USA – and the Mile High City

USA – and the Mile High City

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Dating back to the Old West era, Denver is definitely oh, so 21st century.

Denver, the capital of Colorado, features landmark 19th-century buildings, museums that include the Denver Art Museum, an ultramodern complex known for its collection of indigenous works, and the mansion of famed Titanic survivor Molly Brown.

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Denver is also a jumping-off point for ski resorts in the nearby Rocky Mountains. It’s a university town and there’s a lot of sporty stuff going on here. And in Denver you will find the highest concentration of recreational marijuana stores in Colorado, with a large number of select stores selling recreational and medical marijuana. Marijuana stores in Denver are required to close by 10pm. See https://www.coloradopotguide.com/where-to-buy-marijuana/colorado/denver/ just sayin’ (it is legal).

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It’s called the Mile High City because it is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level (1.6km).

I believe that as the cowboys galloped into town all those years ago and helped grow this city, it was today’s hipsters who moseyed into town in their electric cars, swishing their pony tails that have put the edge on Denver.

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It’s always been known as a friendly, easygoing place but the hospitality bar has been raised up and up.

The local Beer Trail boasts an extraordinary craft beer culture – home to Colorado’s oldest and largest beer pubs, and if the beery brew isn’t to your taste there’s a slew of cafes serving coffee that even Aussie coffee snobs approve of.

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If you are a Super Bowl fan this is the home of the Denver Broncos and their home is the Mile High Stadium which is open for a walking tour through the hallowed halls.

The main drag is the 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian and transit mall is 1.25 miles long, runs along 16th Street in downtown Denver. Stroll it and shop, stop and eat or drink or catch the free tram from one end to the other.

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And at the end, cross the road to visit the Union Station, a splendid example of 19th century architecture. Once a bustling transit institution and as roads and flight took goods across the nation, the station’s use declined. But it’s now back in business as a bus and rail terminal and a lovely hotel is inside the original building as Crawford Hotel. The main hall is now a café, bar, lounge area full of gentle buzzing conversation and good vibes. Everyone welcome as long as you ‘be nice’. Union Station is located in LoDo (Lower Downtown), Denver’s vibrant oldest neighbourhood – check out the city’s best known restaurants, galleries, shops, and boutiques.

 

Just outside of town is the amazing natural amphitheatre Red Rocks where everyone from Bruce Springsteen to U2 have performed. To see a concert here is an out of body experience. The sun goes down, the rocks surrounding you are in sharp contrast to the blackening sky, the lights go up and the music begins!

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Culture rules in Denver from high to low – rock to symphony, traditional art to an outdoor gallery of topical wall art, fast food to high table cuisine.

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Denver has been the subject of many songs by famous artists especially native son the late John Denver, but my fave is by Jimmy Buffet:

I’m about a mile high in Denver
Where the rock meets timberline 
I’ve walked this ground from town to town 
Just to finally call it mine

Writer, Bev Malzard squealed when she found out she was going to a concert at Red Rocks to see local boys made good – One Republic (Shooting Stars) . . . oh what a night.  And would recommend anyone who enjoys music of any sort to do some research before you travel anywhere and book seats for a concert so you can immerse yourself totally in the music, the scene and with the locals.

AVERAGE FLIGHT TIME LAX-DEN 2hrs 20 mins

BEST TIME TO VISIT April through May and September through October. The city’s shoulder seasons are characterized by comfortable temperatures,

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Plenty of street art around town, this bold pour of milk splash is coming from the Dairy Market building.

https://www.denver.org/

 

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The (almost half) year that was

The (almost half) year that was

I was reading a colleague’s ‘year of travel tales’ and thought I might put my 2018 up in lights too. After a few trips last year that were diverse in their locations I have many warm memories and hopefully some insights into what makes the world tick outside my limited realm. Once I began looking through my diary and picking my brains I realised that one year was too much to fit into one blog . . .so half (well, April) a year to begin with.

Southern City

At new year in 2018 I visited Melbourne with my partner and another friend, nothing planned but called it a holiday. The theme became Street and Wall Art (one of my fave subjects to write about). Melbourne led the way in Oz before other cities and country towns saw the benefit of exposing these fab young artists’ works, the tourism draw and total fun for the locals.

What I learned in Melbourne: Always take an umbrella, no matter what time of year you visit and always have a cake from the Ackland Street bakeries. Life is too short to miss one of these confections. Also discovered the charming Chinese Museum in Cohen Place.

