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Saturday morning we got up bright and early to go up to the grocery store and pick up some necessities for the week. We made out way via public transit. We were anxious about loosing our parking spot on the street, otherwise we would’ve driven. Yes, the streets were clear of snow but people still had dibs out to mark their spots and we feared not being able to find anything open when we got back. Anyway, taking the bus to and from the store worked out really well, granted we had only a small amount of groceries to transport home.

Afterward I decided to venture all the way down to Hyde park to visit the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago. Believe it or not I’d never been. Getting there was fairly easy and took only about half the time I’d expected; I took the Redline down to Garfield and then the Garfield bus east through Washington Park and to Ellis Ave. Not a bad trip at all.

The number of works out on display at the Smart is relatively small compared to that of other museums but nonetheless they have a respectable collection of paintings and sculptures. There were galleries showcasing European Art, Contemporary Art, Modern Art and Design, and Asian Art, as well as a main gallery for a special exhibit, The Tragic Muse: Art and Emotion, 1700 – 1900. The Contemporary gallery was of little interest to me. The Asian segment was interesting though moreso from an archeological perspective. The Modern Art and Design gallery was neat, especially these two paintings, Homer by Emile-Rene Menard and Four Arts Ball by Guy Pene Du Bois. There was also an excellent display of still life photographs by Walter Peterhans, whose work I’d never seen before, and some cool furniture by Frank Lloyd Wright, including a very handsome dining table set.

The two galleries of interest were the European and one hosting the Tragic Muse exhibit. In the European I immediately noticed a small painting by Jean Leon Gerome, one of my favorite orientalist painters, of Pygalion and Galatea. Note that the painter made a much larger version of this piece which now resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Other paintings of interest included Angelica and Ruggiero by Cecco Bravo, Still Life with Flowers by Michel Simons, Skitties Game by Jan Steen, and Graces Unveiling Nature by Benjamin West. There was also a statue titled African Woman by Jean Baptiste Carpenux, which I recognized from my days at Design Toscano. I must’ve sold about four resin reproductions of this piece during my tenure at the shop. I guess I should mention that it was titled Slave Girl. Arg. Also on display was a 16th century Italian reliquary which featured a small plaque of the Virgin and Child that was surrounded by lapis lazuli. Again, I’m a sucker for those rare earthstones.

The Tragic Muse exhibit was very nice as well. The overall concept of the exhibit wasn’t of much interest to me but I can see how each work related to the theme. Paintings that struck my interest included The Hold Up Friedrich Gauermann, Ophelia by Anne Lea Merritt, Child’s Grave by Joshua Hargrave Sams Mann, and Emigrant’s Last Sight of Home by Richard Redgrave.

After the museum I headed back home and relaxed for a bit. That evening Rani and I settled down for drinks, during which I broke open a bottle of Great Divide’s Grand Cru, one of their new Belgian style ales. It had a fruity finish that reminded me of a quadruple. I was quite impressed and very happy with this ale. Great Divide continues to put out some amazing products and is by far one of my favorite domestic breweries.

Anyway, we decided to stay in that night. Some zombie themed event was going on at the club which I can’t say really appealed to us. It was a good night to catch up on some sleep.

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This past weekend we flew out to Denver for a few days. A couple weeks ago we found this awesome flight deal to DEN which we couldn't pass up, the only catch being that we couldn’t fly out that Friday night. We were able to schedule a flight for Saturday morning though, and with that in mind we took Monday off and arranged for our return late that night. It was an abbreviated trip but we still managed get in a lot of sightseeing, not to mention we stopped in at several notable taverns and brewpubs. Yes, much beer was consumed on my part. I think sooner or later I’ll be in need of a good detox.

Might I add that we spent all our time in Denver, so there we did not venture out west out toward the Rockies, though we caught some very nice views of them from the city. If we visit the area again we’ll plan on renting a car and exploring around, perhaps up to Fort Collins, Boulder, or maybe when the mountains. Nonetheless I’m definitely interested in seeing more of the state.

This was my first visit to Colorado and the climate was somewhat of a shock to my system. For one I was completely dehydrated, partly on account of too much beer and not enough water. And then there was high altitude, which by Sunday night finally started to take its toll on my system. I never experienced this sort of pressure before and it sometimes made breathing a bit rough. By Monday was feeling very lightheaded—yes, even more so than usual—and at one point was concerned about possibly passing out. During future visits I’m sure I’ll have an easier time adjusting to the altitude.

