Sunday, April 23, 2017

Four Days in Denver

Earlier this month, I surprised Brian by inviting his family to visit us in Denver for his birthday. We were secretly planning the visit for two months. When the day finally came, I started getting nervous about how to get him outside in time for his parents’ arrival. I told him that we were going somewhere special, but wouldn’t tell him anything about it. When his parents were a few minutes later than expected, I kept making up reasons why we didn’t need to leave right away. After I got the text saying that they were ten minutes away, I informed Brian that I was playing a game of Sudoku on my phone and that we couldn’t leave until I won. I told him that it was his fault for getting me addicted. When they texted to say that they were outside the house, I pretended to be completely fed up with the game and quit playing.

We walked outside with Kiki and found his parents standing in front of their rental car. Brian was confused and shocked. It took him a minute to comprehend that his parents were in Denver. He was very calm and collected on the outside. However, throughout the next two days he kept saying, “I can’t believe my parents are in Denver.” Little did he know, his siblings and their families would be joining us two days later. We kept it a secret and they showed up while we were getting ready for dinner at his parents’ rental place, which just happened to be big enough for the entire family. One of the reasons why we moved back to the US from South Korea was to be able to visit our families more often. Brian has a niece who is about six months old and a nephew who is almost a year old. I know that it’s important for him to be a part of their lives and I was very happy that his brothers and their wives were up for the visit.

Since we moved to Denver, we’ve often talked about what we would do when we have guests. We talked about where we would take them and activities that different friends and family might enjoy. I even brought it up again as I was planning his birthday surprise. We had a running list of favorite restaurants, museums, parks, and general tourist attractions. The thing we look forward to the most is someday having visitors during camping season and sitting around the fire after a full day of hiking and enjoying the mountains. However, having visitors for two days in a colder part of the year with babies in tow calls for a different set of activities to accommodate everyone’s needs. Regardless, we were very excited to show off our beautiful new city and our new life here.
The sun was out when Brian’s parents arrived that Thursday. It was in the 70s at the end of March and we were expecting snow that weekend. It’s what I like to call “summer-winter” in Denver. We took advantage of the warmth and sat outside at Vine Street Pub, a brewery and restaurant down the street from our apartment. Kiki came along and relaxed on the sidewalk just on the other side of the patio fence. Vine Street Pub has great burgers, vegetarian or vegan food options, and a large selection of beer, much of which they brew on the premises. The little row of restaurants and cafes near our apartment is one of the reasons why we’d like to stay in this neighborhood. It’s a residential area where houses built in the early 1900s have been mostly turned into apartments or businesses such as a law office and a literary arts center. The streets are lined with trees and the houses have unique architectural features. After living in Korea for the better part of ten years, I can sit on Denver patios and stare at surrounding houses for an entire meal.

For our first weekend adventure, we drove out of town to Red Rocks Park. If you don’t have enough time to drive into the heart of the mountains, Red Rocks Park is a nice drive out of Denver with a view of the mountains and a short hike at the park itself. The rocks are a very cool natural phenomenon with an incredible view of the plains, including the Denver skyline and beyond. We went up to the amphitheater and walked around for a short time. It was a last minute decision to go there and we weren’t prepared for hiking. Our goal for the summer is to go on at least five local hikes and Red Rocks is definitely on our list. After enjoying the park and the drive, we went back to Denver and had dinner at the rental with Brian’s parents and my friends who were visiting from the mountains. The rental had an amazing backyard that we can only dream of in our 300 sq ft apartment. There was a patio, a fire pit, and a lush expanse of Astro Turf. We sat on the patio with beer and pizza and caught up with my friend Ashley and her husband Josh. I hadn’t seen them for years and was eager to hear about their nomadic lives driving tour buses in Alaska during the summer and working at ski resorts in the winter while traveling the world in-between.

On Friday we drove further south than we had ever been. The weather was not our friend that day and had us questioning whether we should be going anywhere at all. It turned out to be a good decision as we were able to take in the landscape of Colorado beneath a rare misty, rainy sky. We went down to the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs to take a look at another set of Colorado rock formations. At first we were all disappointed that we weren’t able to see them with a beautiful backdrop of clear blue skies, but we soon realized that the mist and the rain made them seem even more majestic and otherworldly. There were also not as many people around as there surely would be during peak tourist season. Although we’re more likely to seek out trails and wilderness in more secluded areas in the mountains, we added the Garden of the Gods as another place that we would like to return to this summer. If we can handle the crowded hikes and sidewalks of South Korea, we can handle whatever Americans consider to be a crowd at the height of summer.

