Well, that about sums it up!
Allow me to back up a bit. I really enjoyed “Old Town” Albuquerque as well. You see, I’ve been “hanging around” ABQ for a couple weeks now for work and have thoroughly enjoyed the people, the food and the climate. However, I’ve been residing and working on the side of town that is urban sprawl – and frankly strip malls look pretty darn similar from one state to the next. I had heard about Old Town and knew that this pristine, yet somewhat ancient location (well maybe not ancient, but over 300 hundred years old) was the place to visit in Albuquerque. Since my husband was coming into town to meet me “on the road”, I decided to make it a virginal trip for the both of us. The tiny, neighborly streets, home to hundreds of galleries, jewelery shops and restaurants started off quiet but all led to the Plaza, the focal point of the area. Since we only had about 4 hours to visit, we skipped the galleries in favor of the Folk art shops, the ones where old pieces of worn out tin and roadside wood were shaped into beautiful pieces of art, ornaments and other trinkets, pottery was painted in rich, ornate patterns of bright yellow and blue, and every type of artistic interpretation of the cross you could ever imagine (even I not being religious was very drawn to these beautiful Christian artifacts) adorned the walls. I was in my glory and it took an incredible amount of restraint not to open up my wallet to the shop owner.
We stopped at a smaller side plaza to enjoy a live concert of traditional Mexican music complete with women in the large, swishy, colorful dresses dancing in unison to the music. After some time, we made our way to the St. Clair Winery and Bistro. We had read about this locals favorite in our Fodor’s travel guide and enjoyed local wine, cheeses, chocolates and crostinis. It was a loud, lively joint but understandably so. This was the first decidedly “Americanized” meal we’d had as we enjoyed authentic chorizo burritos for breakfast, Persian fare for lunch and New Mexican the previous night. Back to our hotel we went with full bellies and lighter wallets.
This morning, we got on the road at 10am, made our way up to Santa Fe 50 miles away and was greeted by a dual Farmers Market/Artist Market when we first got into town. I just love Farmers Market and always try to support them when I can. I have always espoused that the Boulder Farmers Market couldn’t be beat, but it had finally met its match. This was the ultimate Farmers Market – with outdoor, tented vendors and an indoor Tue.-Sat. market. It was gorgeous, it was lively, it had everything from produce to goats cheese to handmade scarves to fresh floral bouquets and everything in between. It was a cornucopia for the sights…the colors vibrant, the smells of fresh herbs lingering in the air, the street musicians swaying the crowds. Speaking of which, it was downright crowded, but I was in hog heaven and fortunate that the vendors allowed me to capture their produce with my camera (see my site www.greenearthimages.com for more views of the farmers market - click on ”around town” – pages 3 and 4).
From here we drove to the Plaza, also the hub of activity for Santa Fe. This place reminded me of the hippiness of Boulder, the art culture of Vail and the pedestrian friendly layout of San Gimignano in Tuscany – all without any pretentiousness! We admired the galleries from afar as we wanted to cover as much ground as possible with our limited time to tour and instead walked ’round and ’round, all streets leading us back to the Plaza, a wide open park perfect respite for sitting back and resting our weary feet. The mix of Native Americans dressed in traditional wear, Hispanic locals and white foreign tourists made for fun people watching. The sky was without a cloud in sight, but unlike the stifling heat and constant sweating we dealt with in Old Town the previous day, the weather was idyllic: sunny (but not hot) and breezy. For lunch, we checked out a couple of very crowded restaurants but happily settled with the street vendors adorning the park. These weren’t just hot dog vendors, but vendors that offered fresh, local fare such as fajitas, chili rellenos, grilled corn on the cob, fresh squeezed lemonade - all right there and at very reasonable prices! Yes, this was delightful.
Ice cream soon followed and we made our way to the beautiful St. Francis cathedral where we admired the adobe structure, beautiful sculptures and labyrinth. I had never walked a labyrinth but was always curious to do so. These directed mazes on the ground are said to be metaphors for life’s spiritual journey and are used as a tool for meditation and prayer. Though my dizzying efforts did not enlighten me in any conscious way, I still enjoyed the peaceful walk and delighted in the completion of the maze (guess I was missing the whole point of the “journey”). David and I spent the rest of the afternoon daydreaming about moving to Santa Fe, something we do every time we visit an enchanting locale.
For dinner, we referred to our trusty Fodor’s guide and went off the beaten path to a small, somewhat hidden restaurant favored by locals for its good, authentic New Mexican cuisine. In case you’re wondering what the difference is between Mexican and New Mexican, I can pretty much sum it up in two words: green chile. Seriously, green chili is everywhere and on everything and there’s a reason – it’s local to this state (think Hatch chili – Hatch, New Mexico) and it tastes fantastic! I am, admittedly, a wimp on the spicy factor. My french Canadian/New England roots mean I grew up with meat and potatoes and the hottest thing I ever had was mild salsa in a jar, or worse yet, Taco Bell taco seasoning! It wasn’t until I moved out to Colorado that I really explored spicy food and my palate, though certainly more developed, hasn’t quite acclimated to the chili peppers of the Southwest. The locals version of mild is equivalent to ”ass-burning” hot in my book! But I tell you, I will go through pain to enjoy the flavor of green chilis. I just make sure I keep plenty napkins nearby for my draining sinuses and plain tortillas chips to round out the residual chili oils coating my mouth. I read in our travel guide that this restaurant, La Choza, had a peculiar soup on the menu but worth trying: green chili clam chowder. I’m not kidding. I wrinkled my brow trying to understand why anyone would mix the two, but the New Englander in me who grew up on clam chowder had her interest piqued and let me tell you, it was fantastic! It was a traditional white clam chowder (not hotel-restaurant-thick, but true chowder in all its milky brothiness), with a hint of heat and the smoky, complex flavors of the green chilis. Wish I had ordered a bowl.
Instead of pushing it and trying to trek some more, we decided to head back to our hotel so we could unwind, get a good night of sleep and plan to get up early to enjoy a hearty breakfast and a walk along Canyon Road, another hub of artistic activity. Though David will only be with me until tomorrow afternoon when he flies out I am much luckier in that I’ll be here for another full week, so perhaps I’m just getting started!