Puerto Rico Birthday Weekend

I have long believed that experiences mean so much more than any material possession. I hatched up a plan to take my kids wherever they wanted to go for their 16th Birthday. I knew that I would not have enough money to buy them a car but I did work where I got hotel points and knew that I could trade some of them in to make a pretty nice trip.

My ex won’t let my kids have a passport. You need both parents to sign off on a passport until the kids turn 16 (I had previously thought it was at 18 years old). So, when I asked her where she wanted to go – and she responded, “a beach in Mexico.” I knew I  couldn’t make that happen. That is how we decided on Puerto Rico. As a U.S. Territory – U.S. citizens don’t need a passport to travel to Puerto Rico. But, since Spanish is the primary language it would feel like Mexico. (Coincidentially they were in the news right before we went as they have voted to try to become the 51st state).

We chose to stay at the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino. One of the primary factors that went into that decision was they are right on Condado beach and family friendly.  It is also in a safe neighborhood that has a lot of great restaurants and other activities nearby. We let the hotel know that it was her birthday. We were upgraded to a suite that had two balconies – one facing the ocean and the other facing the pool and up into Old San Juan (along the beach). When we arrived at the room there was an amazing “Happy Birthday” sign on the headboard of the bed and they sent a birthday cake to the room! Wow. What a welcome! (They also gave me vouchers for free drinks and casino matching money to play). That first night – we ran down to the beach and spent about an hour there. Then decided we were hungry.

We asked the front desk what is something uniquely Puerto Rican that we should have to eat and where to get it. They suggested mofongo (it is mashed plantains, grilled with garlic and oil, turned upside down and smothered with a soupy gravy and beef) at Orozco’s just down the street.

Photo of Orozco's Restaurant - San Juan, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico. Realllllly. GoodIMG_4667

It was delicious. The girls (my daughter brought a friend) enjoyed the food (we also got empanadas and beans and rice) and the waiter was fairly young. He was super patient at letting them try out their Spanish (while he tried out his English). I also had a rum punch drink that was delicious (Hello! Bacardi is made there).

The next morning was early to rise. We headed out on a tour a the El Yunque Rain Forest Hiking Tour. The tour was arranged by my friends with the Puerto Rico Convention and Visitors Bureau via Destination Puerto Rico. They were really easy to work with and did a fantastic job of explaining everything to us. Our tour guide, George of the Jungle was friendly and knowledgable.

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He seemed very excited to share his island with us. He gave us a brief history as we rode in the shuttle bus with about 20 other people. The first stop was the visitors center. He explained many of the plants and a bit about the Rainforest itself (it is the only one in the U.S. National Forest Service). Then we stopped at a small rainfall “la Coca Falls”, next was an observation tower. Again, the knowledge of the tour guide was amazing – not only did he tell stories but he also pointed out what the islands in the distance were. We did have to hike up several stairs to get to the top (so if you’re not of a mind to walk much this might be a part you skip) the last stop was an upper hill above La Mina falls. We hiked down on a fairly steep path. It took about 30 minutes to walk down. Then we were allowed to swim at the base of the falls. It was so beautiful. The water was a bit chilly (but felt good for the warm day). There were several tour busses there and it appeared that some locals were there as well. Then after swimming for about an hour – we headed back up the hill (the other way) and came out near a parking lot where George was waiting for us. We did hear some other people talking about how steep it was (it wasn’t a big deal for us Colorado gals). Indeed it does rain in the rainforest. The rain was not cold at all. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a road-side cafe (more traditional Puerto Rican food) and souvenier shop. Then the best part, is my daughter had mentioned her love of mangos – George took us to his “friends house” and let everyone get off the bus quickly and pick mangos! (We ate those for breakfast for the next couple days).

 

When we got back to the hotel we had about two hours to chill – then we were headed out (this time in our rental car*) for the BioBay Tour. The BioBay tour started at the beach in Fajardo, a town pretty much on the other side of the island. Once we arrived at the beach area of Fajardo, there were several tents set up. We easily found the one we needed to check in for our tour. There are two tours. We took the earlier one. They told us to use lots of bug spray and then wait. When everyone had checked in we were issued our lifevest and told that the kayak trip would be a 2.4 mile round trip tour. Across the bay, through the jungle (covered – and btw it was VERY cool but hard to photograph), to an open lake where the only way to this lake is via boat. That is where the plankton who when moved create a glow. The glow was not what we really expected – we really could see the blue sparkes of the light up plankton. Then we followed the lights on kayas ahead of us back through the covered part and across the bay.

