Cafe Life: Denver, CO

I think that this post will be the first in a series about different cafes.  [“Way to play into a stereotype, you crazy millennial kid you,” is what you must be thinking]

I love visiting cafes when I am in new cities.  Or cities that I visit, love, but don’t live in.  This past summer I wrote a little bit about some great coffee shops I checked out in Duluth, MN, and San Francisco, CA.  Hopefully this January I can visit Seattle, WA and experience that famed Seattle coffee culture.  Not only is coffee delicious (there is a distinctive cappuccino happy dance that happens in my head when I see that tiny mug with the fern patterned foam coming at me.  Yeah, I look normal on the outside, but…), but I feel like setting up camp in a cafe lets you get to know the neighborhood and city at a leisurely pace.  Plus, it is a heck of a lot cheaper than paying for some kind of guided tour.  Not to sound terrible but…when you flock with other tourists, you tend to get only a very skewed glimpse of a place.

Back to coffee: I’m sitting in Little Owl Coffee on Blake St in downtown Denver.  Even though I’ve spent the past three weeks working in Denver I haven’t had a chance to explore it properly yet.  I left my car near the Park N Ride (parking near it instead of in it= freeeeeee), took the train, then the free mall ride bus for about two blocks and then BAM! Coffee time.  I did some research last night looking at some of the best- or highest rated- cafes in Denver.  There were a lot to choose from, and all looked pretty tempting, but Little Owl had the highest praise, so I thought I’d start here.  It’s exterior is pretty unassuming: a sleek black exterior with glass door printed with the the name + an owl.  Of course!  Inside it’s very modern looking with the back wall made entirely of a white marble.  The counter tops at the bar are also marble, but the few tables in here are made of some kind of beautiful wood.  The stools are also wooden, with slim wire legs or just glass.  Behind the coffee bar is a shelf full of interesting-looking glass cups, decanters, and goblets.  Those little glass globes with living succulents in them are peppered around the cafe.  There is a door that leads to what looks like an art gallery.  I’m still savoring my cappuccino (served up in less than 5 minutes, so yay for quick service) so I haven’t gone over there yet.  There are a few people sitting outside and in.  Two business-y looking men are having an animated discussion at the long wooden table in the middle of the cafe, another business guy is sitting next to me on his laptop, and a very chic looking woman is keeping to herself across the cafe.  I am very much in love with her boots.

The cappuccino is delicious.  I must learn some coffee jargon so that I can accurately describe what I am tasting.  All I can say right now is that I am happily engaged with this tiny mug and it’s foamy contents.

Fast forward a couple of hours.  I fell in love with Tattered Cover book store.  I visited City Stacks also, and was very impressed with the selection.  It seems like a bookstore just for young women, but maybe I just happen to like every book they had on display.  Now I am grabbing a bite to eat before I catch the train home.  I am at another cafe that was very highly rated: Amante Coffee.  It’s on 17th St, right across from Union Station if you care to visit.  I got a cup of black coffee and added a little cream, cocoa, and cinnamon.  I got pain au chocolat to compliment.  The coffee is delicious (and not just because of the stuff I added).  I had a Lorelai Gilmore moment when I took my first sip- this must be what Luke’s coffee tastes like.  Too bad there is no Luke behind the counter.  The vibe here is a little more relaxed and a little more touristy.  The inside looks chic, and alternative music is playing at a soothing volume, but there is also a flatscreen with whatever football game is on mixing with the coffee shop vibes.  This cafe shares the bottom floor with what looks like a salon and hotel, so there is a small amount of confused foot traffic.  Next to me two women who look about my age are discussing efficient ways to manage small business.  A couple of tourists look lost at a table across from me.  The barista is friendly, attentive, and capable.  There is a fair variety of beer and wine available also.  I have my eye on the sweet Amante coffee stickers near the register.


Living in a Small Village Called Mochudi, Botswana

While I spent the majority of my study abroad experience living in the dormitories at University of Botswana, which is located in the capital city of Gaborone (pronounced Chhaw-bo-ro-nee, or “Gabs” affectionately) I did a stint living with a host family in a small village called Mochudi.  Mochudi is a dusty little village about an hour and half outside of Gabs.  It is full of small square shaped homes, miscellaneous dogs, children running higgledy-piggledy, and red dust.  The community seems fairly tight, which little neighborhood factions like you would find anywhere else.  Amenities vary greatly as some of my fellow American students were placed with families who had only an outhouse for their restroom facilities, while my own host family had a whole separate building that housed not only a working toilet, but a sink and a jacuzzi tub that featured HOT running water.  It was lit by a candle after the sun went down, so inevitably any bath was very atmospheric.  

