Monday, October 29, 2007

The Garden of the Gods

Today I saw one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life. Aly and Jay took me up to Colorado Springs to see The Garden of the Gods.

On the way up we stopped off at Dunkin Donuts in Colorado Springs, and my oh my, very nice indeed!

Garden of the Gods is amazingly beautiful, and the whole place just takes amazing photographs, of all the Rocky Mountains and the red rock formations. I manage to land such a beautiful day too, it was cool but not cold, and the sky and air up there is simply delicious.

Now I know you all want to see photos, so here are some teasers...

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Me, and the formation on the left of the photo, at the very top is called the kissing camels. I'm wearing one of my new Lane Bryant tops by the way.

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Pikes Peak, with some SNOW!!

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My first view of a wild elk. This one was a young male, an older female was on the other side of the road.

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Oh look, a library!

You'll have to wait for the rest until I come home.

Stopped at the Garden of the Gods Trading Post for a look around, I stocked up on postcards, bought some cute Native American jewellery (I was really, really drawn to all the bear motif stuff, and just had to have something, and also found a cute little stone turtle pendant) and then we went to The Mason Jar for lunch. YUM! Had my first chicken fried steak (it's like crumbed steak but only better) with mashed potatoes, biscuits, corn bread and gravy. Biscuits are basically scones, and the gravy is almost a white sauce, rather than what we know as gravy back home. But it's all REALLY good.

Finally we stopped off at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory so I could buy my first caramel apple. Bought a plain one and a chocolate covered pretzel. Had them for dessert tonight, and yes, definitely yum. Caramel apples are way yummier than toffee apples.

Jay thinks it's HILARIOUS that I can't work out the nickels and dimes. It just doesn't make sense to me that a nickel (5c) is bigger than a dime (10c)!! Plus a quarter and a nickel are almost the same size. He keeps cracking up and rolling his eyes at me.

In further animal watches, I saw a chipmunk, more squirrels and a dead skunk.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

America: The Land of Shopportunity

Yep, shopped 'til I dropped. Aye caramba, is this the country to do some SERIOUS shopping or what??

Aly and I first met up with cyster Stefany and her partner Mar (I hope I spelled it right!) and we had lunch at this divine Mexican style restaurant called Hacienda. Not totally authentic, but delicious. I had chicken and cheese (hey Floss) chimichangas and Aly had chilli rellenos and we shared. Yum, yum, yum. My biggest problem here though is the HUGE buckets of soft drink that they bring you and then keep refilling. I have to curb that, I don't need all that caffeine and sugar. But it just keeps coming and it's so cheap, and you only pay once, the refills are free.

Then the ladies initiated me into shopping in America. We started with a HUGE cosmetics store called Ulta. Lordy me, it was girlie heaven! And obscenely cheap, even with taxes added on, compared to back home. A bottle of foundation that costs me $22 at home cost me $5 (including tax) here.

On to a lingerie shop called Bosom Buddies so I could get professionally sized, as I had NO idea how clothing sizes translated from Aussie sizes to US sizes. Got an idea of what size I should be going for and then we headed to Lane Bryant. Oh my LORD, was I in heaven??? Finally, cute, feminine, young, modern, pretty clothes for women with my shape!! They had a huge 40% sale on, so everything was priced really well. Aly knew a woman working there, and by telling her about a coupon she had, managed to get the lady to offer us another 75% off of the reduced price. And then when we went to the checkout, got another 20% off of that as well!! Between three of us, we managed to get $600 worth of stuff for a mere $200!!

I ended up getting two long sleeve tops, a cute smock top in oranges and browns, a purple t-shirt with little white stars on it and a stack of lingerie for about $115US. It's so nice to have some cute things again.

From Lane Bryant we went on to Origin, a fully natural beauty products store. I didn't buy anything, I just enjoyed the delicious scents!

Finally we went to Clare, an accessories and costume jewellery store. For the Aussies, think Kleins but MASSIVE. So much cute stuff and really cheap. I spent $30 and got six pairs of earrings, two head bands, and two jewelled barette clips. One pair of earrings are little skeletons for Halloween next Wednesday.

So as you can see, shopping heaven!

We ended the day with some Cold Stone ice-cream (same as Cold Rock in Australia) where I indulged in the great American delicacy of peanut butter and chocolate together. YUM!

Tonight we got pizza for dinner, good quality New York Italian style double pepperoni and cheese... to die for! Undoubtedly the best pizza I have ever eaten. I'm groaning with all the food I've eaten today! But I can't do the American portion sizes, they are massive, so I just get a doggie bag for the rest.

