Archive for denver

“Beautiful Day” at the Denver Downtown Aquarium

Posted in Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2010 by Jessica Lada

DENVER TRIP CONTINUED… After spending several hours walking around in not-yet-broken-in-cowboy-boots, I needed to rest my feet for a while.   We opted for the restaurant inside Denver’s Downtown Aquarium and were pleasantly surprised.  This wasn’t overpriced cafeteria “you have no other choise so you’ll eat and pay anything” food that you find at many museums. The atmosphere was fantastic with a high ceiling, warm lighting, and a full wall of aquarium.  We ordered the fried onion stack appetizer.  It was so good that I forgot to take a picture before devouring it.  And the unique part is that mixed in with the fried onions are occasional pieces of breaded and fried jalapenos and pickles.  (They are noticeable, so if you don’t like jalapenos or pickles you can easily avoid them).

My fiance Will and his souvenir drink. He looks happy!

The restaurant has six specialty drinks that come in souvenir glasses—Will and I each ordered one and they were delicious. Next time I go to the aquarium, I’m going to save room for the desserts because I’m eager to try the Aquarium Crème Brulee, complete with fish-shaped cookie decoration.  A table near us ordered the Big Shark Attack dessert, which is basically a chocolate cake with molten center, plus Heath bar pieces, vanilla ice cream, and a shark-shaped cookie. The aquarium itself was great.  It isn’t the largest aquatic exhibit I’ve seen, but it was unique.  I liked that the aquarium wasn’t limited just to fish, but it also had birds that live on shores as well as tigers (which apparently love to play in the water.  There was a fun section that simulates a flash flood in the desert.  It splashes and mists on the more willing participants of the tour (though there is a dry path for those who’d rather stay on the safe side).

A zebra shark below a porthole in the floor. Those are the toes of my boots at the bottom of the photo.

The coolest parts of the aquarium are at the end, as they should be.  There’s a huge tank with sharks bigger than people, complete with several portholes in the floor so you can actually stand above the sharks and look down at them.  There are a couple of tanks full of jellyfish, which are hypnotic to watch. At the end of the tour there is a shallow pool filled with rays.  They come up to the side of the tank and you can pet them with one finger.  You can also buy sardines and hand-feed the rays.  You hold the fish between your knuckles with all your fingers curled under (so the rays can’t grab your fingers) and make sure your hand is at least a foot under the water (so the rays won’t jump out of the pool after the fish).  There’s no way to describe how cool it feels to feed a ray.  It turns adults into giggling six year olds.  And the rays look pretty happy about it too.

Yes, that is the “face” of a ray, up against the glass.  Isn’t he cute?

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“Rain, I don’t mind”

Posted in Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2010 by Jessica Lada

For our ONE day in Denver several months ago, Will and I hoped to go to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (heck of a name) and hike the nature trails.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge -- The Creek -- photo by David Mendosa

With views like that, how could we NOT want to visit the park?  But unfortunately, Denver had different plans for us.

We improvised and headed first to breakfast at a local place called “Snooze”.  (That’s another post.)

After the best breakfast EVER we headed a little farther downtown.  We parked at the Aquarium and then headed northeast on Water Street to Platte.  We went for a stroll through REI, which is basically the mountain version of Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shop.  Kansas doesn’t have mountains, so I’d never seen a store where you can actually buy climbing ropes, ice axes, pitons, and all the other things I have heard of from Reader’s Digest.  And then there was THIS:

It’s an indoor, four-story-tall, climbing pinnacle.  There are ropes in different positions for climbs of varying difficulty, all the way from beginner (I watched a five-year-old scale it to the top) to advanced.

I ended up buying a Dynaflex Pro Gyro Hand Exerciser.  It’s a pretty awesome gadget made with the principles of a gyroscope.  You pull the cord to get it spinning and then grip the sphere and rotate your wrist, pushing against the resistance to increase the internal rotation up to 13,000 rpm.   It doesn’t just work your grip, it works all the muscles in your hand wrist, forearm.  It’s not just for mountain climbers.  It’s great for writers (like me), guitarists, artists, or pretty much anybody who works with their hands.

Then we found Savory Spice Shop at 1537 Platte Street.  I bought a dozen vanilla beans (at the best price I’ve found at any store, real or online), along with jars of powdered cheddar cheese, Parmesan Pesto Sprinkle, Platte River Rib Rub, Red Cloud Peak Seasoning, Lodo Red Adobo, and Gunbarrel Venison Sausage Spice.  We might have gone a little overboard.

While paying for our spices, we tried free samples of Freeze Dried Corn.  It sounds weird, I know, but it was like sweet popcorn.  When I reorder spices soon, I’m definitely getting a big bag of the corn.

NEXT STOP: Denver Downtown Aquarium…

Where The Streets Have No Name…

Posted in Reviews, Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2010 by Jessica Lada

…or in Denver’s case, WAY TOO MANY.

