10 Questions For (19): James Van Dellen of Future Gringo

Happy to present a young Travel Blogger this time, and yes he has a Dutch connection like the previous two persons featured here in the 10 Questions For: series.


Here you see James on a windy dike in Friesland, a Dutch province

1) Who are you?
My name is James Van Dellen, and I write Future Gringo, a travel and Colorado blog. I grew up in Michigan and relocated to Denver in my early 20s. I spent a few years in Los Angeles, and then returned to Colorado in 2001. I’m proud to call Denver my home. The city has a vibrant urban core, a great mix of people, and nearby recreational opportunities which are the envy of the world. Many of Denver’s distinct neighborhoods have a true small town feel. My partner and I own a home in Congress Park, an older neighborhood just east of downtown.

As much as I love Colorado I love traveling as well. I’ve traveled extensively around the west visiting big cities as well as the wilderness, deserts, and mountains between California and Colorado. A few years ago I decided to expand my horizons internationally. I set a goal in 2004 to travel abroad twice a year: once in the spring and once in the fall. So far I’ve been fulfilling that goal and have visited Europe twice, South America, lesser traveled parts of Mexico, and some new regions of the U.S I haven’t seen.

2) What do you like about what you do?

I work for a large media company doing commercial scheduling and production, and free lance audio production and copy writing. I’ve been with my company for eight years and am fortunate to have coworkers who appreciate my love of travel. We’ve engineered our office so that we all share responsibilities, thus making it easy for one to take time off with ease.

Through my company I’ve been involved in some great causes. For two years I’ve captained the MS150 bike tour for Multiple Scleroris and look forward to another fun ride in 2009. A coworker of mine runs a charity providing wheelchairs and medical supplies to disabled Afghan children. I recently created and began administering her website and am happy I can help expand the presence of this cause.

3) What don’t you like about what you do?

If I take a sabbatical to travel for an extended period of time I’ll be required to dive into the logistics of independent health insurance. I’m a very healthy type 1 diabetic, however inexpensive access to supplies is a must and requires decent health coverage. When I discuss this topic with friends abroad they’re absolutely baffled that good health care is so closely linked to your employment status. Frankly this baffles me too.

4) Please tell us all about your blog and your aims with it

I chose the moniker “Future Gringo” because it represents my long term goal of spending time abroad, plus my ongoing journey of visiting small corners of the world. I’m certainly not as well traveled as some others, but I’ve been able to see new places regularly throughout the recent months and years, and give insight about cities and countries I have been too. In addition to documenting my geographic explorations, my site details how to make travel a priority in life including budgeting, selecting destinations based on current prices and exchanges, and the research and preparation of travel. The idea of “going where it’s cheap,” allows one to travel frequently and on a regular basis, rather than a sole once in a lifetime journey.

Rather than focus on long narratives I prefer to share special or unique places I visit. There are plenty of itineraries and to-do lists for major cities, however a coffee shop, bookstore, underground club, interesting restaurant, or ongoing art exhibit might be off the radar yet appealing to some.
Down the road I would like to live abroad and divide my time between Colorado and a foreign city. I enjoy reading expat sites and journals of those living abroad who document the experiences of daily life and the occasional challenges that come with it.

A large portion of my site is devoted to sharing views and information on my home state of Colorado. I write about restaurants, events, and give insider tips on skiing, camping, and various activities and adventures around the west. This hopefully provides a helpful resource for those visiting Denver and Colorado. In between articles on travel and Colorado I comment on news and local issues. I’m also a big advocate of utility cycling and promote biking as a method of transportation in your own town and when traveling.

5) Your top 3 destination experiences you’ve ever stayed to date and why?

Buenos Aires, Argentina. Perhaps due of its distant southern hemisphere location, or the exotic nature of the city and people, the most memorable and remarkable place I’ve visited has been Buenos Aires, Argentina. Before flying south I received an invite from Laura who runs “The English Group,” a group of locals that meet weekly at a coffee shop to practice and speak in English. They welcome visitors, and one Friday evening I had a very memorable and engaging evening discussing life, culture, and travel with several Buenos Aires locals. This was during the 2005 provincial elections, so I got a first hand look into how passionate and active Portenos are in politics. Having studied Argentina’s chaotic political history I was thrilled to witness the activism and street demonstrations from young and old alike. During my stay I also traveled across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay and partook in an enjoyable pastime of exploring the quiet countryside by bike.

