The Last Minute Road Trip

Recently one of my oldest friends, Kelsey, flew into Colorado to attend a wedding.  Now the airport is in Denver (where I live) and the wedding was in a tiny mountain town three to four hours west of Denver.  Her ride fell through and I had the day off.  I offered to take her- after all, a drive through the mountains can be glorious- but I needed to be back in time for my shift at work the next day.  I originally wanted to take the quickest route to drop her off and then turn right around…That didn’t happen.  Something way better did.  We took the day and turned it into one of those feels-like-you’re-in-a-movie adventures.  I was exhausted by time I got home, sometime after 12 am, but I am so glad we went.  

Just one of the places we stopped on our way up through the mountains.

I mean, is this place even real?
The top of the pass! It was eerily quiet up there and a bit hard to catch our breath since the air was so thin.



There were a handful of other intrepid travelers walking around the top of the pass.  It was above the tree line and the landscape was tundra, so the colors were all muted brown and greens.  There was almost no sound except for the wind and the murmur of voices.  A few people had dogs, all of whom seemed unconcerned about the altitude.  Most of the people, myself included, ended up huffing and puffing in the thin air as we walked around and explored.  It was quite cold!



As we left the pass the road wound down through the forest which was splattered with vibrant yellow trees among all the green. There was a river careening through the rocks off to our our left, so we stopped to get out and explore for a bit.




It was a whirlwind trip.  I got to spend time catching up with one of my oldest friends and we had a fabulous time exploring and take in the mountain air.  I don’t get away from the city as often as I like and I guess sometimes it takes something like a friend in need to take you out of the humdrum of your regular routine.  Between stress at work and a busy schedule I was starting to lose my mind a bit, but this trip was exactly what I needed to recenter myself and find some peace of mind.  

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The Best Things About Being Home (Briefly)

As summer winds down it turns out a lot of people are taking trips.  I guess I was always under the assumption that as September rolls around and fall starts to settle in people hunker down.  I was wrong!  I have been delightfully busy house sitting for some of my favorite Colorado dog owners.  While this means that I get to cuddle and play with some wonderful pups, it also means that I haven’t been home much.  My cats are feeling a bit neglected!  While I was home for a few days this week I feel back into my Capitol Hill routine.  There are some great things to do if you ever find yourself in this part of Denver, so here are a few of my favorites.

The street art around here never fails to disappoint

Pizza at Benny Blancos.  This is truly a hole in the wall establishment, as it is a narrow shop nestled in between bigger and louder buildings.  I literally walked right past it twice!  Different people had recommended this place for a slice of New York style pizza and they knew what they were talking about!  For $2.50 you can get an enormous slice of pizza. You can add just about any topping your heart desires for a little more (something like .50).  Be warned, only about three or four people can fit inside at any given time, so you might end up standing on the sidewalk outside while you wait!

Drinks at City O City.  This place is mainly known for it’s tasty vegetarian fare (wohoo!) but I actually end up coming here more often to grab a cup of coffee or to take advantage of their great Happy Hour specials.  Happy Hour takes place for several hours at a time, two times a day!  They serve craft cocktails, a selection of beer and cider, great coffee, and even house made kombucha.  Not to mention the artwork you can take in inside the building is gorgeous, OR you can sit outside and sip your libation in few of the golden capitol building.
Relaxing at Cheeseman Park or City Park.  I know I’ve written about the parks in this neighborhood before, but I just can’t praise them enough.  As if the colorful history weren’t enough (haunted parks!) both feature plenty of shady space to relax, open grass for dogs to play, and playgrounds for kids or adults-who-just-want-to-swing.  I like to bring a blanket, thermos of beer or coffee, and my ipad or a book to kick back for a few hours.

The Denver Art Museum Is just down the street from me.  You can’t miss the iconic chrome structure gleaming in the sun!  Not to mention all the crazy sculptures out front.  This place has plenty of cool exhibits on display, plus the architecture itself makes for a very trippy experience just walking around.  Plus, the first Saturday of every month is a free day!

