Saturday, March 31, 2012

Train to Denver Trip: Day 6 - Denver

Our last day in Denver.  I am writing this mid afternoon because our friends John and Greg are coming up from Colorado Springs in a little while and we are going to spend the evening with them.  Tomorrow morning we have to be at the train station at 7:00 AM.  Way too early for me!

This morning we walked over to the Brown Palace Hotel which is an old, historic hotel in downtown Denver (not to be confused with the Molly Brown House -- no connection whatsoever).  From there we walked over to the Denver Art Museum where Val wanted to see a exhibit of Yves Saint Laurent's design work.  Not too interesting to me, but Val was very impressed.
Dave in Civic Center Park near the art museum with blooming trees in the background.

Denver Art Museum

Val Posing
 From there it was lunch at a sidewalk cafe and then back to the hotel to pack and get ready for our early departure tomorrow before John and Greg arrive this afternoon.

We really enjoyed our stay in Denver.  The downtown area is great, the 16th Street Mall and shuttle make everything easy to get to without the need of a car.  There is much to see and do, the people we met were warm and friendly and everyone just seemed happy to be here.  The Magnolia Hotel was great and we would highly recommend it.  A great location and a friendly, helpful staff.  We will return.
16th Street Shuttle
One last look at the 16th Street Mall
This will be our last post for a few days as we will not have an Internet connection.

Val again... As usual I just has to add my two cents... I did really enjoy the Yves Saint Laurent retrospective at the museum.  OMG (as they say)... All those lovely clothes. He was truly inspired.  One room had 20 or so ball gowns that were from 20 to 30 years old, but any one of them could have been worn today.  "Fashion comes and goes, but style lasts forever." -- Yves Saint Laurent.   By the way, Dave was truly and good sport to go to this exhibit.

As Dave said, it's sad to be leaving Denver.  We had a grand time here.  Lots to see, do and explore, but I'm looking forward to getting on the train again and watching the beautiful scenery go by!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Train to Denver Trip: Day 5 - Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway

We were up early today to pick up our rental car and hit the road.  Our plan was to do the Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway which runs from Black Hawk to Estes Park, Colorado.  Getting out of Denver was easier than I thought it would be and we were on our way.  The Peak-to Peak Byway is a beautiful drive through the Rocky Mountains with lakes, rivers, mountains, forests and great views everywhere.  Although there was snow to be seen on the high peaks, there were only a few patches here and there that we saw.

Along the way we made a side trip into Boulder to visit Celestial Seasonings, a large tea manufacturer based in Boulder.  Val is a big tea drinker, so she was looking forward to this as they offer tours.  After much difficulty and frustration we found the factory (poor directions on their part / lack of good maps on our part).
 After a bit of tea sampling we started out on the tour.  Because we would be in the factory and around the tea processing everyone had to wear hair nets, which made for a strange looking group, but at least everyone was in the same boat.

The tour turned out to be very interesting and despite the fact that I'm not a tea drinker, I really enjoyed it.  If I remember correctly, Celestial Seasonings manufacturers 500,000 tea bags a day.

After the tour, a visit to the gift shop and lunch at the company cafe, and we were on our way back to the Peak-to-Peak Highway and on to Estes Park.  Our original plan was to go into Rocky Mountain National Park, but after having spent more time than expected in Boulder, we just walked around Estes Park and enjoyed the beautiful weather.  Our plan was to explore an area called Big Thompson Canyon on our way back to Denver, but once again, the lack of a good map and poorly marked roads, we had a frustrating time finding where we wanted to go.  We finally found it and had a beautiful drive through the canyon following the Big Thompson River (which didn't seem that big).

By this time, it was getting late and we had an hours drive to Denver, so we headed for home.  It was a great day with once again beautiful weather and we had a great time despite the several periods of frustration.  Tomorrow is our last day in Denver.

Val here...  Yes we did have a very nice day.  I really enjoyed the tour of the tea factory.  The smells were amazing!  Since Celestial Seasonings makes herbal teas, and there were huge bags of all kinds of herbs that filled the processing area with lovely smells.  At one point in the tour they took all of us into the "mint room".  This was a separate room filled with large gunny sacks of peppermint and spearmint.  The smell was so strong that it really cleared your sinuses and made your eyes sort of tear up, but it wasn't unpleasant at all.  Our day cruising through the Rockies was excellent.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Train to Denver Trip: Day 4 - Denver

We spent our first day in Denver exploring the downtown area.  Denver has done a really wonderful thing and closed off a two mile stretch of 16th Street and turned it into a pedestrian mall.  The only vehicles allowed are shuttle buses that run continuously from one end to the other, stopping at every cross street and best of all, it's free.  16th Street runs through the heart of Downtown Denver and is full of shops, restaurants, and offices and businesses.
16th Street Mall
 Many of the restaurants have outdoor seating on the Mall which is great for people watching and just having a relaxing meal.  The weather was great by the way, with temperatures in the low 70's and clear blue skies.
Lunch on 16th Street Mall
We took some time to walk a block off of 16th Street to an area called Larimer Square which is an old historic area of Denver.  The area has many shops and restaurants.
Shops in Larimer Square
One of the great things about the 16th Street Mall is that it is alive with activity.  Unlike many of the downtown areas in today's cities, there were people everywhere, eating, shopping and walking up and down the mall.  I think it's a really great idea.

