I’m going to post a couple of stories to catch you all up on my adventures so far, because I couldn’t get reliable internet connection for the past few days. This post is from my arrival here on Tuesday.
Disclosure: I was born and raised in Denver, so I’m a little more than biased. Forgive me if I gush, but truly, this is one of the most beautiful cities in the country. Aside from the spectacular Rocky Mountain skyline, the city of my birth is one of the friendliest and has successfully transformed neighborhoods that were once depressed into thriving boutique and dining enclaves.
Â I arrived in Denver early Tuesday morning with great anticipation for convention week. I came here early to spend time with my best friend from high school, Tricia Stevens, who is equally involved in Democratic Politics (in Colorado), is working in logistics for the VIP motor pool.Â I grew up in Colorado but this would be my first time to return to the state in nearly three decades.
Mile-High Mecca of Ex-Californians
After dropping off my luggage at Tricia’s home, we went on an extensive tour of the city. At first, I was completely disoriented. Nothing seemed familiar. So much has changed here in the past few decades, that I recognized very little. It has taken the past three days to get re-oriented with my beloved hometown…but more on that in my next posting.
Since the Northridge earthquake, Southern Californians have moved to Colorado in unprecedented numbers. Real estate prices have soared, much to the chagrin of natives who struggle to afford their own homes. Tricia had to settle for a condo for herself and her aging father because homes have increased in value so dramatically.
My first impression though was that this is a city that takes great pride in its public art. Even the bus stops are a work of art. Sculptures abound throughout Denver, from the rearing BLUE horse proudly standing at the entrance of Denver International Airport, to the towering dancing figures and the Denver Performing Arts Center.Â Much of the public space works are modern forms, but there are also a number of monumental tribute statues dotting the landscape.
Downtown has become a spectacular, hip enclave where Denverites flock for entertainment. LoDo which was formerly the home to winos and homeless old men, has become the mecca of microbrew aficionados. Gone are the boarded up buildings and desperate drunks, replaced with beautifully restored Gold Rush era brick buildings housing so many bistros and breweries, where one could choose a different eatery every day for lunch and dinner for a week and not be able to hit them all.
Tricia took me to the Pepsi Center, fondly called the Pepsi Can by locals to see convention preparations under way. Every network is setting up pavilions for their broadcasts and I spotted several other “big tents” around the downtown being set up, doubtlessly for events during convention week.
Supporting the Local Economy While Staying in Denver
Whenever I travel, I try to find small, individually owned shops and eateries so that I can support the local economy. I shy away from the big chains as much as possible. In Denver, it’s easy to find boutique shops and unique eateries, even though iconic chains like Starbucks are as numerous here as anywhere, there are still plenty of places to choose that you won’t find anywhere else.
Everywhere we went, whether to grab a cup of coffee, or to find chloryphyll (to help us flatlanders adjust to the mile high altitude), people were friendly and excited to meet a delegate from California. Indeed, event when the cashier had no idea that I was here for the convention, they were only too happy to strike up a conversation and wish me a great day.
After driving around the downtown area and seeing where the California delegation will be staying (Sheraton, downtown), we hopped over to the Northwest side where Edgewater, a teeny little four square block community proudly proclaims its independence from Denver city government. We visited with Tricia’s daughter and grandson (are we really that old?) before heading off to the Northwest Denver shops and eateries.
We found a lovely little shop that I would urge delegates to check out: Made in Colorado. GREAT gifts and its sister shop, Roberta’s, serves delectable truffles, Broncos popcorn, and my first purchase as a tourist: Buffalo Droppings (dark chocolate covered coconut clumps). What a hoot. They also sell Elk, Deer, and Antelope versions to appeal to your sense of humor.
Â As I walked around the connected shops, I spotted one of my childhood favorites: Rock Candy. Â I’ve tried to explain to friends for years that the sugar crystals on a stick or a string sold in California are NOT rock candy, but are crystal candy. True Rock Candy looks like tumbled stones and are in fact oversized jelly beans. I’m bringing them back to show to some of my more skeptic buddies…
Quaint Alcohol Sales Laws Still Hold Sway in Denver
Then we found a lovely wine shop to buy an appropriately aged bottle of Tawny Port to go with our truffles. Denver, as modern as it has become still doesn’t allow alcohol to be sold in grocery stores, with the exception of “3.2″ beer, a loophole lobbied for by local brewer, Coors, many many years ago. It was only recently that alcohol was available for purchase on Sundays!
Next, we visited a few specialty bookstores, so I could look for some eclectic gifts, Spiritways and Isis. I found some lovely examples of local stones and crystals at both stores, but Isis, decked out to look like an Egyptian temple had some exquisite (and priced as such) examples of quartz, amethyst, and others that only gemstone aficionados would know about, so I won’t bore you with the details. In any case, I’m coming home with some lovely gifts and “pretties” for myself.
After that, it was time to eat, We sought out my childhood fav, Tortilla Flats, but alas, the long time fixture of North Denver is no longer. Instead, Tricia introduced me to her favorite Latino restaurant, El Sabor Latino. Oh MY! El Sabor is a gourmet’s take on all things Latino. Specializing in South American fare, El Sabor also serves specialties borrowed from Mexico. Trish, a long-time vegetarian and customer, was their guinea pig for their meatless fare. I tried the vegetarian tamales and was delighted by the lack of fat and creative blend of peppers and veggies stuffed into a light masa covering. Even the beans were prepared in the “olla” style, meaning no added fat, whole beans, not mashed.
The piece de resistance was the flan. OMG, OMG, OMG! I have NEVER had flan this good. If you go there, it’s a must have. Don’t let the size fool you, there’s more than enough for two to share. By the end of the day, I was starting to feel the altitude and was more than happy to take another dose of chloryphyll and crawl into bed.