No snow last night sadly, but it is forecast for Halloween, which would be awesome. But today I did see my first two squirrels. They are SOOOOOO cute!! I didn't get a photo, but I'm sure they'll be back to feed in the feeder again.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Late Night Quickie

Get your minds out of the gutter you lot!

It's gonna snow tonight!!!! It's been getting colder and colder all day, the sky has been building in to big, icy grey clouds, and on the weather tonight they said that Denver is going to have light snow flurries. Wahooo!!! I hope it's still around in the morning for me to see.

I just wanted to add to my earlier post, for the BCCLS folks reading this, both Denver Public Library and Highlands Ranch Public Library use SirsiDynix, have 3M self check machines and are running the Envisionware software for their internet booking system. I know, I'm a nerd, I notice these things. But I must say, Highlands Ranch are using RFID, and Denver (much, much bigger library service) aren't.

Went to a fantastic restaurant tonight, Damascus in Denver. Delicious Syrian food, the best hummus I have ever eaten and a lentil soup that was divine. Must jump on Trip Advisor to give a good review for that one.

And for those of you stirring me that I'm online a lot it's because I'm being mellow ok! The first week of holidays is for relaxing, not charging around like a madwoman. I'm here in Denver for almost two weeks, so I have plenty of time to see stuff.

Tomorrow is lunch at a reputably good Mexican restaurant followed by some serious retail therapy!

Literary Tour of Denver

Yesterday Jay took me on a bit of a literary tour of Denver, driving around the city itself to have a bit of a look around, with the main aim of showing me the Denver Public Library.

Denver is quite a beautiful city, with heaps of great architecture with plenty of character. The number of boring concrete and glass boxes is very low, and the buildings are wide and varied in style with lots of character. We stopped off at the Denver University, which has some amazing architecture both old and new.

I particularly like the library building:

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Apologies to Jay as I've forgotten the person the building is named after.

And this building is the student hall, which I really fell in love with:

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One thing that I am really enjoying are all the fall colours on all the trees in the area. Most of them are into yellows at the moment, but there are still some red and orange shades around. I particularly fell in love with this yellow tree in the grounds of the University:

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And as you can see, I've been getting some spectacular clear days:

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On to the Denver Public Library, which is very impressive. They've built on to the original building (the creamy block on the right below) and kept it looking whole and not patched together at all:

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Inside it's spacious, clean, well organised, relaxed and has modern technologies to keep it up with the world. I particularly liked the foyer, which has a soft, muted mural around the upper level:

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On to Highlands Ranch Public Library, which is more modern than DPL, but it is only a few years old. Me in front of the library (daggy pic of me, but you get the idea):

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They have this wonderful idea where you can buy a "book" for the wall in the stairwell to raise money for the library. The books are actually just blocks of wood covered in leather to look like spines, and they have dedications on them. I think it's a wonderful idea, it looks great and is a permanent connection to the library for their customers.

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Finally Jay took me to the Tattered Cover bookstore here in Highlands Ranch. Gorgeous! The atmosphere is quite homey with lots of mixed chairs (all comfy looking) to read in, a nice coffee shop, stylish old fashioned library style shelves and a massive range. I picked up an anthology of American travel stories and a book called "I Didn't Know That About Colorado" which is little trivia stories and anecdotes of folklore of the state.

The lady on the counter was really lovely and gave me a stack of Tattered Cover bookmarks and a pen, and was fascinated to see Australian money which I still had a little of in my purse.

Dinner was at a little place called Pete's that specialises in Greek food as well as diner fare. Aly and I shared a Greek platter. It had gyros, souvlaki, dolmades, feta, some Greek salad, tsatsiki and pale green chillies. There was enough there for four people! I couldn't believe how cheap the meal was, that huge platter, a side of fries, softdrinks for us all, and a giant hamburger and fries for Jay, all for $35! And I gave my first tip too. Working out the ettiquette of tipping will come to me eventually.

I ended the night with my first Ben and Jerry's ice-cream. Phish food, which is chocolate ice cream with chocolate pieces, marshmallows and caramel fudge. DIVINE! Not to mention I had hoovered down half of it before I realised the chocolate pieces were shaped like little cows! How perfect for me!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hello from Highlands Ranch, Colorado!

Well, well, well! I've made it safe and sound, had a good night's sleep, some meals I don't have to unwrap or remove from aluminium foil pouches and a nice long shower, and I am feeling settled enough for some internet time. I was the definition of crusty by the time I got here to Aly and Jay's house in Highlands Ranch, Colorado at about 6pm last night. All those hours sitting on planes and in transit lounges do not lend one's self to stringent hygiene. Ewwwww!

