Leap Retreat Part 2: 12 hours in Denver

Way back in January, when I first learned that I’d been chosen out of nearly 5,000 people as the winner of a place at Leap Retreat, all I could focus on was the time I’d be spending in the Rocky Mountains with the other attendees, soaking up anything and everything we could about photography from our incredible teacher, Sarah.

As the date gradually drew closer and I started doing grown up things like booking flights, arranging my hotel and figuring out transport, it slowly dawned on me that I’d have some time to spare in Denver (approximately twelve hours in total) as I’d be arriving the day before the retreat started.

The last time I travelled solo was before I met my husband over fourteen years ago – instead of going to university I opted for a trip of a lifetime to Australia, spending a whole year in Oz and then three months in New Zealand.  I was only twenty years old at the time, young enough and naïve enough to be blissfully unaware of all the things that could go wrong and not giving a second thought to any form of forward planning beyond the next day’s adventures.  I slept in a car for six months in Australia, worked 18 hour shifts in order to fund the next stage of travel and hitch-hiked my way around New Zealand (much to my Mum’s horror!).  That trip was simultaneously one of the best and scariest things I’ve ever done and I’ve been itching to go off exploring again ever since.  The travel bug bit me…hard.

Since my husband and I have been together we’ve done a few holidays to Spain with our girls, but nothing more long-haul or unfamiliar than that.  As a result the itch got stronger and the sense of restlessness it gave me increased year by year.  So when I started researching Denver and what there was to see and so, a little light inside me flickered into life.  The nerves were there of course – in almost eleven years of being a parent I’ve never left my babies for more than one night and this trip would mean leaving them for five – but the excitement was far, far greater.

I love exploring new places – there’s not much that makes me happier than time spent wandering around unknown streets, stumbling across unexpected corners and soaking up the energy and feel of wherever I am.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s a part of the town I live in, a previously un-visited (is that a word?!) corner of the UK, or somewhere on an entirely different continent – it’s all exciting to me.  Of course, having travel companions like my husband and our daughters enhances the experience,  but there was something inside me that knew that this trip was something I needed to do on my own.  I needed time to myself, needed to let go of the labels of mummy and wife and daughter and therapist and friend, needed to rediscover the ‘me’ that has quietly become invisible as the years have gone by.  Solo travel, even for a flying visit, was exactly what I craved.

Fast forward to late September and the journey to Denver couldn’t have gone more smoothly.  I caught a Virgin Train to London Euston (the same journey I make every week for work), tube-hopped my way to Heathrow Airport, was first in the queue to check-in and the British Airways flight (the only airline that flies direct to Denver from the UK) left on time.

Arriving at Denver International Airport was surprising.  I’d expected to see mountains but actually there was nothing for miles around – just plains.  I quickly learned that it was the first of what was to be many (wonderful) surprises about Colorado!  The airport itself was easy to navigate, security was thorough yet speedy and I was reunited with my suitcase with no trouble at all.  I headed for the train station inside the terminal to catch the A-line train, which whisked me directly to Union Station in the centre of Denver in 37 minutes for the modest sum of just $9.

My first view of Union Station as I stepped off the train from the airport

The fabulous façade of Union Station by night

It was beginning to get dark by the time I arrived in central Denver (a full 19 hours after setting off from home earlier that morning).  I was utterly shattered and desperate to crawl into bed and thankfully my hotel, The Oxford, was literally right opposite Union Station, less than half a block away.  The Oxford is the most historic hotel in Denver, first opening it’s doors to guests in 1891.

As I checked in and the receptionist handed me my key (complete with ornate tassel) she informed me that my room had been upgraded at no extra charge.  To say I was thrilled was an understatement – things like this just don’t happen to me so it was the icing on the cake for this weary traveller.  I made my way up to the second floor in the lift (sorry, ‘elevator’) and padded across the velvety carpets past bookcases jammed full of reading material, writing desks in hidden corners and the occasional sign directing the way to the Ballroom.  My room was huge and luxurious, far beyond what I’d been expecting (even for an upgrade).  The mattress on the bed was so deep that I actually had to do a little hop to get onto it and there were so many plump pillows that I didn’t know what to do with them all.  I peeked in the bathroom at the enormous shower cubicle and then spotted the free-standing roll-top bath and instantly knew that that was where I would be spending my evening.  After a relaxing soak I sank into bed, slept soundly and awoke naturally at 4am, body clock still a bit confused thanks to the five hour time difference, ready to explore the city by daylight.

