Mile High City Getaway

Old Aug 7th, 2021, 01:06 PM
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Mile High City Getaway

I’m not much of a city person, but a good friend convinced me to join her in downtown Denver for a four night ‘staycation’ on the condition that I didn’t have to drive anywhere once I arrived at our meeting point.

I lived in Denver metro for a few years back in the mid 80’s and then again in the late 90’s, but even back then I had little interest in cities and only ventured downtown once or twice, so this was all pretty new to me.

Wednesday -

I drove the ~two hours from my home in the mountains to the southwestern suburb of Littleton, where I left my car at the home of a friend. Donna drove from her home in a north Denver suburb to collect me. Our first stop was the Denver Botanic Gardens, where we had a really good - albeit sweaty - alfresco lunch at The Hive Garden Bistro adjacent to the Monet Ponds (two thumbs up for the salmon salad and wood fired Margarita pizza). Note: The Botanic Gardens requires reservations, but plenty were available; Donna booked via her phone before we left Littleton.

After lunch we spent a few hours exploring the gardens, but the unbearable heat (99 degrees!) zapped our energy and diminished our enjoyment somewhat. I really liked what I saw of the gardens, and wouldn’t mind a return visit on a much cooler day. Admission $15

https://www.botanicgardens.org/










After the gardens, Donna gave me a quick drive-by tour of the area around her downtown office. I was surprised at the abundance of homeless, and the city’s attempt to keep them at bay by installing temporary chain link/orange plastic fencing and depositing large piles of rock around/in some parkways/grassy areas evidently to discourage them from setting up camp. There was even a homeless camp on the parkway (narrow strip of city owned land separating a house from the street) in front of a very expensive looking restored historic home. I certainly wasn’t expecting that.

We eventually checked into The Grand Hyatt on Welton Street (chosen for its central location and good reviews) got settled, freshened up and then drove to Donna’s office, where we lucked into a free parking space along the street, and left the car.

We walked over to the newly opened Dew Drop Inn and proceeded to work our way through their $6 Neighborhood Cocktails (Happy Hour) – very refreshing on a miserably hot day - while catching up and watching the world go by from our table facing the windows. The Citri-cello Spritzer and the Sangria Very Much were particularly good.

https://www.dewdropinndenver.com/




We decided to stick around for dinner, me choosing the hummus plate, she going for the Big Bowl of Mussels. Both very good. I really liked this place.

Thursday –

It was already warm at 6 am when I set out on my morning walk. I’d asked Donna if she thought it wise for me to walk alone downtown in the early morning – she’d driven by a few days prior to scope it out and felt it was perfectly safe. And it was – sure, I walked past a few street dwellers snoozing in doorways and had to step over a few piles of vomit, but I felt completely safe.

Fortunately, I hadn’t run across this article prior to my visit:

https://www.westword.com/news/eight-...pdate-12034062

There’s just something about walking early in the morning before a city wakes up. My walk today took me past a Denver landmark, the historic Brown Palace, built in 1892 and the second-longest operating hotel in Denver. I eventually worked my way up to the Denver State Capitol, deserted and peaceful. I spent an hour just wandering - and trying not to get lost - then stopped for caffeine at Tuscany Coffee; unsure which was worse, the coffee or the glacially slow service; and then returned to the hotel to get ready for the day.





We had breakfast at Syrup on 18th street, a popular spot by the looks of it – the food was okay - my Crack Bacon and pancake tasty - but certainly nothing to get excited about. I did have trouble keeping my fork out of Donna’s smashed tater tots though. About those…it’s been many moons since I last had tater tots, let alone good ones, so seeing them on a menu surprised me, but as later breakfast venues would attest, tater tots have made a comeback in a very big way.

It was here that we also encountered a new charge on our food bill – a 2% surcharge for minimum wage increase – first time I’d run into this.

https://syruprestaurant.com/locations

After breakfast we walked over to the Cowboy in Pajamas sculpture by former toymaker turned sculptor Sean O’Meallie, which I’ve since read is often referred to as one of the ‘pieces of art to miss’ in Denver. It’s over 20 feet tall, made of bronze/acrylic paint, and while certainly not worth going out of one’s way for, whimsical and smile inducing.