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During the Sydney summer, I mooched around town and my suburb going for walks; heading to the beach, and going to the amazing St George Outdoor Cinema. We go to see two movies every season and the thrill of the big screen lifting up from across the harbour, the music coming on and flights on bats swarming through the twilight sky is a very Sydney night to behold.

Bali beckoned

And what was deemed another ‘holiday’ was an eight-day stay in Bali. Landed and straight up to Ubud for R&R. Four days of bliss. And the day we arrived there was a full-scale royal funeral happening .  . . thousands of people packed the streets. It was such a colourful and joyful event – and event it was. Stayed at Honeymoon Guesthouse (this is not a sponsored post), big room with air-con, pool in the grounds and a good brekkie. The Honeymoon s owned by and Australian woman, Janet de Neefe and her husband Ketut Suadana. Janet was the person who started the Bali Writer’s festival, an internationally respected annual event. Her idea for the festival was after one of the bombings in Bali when morale was low and the island needed a boost.

After Ubud we spent two days in Seminyak at the fancy Hotel Indigo and decided that’s what fancy resorts/hotels are for, staying in and resorting to chilling out. It was so damn hot we just dipped in and out of the pool all day, ordered cold drinks and hot chips . . . nice way to spend the day.

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Last two days at Sanur, so peaceful and laid back it was almost dull. But the Art Hotel had a funny roof infinity pool (pretty ordinary brekkie), nice cheap room, and close to cafes and restaurants.

See: https://travelgaltravels.com/2018/05/01/bali-then-and-now

What I learned in Bali: buy a cheap hat when you get there, don’t try to carry your good hat on a plane and from place to place. Go to a cooking school for a day’s course. Take moisturiser that is water-based. Don’t order the chicken Parmigiano on Jetstar. See https://travelgaltravels.com/2018/03/19/bali-cooking-class

 

Benalla the beautiful

Only 24 hours after landing back from Bali we were barreling south from Sydney, heading for a little town in north-east Victoria, Benalla. Stopped off on the way to stay in the wine town of Rutherglen to visit old friends for hippy, happy days in Greece many years ago (that’s an entirely different story).

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https://travelgaltravels.com/2018/06/04/where-the-art-is-try-a-country-town

Benalla’s Wall to Wall Art festival (see above link) was a blast – in a quiet country way. Yet again, exposure of art to locals and the huge crowd it draws from all over. The baby boomer crowd are the travellers who follow the art around, and check into the festivals and know what they like!

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What I learned in Benalla: Eat out early. The first night there we ate at the local Chinese and it was pretty good. Next night looking for a restaurant at 8.30pm was more difficult – only the Colonel and his chooks beckoned so we opted for a frozen lasagna, fruit and yoghurt from the supermarket, nuked the dinner-in-a-box in the motel microwave and happy as a couple of Larrys.

Going through last year’s diary between trips I have scribbled: pool; write; pool; write blog; record ‘Barry’; pool; walk; DEADLINE; write; cocktail event; find images today – urgent; find so-and-so to commission a story; pedicure; send proofs; movie; pool; Walking Dead starts tonight; buy food; hairdresser; bake a cake; write; DEADLINE; pool; writers lunch; walk; catch up on blog writing . . .  my exciting life!

Nimmitabel – who knew?

Ranked as seventh highest town in Australia (1082m) Nimmitabel is a tiny town (320 population) in the Snowy Monaro region 37km south of Cooma in NSW.  I rolled into this town when the two shops had shut – so the place resembled a ghost town. But life hums along quietly here and I was to visit a friend who is a quiet achiever, a legend in some small circles – a man who, with his partner has been rescuing wombats left along the highway. He raises them, looks after them 24 hours’ a day, has them eat him out of house and home (true), travels far and wide to find fresh grass when the drought gives nothing and then he teaches them bush craft and how to live in the wild. There’s not a native animal or bird that someone has found and not brought to him to look after when it has been shot, neglected or run down by cowboy drivers. His name is Garry Malzard.

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What I learned in that region: After having lunch at the cool little village of Jugiong, don’t distract your driver and end up in Canberra when you’re hoping for reach Sydney. AND the area around Nimmitabel has the only true chernozem soil in Australia, a very rich, fertile and dark coloured soil.[3]

Admirable Adelaide

Next Aussie destination was Adelaide. The Adelaide Central Market. The markets, the markets, the markets . . . best in Oz (IMHO). Shopped and ate.