After a quick shower I popped down to reception and asked where the nearest coffee shop was.  It turns out it was two buildings down from the hotel, and the best place in town to get an early morning brew.  I don’t drink tea or coffee so I opted for a hot chocolate instead and I can confirm that it was, indeed, excellent.  ‘Amante’ was EXACTLY as I imagined an American coffeeshop to be and everyone there (more people than I expected at 5am on a random Friday in September) was fascinated with my English accent.  Hot chocolate in hand, I retreated to my hotel room, curled up in the overstuffed armchair by the window and watched the city wake up as the dawn slowly spread across the sky.

The Oxford Hotel

The sumptuous reception area at The Oxford. I didn’t take any photos of my room as it was too dark when I arrived and too messy in the morning with all my stuff everywhere! It was just as luxurious as you can imagine.

Denver, the ‘Mile High City’, is divided into several different districts: Lower Downtown (LoDo); River North (RiNo); Five Points; Cherry Creek; and Highlands, with each area having very distinct characteristics.  As I only had limited time before being collected to drive up into the mountains for Leap, I decided to explore the LoDo area near my hotel.  It was a tough choice though as there were so many places I wanted to see!  The first place I headed for was the Tattered Cover Book Store.  I love a good book shop and actively seek them out whenever I’m in a new place.  This one did not disappoint – it was absolutely enormous and filled to the brim with every book imaginable.  There were little nooks with comfy armchairs, a café selling delicious-smelling coffee and mouth-watering treats and a section for stationary.  I could have spent hours in there but knew I didn’t have the luxury of time so I breathed in as much of it as I could and somewhat reluctantly headed back out into the bright-but-chilly morning light.

I couldn’t resist a photo of a yellow fire hydrant!

Denver: The Mile High City

Loved this entrepreneur who turned his little car into a mobile coffee shop (with a proper coffee machine and everything!)

The wonderful Tattered Cover Book Store

I wandered past numerous quirky bars, restaurants and coffeeshops, each as inviting as the next and bustling with people grabbing breakfast on their way to work, and then unexpectedly stumbled upon this fantastic installation (see photo below) from Generation Wild, which aims to reconnect kids with nature and the great outdoors. Isn’t it beautiful?  And honestly I can’t think of a better place for such a movement – Colorado seems to be full of opportunities to get outside and explore.  Generation Wild has created a list of ‘100 Things To Do Before You’re 12′ (a little bit like our National Trust’s ’50 Things to Do Before You’re 11 and 3/4’) and you can bet I’ll be trying to get my girls to tick off as many as possible.  The words in the central panel say this:

“The future belongs to the fearless.  The future belongs to the imaginative.  The future belongs to the creative.  These aren’t qualities you pick up playing video games or binge watching YouTube.  Those are things that are grown and strengthened playing outside.  Challenging yourself.  Having fun.  Living loud.  The future belongs to the self reliant, the self confident and the self assured.  The future belongs to the generation of kids who play outside, letting their imagination and their curiosity run wild.  The future belongs to them.  The future belongs to Generation Wild”

After spending a short while there doing one of my favourite things to do – people-watching – I continued on my way and reached the impressive Millennium Bridge just a few minutes later.   It’s a pedestrian walkway that leads to the river where gold was first discovered and the city of Denver was born.  Crossing over the bridge led me to the Highlands district and the greener parts of the city: Commons Park, Confluence Park and Centennial Park – all very different from one another.  Commons and Centennial Park are both stretched along the banks of the South Platte River, and Confluence Park, sandwiched between them, is where a second river (Cherry Creek) joins in – there are rapids there which are apparently very popular for swimming and splashing during the summer months.  It’s quite something to see the water thundering past knowing that the hum of the city is just a short walk away.

Some of the architecture in the city

The view from the top of Millennium Bridge

Millennium Bridge

A street near Commons Park. I just liked the ‘Read’ sign 🙂

One of my favourite things about this part Denver was the incredible street art that lined the cycle paths, walkways and tunnels.  It was bright, bold and colourful and often had a powerful message.  I quite literally walked around open-mouthed at the variety of pieces and how skilfully they’d been painted.  I didn’t even take any photos – I was so enthralled with them that I completely forgot to capture them on camera.

