Friday, 2 December 2011

Lost In Old Town

"Where the heck am I? Whose bright idea was it to send the British guy without a car to review all of Albuquerque, one district at a time?"

I'll admit, my day in Old Town didn't start well. I had lost my phone so didn't have access to a map. That meant that my two mile walk had to be memorized before leaving home, and I'm not exactly known for my memory. As a red-headed Brit who's a little on the heavy side, the Albuquerque heat has been a real shock to the system, so I plan ahead. There I am, wandering somewhat aimlessly, trying to find a street name that sounds familiar.

"Well, at least I'm fairly comfortable in my T-shirt and shorts. Hmm, it seems to have gone a little dark. What was that roaring thundery sound? Oh good, an impromptu wet T-shirt contest."

At this point, I was just about ready to go home. Scratch that, I tried to go home, but thanks to my terrible memory combining with the fact that my internal compass seems to have a magnet next to it, I actually ended up in Old Town, and I'm very glad I did.

The first thing that hits you is the authenticity of the place. It's like a living museum. Old Town was founded in 1706 by Governor Francisco Cuervo y Valdez and it seems like not much has changed since then. I didn't feel right walking along the porches without wearing spurs.
This is something I love about Albuquerque as a whole. Since it was started by literally drawing a circle around smaller villages, the city is so eclectic. Here I am playing 'cowboy' when last month I was reviewing the Greenwich Village-like Nob Hill, and before that, I was likening North Valley to the south of France.

"Well, this isn't so bad. Most of these buildings have porches outside, so my shirt should be opaque again soon. Time to find something to eat."

Seasons Rotisserie and Grill (2031 Mountain Road NW) was a nice surprise. I found it by accident just wandering around, and thought I'd give it a go. Now, it's far from cheap, so I would recommend choosing it for a special occasion rather than a quick lunch.
The staff were very welcoming, and the restaurant felt very relaxed. Since I was alone, I sat down with a paper, and felt like I could chill out there. I just wanted something small, so I chose the sweetcorn griddle cakes from the appetizers, and they really were sublime. I was slightly concerned that they might be bland, but served with goat's cheese, cherry chutney and arugula pesto, the flavors managed to be subtle, yet bold. Every smoky hint was balanced with sweetness, and vice versa. It might not be perfect for you if you have a mean hunger going, but it hit the spot wonderfully for me. If it wasn't for my typically British fear of even positive confrontation and drawing attention to myself, I would have asked to see the chef just so I could say that it was probably the best thing I've eaten since being here.
In fact, you there! Yes, you, sitting at your desk reading my article instead of doing your work. Go and get me some more, now!

"It's finally stopped raining, I'm going to go back to the plaza to let my lunch go down and finish my paper."

Sitting down in the plaza, watching the world go by is wonderfully relaxing. The world seems to slow down to whatever pace you're running at, and if you've just walked for a few miles and then eaten, that probably isn't going to be very fast. It's almost as if someone has put a spell on the plaza. It's not a very big space, so you're still close to the road, and the hustle and bustle, but you feel miles from anywhere busy.

"Right, I better go and do something that isn't eating so my article has some variety. Hey, a map! Now I don't just have to wander around until I find something!"

From what I have seen of Albuquerque so far, Old Town is the cultural center. As well as beautiful little shops full of local arts and crafts, the area is also surrounded with museums, the zoo, and the gardens.

"OK, so I'm here, that museum is over there, round here is a gallery and...oh that place has dinosaurs, I'm going there!"

The sun was out when I headed towards the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science (1801 Mountain Road NW). I am constantly amazed by Albuquerque's museums and zoos and the like. I suppose I'm always expecting a smaller, less impressive version of what I've seen in bigger cities, but I'm happy to report that your city holds its own.
The Natural History and Science museum has the perfect mix of fun and education. The exhibits are not too stuffy that children will get bored, but they also don't try so hard to be fun that kids will ignore the informative parts. I can confirm that all of the fun interactive exhibits work perfectly, as, just for you guys, I made sure to try every single one of them while giggling like a five year old.

"Running around pressing buttons and pulling levers has made me hungry again. Time for dinner methinks, where's my map?"

Hidden slightly down an alleyway at 400 San Felipe St NW, La Crêpe Michel serves up the best crêpes I've had outside of Paris. Quite unprepossessing, I wouldn't blame you for walking past without a second look, but don't, because you are missing out. A wonderfully polite waiter settled me at a nice little corner table, and offered to explain anything on the menu to me (since most of it is in French).
The Crêpe aux Fruits de Mar was overflowing with perfectly-cooked scallops and shrimps in a rich mushroom sauce, and the Salade Mesclun is one of the most 'exciting' salads I've had in quite a while. Dandelions, mustard leaves and goat cheese croutons come together to give your taste buds something they'll never get from iceberg lettuce and tomatoes!
What I really loved about La Crêpe Michel is that, despite having wonderfully cooked French cuisine, it felt totally unpretentious. Rather than having some snooty Michelin-star chef cooking for you, it was more like the home cooking of an old French farmer's wife, and I have much more respect for good hearty food than confusing fiddly nibbles.
By now, I was truly full, so just couldn't handle dessert, but I recommend taking a look, they sounded fantastic.

"Time to go home I think. Jeez, I can barely walk!"

With aching legs and a full stomach, everything was telling me that a two mile walk wasn't going to agree with me, but it was time to leave.
As I started walking, Old Town was starting to get busy, lighting up as the sun went down. It reminded me of being on vacation in Greece. Very relaxed, bustling but not uncomfortably busy, ancient yet modern.
If you're looking for a break but can't afford to travel, just come here. It's like its own little world.

"Oh no, I lost my map again. Where am I? Where's my house? Help!"

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