held radio devices, so you could move at your own pace throughout the factory. Lucy preferred that I move at a lightening fast rate through the factory and I spent a good 15 minutes feeding her in the powder room - my fancy description of a really dirty hall bathroom with a 1950s era couch set inside for nursing mothers. The best part of the tour was at the conclusion where they lead you into a pub where you could have up to three drinks of your choice on tap in cold glasses. These were not sample servings - they were full 12 ounce glasses of beer! We basically got a glass of everything and concluded, no surprise, that blue moon is the tastiest. They also had soft drinks on tap for the kids or the occasional 20-something-year-old female who is not all that fond of beer.

After the Coors tour, we said good-bye to James and then headed for a walking tour of the shops, landmarks, and architecture of downtown Denver. Unfortunately, the clouds began to open just as we arrived and a downpour ensued. We persevered, since we had already paid for the parking, and walked through the rain, trying to keep as close to the buildings as possible to benefit from the protection of the overhangs. We enjoyed walking hand-in-hand, a rare treat nowadays with all three kiddos, through the many, many different specialty shops. We stopped in our tracks from excitement when we stumbled upon a Peet's Coffee shop - our favorite coffee is their Major Dickason blend, we shared a latte and a yogurt parfait inside while watching the rain and chatting. Sometimes, quiet moments together are the best.

On our way back to retrieve our parked car, we were accosted by many, many individuals soliciting funds for various charitable organizations, requesting our signatures for certain government petitions, or proclaiming the ways to our salvation. For the most part, we averted our eyes and just kept walking quickly when approached. However, we did stop to chat to one younger guy who was collecting money for a campaign to feed America's hungry children. He was a pleasant hippy who was not too pushy with his initiative. He kept asking us questions about ourselves and we ended up turning some of his own inquiries around on him. Then, we somehow started sharing our viewpoints on marriage, family, and Catholicism and we definitely got his attention - blew him away with our large family background and our openness to life. We actually talked to him for nearly an hour before we had to keep moving to make our dinner reservation. Little encounters like that, where you get to meet and hear someone's life journey and share a portion of your own story in return, can be so rewarding and uplifting. Wherever our friend may be, we wish him well - he had such a good heart!

Next, we headed over to Cherry Creek to enjoy our "fancy" dinner of the trip at Elway's. One of the most famous and revered restaurants in Denver, Elway's is the flagstaff restaurant of former Bronco's quarterback John Elway. From everything I had read, the restaurant is revered not just because of it's association with Denver's second favorite athlete (next to Peyton Manning - but I'm biased) but also because the food is supposed to be delicious, high-end, masterfully prepared cuisine. I actually watched the Executive Chef of Elway's compete on Top Chef Master's and he knew what he was doing. He didn't make it all that far, but I liked the flavor combinations he came up with. In other words, I was really looking forward to eating there. Paul was looking forward to eating the steak, their main specialty.

Well, after having eaten there, I can conclude that we were really disappointed. We were kind of ignored by our waitress after we declined to order alcohol. We chose to split an entree and just order several sides since I'm not a huge red meat person and their various vegetable preparations intrigued me the most. And also because the meals were about 80 bucks a pop. Who can afford that? So, Paul chose the NY strip and we added on a beet salad, some creamed spinach, a brussels sprouts hash, and potato hash browns with mustard aioli. When our meal arrived, we were blown away by the deliciousness of the sides. With the exception of the creamed spinach, which could have used a bit more seasoning, everything was artfully prepared and beautifully presented.

However, the steak, the crown jewel of the restaurant's menu, was an abysmal failure. Ordered medium rare, the steak appeared to be overdone, dry, and texturally reminiscent of a steak that had spent some time in the freezer. In addition to that, the cut had the appearance of a filet mignon, and judging by the lack of fat content, we were fairly confident that that is exactly what we were served. Plus, the waiter had actually said, "And here is your filet..." when he placed the plate on the table. When the manager stopped by to ask how our meals were tasting, we told him our honest thoughts. He claimed that our complaints stemmed from a lack of knowledge of food preparation. That really made both of us mad because food is...well...sort of a hobby for us.  We told him flat-out that we were not looking for a freebie by any means, but legitimately wanted to bring the issue up so the restaurant could simply be aware of it in order to improve for future guests. Maybe it was because we were a lot younger than their average clientele, or because we were splitting an entree and therefore paying a lot less for our meal than every other couple that night, or maybe it was because I was waving a toy above Lucy's head in an attempt to keep her happy while we discussed the situation, who knows...but both Paul and I felt disrespected by the staff as a whole. In the end, the manager brought us a boxed up dessert on the way out, which was very kind of him but truly unnecessary. In case you were wondering, the dessert was a Key lime Pie with a raspberry coulis and it was delicious.

