Sunday, June 1, 2014

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Denver: Part I

This is the first installment of many in which I will share pictures and stories of our vacation.  We're talking eleven days, 1,200 pictures and over 3,500 miles.  If you had to wait until I got it all written up and edited in one piece, you would be waiting for a very long time.

Denver: Part I

For the first time since our honeymoon, we took a trip.  It was the right time for many reasons. My husband just graduated with his culinary degree (wooooo Bart!).  His career will likely cause us to uproot and move at some point, so this was also an exploratory expedition.  Our mission was to figure out what we liked and didn't like, and why we felt that way so we could talk about where to focus his search.  When he does find a job, it will likely be a while before he gets vacation time we can use to just get away and we had worked really hard the past few years.  So in this perfect storm at the end of a maddening semester, we got the hell out of Dodge.  Ferdinand, our giant sock monkey, accompanied us on the tour. Say hello to Ferdinand!

A musician friend actually liked the phrase Denver by Midnight and riffed an impromptu song.  Taking that theme, we left Springfield at noon and headed to Denver, with that song on the first road trip CD.  We did not make it by midnight (but the song was still terrific).  We made it to Aurora at 2 a.m. and as not-glorious as it sounds, we were totally happy.  The first twelve hour drive wasn't bad.  Our signal was lousy, and we had a lot of talking and catching up to do.  His final weeks of school were hellish, and I was struggling to finish chemistry and write a final term paper that was crazy complicated.  We had missed each other a lot, and it was a great way to transition from  home to a vacation frame of mind.

We rolled into Denver as the sun rose, and had time to kill.  We ate at Pete's Kitchen, and the food was so good it was not to be believed.  I had the short stack and Bart had the omelette.  The food was awesome, the service was great and the place was very casual.  Our bill wasn't quite fifteen dollars, and we were stuffed until afternoon.  The crowd was mostly locals, and gave me my first look at the people of Denver.  I was impressed by the diversity and general cheerfulness.  There were a lot of characters and different types, but they were all friendly and seemed to get along pretty well.  Pictures of Drew Berrymore, Tim Tebow, Merle Haggard and a few other celebrities were all that let you know this wasn't a standard diner.  After breakfast, Bart looked up a friend of his, and I went to the Molly Brown House Museum in downtown Denver while they caught up.

Molly Brown was famous for being on board the Titanic when it sank.  She was already famous among  those in her circle for being "new money" and outspoken and liberal at a time when women were not allowed the luxury of being either.  The tour of her house was amazing.  Our guide took her time and explained the details of every room, and we got to see how it looked when Margaret (she was not known as Molly until after her death) had it photographed professionally for a high society magazine.  Brown traveled extensively, and was fluent in Russian and several languages, and made a point to visit Egypt at a time when it was incredibly dangerous for any woman to be abroad.  Brown was rich enough to make a desirable hostage, and outspoken enough to anger an anti-feminist society, but nothing stopped her from doing what she wanted, not even pesky criminals.  She brought back several artifacts from Egypt, some of which were on display.  If you ever get to Denver, I cannot recommend this tour enough.  I adored her before I went, but I came away with a greater understanding of how she lived, and how very brave and unique she was. She was a brilliant humanitarian with a strong heart and clear vision, and she wasn't afraid to tell anyone to go to hell or how to get there.

I think the thing that best summarizes Brown and Victorian culture came exactly halfway through the tour.  While going through her sitting room, we were informed that the next room was the most unusual in the house.  The formal room was meant to showcase the family, to flaunt their wealth and show their status.  Brown intentionally thumbed her nose and made it a library, showing her value on education and intelligence instead of material wealth and social hoops.  And what a stunning library it was!  She had classical literature (she apparently liked Greek and Roman mythology) and encyclopedias, maps and history and a surprising number of cookbooks and books on living.  In both the library and formal sitting room there was a piano, the sitting room piano had a large nude statue on it during her entertaining years, which was seriously taboo for the repressed Victorian culture.  She had more education than most women and she had educated herself throughout her years, but she would not be broken or forced to be a traditional lady at the cost of her wit and love for life.  This said so much of her character, and helped me feel what was important to her.  I got to browse her books (many are still originally from her collection) and decided right then that she hit a major criteria for a story I'm writing.  So Molly Brown will take her place alongside Hypatia and other famous women in history in the Daylight Man, and I can't think of a better candidate.  It all ties back to her library, and something I noticed while I stood there.  I like to think she would be honored to have captured my imagination, and proud of how I'll portray her.

Downtown Denver is gorgeous.  There are a lot of cultural differences that define it, and I liked them all.  We primarily stayed around Capitol Hill and the Five Points district, that is where our hotel and friends were located.  The streets were immaculate, and the businesses were just opening for the day.  People were kind and there was a definite small town feeling, despite the huge skyline that was right there.

We also got to see some old friends, and in my case I got to meet some new ones.  The amazing Jarrin and Ruth were welcome sights.  I had not met Ruth until this trip, but Bart swore we had a lot in common.  He had no idea.  She and I bonded immediately, and are both animal lovers and have a lot of the same outlooks on topics.  Her boyfriend Favio was a really nice fellow too, and they showed us all kinds of neat places in town.  We shopped at Capitol Hill Books, and I bought a book by a local author.  I also chatted with an employee, and right there in the store I opened my phone and used Google Docs to write a few lines of My Sister Alice in the store.  Now two of my favorite projects have ties to Denver.

Below is my friend Jarrin with Ferdinand.  I tell you, that sock monkey got around.  Jarrin met us for dinner at Casa Bonita, which is an experience you must have, even as I caution you that the food is canned, the service is lousy and the atmosphere is rushed and hokey.  Still, it must be done and we did it with style.  I worked with Jarrin years ago, and it must not have been too bad since we still keep in touch.  Later, when I told him I felt we had to come back, he was the first person to really get it because he had done the exact same thing already.

The people of Denver were amazing, but I'm not going to lie... the food won us over.  We ate at City Grille, and Bart had the best hamburger of his life.  For a million reasons which will surely be coming in his food review, he swore it was the best hamburger ever.  I ate my first vegan meal at City O' City, and it wasn't bad (I had the spaghetti and not-meatballs, and I recommend that and a  home brewed root beer).  The best food by far was Voodoo Donuts, where we were lucky enough to stumble in early Saturday and had many chances to wander back before leaving. Voodoo is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  And thank God they are, because there was always a line.  They have a great atmosphere, and the donut they designed looks like a voodoo doll.  Mama glares at you from a velvet painting on the wall and makes you stand up straight.  There are several donut choices, but the maple and bacon is divine, and the peach fritter with cream cheese frosting got Bart all the way through Utah.  They have several cereal-dipped, flavored and designed donuts and compared to Springfield's own Hurts Donut I will give Voodoo the award every time, for flavor and value.  They were made on the spot and pink boxes were flying out the door as fast as they could ring 'em up and move 'em out.  When we got ready to leave town, Ferdinand held the box all the way to Las Vegas.

That's the end of the first installment.  There are more stories to tell, but you'll have to wait a few more days while I edit photos.  When all is said and done, there will be albums posted at for you as well.