We drove back to Denver and it was time to prepare for the arrival of Brian’s siblings. His parents didn’t have the two months of practice that I had in trying to keep the secret. They almost mentioned the others coming at a few different points during the two days that they were here alone. Luckily, Brian didn’t notice. We were all going to rest and meet up again for dinner at the rental. It was the perfect excuse for giving his dad the time to get the others from the airport. Brian was getting antsy to go as I woke up from my two-hour nap. I had been texting his mom and knew that they needed more time. Although I was able to stall with a leisurely trip to the liquor store, we still arrived before Brian’s first sibling. We were in the middle of getting dinner ready when they walked into the house. Again, Brian was shocked and didn’t show it on the outside. It was then that I told him his other brother was also coming. I couldn’t handle any more secrets or scheming. When the last sibling arrived, we all had a short visit while enjoying some local beer before we went home and went to bed exhausted from travel and socializing.

For the next two days, I had planned activities that would give Brian’s family a good introduction to Denver while not being too strenuous or inconvenient with the babies. Our first stop was the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, where I worked for six months last year. It’s big enough to be interesting and small enough not to take too much time to make your way through. They always have interesting art on show in a beautiful building. I could go back to the same exhibit time and time again. Although it was a busy Saturday, we were able to find a table in the cafe on the rooftop after our leisurely walk through the galleries. It was my first time back in the cafe after my last day in late October. I ordered one of the most popular cocktails for the few of us who were interested. It has whiskey, lime, ginger, and basil. The rooftop of the MCA has a great view of the city from downtown to the Highlands. They often have fun events that are worth checking out even if you just have a layover in Denver and want to take the light rail from the airport to Union Station just a few minutes away.
Our next stop was Union Station. It’s a beautiful historic building with an open seating area furnished with cozy couches and lounge chairs. There are two shuffleboard tables in the middle and the entire place is surrounded by restaurants, bars, and shops. It was a nice place to relax and chat with the family while we decided on dinner plans. We ended up going to a restaurant not far from our apartment on Colfax. For the population of the Denver metropolitan area and the constant influx of tourists, there really aren’t that many restaurants. There are enough to choose from, but they are often packed to the brim and a reservation is a necessity if you don’t want a 45 minute wait. Our restaurant was attached to the Tattered Cover Bookstore on Colfax. It has a patio that we have our eyes on for the hot summer months. We enjoyed our dinner and celebrated Brian’s 30th birthday. It was nice having family in town, even if just for a short visit. It made Colorado feel more like home, being able to show people around.

A visit to Colorado wouldn’t be complete without a good view of the mountains and enjoying a bit of nature. It’s what draws so many people here in the first place. For the last day of the weekend, we took everyone over to Dry Creek Trail in Boulder. We were excited to bring Kiki along, as Dry Creek Trail is known to be a great place for dogs. Someday we’ll go to the voice training class and let her run around freely, but for now we have a long leash that gives her some freedom to explore. Sunday was the hottest day of the weekend and we were all getting too much sun despite being slathered with sunscreen. We made it to the view of the lake and the mountains before the heat got the best of us. Ready for lunch, we headed back to Denver. We went to the place where Brian and I had dinner on our first night in town. We sat at Mockery Brewing and got dinner from the food truck at Great Divide Barrel Bar. Brian’s oldest brother and his family had to get a taxi to the airport soon after we arrived. The rest of us went on to Infinite Monkey Theorem before the rest of his family had to drive back to the airport. We found a little nook with sofas and sat enjoying wine with Kiki on the couch between us. It was a little sad to see them all go, but we both felt that we had given them a good taste of life in Denver and we were already making plans to visit later in the year. Although Colorado has mountains aplenty if that’s what you’re after, there is also much to enjoy in and around Denver if you are here for a short visit and don’t have time to make it that far into the Front Range.

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