Archive for the ‘Misc’ Category

Street art in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood

April 28th, 2019

RiNo street art
Love this city
 

There’s street art all over Denver, from the murals hidden under bridges to the sculptures in the alleys along the 16th Street Mall. But there’s only one neighborhood that’s famous for its street art: River North, also known as RiNo.

Walking to RiNo from downtown is a pretty reasonable 20 minutes or so. The main street in the area is Larimer Street, northeast of Broadway if you’re approaching from downtown.

Like many rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods it’s a mix of all types of restaurants and bars, brand new condos, and small older homes. What makes the neighborhood unique though is a block or two away from the busy Larimer corridor are several mid-sized beer and cider brewing companies.

 
RiNo street art RiNo street art RiNo street art RiNo street art RiNo street art RiNo street art
 

Many of the larger murals in RiNo are commissioned pieces painted as part of a yearly festival called CRUSH. Still others were commissioned by the city to spruce up abandoned storefronts. And then of course are those back alley murals that may not technically speaking be entirely legal.

The artists behind the murals in RiNo are everyone from local art school students to internationally recognized artists. I suspect even the most amateur street art enthusiast can spot the mural in this blog post by Shepard Fairey.

 
RiNo street art RiNo street art RiNo street art RiNo street art RiNo street art RiNo street art
 

Aside from the above galleries, I wanted to point out a few of the more unique murals I spotted in RiNo.

 
RiNo street art
RiNo street art RiNo street art
 

Local artist Jeremy Burns took a blank wall with “fins” protruding from it and turned a single wall into two murals. Depending on which way you approach the wall you’ll either see a cartoonish boy or girl figure. From head on across the street it doesn’t look like anything at all!

 
RiNo street art
 

What strikes me about this painting is how hyper-realistic the two girls’ faces look, and yet it’s spray painted on an uneven brick wall. There’s some serious skill at work here.

I regret that I couldn’t find any signature on this one. I assume it’s signed one way or another, but there were cars parked too close for me to make anything out.

 
RiNo street art
 

On the more whimsical side there are tiny paintings of construction workers all over RiNo. These are from street artist Jaune who came all the way from Belgium.

The tiny construction workers find themselves in various situations, such as descending from a window in the above photo to climbing on gas meters.

 
RiNo street art
 

Lastly is this corner mural from a local street artist known as Gamma. It depicts a black woman with some kind of skin condition; perhaps vitiligo. From the opposite corner it seems she’s staring at you.

Getting closer a few more things pop out, especially the details on her eyes and lips that seem impossibly intricate for a spray paint mural.

And then there’s her skin condition, which is a map of the world.
 

My recommendation: If you’re into street art there’s plenty to see all over Denver, but if you want to see the most world class works head over to RiNo. Of course there’s no guarantee you’ll see any of the works I’ve photographed on your visit as they change all the time due to the ephemeral nature of street art.

International Church of Cannabis

April 27th, 2019

International Church of Cannabis
International Church of Cannabis International Church of Cannabis International Church of Cannabis International Church of Cannabis
 

As a Pink Floyd song ended, the psychedelic animation on the interior walls and ceilings faded into a rotating star field, and the audio of Steve Jobs’ “Here’s to the crazy ones” played. Then a song by The Doors came on along with more trippy visuals.

It was easy to forget I was sitting on a church pew as these visuals filled with room accompanied by 1960’s hippie rock music. This wasn’t your typical church: it’s the International Church of Cannabis.

Most of the information online about the place is wildly out of date, but essentially if you’re not a church member you can pay $15 for the 30 minute Beyond guided meditation and light show. This takes place during the public hours on Fridays and weekends. There’s no free entry to the church space anymore for non-members. Hey, everyone has to pay their bills.

After the show you can take photos of the colorful murals lining the walls and ceilings of the main space seen in the photo gallery above. Even though the visuals are projected over these murals, for the most part they’re not visible during the light show.

Members of the church are called Elevationists and you can read more about their beliefs here. The tl;dr version is they treat marijuana as a sacrament but have no strict dogma. No marijuana consumption is allowed inside during public hours.

Despite the name there’s nothing “international” about this church, they only have a single congregation. It’s very much something you’d only find in Denver.

The church is located in the sleepy Washington Park (aka “Wash Park”) neighborhood, a short walk from the Alameda light rail station.
 