Voodoo Doughnut Is another place I write/talk about frequently.  Yes it is a bit of a tourist attraction, but for a good reason.  This place has the perfect quirky downtown vibe that I love and the donut selection is pretty magical.  I have my favorites, but whenever I bring friends here I try to think outside the box and try a new creation!  Creation, not flavor, is the right word since some of these donuts looks like pieces of delicious art piles high with peanut butter, cereal, marshmallows, coconut flakes, frostings- you get the picture.  There are even vegan donuts available! Plus, since this joint is open 24 hours, there is no wrong time for dessert.

So yeah…those are a few of my favorite things.  I have could go on- there are tons of tiny cafes, restaurants, and bars around here but I think I would run out of battery life before I got done trying to type it all up!  If you ever find yourself in Denver head towards the golden dome of the capitol building and spend some time in Capitol Hill.

People To Watch

I take it as a sign of an active mind when I see someone or something that sends me into fits of excitement.  Finding inspiration is thrilling!  Inspiration doesn’t necessarily need to relate to one specific subject; in fact I just enjoy other people’s zeal and zest for life.  Inevitable that spices my up own day to day.  Here are some people to watch if you are looking for a little (or quite a bit) of extra color in your life.

Tim Bengel– this young German guy who, it turns out, can do some pretty amazing thing with a creative eye and some sand.  You might have seen some of his YouTube videos floating around of the process he goes through to create each piece.  I have no way of getting to New York to see his upcoming exhibit, and no way of flying to Stuttgart any time soon to see his other work, but one can dream, right?
The Travelettes, and especially Katja.  These woman have made a career of exploring the world and telling people about it!  Katja is the founder and seems to have just a fountain of good ideas about life, travel, art, and fashion.  Not to mention she does it all with her adorable little toddler by her side.
Rebecca of A Clothes Horse is a blogger I have avidly followed for a year and half now.  I stumbled across an interview with her on Modcloth’s blog and fell in love with her style right off the bat.  Not only that, though, her blog is tastefully refreshingly and full of gorgeous photos that she takes herself.  She posts fun lists of old movies to watch at Christmas time, and even involves her husband in some of her sillier photo shoots.  I just never seem to get tired of her posts.
It’s a short list, but trust me, these people have enough content to keep you gazing at their pages, slack jawed, for quite some time.  Enjoy!

Top Things to See and Do in Duluth, MN

Okay, so you’ve made it to the great white North, only to find that it’s very green and there’s that great big expanse of silvery blue that people keep talking about… This is Northern Minnesota and you’re looking at one of the biggest, deepest, coldest lakes in the world.  It’s the biggest of all the Great Lakes, and, thanks to all the shipwrecks and that famous Edmund Fitzgerald song, is pretty infamous.  It’s Lake Superior.  Here are my top recommendations for things to do in Duluth, MN and the surrounding north shore.

1) Go to Canal Park.  It’s touristy, but the view of the Aerial Bridge when it goes up and down to accommodate ships in the harbor can’t be beat.  There are some cute little food and ice cream stands to keep you fed while you gaze at the icy cold water and contemplate going in the retrieve that one really cool rock out there…There’s also the Maritime Museum, which is free, educational, and really interesting.  It’s also a good place to escape to when it gets too cold outside!

2) The Portland Malt Shoppe.  Not only is it the cutest ice cream shop OF ALL TIME but the sweets are delicious and it boasts access to the fabulous lake walk so you can enjoy your treat with a stunning view of the lake and the Aerial Bridge.  This place can get busy on summer evenings, so plan your visit accordingly.

Visiting the malt shoppe back in 2011 (and many times since)

3) The old Congdon Mansion.  This place is now called the Glensheen Estate and is the turn-of-the-last century home of a very wealthy family.  They built their dream home as fancy and forward thinking as possible.  It’s a glorious example of early twentieth century innovation and architecture…and bonus!  There was an infamous and bloody murder in the 1970’s so you just know that that place is haunted.  The estate offers all kinds of interesting tours for curious visitors, and while somewhat expensive, is well worth the cost.  Check out the website Here.

