Chicago

Another city on our list of places to see was Chicago. The windy city and home of deep dish pizzas, Nash, Liv, Mat and myself set off to see the sights of Chicago at the beginning of November.

Chicago Food Tour

Chicago Food Tour

We arrived late Friday night and had a food tour planned for the next morning. Having done the new Orleans food tour through the same company we figured we should give their original flagship tour in Chicago a try. First stop was Pizanos to try their deep dish pizzas. The were definitely deep, like a pie but filled with cheese. Next stop was to a fancy hotel called the Drake for a gourmet chocolate brownie then on to sample some hotdogs at Downtown Dogs, they were some good hot dogs! It was then onto taste some traditional new Orleans food, gumbo and  jambalaya and with the most amazing and wide variety of hot sauces I have ever seen. We of course had to sample a few. Next stop, Billy Goat Tavern for some cheeseburgers (which I struggled to fit in!). And then onto our last stop of the day for a chocolate moose. So, just to sum up our food tour, this is what we consumed in 3 hours… deep dish pizza, chocolate brownie, hot dogs, gumbo, cheeseburger and chocolate moose! Can’t say there has been a time when I have eaten pizza, hotdog and cheeseburger on the same day, but now, yes!

The Bean

The Bean

Now, just because we hadn’t eaten enough food for the day, we had organised to meet up with Mat’s friend from work Justin and his wife, Jessica (Chicago college locals) for dinner to sample yet some more deep dish pizza. Now usually I can do a pretty good job at eating my fair share of a pizza, but I struggled to eat two pieces of this pizza. So much cheese!

The following day it was off on a free City walking tour and we were on our way to explore the Vietnamese Area just a short train ride outside of the city. It was interesting to stroll the streets, sample some good food and explore the local stores with some culture and history on the way thanks to our own personal guide. After lunch, we made our way back and did some more exploring of the downtown area with a visit to “The Bean” and Lake Michigan.

Later that afternoon we kicked back for the afternoon before heading out to a Speak Easy Bar to sample a few cocktails and to meet up with Justin and Jess again. After a few drinks (and some may have had more than a few!!) we found a nice Italian restaurant for dinner. In fact the food was so delicious that Mat decided he would lick the plate! Need I say who had the more than a few drinks…

Before heading back to Denver the following day we spent the morning aboard a cruise boat Architectural Tour. While it was quite cold on the tour it was amazing to see the building that lined the river through the city. It was also nice to spend the day with Nash and Liv as they celebrated their first wedding anniversary.

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Mr President

Despite knowing 2012 was an election year I do not think anything could have prepared us for the deluge of campaign advertisements bombarding us across every form of media through the months of October and November leading into the election. From TV and Radio to Print and Social Networking there often was back to back Republican and Democratic advertisements for respective presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barrack Obama with little or no mention of any other candidates.

After spending a good part of a year here I feel like I have begun to understand the fundamental perspectives of each side of US government and in contrast to our two major political parties in Australia I would have to say Republican’s and Democrat’s are significantly less aligned. Republican’s seem to me to be more often represented by wealthy less liberal folks who are self sustaining, whilst, Democrat’s are typically more left wing and in general call for more social equality such as universal health care as we have seen through the current president Obama’s health care proposals. Making some further generalisations I would have to say that our own government is perhaps tilted more towards the democratic side of things with our Liberal government more likened to the Democratic party here in the US, with our labour party perhaps further down the left winged Democratic scale.

That said I think that is why Nat and myself found ourselves more naturally aligned with the Democratic party led by re-election candidate Barrack Obama. Hence, when a ticket became available to go and see the president speak at CU campus in Boulder I could not refuse. Both candidates had spent quite a bit of time here in swing state Colorado, with this CU visit being President Obama’s 3rd visit this campaign with the notional intention of securing the student vote. After lining up for over an hour to get into the Coors Event Centre  myself, work colleague Alex and his girlfriend Kristina had to sit out another 3.5 hours to hear the president speak. It was all worth it with Barrack Obama delivering a very inspiring and forward thinking speech to the American people. It’s no wonder that he secured the state and the presidential election in a landslide victory.

In summary, one thing I am thankful for now that I may not have been thankful for before our time here in the US is the fact that our Australian governments are far more aligned in fundamental areas of policy which no doubt makes way for a more efficient and cooperative government.

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Halloween!

Halloween Fun!

