Smile #139 – Nice to Meet You, Denver, Colorado! [Part III]

Nice To Meet You, Denver, Colorado!  [Part III]

Bubble and I enjoyed our last complimentary hotel breakfast before making our ways to the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

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Located at the heart of Denver is the Civic Center Park.  Food truck vendors lined the park.  All were busied preparing for the lunch crowd.  The green space is surrounded by government buildings and museums.  To the east, the distinctive gold dome of the Colorado Capitol Building peaked behind luscious green trees.  To the west, a grand neoclassical design Denver County Court Building stood elegantly.

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The Colorado State Capitol offers a historical tour at the top of each hour.  We walked in just in time!  As we flow into each room, our tour lady, a law student at University of Denver, shared interesting facts, history and knowledge of the area.  From the material used on the walls, down to the details on the door knob, the interior is architecturally stunning and rich with history.  A beautiful tapestry hung on the first floor as tribute to the historical achievements of Colorado’s prominent women.  It took over 1500 artisans and 4500 hours to complete!  The second floor is decorated with beautiful stained glass windows.  One of which honors Emily Griffith, the iconic advocate for public education.  We also peeked in the Colorado Supreme Court and the House and Senate Chambers.

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Our favorite part of the tour is when we climbed up the spiral stairs into the the observation deck.  Cool breeze paired with the unconstructed views of the city, it is worth those 61 steps!  Supposedly, the city has placed a ban for no tall buildings can block the sight from the Capitol.  We circled the dome a few times for a full panorama shot of the city.

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The tour ended at Mr. Brown’s Attic, a public gallery dedicated to the history and significance of the Capitol building.  We learned about a tunnel under the capitol!  The tunnel was used to transport coal to heat the building.  It also connects to several of the Capitol buildings.  How I would love to have a tunnel system in Charlotte?!  I could bypass all the traffic!  🙂

It seemed there was some confusion over the years as to exactly which steps is exactly 1 miles above sea level.  As of the latest calculation, the 13th step of the Capitol Building marks One Mile Above Sea Level.  🙂  #milehighcity

We made reservation to the Denver Mint Museum Tour in the afternoon.  But before the tour, it is lunch time!  There was no resisting from the food trucks…especially one that sells lobster rolls.  With so many options, I finally decided on trying a Chashi pork burrito from a Latin Asian fusion truck.  Who knew a combination of traditional Chinese food in a burrito would be so tasty!

Since we still had plenty of time, we wander the street and came across some interesting sights.  We found the Denver Justice Center, the sheriff’s department and the Courthouse.  We even saw a bus transporting detention inmates!

Given Denver Mint is a government money manufacturing facility, it is understandable that security is high.  It is so strict that my purse almost caused us to miss the tour!  Luckily, the guard allowed me transform (pretend) my purse into a clutch to bypass security.

The tour highlighted history of the mint and coin making process. From the glass window, machines were stamping out new shiny coins.  There was even a bucket filled with $220,000 worth in quarters!  The exhibits were very informative!  Who knew the US Mint manufactured coins for other countries, including Venezuela, Taiwan and even China!?  or the true cost of producing coins – only costs 7 cents to mint a quarter and 4 cents to mint a dime, but almost 2 cents to mint a penny and 7 cents to produce a nickel.  Why?  The material cost.  Apparently changing the material used in the coins is easier said than done.  All vending machines will need to be reprogrammed to recognize the new material.  I now understand why the decision cannot be taken lightly!

A trip to Denver would not be complete without at least one visit to a brewery.  We did better, we visited Great Divide Brewing and Mile High Spirits Distillery and Tasting Bar.  2 in one trip!

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Coincidentally, we were in the neighborhood of Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs.  This place was listed as top hotdog place in the nation!  And the were not wrong!  The menu offer a unique selection of exotic meats, including Alaskan reindeer, wild boar, elk, and rattlesnake.  Reindeer?!  I didn’t even think they were real until a few years ago (seriously, no joke!) and now we can taste them?!  I just have to!  Bubble settled with the rattlesnake.  We also ordered a side of fried mac and cheese.  OMG, we definitely achieved food orgasm!  🙂  Couldn’t ask for a better end to our Denver trip.  🙂

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Now we are trapped in the airport for our flight…that is delayed due to rain in Tampa.  Guess I was wrong when I said ‘I’ll be at work bright and early…”


Smile #138 – Nice to Meet You, Colorado Springs, Colorado!