Sunday was a beach day. I could not have been happier that we planned it this way. People in Puerto Rico either take their Sundays very seriously or Father’s Day seriously. But we were told that there would not be much open. We planned the day at the beach and pool right at the hotel. We did make it down the street for a brunch – and a short detour to a couple touristy shops (had to get a t-shirt and a snowglobe) and the Walgreens there (Icee). We explored the game room at the hotel and the pool. We later ate dinner right at the hotel as well.

Monday morning – the girls slept in just a bit (I woke up my normal early and walked along the beach).  We headed across the street for a quick starbucks breakfast and headed out to the airport in our rented car. We had to return the car right at the airport and then check in to our flight (SJU>MCO>DEN). The trip was short in time – but hopefully long in memories. I think this may just be a birthday gift she remembers for a long time.

*We rented a car as we were told that the bio bay tour that we booked was filled but we were the only three that were asking for transportation from the hotel to Fajardo where the tour would take place. We were offered to “buy out” the bus at $20 per person (even though there were only three of us) which would have amounted to something like $200. So I started looking at cab rides or uber. Everything that I could see and those that I talked to told me that a cab ride would be something like $80 each way. And since Uber is not a real presence there that it would likely be not much less. So I started looking into renting a car – which would get us to/from airport as well as this excursion to the tour. The car rental from the airport was around $125 (it would have been less expensive but I sort of decided to do it last minute and prices had gone up). They are crazy drivers – speed limits and signs mean nothing to them. They swerve and go all different speeds. Also our GPS/Siri didn’t work well on one of the carriers (we had two one of us was on ATT the other two on Verizon). Streets don’t seem to be well marked. They also like to ride on bumpers pretty tightly in traffic areas and we were in a small Kia that just making a turn felt like it was going to fall apart. We were supposed to have paid for parking at $10 per day at the hotel – but somehow the guy who marked our ticket didn’t charge us at all! I thought this was just us and our timing until I heard a lady on the beach on Sunday talking to someone on the phone and her plight sounded eerily similar. (There is a car rental desk at the hotel – but they were out of cars when I wanted to rent).

 

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Summer Bucket List

If someone ever asked me what my favorite season is, I always respond with an emphatic SUMMER! There is something so divinely awesome about the long warm days of summer. For most people it is also the time to slow things down – not have such a frenetic pace (especially those of us who are parents who drive our kids in circles to school related activities). I’ve only recently admitted to myself that I’m a planner – every summer I plan to knock these items from the summer bucket list.