I remember thinking when we arrived in the US that Halloween would be one of those days I would look forward to due to the fact that it’s just not something we participate in, in Australia (though from the look of photos on facebook, it seems we are catching on to this event more and more each year).

The night before the big day, Kristin, Mat and myself set off on the hunt for the perfect costumes. Our staff theme being Superheroes and Mat’s work being, dress up if you want. I think Mat was most excited! While looking around one of the Halloween shops, we turn to find Mat standing in the middle of the shop asking if we approved of his He-Man costume (like a kid in a Candy shop!). He was pretty excited! Kristin and I, though, were finding it more difficult to find the perfect costume due to the fact that most super-hero female costumes were just not appropriate to wear to school. So, thinking outside the square, Mat came across Super Mario and Luigi, suitable for school and pretty funny.

Mrs Mario

Preparing that morning for the change from Mrs Baker to Super Mario, I dressed ready to greet my 4th graders. As I opened the door, there were many shouts and screams as they realized their teacher (AKA Mrs Mario) had now put on about 100 pounds and had also grown a mustache. Knowing that the day would be quite wild, I had planned many Halloween activities to keep them busy before the parade and parties. After the party, I then sent them on their way with plenty of candy and junk food to keep their parents happy!

Later that evening, we were invited to Shelly and Rich’s house for yet more Halloween events. We were able to give out candy (which we were pretty excited about) to the many trick-or-treaters that came to the door and carve our very first pumpkins. We had a stready stream of kids knocking on the door for around 3 hours, all parading excellent costumes and pillow cases filled with plenty of goods.

It was a pretty funny day, especially seeing people grocery shopping, driving in all kinds of costumes (us included!), Mat driving to work dressed in his lycra padded He-Man costume and wig and being the only one dressed up. The next day, school was much quieter, maybe due to the fact that I had around 6 kids away with a “Sugar-hangover”.

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Texas

Go Longhorns!

So our trip to the United States would not have been complete without a visit to the state where everything is bigger, Texas. And with good mate and home grown Texan tour guide Kristin along for the ride our weekend to the big T was never going to disappoint. First stop for us was the capital Austin. Austin being one of the more liberal of Texan cities and home to the University of Texas ensured that our night out on the town was not going to be a quiet one. We hit 6th street and it was reminiscent of Bourbon street New Orleans but you guessed it bigger. The street was shut down to traffic and full of drunken young people meandering about the place as far as the eye could see, along with pray groups that stand on corners in bright orange shirts praying supposedly to deter violence.

Rising a little hung over the following morning we set off for breakfast and strike me down we very randomly ran into our old mate Hadz from tailgating at the Broncos game and his wife and daughters  (talk about a small world).

State Capitol

Next stop was a whirl wind tour of the capitol building followed by a stop at Lance Armstrong’s bike shop which plays (played) home to his 7 tour de France winners jerseys. Fortunately, we got there just one week prior to them being revoked. Next we moved onto the University Co-op to get ourselves decked out in some burnt orange Longhorns gear in preparation for their game later that evening against fellow Texan side Baylor. After picking up 30 or so tinnies, a foam eski and ice for just over $35 from a nearby 7 11 we set off to experience tailgating Texan style. In previous blogs we have detailed the tailgating concept (at the Broncos and CU v CSU games) and I’ve got to say Texan’s take tailgating to a whole new level…. Everything is bigger, the parties, the TV’s, the accompanying generators, the food, the hospitality and

Tailgating

even our fellow tailgaters such as Mark “TexMark”. TexMark befriended us at a tailgating party we crashed thanks to Kristin’s contacts and after a shot or two of Petrone we were best of mates. TexMark accompanied us into the stadium as he too was sitting way up in the nose bleed section. Approximately midway up DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium I was a little concerned for TexMark as he was all red faced, huffing and puffing struggling along the hand rail only seemingly moments away from a certain heart attack when he flippantly turned to me and apologised for the slow pace he was setting with “sorry I’m a little out of shape…. and I weigh 400 pounds”. Fortunately, TexMark’s seating was not quite as nose bleed as our seats and he made it to his seat with his heart still beating to enjoy an attacking match which saw the home team winning 56 to 50.

Texas State Fair- where Big Tex should have been standing, but he was fried!