Anyway, here’s my self-indulgent write up on our trip on Denver.

Saturday - Snooze, Molly Brown House, Wax Trax!, Denver Art Museum, Great Divide, Marco's

We touched down at DEN at around 9:20am, a good twenty minutes early. Our mission was to catch the 9:45am bus into the city because if we missed that bus we would then have to wait another hour for the next one, which would seriously hamper our day. We’d managed to fit everything into our backpacks and brought them onto the plane as our carry ons, so at least we didn’t have to mess about with luggage pick up, but we were seated in the back area of the plane and unfortunately everyone ahead of us was taking their sweet time gathering their items. It was agonizing, and more anxious while waiting the slower they’d move. Eventually we got off the plane and from there located the transport center, bought our tickets, and caught our bus—all with only 5 minutes to spare. If our plane had landed on time at 9:40am I’m certain we would’ve have gotten into town until noon.

And why were we in such a hurry? Snooze of course! I’d heard of this awesome breakfast & brunch diner which I had to check out, and like all awesome breakfast & brunch diners Snooze closes at around 2:30pm. We managed to get there at around 10:45am with an hour wait ahead of us to be seated. It was well worth it though. Snooze even provides complimentary coffee and orange juice for those on the wait list. After finally getting seated we placed our orders. I ordered the corned beef hash while Rani had the blueberry pancakes. Everything was delicious. Great place. Highly recommended—though you’re best to come early.

After Snooze we made our way downtown and checked in at our hotel, the Curtis. Official check in wasn’t until 4pm but they let us in early. Not a bad place. It had a tacky 50’s theme which we found somewhat endearing. If anything their mattresses were very comfy. Anyway, from there we went out for some sightseeing, and what better place to start off than the Molly Brown House? Ok, ok … I admit, seeing the house was Rani’s idea, and as many of you already know she’s enamored by all things Titanic—minus Jack & Rose of course. We went one the tour which guided us through the house, starting at the entry way and then the living room, the dining room, the bedrooms upstairs, and then back down through the kitchen. Surprisingly enough I found it quite interesting. The house was built in 1898 and a few years later was purchased by the Brown’s. Upon moving to Denver Molly wanted to be part of the city’s high-society but they gave her the cold shoulder—that is until the little Titanic incident, after which she gained notoriety as “the Unsinkable Molly Brown”. She was then was accepted by the elite and used her newfound notoriety as a springboard into politics for a number of women and childrens causes. Anyway, she lived in the house for about 35 years until her death, after which it slowly fell into disrepair. Eventually the City of Denver realized the significance of the house and not only renovated it but used old photographs to furnish it just as it had been when she lived there. Very cool. One item of note is that Mrs. Brown did not allow any smoking inside whatsoever, and as a result the house very smells clean despite its age.

Oh yeah, and at the end of the tour I noticed a corkboard accompanied by a sign which read “Please share one thing you learned today.” The board was covered with little pieces of paper, each relaying tidbits people had picked up from the tour. To my amusement some smartass wrote in spooky writing, “I’m still alive. – Molly.”

Funny.

After Molly Brown we headed down to 13th Ave to check out the original Wax Trax store. Oddly enough the building has the shop divided into two separate storefronts—one exclusively for records & tapes and the other carrying CDs. Strange idea but it makes perfect sense if you think about it. The shop was just as you’d imagine; packed with loaded and loads of underground music. I picked up a couple discs, Anne Dudley and Jaz Coleman’s Minarets & Memories single and Split Second’s Flesh & Fire Remixes. I’m glad we stopped in for a visit, if only for the novelty’s sake.

On that note we headed over to the Denver Museum of Art. As luck would have it general exhibits are free the first Saturday of the month so we did not have to pay admission. I admit we bypassed a lot of their contemporary work in favor of the old American and European galleries. Let’s start off with the Western American gallery. They had a nice collection of Remington sculptures. His work possesses a certain grittiness which has always appealed to me. The Art Institute of Chicago has an impressive collection of his sculptures as well. His sculptures demonstrate a style of movement and flow which immediately fills one with intrigue.

I have to admit I was a bit underwelmned by the illustrative paintings in this particular gallery though. The artist’s all seemed to be working with palettes inferior to their European counterparts—that and every other scene is either too simple, too moralistic, or a drab combination of the two. Of course there is the renowned Norman Rockwell, whose Stagecoach is featured on display. Content aside, from a graphics standpoint it’s very engaging image, and the use of color and line is draws the viewer into the scene.