4) Brighton Beach is a small rocky beach that sits on the outskirts of the city of Duluth in a more residential area.  It is not too busy and is consequently a very good place to look for agates, enjoy the brisk wind coming off the water, and relax in a beautiful setting.  Some people are brave enough to actually get in the water and go swimming, but I’ve always found it much too cold.  My favorite part of the beach is all the old graffiti carved into the rocks by couples over the years.  Some of it is dated to the 1930’s!

5) The Mocha Moose in Two Harbors is my favorite little coffee shop to visit whenever I’m in the area.  It’s cute, somewhat hidden (you need to drive on the old highway to get there) and it always relaxed and welcoming.  If you’re lucky you can catch a live music session, and if not, you can sit outside and enjoy the gorgeous garden while sipping and munching.  I have a tradition of ordering the house drink- a mocha- and purchasing the hand crafted mug it comes in.  There is a potter who lives nearby who sells his mugs to the cafe for purchase, but I always just buy whichever one the barista makes my drink in!  

Mom and Auntie (and Max the dog) enjoying their goodies at the Mocha Moose

6)If you are headed up the north shore just continue on until you get to Gooseberry Falls State Park.  We’ve been coming here on our family vacations for as long as I can remember and it never gets old!  Park entrance is free and you can spend the day hiking, swimming, or just strolling along the trails.  There are a series of waterfalls that lead to a river, which leads out into Lake Superior.  Along the way are plenty of places to get in the water if you so choose.  I spent years climbing up and down just about every inch of this place.  It’s beautiful pretty much year round!  

7) Take a drive along Skyline Parkway.  This scenic drive will take you up the hill over the city and smack you across the face with stunning views of the city below.  There are multiple places to pull of the main road and get out of your car to take it all in.  At night the city looks especially magical with  all the lights shining off the lake.  Be aware though- since this area is densely wooded there is a very good chance that you will come across some wildlife!

There are so many wonderful things to do and see in Duluth it was hard to come up with just a few favorites!  I didn’t even get to the local roller derby team- Harbor City Roller Dames -, or my favorite spot for local brews (Fitger’s), but there are just some things that you will have to discover for yourself.  I have tried to list a good combination of off-the-beaten-track spots and some good old fashioned sightseeing musts.  Duluth is gorgeous in the summer and autumn, in my opinion, so most of my adventures take place in those seasons.  In any case, Minnesota is a pretty top notch destination for outdoor adventuring with the added bonus of the relaxed midwestern attitude. They don’t get the Minnesota Nice reputation for nothing!

Summer Roadtrip: Denver to Duluth

I have never taken a solo road trip before. There was always a parent driving, or in the case of my African road trip adventures, a friend behind the wheel. Last Friday, however, I packed a copious amount of snacks, cleaned the car out, and prepared to drive from my home in Denver, Colorado, to my grandmother’s apartment in Duluth, Minnesota. Denver to Duluth. It has a nice ring.

The western part of Colorado gets all the glory, but the eastern part has it’s own beauty too
  According to google the trip would take sixteen hours (if I was good and kept to a tight schedule) and take me through eastern Colorado, all of Nebraska, cut across Iowa, and then north through Minnesota. Duluth is on the tip of Lake Superior in the northern part of the state. I slept very little the night before I left since that cats and the bunny were all staying at friends’ places and the apartment was a little too quiet for my liking. I finally had the car packed and was on the road at about 5:30. The sun wasn’t even up yet and there was a light drizzle. This cleared into a haze by the time the sun started to come up and made for a spectacular sunrise as I drove through the hilly prairie-like land in the eastern part of the state. I was so tempted to stop and get out of my car and take photos! I didn’t, and I regret it now.  

Nebraska seemed to take a very long time to drive though (not a suprise). I began to feel really tired on this part of the trip. I used a variety of tricks to keep myself alert. The old blast-the-music-and-sing-along. I will post a link to the Boss Lady Roadtrippin’ playlist, via Spotify. I also drank a thermos full of coffee in addition to a bottle of kombucha. Water was a great pick-me-up also. Finally I had to admit that I needed an actual rest. Somewhere near the eastern border of Nebraska I pulled into a pretty and shaded little rest stop to take a 45 minute catnap. I’m not sure what the elderly tourists walking in and out of the restrooms thought of a person just snoozing in their car, but no one bothered me.  

