Sunday, March 12, 2017

All For Food!

As I have mentioned before, to me it is always an interesting pursuit to hunt for great vegetarian offerings in different cuisines. And I must say that the US has always been my favourite place when it comes to flexibility in cuisine. I can always request the server to make something in veg for me and they are more than happy to suggest me various options. As a foody, I dedicated this trip to try all my favourite cuisines and explore some new ones as well. Here we go - 

Mexican Cuisine - 

I am always a fan of Mexican food. Sorry, American Mexican offerings as I have heard that the authentic Mexican food is a bit different. So, until I try them, I don't think I can say more. As soon as I landed in the states, I tried a Burrito bowl full of veggies, rice, baked beans and guacamole. A fajita feast seemed abundant and was delicious. A breakfast item had for lunch was my favourite - A spicy scrambled egg with veggies (Like Egg Burji) and rice and baked beans. Spicy Jalapeño made up a good side dish.

Thai Cuisine - 

I am not really a big fan of Thai food because it resembles some of the south Indian cuisine, at least the vegetarian ones. But some dishes I tried were excellent. My favourite was the pumpkin fry. Spring rolls, Yellow curry and Padthai were also good.

I would strongly recommend the family run restaurant called Thai Basil in Colorado Springs. Their eggplant curry with tangy sauce is amazing. Boiled and served with salt, the edamame pods were delicious as the only veg starter. 

Italian Cuisine - 

Italian food is always my most preferred cuisine after Indian. A pizza that I had at the ice hockey match was delicious but the custom made Pasta with Alfredo sauce at Biaggi’s was amazing. 

Ethiopian Cuisine - 

One of my favourite restaurants in Colorado Springs is Uchenna run by a very sweet Ethiopian lady called Maya. She would take her time to converse with you while you order your food. She speaks various languages and I enjoyed brushing up my French with her this time. Several vegetarian dishes served with fresh injeras are brilliant. A Baklawa and Saragli make great desserts.

Middle East/Balkans - 

One evening, I decided to try the Caspian Café and had a very interesting dish called Moussaka made of egg plant and potato. 

Senegalese - 

I met up with my ex-manager Scott at a very good restaurant suggested by him called Adam’s mountain café in Colorado Springs. THis place has great ambience and would strongly recommend it to visitors. I tried a Senegalese veg dish with Udon noodles. Garnished with dry fruits, it tasted amazing. 

American Cuisine - 

Having spoken so much about world cuisine, how can one ignore the famous American food. For vegetarians, there are limited options but I love the over sized burgers and french fries. At Perkin’s I tried an interesting egg wrap called Wrapping Granny.

But when it comes to Burger, I truly enjoyed the one made at a small restaurant called Jan’s in Buena vista. The patty and the sides were delicious. I also enjoyed Jan’s recommendation - English toffee banana cream pie. During our return journey we stopped at a little café/Bar in Hartsel where I had some black tea and onion rings. Small towns, small cafés have its own charm and the food tastes so much better than the ones served at fast food restaurants.

When in America, one has to taste some delicious Pancakes. IHOP is your best stop for that!

At BJ’s, I tried some amazing Avocado egg roll and Peruvian quinoa bowl. I truly enjoyed the ambience at BJ’s. On a Saturday evening it was very lively. They have their own brewery if you want to try some local beer. And for desserts, I got a free Pizookie for downloading their app on my mobile. It was a bit too sweet but I loved the ice cream over hot cookie. 

How can one go to America and not try some Cheese cakes. I love the plain one. And, Ice creams are always welcome as deserts.

Cooking - 

Having learnt some quick cooking at the hostels of NZ, I made some pastas for my lunch. 

Our hotel had a nice breakfast buffet and a custom omelet ordering facility. Waffles with some honey and butter is always a pleasure.

One of my colleagues, Chung Hee, seeing me buy cookies, baked some fresh chocolate chip cookies for me the next day. She is a brilliant cook and an amazing person.

Apart from these, the cooks at my office canteen would make some veggie rolls or spicy fries for me. As a vegetarian, I always received special attention and the cooks got creative in making something out of the menu for me.

If you are a staunch vegetarian and would not like to experiment, then there is always a all vegetarian soup!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Manitou Incline - Round 3

Hiking Manitou incline has become a ritual for me while visiting Colorado Springs. During my last visit, I hiked the incline twice. The first time it took me 1h30m and the second time it was 1h15m. I wanted to do it faster this time. (My previous Experiences - Round 1 and  Round 2 )

It was a beautiful day on the 4th of March, almost 19 deg. Lot of people, had gathered to do this most challenging trek in the city. I had a bit of confusion with news about parking. Many websites mentioned that the parking price had been increased from $10 to $20. A free parking facility and shuttle service was available from Manitou town. While I reached there, I found out that the $10 parking still exists at the base of incline but Barr trail parking lot is $20 now. I did not know the shuttle timing so, I chose to park for a price. You could also park somewhere in town and walk, as a bit more of walking would not harm you anyways.

