Just a few days after watching my friends get married in Philadelphia, I was on a plane headed to Keystone, Colorado for my very first Travel Blogger’s Exchange. TBEX, as it’s known, is the world’s largest travel blogging conference, an event that brings together more than 800 travel media enthusiasts for a weekend of conferences, networking, and of course — travel.
But we’ll get to that later. Lucky for me and many other travel bloggers, we’ve designed our lives so that flexibility is paramount. Which is kind of an impressive way of saying that I’m a homeless person without a real job. But, you know, let’s go with “self employed.” Anyway, my point is that I was able to fly out ahead of time so I could spend a few days exploring Denver before moving out to the mountains for the conference.
My older sister Sarah got married in Denver back when I was young enough to be a flower girl, and I haven’t been back since. When Facebook reconnected me with a friend from my Girl Scouts days who recently moved out to Colorado, she and her roommate generously offered me a place to stay — therefore extending my summer of
bumming around couchsurfing.
You know why Skylar and I have a friendship that survives the decades? Because she brings me to restaurants that serve Nutella shakes with toasted marshmallows on top. Let’s pretend my last post wasn’t about getting healthy.
While I spent a fair percentage of my three days in Denver hanging out with Skylar I did manage to sneak away to two of the Denver area attractions that were free for TBEX attendees.
The Denver Art Museum
This art-fanatic traveler’s first stop was to the Denver Art Museum. The exterior’s funky architecture is meant to reflect the peaks of the Rocky Mountains as well as the geometric rock formations found in the valleys of Colorado. And the 9,000 titanium panels reflect the Denver’s famous sunshine — all 300 days a year of it.
Ignorantly, I never considered that a city in mid-America would be an important center for art. How wrong I was! The permanent collection at the museum is large and varied, while the temporary exhibits are an impressive draw.
One of my favorite aspects of the museum was that it had a very strong sense of place — I really felt that I was in the American West. There was Western American art spanning many eras, including modern interpretations from artists alive and working today.
My favorite was the wing dedicated to Theodore Waddel, who’s abstract expressionist paintings made me think about cows in a whole new light. And you guys know how I feel about cows.
As usual, I enjoyed the modern and contemporary art collections, excited to recognize works I had seen in my college textbooks by artists like Richard Patterson and Sandy Skoglund.
Moving onto the special exhibits, I started at Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection. The exhibit features more than 200 pins that Ms. Albright carefully chose to communicate messages and moods during her diplomatic meetings. As a traveler I loved that Mrs. Alright often chose pins from or representative of her destinations, of which she visited many in her long tenure as Secretary of State.
I ended my visit with an entrance to the hottest show around — Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective. Denver was selected as the only United States city to host the show, and there was a palpable buzz as people lined up to receive their timed entry tickets. Unfortunately photos were not allowed inside, as though I’m far from a fashion maven I couldn’t help but marvel at the artistry on show. My favorite section was the “Imaginary Journeys” in which Laurent drew inspiration from different cultures around the world. Interestingly, he hated travel, claiming “my imagination takes me there.”
Overall I was so impressed with the Denver Art Museum. I was able to attend a special event, get my occasional art fix, and learn a little bit more about Colorado in the process.
Denver Botanic Gardens
My second and last tourist stop in Denver was to the Denver Botanic Gardens, and this time I was accompanied by Skylar and the adorable munchkins she nannies. I’ve always been a fan of botanical gardens, visiting them on my travels in The Cayman Islands and in Honduras… who doesn’t like walking around looking at beautiful flowers?
We started out in the Mordecai Children’s Garden so the kids could run wild. Right away I could tell that I would like this Botanic Garden for the same reason I liked the Denver Art Museum: a strong sense of place. Where else could the entrance to this children’s garden exist, apart from the American West?
The tots had so much fun running wild and enjoying the age-appropriate signs and prompts. The entire garden was a great way to introduce kids to the beauty of nature.
There was plenty to keep adults amused as well, like well-placed stuffed goats and cheekily-named features like Pipsqueak Pond.
And there were, of course, the requisite beautiful examples of local flora.
Surprisingly, there was also some fauna on show — during our visit we spotted a bunny and several ducks.
Entering the main gardens, we were greeted by a sculpture from the Kizuna exhibit, a large-scale presentation of site-specific, Japanese bamboo art installations.
While I’m not usually a 3D art fan, I was enamored by these sculptures.
The gardens were absolutely enormous and we didn’t see all of them because — this just in — kids have short attention spans. But what we did see was incredible, and while I don’t want to offend the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens here, I’m going to have to say this was the most beautiful one I’ve ever visited.
Photographers, nature and art lovers, those in need of a little relaxation — you’ve got to go!
Most of all the thing I admired in the two Denver-area attractions I visited was that they couldn’t exist anywhere else in the world — they were distinctly Colorado.
And on to TBEX…
So while my days were spent exploring Denver, my evenings were a warm-up for the big conference. Both my nights in Denver were spent at TBEX-related events such as brewery parties or downtown pub crawls. The nightlife in Denver was very unique and relaxed, focused more on microbreweries and flannel shirts than high heels and cocktails. It was a nice change of pace.
I loved my time in Denver, but I wasn’t sad when I hopped in a car headed for the mountains… I was ready to geek out over travel blogging!
Stay tuned for coverage from TBEX!