My host family in Mochudi.

My family boasted a main house, a small house out back where “Mom” and I slept, and the bathroom building.  The whole area, yard included, was fenced in.  Also, treasure upon treasure, they had several dogs and PUPPIES.  Needless to say, I spent most of my stay with the dogs.  My family was a little unusual in that they not only named at least one of the dogs, but they fed them all table scraps.  It’s not that people on Bots don’t care about animals, it’s just that there is not the cultural phenomenon of having pets dogs like there is in the US or other Western countries.  

I really loved this dog and was distressed to find out that he had passed away a few weeks after I left.
Tolerant little “Fundi” endured a lot of “attention” from the kids.

All in all my family was pretty fantastic.  My “sister” quickly figured out what my favorite foods were and made a point of preparing them.  She also included me in the preparation and clean up, which meant I was really a part of the family.  I remember the football sized dumplings she prepared and soaked in gravy and vegetables.  My “mom” made a trifle of epic proportions.  This was a dessert I loved so much that she prepared it specially for me a few months later when I brought my real mom to visit.
Our house was in a quiet part of town.  One weekend my family took me to a funeral for some prominent member of the community.  It was a hot and sunny affair and since everyone was speaking Setswana I was mostly left out of the happenings.  What I do remember is trying to help the other unmarried women prepare “phapata”, which is a delicious type of bread that is dense and rich.  They snickered a little at my attempts to mold the dough, but ultimately let me participate.  Another thing that sticks out in my mind is the butchering of the cow.  Understand that I was before- and am now- a vegetarian.  Being a vegetarian in Bots is nigh on impossible.  I saw the cow (already deceased) being separated from the skin, which was hosed and rolled up and left out.  Portions of the cow where hauled over to the largest tree and hung to…dry?  Season?  I am not sure.  Cattle are extremely important to the folks in Bots.  Your wealth is in your cattle.  Your worth too.  Cattle are treated well and with respect.  This was an important mark of respect for the deceased person the funeral was being held for (still not sure who it was).

All in all, after comparing notes with other students in my program, I think I lucked out.  My family was kind, generous, and extremely welcoming. I had my own bed and jacuzzi bath to boot.  The commute to school was long, but doable.  I am left with a jumble of memories regarding puppies, trifle, and new “siblings”.  I liked them so much I visited twice and brought people with me.
That folks, is a summary of small town life in Mochdudi, Botswana, Africa.

Estes Park and RMNP

Last weekend I finally got my chance to venture into the Rocky Mountains.  I live in the Mile High City, and it certainly is lovely to look around and see the foothills and (distantly) the mountains themselves, but nothing beats actually trekking up there.

We drove a couple of hours to get to Estes Park, which is a beautiful and very touristy area right around Rocky Mountain National Park.  We stopped for food and beer (Elktoberfest was happening), and then got waylaid at a salt water taffy shop. Needless to say, several bulging bags of the taffy were purchased.  RMNP itself is famous not only for the mountains, but also for all the elk that wander around.  It is a treat to see these large animals s up close and personal!  They have never had any reason to fear vehicles or humans since hunting is strictly verboten.  We got lucky and saw some on the outskirts of the park as we were driving up, and then again when they cross the road right in front of our vehicle!  We saw mule deer hanging out oh-so-casually alongside traffic too.  Then of course, there were the mountains.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.  Just picture rapidly dropping temps and winds strong enough to make me stumble backwards.

What’s the Deal With Altitude Sickness?

Altitude sickness (or to use the more quaint term- “mountain sickness”) occurs when you ascend to an altitude level where the oxygen is thinner.  It can be pretty serious when you are actually climbing mountains- yes, when I looked it up there was a horrible picture of a dead goat that succumbed to it- but when you are just adjusting to the Mile HIgh City (Denver) it is much milder.  In fact, some people aren’t affected at all!  I, unfortunately, am not one of those people.

