Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Favorites: A Journey Back in Time

And what was Dan's favorite part of our trip to Denver you ask?

Our recent trip to Denver and the surrounding areas brought us many memories; from the aforementioned giant bear exhibit, to jaunt up to Cheyenne for a historic tour, to an interminable drive though a whole lot of nothing in western Nebraska. But the wildest and most memorable excursion for me happened on the last day of our trip when we decided to drive way up into the mountains to Central City, CO.

The drive up took about an hour, and was a pretty steady elevation climb the whole way. Highlights from the drive included the rental car struggling mightily in the higher elevation, another near death experience caused by a GPS meltdown, constant ear popping, and an awe inspiring (yet terrifying) heard of wild big horned sheep racing down a mountainside just off the highway. We were convinced they smelled blood and were heading right towards us. Luckily, they slowed and veered off before getting to the road.

As soon as we arrived in Central City (elevation 8,510), it's like we were instantly transported back to the 1870s. The buildings lining the streets are straight out of a classic Western cowboy movie. You can just picture the likes of Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok roaming the streets, having a drunken poker game or a wild duel. I’ve never felt more inclined to ride a horse, carry a gun and holster, have a handle bar mustache, or use a spittoon. If only I had more time to prepare! The town today is known mostly as a gaming town, with a handful of small casinos open to the public.

After spending some time walking around Central City (and Steph winning $27 on a penny slot, ca-ching!) we drove a few miles further to partake in a tour of the Hidee Gold Mine. The Hidee Mine is located at mile marker 6.3 on the Central City Parkway, so keep your eyes open. (You CAN easily miss it as we obviously did.) Before we began our tour of the mine, we were able to try our hand at panning for gold which is actually a lot harder than it looks! After a brief lesson on the origin and history of the mine and the Gold Rush in general, we were given hard hats and entered the mine.

We spent about an hour inside in the mine and learned about the day to day life of a miner. The tour guide even showed us an actual fault line that ran along the side of the mine – pretty cool! The best part of the tour was at the end when we descended down into the area of the gold vein and got to chisel our own gold out of the rock walls! It was well worth the filthy mine dirt and mud that stayed with us all the way home and the perfect cap to our journey back to 1870s Wild West/Frontierland America. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nebraska, Nebraska, I love you!

Anyone who has looked out the window during a cross country flight can tell you that a majority of the fly-over states consist of mostly farmland. From 35,000 feet one can easily make out the big, circular farms with little farm houses that fill the heartland. Many don’t get a chance to have an up-close look like we did at the parts of the country usually viewed from cruising altitude. 

After leaving Cheyenne, we hit the interstate to drive across the border into Nebraska. A near death experience in Pine Bluffs, WY did not deter us from making our way into Cornhusker territory. We took the exit off I-80 toward Bushnell and immediately saw the words ‘NO SERVICES’ beneath the city’s name. Now, I had read about Bushnell and how it was pretty desolate, but didn’t realize that the town didn’t have any services. This could be interesting… The ride up US 30 into Bushnell was long, and I’m not going to lie- it was Kurt Russell/Breakdown scary. It’s hard for someone who is used to a town of 8+ million people to be put in the middle of America on a desolate road, heading to a town of only 162 people.

The most recognizable thing in the town of Bushnell is its water tower, which went up in 1917. Other than that, the houses lining the main dirt road were sparse and we drove through the town in a few minutes. However, I did read that the town is starting to make a comeback, with a few new stores popping up. Yay, Bushnell!

About 7 miles down the road lay Kimball, population 2,559. Trivia answer: Kimball is actually home to the highest point in Nebraska.  This is exactly how I pictured a middle-America small town. The streets were lined with flags and the town looked inviting. My favorite part was the Goodhand Theater – a one screen movie theater with pull in parking in front of it. If that doesn’t scream small town to me, I don’t know what does!

We spent about an hour in western Nebraska and my biggest regret of the trip is not getting out of the car to take more pictures. But by this point, a) we were still shaken up from nearly dying b) it was really hot c) we were pretty ready to make the 3 hour drive back to Denver. I would like to get back there at some point so I could actually walk around and interact with the locals. I’d love to hear how living in a small-Midwestern town compares to living in a big city. So, if any Bushnell/Kimball residents stumble onto this page, drop me a line!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Favorites: Finger Lickin' Good

During our two night stay in Memphis, we did not get a chance to get to sample any of their world-famous BBQ. Disgraceful, huh? Since we were spending a few more days in the South, we were determined to taste some real Southern BBQ before heading back to the faux BBQ up North. Before we headed off to Little Rock, we inquired with the hotel’s desk as to where we could find the city’s best BBQ. Without hesitation, the manager told us to check out the Whole Hog Cafe.  He said we would NOT regret it.

