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Albuquerque Adventure



After a big day of driving we were eager to rest our weary souls and hopefully eat some good Mexican food that I remember so fondly from the last time I was in town. The hotel staff suggested we go to the Church Street Cafe, which we initially thought was a dud recommendation when it looked like an empty cafe but boy were we wrong. After a long walk through the building, which seemed to go on forever, we found ourselves in the back garden where they were serving up fresh Mexican food to hoards of people to the dulcet tones of an acoustic guitar – exactly what we were hoping for.

The next morning we woke without a plan but wandered back to a Christmas Shop (one of the nation’s biggest according to the sign) that we had seen the prior evening. The store opened three minutes late and the shopkeeper didn’t seem to appreciate my humour when I pointed it out to her, it had been a stressful morning apparently. We were surprised by the rush of people into the store when it opened, a bit of a surprise given it was a Wednesday morning in April, not exactly the peak of the Christmas rush and despite its popularity the store wasn’t as good as hoped but Gui did get her mum a lovely bauble from local artist Lawrence Bargas.

Looking for inspiration we decided to stop at the Visitor’s Centre but unfortunately the volunteer was a bit useless although he was rather endearing with a big smile and bright coloured vest covered in souvenir pins. We were ready to give up when I asked if there was a walking tour and he said oh yes, it’s at the museum and starts in ten minutes. That lit a fire under us and we scooted across town as quickly as our feet would carry us. We arrived a few minutes after the proposed start time but couldn’t see the tour anywhere so decided to enquire inside the Museum, a decision which would change the course of our day.

We had been looking for a walking tour starting at the museum but what we hadn’t understood is that the walking tour was run by the museum and was included as part of the ticket. We happily paid our $4 which would have been a bargain just for the walking tour let alone the added benefit of admission to the museum. Ticket in hand we located our guide David, an ex-school teacher turned volunteer tour guide, who greeted us with an unexpected vigour. His enthusiasm however was explained when he mentioned his earlier tour didn’t have any participants and was very pleased it was going ahead; I thought about saying it might be because no one knew it was on, but why start things on an antagonistic note.

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The tour was very small, just us and an American named Randy who was visiting from California. What followed was an interesting insight into the town’s history and although we only got the cliff notes version it was hard not to be caught up with the details of its long and varied history. We learnt about how a trading route, known as the Santa Fe Trail, was established between Missouri and Mexico in 1821 following Mexico’s independence from Spain. Albuquerque became an important stop along this trail which saw the city prosper and grow. The establishment of a military base in Albuquerque following the outbreak of the U.S.-Mexico War helped to secure the ongoing prosperity of the city despite the eventual collapse of the trading route.

After the military base closed in 1867 Albuquerque became a quiet community of less than 2000 people until 1879 when the railway came to town and changed the shape of the city forever. The railway was actually built slightly out of town so everyone relocated to “New Albuquerque” a mile-and-a-half eastwards where business boomed and the old city was largely forgotten. That was until the 1940s when Old Town was rediscovered by artists and shop owners and although it has been mostly reduced to restaurants and gift shops there is something charming about the mix of Spanish Colonial, nineteenth-century, and modern styled architecture.

After our quick introduction to the history of Albuquerque and a stroll through the sculpture garden we stopped at the San Felipe de Niro Church which was constructed of adobe and is located on the west side of the central plaza. The original building disintegrated and collapsed in the late 1700s and a new church was built on the site three years later. The “folk” Gothic features, such as the twin spires, were added in 1868 to give it a more European appearance.

The Sister Blandina Covent, located just next door, was built in 1881 as housing for the Sisters of Charity who had come to teach at the local school. It is widely regarded as the first two-storey adobe building in Old Town made possible when Sister Blandina Segale hired a mason to lay a foundation of stone. We popped inside the building which now serves as the church gift shop to see a section of the old abode which is displayed behind a glass case; seeing it makes you really wonder how the buildings stay standing.

We also wandered past the Our Lady of the Angels School which was the first public school in Albuquerque and the Florencio Zamora Store (now trading as the Basket Store) which was built in 1913 and remains as one of the most striking buildings on the plaza even today.

After refuelling at a local cafe we headed back to the museum to have a look around and what started as a “quick look” turned into an entire afternoon. We started with the special exhibition on the border, something very relevant since Mexico borders New Mexico to the South. The highlight of the exhibit was the giant yellow balloon which was an extract from an outdoor public art exhibition representing a scarecrow or “big brother” in the fight against illegal border crossers. There was also an excellent collection of poignant photographs and an abstract string piece that was oddly engaging.

We were just finishing with the exhibition when an announcement was made that a free guided tour of the museum was taking place and we figured, why not? So we joined the Docet for what was supposed to be a 45 minute tour on New Mexican art but what ended up being a two hour + tour of art, history and pretty much anything you can think of. The tour would have been longer if the museum hadn’t been closing …

Again, the tour group was made up of us three and an American only this time she was a local lady who had popped in to see a new African art exhibition and thought she would join the tour for fun. It was awesome because she had lived in Albuquerque for years so it was like having two guides and they had a lot of interesting stories to share. Highlights included a discussion on the work by Artist in residence, Paul Sarkisian which was impressive to say the least, the Making Africa exhibition which blew my mind, learning that Microsoft started here (who knew?) and our walk through the New Mexican art exhibit once again proved why having a guide is so important, we appreciated it a lot more with someone to explain the meaning and concepts to us.

Later that evening we walked into downtown to see the famous Kimo Theatre and stood at the intersection where the pre and post 1937 Route 66 roads align before going to watch some impressive amateur karaoke.

 



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