Seward, Alaska. A few years back I traveled up to Alaska during the off season month of February. From Anchorage I road tripped it up to Talkeetna then down to Seward in the Kenai Peninsula – while getting some skiing in at Girdwood too. Being winter I found almost zero tourists, as opposed to the high season when cruise ships dock and unload many masses. Visiting during the “dead season” was a positive. People were surprised to see me and very talkative. I was invited to a VFW taco night fundraiser, shared a table with some locals at a culinary school’s open house dinner, and listened and learned more about locals’ opinions on Alaska issues.
The most memorable event was one afternoon on a sparsely filled boat in Resurrection Bay. Returning to the harbor I walked out to the bow of the small ship and just stood there for a half hour simply staring at the incredible beauty of the glaciers and surrounding mountains. Feeling the biting wind on my face, while gazing at the surrounding glaciers and mountains was absolutely spectacular. For many people personal reflection and appreciation of the world comes when alone. For me that’s been camping in remote parts of Wyoming, or pondering the difficult lives of the Anasazi Indians atop a cliff overlooking Mesa Verde. However I’ve been moved and inspired even while surrounded by people, such as taking in small Czech villages from a crowded train while clipping through the hills, or in this case being awestruck at the beauty of the northern white landscape. It could have been a simple boat ride, but for some internal reason I found it remarkable.

National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis. The Lorraine Motel, where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was slain, was purchased by King’s family and in 1991 became a full museum. I had expected a few rooms of artifacts and a view of the motel room, but I was astounded at the depth and size of the complex. The entire movement from the 1950s and 60s to present is chronicled, and includes extremely detailed histories on many notable figures and events. It was amazing to see the gathering of people and ideas from all regions of the south and the coming together to create economic boycotts organized marches and peaceful protests. From the sit-ins and freedom marches to the gut wrenching resistance by the opposition and even local governments and religious groups, I found it overwhelming to see up close. The museum’s culmination displays artifacts and stories of the march in Washington D.C., and ends at room 306 where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It was a moving experience following the timeline of the people, events, and politics of the southern states. The documents and exhibits portray a vivid chapter in our recent history.

I can say without doubt that this is by far one of the most powerful places I’ve visited in the United States. Certain places have an unforgettable presence to them. For me most of these places have consisted of the natural world; however I entered the simple looking Lorraine Motel expecting a brief tour, and found myself transported to the stormy era of segregation and the civil rights movement. Being a white boy from Michigan the extent of my Civil Rights Movement education was, “Rosa Parks refused to budge on a bus and now African Americans have equal rights.” The collection and comprehensiveness of this place was overwhelming. No trip to Memphis would be complete without immersing yourself here – and I would insist that any visitor to the south, U.S. citizen or foreign, allot time for this experience.

6) Your top 3 accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why

Prior to traveling I always spend time beforehand reading reviews and scouting out places to stay. Many articles on my site are devoted to showing the ease of finding well run independent establishments, which compliment your stay by providing a unique and personal experience. While a fancy bed and breakfast is beyond my needs, I find that guest houses and small hotels tend to offer a personal touch. Most serve a breakfast and have social areas where you can meet the staff and chat with fellow travelers. Nicer hostels also offer this same environment, and unlike stereotypical dorm style hostels many offer private rooms and nice amenities.

In the fall of 2006 I visited the Burgundy Bed and Breakfast in New Orleans during a road trip around the south. Located in the Faubourg Marigny district, this quiet community is just east of the French Quarter and populated with beautiful old shotgun houses, small coffee shops, bars and markets. Carl, the owner, gave us a first hand account into the city’s struggles over the past year following Hurricane Katrina. Residents of New Orleans have a true love and pride in their city, which is shown throughout the Faubourg neighborhood.

Pension u Kaplièky, Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic. We stayed in this popular town on the Czech / Austrian border as a base to spend a few days while exploring the area by bike. After arriving via train from Prague we started knocking on pension doors looking for a place to stay, and found this establishment in an old church. The proprietors, a friendly middle age couple, spoke only Czech and German, but we managed to converse and figure out the rate. The highlight of our stay came daily at 8am, when a cart of fresh breakfast was delivered to our door: Croissants, scrambled eggs, crepes, tea, juice, pancakes with powdered sugar, pastries, and fresh fruit. That homemade breakfast was the most memorable meal of the trip – including the meaty dishes and fine beers in Prague.