Though I’m not the biggest fan of American figurative painting, I absolutely love the landscape work of Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt, and the museum had a few of their more prominent paintings. Their work showcases a particular play of light and an adherence to the forces of nature which obviously inspired landscape photographers like Ansel Adams. Awesome. Speaking of Adams, on this floor we also stopped by one of their special exhibits, Exposure: Photos from the Vault, which highlighted selected pieces from their collection.

One floor down was their gallery of European art. They had a number of great paintings on exhibit, most of which I presume are from the Berger Collection. I would’ve never thought to have seen one of Giuseppe Archimboldo’s vegetable portraits at the Denver Museum of Art, but there they were, Summer and Autumn, though if I’m not mistaken the originals are located in the Louvre. Another notable findings was a work called Vision by ‘followers of Bosch’, which in the great tradition of Bosch was weird as all hell. Suitably enough, this painting was juxtaposed beside The Peaceful Kingdom by Edward Hicks.

What really got my attention though was their still life collection, which included Bouquet Flowers in Vase by Maria Oosterwyck, Still Life with Telegraph by William Harnett, and Still Life with Fish by William Case. Also on display was Still Life with Fruit, which is attributed to the famous Italian painter Caravaggio. It’s a fine baroque still life, but I can see how one who is familiar with the bulk of Caravaggio’s work his might view this one with suspicion.

We got out of the museum at around 4pm and from there headed up Great Divide’s Brewery/Tap Room. I was actually excited to stop in for a few pints, as this is one of my favorite domestic breweries. The tap room itself has seating for only about 30 people, most of which are located up at the bar. Still, the place wasn’t packed elbow-to-elbow as I’d expected it to be; On the contrary, there were only about ten people and we managed to procure a couple seats at the bar. I think we chose wisely visiting during the afternoon, as I’m sure evenings get very crowded. Anyway, I had their Hibernation and Claymore Scotch for the first time. Like all Great Divides, these two were awesome and tasted all the more better on tap.

Rani isn’t a beer drinker but given her taste for sweet I recommended the Wild Raspberry Ale, which she found tolerable enough to finish half a pint of. She took the brewery tour while I stayed at the bar, during which this one fellow and I struck up a conversation about various topics. He recommended a couple places to visit in town, one being the Falling Rock Tap House, which he described as the ultimate beer snob joint. Seriously, he informed me that people have literally been thrown out for walking in and ordering a Bud Light. I don’t find that particularly cool or amusing. People are people, and beer isn’t something to develop a major superiority complex about. Anyone that judgmental is obviously overcompensating for some inadequacy. Anyway, Rani’s tour eventually let out and after wishing farwell to our friend, who during the course of our talk became increasingly sloshed, Rani and I made our exit and set out for dinner.

We decided on Marco’s Coal Fired Pizza in spite of us having had pizza the night before. I was honestly a bit tipsy at this point and therefore wasn’t too picky as to what I’d like to eat. We ended up splitting a small pizza, and Rani suggested I get sausage on my half, which I thought was an awesome idea at the time. Unfortunately this sausage did not agree well with me, perhaps because my system was out of whack due to the change in climate, and for the remainder of the trip I felt out of sorts. I’m sure if the sausage hadn’t thrown me off then something else would’ve. Again, it was good pizza, but after the few drinks I had at Great Divide I was in no condition to fully enjoy it. I also think the altitude contributed to me getting drunk quicker, as one could see from my strained red eyes. Either way I clearly hadn’t been drinking enough water to keep myself hydrated. I’m sure I was a messed up sight.

After Marco’s we went back to the hotel and take what was intended to be a two hour nap, since later onI was intending to stop by a club called Milk. Well, we overslept a bit and woke up at around midnight, and since clubs in Denver typically close at 2:30am this shot down any prospect of going out and enjoying a full night. On that note we decided to just stay in and go back to bed. I was a bit cranky at the time, but the extra sleep actually worked out in our favor because Sunday turned out to be a very busy day for us.