My recommendation: While I can’t tell you if the religion of Elevationism is right for you, if you want to see a light show timed to 1960’s music and see some amazing murals all in one place, pay a visit to the International Church of Cannabis while visiting Denver.

Millennium Bridge and Confluence Park

April 25th, 2019

Millennium Bridge
 

A short walk from Denver’s Union Station is an unusual pedestrian suspension bridge: Millennium Bridge. From certain angles it looks like the mast of a sailboat.

Millennium Bridge is tiny by suspension bridge standards, it only exists so people can walk across the train lines below. The unusual tilt in the tower is part of the design, accentuated by the fact that it’s dwarfed by significantly taller and straighter buildings on either side.

 
Denver Millennium Bridge
 

On top of the bridge the train lines are visible below. On one side the passenger trains serving Amtrak and regional trains are visible at the Union Station platforms. On the other you’re more likely to see freight trains.

The above photo shows two freight trains carrying coal. Not the cleanest source of power, though there’s a good chance that train will pass a wind farm or two on its way east.

 
Confluence Park
 

Just across the bridge to the east is a series riverfront parks. These parks feature paved pathways for joggers and bicyclists, play areas for kids, and local wildlife. (Who knew that Denver has so many wild rabbits?)

One small section of the park is known as Confluence Park — the merge point of two natural water streams: the smaller Cherry Creek flows into the larger South Platte River.

Which brings us back to energy. Early western settlers had limited sources of energy, and one of them would have been water (think old wood waterwheels, not hydroelectric dams.) I don’t have much verifiable history here but supposedly waterwheels were built along the South Platte River in Denver.

It’s hard to imagine powering anything off such a modest river these days, though it might have made sense in an era when Denver was a small farming town with grain mills as the only consumer of energy.

Colorado State Capitol building and the mile high marker

April 25th, 2019

Colorado State Capitol Building
Colorado State Capitol Building Colorado State Capitol Building
Colorado State Capitol Building Colorado State Capitol Building
 

Denver is the state capitol of Colorado and their capitol building is free and open to visitors during normal operating hours. It’s a beautiful late 19th century building with a gold-leaf dome. Best of all you can get there for free on either the MallRide or MetroRide buses by hopping off at the Civic Center terminal.

During my visit both the state house of representatives and state senate were in session. The photo in the gallery above is the representatives who were going through some dry procedural issues like scheduling.

I also got to see part of a press conference downstairs where the governor was speaking. Only recognized him thanks to finding his photo on Google on the way over.

A somewhat unusual feature for a state capitol is a gallery of painted portraits of every US president. They were all painted by the same artist except for Obama, as the artist passed away by that time. There’s currently space for Trump once the portrait is completed.

The capitol building has a free guided tour running every hour. More information here.

I went in and asked at the information desk about the tour. As it turns out that’s where you sign up for the tour — this isn’t mentioned on their website — and although the next tour was minutes away from starting I was lucky enough to be able to join in. If you visit during peak tourist season it’s recommended to get there much earlier.

The tour goes through most of the public spaces in the building, covers some of the art honoring the historic figures of Colorado, and finishes in a fantastic place most tourists aren’t allowed to visit: the dome’s balcony.

 
Colorado State Capitol Building Colorado State Capitol Building
 

At the top floor visitors are allowed to enter on their own is a small exhibit on the history of the building and Colorado’s government. The exhibit walls feature windows where you can see the large attic space between the building’s roof and interior ceilings.

On the tour the guide unlocks a door leading into this “in between” attic space and directs everyone to a utilitarian metal staircase. At the top of the stairs is a narrow walkway on the interior of the dome.

The real treat though is walking out to the exterior balcony where there’s an amazing view of the city. I was lucky enough to visit on a clear day where the snow-capped Rocky Mountains were visible in the distance.

Many of us on the tour had questions for the guide about what we were seeing in the distance and down below, and he happily answered every question.

 
One mile above sea level
 

Outside the building on the steps to the west entrance (not a public entrance) there words “One Mile Above Sea Level” are engraved into the steps. Denver is known as the mile high city, after all.

As it turns out measuring a mile above sea level is a bit of a fool’s errand when the sea is nowhere in sight. In fact there are two different medallions embedded in the steps claiming to be the one mile high mark — one on a couple steps above the engraving, and one a couple steps below. More information on why these measurements differ can be found on Atlas Obscura.
 

