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Trip Report Wonderful Trip! long

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We had spent a long weekend in Santa Fe several years ago and always wanted to go back. So when we started to think about where to go this summer, it seemed like the place to go. Low humidity (compared to Toronto), lots to see and do and I could use Aeroplan points to book our flight. I booked our flights and accommodation – 4 nights in Santa Fe, 3 nights in Taos and 1 night in ABQ.

The start of the trip was not great, to be blunt. These days, our flights never seem to go well – last year, we were stuck in Santiago Chile while flying to Buenos Aires. The earthquake happened and we were there 6 days. Coming back from St. Martin in early December, we were delayed a full day. This time, it was flying to Albuquerque. To make a long story short, our early morning Air Canada flight had mechanical problems and we were put on a later fight, which meant that we weren’t able to catch the connecting flight on United Air in Chicago. After spending a night in Chicago at a Holiday Inn Express (courtesy of Air Canada), we finally got into ABQ about 29 hours after we were supposed to arrive. Only 38 hours to get to ABQ! Fortunately our luggage was already there.

We picked up our rental car and drove through a thunderstorm and finally we were in Santa Fe. We had booked a place through VRBO (www.vrbo.com/141822) and it’s wonderful. Lots of room, very charming, fully equipped kitchen, nice porch on the front with table & chairs. Too bad we were only there only 3 days. It’s in the Guadalupe neighbourhood. It was already 7:00 PM by the time we got to Santa Fe, so after settling in, we were ready to go out for a nice meal. We chose Ristra, a very nice restaurant (and pricey) about 2 blocks from the house. I had a wonderful peach mojito, squash blossoms stuffed with boursin cheese in a tomato sauce for an appetizer, and lovely halibut with almonds served over creamy polenta and spinach, with a glass (or maybe 2) of white wine. John started with mussels in a very spicy chipotle sauce, and then elk tenderloin with sweet potatoes (a special that night). For dessert, he had a chocolate soufflé and I had a cognac. After the ordeal we had to get to Santa Fe, we felt we deserved something special. The service was excellent and for a special meal, I’d recommend it. Price was about $190 (includes tip).

We got up bright and early on Sunday morning. We had coffee out on our front porch, then found our way to the Plaza. We planned on b/fast at Tia Sophia’s, but they aren’t open on Sundays. The Spanish art market was on, so the area was already getting busy. Personally we enjoyed the Spanish art market, but preferred the contemporary Spanish art market – more variety (and less focus on religious art). I managed to restrain myself and only bought a pair of silver earrings from Pamela Pereyra, a Taos based artist. We stopped for a “Navajo taco” – fry bread, with beans, meat, green chiles, absolutely delicious. That was exactly the kind of thing I wanted for b/fast, so it was perfect. As John said, who doesn’t like fried dough? 2 giant tacos with 2 lemonades came to $18. We spent the rest of the day wandering around Santa Fe. We made our way up Canyon Road, stopping often to look at a number of galleries, the various sculptures, etc. We finally found the Tea House, where I had a spicy iced chai and John had lavender lemonade. I needed to rest my feet more than have a drink – I was exhausted. After that, we made our way back to the Plaza and stopped to listen to some live music. We eventually ended up at La Boca for their ‘happy hour’, where they have ½ price tapas. We ordered 5 dishes – a bowl of fried marcona almonds, an order of crisp fries with aioli, lamb kefta with Israeli couscous, an order of chorizo, crisp fried potatoes and perfectly cooked egg (over easy), and last but not least, bruschetta with truffle oil, another fried egg, reggianito cheese and cremini mushrooms. The last was probably my favourite, but all were delicious. Total for the above with 2 large glasses of blood orange sangria and a coke came to $47 before tip. The restaurant was maybe 1/3 full when we arrived, but when we left it was getting very crowded. I’d highly recommend it. After that, the rain finally came and we were in for the night.

The next morning (Monday), we drove out to Bandelier National Monument. Only 1 hiking trail was open, unfortunately, because of the fires they had recently, so we didn’t have to pay the $12 to get into the park. The hike was very easy, although the altitude does make a difference. The trail leads to a marvellous viewpoint to see the ruins of Tyuonyi village below and I wish we could have seen more. Lunch that day was at La Choza, which turned out to be a very good choice. John had the burrito grande, a huge meal, while I ordered the fish tacos. The tacos were wonderful, and the meal came with sopapillas (like dessert when we put some honey on them). The frozen margarita was not very special, so I switched to iced tea. Lunch for the 2 of us, including tip, was $46. The restaurant was packed and we ate inside, since the only table they had left on the patio was in the sun. Seemed to be a lot of locals in the restaurant, including 2 members of the Banditos motorcycle gang ......... hmmmmm

From La Choza, we went to the Railyard district, which is undergoing considerable revitalization. Being a Monday, it was fairly quiet there, although we did check out the galleries that were open, including one that seemed more like a museum than a gallery – the art ranged from modern to Diego Rivera to ancient Peruvian. I wish we could have been there on Saturday for the artists’ market. We visited a clay studio, where they had a showing of a Canadian artist starting later in the week. His work is beautiful – apart from the fact that I don’t have room for any of the pieces in my tiny house, I probably can’t afford it, but I did take his card.