After dinner, we went in search of a park where we could eat our compensatory dessert and enjoy the beautiful evening. This turned into us driving all over the southern portion of Denver - through Aurora, Englewood, Littleton, and Lakewood. We did stop at a little park in Centennial where we ate our dessert in the grass while the baby slept. We were pretty exhausted at this point and I'm pretty sure Paul almost fell asleep while sitting in the grass. So, we packed everything up, finished our loop driving through the aforementioned areas of Denver, and went back to the hotel to rest-up for our very last day of vacation.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Our Trip To Denver: Part II

Lucy's opinion of my written account of our trip.

Prepare for picture overload. I warned you!

We woke up bright and early to enjoy our first full day in Denver. We chose to spend the bulk of the day exploring the Boulder, CO area. Boulder is very much an up-and-coming, college town with a hefty price tag for most of its real estate. However, we really enjoyed strolling around downtown boulder. The little city is located at the base of a mountain and if you look straight upwards, you will see these enormous flat iron boulders towering above you. It's a beautiful, impressive sight. In Boulder, there was quite an eclectic mix of people: college students, outdoor enthusiasts, upper class families, businessmen, hipsters, and, unfortunately, many homeless individuals with camp set up around the riverbank. We spent our time strolling through the downtown shops, exploring the parks, and picking our way through the elaborate farmers market. I especially loved seeing all the beautiful produce, baked goods, and specialty food items that were for sale in the farmer's market. It was incredibly impressive!

Later, we met up with a friend from home who recently defected to Colorado. It was great catching up with him a bit as we enjoyed lunch in the park. Lucy took the opportunity to enjoy the al fresco experience by sunbathing a bit.

In the late afternoon, we headed out to Left Hand Brewery, one of Paul's favorite microbreweries, where we sampled a couple varieties of beer. Unfortunately because we had Lucy with us, we were unable to tour the facility like Paul had wanted. At first, I encouraged him to do the tour without us and told him that I would just feed Lucy in the little pub attached to the brewery. However, after meeting our bartender who, from the color of his bleary eyes and the oddity of his behavior, had obviously just finished smoking a joint out back, Paul declined my generous offer and chose to stick nearby. I was secretly grateful.

Lucy is not impressed with one of the Boulder bike shops.

After the brewery, we continued on a car tour of Longmont, Loveland, and Fort Collins. We took advantage of the fact that Lucy was finally napping in her car seat and didn't really get out of the car to explore the areas. Paul enjoys driving and sightseeing that way, but it was a little boring for me. We went to Mass in Fort Collins and then scarfed down some delicious Mexican food at On the Border in Longmont. Lucy slept for our entire dinner once again which was a real treat! Little did I know that it would be the last meal for the remainder of the trip where I would not have her in my lap.

Paul being Paul.

Our second full day in Denver was to be our exploration of the surrounding mountains and the Rocky Mountain National Park. We left the hotel around 6:30 AM to begin our long drive into the mountains. When we planned this trip, I was expecting our exploration of the mountains to involve a little more hiking and a lot less driving. In reality, we spent the majority of the day in the car because it was quite the drive getting to Rocky Mountain National Park. The views were breathtaking and we took several stops just to get out, take pictures, and absorb the scenery. The weather was finicky that day - when we left, it was sunny and hot and by the time we actually made it to Rocky Mountain National Park it was very cold, windy, and stormy. With the change in the altitude came big changes in the weather!

We came around a bend, and there was Jesus!

This gorgeous chapel was just off the road. We drove past it quickly and then turned
around to come back and check it out. So neat.

Paul put a creeper filter by accident on the camera while taking these pictures.
I was too lazy to fix it at the moment.

If you look close, that's me standing on the porch.

Gorgeous views!

Notable things we saw during our drive to the park were many beautiful cliffs, a little chapel ensconced in the mountainside, a statue of Jesus (he is everywhere), and some huge elk. We stopped at one point just outside of the park to do a short hike up the side of a ridge. It was really hot and very windy but the biggest annoyance was the sheer amount of bugs that were crawling all over the place thanks to a large nearby pond. That hike was also particularly frustrating because Lucy was fairly fussy and I had to stop at several points to nurse her, There's nothing worse than hiking with a flailing, screaming baby strapped to your front. In fact, it's actually a bit dangerous, especially when the trail gets steep - I almost lost my footing at several points because I couldn't see my feet and she was jerking around so wildly.

We do not own a selfie stick.

Rocky Mountain National Park was absolutely breathtaking. The views! The quiet, windy, chill that ripped across the tundra at the top of the highest peaks is something I'll never forget. Standing out on those mountains felt like sitting on the top of the world. It was so peaceful, so still, and calming...other than the mad shutters from hundreds of cameras and the incessant number of tourists posing with their selfie sticks. Other than that,

Cold, but happy!

Lucy was pretty sleepy the entire time we were in the park and fell asleep once we climbed to above 12,000 feet. I think it was her reaction to the decrease in oxygen. I wasn't feeling too hot myself, but thankfully we had plenty of water and a provision of snacks that kept me from feeling too ill. It was worth it though, because the sights were so incredible. The pictures speak for themselves!