My recommendation: If you want to glimpse a state government in action, you enjoy American neoclassical architecture, you want to know more about American history, or even if you just want a nice view of Denver, it’s all there at the Colorado State Capitol building and costs nothing. The tour itself is 45-60 minutes. You’ll have to locate the mile high marker on your own but it’s pretty easy to find and the tour guide can point you in the right direction if you ask.

Denver Botanic Gardens and Cheesman Park

April 23rd, 2019

Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens Denver Botanic Gardens Denver Botanic Gardens Denver Botanic Gardens
 

Arriving early this morning in Denver I stopped at a cafe to figure out what I wanted to do before my Airbnb was ready for check-in. Not everything I had down on my to do list was open yet, but I noticed the Denver Botanic Gardens was about to open for the day.

While taking the bus there I looked up the associated park behind the gardens, Cheesman Park. I’ll get to that part in a moment.

Unlike other botanical gardens I’ve visited, the Denver Botanic Gardens is enormous. The outdoor area is broken down into sections, focusing on plants from different climates and parts of the world. Each part of the garden looks different to reflect its theme, for example the section with native plants from Colorado looks like a rocky desert, whereas the Chinese/Korean section is decorated with a stone pathway and wood gates.

The Japanese part of the park was a little lacking on my visit as it was too cold for the bonsai trees so they’d all been moved indoors to a greenhouse inaccessible to guests.

The tropical greenhouses are accessible to guests though, and the largest of them is an egg-shaped building with a “treehouse” you can climb around in to view three levels of plants inside the building.

Statues are present throughout the park, some of which at least are part of a rotating exhibition.

All of this could have been a nice peaceful stroll through a collection of plants, but it was not to be. Multiple field trips were making their way through the park. One group of high school art students kept to themselves and their watercolors, but a much, much larger group of shrieking little kids kept running around, ignoring the staff who kept politely asking them to knock it off.

 
Cheesman Park
 

Around the back of the Botanic Gardens is Cheesman Park, named after a 19th century Denver businessman. The park is mostly lawn with paths for walking and jogging. The only major structure is the pavilion seen in the above photo.

It seems like a fairly uninteresting park — and it would be if not for its morbid history.

Previously the land that’s now Chessman Park was a cemetery shared by people of many religious and ethnic backgrounds. By the time the 19th century was wrapping up it had fallen into disuse, and since it was in a wealthy part of town there was pressure to clear the land for new uses.

They started by reaching out to families and churches to see if they could get the bodies moved. That worked to an extent but what to do with the rest of them? The city hired an undertaker to dig up and bury the bodies elsewhere. The undertaker didn’t have enough adult-sized coffins, so he simply chopped the bodies up and stuffed the remains into child-sized coffins.

When the city found out about this they cancelled the contract, leaving the rest of the dead bodies buried. The park was built on top.

Cheesman Park: come by for a jog, stay forever because you’ve been possessed by the souls of the dead.
 

My recommendation: The Botanic Gardens are worth a visit though drop by on a weekend to avoid large groups of children on field trips. There’s not much to see in Cheesman Park — unless you’re searching for ghosts.

Omaha wrap up

April 23rd, 2019

Omaha after dark
 

I left Omaha late last night with one thought on my mind: two days in Omaha is one day too many. 24 hours would have been fine. Perhaps I would have had a different opinion if I hadn’t been carrying my luggage around in 80 degree weather, but there’s just not that much there for tourists.

The main reason I stopped in Omaha in the first place was to break up the train journey between Chicago and Denver, and Omaha was one of the few places in between where I could imagine spending any time at all.

That said there’s a few attractions I skipped out on because they seemed oriented more towards kids, namely the Durham Museum and the Omaha Zoo.

It’s a shame because I think there’s some interesting regional history adults might enjoy in a museum setting. I mean the place was bombed by Japan and all they have to show for it is one lousy plaque? Come on, guys.

I think my favorite part of visiting Omaha was a chance to spend time walking along the Missouri River. It’s a very fast moving river and quite the sight to behold. Just wouldn’t want to be there when it floods.

Heartland of America Park, Lewis and Clark Landing, and the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

April 21st, 2019

Heartland of America Park
 

There are a few spots to see on the Omaha side of the Missouri River, all of which are connected via a pedestrian/bike trail. It’s a bit of a hike; there’s a very reasonably priced bike share program in Omaha that you may wish to take advantage of if you choose to visit these locations.

