Spring Break has just started for many schools across the nation. Even if I am no longer in the education system, I would like to recount a couple of my Spring Break travels from previous years, back when I used to be in school. It brings back memories, and also the wanderlust that I always have– at home or elsewhere!
Albuquerque (rhymes with “turkey”) is the largest city in the southwest U.S. state of New Mexico, home to over 550,000 people. It is a blend of old and new, as its history dates back to the early 18th century with its Spanish colonial origins and its budding food, science, and cultural scene today, respectively. This New Mexican city is also famous for hosting the International Balloon Fiesta every October, in which hundreds of hot-air balloons are sent to the sky for a beautiful and fantastic show.
I went to Albuquerque back in March 2015. It was my last year of college, and I went with two of my mutual friends for a conference in our major’s department. The conference lasted three days, with our hotel paid for (but not our flights). We would spend a day presenting our works to other universities all over the country, all the while taking in what the U.S. Southwest had to offer.
Now, I had visited parts of the southwest prior to Albuquerque– I had gone to Arizona, Utah, and Nevada when I was a kid, but never really to New Mexico. That said, I had little knowledge of what to expect of Albuquerque itself, except for the fact that it is in the dry, desert region of the United States and home to notable Mexican and Native American communities (particularly the Pueblo).
Three days certainly was not enough to really see all that Albuquerque had to offer. It was especially limited, not only because we had to attend our conference, but also we had to rely on public transportation to get around town (i.e. no car). Plus, the public transport system in the U.S. is, in general, pretty bad, so we were not able to see everything in town, let alone the nearby trendy district of Nob Hill (or even venture out to the capital of Santa Fe).
However, we made the most of it. Our venue was located right in Downtown, so we stuck more-or-less around that area during our stay. The three of us booked the same, round-trip flight from Los Angeles to Albuquerque, and our flight arrived in rather late at night. It was then a matter of taking a booked shuttle to our hotel just a couple of blocks from the conference. Still high off the airplane ride (and the fact that we were on our own as college kids), we ended up talking until 2:00 that night as we excitedly planned on what we could do in town outside of the conference.
We had to wake up rather early in the morning to make our way to the conference’s orientation, located at another hotel just a walk away. It was several hours of meet-and-greet, as we got acquainted with hundreds (if not thousands) of people from colleges all over the U.S. As I had gone to university in Los Angeles, I was surprised to see so many universities from the Midwest and the South represented: whereas there were only three of us representing the conference from California, there were at least dozens of students from Ohio, Alabama, and Missouri who filled up the room during orientation. Goes to show the various dynamics of colleges from state to state, coast to coast…
We also got to hear (and take a photo with) Leslie Silko, a local and Pueblo poet who had helped given rise to the Indigenous voice in poetry. The line for her meet-and-greet was long, but somehow, we managed to get in front and grab a photo with her. It was truly an honor to meet a notable writer during our conference!
Following our first day of orientation, my friends and I wandered out to explore Downtown, specifically Central Avenue– in fact, this street is known for being a section of the iconic Route 66, which stretches from Santa Monica (in Los Angeles, California) all the way to Chicago, Illinois– all 2500 miles (3900 kilometers) of it. Central Avenue is quite colorful, with plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from.
Apparently, New Mexico is a low-key foodie paradise, with plenty of burgeoning eateries serving up a unique, New-Mexican flair that blends Mexican and Pueblo Native American cuisines together (think Tex-Mex, except in New Mexico). The state is famous for its New Mexico chile, which can be spicy, but also smoky and sweet in flavor. My friends and I ate a good amount of dishes which contained the iconic pepper, and we really enjoyed them! I hadn’t expected to be blown away by the food in Albuquerque, but I will say that I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.
On our first night in town, my friends and I went to a New Mexican restaurant where I had tamales (flavored with plenty of the chiles, of course) and sopapillas, a type of fry bread that is unbelievably delicious. It is served with a drizzle of honey, which accentuates the crispy, otherwise bland, flavor of the bread itself. We actually ordered some to-go, although it did not end up keeping well– it is best to consume while fresh.
We also went to lunch (and brunch) at this cafe in Downtown, where it served amazing breakfast burritos, probably the best I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, the cafe has since closed, but to this day, I still dream about that delicious breakfast burrito filled with mashed hash browns, eggs, cheese, green chiles, and chorizo. The chorizo especially made the dish what it was, and I will miss that special dish dearly…
Outside of food, my friends and I visited a bit of the historic part of Albuquerque. We saw the Church of San Felipe de Neri, the oldest Catholic church in town from 1793. There was also a colorful, souvenir part of that plaza, where we wandered the various gift shops and bought some Pueblo-influenced souvenirs to take home.
Albuquerque was, overall, a pleasant city, although I would not say that it was the most-exciting I have been to. Perhaps it was because we only had three days in town, but otherwise, most of our time was focused on the conference and the food scene. We only got glimpses of the Spanish heritage and history in the neighborhoods we checked out.
In general, the city is still growing with its “trendy” scene and, to some extent, remains quite conservative with the notable ageing population I observed in town. If I had to compare it to a city in France (that I visited), it would be Toulouse: a mix of traditional and new, as well as a growing place for people to move into in the years to come. I had a good time, and perhaps if I had a longer stay, I would come to fully see what Albuquerque had to offer.
Thanks for reading, and more to come soon!