June 11th, Will and I raced to Wichita Mid-Continent Airport and got through security with 45 minutes to spare before our 8:13 p.m. flight. Fantastic. The schedule board said the flight was on time, but the moment we sat down at gate 10 we heard the announcement. Not only was our flight delayed, our plane hadn’t even left Denver yet and we weren’t scheduled to leave until 10 p.m. To make things better, the little deli counter, the magazine kiosk, and the bar were all closed. And there’s no vending machine. Brilliant.

After we finally boarded the plane, they told us it would be at least another half hour before takeoff.

Denver International Airport: I'm not sure why, but I am bothered by an airport terminal that is a tent.

We got up in the air and the pilot gave us the first good news of the night. He’d just gotten the flight path and our flight would only take an hour rather than an hour and twenty minutes. Except that with the thunderstorms popping up, the flight ended up taking two hours as we were diverted all over Colorado.

I can’t say I minded the length of the flight, though, because we had the most incredible view out the window. The thunderheads below us were lit from beneath by the city lights and from above by an incredible lightning display. We were flying at 38,000 feet and eventually the storm clouds ballooned to even greater altitudes and we saw only the black of night out the window.

The flight attendants passed out drinks and because the plane was only half full, we each got a full can of soda.  Score! But then the turbulence increased and the pilot turned the seatbelt sign on again, so the flight attendants rushed to collect the trash. It was a choice between chugging my ginger ale or wearing it, so I chose the former. Big mistake.

The plane was bouncing and I was doing the pee-pee dance in my seat.  So were half the other passengers.

Now, I know the seatbelt sign means you aren’t supposed to get up unless it’s an absolute emergency, but I was having a potty emergency. The cabin lights were off, so I felt my way toward the rear of the Canada Regional Jet where its only bathroom is located, only to find a flight attendant seated IN FRONT OF THE BATHROOM DOOR.

I would like to ask, as politely as possible, who the hell thought it was a good idea to put the jump seat in front of the damn toilet door? Because I’m telling you, it is not a good idea. It is a bad idea. A very bad, stupid, idiotic, horrible idea. Whoever designed that plane deserves to be strapped into a tiny little aisle seat, continuously force-fed liquids, and denied bathroom access for the longest, bumpiest flight ever.

So I ask the flight attendant if she can move to one of the numerous empty seats so I can pee and she says no. I know she’s just following protocol. I understood that, but my bladder did not. I returned to my seat and my fiance joked,“That was quick.” “Yeah, the flight attendant is sitting in front of the door,” I explained. The scowl on Will’s face mirrored my own. “So we can’t use the bathroom?” “Nope.” “Then can she at least bring me a couple of empty cups?”

The sad thing is he was barely kidding. By the time the plane finally landed, the barf bags were looking like a pretty good option.

Seriously, that's their slogan? I call BS.

After peeing, the next stop was the National Car Rental counter, which a nice man on the phone had assured me was open 24-hours. It was, of course, deserted. So Will and I ventured out into the rain to get on the shuttle bus which was supposed to take us to the main National Car Rental building. Again, the man on the phone assured me there would be agents working.

The bus driver told us there would only be two stops. The first was for emerald club members only and the next would be for Alamo rental cars. Since we weren’t renting from Alamo, Will and I tried to get off at the first stop. The driver totally flipped out. “Only Emerald Club! Yours is the next stop.”

We backpedaled and waited as the doors closed, the driver pulled forward (no joke) twenty feet, then opened the doors again. “THIS is your stop,” he said.

Inside the Alamo/National office, the National side was completely dark and unmanned. I used the kiosk to check in (thereby making my previous online reservation completely redundant), then went outside with my ticket as the kiosk screen instructed. We joined a group of several other people shivering in the fifty-degree, rainy, misery that was Denver at 1 a.m. We all looked around with matching “what the hell do we do now?” expressions on our faces.  One hoodie-wearing fellow customer (a hilarious dude whose name I didn’t catch) debated snagging a minivan.

Finally someone came from the building. He briefly glanced at each person’s ticket and pointed to a car lot. “Anything over there!” he said.
He didn’t have to tell us twice. Someone else beat us to the Dodge Charger. We decided we didn’t need an SUV, so we jumped in a Chrysler 300. About the time I found the headlights and adjusted my seat, Hoodie-dude pulled up in front of us in a bright yellow VW bug and rolled down his window. “I had to give it a test drive, man!”

We settled into the Chrysler 300 with a welcome sigh of relief. We could relax finally because we were on our way to the hotel.

I had my list of directions on hand. I drove and Will navigated. We exited the parking lot and headed for Pena Blvd. Unfortunately, the entrance to said boulevard is not marked. You pull up to a stoplight and see an underpass painted with huge letters saying “PENA BLVD. TO I-70.” How does it help to know what street is going over the top of your head with absolutely no way, at that point, to get to that street? So we ended up having to double back toward the airport.