Just south of Old Town is a campus of buildings primarily housing offices of food conglomerate Conagra Brands. East of those buildings is Heartland of America Park which has an enormous lake with a water feature in the center, which continuously sprays water straight up into the sky at alternating heights. When it reaches its highest peak the wind tends to sweep mist across the park — a refreshing treat on a hot sunny day.

 
Heartland of America Park
 

Heading north through the park there’s a series of World War II memorials. Even after reading the plaques I wasn’t exactly sure why these memorials were located here, they just felt… out of place?

So I wasn’t too surprised to learn there’s already a plan to move these to a dedicated memorial park.

 
Heartland of America Park
 

Continuing further north there’s a long wooden bridge that goes over a train line and under a freeway overpass. Some parts of the bridge feature covered sections, which are a bit redundant since the bridge itself is partly covered by the overpass. I assume this is more of an homage to America’s past than a functional aspect of the design.

On the other side of the bridge is a red and white paved area called Lewis and Clark Landing. During my visit this was partly under construction and not very active aside from some joggers using the space.

 
Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge
 

Continuing north along the path you’ll head under a curvy suspension bridge named after former Nebraska governor and senator Bob Kerrey. He’s somewhat of an albatross as a successful Democrat politician in a red state — his views on abortion seem a particularly touchy subject among the locals.

The bridge itself is only open to pedestrians and bicyclists when weather permits. So what makes the bridge interesting?

 
Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge
 

In Omaha the Missouri River is the border between Nebraska and Iowa. This is marked on the bridge’s pavement and is a popular photo spot. Indeed, I had to wait a while to take the inevitable “standing on a border” photo myself.
 

My recommendation: I think there’s three key reasons to see these three attractions: exercise, seeing the Missouri River, and going over the Bob Kerrey bridge to stand in two states at once. It’s a pleasant way to spend an hour or two outdoors if you’re in the area.

Old Market District Walking Food Tour

April 21st, 2019

Old Market District Walking Food Tour
Cannoli for breakfast
 

The Old Market District Walking Food Tour focuses entirely on foodie favorite spots in Omaha’s Old Market District. This part of Omaha dates back to the 19th century and is mainly built out of brick. Even the streets are paved with brick. Originally it was a warehouse and light industry district serving the nearby train lines, recently it’s been reborn as a place to meet friends for food, coffee, and drinks.

In the morning our tour group of a dozen or so had the entire place to ourselves. (To be fair not all the businesses were officially open yet.) This gave us time not only to sample the food, but meet some of the owners and managers — a nice touch for a food tour.

The tour starts, oddly enough, at a dessert shop. We all sampled classic Italian-style cannoli filled with ricotta cheese. It was rich enough I was glad I’d skipped breakfast.

Aside from food one stop includes a small sample of beer, another a small sample of coffee. Both were excellent. The cafe handed out extremely soft, melt-in-your-mouth pretzels. These didn’t go with the coffee at all but I’ve never had a pretzel like that so it’s hard to complain.

 
Old Market Passageway
 

Another highlight of this tour was learning about the Old Market District’s history. One of the more unusual aspects was the addition of the “Passageway” seen in the above photo. This simple alley between two buildings was enclosed in glass and given a lush garden makeover.

In the Passageway today you can find restaurants, art galleries, etc. My favorite business in there was a tiny bookstore that’s also home to a small dog.

Hours after the tour I wandered back to the Old Market District at around 6 PM to see if it was any busier — and to find dinner. Sure enough the streets were significantly more crowded and the restaurants had opened. Still, all of the restaurants I peeked into had at least a couple empty tables.
 

My recommendation: Going in I had low expectations for a food tour in a small town like Omaha. But in all honesty the food was on par with what I’d expect to find in much larger cities. You can book this tour or any of the other Omaha Culinary Tours here.

Chicago wrap up and stray observations

April 20th, 2019

Chicago Theater sign
 

Last night I arrived in Omaha for the weekend, but before delving into that here’s a few parts of the Chicago trip that didn’t fit anywhere else.

Yes, the Chicago Theater sign above is a landmark, and no I wasn’t the only person taking photos of it. The best place to get a clear shot of the sign is unfortunately from a narrow staircase leading up to the State and Lake “L” stop.

 
Expansion joint in street
 

The biggest criticism I’ve heard of Chicago style pizza is that it’s more of a casserole than a pizza. It’s fitting then that the entire downtown area in Chicago is built like a casserole: on the bottom there’s a solid layer to insulate from the marsh the city’s built on; on the layer over that you have train and pedestrian subways and basements; next you have street level, and then finally you have buildings and the elevated “L” lines on top.