Headed to the Fleurieu Peninsula – stunning coastline with roaring sea rolling in and vineyards crowding the land. A precious part of South Australia, this region boasts many splendours – one of which is the Star of Greece restaurant that sits on the edge of the cliff with views along the cliffs and beaches of Port Willunga.

The Star has been there for many years and until a recent makeover it was a basic beach shack. And it is still not too up itself and offers conviviality and a homey ambience. No fancy pants here – just the real deal.

img_0123What I learned in Adelaide: Get out of town and visit the amazing D’Arenburg Cube . . .go see for yourself. Eat anything fish and chippy! Buy curry spices from The Adelaide Central Market.

Last stop in Oz before the middle of 2018 was a six-day trip to Tasmania. Two days in Launceston, and then a drive to Freycinet National Park to stay in the Coastal Pavilions – glam accommodation and the region home to the famous Freycinet oysters – so wish I liked them as people say they are the best!

Then on to Hobart in one of the worst storms the city had seen in decades – see link below.

So that’s me up until the end of May 2018. I didn’t realise I had such a good time last year . . . I will ponder on the second half for another post.

https://travelgaltravels.com/2018/06/18/tasmanian-ancestral-home-beckons

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Vietnam: Hanoi’s Legend

Vietnam: Hanoi’s Legend

After ten days sailing on the Red River in North Vietnam we came back to earth (land) and entered the mighty maelstrom of a late afternoon Hanoi happening. It seemed so crowded, so noisy, we had to find some a peaceful place.

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I’m used to busy cities and love to throw myself into the middle of a crowd, but after gliding on the silky river waters and away from the hurley burly it came as a shock.

Then peace and quiet opened its doors – we entered the Metropole Hotel Hanoi and the world was set back on its axis.

To stay in the Sofitel Legend Hanoi Metropole Hotel is to be treated like royalty and be immersed in Hanoi’s long and complex history. The French carved a colony out in Vietnam from 1887 until its defeat in the First Indochina War in 1954 when independence was claimed for the country.

The French left many beautiful buildings especially in the north and the Queen is the Hanoi Metropole, gleaming white, brass polished as a shining ritual and all things here, tres bon. The staff still greet each guest throughout the hotel with a welcoming “bonjour”.

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The hotel includes 364 rooms. The historic Metropole wing has 106 guest rooms and three Legendary Suites. The suites are named after famous residents and visitors to the hotel (Graham Greene, Charlie Chaplin, Somerset Maugham). Green and Maugham spent long periods here working on their novels. (For inspiration read The Quiet American by Graham Greene, or watch the movie starring Michael Caine.)

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From the Paris-inspired cafe La Terrasse, to the popular poolside Bamboo Bar or Vietnamese restaurant Spices Garden, the multi-award French restaurant Le Beaulieu or the stylish Italian-influenced restaurant and lounge Angelina – the hotel promises a gastronomic journey.

The architectural style is neoclassical and is set on a tree-lined street. This luxury hotel is a 5-minute walk from the Hanoi Opera House and 27km from Noi Bai International Airport.

And if you can only visit for one thing – make it afternoon tea. Served daily, High tea and the Chocolate Library – tres, tres, bon.

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Every day, between three and 5.30pm, the Chocolate Library opens in the Club Bar. Praline, ganache, éclairs, mille-feuille pastries, chocolate fountain, a selection of every kind of French pâtisseries and chocolate in every shape and form appears and appeals seductively to the afternoon tea fanatic.…

And the High Tea isn’t too shabby either . . .scones, pastries, tiny cakes, finger sandwiches, baby quiche . . . do I need to elaborate? My travelling companion and I worked the program . . .one of us did the High Tea, the other the Chocolate Library. Would have been a terrible shame not to share.

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And there’s always Le Spa du Metropole after an afternoon of high indulgence. Enter a calm sanctuary of refined style for rituals combining east and west – to massage way the High Tea guilt.

For a little bit of fancy Francais in Vietnam, this hotel offers every experience to please a world traveller. Bon chance!