The sun was getting much lower in the sky as I passed in Iowa, and what a welcome relief it was to see pretty rolling hills and sunny forests instead of endless flat and dull landscapes. Iowa passed by uneventfully and it was almost dark by the time I crossed the state border into Minnesota (at last!). I could tell I was there even before the robotic google maps voice said ‘Welcome to Minnesota’ because fir trees replaced the maple and ash trees. The landscape was distinctly more north-woodsy. I pulled off into a small town to grab a bean burrito for dinner and was charmed by the Minnesota accent, which was always there, but which I never noticed much before. Or maybe it was just this one small town.  

It was late at night and very dark as I drove through heavily forested roads in the northern part of the state. There weren’t too many other cars. I was about twenty minutes outside of Duluth when I saw a wolf run into the road. Luckily I was not going fast, and since my brights were on I saw the wolf with plenty of time to slow down. Luckily he or she thought better of crossing the road and turned and ran back into the trees. Given how thick the trees were and how late at night it was I’m surprised that I didn’t see more animals on the road, but the rest of the drive was uneventful.
Around midnight I finally pulled into the parking lot of the apartment homes where my grandmother lives. My parents were both there to greet me. It was wonderful to have finally made it! 

Want to check out my custom-made Boss Lady Roadtrippin’ playlist?  Find it Here!

Cafe Life: Duluth, MN

If you spend some time driving up and down the [very steep] streets of Duluth, MN to find free parking, you will no doubt then spend some time walking up and down those same [steep] streets in order to find a cup of coffee. I did that, and I ended up sitting here at Duluth Coffee Company.  There is a sunny bench when you walk in, but to get to the coffee you venture into a dim and delicious-smelling back part of the shop where there is a counter to order at, a wall of guitars made out of what looks like drift wood, and Duluth-themed gear to bring back home.  The menu is straightforward and to the point: actual coffee drinks that promise a caffeine rush and plenty of flavor without making your teeth ache from a bunch of unnecessary sugary syrup.  Excellent.  I have ordered my usual, a cappuccino, and it’s excellent.  I also enjoyed not paying an arm and a leg for it (lookin’ at you, Colorado).  

There are a few locals chatting with the barista, and a mix of what I assume are other visitors.  I can tell that they are visitors because, like me, they pause to peruse all the Duluth-themed gifts for sale.  My friends back home would like that stuff, right?  It’s pretty quiet overall, with just a bit of conversation and some music.  It is a Sunday morning, and unlike some cities, this one seems to actually sleep in on Sundays.  The street outside- which is a main drag of the downtown area- has minimal traffic.  The temperature outside is somewhere around 68 degrees, and with the sun shining it’s a perfect morning to lounge around outside with coffee.  

Between the guitars made out of driftwood (and I see one made out of an old aluminum tin!), the collection of old coffee pots on the wall, and the handful of attractive people in here, I am definitely happy to set up camp and enjoy my drink.   This place could easily fall into the trope of tourist trap if it weren’t for the good coffee, interesting people, and comfortable feel that attracts regulars as well as visitors.  I don’t recognize any of the bands that are playing softly in the background, but I know that I like them.  My cappuccino is almost gone and it’s time for me to pack up and continue on my journey, so I will hurry up and post this now.  Cheers!