  1. Swim at the lake. I live near Chatfield Reservior. There are several ways to enjoy the lake. No matter if it is dropping my (kids) kayak in the water, renting a stand up paddleboard or hitting the roped off swim part. Nothing says summer to me quite like hanging out at a lake on a hot summer day.
  2. Visit a national or state park. Again if I go over to Chatfield I also knock visiting a state park off my list – but usually what I mean by this is going on a hike. Living in Colorado we are very lucky that we have many options open to us. Lucky for us Colorado Day (the day Colorado became a state) is August 1 and that typically means free entrance to Colorado State Parks or we can get free entrance to National Parks August 25 on National Park Service Day.
  3. Around a campfire. I would say tell ghost stories around a campfire – but honestly I don’t like scary stories…so let’s just say stories or sing. No matter if you really are going to be at camp or not – there are several options to have a safe fire right in your backyard. It is just a fun time to connect with the others around the fire with you…and maybe make a s’more or two.
  4. Camp. I tried to take my kids camping once shortly after I divorced. We went to the Sand Dunes. I borrowed a tent from my parents which was pretty old – and the sand really is no place to anchor a tent. You can rent a tent from REI (I should have done this instead). But it was fun and the kids tell stories of it years later (the fact that the tent literally fell down makes it funnier). But even if you don’t mess with a tent or with actually going somewhere – you can always camp in your back yard or even in your living room (I was in an apartment – so camping in the common areas really wasn’t a good idea or even really an option).
  5. Ice Cream Patrol. When I was a youngster my dad would gather all the kids in the neighborhood,  we would all climb into his little jeep and head down to BaskinRobbins. He would buy everyone an ice cream cone! There was not usually a reason – just a “because.” This was back in the days before seatbelt laws so kids were hanging out the back and sides of the jeep – with the doors off and the back rolled up.
  6. Drive a convertible. I was lucky enough to tool around in the jeep (which in my estimation is the ultimate in summer vehicles). But, there is something completely summer and different when you take a ride in a convertible or a jeep with the doors off than just riding around in a mini-van with all the windows rolled down.  If you don’t own a convertable rent one just for the day or the weekend!
  7. Watch a movie outside. We went to see a movie last summer on the grass just outside the Alamo Draft House in Littleton (at Aspen Grove Shopping Center). The movie was free and it was quite festive. We saw Hunger Games – prior to the movie they had a character dressed up as Effie, archery, popcorn and more. This year, we will be hosting our own Friday Free Movie. We got an inexpensive projector that we can hook up to our computer or phone and show movies! Host your own or go to a community event (or both).
  8. BBQ. Either host one or go to one. A rite of summer is eating food that has been cooked caveman style – over a flame. (If you feel like sharing your best recipe…email it to me). It doesn’t have to be expensive – it can be hot dogs and hamburgers or something bigger like ribs. Who’s recipe is really better KC BBQ or Louisville?
  9. Take me out to the ball game. When my son played baseball (he now focuses on football) we had our fill of ball games. But summer just isn’t summer without a ball game. Going to the Rockies doesn’t have to be expensive. There are rock-pile tickets that can be just $8 each and even better when you go on $1 hot dog day (promotion). No matter if you watch the game or the people it is bound to be fun. If you can’t make it to the game – make your own. You can buy a whiffle ball and bat for something like $1 at Dollar Tree!
  10. Read a fun novel or flip through a magazine. Reading is a whole different thing when it has not been assigned by a teacher. Choose your own escape – or a beach novel. Something perfect for outside – or just take your time flipping through the pages of a magazine. (One of my favorites is National Geographic Traveler – so I can dream about being on a beach somewhere).
  11. Picnic. So I’m not a great cook. That isn’t a secret. What is a secret is that if I take that same food outside and serve it at a picnic table or on a beach blanket – a simple sandwich, chips and lemonade seem that much more tasty.
  12. Stargaze. I can’t honestly tell you what the Leo constellation looks like (I’m a Leo). But with cool apps you can point your phone at the sky and it will define what each star, planet or constellation is. It is fun to sit out on a clear summer night taking in the awe of the sky – or even noticing the path that the airlines take (they take one right over my house so it is fun to watch them track the same path about 5 mintues apart from each other).
  13. Grow a garden. For the first time last year, I had my own garden. I didn’t have high hopes. The last time I tried I inadvertently pulled the actual vegetables I had planted – fearing they were weeds. This time I planted starters (so I could see what I actually planted – and could recognize what a weed was). I was so excited that I actually grew my own zucchini and green peppers. I had basil coming out my ears…and oh my the raspberries (my favorite). For just $1 a packet of seeds this is a fun reason to be outside all summer long!
  14. Meet the neighbors. In Colorado we hole up in our houses in the cold winter months. The only time I see my neighbors is when there is a big snowstorm and we all have to shovel or when they are driving away to work. This past summer, we made a point to put our chairs on the FRONT porch a couple nights of the week. To just “be”. We were outside so the neighbors could see us. It was fantastic meeting everyone. I look forward to that again.
  15. Find the Freebies. Summer seems to be the time for free entertainment. We have free concerts by local bands all around town, the obvious free fireworks displays at 4th of July and as previously mentioned lots of free movie showings. I write about these freebies quite often on MileHighMamas.com. Check out my annual free concerts list – which will be posted in late May.

