We decided to give Denver itself a miss (having spent a couple of days there and exhausted myself in the magnificent Denver Art Museum) and head straight to Boulder, where we spent our first two nights - I thought it would be a good place to recover from jet-lag (and try out a few of the local craft beers, of which there are many).
After a beautiful flight over the peaks of southern Greenland, we landed safely, picked up our rental car and drove up to Boulder - an easy distance after a long flight. We arrived at our Airbnb apartment in a quiet residential street a few blocks back from Pearl Street and then headed into town to find the Mountain Sun pub (supposed to be "English-style pub" but not sure they've actually been to an English pub before, as it didn't bear much resemblance to one). The waiter offered free fries (they'd cooked too many) - husband was shocked to be offered something for free. "No is an okay answer!" said the man as he wandered off to find a good home for the fries. We tried a couple of beers (thankfully they did halves), ate massive burritos and felt utterly stuffed (had forgotten about US portion sizes...). Needless to say, we couldn't finish the burritos, so good thing we turned down the free chips too. We were soon completely exhausted and couldn't drink any more - alcohol has a greater impact at altitude (Boulder is at 5,430 ft or 1,655 m above sea-level); it was also the equivalent of 6 am by the time we left the pub.
The following morning we headed to Snooze, a buzzing brunch place, where we put our names down on a waiting list, headed to a different cafe (the Laughing Goat) for a quick coffee, watched a few hippies and hipsters adorned with varying combinations of dreadlocks, tattoos, hiking clothes and tie-dye pass by ("Hey Phoenix, how's it going? Wanna go hiking this afternoon?"), before getting the text to tell us that our table was nearly ready - nice system, which even worked with my UK phone. After more enormous portions - we shared a massive plate of blueberry pancakes and huevos rancheros - we headed off on our first hike, hoping to get fit, acclimatised, stave off the jet-lag and of course enjoy some nice views.
The walk through town to the trail-head was pleasant and easy enough - mainly in the shade, past traditional old houses, up a slight hill, but once we hit the trail things changed. After walking across the open meadow up a gradual incline, I felt terrible and had to stop every 20 metres or so to rest. Others on the trail were also suffering, so I didn't feel too unfit! The combination of the sun beating down on us (it was about 26 degrees, 1 pm and I didn't have a hat), over-full stomachs, the altitude and the jet-lag, left us feeling exhausted and sick (I also realised that the biggest hill I ever climb in London is about a 10 foot incline, so a thousand foot hill was a little more than I'm used to). It got a bit better as we headed uphill and out of the direct sun, but it took a lot longer than expected. I'd hiked to the Royal Arch on my previous visit and didn't remember feeling affected by the altitude at all. The pancakes and eggs sitting heavily in our stomachs and the scorching sun clearly didn't help.
The Royal Arch trail was closed for repairs this time, so we headed towards Flatirons 1 and 2, taking a series of switchbacks to the side of a massive boulder scree slope, and eventually we reached the ridge between the two peaks. Hawks circled around in the thermals above us, occasionally landing on treetops and rocks close by. We chatted to other hikers, all of us enjoying the glorious views; the place was teeming with locals and tourists alike. We headed on a path behind the saddle that led round the back of Flatiron 1 where the views spread to the west, to the higher mountains in the distance - although they didn't look that high without a covering of snow (a couple of days too early for that).
After enjoying the views (and taking a few photos, of course) we walked down to the slightly thicker air. We hadn't taken much water with us, so were grateful for water fountains at the public toilets in the Chautauqua park at the trail-head. We then wandered through the university area back to town and tried another craft beer bar, the West Flanders Brewing Company, for a little sundowner and a spot of people-watching, something Boulder's a great place for.
In the evening we went to another brewery/restaurant - Shine - which was run by three sisters, who were sitting on the next table, and also had pictures of themselves everywhere, which seemed a little narcissistic. We'd planned to go to the Avery Brewery, but it was a bit out of town and we didn't have the energy to figure out how to order a cab, so decided to save it for the night before we flew home when we'd return to Boulder in the hope of catching up with old friends who couldn't make it this time. The jet-lag soon got the better of us and we headed home down the dark streets (they don't go in for streetlights away from the main drag, it seems) for an early night. As we got back to the apartment a party was in full swing next door, but fortunately we were in the basement on the other side of the building, so it wasn't noisy. As we nodded off the smell of marijuana wafted through the place from our upstairs neighbours - an apt welcome to Colorado, we thought, given that it's just been legalised. Oddly, though, this was the only time we smelt the distinctive smell during the trip (the other times we thought we smelt it were when we drove past dead skunks in the road).
Next stop: Rocky Mountain National Park