City Places: Cheeseman Park

I want to write about city places, by which I mean particular places of interest within the city. I don’t mean tourist traps, and I don’t mean entire neighborhoods. Right now I am sitting in Cheeseman Park in Denver, Co, with a thermos of cold beer, a book, this tablet, and a Turkish towel to sit on. The light is fading and somewhere nearby someone is lighting off intermittent fireworks. I can hear a fountain some ways behind me, but more immediately I hear dogs, people having picnics, and laughter from from friends sunning themselves on their towels as they trade stories. There are plenty of people in Cheeseman Park tonight, which isn’t surprising as this sprawling green space in the middle of the city is a popular escape for those in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.  Cheeseman Park used to be a cemetery. That fact is interesting enough on it’s own, but coupled with the fact that when the city officially moved it’s cemetery somewhere else around 2,000 bodies were left unclaimed is even more interesting. This park is beautiful, but I think part of the draw is also all the ghost stories. Plenty of locals who have lived in the area for years will talk about “the regulars”, or ghosts that everybody talks about. Other people report feeling negative [read: bitchy] for no reason. I can’t speak for any of that, although my friends and I did detect a funny smell when we visited one afternoon…
This park seems to be a hub for twenty-somethings to play frisbee or have a cookout, or for people to let their dogs run free for some sunny exercise. The people/dog watching opportunities are excellent. Bordering this park is the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood and it’s hard not to walk along the streets with your mouth hanging open over all of the big brick mansions. A city hotspot, Voodoo Doughnuts, is less than a ten minute walk away. In my book that’s a major bonus.
If you find yourself in Denver, or in Colorado for that matter, this park deserves some attention. Sure it’s not a mountain to climb, or a canyon to raft through, but there’s more to Colorado than just geology!

A Solo Roadtrip

This is the Tiffany’s necklace, the LBD, the sweet vermouth, the ice cream on a hot day, the- you get it.  This is the thing for travelers that you need to have under your belt.  This is the solo roadtrip.  I’m planning mine for August.

Alright, so my roadtrip will be less of a meander and more of straight shot towards an end destination, but I’m nervous and excited for it all the same.  The starting point will be Denver, CO and the end point will be Duluth, MN.  My mother’s side of the family is from Duluth so we tend to gather there every summer.  I’ve missed a few trips to Duluth here and there and summer just never feels complete!  This is the city on the Big Lake, a city of gentrified industry, great fish, great beers, great people, and a beautiful mix of the outdoors and a city lifestyle.  The “Minnesota nice” adage is alive and well in Duluth.  The drive should take me about fifteen hours, give or take, and I plan to make the drive in one day.  Since my work days are about that long it’s not exactly unusual to find me on the move that long of a time period, although I’ll admit I have never driven for that long in one go before.  When Mom and I roadtripped out to Colorado last October we split the drive into two days (we had my two cats and my two rabbits with us and those babies needed a break!).

I’m looking forward to powering through Nebraska and then having some more fun in Iowa and Minnesota.  My little Diana F+ camera will make a great companion to help document (as well as my trusty Nikon).  What things do you need for long road trips?  What secrets have you discovered for making a long trip a success?  I’ve written about this in previous posts, but here are a few of my favorite road trip items.

1) Coffee and water and snacks (duh).

2) Harry Potter OR Outlander novels on audiobook.

3) That said, I also need a sweet roadtrip playlist.  Sometime you just gotta blast that Florence + The Machine.

4) A comfy tee and shorts combo to throw on but still feel stylin’ in.  I’m ogling some great adventure tanks on Etsy right now…

5) My Nikon and my Diana F+ to document!

6) Great friends to text you and make sure you’re still in one piece!  This is a bit of a joke, but it’s also nice to be able to reach out and share things digitally when you are alone.

I’d love to hear what other people like to bring on their trips.  Maybe I can get some inspiration for mine! 

Denver Pride Fest 2017 

So I am loving this city so much lately (if you’ve read some of my other posts you’ll know that I just moved into a turn-of the-last-century apartment in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver) and this weekend Denver just knocked it out of the park.  Work was tedious and stressful yesterday, but my wonderful friends drove all the way from Boulder to come and see my new place.  We drank wine, played board games, admired the cats, and then headed out to enjoy some nightlife.  Drinks and pizza at City O’ City (my new favorite place), and then some fried confection at Voodoo Doughnuts.  Needless to say, I slept in this morning.  It was the first time in a looooong time that I had no obligations to get up for, and the temperature was cool enough that sleeping was comfortable.  When I did finally get up I heard crowds.  Cheering.  And honking.  And more cheering.