No matter what you do this summer it is certainly bound to be fun! What is on your annual summer bucket list? What is your favorite summer tradition?

Blue Apron Made Me a Chef

I was sitting at an event at the Marriott Denver enjoying the food. It was a celebration for Marriott and Starwood’s merger. I often go to hotel events (it’s part of my job). We are often given what I affectionately call “parting gifts.” They are typically an item like a notepad, water bottle, or a bag. This time – we were treated to seeing Western Daughters Butcher Shop dismantle a full pig (with a saw) and then getting a chunk of pork. Most were given a pork chop. I told them that I am not much of a cook to give me something simple. So they handed me a larger chunk of pork wrapped in brown paper and told me that all I would need to do it sear it, salt and pepper it and stick it in the crock pot. I wasn’t really even sure what this cut of meat was. I brought it back to my table with a sort of giggle – I’m not a chef. I’m not close to a cook. Simple is good. This is when my friend Leslie told me that she had been using Blue Apron and she had some meals to give away (she had two sets of two meals).

When she sent me the link. I decided to try it. I opt’d for the family meals. There are three of us in my family – myself, my daughter and my teenage (football playing) son. The meals said they would serve four – but I have found that with a teenage boy – what normally feeds four people feeds the three of us just fine. I figured if there were leftovers I would eat them for lunch.

I am an adventurous eater. I will try just about anything. My kids used to be the same way. They were never picky kids that would only eat hot dogs and McDonalds (not that there’s anything wrong with that in my book). But I chose the Moroccan-Spiced Lamb & Beef Tagine and the Blackened Chicken & Rice. I chose those because I was not sure that my kids would eat the fish and the other option was a pasta. I figured if it was free I would go with what seemed more expensive. I could probably make a simiilar pasta dish for cheap.

The package came a few days later. It was packed in ice and in an insulated box. Everything I needed for two full meals! There was a menu sheet for each meal. Simple and easy to read. The front side has a short description of the meal and then the list of ingredients. The ingredients in the box were clearly marked and I could see which items were for which meal.

The first we tried was the Tagine. The smell was delicious. The preparations were simple and easy to follow with just a few steps. (Six steps). It walked me through how to cook, when to add what and even how to finish off the meal complete with a dollop of yogurt sauce and green scallions. The meal smelled awesome and tasted even better…to me. When I proudly served it to my daughter (my son was out with friends). She didn’t love it as much as I did. She ate that but not much of it. I hadn’t even told her it was lamb (if I did I think she would not have eaten ANY at all). I had enough leftovers for several days. I loved the fact that it was a WHOLE meal. Not just the entree (as you might get at a place like Dream Dinners). Complete even with the pita chips served on the side.

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The other meal was the Blackened Chicken & Rice. Again this was a simple and easy to follow directions. The side  was cooked rice with kale, different oranges (mandarin and blood orange) which the chicken was served atop. I thought it delicious. But neither of my kids ate much. They said they didn’t care much for the taste. On the other hand, I loved it. So once again I will be eating for DAYS on the leftovers.

Overall, I loved both meals. There was plenty of food to really serve four people. The recipe choices were unique and something I would certainly not have made on my own. They were both easy to follow and delicious. They made me feel like I really could master the kitchen. But the fact that neither of my kids liked the meals and at the cost – I may opt for once a month doing Blue Apron but just a meal for two – so I can make it for myself and have leftovers for just a day or so. I liked that it was a full meal – not just an entree –  where I need to dream up what to have on the side or how to incorporate veggies.

Beauty and the Beast Comes To Life in the Delightful Live Version

Maybe it is a tale as old as time. But even a great story being re-told is still a great story. Beauty and the Beast really is GREAT.

 

Once upon a time (a long time ago) in France a self-obsessed prince (Dan Stevens) has a curse put on him and those within his castle when he turns away an old lady who turns out to be an enchantress. This curse makes him a beast and his staff embody the objects in the castle.