The Luz en Yucatan, Mérida, Mexico. I love the colonial architecture and culture of Merida. The arches seen throughout the city and thick limestone walls are a reminder of the centuries they’ve been standing there. I haven’t seen this style anywhere in Mexico; small towns don’t have grand architecture save for the town church, and in Mexico City the buildings are a hodgepodge of different styles. Merida is clean, classy, and like Mexico the people are welcoming and friendly. Located a few blocks from the Zocalo, (town plaza,) the Luz is located on a quiet street next to an old church. Inside the Luz is a stately dining room and hall leading to a lush tropical courtyard. Spacious guest rooms and suites are tucked into three floors overlooking the pool, while flowers and banana trees rise to the roof. The staff is friendly, and you can see by their humorous website that they’re good natured people who go out of their way to please. Their website also offers a “sliding payment” scale – allowing you to select a payment you feel best suits your budget. By offering their guests a variety of economic options, which results in a nice variety of guests too.

james-at-the-beer-festival-in-munich
James and Caleb in the Augustiner Beer Garden in Munich, Germany

7) Your top 3 most memorable food experiences to date and why?

Te Mataré Ramirez, Buenos Aires. Spanish for “I will kill you, Ramirez,” I saw this restaurant in a local to-do magazine – it was advertised as an erotic themed restaurant, (whatever that meant.) Upon arrival it was more classy and refined than expected, and not the least bit cheesy or tacky. Although we were the second people to arrive the restaurant soon filled up and I was surprised no one left. People take their time with meals, and don’t rush through their dinners. The tables were filled with mostly couples, but some small groups of friends congregated at tables too. We had a magnificent meal of chicken, asparagus, and a chocolate dessert. Then came the weird part: We had been there about two and a half hours and were ready to head out, but we realized no one else was leaving! We weren’t sure if a show of some sort was going to start, so we got up to leave and our waitress rushed over to make sure everything was ok. We explained we had some plans for the night and it certainly wasn’t our perfect meal and mellow ambiance causing us to leave. I found out later that later in the night black clothed actors perform risqué puppet shows – a blend of racy art and comedy. This will definitely be on the list for a return trip.

Augustiner Beer Garden, Munich. A friend set us up with a couple she knew in Munich. They were kind enough to take us to the Augustiner Beer Garden on a beautiful May evening. A true authentic place in the heart of the city. The Bavarian beer gardens came about as brewers would store the kegs in the shade of the trees in these big lawns. Most locals prepare their own food to eat with the German beers. Our friends, (who live quite close,) prepared salads, potatoes, turkey, and desserts to enjoy with the German beer and pretzels. We were amazed watching the petite girls carried four heavy steins in each hand out to the tables.

Albatross Seafoodhouse, Amsterdam. While in Amsterdam earlier this year my sister and niece flew out to join me for the last week of my stay. My beautiful niece Lili was 15 months old, thus giving me an immersion on traveling with kids. It was well worth it in order to spend time with the newest member of my family, and gave me newfound respect for my sister and others who handle the challenges of parenting.

Our days were spent biking around the city and taking in the old canals and fairy tale like buildings. In the evening we would visit the local market and cook dinner in the apartment we rented. I insisted my sister and I treat ourselves to a nice dinner out, so we walked a few block over to Albatross Seafoodhouse, which I had been eyeing since arrival in the Jordaan neighborhood. A large aquarium greets you as you walk in – providing some underwater eye candy and atmosphere. We started with an order of Dutch oysters served with warm bread, and we order two dishes for the two of us: prawns with coconut curry sauce and the sea bass with ginger and sesame. The owner of the establishment visited our table a few times through the night – and of course we received many smiles due to the cutest, (and sleepiest,) member of the table. We chatted with a very nice gentleman from New Orleans, who was traveling to Amsterdam after finalizing his divorce. I supposed if you get divorced in Des Moines you travel to New Orleans for fun and frivolity, however if New Orleans is your home the logical trip is to Amsterdam. He was kind enough to send a bottle of wine our way – and of course we wished him the best, and a safe journey.

9) Your 3 worst destination/accommodation- food experiences to date and why?

Mayan Riveria, Yucatan Peninsula. This hotel isn’t filthy, poorly staffed, or mismanaged. It’s simply NOT my type of place. A family member has a time-share membership with the Mayan group, which owns resorts in various Mexican beach cities. During a jaunt around the Yucatan Peninsula we stayed at the Mayan Riveria for a few days, located halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. The Mayan Riveria is the size of four Las Vegas super-casinos and I consider it a scar and monstrosity on the landscape. The walk to the pool is literally about a quarter mile from some rooms. Any place that requires golf carts to shuttle residents around the grounds is just too big for me. Places like this are purposely isolated to they can expand the property, and also keep you fenced in paying top dollar for meals and drinks. In the Mayan’s case the main lobby is located almost a mile from the highway. Meanwhile a few miles up the coast is the hidden town of Puerto Morales. The entire town could easily fit inside the Mayan’s footprint with room to spare. Visit Puerto Morales and you’ll find small guest houses on the beach, and a short walk into town nets a wide variety of restaurants. All of which are far cheaper than the digs at the Mayan.