By this point it was late morning and almost time for me to check out of my hotel and be picked up to go to Leap, so I slowly retraced my steps, encountering a poet who I stopped and chatted to for a little while.  He told me his story and I asked him if he did anything else for work and he proudly told me that this was his only job, he earned enough money from it to keep a roof over his head and he loved it.  I love listening to people’s stories.

The poet I met, who kindly let me take his photo after telling me his story

LoDo

There was so much more I wanted to see, and not enough time to do it all in – if I’d headed in the opposite direction out of my hotel I’d have seen the ‘Big Blue Bear’, the Bronco Buster sculpture and the Colorado State Capitol government building (whose 13th step lies exactly 1 mile above sea level), to name but a few more iconic sights.  I’d planned to have another little wander around the city after Leap was over and before I needed to head to the airport to catch my flight home, but my head was so full of everything I’d learned and the experiences I’d had that I simply couldn’t take in any more, choosing instead to charge my various devices, do some writing and soak up the atmosphere of Union Station, a fabulously beautiful building in it’s own right.

The Oxford, Union Station and a typical Denver street scene

Inside the beautiful Union Station building – this florist’s stall was gorgeous!

The lights, the windows, the signage. Everything about Union Station was fabulous.

The train waiting to whisk me back to the airport

One thing I noticed about Denver (and the station) was how spotlessly clean it was everywhere

I loved my short time in Denver and definitely want to go back and explore all the bits I missed. I’ve heard there are tons of fun things to do for children too (the zoo is supposed to be fantastic) and I know for sure my girls would love the city as much as I did. Denver…we’ll be back.

Sunrise from the aeroplane on my way back to England after Leap and my whirlwind trip to Denver

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9 Comments

  • Reply November 12, 2017

    Suzanne

    Gosh I think I could have stayed in that station all day – what a photo opportunity! And you got a room upgrade?! Things like that never happen to be either. How fabulous. I think you’re very brave taking this step out of your comfort zone, I don’t think I could do it but I’m rather envious of your opportunity to try. Well done. xx

    • Reply November 18, 2017

      Chloe Ridgway

      Thanks Suzanne. It was scary but I somehow knew that it was exactly what I needed so that took away a lot of the fear. Union station was an absolutely gorgeous building and it was full of the most gorgeous quirky little shops too – a destination in it’s own right!

  • Reply November 13, 2017

    Morgana

    Wow Chloe! What a wonderful trip you had. I’ve never been to the US and reading posts like these just make me want to go more. As ever your photography is stunning, you have such an eye for it. I particularly loved the bit about the street poet, I too am I fan of people’s stories and he sounds like such an interesting guy. xx

    • Reply November 18, 2017

      Chloe Ridgway

      Thank you Morgana 🙂 It was my first trip the States and I’m desperate to go back. The street poet was a fascinating guy. In fact, everyone I met was interesting. The doorman at the hotel I stayed in had a ton of stories to tell too.

  • Reply November 13, 2017

    Kerri-Ann

    Such an amazing trip and so lucky to be awarded a ticket. It sounds and looks wonderful. The poet sounds like someone I would like to meet. Your photos are fantastic.
    Kerri-Ann recently posted…#MySundayPhoto – FireworksMy Profile

    • Reply November 18, 2017

      Chloe Ridgway

      The street poet was fascinating – I could have talked with him for hours. I wish I’d asked him to create a poem for me but I didn’t have any cash on me to be able to pay him! Thank you for saying such lovely things about my photos 🙂

  • Reply November 15, 2017

    Jenny

    Wow this sounds so impressive and looks amazing. What a great trip and well done for being chosen hunny what a life experience. The photos are lovely too. You are so talented. America is great to visit so many interesting places. #wrc
    Jenny recently posted…The Siblings Project {November 2017}My Profile

    • Reply November 18, 2017

      Chloe Ridgway

      It was a fantastic experience Jenny – really a once in a lifetime trip. Thank you for your kind words about my photos – I can’t wait to be able to explore more of America in the future 🙂

  • Reply November 20, 2017

    Kerry

    What an amazing opportunity! Your photos are lovely and the poet looks v cool. I would love to take the kids to America one day xxx
    Kerry recently posted…Instagram Growth Tips From Herinternest: 0-11k in Just Eight MonthsMy Profile

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