Friday, November 6, 2009

Denver Trip Report

NoVA Travelers spent the last weekend in August in the Colorado Rockies. We hopped on the plane to Denver Friday night and settled into the Curtis hotel in the heart of downtown to get a good night's rest before we embarked on two full days in the outdoors. This was the 5th upgrade in a row for me on the Delta flight, so in keeping with my gift policy to the group I gave it away to one of the members who sat in first class in my place while I sat back in coach.

 
 

Sat morning we stopped off at a well known cajun café (Lucile's - 275 S Logan St) in Denver for breakfast on our drive out to Red Rocks State Park. The food was good, and the homemade biscuits were massive (very tasty smothered in spiced country gravy).

 
 

Arriving at Red Rocks we found that it was a special event day- some sort of hippie fest basically. This meant that in between our scenic hikes we were treated to seeing a lot of stoned college students peeing in the brush. Just an additional entertainment factor for us I suppose.

 
 

Our first hike was the 4 mile Morrison Slide Trail and the scenery was beautiful. We kept a slow but steady pace, documenting the hike with pictures along the way. All pictures have been posted to the meetup event page at http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/photos/703291/ so make sure to check them out! They're also in my Denver Album on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/jenniparks), so you can see them there as well. There were several families on the trail as well as a few mountain bikers. Between the fresh air we were breathing in and the glorious landscape we were eye witnessing there was a total calm and peace about us.

 
 

A couple of hours later, having finished the trail, we sat down for a leisurely picnic lunch under one of the pavilions before a couple of us returned to the wilderness trails to hike the Trading post loop (a little over a mile and a half). This short hike proved quite interested because by now the music from the hippie festival (reggae festival? Whatever…) had begun and the acoustics of the landscape led to the amplification of the sound all around us as we approached the natural amphitheater.

 
 

We made it back into Denver in time to get cleaned up and prepped for dinner downtown. We dropped in on a recommended Italian eatery - Osteria Marco - and while the food was good we didn't appreciate being seated at the stool table right by the entrance. Quick trajectory to a sore back that was…

 
 

Post dinner we finished off the night with a visit to a dueling Piano Bar called SingSing. I'd always wanted to check out one of these places since I love cabaret and piano bars but mixed in with all of the classy tunes were a lot of off-the-cuff impromptu raunchy songs sung to bachelorette party attendees that seemed totally unnecessary (I feel like the old guy now yelling you kids get off my lawn!)Still, overall it was a good time.

 
 

Sunday morning we treated ourselves to an absolutely fantastic breakfast at Snooze in downtown Denver (2262 Larimar St, get there just after opening to avoid the rush). This place has roughly 20 different kinds of pancakes and other delicious treats. I ordered the breakfast burrito but enjoyed a sample of the Hawaiian pancakes with macadamia nuts and coconut that the server brought around for us to try.

 
 

After breakfast most of the group gathered to head for Mount Evens while a few decided to enjoy a low key day exploring downtown Denver. The drive to the base of Mount Evans is very scenic in and of itself, but once you enter the Mount Evans area and begin to climb it is really spectacular. The first stop was Echo Lake, and as you will see from the pics we've uploaded to the meetup page, it's just lovely. Past the lake we made our way to the summit, stopping several places along the way to hike and/or take pictures. When we began at the bottom it was roughly 65 degrees and at the summit hovering around 35. As we were snapping photos of the mountain sheep and goats it began to snow. Snowfall in August! Simply amazing.

 
 

It took us literally all morning and most of the afternoon to explore Mount Evans and we did not get back to downtown Denver until early evening. At that point we walked the downtown mall and a few members made plans to visit the US Mint the next morning before we would rendezvous for the return to the airport.

 
 

You can read all the members' comments on the trip here: http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/9819937/ Based on the great time that was had by all on this trip, I've decided to launch a series of National Park trips and am committed to visiting at least one or two parks for hiking and sightseeing per year. For 2010 we have Mt Rainier in Washington on the calendar and Denali Natl Park in Alaska. If you enjoy the outdoors, I hope you will be able to join us for either or both of these upcoming trips.

Boston Trip Report

The fourth weekend in August NoVA Travelers hosted a two-day Beantown tour, focused on the history and cultural attractions of Boston.