We wandered, me stopping several times to photograph the beautiful flowers bursting from their pots that dotted the streets.





Then we sought out another Denver Landmark, Union Station, which began life as the Denver Union Depot in 1881. We watched a few kids play in the dancing fountains out front, and then poked around inside, where I took a gazillion photos – what a beautiful place.

https://unionstationindenver.com/






Then we walked to McGregor Square, which I’d never heard of, and Donna had never seen. It’s basically an entertainment, retail and food district adjacent to Coors Field, not much of interest (to me anyway).

https://www.mcgregorsquare.com/

Next up was the Dairy Block located in the LoDo neighborhood, the former home of the Windsor Diary which describes itself as a ‘micro-district’ with shops, restaurants, bars, a boutique hotel and a ‘luxury co-working space’.

https://dairyblock.com/






A cold drink was in order, so we next sought out Rio’s on Blake Street, which evidently has a reputation for good margaritas; the place was hopping; it seemed as good a place as any to take a break from the miserable heat, so we sat in the bar, shared a bowl of chips and fiery salsa and each ordered a margarita. It served its purpose as place to cool our heels over a drink, but not sure what all the fuss is about, neither of us thought the margaritas were anything special (the 2% charge appeared on our bill again).

https://riograndemexican.com/locatio...ampaign=Denver

Later we explored the 16th Street Mall, where Kilwin’s Chocolates and Ice Cream shop caught my eye. Evidently Kilwin’s has been around since 1947 – it’s a mystery how this chocolate and ice cream lover had never heard of them. But, now I’m a convert having sampled their Cappuccino chocolate chip and Fudgie Brownie ice cream. There are no seats inside, and no benches outside, so we consumed our ice cream standing inside the air conditioned shop.

https://www.kilwins.com/

To be continued...
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Old Aug 7th, 2021, 08:11 PM
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Always enjoy your TR's Mel.

As you might know the Rio was started in Fort Collins in 1986. We were regulars for many years, going to their weekly salsa dance nights. Those evenings began with a tasty and fortifying marg. We still dine there on occasion - best patio in town - but we are convinced their marg recipe changed a few years ago (we suspect the mixer), and they lost their luster. I order the much better coin margs these days. Give that a try if there is a next time.
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Old Aug 8th, 2021, 05:17 AM
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Nelson - No, I didn't know the Rio was started in Fort Collins.

I have vague memories of a dinner at Rio's somewhere in Denver ages ago - the realtor who'd just sold us our house took us there. Maybe the memories are vague because the margaritas were good back then
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Old Aug 8th, 2021, 06:36 AM
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Friday -

Today’s early morning meander took me past the Paramount Theatre, the Denver Athletic Club and through Civic Center Park, which was a complete surprise to me. Government buildings surround a lush green park, dotted with statues, street art, fountains, green space and a vegetable garden used to supply a local shelter. There’s also a monument dedicated to Emily Griffith, who founded the Opportunity School of Denver, which offers job training and education “for all those who wish to learn”. Now this was something.










I stopped for a very strong coffee at Novo on Glenarm Place, chuffed that they offer ceramic cups, not just paper. Woo-hoo! I enjoyed that rare treat on their patio, watching Denver come to life.

Later Donna and I walked to Sam’s #3, which had drawn us in with their interesting online menu and retro diner appeal. Unbeknownst to us until we arrived, Sam’s #3 has been in business since 1927 and is very well known, thanks in no small part to having been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.