Unfortunately, we had to leave the game a little early as our next stop was Dallas a little under three and a half hours north of Austin. Our primary objective for including Dallas into the itinerary was to visit the Texas state fair. We had heard much about the state fair where you can get just about anything fried, fried Chicken, fried Snickers, fried Twinky’s, fried Beer you name it they fry it. As it turns out even fair marquee figure head for the “Big Tex” was fried. After some 40 odd years of service poor old Big Tex caught a light due to some electrical fault and burnt to the ground only days before we arrived. After coming to terms with Big Tex’s passing we moved on through the fair which reminded me a lot of the Easter Show back home…. but slightly larger. Following the fair we rounded out the weekend with a trip to the JFK memorial museum and a walk down to the grass knoll.

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Seattle

The Original Starbucks

Seattle was on my list of places I wanted to see while here in the US. So the weekend of the 13th and 14th October we planned a weekend to head to Washington State, the 21st state we had visited. Being the middle of fall, the chance of rain in Seattle was high, but apparently the chance of rain in Seattle is quite high at any time of the year.

So after flying into Sea-Tac airport, it wasn’t long before we had arrived in the big smoke of Downtown Seattle. First stop was a yummy clam chowder at the famous and busy Pike’s Market. Having not eaten much seafood while living in Colorado, it seems seafood was on the menu the entire weekend because we had a lovely seafood dinner that night at Elliot’s.

The following day, we decided to do our own coffee tour (having not been able to book into the local coffee tour). Being the home of Starbucks, downtown Seattle literally has a Starbucks on every corner and includes the home of the original Starbucks Cafe. So after a quick coffee at Seattle’s Best Coffee (which was not the best coffee I have tasted!) it was off to sample coffee at the original Starbucks.

Lake Washington Cruise

After way too much caffeine we hopped on the monorail to visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit situated just under the Space Needle. The exhibit was filled with sculptured glass works of the artist Dale Chihuly both inside and outside the building. His works were quite amazing to see, and I wouldn’t mind a few of his sculptures for our house when we get home!

Later that afternoon, we took a cruise on Lake Union and Lake Washington where we sighted the 498 floating homes (only 2 left at quite an expensive price for mud on the bottom of a lake) including the one used in the movie, Sleepless in Seattle. Not only are these lakes known for their highly expensive floating homes, Lake Washington is also well known for many celebrity’s homes including the $54 million home of Bill Gates. Complete with ……

Our Yummy Space Sunday

Apparently if guests are invited to stay at the Gate’s Estate, they are required to complete a survey upon arrival. Once guests have selected the preferences of things such as room temperature, lighting, food etc, the information is then put into a computer system (Microsoft of course) and then guests wear their electronic tags around which triggers off each room they walk into to set to their preferences. Pretty intense! I’m still waiting for an invite, and I guess I’d leave my apple devices at home for the weekend if I were invited to stay J.

That evening we had a romantic dinner at the top of the Space needle, the iconic tower, which was originally built for the Seattle World Fair in 1962, still standing today as one of the most visited places in Seattle. At the top of the Space Needle is a revolving restaurant with magnificent views of the city and surroundings. We enjoyed yet more seafood followed by their most popular dessert, an ice-cream Sunday featuring a dry ice display.

Before heading home we stopped by Pike’s Place Market for a little browse and yet more seafood and shopping. It was a relaxing weekend, and a lovely city to visit.

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Rushmore Roadtrip

Mount Rushmore

It is with great anticipation I get to blog about our recent road trip to South Dakota and, more specifically, to one of America’s most iconic landmarks, Mount Rushmore. Leaving as always Friday afternoon directly after work we commenced our road trip northwards along I-25 to our Fort Collins rendezvous with Bobby, Sammy, Nash and Olivia. Once we were all on board our Suburban road train we proceeded north east through the state of Wyoming to South Dakota town Custer. Bobby had organised a beautiful log cabin for the weekend which was made all the more grand Saturday morning after being blanketed by evening snow. The pinball machine also proved to be a popular little surprise.

Adhering to the very thorough itinerary Bobby had very studiously compiled for the weekend, we set off Saturday morning to Rapid City in search of the 40 odd, life-sized bronze presidential figures scattered throughout the streets. After a few snap shots along side a president or two we paid a visit to Bear Country, a zoo for native animals so Nat could finally get a glimpse of a bear up close. This place was a zoo unlike any other I had been to before. The various wild life had free range only contained by cattle grids allowing cars to pass straight through the middle of the enclosures providing for a very close encounter.

Finally a bear sighting!

After the bears and lunch we headed up the road for a quick visit to the Cosmos Mystery area where a supposed anomaly in the earth’s gravitational field accounts for a number of strange observations. Tennis balls balancing on seemingly non-level ground, people growing and shrinking in height, all of which was nothing more than optical illusion.