Common symptoms are:

-Shortness of breath

-Lack of appetite


-Inability to sleep properly

I’ve got the lack of appetite and restlessness in spades.  I checked out a site put out by Denver’s tourism board and read that since there is much less moisture in the air the sun is more powerful.  I knew that it was sunnier here than back in Wisco (apparently Denver receives more sun that San Diego and Miami!), and I certainly noticed the drier air, but I guess I hadn’t put the reason behind these things together.  This also means that exercise goes a lot further than in lower altitude places- wohoo!  It makes the rather brief run I took around the neighborhood yesterday seem more impressive.  If you are interested in reading more about this you can check out the Denver site Here

Thoughts From the Road (WI, IA, NE)

After a stressfull 2 weeks we are finally on the road!
It’s just past 6:30 am and I am somewhere in Nebraska. We- that is Mom, the cats, the rabbits, and me- are staying at a truck stop motel. It’s a pretty nice room and very pet friendly, meaning that I saw tons of dogs in the hallway, and the floors are not carpeted. It felt a bit unusual to run in the door with cats on the verge of a nervous breakdown, followed by a somewhat soiled litter box. The rabbits are pretty nerves up too, but they are quieter about it. They are quietly protesting by refusing to come out of their crate. The cats, meanwhile, are having a ball running around, exploring, climbing, jumping…good thing this room seems fairly sturdy.

The bunnies in their travel compartment.

Yesterday we left Madison around 9:30 am after a looong night of trying to fit (let’s be honest) just too much stuff into two Toyotas. Mother worked some kind of voodoo magic that involved un-boxing most stuff and shoving it into every nook and cranny. In the end 90% of it fit. Unfortunately, the rabbit hay was left behind. The bunnies are relaxing in a hay-lined crate, and have a bag of emergency car hay, but the good stuff is all two states east. In the scheme of moving across the country this is a small loss compared to the victory of just how much of my stuff we crammed into a Yaris and a Prius. Including two comfortably large crates for pets.

Cat in jail.
Enjoying the view of Nebraska.
A chilly sunrise in NE.

We drove for about 11 hours all told. This did include three pit stops along the way and a huge slow down around what I think was Omaha. *Side note: Mom had the map…so the location vagueness stems from me not bothering to ask what city is which*. The drive through Wisconsin and Iowa was quite pretty for the first few hours. Then it slid into corn fields and flat plains. I was keeping my eyes peeled for the ‘Welcome to Nebraska’ sign, since I enjoyed sighting the Iowa one, but alas, Nebraska did not welcome us. They stuck us in a traffic jam. Taking breaks on the long drive was a lifesaver in that I could stretch, jump around, and check on all the animals. They spent most of the trip looking upset. If I had been clever, I would have set aside the rabbit pellets and ca kibble in their measured amounts in plastic baggies. These baggies could then be kept somewhere handy like the glove compartment and pulled out at meal times. As it is, I just stuffed the bag of cat kibble in the car and have been pouring out small amounts for their dinner and breakfast. The rabbits have their unlimited supply of hay, which is the main and most important component of their diet, but they have also been dining on little treats like carrot shavings, dried strawberry bits, and hamster o’s (from Oxbow). So the fact that I can’t find their bag of pellets for breakfast shouldn’t be the end of the world.
It’s time to leave Nebraska (which is quite chilly this morning, I might add) and hit the open road again. Today we arrive in Colorado!

5 Necessities for Road Tripping

I think everyone probably has their own version of this list.  The list changes over time too; people need different things, economic statuses differ, and the destination can often affect what is deemed necessary.  However this is my list developed over my 26 years of packing into a car and settling in to relax, take in the scenery, and enjoy the journey.  *Side note: I LOVE car trips.  I am lucky not be afflicted with motion sickness.*

1: A good bag.  For me, this means my Duluth Pack backpack.  I don’t get any money from them to post this and my bag certainly was not sent to me care of.  My mom bought it for me before I left for college in 2008 and it has faithfully been with me on every adventure since.  Having a bag that is durable is key (obviously).  Roominess is also an important factor.  If your bag is travel worn and bears the scars and marks of many adventures, well that is the cherry on top.

2: A book or two.  I usually bring at least two different genres.  One may be “heavier” reading, like something that requires more thought and attention, and one that is “light” reading.  Something funny and something serious.  On my upcoming trek to Colorado I will be driving instead of riding shotgun, so I plan to have a Harry Potter book and one of the Outlander novels on CD with me.  It’s going to be a lot of driving…through Nebraska.  I’ll need all the mental stimulation I can get.  

3: Car snacks.  The healthier the better.  I know- doesn’t a bag of Chex mix sound really good though?  When I was a kid I could throw back the bottle of Pepsi and let is marinate in my gut with all the salty chips and candy bars I could get my hands on.  Now I much prefer a bag of dried fruit, smoothies, water bottles, and maybe a nut mix.  My mom and I always make an exception for Cheeze-its because there is no better snack cracker.

4: Travel journal.  Get one.  Make it pretty.  Write down your journey or just some passing thoughts.  You’ll be glad you did later.   Here Is a drool-worthy one from Etsy.  

5: A camera.  Whether it is your phone, a point and snap, of something fancy, having a way to capture those moments on the road cannot be missed.