Sunday - City Park, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Irish Snug, Sin Sunday @ Church

With plenty of sleep under our belts we were out door bright and early at 7am. We started things off with an acceptable breakfast at the diner downstairs (It just didn’t compare to Snooze—Sorry) and from there headed west to City Park, making note of several shops and restaurants along the way. In total it was about three mile walk—Not bad if you’re looking to work off a full breakfast. City Park was huge, so huge that we got lost a couple times. Once we found the lake though we gathered our bearings and located our primary objective, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Regarding the Museum there was good news and bad news. The good news was that it turned out to be a free day for all general exhibits. The bad news was that on account of it being a free day certain exhibits started to get packed at around noon, and you can be sure that there were plenty of screaming babies and kids banging on all the interactive crap. Even some of the adults were obnoxious. I’d have rather it have not been a free day so I could’ve just paid my 11 dollars and enjoyed the exhibits without people yelling and crawling around everywhere.

We’d actually arrived at around 9:30am, so we at least got a couple hours in before the crowds showed up. For our first stop we went all the way up to the top floor to check out the observation desk, which was facing westward toward the mountains. Here we got a wonderful sight of the Rockies over Denver. Off in the distance we caught a view of Mount Elbert, the highest peak in North America. Truly awesome. While on the deck we were greeted by a friendly astrologist who had set up a solar telescope and provided us a view of the Sun. Very cool. We had a nice conversation about solar flares, though some of his terminology was way over our heads.

From the roof we proceeded to visit each floor of the museum from the top down. The wildlife exhibits on the upper levels were incredible, and the Explore Colorado area was especially well done, providing a throughout model the entire state and all its different habitats. During our wanderings we stumbled upon an exhibit showcasing the work of Vasily Konovalenko, a Russian artist who specialized in making small figurative work out of gemstones. Incredible work, especially for those who consider themselves mineral nerds. Speaking of which, the museum also hosted an extensive exhibit on gemstones and minerals. It was fascinating but a bit overwhelming at the same time. There was a fantastic collection of ores found in Colorado as well as other gemstones from all around the world, though I’m sure a majority of the latter were reproductions. The prehistoric exhibit was neat as well and featured a number of dinosaur skeletons. It was a lot of take in for a Sunday morning, but I managed to absorb a good chunk of what I saw. I’d definitely be up for another visit it we ever make it to Denver again!

At around 1:30pm we exited the museum and from there walked back up to Great Divide where I enjoyed a pint of Oak Aged Yeti and took the brewery tour. Mind you this particular tour was doubled up with people from the Denver Brewery Tour so it was a little crowded, not to mention there were some amateur brewers in attendance who not only insisted on asking some rather inappropriate questions, and then followed up the guide’s answer with even more condescending inquiries. It though their behavior was a very rude, but nonetheless the guide handled them well. The tour itself was very informative, albeit somewhat short. I’m glad I took advantage of it though.

Afterward we went back down to Colfax and had dinner at The Irish Snug. As far as Irish bars are concerned this place is well on par with the Grafton in Chicago. It had a great décor with an awesome custom bar. The walls showcased a few prints of paintings I recognized from our visit to the National Gallery of Ireland. The only odd thing of note was they served Strongbow but no Magners, which is really unusual for an Irish bar. Anyway, I kept dinner simple and ordered their swiss and mushroom burger. Nice burger. Whatever negative presumptions I had about the place were blown away by the great food.

From there we headed over to Uptown Brothers for an after dinner pint. I’d best describe this place as a classy sportsbar. It’d initially caught my eye earlier that the day when we walked by and saw they served Alaskan Amber. Alaskan Brewing beers are only distributed to a select number of states, and unfortunately Illinois is not one of them. Well, I just had to have myself a pint. The verdict? Good amber, but if it were more attainable I don’t think it’d be held up on such a high pedestal. I tried a sample of something called Green Bullet but it was much too hoppy for my tastes. Even I have my limits.

Afterward we went up to our hotel where we rested for a bit before dressing up and heading over to the Church for Sin Sunday. The event itself is held in the church basement and there are two separate rooms with their own DJs. Upstairs there is a lounge as well as the main church portion, complete with a big stained glass window, all of which is unfortunately reserved only for special events, and since this wasn’t a special event … well, we didn’t get to check it out. Bummer. It was back to the basement for us I guess.

Note that neither room has a proper dancefloor so you better get used to dancing on concrete. My dance sneakers actually took to the floor fairly well but Rani had a harder time dancing in her flats. The floor space and general layouts in both rooms were fine, and the music selection was decent with standard synthpop/EBM in the main room and more old school stuff in the other. The latter had an atrocious sound system though; Even songs I know by heart were unrecognizable through their tinny speakers. Seriously, I’d recommend the club not using this room with the speakers in that condition, especially since the two rooms are so close to one another. Awkward. Might I add that for such events I’m partial to there being one dance area instead of two. Also, certain regulars seem oblivious to their surroundings while dancing—except for this one sleazy little fellow who was trying to dance with people all night. What he was doing was boarderline harassment, as he would force himself on people until they left the floor to avoid him. I’m disappointed the guy wasn’t bounced out after the first … oh, I dunno, three times. Rude.