It is always an interesting sight at the incline. There are these regulars who run up and down the steps several times, there are the first timers cribbing about why they even thought of this idea and in between them are people like me who are slow and steady but committed to complete it in their own pace.  Many underestimate the hike but this one is a real tough one. The inclination is 60 deg at times. In a mile it reaches a height of 2000 ft.

I was slow and steady and I never made any long stops. My continuous walk got me to the summit in 1h 05m. After two years from the previous trek, this was a great achievement for me. I felt motivated.

I spent some time at the summit and took the steps down till midway and then switched to Barr trail for a change in view. I had small conversations with people trekking up. Some where camping at pikes peak and some taking short treks on the trail. 

I returned to the hotel after that exhilarating experience, ready to pack my bags and head back home next morning. Snehil and I met for dinner at BJ’s and then I returned to the hotel and retired for the day. Thanks to the hike, the last day at springs was very satisfying and I was all ready to return home.

Trek Video -

Friday, March 10, 2017

Cripple Creek

After our visit to the Cheyenne mountain zoo, we drove to Cripple creek, a small mining town that is now famous for its casinos. Well, do not expect a Las Vegas here. I had visited this town once, a long time ago, in 2005. But, we had then driven here during night. 

The drive was excellent. We stopped at the visitor centre uphill and took some time to go through their interesting exhibits. It was informative as I learnt about the painful story of the brave Native American groups who fought the Europeans to save their land but eventually lost. In the 1800’s Gold mining followed and towns were built. The town architecture is very impressive though.

It was also interesting to know that the native Americans called the pikes peak as the Sun mountain. In New Zealand, we are often presented the point of view of the natives and how they called and looked at the country before the Britishers arrived. But, it occurs to me now that the Native American history has been relatively less prominent in the US. Even in these experts found in museum every explanation points out towards how the native tribes were fighting with one another all the time. That probably was the case but that surely does not justify the invasion by the Europeans. 

The casinos were rather dull and filled with old people. We walked into one to observe for a while.  Finding nothing else to do, we had tea at a local café before heading back.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

On Sunday, the 26th of Feb, Sharath KC and I visited the Cheyenne mountain zoo. I had never visited this place before. It is a very impressive facility. A fairly small zoo built around the Cheyenne mountain that is also famous for its underground nuclear bunker and NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence command).

I particularly liked the cute little Meerkats, the Gorillas and the Orangutans. We watched the penguins being fed and the care taker told us that they were from the South African region and that they worked in pairs. She had named all of them and would identify them based on the band colour and the spots on their chest. She also told us that she would get to travel to South Africa some time later this year. 

The Gorilla Goma was very bored and he sat in his cage turning his back to the visitors but occasionally giving a curious turn to see who was watching. The look on his face was very complex; that of a human behind bars. I felt sorry for almost every animal but more for the Gorillas who so closely resembled us and perhaps are more superior to us because they do not speak and complicate things like we humans do. 

The reptile exhibits were impressive with very beautiful settings to match with their body colour and texture. 

At the Mexican grey wolf cage, the observer/care taker was studying the animals. It was their breeding season and she informed that the babies would eventually be released into the wild in New Mexico and Arizona region. That was comforting but most importantly reassuring  to know.

A Black-billed magpie, outside the cage sang in different tones. She did not have one particular tune, she sang with variation and it was amazing. The sad eagles with broken wings, watched her escape into the blue skies. 

We drove up the mountain to visit actor Will Roger’s shrine. It is an impressive castle like structure with great interiors. The location offers some great views of the city of Colorado Springs and the surrounding mountains.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

St Elmo Ghost Town

From Twin lakes, we drove to St Elmo Ghost town.  The town was founded in 1880 during the boom in silver and gold mining in the area. The town saw its decline in the 1920s. A town with a town hall, post office, houses and hotels without people is now identified as a heritage site. The place was completely decked in snow and many visitors enjoyed skiing around the area. The unpaved approach road was filled with snow and we had to be really careful driving there. 

On our way back, I desired to have some tea in a small town. We stopped at Hartsel, a quiet little town. The bar/café we entered had a very mid western setting. Farmers with cow boy hats had settled in after the days work drinking beer and socialising. A young couple played pool and kid was playing on what seemed like a very old video game in the corner. I loved the setting as it reminded me of the western classics I had watched. 

We had tea and some onion pakoda (rings) and observed all that was going on there before heading back to Springs.