Hot Air Balloon Rides, Corn Mazes, Farms and Food in Albuquerque

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Welcome to my second day in Albuquerque, my friends, wherein I woke up supremely early to do something that I was in my heart of hearts really hoping I would get to do while I was here — a hot air balloon ride!

I rode with the Rainbow Ryders, and it was everything I had hoped it would be and (so much) more. Despite the fact that I was woefully unprepared for the frigid morning air (wear sweaters and coats and closed-toe shoes and scarves if you’re lucky enough to go on a ride!), the weather warmed up pretty quickly, especially since we were standing right under blasting fire for an hour once we started on our way …

_DSC6871^^ Have I mentioned yet that it’s almost Balloon Fiesta here in Albuquerque, wherein hundreds of thousands of people flock to the city to watch the world’s largest (I can’t back that up, but seems like it should be!) hot air balloon show? Anyway, the field where all of this will take place is where we all go to set up the balloons.

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_DSC6892^^ Ours was the first of our whole group to head into the air. What can I say — we’re overachievers 😉

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_DSC6906^^ These balloons get up to 10,000 feet above sea level …

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After the ride, we toasted with mimosas and muffins back in the Balloon Fiesta field, and they even gave us these cute certificates to take home. It was a truly Albuquerque-ian thing to do, and I’m so glad I got the chance.

After the ride (which starts at 6:15, but the way), I had a little time before my lunch meeting, so I took up one of the suggestions from the Albuquerque Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (who invited me out here, if you’ll remember) and visited Wagner’s Farmland Experience. Even the road out to the farm is picturesque, with little fruit stops and restaurants on the way, and the farm itself had some pretty spectacular views.

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_DSC7045^^ Who doesn’t love a good petting zoo?

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_DSC7054^^ The 2014 corn maze is up at Wagner’s right now and I thought … “What the heck? It can’t be that hard, right?” WRONG. I am seriously directionally challenged, my friends. Lucky for me a group of elementary school kids were tackling the maze and I followed them out of the thing. (Not without lots of confused looks and questions, though.) And a big shout out to my husband for trying to help me find the way out of the maze, from all the way back in Manhattan, using Google maps 🙂 I’m not sure if that’s cool or creepy …

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_DSC7065^^ The end of the maze led you out to a cute little pumpkin patch.

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So, once that adventure was over, it was back into the car to head to lunch at El Pinto, a spectacular New Mexican restaurant with an amazing outdoor garden and eating area (and even more amazing tequila, as I would come to find out).

_DSC7069^^ The house Margherita is anything but ordinary.

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_DSC7085^^ Look at that bar, my friends! They’ve got 160 types of tequila here!

_DSC7089^^ They even bottle personal tequila for patrons who can purchase it at the restaurant and keep it there for any time they come in.

_DSC7095^^ Oh, and by the way, a warehouse in the back makes 25,000 cans of salsa each day to distribute. This is their special version specifically for Balloon Fiesta weekend.

_DSC7097^^ And here was my tequila tasting. All in a day’s work, friends, all in a day’s work.

_DSC7104^^ After lunch I was taken to the back to see the warehouse and the garden, where the restaurant is starting to try to grown some of the foods that they’ll later prepare.

_DSC7110^^ Dessert was the restaurant’s version of a tiramisu, called Levante. It’s made with biscochitos, the traditional New Mexican cookie (they were declared so by the New Mexico Legislature in 1989, and were first introduced to Mexico by Spanish settlers who brought the recipe from Spain). This dessert was every bit as decadent as it looks, my friends.

After lunch I had stops at two breweries. The first was the Red Door Brewing Company, which actually just opened its doors about three weeks ago. Their cider was actually my favorite drink (that and the milk stout), and it actually has the highest alcohol content, as well. (Boy do I know how to pick ’em.) Since it was early when I got there (around 1:30), there weren’t too many other people around yet, but three cyclists came in about 15 minutes before I had to leave, and it was really great talking to them. One of the two men in the group was with the traveling tour of Wicked, which is in town now, and the two others were taking him around on their own, self-made Breaking Bad bike tour(Ummm, here’s where I admit that I’ve never watched the show. Sorry Albuquerque! Before I come back I promise to give it a go!)