Nice to Meet You, Colorado Springs, Colorado!  

Another day brings another early-ish morning.  Our agenda for today is to drive out to Colorado Springs and explore nature’s playground.

The incredible rock formations at the Garden of the Gods draw attention from travelers from across the world.  What a geological wonder it is!  When we arrived, the fog has began to eat away the clear defined image of the formations.  Instead, it gave the landscape a surreal, magical appearance.

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‘Wow’ and ‘wow’ were the only words we could utter to describe just how amazing this place is.  It is absolutely incredible to stand in the presence of Mother nature’s artwork!

We cruised slowly along the Jupiter Loop and stopped along the way in hopes to capture some of its majestic beauty.

The most famous, Balanced Rock, loomed over the road.  We approached for a closer view.  We could not fathom how a large red sandstone can withheld with only a narrow base.

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In the distance, we spotted a family of deers relaxing in the meadow!  How remarkable is that?!  I attempted to go around to capture a picture of them, but it seemed they were not interested to be the next trending topic.

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Another top activity in Colorado Springs is the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.  It is the world’s highest cog railroad in the world.  How could we miss this opportunity?! We called reservation desk and booked our tickets.  We were all excited to go until we received a call explaining due to the snow and fog, the train will not reach Pikes Peak; instead, it will stop at 12000 feet above sea level.  We could refund our tickets or ride at a discount price.  Boo!  After a moment to weigh our options, we decided to go anyways.  Why not, it is going to be an adventure regardless!  🙂

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All aboard the Pikes Peak Cog Railway!  The ride was about 3 hours round trip.  While ascending to Pikes Peak, our tour guide shared some interesting historical facts.  Most railways today are converted from commercial railways.  But Broadmoor’s Railway is the only one built for recreational purpose from the very beginning.   After taking a three-days ride on a donkey to reach the peak, Mr. Zalman Simmons, was at awed by the incredible views.  He wanted to share the view with everyone and to do so, he must provide an easy access for everyone.  Thus, this railway was born!

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The train winded past waterfalls, through aspen and pine forest.  Along the route, our guide pointed out different climate details.  We definitely noticed the drop in temperature as we traveled through three different biospheres.

The view at the our stop was gorgeous!  However, we were nearly blinded by the sun reflecting off the snow.  *Note to self – bring sunglasses.

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Although it was a regret not being able to reach the summit, we agreed it was a nice excursion anyways.

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Afterward we wander the streets of historic Manitou Springs.  This cozy mountain town is adorable.  We checked out a skull themed boutique and a few artisan galleries.  There is even a shop called The Leprechaun Shoppe!

What a treasure it has been to witness some of Colorado Springs natural sights and attractions!

Smile #137 – Nice to Meet You, Denver, Colorado! [Part II]

Nice to Meet You, Denver, Colorado!  [Part II] 

We woke up to yet another gloomy day, at least the Denver downtown skyline is still nice.

Say hello to our Jeep Compass!  We picked up our first rental car!  After yesterday’s daunting experience, we researched a bit more about car rentals must-do/must-not-do and tips and tricks.  Now, time to hit the road!

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30 minutes outside of Downtown Denver locates the most phenomenal concert venue.  The surreal rock formation, Red Rock Amphitheater, is nature’s best gift to the music world!    I learned of Red Rocks from a fellow Toastmaster and knew it would be a must visit.

We parked at the foot near the Trading Post and hiked up to the top of the stage.  On our way up, we witnessed a small wedding in progress!  How beautiful is that?!  Exchanging vows in front of the stunning red rocks adds a nice touch of nature.

