Monday, April 24, 2006


To all the denizens of Denver ('Deniverizens'?) I must apologise. I didn't chose to visit your beautiful city for any particular outstanding reason; the Mile High City (so named because of it's altitude above sea level on a plateau that leads up to the Rocky Mountains) presented itself to me as an interesting point for a stopover because it came at a convenient mid-point in my trip. Rather than do fifty to fifty-five straight hours on the train from Chicago to San Francisco, I decided to take a break in a city I'd heard a bit about and which sounded to offer enough distractions for a day or so.

However, it's at this point that I realise any career I might have as a budding travel writer is not going to be taking off soon. I've arrived in Denver on Monday morning, and it's on Monday that most of Denver's most interesting museums close for the day. A few remain open but the most interesting for me, the Denver Art Museum, is most definitely closed. I had already realised this during my trip planning stage, but without completely re-booking the whole trip there was no way around my bad timing.

So, I resign myself to a day exploring Denver's other charms. I start by finding my accomodation for the night - a very comfy sofa in the nice apartment of Rob, a member (like me) of the ever useful Hospitality Club, which will be helping me find free and interesting places to stay during my trip. He's conveniently close to downtown, and after I've had a refreshing hot shower and changed my clothes, I head out into the morning. Denver's downtown core opens up before me as I cross the railway tracks on the recently built Millenium Bridge (see photograph above).

Denver is a city that has put all it's weight into making it's city centre easy for tourists and visitors to navigate. The city is no longer limited to just being a good base for the mountains, and a lot of money has been spent on Sixteenth Street Mall (shown here), the main shopping drag that runs from near to Union Station down to the Capitol Building. In fact, it's a good place to spend a day off the train, because everything is walkable from the station, and the downtown area is easy to explore. The mall has been re-designed to make more room for pedestrians, and whirring hybrid-electric buses swoosh up and down offering a free shuttle for the length of the mall.

Although I am already regreting coming here on the one day of the week when Denver's museum workers all have a day off (perhaps they go bowling or do some other fun group activity together?) there is a small silver lining to the grey clouds. The Denver Art Museum is in the midst of a major extension project, so even if I had been able to get in, I would have been annoyed at being here too early to see the new wing. Here's a photograph. Being a young upstart of an architect I won't bore you too much with my opinion, but it saddens me to see that another city has been seduced by the arrogrant self refenetial architectural b------t of Studio Daniel Liebskind. I bet the words 'landmark building' were used when they won the competition to design this extremely expensive and impractical lump. Just a shame he's doing something virtually identical in Toronto. In fact, the Denver Art Museum has decided to emphasise it's modernity by shortening it's name to DAM in much of it's puclicity. Even that reminds me of Toronto's ROM (Royal Ontario Museum). Could any world class architects please step up to the plate and try designing a landmark building that reflects the location in which it's built? Please...?

I have a look round the elegant Capitol Buildings, and climb the steps that, over time, have marked the exact point at which you are one mile above sea level at three different elevations. Each time some doubt has been cast over the precision of the method used to determine altitude above sea level. Since Denver is several thousand kilometres from the sea, I can understand the difficulties, and resign myself to knowing that at some exact point during the couple of minutes I spend on the steps, I was exactly one mile above sea level.

I find a second hand bookshop near-by (Capitol Hill Books on East Colfax) and purchase two old paperback pulp novels to read on the train... 'The Blue Chips' by Jay Deiss ("Can a fiery young man dedicated to the asutere morals of medicine resist the temptations of the big money in miracle drugs? A novel that dares to tell the truth!") and 'Trieste' by Desmond Cory ("A Johnny Fedora Espionage Assignment"). Excellent.

I stop for a burger at the City Grille bar opposite and sample "the best burger in Denver". It is, indeed, very good, but I don't have the stomach to compare it with every other burger in Denver. I shall trust their claims.

I spend the afternoon exploring the city centre, peering inside the gorgeous old Brown Palace Hotel, which proudly occupies a corner plot in the downtown core. If you're visiting, and even if you're not staying there, walk inside and look up from the lobby the middle of the building. Every floor opens into the atrium with an open balcony, and it's a gorgeous space that recalls the grandeur it would have impressed on guests when it first opened one hundred and thirteen years ago.

I'm feeling tired by the end of the afternoon, and after a quick browse of the famous Tattered Covered Bookstore to find the latest 'Comics Journal' I return to my host's apartment to write and prepare some food for tomorrow's journey.

Later that evening, I head out for drinks on Sixteenth Street Mall and near Larimer Square with a fellow Amtrak passenger who I met en route to Denver. We talk travel, trains, beer and cocktails... the last of which we had some difficulty finding with any quality. Perhaps next time :-)

I return to the apartment at about eleven, and collapse into a blissful sleep on the comfy and (more importantly) horizontal surface...


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