We had to wait about 30 minutes for a table, but once inside the bustling and loud restaurant service was lightning fast and the food very good. I really enjoyed my sans eggs breakfast quesadilla, served with a spicy pork green chili, and…tater tots. When the large man at the table next to you boxes up half his meal, you know you’re in for a massive plate of food. We did not leave hungry.

https://samsno3.com/

We then walked over to the deserted Denver Performing Arts Complex, just because it was there. We admired the Man and Woman bronze sculptures by Columbian figurative artist and sculptor Fernando Botero and wandered through the quiet complex.

https://denverpublicart.org/public-a...wo-sculptures/






Afterwards we sought out the Denver Convention Center and the window-peeking Big Blue Bear, a 40 foot high, $424,400 sculpture by Lawrence Argent. The sculpture (which this Colorado girl had never heard of) is named “I see what you mean” and was designed to both stand out and represent Colorado. Mission accomplished.

https://www.uncovercolorado.com/denv...ear-sculpture/

https://www.denver.org/things-to-do/...e-bear-artist/





Across the street from the Convention Center I found more of those beautiful flowers.




We then walked to the 16th Street Mall, and took the free shuttle to colorful Larimer Square, where we poked around for a bit, took refuge from the heat in the leafy and peaceful atrium of Bistro Vendome, ogled the goods of a silversmith, and located a promising happy hour venue for later.






Then we dodged the barrage of electric scooters (which are not supposed to be ridden on the sidewalk, a rule widely ignored) and walked back to the hotel to rest and freshen up for the event I was most looking forward to, afternoon tea at the Brown Palace, which I’d booked a few weeks back.

https://www.denvergov.org/Government...bility-Program

https://www.brownpalace.com/dining/r...afternoon-tea/

I have vague memories of having tea at the Brown Palace when I was a kid, but I’d forgotten how grand the eight story atrium is. Just about every table was occupied, and I was glad I’d booked well in advance.

We both chose The Royal Palace, which included tea of our choice, a glass of Kir Royale Chandon Brut, homemade scones served with Devonshire cream, preserves, finger sandwiches, a selection of beautiful tea pastries and a Brown Palace truffle.

I thought I was still full from breakfast, yet I had no trouble gobbling two scones thickly smeared with Devonshire cream and jam, a couple of finger sandwiches (seconds were offered, but we declined) and several tea pastries. The rest we took back to our hotel to nosh on later.





After cooling off and digesting in our hotel for a few hours, we walked back to the 16th Street Mall and caught the free shuttle to Larimer Square, where we made a beeline to Corridor 44 for their $6 champagne cocktail happy hour.

http://www.corridor44.com/

The place was buzzing, most tables were full, so we were seated in their lounge in the back, a room that felt peaceful, soft and feminine, and which we had entirely to ourselves. Sweet. It was the perfect bubbles sipping venue.




Just as we were preparing to leave, several groups of people hurriedly joined us; and we soon find out why. As we left the building we were greeted with torrential rain and a strong wind that was whipping the patio umbrellas about and had chased the alfresco drinkers inside. The storm eventually subsided enough for us to make a dash back to 16th Street where we caught the free shuttle, which we rode up and down the mall a few times while we waited out the storm.

To be continued…
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Old Aug 9th, 2021, 06:28 AM
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Sorry for the crooked photos...I meant to edit them before posting. I seem incapable of taking a level photo with my cell phone.
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Old Aug 9th, 2021, 06:48 AM
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Saturday -

Today’s walk found me in Uptown, which appeared to be a swath of gentrified homes and businesses fringed by a much less affluent and more urban neighborhood.

Uptown describes itself as “a hip district” that has “firmly established itself as a capital of cool” just east of downtown.





My wander took me alongside Benedict Fountain Park, which I’ve since read is a “natural separator between Five Points and Uptown”, and “has not had a great reputation in the past”. It was pretty clear that the park was the beginning of the urban fringe.

I located Fluid, another coffee shop on my short list, and smack dab in the “hip” portion of the neighborhood; I was suddenly surrounded by young people, every one of them accompanied by a leashed dog, all headed to the same coffee shop.

I returned to the hotel and then Donna and I walked to the Corner Bakery and Café on 16th Street for breakfast, arriving just in time, as a very long queue formed shortly thereafter. Donna said her pancakes were excellent; my breakfast sandwich sans eggs was unremarkable, but it did the trick.