The trip was pretty low trauma, though I could have used some more sleep than I got. Qantas are very good with their service, they kept us all well fed, entertained and pretty comfortable considering the space restrictions. I would have loved to sleep but between the toddler who ran up and down the aisles for about 5 hours straight, and the crusty couple beside me trying to join the mile high club, it wasn't really possible.

LA was fine, boring though as there is nothing there until you get into the terminals, and they really don't want you in the terminals until just before your flight. Passed the time reading and mooching. I mostly asked directions and help from African American ladies, and as soon as they heard my accent I was Honey, Gorgeous, Baby, Doll. Very nice ladies.

I crashed out completely on my flight from LA to Denver for about 2 hours of the 2.5 hour trip. I was actually asleep before we took off, woke when they brought the beverage cart around so I could gulp some water, and crashed right back out again until the pilot announced we were flying over the Rockies. WOW! Talk about stunning. Huge mountains with really high contrast of snow on rock, with a kind of purple tinge to most of the place at that time of the day.

Landed and was heading to baggage claim when a girl asked me "Is this the way to baggage pick up?" The first Aussie accent I had heard since getting out of the customs line at LAX. We hung out together and caught the little shuttle train (mega clean, prompt with clear voice over messages to tell us what stop to get off at and to hold on, and cute country music bits to announce a message!) to baggage claim.

I was just standing at the conveyor belt waiting for the baggage to come out when I saw someone who was unmistakeably Jay! Can't miss those dimples anywhere. Apparently I had walked right past him and Aly. Blind as a bat me and deaf to boot. They have been so welcoming and when my bag came off the conveyor with a huge rip in it, Jay took me to the American Airlines office to report it, and AA gave me a brand new bag... worth about three times the price I paid for mine!! And best of all, it's red! Bigger than mine too, but the same principal, a duffle bag on wheels with a handle. Yay for Jay!

Drove back to their house, aobut 45 minutes pleasant drive through the plains of Colorado. You don't think of CO as being flat, but it is before it gets to the mountains. It reminds me of the Black Hole Sun music video by Soundgarden, those kind of treeless, rolling hills. The sky is beautiful her, so big (even bigger than back home, and that's big!) and the colours are quite stunning. Very strange being on the right hand side of a car as a passenger. I may even brown up my right arm to match my left!

The weather is fairly mild, about 22C here today. Though it gets very nippy through the night and it's only going to get colder.

Aly and Jay have been SOOOOO welcoming and have spoilt me rotten so far. Gave me some "Burts Bees" products (lip balm, cuticle cream, hand cream and rescue cream), a purple scarf and matching gloves for my birthday, and Jay had got me the biggest, gooeyest chocolate fudge birthday cake, which was DELICIOUS. My first birthday cake in some years. They have both made me feel very much at home and relaxed, and I feel like I've found some kindred spirits in them.

One thing I am noticing about Colorado is the very, very low humidity is actually affecting me a bit. Nothing dramatic, but my lips and cuticles are cracking already, and I did have to have a humidifier on to sleep, as Aly was concerned I would get nosebleeds because I am used to a much more humid climate. She was right, my sinuses are very dry and cracking. Luckily she gave me the Burt's Bee's products. But in the positives, my hair loves the low humidity and is shiny and pretty, and so does my skin generally! And the air is very clear up here, it's great.

Today is a bit of a mellow day, both Aly and Jay are working, so I've had a sleep in and some online time and when Jay gets home he's going to take me to downtown Denver, the first stop is the Denver public library!

Hope everyone is well, if you read please do leave comments so I know you've been!

Take care all!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

OMG!!! Tomorrow!!! And SNOW!!!

Ok I'll calm down now. I'm a little excited, you may be able to tell.

Yes, I leave in the morning. My flight is at 11am, but of course the airline want you there 3 hours beforehand. Why do they make me get up so early??? At least I can have some breakky in the airport instead of having to have something here at home. I am Old Mother Hubbard, my cupboard is bare.

Aly and Jay sent me photos today, of the snow they got over the past day or so. Oh... MY... GOD!!! Ok, I know it's going to be all melted by the time I get there, but hey, it might happen while I'm there! It might!! I know I'll see snow somewhere, I just really, really want it to be sooner rather than later.

Here are the pics they sent me, for all the Aussies who find snow so alien...

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The back yard.

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The front yard.

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The pooch, Eli, on their deck. He looks a bit sad, doesn't he?

Well folks, that's it for me for pre-trip posts. See you on the other side of the planet!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Challenge Me!

A friend suggested today that I throw out a challenge of things that I should see/do while I am on this trip, and I could make a note of them and run it kind of like a treasure hunt for experiences, not items.