 
 

We flew to Boston on Saturday morning and made our way to our fabulous hotel - the Nine Zero. The hotel is literally on the path of the Freedom Trail so we had easy access to all the historic attractions we planned to visit.

 
 

Once we checked in, we meandered our way along the Freedom trail, visiting The Boston Common, The State House, Park Street Church, Granary Burying Ground, King's Chapel, King's Chapel Burying Ground,

Benjamin Franklin Statue/Boston Latin School, Old Corner Book Store, Old South Meeting House, Old State House, Site of the Boston Massacre, and Faneuil Hall. Leilani served as our trip photographer, snapping photos along the way. She's posted many of them on facebook, so if you happen to be a member there, just friend me (http://www.facebook.com/jenniparks) and I'll point you to the Boston album. It was really fascinating to see the old burial grounds especially with many of the nations prominent political figures interred. It's always interesting to see how young so many people died due to diseases that spread like wildfire yet how long some people managed to live before passing (some lived to be upward of 85+ even back then).

 
 

We had lobster for lunch in the Faneuil Hall area at Paddy'O's. For about $13 we each had a full 1.5 lobster, fries, and slaw. Very tasty and I highly recommend it for cheap eats. We also had some sort of crab cheese dip that was pretty good too.

 
 

With our bellies full of seafood goodness we continued on the Freedom trail. There was a LOT of walking on this day. We covered almost 5 miles in total. The rest of the stops included the Paul Revere House (which we toured), The Old North Church (very beautiful courtyard to rest in), Copp's Hill Burying Ground (more interesting gravesites) and the USS Constitution
(free tours but the lines were so long we just admired from the dock.)

 
 

We were going to walk back downtown, stopping for dinner the North End (Boston's Little Italy) but our feet commanded us to hail a cab instead. We had the cabbie drop us off at the very famous Mike's Pastry (300 Hanover St) and joined the crowds in picking out some delicious pastries to take back to our hotel (much safer and more delicious than picking up a stranger to take back to one's hotel!). You know when you get within a quarter mile radius of Mike's because most people can be seen carrying the distinct white pastry boxes tied with string. We weren't actually too hungry after prematurely snacking on some of our pastry stash so we rearranged our dinner plans and decided to pick up something after walking back to the hotel to relax for a while. Interesting side note- on the walk back we came across a performance troupe called the Afrobats that our travel meetup had just run into 3 weeks before in Central Park in NYC. I just smiled and told them we were groupies following them from city to city.

 
 

After we returned to the hotel we found to our good fortune that the hotel temporarily misplaced my bag I had left with them that morning in storage. They were so apologetic when they found it and hour later (turns out someone had put the bag in the manager's office for safe keeping) that they not only sent up a bottle of wine to our room but treated members to a full multicourse dinner with wine at the elegant restaurant upstairs at no charge to the group. The food was TO DIE FOR. One of the sides ordered by a member - the garlic cheese mashed potatoes- was sinfully rich and delicious and especially fantastic. We were so full we had to order our desserts to be delivered to our hotel room later.

 
 

Sunday morning we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel before making our way to the public commons and gardens just down the street. The landscaping was beautiful, the swan boats (of course we treated ourselves to a ride) were fun, and we smiled wistfully as we saw not one but at least two different couples taking their wedding pictures on the grounds. I love weddings and happy endings. I was very happy to snap more pictures for my pigeons and brides album (I try to find a pigeon and bride on every trip I take, so far I've had generally good luck with this. People are in love all over the world and birds are plentiful).

 
 

We stopped for some lemon ice and to take pictures of the Capitol building before walking up the famed Beacon Hill. The houses are charming and sophisticated with colonial charm and many a well known citizen has lived atop Beacon Hill (most recently John Kerry).

 
 

On the other side of the hill we found ourselves at a cheap eats taco shop that was muy bueno and then it was up and over the hill again to stroll down Newberry street- Boston's equivalent of NYC's 5th Avenue. We admired the window dressings, stopped into a lovely hat shop to play dress up and then unwittingly found ourselves in the middle of a protest parade that was marching by. We just happened to be going in the same direction you see, yet I am sure many assumed we were 'with' the protestors as we walked among them.

 
 

Back at the hotel, we checked out, gave away the bottle of wine we'd been given the night before (can't take it as a carry-on and we made a young couple very happy with the gift) and with a bit of sadness said goodbye to Boston as we headed to the airport for our flight home.