We’d decided that it was time to visit the Santa Fe Arts District, but for that we needed a car, so we walked up to Donna’s office, stopping to admire a few restored buildings en route. We reclaimed her Prius; which was as we’d left it, but seriously hemmed in by cars ahead and behind, so it took some time to extricate it.



I'm told this belongs to a local attorney who has restored several historic buildings in Denver




The Santa Fe Arts District describes itself as “a nationally known arts and cultural district, encompassing hundreds of artists, galleries, studios, theaters, and creative businesses along Santa Fe Drive”.

https://denversartdistrict.org/

What we found was a major road construction project that had closed several blocks of Santa Fe and an assortment of sleepy businesses; a few junk shops, a tattoo parlor, several empty store fronts, a handful of galleries, a few restaurants and some street art.







Bustling and prosperous it was not; it seemed to be just us and the construction workers. Perhaps a COVID casualty?

It looked nothing like the photo here (and this was Saturday):

https://denversartdistrict.org/about

There didn’t seem to be much of interest other than the murals, until we stumbled upon the Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Center for Visual Art and their Armor exhibit.

The exhibition addresses different ways artists express concepts of bodily protection and the means by which we arm and mend ourselves physically, spiritually and emotionally.

https://temp.msudenver.edu/cva/

Now this was something, thoroughly enjoyable.







Peckish, we popped into El Noa for grilled chicken burritos on their patio. Tasty.

Denver Mexican Restaurant | El Noa Noa Mexican Restaurat | Denver's Best and Most Authentic Mexican

We returned downtown where we left Donna’s car at her office again and hoofed it back to the hotel, passing a few homeless camps en route.




We spent the rest of the afternoon in our room, hiding from the torrential wind-driven rain, which flowed off the roofs in sheets below our 16th floor window.

Dinner found us back in Larimer Square at Tamayo, where Donna had made a booking. She’d seen a reference to their Tamayopolitan in a book she’d read, and had decided that she just had to try one. The Tamayopolitan is a blend of pineapple-infused tequila, cranberry juice and guava, and while no longer on the menu, the bartender agreed to make one (or two) for Donna. She was a happy camper.

The food was also a resounding success, adobo chicken tacos for me, steak fajitas for Donna. And, a 5% surcharge added to the bill to help cover the cost of employee’s health care. A first for me, but evidently it’s been in force in some parts of Denver since 2014.

Craving ice cream - despite having already consumed enough calories to sink a ship - I suggested one last visit to Kilwin’s for another ice cream fix. This time I went for the cake batter and praline pecan. Yum, yum.

Sunday -

Today’s early morning wander took me through the quiet, empty streets of downtown Denver, alongside Civic Center Station and up east 17th Ave, where I stumbled upon Toasts and Roasts, the perfect spot for my morning jolt.

Later, we packed up and checked out of the hotel. Donna booked a cab online and soon we were off to reclaim her car. A bagel later, she dropped me back in Littleton to collect my car, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

Am I now a city convert? Definitely not, but it’d been a fun few days of good food, libations and interesting sights. Had it not been for the nudge from Donna, I’d probably never have visited the downtown area of my state capital.

---------------------------------
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Old Aug 9th, 2021, 03:28 PM
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Interesting review of some areas. I would have used the light rail from Littleton. Unfortunately a couple of the better restaurants in LODO didn't survive. Unfortunately a couple of our favorite place -- one a wine bar - didn't survive either. I think the whole area will look a little different when we finally get beyond the pandemic. It may take a while to fully recover. I take it you didn't get to the Highlands.

The surcharges have been common for awhile. It is passive/aggressive behavior on the restaurants' owners who have objected to the new mandates (that we vote for) for better wage structures for employees.

We are just back from a weekend in St. Louis -- a world of difference between the two downtown areas. Sad -- Denver has really done a remarkable job with keeping the downtown in tack.