Following the myth busting we finally made our way onto the main event, Team America Head Quarters. I’ve got to say seeing the four 18 meter high president’s heads in person was a fairly impressive sight which gave you an immediate impression of just what a monumental effort it must have been to carve the figures out of the granite mountain side. The monument depicts the first 150 years of American history through the faces of some of the most influential leaders the country has seen. From left to right we have George Washington the first president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson a visionary largely responsible for expanding America’s territories via the Louisiana purchase, followed by Theodore Roosevelt who linked east and west via the Panama Canal and, finally, Abraham Lincoln who is renown for the emancipation proclamation.

Needles Highway scenery

As the sun set we plotted a course back to Custer via the spectacular Needles Highway. The drive no doubt would be a scenic drive any time of year, however, the recent snow provided for some stunning photos casting a vivid contrast of white on the rocky structures, we also caught a glimpse of a wild Buffalo.

Sunday saw us move onto the next monument called “Crazy Horse”. Inspired by Mount Rushmore, Indian elders approached Polish sculptor and Korczak Ziolkowski in whom had assisted in the Rushmore project, to construct a monument to honour one of their prolific war chieftains “Crazy Horse”. Crazy Horse was an Indian War Chief who took up arms against U.S federal government advances on the territories of the Lakota people. Before being stabbed and killed by a US military guard after surrendering he successfully led his men to victory in the Battle of Little Big Horn. The monument is 100% privately funded and, whilst construction began way back in 1948, Crazy Horse’s head is the only completed section of the monument. Following Ziolkowski’s death his large family has taken upon the responsibility of finishing their father’s life work. I’d be surprised if it is completed in the next century.

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Busy Weekend

After Bobby rigged his AFL tipping comp such that he emerged as the victor, he organised for a local Fort Collins pub to put the AFL grand final game on, and, invited the remainder of the tipping comp field to come along to celebrate his win and watch the game. As you are probably quite aware the game was a very entertaining final in which kept us on the edge of our seats until the wee hours of the morning. The mighty Swanny’s well contested victory was made all the more sweeter seeing as though they beat Bobby’s own Hawthorn. See Bobby cheating never pays 😉

A day at Anderson Farm

The following day Bobby was out for revenge on the disc golf course but he and we were served a lesson by Christian “Koshie” Kozlowski. After a quick and painful 9 holes we headed south to a place called Erie to get lost in a corn maze at Anderson’s Farm. After paying our admission fee we obtained maps of the maze including the various check points scattered throughout and we promptly formed teams; boys versus girls in a true test of map navigation. The girls took out the preliminary but once the boys got their bearings we convincingly took out the main event on the 30 acre 9 mile course. Nat and I returned to Denver later that evening to round out the day with a meal down town on Lamar after visiting fancy speak easy bar “The Green Russell”.

The boys enjoying the game

Since the beginning of the year attending a MLS (Major League Soccer) match was forecast. With local team the Colorado Rapids hosting David Beckham’s own L.A Galaxy at Dick’s Sporting Goods Field we booked our tickets ready for our glimpse at the super star himself. We (the boys) had general admission tickets which turned out to be the best seats in the house right along side the players entrance to and from the sheds, and, directly behind the goals and perhaps more importantly right along-side the hooligan Rapids supporter base. Too bad the girls upgraded their tickets only to sit way up out of the action and miss out on a session banging away on the drums.

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Rockies with Hadz

So the local baseball team the Rockies has had perhaps the worst season in franchise history losing 98 of their 162 games for the season, but that did not stop us from heading on down to Coors Field for one of their final home games. Good mate and Rockies season ticket holder Hadz had very kindly offered us 6 tickets to join him, his family and friends to watch the week night game vs. the Cubs. It was an unusual drizzly night in Denver and the girls had declined to come along which meant we were free to invite some work mates to come along and enjoy the match and one or two quiet ones. The game was quite entertaining in contrast to our previous Rockies games with plenty of hits and home runs for both sides. Unfortunately, due to the bad weather the covers were drawn over the pitch in the 8th innings. The rain progressively intensified causing the match to eventually be abandoned seeing the home team win 10-5 on a score projection.

A great night out with Hadz and the gang again. Sorry no photos to post at this point.

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Longs Peak

The Summit!

