Saturday, August 13, 2016

Fly/Drive Vacation 2016: #1

Hello! My family recently returned from a fly/drive summer vacation that took us to Denver and back. I'll summarize what we did and saw along the way. 

Day 1: We flew from the Gerald Ford International airport in Grand Rapids MI. Although this airport is close to where we live, this is the first time I'd flown from it. Usually we drive to Chicago for lower fares, but this time a non-stop flight to Denver had competitive pricing.

I'm a wimp when it comes to flying, but our flight was on time and had no turbulence. Can't ask for better than that! In a little over two hours we were on the ground in Denver. 

Unlike the Ford, Denver's airport was very crowded, so I had little chance to view the bizarre artwork there. Did see the mural in which a person wearing a gas mask is prominently featured. And as our shuttle bus was leaving the airport, I saw the large blue horse sculpture, eyes glowing red. I don't take stock in all the conspiracy theories that abound about the Denver airport (if you're not aware of these theories, you can search the Internet), but there's no denying that the murals and the horse statue look creepy. 

An online car rental booking gone wrong (Hertz' fault, not ours) led us around and around southeast Denver, but eventually things got resolved and we could relax in our hotel after dinner at a local Mexican joint, Las Caras. Very good salsas came with our taco orders.

Day 2: Why is it that my husband and daughter aren't affected by jet lag but I am? I woke up at 5 am, but that gave me time to look over some travel info for planning our day. Our daughter doesn't care for museums, which is what we might have done in Denver had she not been with us. 

Or we might have gone to Rocky Mountain National Park, but an early starting time is suggested due to the probability oafternoon thunderstorms. Since my husband and daughter were still slumbering, this excusion didn't look likely either.

But eventually we decided on nearby Boulder. As we approached that city we could see the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park looming behind it. That's as close as we got to the mountains this time, but it was still fun viewing them from a distance. 

We began our visit with lunch at Falafel King, located in the Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall. After that, we ducked in and out of the many shops in this mall. Didn't buy anything, but greatly enjoyed window shopping. There were street performers too. 

Above, a street performer is playing and singing a Bob Dylan song while hanging upside down. Quite a feat!

Storefronts along the Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall.

Statue in the pedestrian mall. 

Since we didn't get a chance to do any mountain trail hiking, we decided to walk a portion of a trail along Boulder Creek, also in town. This creek is prone to flooding (due to those aforementioned mountain thunderstorms), but no such issues today. We saw a number of people enjoying a pleasant summer day strolling along the path or tubing on the creek. 

Boulder seemed to be a cool, laid-back city with a funky vibe. I'd definitely return for a visit! 

Dinner was at Pho 63, back in Denver near our hotel. Nothing spectacular, but we'd done a fair amount of walking this day and so wanted a low-key meal. Later on, chatted with a Canadian couple in the hotel hot tub; interesting to hear their perspective on the current state of the US political scene!

Day 3: Eastward ho! Time to start heading back home, with the destination of North Platte, Nebraska for the night. I drove most of this stretch and let me tell you, driving through northeastern Colorado is certainly no Rocky Mountain high! The only thing I saw of interest was a prairie dog running across the road shortly after we left the greater Denver area. It was the first time I'd ever seen a prairie dog outside of a zoo, so I enjoyed that. 

But otherwise, driving from Denver to North Platte along the interstates is very boring, but it can't be helped. Got to get from Point A to Point B somehow! We were hoping for interesting things to see around North Platte, as it's a "big city" for its region, but the downtown looked rather dead. I should add that it was after dinner when we drove through it, so that likely didn't help. 

The Fort Cody Trading Post attraction was next to our hotel, but we didn't go there. It might have been worth it, but instead we headed to Whiskey Creek restaurant, also next to our lodging. This is a small chain with steakhouse-type foods. Nothing fancy, but the food was solid (I had a chicken tenders dinner) and we had a friendly waitress.

(Lunch, btw, was an early one in Denver at a Qdoba. The reason for stopping there was that it was close to a See's candy store. See's is always worth a visit in our book!)

Besides that pleasant dinner, North Platte redeemed itself by having a decent Goodwill store. Our daughter and I bought some tops, and I also bought a local community cookbook and a cool vintage interior decorating book that will be great fun to look through. "Souvenir" shopping at its cheapest and best! (IMO anyway.)

Day 4: The eastern third of Nebraska is much more settled than the rest of the state. Lunched at a Subway in Kearney, drove past Lincoln, the state capitol, then reached our destination, a Homewood Inn at the edge of downtown Omaha. We usually stay at hotels on the edges of big cities, or in the suburbs of those cities, so downtown lodging was a novelty for us. The location worked in our favor, as the Hot Shops Art Center was just a stone's throw away. 