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The energy at the park is infectious.  It is like Disneyworld for runners and people looking for a challenging workout.  Some are running the steps, some are jumping the steps, some are squatting between each steps.  The most impressive is definitely this little boy no more than the age of 8 or 9.  His mom was running the each row.  He was ahead of her by a few steps.  When he got tired of waiting for his mom, he would do push up with his leg elevated on the higher steps.  Perfect formation and all, I wish I had that kind of strength!

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Bubble and I both agreed how epic it would be to attend a concert in this venue.  An natural surround sound system made with rocks.  Bad Company and Joe Walsh are tonight’s performing guest, but we rather wait until a band of our interest is playing.  Reason to return here again, right?!  🙂

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Behind the theater is the entrance to a Performer’s Hall of Fame.  The corridor displayed a timeline of all musicians that had share the Red Rock Stage from the beginning of times to today.  So many great artists played on this stage, from highly acclaimed Beatles and Bruce Springsteen to recent artists Daft Punk and the Fray.

We left just in time before the rain began.  On to our next stop, Rocky National Park!

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Surprisingly the rain held up when we arrived at Este Park.  The small gateway town is lined with unique arts and antiques country stores.  We found wooden watches, handcrafted metal cut statues, and plenty of souvenirs.

Before we head up the mountain, we grabbed lunch at a small restaurant tucked away in the corner, Casa Grande Mexican Restaurant.  We were surprised at the quality of the food.  Delicious and fresh!

The drive to the Rocky National Park was quite scenic.  Snowcapped Rocky Mountain peaked through the cloudy sky.  Bubble was super excited for the view!  As his second commander, I was in charge of taking photos.  Here are a few:

Warning signs with elks crossing are installed along the way.  We found a few casually standing on the side of the road.  What a rare opportunity..or not!

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When we arrived at the entrance, the park ranger waved us by and let us enter the park for free.  Guess it is a free trip for us!

As we ascend the mountain, the view became more and more spectacular.  Along the way, we found a group of white tailed deers gather in the open field.  The drive is full of incredible overlooks offering views into the quiet forest.

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We did not expected to see snow was still around.  Snow packed on the side of the road so tall that is over Bubble’s head.  He looked short next to it!

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Trail Ridge Road has not opened for the season.  The road was blocked at Rainbow Curve. This was a perfect stop.  It provided magnificent view of the majestic scenery of Rocky Mountain.

A little chipmunk was spotted running between rocks.  He was quite the celebrity!  Everyone wanted to touch him.  A lady extended her hands and when the chipmunk came close and realized there was no food, he bite her finger.  Bubble really wanted a picture of him.  He tempted the chipmunk to come over and I was in charged of taking a pic of him…except when it got closer, I got scared and missed the photo opportunity.   The chipmunk ran off and Bubble was bummed out.

Although the road is closed to vehicles, it is open for pedestrian.  We hiked up the hill.  It is picture perfect from every angle.  I guess the temperature was too cold. Both of our iPhones died.  Who knew iPhones are afraid of the cold?!

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Like clockwork, rain/ice/snow started at exactly 5:30.  We hopped back in the car and head down. What a day it has been!  We witnessed two of Mother nature’s best gifts!  🙂

Smile #136 – Nice to Meet You, Denver, Colorado! [Part I]

Nice to Meet You, Denver, Colorado! [Part I]

With only two PTO days plus the weekend, every minute counts when planning our vacation.  We maximized our time by departing dark and early (Hello, 7am flight!) and return again dark and even earlier (Hello, red eye!).  The price of this type of traveling = sleep.  But sleep deprived bodies will not stop us from another adventure!  Let’s get started!  🙂

Before we get to the fun adventure, we had a couple hiccups.  Time for a travel lesson or two.

Due to TSA recent short-staffed issue, all travelers are now recommended to arrive 2 hours prior to departure for domestic flights.  This was updated from a typical 30-40 mins early arrival.  Given it is the weekend, we half believed it and showed up 1.5 hour prior to departure.  How many people could possibly be at the airport at 6am?!  We were greeted by queues snaked between different counters.  Travelers wiggled in and between queue to get to the check-in counters.  It was a mess!  Even though we saved time by checking in online, we still  waited over 1 hour to get through security!  It was quite possible that we will miss our flight and that’s that.  We finally made it through to our gate with only a minute to spare (bathroom break!)! Phew!