After leaving Rocky Mountain National Park, we spent a bit of time walking around Grand Lake which, in all honesty, was actually not-so-grand. I think "creepy lake" would be a more fitting description. It looked like at one time it was a thriving tourist spot, filled with boardwalk shops and restaurants reminiscent of towns occupied by gun-toting cowboys of the Old West. Unfortunately, the majority of the boardwalk was in need of repair and many of the shop spaces were unoccupied. What little was there seemed old, dusty, and depressed. We quickly continued along our way.

And we basically drove...and drove...and drove. After about three hours in the car (we had no GPS system and our phones were not working), Paul commented: "Wow. This is taking us a long time to get back." Apparently the route we chose looped further back from Denver than we had thought. We were beginning to get nervous because we were supposed to be picking up Paul's younger brother James from the Denver airport that evening. He had been working at an internship in Denver over the summer and was flying back from a wedding in Texas. We had confiscated his parked car at the airport when we arrived and in exchange had agreed to pick him up when his flight arrived. Lucky for us, there were few cars on the road and once we got out of the mountains, we sped along at a pretty good clip and arrived at the Denver airport only 30 minutes late. Poor James was waiting for us in the terminal when we arrived.

After that, we headed over to an Indian restaurant for a very late dinner buffet. It tasted awesome - we had eaten little more than peanuts and fruit during our time in the mountains. Then, it was back to the hotel to crash for the night.

Part III will be up shortly!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Our Trip to Denver: Part I

Now that we are entering into October, a fact that I cannot yet comprehend because the past couple months have been an absolute blur, I thought it was high time to share some pictures from our little trip to Denver. The trip was significant for a couple of reasons. First, we planned the trip in honor of our seven year wedding anniversary. Second, Paul wanted to take me to Colorado to scope it out as a potential place for us to live in the future. After the trip was over, we gleaned three major observations from our time in the Denver area. Denver is crowded, crowded, crowded. Not only that, I don't think we drove more than a couple of minutes without running into a major mall. Going hiking was not as accessible as we thought it would be because it took a couple of hours to drive up into the mountains and, once we got there, certain trails were packed with people. From these observations, combined with the ridiculous cost of living, we determined that Denver might not be such a great place to live.

But to visit! Denver is a great place to visit for there are so many things to do - both outdoor and indoor focused. We enjoyed exploring all the different areas of Denver and found that each borough had its own vibe. The scenery was gorgeous, of course, and we enjoyed the little break from the humidity of the Midwest. However, the sun was a little intense at times due to the higher elevation and by mid-afternoon, I usually had a pretty severe headache.

Our other major disappointment with Denver besides the crowds and the traffic was the restaurants. We researched the heck out of our dining options and expected to have some decent meals while in an area that actually has a lot of restaurant options (something we're really not used to here). We dined at the most highly rated sushi restaurant, the famed Denver institution Elway's, and tried dinner at the On the Border Mexican restaurant chain that we had heard so much about. Surprisingly, our favorite meal was at Bonefish Grill and On the Border - and I'm pretty sure we can find a few of those in Ohio. Our main complaint was the proteins. It just seems that Denver does not have the best quality beef and seafood. I know it's landlocked, so the seafood quality was passable, but the beef? I saw cows everywhere! Our main reason for visiting was not the food, but it was disappointing just the same.

So, let's backtrack a bit.

Before we flew to Denver, we dropped the other two kids at my parent's house and then flew out of a nearby airport. Lucky for us, we had a direct flight. Unfortunately, it was in the evening and we knew Lucy would be fussing most of the time. Thankfully, we had taken baby Matthew on quite a few flights and are now pros at handling a crying baby on an airplane. Lucy fussing did not phase us. Since we just had her with us, many strangers came up to us offering words of encouragement as we set out on this "new" journey of parenthood. We declined to inform them that we had two other kids, and just listened and nodded as several people offered us the age-old adages "they grow up so fast", "she's crying so she's probably hungry", "keep her toes covered because it's good for her digestion", and, my personal favorite, "you should try for a boy next time so you can be done." As usual, we got looks of terror as we walked onto the plane carrying an infant, as every passenger prayed that our seats not be next to theirs. However, upon disembarking, we suddenly were the recipients of many a smile and comments about what a good baby Lucy was. Funny how that works.

At baggage claim in Denver. Where is my car seat?!

Anyway, we got to Denver, got in the car, and drove 30 minutes to the area of our hotel. We saw a Bonefish Grill next to our hotel and chose to eat there since we had gone on a couple dates there when we were boyfriend/girlfriend and always enjoyed our meals. Thankfully, Lucy slept happily in her car seat and we enjoyed a nice, quiet dinner at 10:00 pm - complete with drinks and lots of bread. We were famished and probably spooked our waiter by how quickly we scarfed everything down. Then, it was back to the hotel to rest up for our first full day in Denver.

Nobody slept as well in the hotel as Lucy.

Stay tuned for Part II...

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