I like the idea! So I am challenging all of you, my blog readers, to challenge me to do or see things while I'm in the US. I know I won't be able to do them all, but

I'd love to have a go at doing or seeing as many of them as possible.

Now, I am restricted to where my itinerary takes me. So here's a list of locations so far, I can always add more if it changes...

LA Airport
Wisconsin (Madison mostly, but also Milwaulkee)
Chico, CA
San Francisco
Somehow down the West Coast and across the south to...
Up the Atlantic Coast to...
Lancaster, PA

So they're all the definites. Now it's your turn to leave me comments with ideas, suggestions and challenges for things I can do on my trip, experiences I can have, things I can see.
Hit me with your best shot people!!

Friday, October 19, 2007


I keep forgetting to post that I have been given a blog award...

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Amy from Blog to the Bone awarded me this one. My first blog award, I'm such a noob! A lot of people don't like to be called "nice" but I love it. I'm proud to be thought of as nice. Thank you Amy, it's an honour, and you're one of the nicest people I know too.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Yes, I am a dag....

This time next week I will be in Denver, Colorado. That's just huge, sometimes I can't believe it.

But then I've been saying goodbye to all of my beloved friends over the past few days, and it's bringing it all close and making it so real. I'm actually a little melancholy this morning, just knowing I'm going to miss people while I'm away. I'm sure while I'm on the road I'll be fine, so busy that it will pass quickly, but 3 months is a long time to be away from people you care about when you've not done that before.

Mostly I am excited of course. I keep thinking of little things I want to see and do, most of them embarrassingly cheesy! But that's what America is about to me, all the things I've seen on telly and in movies, read in books, seen in the media.

Of course I know it's not really like that everywhere, but there are little stereotyped things that I want to do. Like...

  • Drink coffee and eat pie a la mode in a diner, served by a woman in a pastel uniform with big hair.
  • Ice skate in Central Park in NYC and land on my arse (guaranteed). Have breakfast at Tiffanys for that matter.
  • Walk down that hilly street in San Francisco that you see in 70's cop shows (and definitely NOT walk back up it).
  • Listen to Nirvana and Pearl Jam CD's in Seattle (among others).
  • Have some hunky bloke in a uniform (fireman, police, military, I'm not fussy) call me Ma'am.
  • Eat Ben and Jerry's ice-cream in my pj's while watching an old black and white American movie that makes me cry, preferably something with Judy Garland in it.
  • Buy a flower from a street florist in a big city and wear it in my hair.
  • Make snow angels and throw snowballs at someone.
  • Eat Cow Pies in Wisconsin, fresh from the source! (No, not the cow, but the Baraboo factory).
  • Post a letter in one of those blue mailboxes like Homer Simpson tried to flood his letter to Mr Burns out of. Actually come to think of it, there are a gazillion Simpsons moments I want to have, and I'll probably drive everyone batty quoting episodes all over the place. I know I already do here!
There are a million other little things I want to experience, just for a laugh, or because I'm a sloppy romantic. And I'm sure I'll think of more on the road!

Six more sleeps people!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Whoa! It Just Hit Me!!

It just hit me last night that I have a mere 16 days before I get on a plane and travel to the other side of the planet! A mere 9 working days left before I am on over 3 months leave! It was a huge realisation for me. I've kind of felt disconnected from the whole thing so far, it's felt like this distant thing off in the future. But all of a sudden it's right here on me and happening, and while it's been a huge realisation, it's been a pleasant one. Like a big WOW moment.

I am pretty organised. I've got all the travel stuff groovy, nothing left to do there. A few little things about the house to take care of, like redirecting my mail, emptying the freezer, making up my address book, mini-photo album of my loved ones and travel journal, making sure all my bills are paid up before I go.

Then it's just packing and bingo bango, off I go!

I've started reading my Lonely Planet USA, getting some ideas on to what I would like to do and see while I'm in each neck of the woods. Mostly I'm concentrating on Colorado first, I want to read bits just before I head over to each new area, and not get too far ahead because I'll forget stuff. Plus it's fun reading while I'm on the road as well.

One thing I am finding is that I'm SUPER busy socially at the moment. Everyone wants to see me before I go, and I'm squeezing in coffee here, lunch there, dinner somewhere else, brunch another day, drinks another. It's great, but it's knackering me. I'm going to need the holiday just to recover from my social life at the moment. I think when I come home in January I am possibly going to just collapse in a heap.

But it's all very exciting, I am on the threshhold of this HUGE trip and it will be so amazing to have happen in my life. I can't wait!!