Denver Pride Fest 2017 was happening right in Cap Hill and my apartment was at the epicenter.  I had seen plenty of flags and colorfully dressed people the night before but figured most of the festivities must have happened Saturday while I was at work in Louisville.  I was wrong!  I threw on my lemon tree dress- a colorful summer print seemed very appropriate for the occasion- grabbed my Nikon, and headed out into the festivities.  I happened to catch most of the pride parade as it passed by on Colfax Ave.  The cheering, the glee, the colors, the emotions were all running high today.  Here are some of my favorite photos.

Being A Vegetarian Abroad

Plenty of people have diet restrictions these days, whether it’s a no-meat diet, gluten free, or no carbs not-now-not-ever.  I have been a vegetarian on and off again for 11 years.  The brief times times that I added meat back into my diet were because A) I eat really poorly at first and it was a contributing factor to a hospital stay I had in 2008 and B) I studied abroad in a non-veggie friendly country.  Now that said, when I was studying in Botswana one of my fellow American classmates was a vegetarian and stayed that way.  There are a lot of factors that go into the why of why people restrict their diet and I don’t want to go into all that here.  I am lucky enough to be able to eat freely if I choose and I have no major allergies, so I was able to add meat back into my diet with minimal fuss.  When I left Africa and landed in Germany I immediately- and with great relief- left off eating animals again.  Now I have reached a comfortable point where I occasionally eat fish (that’s called being a pescatarian) but eat healthy and well all the time.

That’s me at home in Colorado.  But abroad?  How feasible is it to be a vegetarian abroad?  When I was 18 I travelled around China with a group of students from my high school.  We had been invited on the whirlwind trip by two nearly-retired teachers who liked to bring students of fabulous trips around the world every summer.  I was able to stipulate ahead of time that I was a veggie person and so I didn’t have too much trouble eating whenever we went to a restaurant as a group.  My friend and I ventured to a grocery store across the street from our hotel in Beijing and did some exploratory shopping.  I think we came away with a bag of Hawaiian rolls, brightly colored candy, and a strangely shaped fruit that we later learned was dragon fruit.  However, if we were left to our own devices for a meal or if we were at some kind of cultural touristy type event there was inevitably some awkward situations.  Like the time we were in Shangai and a restaurant proudly served up a traditional city favorite: steamed chicken feet.  Or the Peking Duck (complete with it’s head, just like in A Christmas Story) we had in Beijing.  I ate a lot of fried eggplant in sauce on that trip.

In Ireland I had a little more trouble finding satisfying meat-free meals, but perhaps that’s because I just wasn’t very good at knowing what to order, or because I was still relatively unwilling to eat cooked vegetables.  Irish breakfasts feature sausage, black pudding, bacon- all that salty, fatty goodness, but they also serve eggs, potatoes, and fruit.  Lunch and dinner were a different story.

People always want to say, “But sometimes it would be rude not to try the food!” That is true to a certain extent.  I attended a funeral in Botswana with my host family and understood almost nothing of what was going on (my Setswana was basic at best). I spent the five hours I was there sitting in a plastic chair in the shade, watching a group of men skin, quarter, and hang cow meat in a tree to dry in the sun.  At some point some of the liver, which had been prepared inside, was passed around and each funeral-goer put some on their plate.  I had never had liver, and certainly never liver from animal I had see whole recently.  There was not a question though: when the large serving bowl was passed to me, I took a piece from it.  I found the taste bland, the texture terrible, and the sight disconcerting, but I still ate it.  That was probably the only I time I risked actually offending someone by refusing a meat dish.  People, as it turns out, generally want to be friendly towards their guests and with their friends, no matter how foreign the person is.  If you say, “No thank you, I do not eat meat,” they respect that.  World War Three is not going to start because you don’t want  a steak, so get over yourself.

I choose to eat meat in Botswana, but not elsewhere.  It made sense for me.  It made sense for the time, the place, and the circumstances.  I think that’s all you can do in any situation.