I have to admit that due to the climate I was not in the best of moods. Throughout the course of the night I’d worked up a modest sweat, and this is when the high altitude finally started to take its toll. I’d go out for a few songs and eventually have to take a break due to exhaustion. At one point my upper chest area was aching and I couldn’t even make it through one song; I’d pucker out only a couple minutes into it, completely defeated. As a result I felt old and inadequate. I was also coping with some terrible gas build up, but I’ll refrain from sharing any details on.

Anyway, despite all these qualms we actually had a good time at the Church. Let’s be honest, it’s not our club back home. You just can’t compare it to Neo. We left the club at around 1:30am and retired back at the hotel.

Monday - House of Commons, Wynkoop, Falling Rock Tap House, Blue Mustang

Ah yes, Monday, our last day in Denver. At around 8am we got up and leisurely made our way downstairs for breakfast. We had the same waiter as the day before and this time we actually got around to chatting with him. After breakfast we got the spontaneous idea to visit the Denver U.S. Mint facility, conveniently located right down the street. Tours are hourly and the requirements were pretty strict, but we figured we could swing it if we took the 10pm, which afterward would give us a whole hour to check out of our room. We got to the mint at 9:45am but were informed that the 10am was full and the next available tour was at 11am. There was no way we could do the tour after checking out of room because then we’d have our backpacks with us and such items are not allowed. Oh well. It would’ve been cool to see the mint, but you can’t always have it your way.

On that note we retreated back to our room to gather up our things, after which we checked out of the hotel and headed up to Highland to visit a tea house called House of Commons. Rani had her precious tea while I settled for a cup of coffee. I was feeling a bit peckish too so I had a slice of quiche w/ onions. I’d like to add that on Monday the altitude had really gotten to my head, and that my system was still feeling the effects of dehydration. I made sure to drink as much water as possible during breakfast and that managed help a bit.

After House of Commons we decided on a whim to visit a little-known brewpub named Wynkoop. Having never heard them before I thought they’d be just your standard run-of-the-mill brewery, but this place turned out totally awesome. I had their Smoked Silverback Porter and a sample of their—brace yourself—Patty’s Chili Beer. The porter was fine, but the chili beer … omg—Not only did it open my sinuses but it had potent aftertaste of chili that lingered about the back of my nose. Apparently its made with roasted chilies and smoked peppers. I’d never experienced a beer like this before. For the rest of our stay in Denver the yeasty taste of this beer kept coming back to memory. Great drink, though I don’t think I could’ve handled a full pint.

Since it was close up we decided to stop by Falling Rock Tap House. We were immediately taken back by the thousand or so beer bottled lined up along walls and up to the ceiling. This place was the beer Mecca with over 70 beers on tap. I was awestruck. We took a couple seats at the bar and I checked out their menu. They had a respectable number of Belgian beers but I was more interested in their domestic offerings, mainly the Colorado beers. I had pints of the Tommyknocker Oaked Butthead Bock and the Bruery Autumn Maple, as well as samples of the New Holland Mutinous Battle Chai and Deschutes Black Butte Porter. I don’t normally say this but all the beers were amazing, even the Battle Chai, though one might attribute my glowing review to my experience at the Falling Rock. We had an awesome time. I’m glad we stopped by for a visit.

From there we headed down to the 16th Street Mall where we caught our bus back to the airport, and during this ride is when we caught a glimpse of the Blue Mustang. Yeah, that’s right, we just so happened to be looking out the window when the sight of a gigantic blue horse with glowing red eyes caught our attention. Our waiter back at the hotel had told us about this beast, along with the backstory that its artist, Luis Jiménez, was crushed and killed by a piece of it during its construction. During our trip to the airport I’d forgotten to keep an eye out for it, but then there is was, this huge, cobalt blue, terrifying horse just standing there all alone of the side of the road. Personally I found it really cool, but apparently since its erection in 2008 Blue Mustang been the source of much controversy, so much that people have gone so far as to protest that it be removed. It’s quite a spectacle and I’m happy we saw it on our way out of Denver.

Ok, I’ll spare you our check in at DEN and our flight home.

You’re welcome.

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