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After Red Door I moved on to a brewery staple here in Albuquerque — Marble Brewery. This place had a nice patio outside where they bring live performers, too.

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While I’d love to say that I kept going strong after Marble Brewery, the truth is, friends, that this gal needed a little nap. Unfortunately that means that I’ll probably not get to make it out to the Nob Hill area of the city, which is disappointing. But I still have one more fun activity planned for tomorrow, so that leaves me with a bit of something to look forward to after what can only be described as an amazing, entertaining trip.

Dinner Wednesday night, by the way, was at Mas, the tapas restaurant right inside my hotel, and I was given a tour of the hotel as well, which turned out to be especially important since apparently I was seriously missing out on so many amazing facts about this place.

But let’s start with dinner. Hot gouda apple bake w/ crostini, patatas bravas (crispy fried potatoes w/spicy mayo), bruschetta de la boca (toasted bread w/ mushroom-manchego cream, fried egg & truffle oil) and grilled artichokes w/spanish goat cheese, orange zest and mint.

And those were our appetizers.

Dinner for me was the classic veggie paella – and absolutely everything was to. die. for.

And now a bit more about this amazing hotel. The hotel has been around since 1939, when Conrad Hilton completed it as his first New Mexican hotel for $700,000. At the time, it was the tallest building in New Mexico, and the first in all of New Mexico to have air conditioning.

In 1984 the building was placed on the National register of Historic Places, and after being purchased a few additional times, it was finally sold to Gary Goodman in 2005 and promptly shut down for four years for $30 million-worth of renovations. Despite the renovations, though, a lot of the original existing structure runs throughout the hotel, still.

_DSC7121^^ While Goodman originally envisioned this room directly across from the restaurant to be open as a sort of nightclub to the general public, he quickly realized that the general public didn’t necessarily mesh well with the upscale clientele staying at the hotel, and so now only private, ticketed events happen here.

_DSC7124^^ I know this isn’t the greatest photo, but please stick with me here. So one of the hotel staff currently working at Andaluz actually has worked at this hotel ever since it first opened its doors. When Goodman purchased the hotel in ’05, he turned to this staffer to learn more about what the place was like back in its heyday. During one of these conversations, he learned about a mural — this mural– that had been painted on one of the main walls as you enter the hotel and that had since been painted over. So he commissioned an artist to recreate the original painting from old photos. This is exactly as the photo was back when the hotel first opened, with the one small exception of the third figure’s ankle, which is slightly off the ground. The artist did this to leave his mark on his work, but otherwise the painting is an exact replica.

_DSC7126^^ These casbahs can be rented out and hotel guests can have dinner and drinks in them privately.

_DSC7128^^ So this wooden structure — which is actually much larger than this photo lets on — was originally commissioned to hang in the elevators, but didn’t pass fire code. So the panels were quickly removed and sent to the basement, where they spent many years until they were moved up to the main lobby for all to enjoy.

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_DSC7130^^ So I know this might seem like a mistaken photo of the floor, but it’s actually seriously cool! So back in the days when the hotel first opened, the reception area used to be where the casbahs are now situated. The bellman would stand in this one spot, because he had the perfect vantage point to see guests coming in from both entrances. And for this reason alone, that very spot is actually worn out in certain spots, and when you stand on it, you can feel the dipping where the bellman’s standing has worn out the tile. That’s pretty incredible, is it not?

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^^ The library is definitely one of my favorite rooms.
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^^ And this is Ibiza, the 2nd floor, outdoor rooftop bar for the hotel.

Which brings me to one final note about this awesome hotel — it’s sustainability. From their solar heated water systems and compost system to the building’s seriously advanced energy management system (the rooms literally use sensors to detect when a person is in the room or not and uses that to determine when lights/heat/air should be on and off), Andaluz is one of the greenest spots in Albuquerque hands down.

Alright friends — well that’s been the bulk of my trip, for sure. I head back to good ole’ NYC tomorrow after a quick pit stop at one more place. It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s been so much fun. It’s been real, Albuquerque … and I have a definite feeling you’ll be seeing me again some day!

Bis bald, friends!

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