This center is a collection of studios and gallery spaces housed in an old warehouse-type building. According to the Omaha Visitors Guide, the "hot shops" refer to glassblowing, pottery, bronze casting and blacksmithing, but we also saw examples of jewelry making, quilting, photography, sculptures and more. I took some photos:

I miss our cat while we're on vacation, so I took a pic of this painting. 

An art quilt. 

Small sculptures, based on the painted examples near their feet. 

I took a close-up of this one, which was titled "Cyborge Catwoman", because of the stories our daughter wrote and illustrated when she was younger. Her tales were based on our cat's imaginary kingdom - and her accompanying drawings of our cat looked very much like this!

Do you have a bunch of doodads in a junk drawer and old plastic toys from your kids? Then you can make this:

A close-up:

I didn't study the particulars of the assembly, but it looks like some sort of mounting board, an adhesive and metallic spray paint were used. 

This sign was outside a studio. Since the artist wasn't around, I deleted her name and contact info from the sign, but kept the reason for taking a photo of it: the word "recyclopath". Don't know if that's a made-up word the artist coined, but I like the sound of it!

A series of doggie portraits, based on pet photos people had submitted to the artist. If I remember correctly, this is an ongoing series to be completed over the course of this summer.

Most of the studios were empty, so we had to content ourselves with viewing the works posted on the walls outside these workspaces. This surprised me, as it was a Saturday. I'd assumed that the artists would have workweek jobs elsewhere and would be in their studios at night or on the weekends. But one artist who was in her studio said that for many of the artists there, their studio work is their fulltime gig. So hats off to Omaha for supporting the artists of the Hot Shops Art Center!

Another open studio:

I liked the colors in this quilt. The artist was busily sewing away on more patches, but was happy to chat. She's recovering from hand surgery, so has to use her non-dominant arm for cutting and sewing - hence, the simple piecing shown above. She had more complicated, pre-surgery works on display as well, but I admired her for perservering in spite of her cast!

After our tour of the Hot Shops Art Center, we headed over to a nearby restaurant, Blatt Beer and Table, for dinner. The place was hopping with aging baby boomers enjoying food and drink in advance of the Journey/Doobie Brothers concert at Century Link Center, a block away. It was amusing when a concert vendor strolled through the eatery, literally pulling t-shirts from underneath his shorts to sell to willing concert goers. 

(Eventually he came over to me but I told him no thanks, I'll stick to my memories of the Journey concert I attended in 1978.)

Because of the concert crowd, a much smaller menu than usual was on offer that night. I was fine with the Southern-style chicken sandwich I'd ordered. A harried waitstaff meant we had to wait awhile for both food and bill, but we weren't in a hurry and understood the delays. 

Since it was a pleasant evening, we strolled over to the Old Market  commercial district, which was busy with shoppers and diners alike. Easy to see why - restored vintage buildings, brick streets and lots of places to while away a few hours and more than a few bucks. We did make a couple of stops in this part of town:

Above, a chocolate malt from Ted & Wally's ice cream shop. As the sign on the napkin holder shows, it recently was awarded "best ice cream" in a local reader's choice survey. Prices are a little high, but we all enjoyed our ice cream treats very much. This store is known for its unusual flavors, but we stuck to traditional flavors like Dutch chocolate, mint chip and vanilla bean. Only a few flavors are offered at a time anyway, since this shop makes small batches  the old-fashioned way: rock salt and ice are used to harden their ice cream bases. 

Kitty-corner from Ted & Wally's are these businesses:

Fairmount Antiques & Mercantile/Hollywood Candy. Unfortunately, I only had a little time to browse around this place, which was a shame because it looked like a lot of fun. The Hollywood Candy section had tons of candies, including a big by-the-pound area. That "by-the-pound" price was rather high, but it would have been fun to fill a bag with some of the retro candies. There's a small restaurant near one end of the candy area too. This part of the building was crawling with people, mostly families with small children. 

Beyond the edibles was the antiques section. Would have loved to explore it; the couple of booths I wandered in seemed to have reasonable prices. I definitely think this building would be worth a return visit!

But speaking of return, it was time to return to our hotel; we'd been gone from it over four hours by this point. Think we walked close to six miles all told during that time. And in all that time and distance, we did not see an single panhandler on the streets, which is unusual for cities these days. 

In my next post I'll recap the rest of our trip. 





  1. Loved the picture of the street performer! Thanks for sharing your adventures! Looks like you had a lot of fun!

  2. Thanks for stopping by! We did, indeed, have a lot of fun.