The first time’s a charm in Aspen |

The first time’s a charm in Aspen

Niki Smart
Special to The Aspen Times

I usually write for a local paper in Laguna Beach, Calif. (my hometown), but recently I got to experience Aspen for the first time, and naturally, I want to write about it. I have a friend who lives here year-round, and she’s been asking me to visit for three years. Finally I hopped in my old jalopy, drove for two days through scenic splendor and obliged her with a visit.

I arrived early Friday night amid a downpour of rain. No problem. My friend and I hopped in the jacuzzi and swam in the large heated pool.

“I’m swimming in the rain, just swimming in the rain” was all I could think.

Come Saturday, we strolled into downtown to enjoy the Aspen Saturday Market. Here we bought tasty peaches, petted several dogs and said hello to half of Aspen.

As we meandered through town, my friend bumped into someone she knew who gave us two VIP tickets for the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival for that afternoon. Hallelujah!

A delicious latte at Paradise Bakery quickly taught me that Aspen is not cheap, and the stinging cost of my coffee drink soon dispersed with the beauty that is Aspen. With mountains galore, rivers everywhere and flowers in abundance, Aspen is breathtaking. Plus $9.75 for two coffees followed by two free VIP tickets (value $800 plus free parking) — I think I like Aspen.

Off we ventured to the concert, where our VIP tickets bequeathed us a table near the stage plus the right to consume as much food and drink as we could handle, and I think we handled quite a bit. We feasted on delectable appetizers as we watched the opening act, Little Big Town, a high-energy group that pumped up the crowd. My wise friend suddenly realized that our tickets further granted us access to the stage, and giddy with excitement, we stood in the wings waiting for Train to appear. The band’s opening number “Calling all Angels” covered me in goosebumps and plastered a wide grin to my face. I was in heaven. Because of a work engagement, my friend left me to enjoy the next act, Keith Urban, by myself. And enjoy him I did, even with rain pouring down. What a treat! With the concert over, I was led to the bus by a charming stranger and quickly joined the other passengers in singing Neil Diamond songs all the way home. Day One in Aspen was off the charts — fantastic!

Day Two meant an early start to help my friend with her business. Her drive to work had spectacular views in every direction, and I can see why she lives here. After five hours of work, we headed back to the jacuzzi to soak our weary selves — that’s right, because we can.

Day Three, Labor Day, we grabbed bicycles and breezed past the Aspen Art Museum, the John Denver Sanctuary, the Aspen Institute and the Holden/Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum, all of which are absolutely worth seeing (and the bike paths are fantabulous). We then cycled back to town and watched the finals of the Mother Lode Volleyball Classic in Koch Lumber Park — an exciting match indeed.

Another dip in the swimming pool plus more luxury jacuzzi time, then off to the J-Bar for dinner. We were hoping to partake in their trivia evening, but apparently we had the wrong day. Not a problem: We downloaded the “Heads Up” app and had fun playing that — I highly recommend this app (and it is free)

Day Four started with a trip to the post office that almost had me in tears. An unfriendly, bearded postal worker barked at me when I tried to mail a package for my friend (because I didn’t know its contents) and then wouldn’t give me any tape to seal my own package. I stood aside, phoned my friend to discover the mystery contents (facial products) and then approached a second, friendlier-looking man, who immediately offered me tape and mailed off everything without a problem. Thank you, non-bearded worker, for being nice. It makes the day so much more enjoyable.

Peaches was my next stop to enjoy another pricey, delicious latte. With the free WiFi, I got caught up on emails and then headed to a yoga class at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, where you do yoga on platforms overlooking Hallam Lake. Try it. You’ll like it.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Day Five came along, starting with a drive out to Maroon Bells. Jiminy Cricket: I’ve never seen anything so beautiful! A hundred photos couldn’t capture the magnificence of the area.

Last but not least was a trip up Aspen Mountain in the gondola for an afternoon blend of community, networking, presentations, food and cocktails, organized by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and Aspen Skiing Co. A glorious setting and a progressive presentation. Well done, Aspen — I’m impressed.

So, to finish up, here is a sampling of my thoughts as a first timer in Aspen:

Wow, Aspen is beautiful.

Good Lord, this place is expensive.

Man, there are a lot of good-looking people here.

Holy moly, what’s with all the dogs?

It’s hot, no wait, it’s raining, ah hang on — yup … it’s hot again.

Thank you, thank you, generous lady for giving us those VIP passes.

Thank you for nothing, nasty bearded postal worker.

Jeez, some incredibly rich people own homes here.

These bike paths are fantastic!

Main Street Bakery, I love you. Peach’s, I love you. Justice Snow’s, I love you.

Patrick Monahan (lead singer of Train), I really love you.

The emergency vehicles here are fully groovy.

Ahhhh! This river water is freezing.

Crap, I hope this gondola doesn’t snap off.

Look at that view!

Wow, Aspen is beautiful.

Niki Smart lives in Laguna Beach, Calif., where she works at a crisis intervention shelter for teenagers, teaches yoga and writes for StuNewsLaguna. Smart has also written a memoir titled “Hell Camp” that won 2x eLit Awards earlier this year.

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