A quick plane ride and we landed in Denver International Airport!  🙂

We had reserved a car prior to our arrival as our main means of transportation.  As it turned out, we had reserved our car at Hertz’s downtown location instead of the airport location.  Oops!  This led to a very long conversation with a remote customer service representative over a computer screen and a wired telephone.  Transferring the reservation, upgrading the car, adding extra protection ended up jumping our reserved price of $137 to a whomping $601!  That’s my entire traveling budget!  What did we do?  Bye Felicia, we UBER!  In a world ever so connected, Uber is always the ride you want, the best way to get wherever you’re going.  🙂  

Now that we learned our lessons, welcome to the mile high city!

After a moment to rest, we spent the afternoon explore downtown Denver.  Beginning with food!  We found a local burger joint, 5280 Burger.  I got the ‘Mighty Mushroom’ (Go Figure) and it was delicious!  Bubble got the ‘I Can’t Decide’- pick any two burgers on the menu.  He chose the signature ‘5280’ and ‘Ring of Fire’ with pepper jack cheese, sauteed Habanero and Serrano peppers and housemade Ring of Fire sauce.  AKA the spiciest burger and Bubble can attested to that claim.  One of the burger is titled the ‘A**Hole*’ burger and the description read – we spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff, but if you know better.  We’ll make it your way!  Charming.

We walked down the entire 16th Shopping Mall.  This 1.25 miles pedestrian mall is packed restaurants and shops.  No cars are allowed except the free shuttle bus.  It felt like I was back in Europe.

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The architectures are quite unique as well!  This sway designed building tucked away from the main street is my favorite!

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We visited the Colorado Convention Center, home to the Blue Bear.  The gigantic statue stands 40 feet tall and we look super tiny next to it.  It is a listed as a tourist must-do and we did just that.

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We browsed at the Tattered Cover, an independent bookstore established in 1971.  Inside felt rustic and whimsical.  What a cozy place to stop by.  As a bride-to-be, I flipped through The Knot Colorado Edition (Don’t judge!).

Across the street is the iconic Union Station.  It is a full service Amtrak station with routes to the airport.  The lobby has a collection of eateries and shops.  It is a nice spot to spend an afternoon, enjoying a coffee/ice cream/drink while people watching.

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At the end of the strip is the Millennium Bridge, leading the Common Park.  After spending the afternoon in the heart of downtown with skyscrapers, it is quite refreshing to relax by the greens.

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All the walking has made us hungry again!  What could be a better snack than donuts, specifically, Voodoo Donuts.  Voodoo Doughnuts, in my books, is the ultimate donuts.  Enough food shows has advertised this joint and as a donut addict myself, trying Voodoo Doughnut is not a choice.  …even if it means we will be walking 40 minutes uphill.  The shop smelled sweet and delicious.  Looking at the board and the spinning display chase, it was tough to make a choice!

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We finally settled on a Voodoo Doll, Old Dirty Bastard, Memphis Mafia and Triple Chocolate Penetration.  Because walking 40 mins back means delay gratification, we UBER back to the hotel, so we can inhale the doughnuts faster.

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For now, sugar crashed and time for bed!

Smile #135 – Don’t Be So Stingy With Me

I’ll admit, the thought of winning the lottery has crossed my mind a few times. Especially when the jackpot topped at ridiculous sum. I buy a ticket and hope those six digits will make me proud.

Bubble entered a drawing for $10,000. With the off chance we will the total sum, we discussed how we should allocated the extra money. We agreed that a portion should be made towards our wedding fund. But the rest?

I proposed for another vacation; he proposed for savings. I proposed Portugal, South Korea and Peru. He proposed for savings, savings and savings.

We laughed so hard at our completely opposite views.  🙂

His argument is that we are already planning a vacation this year. My argument is extra money comes extra vacation!  Don’t be so stingy on me!

My genius solution is we put the money in the savings account and then withdraw it for a vacation!  Best of both worlds! 🙂

He is speechless…and I am off to dream about another vacation!