 

Meanwhile, Belle (Emma Watson) a lovely, bright, independent girl who lives in a nearby town with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline). Maurice stumbles upon the castle and the Beast imprisons him. Belle comes to rescue her father and trade places with him as the imprisoned. Despite the Beast’s awful behavior upon her first arrival – Belle learns to see (with the assistance of the castle staff) that there is more to meets the eye of this beast. Maurice enlists the help of town war hero Gaston (Luke Evans) to rescue Belle. Gaston wants to marry Belle (she doesn’t have the same feelings). Gaston’s side-kick LeFou (Josh Gad) provides both comedy and villain.

 

The casting is spectacular. Emma Watson is the perfect Belle. Who wouldn’t see something more in the dreamy blue eyes of the Beast (Dan Stevens – known to many as Matthew Crowley from Downton Abbey)? The funny Josh Gad as LeFou is far more comedic than the same character in the animated version. And a certain eye-popping musculature of Luke Evans as Gaston would certainly make many swoon. The live version also defines a bit more of the back-story for the characters. The live version also serves up all the same songs that we know (and can sing along to) from the animated version – but so are a few new ones.

 

The latest incarnation as a new genre, Disney turning their animated classics into visually stunning live action, is not to be out-done in the classic Beauty and the Beast. It was everything I had hoped it would be and more. The spectacular visuals of this movie need to be seen at the theater. (Don’t wait for it to come out on video).

 

Beauty and the Beast is Rated G and opens in theaters everywhere on March 17, 2017.

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beauty and the Beast

Four Full Days in Hong Kong at Chinese New Year

I was just in Hong Kong. I was there for work so we got to see a ton of great hotels. But our itinerary also had a lot of fun and cultural experiences. (For the purposes of this blog I won’t talk long about the hotels we saw – however, I will tell you that is my job. I am a hotel broker. I help companies/organizations find and negotiate their group of ten or more sleeping rooms per night. If you know of a group that would like to go to Hong Kong or any other destination for their meetings, conferences, events, or incentive trips. I can help and my services are free).

Our primary host hotel was the Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel. It is on the Kowloon side and in a fantastic location. It is really close to an MTR (subway) station – although on this trip we didn’t use the public transportation, I hear it is simple to navigate. All signs are in Chinese as well as English. And shopping was nearby. But we also did not have a ton of time for shopping.

A couple cool things about this hotel for any traveler. One, they already have the power converter in your room. No need to go out and buy one before you head to Hong Kong. It was a nice touch and a good thing -because the one I brought was not working. And two, almost every hotel we went to (so I don’t think this is a Sheraton only thing), there is what they call a Handy Phone. It is a cell phone that you can take around the city. You can make local and international call (to certain countries) on it, access maps, and/or use it as a mobile hot spot and connect to your own phone! Super handy indeed. (We did go to one hotel that had just the mobile hot spot instead of the Handy Phone).

DAY 1:

When all the other members of our group arrived – we walked aroudn the corner to a rooftop pavillion/garden and were met by Tai Chi master, William Ng and his wife, Pandora. We did it together as a group. That was fun and refreshing. I really couldn’t figure out which direction my hands were supposed to be facing – it was a good thing I was standing in the back. But I felt like we were in a movie or at the least on some TV show. Yes, they really do tai chi in a public place. Apparently this helps us balance our ying and yang.

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After looking at a location for events (1881 Heritage & Hullet House), we headed to the Aqua Luna. This is a boat that cruises Victoria Harbor. It is the same red-sailed boat that is used in Hong Kong tourism brochures. On the boat we got drinks and we could see the lights on the buildings. They are animated and fun to see. Not just any typical skyline. The Symphony of Lights as it is known bills itself as the world’s largest permanent light show. (Apparently there is sound as well if you are on the boardwalk) The show happens every night at 8 p.m.

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We then headed to the Hong Kong Jocky Club at Happy Valley Racecourse. In the U.S. we might head to a football game or basketball – but in Hong Kong. The race track is the place where all the locals go They also have priveate event areas and we ate dinner there in one of those. We were also treated to a lesson in how to bet and what to look for. I hadn’t changed to any local dollars yet so I didn’t bet. But, I am certain that I would have won if I did.

