After its day off in Santa Fe, we were easing the car back into action today with the short journey, just 61 miles, to our next overnight stop, Albuquerque. Although it was likely to take little over an hour to get there, we resolved to make the most of New Mexico’s largest city and arrive early enough to get some serious sightseeing in.
Leaving Santa Fe shortly after 10am on an initially hazy morning and 72 degrees already on the temperature gauge, we quickly found the I-25 that would take us direct to Albuquerque. Adobe houses nestled beneath low lying mountains as we passed the southern suburbs, and a small plane came into land at Santa Fe Municipal Airport.
The Spanish / Mexican heritage of the area was reinforced in the names of the principal towns on the route – La Cienega, Santo Domingo Pueblo, Algodones, Bernallio, Corrales and Rio Rancho. Another native american casino gleamed by the roadside in San Felipe Pueblo but we resisted its undoubted allure on this occasion.
After an hour the metropolis of Albuquerque loomed, the first sight we had had of what one could call a city since we had left Las Vegas almost a fortnight before. Indeed, our hotel, the Hilton by Doubletree in downtown, was a far cry from the motels and generally low rise hotels we had become accustomed to. It even had a lift – well, actually, four! And, in one sense, I cannot deny that it was a relief to know that we were staying in a “real” hotel for a change.
We were permitted by the extremely welcoming reception staff to check in straightaway, and left our luggage in the spacious, well furnished room before venturing out into the warm sunshine.
With only a few hours to play with, we had to make a choice between the modern city and the Old Town. This was no contest and we set off walking the two miles along Central Avenue, the old Route 66, in the direction of the latter.
Old Town has been the focal point of community life in Albuquerque since 1706. The layout follows the traditional Spanish pattern of a central plaza and church, surrounded by homes and businesses. Many of the historic homes are still standing, though some have been converted into shops, galleries and restaurants to meet the burgeoning tourist demand.
In need of refreshment after our walk in the heat, we had a light lunch in the Be Be café in a delightful arcade leading off from San Felipe Street, one of the main thoroughfares.
Most people who have at least heard of Albuquerque will associate it with the annual International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s premier balloon event, held at the beginning of October. Although we were a few days too early, we had hoped to see some “rehearsals” for the weekend, but despite the clear, calm weather, there was no sign. Oh well, something else to build into the itinerary for the next visit.
Old Town boasts more than 150 attractive antique shops, trading posts, galleries and museums selling unique gifts not only from the southwest but also around the world. More relaxed and peaceful than Santa Fe, walking around the streets, arcades and pretty cul de sacs was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.
A bonus for Janet was coming across her other favourite man in one of the western-style stores. He insisted on us having our photo taken together. I would, of course, not presume to suggest which of us looks best in it.
Aside from the main plaza, there are several other colourful, flower-filled squares, overlooked by balconies and arcades. Fountains, wrought iron benches upon which to take a siesta if you wish and live music complete a delightful scene.
The lovely San Felipe de Neri church presides over the north side of the main plaza.
After around four hours we headed back to the hotel, a more strenuous hike in the hot late afternoon sun, especially as we had virtually walked ourselves to a standstill already.
We decided to eat in the elegant hotel restaurant, La Oja. However, on arriving at 9pm we found ourselves its only patrons! Whilst that might sometimes be a bad sign, this was not the case, and not only because we did not have to wait long for our meal!
I ordered rib eye steak for probably the first time in my life, accompanied by blue cheese dauphinoise potatoes, asparagus and carrots, and it was divine. I have it from a reliable source that Janet’s pork chop was equally scrumptious. We were so glad we had included the Colorado and New Mexico legs of the tour in our itinerary – the food alone had been outstanding!
We now had three days driving Route 66 and a day in the Grand Canyon ahead of us before we returned to Vegas – for a rest!