Whole Hog Cafe has won countless awards for their delicious food, winning top honors in 2008's  'Memphis-in-May World Barbecue Championships' in the ‘whole hog’ category, and placing in the top 3 for ribs in 2000 and 2002. When we saw these accolades in the window of the restaurant, we knew the hotel manager hadn’t steered us wrong.

The menu consisted of all the mouthwatering dishes that you'd expect to grace a BBQ menu - beef brisket, pulled pork, ribs and chicken with classic sides such as baked beans and cole slaw. After studying the menu, I decided on the BBQ chicken and Dan ordered a plate of the beef brisket. Holy smokes, that stuff was good! We didn’t even need to use any of the BBQ sauces on the table. The food was perfect exactly the way it came out. It is rare that I ever finish a plate of food, so the picture below is proof of how GOOD this place is. (Dan’s brisket was heavenly as well.)

Whole Hog Cafe has locations throughout Arkansas.

**Side note - they also sell Whole Hog Cafe tee shirts. How do I know this?  Because, on the way out, we both bought one. Not only did we buy one, but we were personally escorted through the kitchen into the back office to pick them out. The shirts didn't disappoint either, as they retained a very distinct BBQ smell for weeks after we unpacked!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Welcome to (Insert State Name Here)

One of my favorite parts of taking a road trip is being greeted at each state's border by a welcome sign.  It's always fun to see just how creative or how lacking in creativity each state is based on how they design their signs.  On our last trip, we crossed into three states, and thus, saw three of these signs.  I have to give props to Wyoming for having a really pretty sign - I, for one, felt welcomed.  Hell, we even got out of the car on the interstate to take pictures by it.   I haven't always been quick enough to catch a picture of a welcome sign (damn you, Mississippi!) but this site has all 50 for you to take a peek.  Which is your favorite?

Fancy, huh?
Really New York? This is the best you came up with?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Favorites: All Aboard

Sometimes, I find myself at a random location that I had no intention of visiting, but end up falling head over heels in love. We signed up for a tour of Denver in which we had to meet our tour group in front of Denver’s Union Station. I thought nothing of it – Union Station is in a centralized location of the city and wasn’t a place I had included as one of my must-sees. Before the tour guide arrived, I decided that it would be a good idea to make one last pit stop and since we were outside of a train station, I figured ‘mission, bathroom’ would be a success. Little did I know, I was about to discover my absolute favorite place in the whole city.

Denver’s Union Station originally opened in 1881, but the incarnation that stands now formally opened in 1914. Union Station experienced its glory days during the 1920s and 1930s when the station operated 80 trains a day. When I entered, I felt like I stepped back in time. I've been to Grand Central in NYC hundreds of times, but this place was far different.  The station is big, yet was completely desolate. I thought for a moment that maybe I arrived during a lull in Amtrak’s schedule, but remembered reading a sign that the station was under redevelopment and was not in use at the time. For a split second, I panicked that I wasn’t supposed to be gallivanting through the vacant railroad station. But then I started taking pictures.

Talk about nostalgia - this place was right out of central casting for old school train stations.  Sitting amongst the high back benches, my imagination ran wild as I visualized all the hellos and goodbyes that happened in this very station. Soldiers leaving for war, bidding farewell to their wives. Families arriving for the first time out West.  So many stories to tell!

I loved it so much that I stopped there two more times during our short trip. If you want your own quick glimpse into the past, I suggest you do the same. Denver’s Union Station is located at 1701 Wynkoop Street and is open daily between 5am and 10pm.

Monday, September 12, 2011

I See What You Mean

One of the things that makes Denver stand apart from other cities is that you can find unique pieces of public art all around the city. Thanks to the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs’ Public Art Program, local artists are able to display their art around town for the city’s residents to enjoy. If you’ve been to Denver, you have certainly seen some of this art around the city. There’s the giant blue Bronco that welcomes you into Denver International Airport. Oversized football equipment flanks the plaza outside of Sports Authority (formerly Invesco Field, formerly Mile High) Stadium. Also, who could forget the Big Chair with a Horse outside the public library?

Perhaps the most recognizable piece of public art in Denver is the 40 foot tall blue bear peeking into the Convention Center windows. Officially titled, I See What You Mean, this oversized bear is the brainchild of local artist Lawrence Argent. Argent was inspired by a picture that ran in a newspaper of a black bear looking into someone’s window. He thought that would make a great idea for his artwork. A bear wandering down from the Rockies might peek into the windows of the Convention Center, wondering what is going on inside much like we, as tourists might peek in as we pass by. (I personally would love to attend a convention here only if to see the bear from the inside. However, I can’t promise that I’d pay attention to much more than the bear.)