Visit: www.sofitel-legend-metropole-hanoi.com 

Writer Bev Malzard, recovered from an afternoon tea sugar coma, and proceeded to order a simple repast later in the evening. There’s a little shop within the hotel that sells baguettes, rolls, charcuterie and a selection of exquisite French cheeses. It was just a simple, light dinner . . . truly.

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USA: Honolulu is the buzz!

USA: Honolulu is the buzz!

No time to visit all the islands of Hawai’i? Check out the buzzy city, Waikiki and surrounds of Oahu’s Honolulu for the ‘Hawai’i five oh’ fab experiences.

More than a stopover on your way to the mainland USA, this city has wonderful welcoming ambience; a little bit of retro surf culture, luxury accommodation with views, nature to surprise and excite, history to dig into and a way of life that Australian travellers embrace. And did I mention shopping . . .

  • Stay at Moana Surfrider Hotel. This glorious pile (pictured below) was the first luxury hotel built in Hawaii. Honoured with the title ‘First Lady of Waikiki’ this place has been hosting happy customers since 1901. Try for a room that looks along the coast with Waikiki Beach to look down on and lift your eyes to the magnificent sight of Diamond Head, towering over the sweeping coastline below.
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Tips: Eat dinner in the Beachhouse here for local seafood and gourmet island dishes.

And enjoy a selfguided historical tour of the Moana Surfrider, steeped in charm and elegance with vintage memorabilia on show.

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  • Take a tour to get the lay of the land. There are a few tour operators touting for business close to the beach. I opted for the Oahu Nature Tours. They offer several tours: Diamond Head Crater Adventure; Ultimate Circle Island Adventure & Waimea Waterfall; Natural Highlights of Oahu Adventure and North Shore and Circle Island Tour (which was my choice.) Highlight was the amazing Byodo Temple in the Valley of the temples (below).

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Tips: Take your own water bottle and fill before you leave to save buying water along the way and maybe save a little space on the planet from anther bit of plastic. Lunch is included so bring your appetite for a plate of fried shrimp.

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Beware the Jurassic creatures of Oahu.

  • Eat your way around town. OK, there are burgers and there are burgers – it is America! But because of the city’s cultural cuisine history, there’s so much more. From classy joints to hole-in-the-wall places and food trucks to fast food chains – go for it.

My picks: Orchids of Halekulani Hotel on Waikiki Beach – go for the crudo appetiser; Morimoto Waikiki by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s excellent take on local food, poke and the rest is culinary (and tasty) food theatre; Ono Seafood for the basic business of food! This is the best poke I tasted and (Po-Kay) is synonymous with the invasion of the hipsters. Have spicy mayonnaise on everything – it will rock your world. Rock-A-Hula dinner and a show. Retro entertainment and a lot of fun, Tribute performances to Elvis and Michael Jackson and; Hawaiian Journey’ through time from the 1920. Food, music and a magic show – don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!

There’s so much more – but a little cutie for me is diagonally across the road from the Moana Surfrider, King’s Village, rather underwhelming as it sits quietly below the highrise all around. On the corner of the village is Rock Island Cafe, full of rock’n’roll memorabilia. Fab burger and fries plus a decent coffee. Kinda daggy but kinda comfy too.

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Tips: eat, buy and also bring some back – the famous Honolulu Cookie. Darling little premium shortbreads are baked in the shape of a pineapple of all flavours from chocolate to guava, passionfruit to pineapple, macadamia to coconut and coffee. They are seriously yummy and taste of aloha!

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  • Shop yourself stupid. Ask any Aussie woman as to why she travels with her family for a Honolulu holiday (or just with girlfriends) and she’ll rattle off the itinerary. Good accommodation; good value food options; great weather and beaches; fun activities for the kids; happy hour happenings for cocktails (sunset mai tais) with the grown-ups and . . . shopping. Shopping here is a dedicated holiday experience. And the prices are sensational at the big malls such as Ala Moana Centre (even has its own trolley that runs from one end of the city the centre); Waikiki Premium Outlets; Ross Dress for Less; Waikiki Outlet Shop; Barrio Vintage in Chinatown for vintage Hawaiian shirts (don’t leave town without one).

There are high end international and American designer labels on show as well as the dollar desirable shops where every member of the family from baby to nanna will find something at a good price to bring home.

Tips: If you fly to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines they know the lure of shopping and offer passengers the thrill of being able to carry 64kg per person. So two bags at 32kg is supremely manageable? Oh, yes.