DAY 2:

Our breakfast was hosted by the Mira Hotel. They served us Congee for breakfast. Congee is basically a watered down rice soup. It is sort of tasteless. They served it with peanuts, scallions, peanuts, crispy won ton skins, salted hard boiled eggs, and preserved eggs. The preserved eggs were sort of a black color and sort of a creamy texture. I can’t say I’m a huge fan. But I can say I tried it. I also was introduced to Milk Tea there. It was awesome. From my understanding it is black tea served with condensed and sweetened condensed milk. (I tried to make it at home already).

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We had a networking reception at Sky100 Observation Deck. It is on the 100th floor! (Clever name then huh?). The views were amazing and we were lucky to have great weather days so we could really see everything. There is a Michelin Starred restaurant on the top too called the Sky Boss. This is where we ate lunch. I learned that when there are two sets of chopsticks at a place setting one is for serving yourself from the family style dishes and the other is for eating. The food was delicious! Plus, I’m getting pretty proficient with my chopsticks. Also we learned that rice is only a filler. So the better restaurants won’t serve rice as part of most meals (unless it is the meal like fried rice) but we also noticed that noodles are much bigger deal than rice anyway.

Then we headed over to the Peninsula Hotel. Atop the hotel was the Helicopter pad. YES, we were getting a tour of the city in a helicopter. It was so exciting and a highlight for certain of my time spent in the city. We were joking that we felt like we might have been on the Bachelor. We could see all the great places that we had been and were yet to go to. We could see the islands and the hills. BEAUTIFUL.

Then we went to see the Intercontinental. It has a great location right on the water and I have to talk about the one “room” which Brangelina stayed at with their kids. It is literally a two floor penthouse! It has it’s own gym, office, 5 bedrooms, pool deck and more. I got a sneak into how the “other half” lives.

After the site of the newest hotel to be built in Hong Kong, The Kerry (there is building everywhere), we went to dinner at another fantastic location. The Aqua (Japanese Italian fusion). Not only was the company and the food awesome. But so was the view. Once again, the best views of the city seem to be from up above.

Then the group went for what they called a foot reflexology. Which was basically a foot massage. A full-on one hour massage from knees down. I will have to admit that I am not really much of a massage person. I don’t like them. But if the whole group was going – well so was I. When we arrived we took off our shoes and rolled up our pants. We got in the soaking tubs (like a pedicure). I’m sure it was to clean us off. I was almost asked to leave because I was being so loud. (ooops – but not surprising at all!) Then we were escorted into a dimly lit room with about 20 beds lying side by side. Each of my colleagues were laid at the beds beside mine. We all got cloths laid over our eyes and for a full hour we were massaged. In the few massages that I have received they all have been in a private room. These were not – and we could hear every noise that every person was making.

After our massage, three of us decided to go to the night market. I guess I just wanted to see it. It reminded me a bit of a flea market. You should negotiate with them our host had told us before dropping us off. I didn’t really see much of anything that I really wanted – but if you want fake purses, watches (cheap), phone cases/cords, and/or tshirts. You would love this market. The only thing I did buy was a small bag – which I will likely use for a makeup bag. It was very close to the hotel and about $22 HK. Which amounts to $2.50 US. So a super cheap cab ride!

DAY 3:

Today we headed to the Taste Library at the PMQ (Police Married Quarters) which is also an event venue. The Taste Library is about 3 apartments from the former PMQ chock full of cookbooks of every type – and of course, a kitchen! We headed to the wet market. This is the market that people go to each day to get their day’s ingredients. Since they don’t really have huge refrigerators or places to store food – they go more often than those of us in the U.S. The guyd did a good job of showing us where he had come earlier to get most of the ingredients for the meal we would be making – Radish Cake. Radish Cake is made during New Years as a symbol of growth (usually prosperity).

While the savory cake was cooking (it takes about 45 minutes). We were showing around the PMQ. It is not only a place where you can hold events – but also a fantastic location where there are several artisans (we were given awesome aprons from a shop there). There is also a room that looks like a black and white mural – but when you download the app and hold your phone pointing at the mural it activates cartoon characters that move about the mural and interact with it (ie. going in and out of buildings etc – I’m guessing this is kind of where the Pokeman Go phenomenom came from). And we also had the opportunity to speak with one of the artists at the pottery shop.