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Old Aug 10th, 2021, 05:19 AM
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I'd planned on using light rail from Littleton, but had concerns about parking. I was told a few park and ride closures were putting more demand on the lot nearest the Littleton light rail station and I worried they'd all be taken by the time I arrived mid morning. We looked into reserving a spot, but that didn't work either. And since we were going to the Botanic Gardens and would need a car, the pick up drop off seemed to make sense.

No, didn't make it to the Highlands - not sure what that is - another downtown neighborhood? Denver has grown so much since I lived there that I can't keep up anymore.

Just about everywhere we went was busy, other than the Santa Fe Arts District.

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Old Aug 10th, 2021, 07:00 AM
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The Highlands is the neighborhood just to the north, across I-25. There is a pedestrian bridge access from LODO. The Highlands has a number of good restaurants and home to the original Little Man ice cream.

We came to Denver in the fall of '80 just after the 16th Street Mall was finished. We have seem the transformation of the whole area especially LODO. The big trigger was locating Coors Field at the east end. The first year of Coors Field over 50 bars and restaurants opened in that area.

Wasn't aware ot any park n rides lots being closed. The best time to arrive at the Littleton station parking lot is around 10am. RTD has a system of reserving parking spaces in early morning but the reservation expires at 10 or 11am so those reserved spots are available to anyone after that.

A better choice might have been to use the parking garage at Arapahoe and I-25. You can parking overnight in the covered garage for a small fee. In-district is $2 but for you it would be higher. That is the garage we use when we go to the airport. Great for snow and hail storms.

Denver has a lot of offer and, I think, they had done a decent job of handling growth.
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Old Aug 10th, 2021, 08:26 AM
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Love your photos, Melnq8. Thanks for showing off Denver's beauty. Sounds like you really took a great tour.
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Old Aug 10th, 2021, 09:21 AM
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Very nice TR, Melnq. I loved the photos and I am not much of a city person. The train station is beautiful and my grandmother must have been very impressed when as a 13yo she arrived in Denver from New Hampshire to spend a year in the mountains getting over “a spot on her lung”. The treatment worked and she lived another 76 years.

Thanks for the report.
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Old Aug 10th, 2021, 03:44 PM
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The Highlands has a number of good restaurants and home to the original Little Man ice cream.

Well...had I know there was ice cream...

A better choice
might have been to use the parking garage at Arapahoe and I-25. You can parking overnight in the covered garage for a small fee. In-district is $2 but for you it would be higher. That is the garage we use when we go to the airport. Great for snow and hail storms.

That's good to know for our next flight out of Denver, whenever that might be. Is there a limit on number of days one can park there? Last time (2019) we left our car for almost a month at the RTD lot at 61st and Pena, then took light rail to the airport. Back then it was a very good deal at $48 for 30 days, but they no longer offer that.

I think I did okay on the parking front - parked in friends garage for no cost - well, I did bring some beer as a token thank you.

Thanks MoBro and oldemalloy - I'll bet your grandmother was indeed impressed!
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Old Aug 11th, 2021, 01:08 AM
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Hi Mel, thanks for sharing. I especially love the photos of the flowers on the sidewalks. We visited Denver a couple of years ago, or so I thought. It was actually 2012 when I checked. Yikes. I remember downtown Denver as being small and quiet, to us anyway. We visited a wonderful book shop housed in an old theatre. We love books and it's great when an old building is repurposed. Feeling quite miserable that the US, and anywhere overseas, is out of reach for quite a long time.
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Old Aug 11th, 2021, 05:31 AM
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Good to see you here Kay. Denver small and quiet? Those days are long gone I'm afraid. Colorado has seen record growth in the past few years. The changes we've seen just since we returned in 2015 are gobsmacking (and not in a good way I'm afraid).
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Old Aug 11th, 2021, 06:34 AM
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You did such a great job touring downtown Denver. Thanks for your detailed and helpful trip report. We were there for a few days recently and stayed at the iconic Brown Palace. As with other hotels we have stayed at during the Pandemic housekeeping services were curtailed. However if we called the front desk they would bring us what we needed. We had a wonderful lunch across the street from the hotel at a Mexican restaurant, La Loma. The homeless problem has been
made worse during the Pandemic and we see it everywhere we travel in the US. Thanks again for your very thorough report.
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Old Aug 11th, 2021, 07:04 AM
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Thank you HappyTravlr.