I’ve also found the term “all inclusive” doesn’t mean “cost effective.” I’ll take a small taco shack and some Pacificos on the beach any day. The isolated nature of such places makes it difficult to reach and explore local restaurants. Staying at a small family run places are far more worthwhile, and the internet makes it a breeze to find such places. It’s a far more rewarding experience. Of course there are many options places in between full service resorts and basic hostels, and some people will always prefer an all inclusive- but my experiences have showed me the value of “thinking small.”


James biking in Colorado

9) Can you offer the readers 3 travel/ food / accommodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?

The Cherry Creek Bike Rack, Denver. As mentioned I support biking advocacy, and biking is a great way to explore Denver. The Cherry Creek Bike Rack is operated by the long standing retailer Campus Cycles in conjunction with a city run program promoting bike commuting. The Bike Rack location, at 2nd and Detroit in Cherry Creek, exists to serve bike commuters by providing valet parking, wash up facilities, snacks, and a comfy place to unwind and park your bike. Being located two blocks from the Cherry Creek trail their rentals are popular with visitors to the area. Because they open at 7am they can facilitate daily bike parking for commuters, or cyclists passing through the area who need early morning service. It’s a great place to rent a bike, and close to trails and pleasant wide bike routed streets. They’re knowledgeable and have maps, bikes, and gear of all types.

Marion’s of the Rockies, Idaho Springs. 12 years ago during my first winter in Denver, some friends took me on my first ever ski day to Winter Park. I wasn’t even familiar with Colorado ski resort geography much less prime breakfast joints. En route we pulled off I-70 at the first Idaho Springs exit and whipped a parking spot at Marion’s. We piled out of the truck, I saw the friendly faces for the first time, and I’ve been going there ever since. On weekends Denverites heading to the high country make up a large percentage of the patrons, but many Idaho Springs locals make regular stops through Marion’s too. Visit on a quieter weekday and you’ll hear plenty of community news and gossip. Casino workers from nearby Black Hawk and Central City call Idaho Springs home and some also make Marion’s a stopping point. When you’re zooming up interstate 70 for a ski weekend, make a stop in Idaho Springs and pay Marion’s and family a visit. I can promise you won’t be disappointed. And you might see me there sipping coffee out of their brown mugs and accidentally pouring too much A1 Sauce on my chicken fried chicken. I believe the Rotary club meets there on Fridays.

The Arkansas River Valley, Colorado. A part of Colorado that’s overlooked by many visitors is the Arkansas River Valley, from Leadville along highways 24 and 285 south to Salida. Most people visiting Colorado in the summer pass through Denver and head west up Interstate 70. This is where the large and well known ski resorts are located, and provide plenty of summer activities too. However the area south of Leadville offers many recreational opportunities, with cheaper lodging, and a more rural setting. An alternative after visiting Breckenridge or neighboring cities in the summer is to travel south on highway 24 through Leadville, and continue south to Buena Vista. The scenic hill climb to Leadville has outstanding views, and past Leadville the highway follows wide valleys and the railroad into the Arkansas River Valley.

Buena Vista is an excellent base for recreational activities. A small town in the center of the valley it makes a perfect location for hiking, rafting, or climbing activities. Several rafting companies can be found along the Arkansas River. Cabins speckle the rivers and creeks, and you’ll find small motels, family restaurants, and outdoor outfitters in the friendly towns of Leadville, Buena Vista, and Salida.

Traveling from Denver it’s a two and a half hour drive down highway 285. After climbing some steep hills into the mountains west of Denver the land opens up in wide fields before arriving in Buena Vista. The land along this stretch is a drastic change from the mansions overlooking the hills along interstate 70. Along 285 past Bailey you’ll still see large parcels of land with a single small home or trailer sitting alone in a vast field with horses occupying the rest of the land. The mostly two lane road passes small local bars, hardware stores, and fishing stores serving the nearby South Platte River. It’s a much more rural and slower feel than speeding through the steep canyons on I-70. Between the majestic 14ers you see wide open spaces, some farmland, and remnants of the 1800s mining boom are still seen along the highways and county roads.

10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?
No. Thanks for reading all about my travel and goals for the future. Please drop by anytime and visit!
James… futuregringo.com

Thank you James. You have a lot to tell to your readers. I believe it comes from your very Dutch habit: biking around the World! You seem to be used to observe a lot of your environment by this slow means of traveling. Excellent! Now you mention it, I have to check out the Albatross in Amsterdam…

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