The blue bear sculpture can be found on 14th Street, outside of the main entrance of the Denver Convention Center. (It’s pretty hard NOT to see it!) Feel free to give the bear a voice like I did when I visited him. Hmm, an oversized bear, a giant elephant…all I need to do is find an oversized lion and tiger and I have the beginnings of my very own circus….a very weird and creepy circus.

A quick guide to Denver’s Public Art can be found here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

One Decade

(I know this post strays a bit away from the topic of this blog,  but being a NYC based blogger, I'd be remiss not to reflect on 9/11 as the anniversary approaches.)

It really is astounding how one day can stand completely frozen in time. For me, September 11, 2001 was pretty much an average workday – besides the fact that I was up earlier than usual produce a radio media tour at a studio in Times Square. Still tired from the lack of good sleep the night before, my brother and I had a quick chat before he headed off to school and me to my waiting car service. His basic sentiment for the day was “let’s just stay home today.” Looking back, how I wish we could have spent the day safe at home.

The weird memories that come to mind when I think about that September 11th – how I was dreading arriving to the studio early, hoping that my driver would take the West Side Highway so we could get stuck at a few lights. Instead, he took the FDR which actually ended up depriving me of one last up-close look at the towers before they fell.

Arriving at the studio was business as usual. The radio media tour I was producing went along smoothly until one of the clients I was with tried to call his home office in St. Louis only to get a fast busy signal. “Maybe a plane crashed into the building,” was his rationale. If only any of us knew that had actually happened… but a lot closer to home.

Without a TV in the studio, we were getting bits and pieces of information. A plane crashed into the World Trade Center? What kind of fool would accidentally hit that building? I had remembered that some jackass got tangled on the Statue of Liberty a few weeks prior, so this also had to be some joke. Right?

Information started coming in fast and furious. Planes were hijacked. The Pentagon was hit. A tower fell. From the isolated studio I was in, I could not compute what was happening because I had no visuals. Calls to my parents further explained the situation and all I wanted to do was get back to the familiar surroundings of my own office.

Walking from the midtown studio to my East Side office was one of the longest walks I ever had to make. People were gathering in the streets, huddled around radios and TVs to listen to the news. Others were running, crying. No one could make phone calls because, unbeknownst to me, both buildings had already fallen and cell phone lines were down.

As I passed by Grand Central, people were flooding out, yelling that there was a bomb inside - which honestly, in that moment, could have been plausible. I paid no attention to the streetlights…crossed at greens (something that I NEVER do), smacked the hood of a taxi that almost had hit me. All I could focus on was getting back to safety to find out what the hell was going on. And when I arrived at my office, the magnitude of the day hit me.

I couldn’t get home to Brooklyn that night, so instead, I took the LIRR out to my aunt and uncle’s house. The walk to Penn Station was eerie. The sound of ambulance and police sirens had been so commonplace that day that I actually tuned them out. Trying to sleep that night was next to impossible – part adrenalin, part fear. The sound of fighter jets broke the silence of the night and I wondered what kind of world we would wake up to.

For me, the worst days happened after September 11th. The images of that day were played over and over again on the news. Missing posters of those who worked at the WTC were plastered all around Manhattan. And there was the smell. The awful smell of burning. A smell that I will never forget.

I actually had a vacation planned for October 2001. While my family and friends wanted me to cancel it, I refused. I was not letting the terrorists win. So I hopped on a plane at Newark airport on my birthday – the same day that there was a concert for NYC being held at Madison Square Garden. On vacation, I represented my city by wearing an I Love New York shirt. And during the trip, fellow vacationers came up to say hi, ask my story and send their regards to my hurting city.

It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since that terrible day. And as much as we have all moved on, it’s hard for me to forget all of the little details of that day– what I wore, things I said, and that feeling of complete and utter fear and helplessness. But in the face of tragedy, I have never, ever been prouder to call myself a New Yorker.

What's your 9/11 story?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Denver by the Numbers

We're still recovering from our trip to the Mile High City, so below is a quick recap of our days out West.

  • States visited: 3
  • Miles driven: 652
  • Highest altitude reached: 8,496 feet
  • Population of the smallest town visited: 162 (Bushnell, NE)
  • Times GPS took us off road: 1
  • Cliffs almost driven over when GPS took us off road: 1
  • Herds of wild animals (not including cows) seen: 2
  • State Capitals visited: 2 - Denver & Cheyenne
  • Organized tours taken: 5
  • Best restaurant visited: The Fort, Morrison, CO
  • Buffalo dishes eaten: 2
  • Shots of whiskey + red pepper + tobacco + gunpowder drank: 1/2
  • Gold mines visited: 1
  • Amount of money won in a Central City casino: $27.06
  • Pair of shoes bought: 1
  • Pictures taken: 365