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We then had a tour of Hong Kong Island. We did some shopping at another market (some of the stores were closing early in preparation for Chinese New Year – which would begin the next day), Repulse Bay was beautiful as the sun was setting. We were making our way to the highest spot – Victoria Peak. There we went could get another fantastic view of the city from another angle. But, it was very busy as several people were out for the holiday.  We dined at LuFeng which was as delicious as all the others.

On the way back to the hotel we went to the Flower Market. It was crazy with the amount of people jammed together. And we were told that it would only get busier as the night went on. There were directional signs telling people which direction to walk. There were several flower stands each with beautiful flowers. Flowers are used to decorate homes – but also another sign of luck. Too bad I didn’t think I could get flowers though customs but they looked very pretty!

Day 4:

Today was the first day of Chinese New Year. We had been practicing all week. Kung Hei Fat Choi. That is what you say to wish people Happy New Year. The morning was fascinating at the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden. The tour guide told us that the garden was created and maintained by the nuns and volunteers. It is a tribute to the senses. First Sight – we see a rock garden wtih giant boulders. Representign the continents and greenery to represent life. We are also told the wood structures we see are made with just wood – there are no nails or glue to hold them together. After that we hear the water fall. A tribute to the sense of sound (we could also say we heard birds). Then we are led to the flowering tress for the sense of smell. And then the hidden restaurant is pointed out. This is where you would have the sense of taste. But it is also the only place you can have food in the park (only water otherwise). And then we are invited to sit and touch the polished rock – the sense of touch. The final part of the tour is the entrance to the nunnery. It is where you get your sixth sense.

This was high holiday so we were treated to the sounds of a live chanting. But there were also lines for people to see budda and leave their incense.

We had a dim sum lunch. It was delicious and I think it was like 10 courses! So good. And our whole group is getting pretty good with the chopsticks. We tried birds nest. Which was on the egg tarts. We are told it’s actually bird’s saliva. Birds use their saliva to put together their nests. It’s an expensive “nourishment” for Chinese people. It is full of collagen, protein, and supposed to increase your immune system’s strength. Makes skin radiant, and beautiful. I am an adventurous eater – so I ate it. I can’t say it had much of a taste at all – but my skin didn’t break out as it usually does…so maybe? (The bird’s nest was the clearish stuff on top of the egg tarts. We also found it funny that there was no typical salt and pepper shakers like in the U.S. but toothpicks were at every table).

We had about a couple hours after lunch before we would meet the group again to go to the parade. I took this opportunity to go to the market with one of the other group members and our guide. It was fun to get my kids candy for a souvenier and I got my daughter some cosmetics at Sasa (it is a cosmetics store on nearly every corner).

That evening we gathered in the hotel lobby for the Best Fortune. World Party International Night Parade. We were walked across the stree where we entered on the red carpet! Yes, you heard that we walked on the red carpet to the parade. We sat in amazing grand stand seats and enjoyed the night time parade. It included perfoming acts from all over the world (the U.S. had the Rams mascot and cheerleaders).

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We finished the evening at AlMolo Ristorante. right on the harbor and very close to where the parade was.

Day 5:

I check out and leave for the U.S. this morning. But before I go I get to see a lion dance in the lobby of the hotel. Even though I know that there are people in the lion costume, I’m sort of convinced that it is real. I find myself in awe as they leap from one podium to another. I learn that having a lion helps ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. They also eat lettuce and then spit it back out at the crowd. This is actually a good thing. It adds health and fortune to the luck. It is said if you touch the lion you will have especially good luck (good thing I did that before I left).

We had also learned earlier in the trip that if you go three times (clockwise) around the tree decorating every hotel lobby like the one in this picture it will bring luck and love. Apparently the more branchy and blossoms the better. The red envelopes are filled with money and given to younger children or single people.

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I’m overwhelmed with all that I got to see and experience in just a few short days. What a great city. I can’t wait to go back – although I’m not sure what we missed becuase it sure seemed like we had a pretty stuffed (and fun) agenda! (And by the way – pictures just can’t do it justice. You need to visit).