Housekeeping was curtailed at the Grand Hyatt too. No service at all until our third day and then only if we requested it.

How did you find the rooms at the Brown Palace?
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Old Aug 11th, 2021, 07:29 AM
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Last time (2019) we left our car for almost a month at the RTD lot at 61st and Pena, ...., but they no longer offer that. It is still offered but it is $6/day, max of 30 days. For the other parking areas it is still $4/day for out-of-district residents. Still a good deal because (I think) that airport area parking is a min of $10/day even in the economy lots.

We use the Arapahoe Station because it is convenient to our house and the hourly, Skyride bus is about 45 minutes even with traffic. Only makes one stop at Nine Mile Station. Plus the bus stops under the airport and there is a luggage check point less than 30 feet from the bus. In our opinion fastest way to the airport. It cannot be beat at $2/day for covered parking.


One quick comment on perspective. We moved here in 1980 from the south side of Chicago -- I80/90. We have frequently returned to Chicago. By comparison we think Denver is tame and traffic is so so. Even in the days when expanding I-25. Rush hour is short and mild compared to any of the Chicago freeways. Even with all of the growth, Denver has handle it pretty well.

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Old Aug 11th, 2021, 10:05 AM
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One quick comment on perspective. We moved here in 1980 from the south side of Chicago -- I80/90. We have frequently returned to Chicago. By comparison we think Denver is tame and traffic is so so. Even in the days when expanding I-25. Rush hour is short and mild compared to any of the Chicago freeways. Even with all of the growth, Denver has handle it pretty well.

Yeah I get that. My family moved here in 1965. As a high school kid I'd drive to Denver without a care in the world. Now I-25 stresses me out almost as much as I-70, both of which I avoid as much as possible. I'm sure my age has nothing to do with that

Not being a city person I haven't visited many cities within the US - although I did visit Chicago many moons ago and I've visited plenty of cities outside of the country. I have no doubt that we're pretty lucky that our big city isn't all that bad in comparison to others in the US.
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Old Aug 11th, 2021, 03:24 PM
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What a wonderful trip report and pictures. I enjoyed all of it so much. You take lovely pictures and what a fun getaway with your friend.

My kids lived in Colorado for 7 years, now they live in Washington state. I have visited many of the places in your report and loved thinking about all of them again. Denver is a wonderful city and I have such good memories. I especially loved the Botanical Gardens, although they might not have been as much fun in the heat.

On one of my grandkid visits, my girlfriends flew out from Illinois to spend a week with me and my kids, and the three of us spent a couple days in Denver doing touristy things. We spent 2 nights at the Brown Palace Hotel and we got a complimentary upgrade to a junior suite. It was lovely (not modern, but comfortable furnishings). We also did the afternoon tea, and had the best prime rib quesadillas in the Ship Tavern. (a guy at the check in line told us they were famous in Denver, no idea??, but they were really good).

A really nice little museum we went to at the time was the Black American West Museum in Denver. My one friend had insisted on seeing it, and I was glad she suggested it because it left a strong impression on me. I hope it survived the pandemic OK.

I also hope The Tattered Cover Bookshop in LoDo is doing well. I loved that bookstore and usually would end up there at least once every visit. My granddaughter is still in Fort Collins and is getting married next year in Colorado (venue not yet decided) so I'm happy I will be able to go back and see some of my favorite sights, not that I needed that as an excuse but it helps. I do hope not to have to drive on I-25 or I-70 though. I do remember that. (lol).
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Old Aug 11th, 2021, 03:40 PM
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Why thank you barbrn! Fear not, The Tattered Cover is alive and well.

Last edited by Melnq8; Aug 11th, 2021 at 03:42 PM.
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