All of this is pretty obvious from certain locations along the Chicago river, but you also see expansion joints like in the photo above on what otherwise appear to be ground level streets. It seems odd until you realize you’re actually on a well hidden bridge.

 
No guns sign
 

In a lot of places in the world you’ll see “no smoking” signs on buildings; in Chicago, you see “no guns” signs instead.

I was especially surprised to see one of these signs on a Whole Foods. Who the hell brings a gun to a Whole Foods? Are they afraid of getting attacked by a bag of organic potatoes?

 
Unusual Metra entrance
 

For the most part Chicago’s Metra stations appear unremarkable, but there’s exactly one station entrance that seems… out of place? In fact it was a gift from one of Chicago’s sister cities: Paris. It’s a careful reproduction of the classic Paris Metro station entrances.

 
Secret Agent Supply Co.
 

I completely blew my cover by visiting the Secret Agent Supply Co. store. This is run by 826, the youth writing workshop founded by Dave Eggers, which is also behind the Pirate Store in San Francisco and the Time Travel Mart in Los Angeles.

They sell a variety of disguises and books, including books on writing and books from new Chicago authors. It’s a little out of the way and a very low key operation.

 
Riverwalk
 

Parts of the Chicago River have a pedestrian walkway known as the Riverwalk. There’s a few restaurants and bars down there, and it’s a nice place to walk without ever having to encounter automobile traffic.

The Riverwalk isn’t complete yet though, some parts don’t connect and others are still under construction. It should be a lovely spot to take a walk or jog when it’s done but even the currently open segments are worth checking out.

 
The 606
 

The 606 is a pedestrian and bike path that’s partially elevated, built on a defunct rail line. I discovered this one completely by accident. It’s by far the most bicycle-friendly part of Chicago.

There is an irony of the 606 though: the defunct rail line used to serve the Schwinn Bicycle Company back when they still made bikes in Chicago.

 
Intelligentsia Coffee
 

Before heading to Union Station on my last day in Chicago I knew I had to try the espresso at Intelligentsia Coffee. I kept putting it off because the lines were intimidatingly long, but I’m happy to report it was worth the wait.

That’s it for Chicago! Next time I’ll have a post or two about my 48 hours in Omaha.

Riding the “L” in Chicago

April 20th, 2019

"L" train at an elevated station
 

The easiest and most cost effective way of traveling in Chicago when walking isn’t practical is taking the “L” trains. They’re called the “L” because they’re elevated… except a few of the stops are actually underground. (Adding to the confusion, the regional Metra rail network also runs on elevated tracks in certain places.)

Each “L” train has a color and a destination. Your best bet for finding your way around is Google Maps — not only does it tell you where to get on and off, it provides up to the minute notifications of delays.

The “L” is run by CTA, which also runs the local buses in Chicago. Personally I never used their buses but depending where you’re going it may make more sense.

Both the “L” and the CTA buses take the reusable Ventra card which you can buy for $5 at any CTA ticket vending machine. If you register the card online you get your money back in $5 worth of transit credit on the card.

You can either pay per trip or buy one of several day/multi-day pass options with unlimited rides. These passes are surprisingly inexpensive, particularly if you compare the cost to Uber or a taxi.

If you’re not interested in buying day passes I’m told you can also pay with your phone if you have a phone that supports Apple or Android Pay. In practice I didn’t try this or see anyone else pay this way either.

 
"L" sign
Not as complicated as it looks, I promise
 

Tourists should note that the “L” goes to both Midway and O’Hare airports. It doesn’t go directly to Amtrak’s Union Station but there is an “L” stop a short walk away.

Do be aware that the above ground “L” lines can be very loud — not so much inside the train but outside. You’ll definitely hear when they’re going over, particularly on drawbridges or around corners. This is something to consider when you’re looking for a place to stay or at the very least whether or not to bring earplugs.

The “L” is such a defining feature of downtown Chicago that the neighborhood is called “The Loop” because of the circular above ground track loop. Additionally, both the red and blue lines go underground within The Loop.

One unusual feature of above ground rail in a city filled with high rise buildings is you can often see right inside the buildings. I’m sure nobody would appreciate it if you brought binoculars to spy on office workers while waiting for your train.