Grand Champion Steer Celebrated in Hotel Lobby

For as long as I can remember, the Brown Palace has been the fanciest hotel in town. The crystal chandalier adorns the lobby, it is where my Grandma took me for my 16th birthday High Tea (a tradition I hope to continue with my daughter who will be 16 this next summer), all manner of celebrity and political figures have stayed at the hotel….and as part of the traditions surrounding the National Western Stock Show – the Grand Champion (1,400 pound cow) is welcomed into the lobby (on a red carpet no less) admist the glitz and spendor of any other celebrity.

Seriously, I don’t know how close you’ve ever been to a steer – but they are not tiny animals and I would never have thought either well behaved or well baithed would be said of a steer either. I was surprised to touch the animal and feel how soft (and thick) his fur. I was told he gets a bath and blowdry every day! He was gentle and calm despite the buzz of activity of the tea goers and hub-bub happening nearby.

The steer in the lobby of a very swanky hotel is sort of a surreal symbol for the city itself. Denver finds itself juxtaposed between our Wild West traditions and that of a modern city. Yes, folks we ride cars and public transportation to work. At least those who live here in the city do…but the guys who care for these awesome steer…maybe they still ride their horses to work. We touch the past while looking toward the future.

 

Denver Deals: Chinese New Year, Valentines and Ski Deals

In case you were unaware, January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month. An entire month dedicated to fantastic opportunities to learn how to participate in our state’s big industry. There are tons of deals in several ski areas (and many of them are FREE), even if your family is not into skiing. Breckenridge will also host the International Snow Sculpture Championships. These awesome amazingly intricate sculptures give a whole new meaning to snowman.
Happy Chinese New Year. The Outlets at Castle Rock are celebrating with a Kids Chinese Lantern Decorating Contest on Saturday, January 28th 12:00 pm. The first 50 kids, 12 and under, to sign up HERE can enter the lantern decorating contest for their chance to win prizes from Outlets at Castle Rock! And then on Sunday, January 29th, join Outlets at Castle Rock at 2 p.m. for traditional Chinese and Dragon Dances performed by the Denver Chinese School-Jasmine Flower Dance Academy & the Denver Shaolin Kung Fu Academy! Located in the courtyard by Under Armour (weather permitting).
Valentine Mail-in Program. Join people across the world and send your valentine’s through the city of Loveland, Colo., known as the nation’s Sweetheart City. To get this special cachet message, send your pre-addressed, pre-stamped valentine in an enclosed, larger 1st Class envelope. Then send all envelopes to: Postmaster – Attention Valentines,  446 E. 29th St., Loveland, CO 80538-9998. Colorado-destined mail must be received in Loveland by Feb. 9th. Additional deal:  Through, Wednesday, February 1, drop off your cards and love letters at any King Soopers or City Market (in a large white drop-off box by the customer service desk.) The grocery chain will send them to the Loveland Post Office in time to get the world-famous ♥Loveland, CO♥ postmark.loveland
IHOP. The all you can eat stack is back! Through February 12. Sit down for a short stack of pancakes…and then stay there for a while…and eat some more. Taste their world-famous IHOP buttermilk pancakes.
Chick Fil A. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! From 6 a.m. to 10:30 either go inside or drive through to get a free breakfast each Wednesday in January. Items will vary weekly and by location.
CycleBar. Take a free ride at the CycleBar as part of their Grand Opening (introduction) at their Southwest Plaza location. January 12-22.Enjoy our luxury amenities, CycleStats personal performance tracking, CycleBeats mind-blowing playlists, and invigorating rides led by CycleStar Instructors.* Register Now.
 
Rusty Bucket. The Bucketeer Bookworm school program was created in 2011 to encourage young students to read. To participate in the program, elementary students (Kindergarten through fifth grade) can pick up a Bookmark Tracker at the Rusty Bucket and start reading. Young readers track their books on the back of the bookmark, and for every five books read, the students receive a complimentary Bucket kid’s meal.
 
Pretzelmaker. Enjoy a pretzel for just $1 every Tuesday this month. Plus, the great news is that there is no limit to the offer.
 
Southwest Ice Rink at Skyline Park. The ice rink at Skyline Park downtown is FREE. And skate rental is just $2. The rink stays in place through Valentine’s day.