After lunch we worked our way down to the end of the mall and walked up to the state capitol building.
State Capitol
From the we walked to the "Molly Brown House" of "Unsinkable Molly Brown" musical and Titanic fame.  We took a tour and it actually turned out to be quite interesting.  Molly Brown was nothing like she was portrayed in the musical or movies and was never even called Molly Brown until the musical came out.
Molly Brown House
 By this time, our feet were getting pretty sore from all the walking, so we headed back to 16th Street and caught the shuttle to the hotel.  After resting a bit, we decided it was time for dinner so we caught the shuttle and headed back to Larimer Square where we had dinner at one of the many restaurant choices.  The streets were full of people and the restaurants all seemed busy.  It was a beautiful, balmy evening and we really enjoyed ourselves and it seemed everyone else was too.
Larimer Square at night
16th Street at night
Our first day was great, Val and I are very impressed with Denver.  Tomorrow we're picking up a rental car and heading to Estes Park outside of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Train to Denver Trip: Day 2 & 3 - California Zephyr

We got up to drizzle and light rain on Tuesday morning in Davis.  After breakfast we grabbed our luggage and walked across the street to the train station to await the arrival of the California Zephyr.  The rain had let up so we stayed dry, but it was cool and windy.  Right on time at 10:36, the train arrived in Davis and we were on our way.
Val after boarding
 It was rainy all the way through Sacramento and the foothills of the Sierras, but very little snow on the ground.  As we climbed into the mountains the scenery was beautiful and as we reached the higher elevations, the rain turned to snow and we started to see snow on the ground.
Donner Pass
The snow was quite heavy at the higher elevations and the scenery spectacular.  We descended from the snow and the Sierras into Nevada and made a brief stop in Reno and then on across Nevada.
Northern Nevada
 We crossed most of Nevada and Utah in the dark and arrived in Grand Junction, Colorado mid morning.
Grand Junction, Colorado

From Grand Junction we climbed into the Rockies which would take most of the day.  We followed the Colorado River through spectacular canyons and beautiful scenery.
Colorado River in Gore Canyon

Rafters on the Colorado
The surprising thing about the Rockies was the lack of snow.  Even at the highest elevations we traveled through there were only patches of snow.  The weather has been very warm and there is a large wildfire burning outside of Denver because it's so dry.

We arrived in Denver at about six in the evening, got our luggage and called the hotel shuttle to pick us up.  The hotel is very nice right in downtown Denver.  Val went all out for this trip and got us a one bedroom suite with a fireplace (not really needed in this weather  :-(  ).

Train travel is not for everyone, especially if you are in a hurry, but we love it.  The leisurely pace, sitting in the dining car eating while watching the beautiful scenery go by, meeting friendly people, it's all good.  Now it's on to explore Denver.

Hi, Val here adding my two cents...  So far we couldn't ask for a better trip.  As Dave said, the train ride through the mountains was amazing.  The hotel we're staying in had a surprise waiting for us when we arrived.  We found a tray with chocolate strawberries, a bottle of champagne, and a very nice note wishing Dave a happy retirement (nice touch).  I mentioned this trip was to celebrate Dave's retirement when I made the reservations and they didn't miss a beat.  Well, we're off the see the sights of Denver and I can't wait to get started!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Train to Denver Trip: Day 1 - Davis, CA

We're in Davis, California tonight in a hotel right across the street from the train station where we'll catch the California Zephyr tomorrow morning.  The reason we're boarding the train in Davis instead of it's starting point in Emeryville is because the hotel we're staying in will let us park the car in their parking garage while we're gone.  The hotel is also right across the street from a movie theater so we went and saw "The Hunger Games" which we both really liked.  Nothing much else going on tonight.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Retirement Trip Prelude

This week, Val finally revealed where we are going on my surprise retirement trip - we are going to Denver on the train!  Denver is a place I have driven through many times, but have never stopped so I am looking forward to seeing the area.

We will catch the Amtrak California Zephyr in Davis Tuesday morning and after traveling through the Sierras and the Rockies we will be in Denver Wednesday evening.  We will spend four days in Denver and then return to Davis on the California Zephyr stopping over in Reno for a couple of days.  While in Denver we plan on exploring the city, renting a car and driving to Rocky Mountain National Park, and our friends John and Greg from Colorado Springs will be coming up one day to visit with us.  

Val has booked a bedroom compartment on the train for us so we should be traveling in comfort.  It should be a great trip, particularly our trip through the mountains in the snow.  I will update this with (hopefully) some pictures whenever we have a Wi-Fi connection.

This is Val chiming in...  It's the eve of our train journey to Colorado and I have that feeling that I always get before we go on a trip.  It's a combination of excitement, anticipation and wanderlust that I can feel physically, and also emotionally.  You'd think after all these years of traveling that that feeling would be diluted by experience and time, but I still feel it every time we get ready to go somewhere.  It's a great feeling that signals a new adventure is ahead.