I have a question for the City of Denver. Do you not believe in EXIT signs? Most airports have a way to loop around and get back out. Denver did not have this. Oh sure, in daylight I’m sure it all makes perfect sense to someone who has been there before. But for my first time driving in Denver at 1:30 a.m. during torrential rain, it was less than clear.

So we finally manage to get to Pena Boulevard. After lots of merging and such, my directions tell me to take “the CO-121 exit toward 287/Broomfield/Lafayette”.  This makes sense once you get there… but six or seven miles before you get to the correct exit there is a DIFFERENT exit for 287. Yeah, that’s not confusing at all. And instead of taking me to my hotel, this exit took me to a bunch of strip clubs and assorted shady stuff.

Let’s just cut to the chase. Driving in Denver sucks. It’s like sprawling Oklahoma City and oblique New Jersey spawned some weird, deformed baby. Streets change name without warning. Is it so hard to let a street be named ONE THING along its entire span? Granted, there’s a street in Norman, Oklahoma that begins as HW-77 on the south side of town, becomes Classen, is called Porter through the old part of town, and then becomes Sunnylane Road to the north of town. Four names within ten miles. Heading to breakfast in Denver, I took Fox Street, which turned into 23rd Street, which turned into Park Avenue West, which turned into 22nd Street. Four street names in the span of ONE MILE. Come on, Denver, is that really necessary?

Driving around Denver doesn’t suck because of traffic but because of the roads. You exit in one place but there is nowhere to get back on or turn around. I don’t know how long it would take before you could navigate the city without a map. Denver is the greatest argument for GPS that I have ever seen. If I hadn’t had a Google Maps application on my phone, I’m pretty sure we’d still be driving around trying to find the hotel. But for all the navigational difficulties, Denver was fantastic whenever the car was parked.

“Another Time, Another Place”

Posted in Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2010 by Jessica Lada

U2, arguably the most famous band in the world, is in the middle of its 360 Tour and after buying three sets of tickets, my fiance Will has yet to see the band perform.  Let me catch you up.

Last April I learned they had booked a concert date on Owen Field (Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium) in Norman, Oklahoma.  This is a stadium where I performed a dozen times during my two seasons in the Pride of Oklahoma marching band.  I immediately bought four tickets (the maximum allowed for a preorder).  I called Will, who was living in Brooklyn, NY, at the time, and asked if he liked U2.  He said, “hell yes” and told me a story.  Years before we met, before he discovered opera, Will sang in rock bands.   Someone turned him on to opera and Will decided he could have a much longer career as an opera singer than he could by destroying his vocal chords singing rock.  His last rock gig, he sang Sunday Bloody Sunday (even though it’s a little high for him) and blew out his voice.  That was his last rock performance.

Jump forward to the week of the U2 concert.  Will was singing the lead role in “A View from the Bridge” in Brooklyn.  The production was scheduled for September but got pushed back and the powers that be wouldn’t let Will out of a day of rehearsal to see the concert.  (That’s another story entirely.)
I still got to see the concert with my brother, but that wasn’t the whole point.  So when I heard that U2 would be doing a SECOND North American leg of the tour, I immediately joined the fan club and as soon as the presales opened, I bought two tickets for the Denver concert and two for the performance in NY/NJ.

It seemed like things were going to work out finally.  We found out a way for Will’s work schedule to let us get to Colorado for the weekend and I put the flight tickets on Will’s credit card.  “Do you want to get the flight insurance for an extra $50?” I called to ask.  “Nah, the tickets are already expensive.  I can’t see why we’d need it.”

Famous last words.

The next day news stations reported that Bono had undergone back surgery and the entire North American leg of the tour was going to be rescheduled/postponed until 2011.

Only Nixon could go to China and only Bono can wear lasers and swing by a microphone cable.

The good news is that our concert tickets are still good whenever the dates are rescheduled, so we still have two more chances to see what might be the best concert tour ever.  The bad news is that we had $550 worth of non-refundable flight tickets to a city we no longer needed to visit.  Seriously, couldn’t Bono have given me a little heads up?  That guy is such a jerk.

We decided to make the most of it and have a weekend getaway to Denver and now that the weekend is past, I think it all worked out for the best anyway.  Sure, we didn’t get to see U2, but we still have our tickets.  And the entire weekend was about fifty degrees and rainy.  It wouldn’t have been great concert weather, and if it’d started lightning they probably would have cancelled.  Then we really would have been screwed.  We probably wouldn’t have gotten a refund and the concert probably wouldn’t have been rescheduled.  And in addition we had a great little vacation!   We were only there for a day and a half, but it’s too much for just one post.  Stay tuned for our U2-free Denver Antics.

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*I don’t think Bono’s a jerk at all.  He’s actually kind of my hero and I wish him a speedy recovery.