Long ago, earlier in the year, we, along with the exchangee gang Nash, Liv, Bobby and Sammy had planned to tackle a so called 14er; a mountain 14000 feet or higher above sea level. Here in Colorado there is 50 odd 14ers, some of which you can drive to the summit, some of which you can leisurely hike and some of which you cannot summit without the assistance of climbing equipment.

We selected Longs Peak as our 14er candidate which whilst requires no climbing gear is considered to be one of the most difficult Class 3 scramble 14er’s in the state. The hike to the summit presents a gruelling 16 mile (26km) round trip featuring an ascension of over 5000 feet from trail head to summit. The key hole route is most viable, particularly, during the summer months of June through early September. The most challenging section of the hike does not begin until the Boulder Field some 6 miles (10kms) into the hike which

After 3 hours of hiking, a beautiful Sunrise

leads up to a natural notch in the rock face referred to as the Key Hole. Beyond the Key Hole a series of narrow ledges must be negotiated, many of which skirt close to sheer 1000 foot (300m) cliffs. Following this, a painful 600 foot (183m) vertical climb up the Trough over loose rock and patchy ice leads to the most exposed section of the hike, the Narrows. From here the hiker is once more faced with narrow ledges and accompanying sheer cliff face before finally making the sharp climb up the Homestretch to the football field-sized flat summit.

In the beginning (3am) there was 6 of us and some 4 hours later when the sun finally surfaced from behind the horizon only 3 of us remained on track for reaching the summit; Nash, Kosh and myself. By 9.30am that morning we

ATVing

finally summitted and modestly signed our names on the roll of honour before beginning our long and uncomfortable descent. Returning to the trail head just before 3pm signified the end of our 12 hour adventure and our desire to attempt a feat of such stupidity ever again. In saying that, reaching the summit was definitely high on the list of highlights for the year to date. I should also not discount the noble efforts of Sammy, Bobby and Nat in whom made it all the way up to the Boulder Field.

After doing it the hard way on Saturday we did it in style and without grace on Sunday in the saddle of an ATV, 6 in fact, one each. As you could probably imagine 3 hours of unsupervised ATV’in through 40 or so miles of state forest was plenty of fun not to mention dusty!

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Million Dollar Highway Road Trip

“Hip Hip, Ouray”

Unlike the gradual weather shifts between successive seasons that we are familiar with back home the transition between seasons here in Colorado definitively marks a distinct change in weather . These sudden changes in weather into the fall months are typically responsible for bringing incredible colour to the various native Deciduous trees. We had heard such rumours and accordingly planned a trip to the south west of the state to witness first hand the beauty of fall. So with Bobby and Sam in tow one Friday autumn evening after work we set off up the infamous I-70 towards mountain town Ouray (or as we subsequently dubbed it “Hip Hip Ouray”).

Pulling into town just before midnight we were completely oblivious to the incredible canyon-like walls that astoundingly surrounded us the following morning. We walked off a quick breakfast through Box Canyon then embarked on our drive along the amazing “Million Dollar Highway”. The “Million

Million Dollar Highway

Dollar Highway” otherwise known as the stretch of US route 550 between Ouray and Silverton supposedly derives it’s name from the alleged wealth contained in the mine tailings that were used as foundations to construct the mountain pass, although others will argue otherwise. The highway is characterized by steep cliffs, narrow lanes, and a lack of guardrails; the ascent of Red Mountain Pass is marked with a number of hairpin curves used to gain elevation, and again, narrow lanes for traffic—many cut directly into the sides of mountains. In my humble opinion this was certainly the best and most breath taking drive we have had the pleasure embarking on and, furthermore, is perhaps the most beautiful stretch of the Rockies we have seen yet.

Durango Octoberfest

Travelling seemingly back in time to western town Silverton we enjoyed lunch at bizarre place called “Handlebars Restaurant and Saloon” where we sampled a Colorado delicacy in the Rocky Mountain Oyster. For those not familiar with exactly what a Rocky Mountain Oyster is comprised of I will tell you it’s not a small water dwelling animal of any sort but rather it involves the nether regions of a bull and it’s not sausage. Got to say it wasn’t as bad as everyone was making out.

After lunch we pushed on further to Durango where we visited the local Octoberfest festivities, however, they were short lived and we went for an unforgettable dining experience at a locally recommended Mexican restaurant. The following morning after a quick bike ride around town and after Bobby and Sammy had recovered their misplaced keys it was time to start heading back to Denver via Fairplay for some bowling and Tamales.

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