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Good souvenirs include the cookies, pineapple condiments, Hawaiian shirts and surf gear, vintage surf posters and ukuleles.

  • It’s hard trying to cover off on five highlights of Honolulu, so number five is a cheat sheet. Don’t miss out on: The Polynesian Cultural Centre; Waimea Valley for archaeological sites, gardens and waterfall; the trail to Diamond Head State Monument and the Dole Plantation. And further to the food suggestions – around town and on the outskirts fond a Food Truck – they are institutions here – in the Land of Aloha.

Writer Bev Malzard, flew to Honolulu courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines (and took an extra suitcase for shopping). She stayed at the elegant Moana Surfrider Hotel and managed to devour an entire box of the famous pineapple shortbread cookies. She swears there’s an addictive illegal additive in the mixture – cos nobody would willingly eat a box of biscuits . . . .would they?IMG_1369

 

 

 

How to explore Catalina

How to explore Catalina

Oh Catalina! A respite from the glitz and noise of the mainland, this little island is a joyful discovery.

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“Twenty-six miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is a waitin’ for me, Santa Catalina, the island of romance” . . . and so starts the old song that turned a holiday island, off the coast of Long Beach in California, into a vacation-spot superstar. The song was recorded in 1958 by the Four Preps. Two of the college friends’ group were surfing off the coast in Southern California and they saw Santa Catalina island in the distance and wondered how far from the mainland it was . . hence the origin of a pop song of its time that shot up the charts, and made the holiday island a new sensation – again!

The island is one of many in the Channel Islands group. And from the get-go, the island was a popular playground for early inhabitants in 5000BC, Spanish mariners, hunters, smugglers and the military.

It became a tourist destination around 1887 with the focal point of the island a little settlement called Avalon – which has since been designated a city.

The Wrigley family purchased the island sight unseen in 1919 for $3 million. Mr Wrigley made his fortune in chewing gum!

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Take the Catalina Express for a gentle hour’s sail from Long Beach.

The island was developed within a small space as much of the terrain is rocky and wild. And the only beach is at Avalon.

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The beautiful chandelier above the ballroom floor in the Casino.

The massive construction of the island’s most recognisable landmark, the startling art deco structure, is the Casino. The building houses a beautiful theatre (movies are still shown here); a massive ballroom and a museum.

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The Casino. 

The ballroom still has the ghosts of thousands of young dancers who would come across the sea (a three-hour trip then) to dance the night away during the 30s and 40s.

The museum has wonderful images of the crowd that crushed the dance floor. There was never alcohol served in the building, and the casino has never had any form of gambling on the premises.

Ornate walls inside the casino and (right) the amazing construction of the circular building.

Lovely hotels and quaint guesthouses provide plenty of rooms for holidaymakers and a day trip isn’t a bad idea either. Funky restaurants, live music venues, ice cream parlours par excellence, and fun souvenir shopping have the red carpet out for visitors.

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This is a retro destination that exudes the vibrant ambience of a laid back part of California like no other.

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  • GETTING AROUND

Catch the Catalina Express from San Pedro, Long Island (a one- hour boat ride and up to 30 departures daily).

Around Avalon, it’s for walking or you can hire a golf buggy to get around. Not many cars here.

  • WHEN TO VISIT

Anytime! But in autumn the prices are down, the crowds less frantic and the island slows to a gentle pace. Enjoy the Halloween Parade at the end of October.

CATALINA ACTIVITIES

All out adventure or slow and steady? The island offers Zip Line Tours starting at 182m above Descanso Beach; off-road exploring in a jeep to visit the local bisons (true), foxes, eagles and deer. Parasail over the Pacific Ocean or hike the rugged hills.

Or . . . visit the fabulous Catalina Museum with special exhibitions and the history of the island from the beginning displayed.

At Descanso Beach, snorkel and swim the crystal clear waters – and head to the Beach Club for a Catalina Burger.

At night head to the Casino for a first run movie. Get there and hour early on the weekend nights to hear a stirring performance on the original pipe organ.

Writer Bev Malzard, did not zip line, but she did have a nap on the beach, eat ice-cream and spent an afternoon in the museum/art gallery. The history in black and white photographs is rich and new world ‘American dream’. That Wrigley fella was on to something when he got the world chewing gum! (Juicy Fruit is the chew du jour for Ms Malzard.) Look below, this little Aussie was on offer on Catalina Island. 

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