That night we went to the Cowgirls Hall of Fame bar, a place that we had originally said we wouldn’t go to, since it sounded like Hooters. Our hosts had recommended it, so we thought what the hell. We definitely weren’t expecting fine dining, but it was within walking distance of El Primero, where we were staying. I ordered a margarita (again nothing special), then switched to beer. We shared an order of sweet potato fries and a cabeza de ajo that was roasted, then surrounded by melted jack cheese, tomatillo salsa and crostini. It was actually pretty good. John ordered catfish, and it was one of the biggest pieces of fish we’ve ever seen. It also was pretty good. I had a salad of mixed greens with grated carrots, red peppers, chickpeas, red onion and blue cheese dressing. (I love the humble chickpea.) We’re suckers for tres leche cake and our waiter said it was very good, like homemade, so even though we were both full, we ordered a piece of it. It was huge, and the waiter was correct – it was very good. Cowgirls was interesting – the wait staff are both female and male. Considering it was bar food, it was better than we expected. There was a security guy walking around with all sorts of devices hanging from his belt. He said that the only thing he doesn’t have is a taser. It didn’t seem particularly rowdy, but maybe it does get rough. Bill for our meal was about $64 (including tip).

Next morning, we packed up to drive to Taos. I was really sorry to be leaving Santa Fe – our stay just went too quickly, and I know there was a lot more to see.

We took the High Road to Taos, a very scenic drive. We made a few stops along the way, including the Sanctuario de Chimayo. Neither of us being Catholic (or even religious), it wasn’t life changing, but it was a beautiful setting. In Penasco, we stopped for lunch at Sugar Nymphs, which was charming. I had the quesadillas (filled with bacon, cheese, salsa) with the vegetable and pinto bean soup. The quesadillas were wonderful. John had the goat cheese salad, which he enjoyed very much. Desserts looked appealing, but we were both too full. Our bill came to $33 (including tip).

The Taos condo that we had booked (www.vrbo.com/142991) is really cute and well equipped. The only disadvantage is that it doesn’t have WIFI, but it’s very comfortable and quite close to the plaza (which does have WIFI). There’s a wonderful private patio for relaxing.

For dinner, we had made a reservation at Love Apple, a small restaurant in Taos. I read 1 review where the diner complained that they had to pay for the bread, but wow – the “bread” is wonderful yellow and blue cornmeal muffins with flavoured butters. We also ordered a chili cheese dip with tortillas. For my entree, I had pozole with very spicy red chilli and a lamb sausage. John ordered a ribeye steak that was cooked perfectly medium rare and served with gratin potatoes. For dessert, John ordered the panna cotta, served with lavender. Service was excellent. They don’t take visa, so you need cash, but even with a couple of beer, the bill (including a good tip) was $80, so very reasonable and the food is excellent.

On Wednesday, we ate our b/fast outside on the patio. It’s such a beautiful area, very quiet. Behind the condo is a pasture with horses, so it feels rural. John spent some time looking for his hat, a necessity for him in the sunlight. No luck. We spent some time wandering around the town. We were trying to do a self-guided walking tour. I found a woven ‘shawl’ or scarf – I’m not sure what to call it. It is really beautiful and I decided to buy it as a 60th birthday present to myself. I also saw some amazing art at one of the galleries. Again, I took a card – they do take orders over the web. For lunch we stopped at Graham’s Grill. The patio is quite nice. I ordered the fish tacos (which were just ok, I wouldn’t order them again – they were definitely not as good the ones at La Choza) and John ordered the oyster po’boy (a special of the day). Definitely not a New Mexican dish, but he said that it was pretty good. The people at the next table recommended the key lime pie for dessert, and that really was excellent, the highlight of the meal for me. They give free refills of the lemonade, so that was nice as well. Bill came to $46 with the tip.

When we got back to the condo, John mentioned that he thought he left his hat at Sugar Nymphs in Penasco. I called them, and sure enough they had his hat. It’s about 40 minutes from Taos, so we hopped into the car and drove out there. I wished we hadn’t eaten lunch at Graham’s – our meal at Sugar Nymphs the day before was just so good. Anyway, I had a gingerade (lemonade with lots of ginger) and John had a blueberry lemonade. We ordered the goat cheese and chicken salad and a piece of the white cake with almonds & plums to go – that made a nice dinner later on.

Thursday morning, we started off the day with a quick trip to see the gardens at a gallery near the Mabel Dodge Luhan home. The gallery (can’t remember the name) was not open, but the gardens are lovely. We then drove out to the Rio Grande gorge bridge. The view is incredible, but it’s very sad to see flowers left where people have jumped from that bridge. One suicide was quite recent – the flowers were still fresh. Later we read that authorities are considering putting up barriers to prevent it. From Rio Grande, we drove to the Earthship community and did a little self-guided tour there ($5 each). It’s fascinating to see how the same technology has been used all over the world. We then drove to Arroyo Seco, not far from Taos where we had a delicious lunch at the Taos Cow – John ordered the pastrami sandwich and I had the sautéed portabella sandwich with tomato & lettuce. Both were excellent. To finish, we had a scoop of the cherry ristra ice cream – loaded with cherries, pine nuts and chocolate. The Taos Cow is known for their ice cream and it’s definitely a treat. Our final stop that day was the Taos pueblo. We got there just in time to join a tour led by a young woman from the community, who is now a university student at Las Vegas, NM. The pueblo is truly an amazing place when you consider that it has been there “forever”. It costs $10 each to get into the pueblo and the camera permit is another $6, but it’s definitely worth it. (We also tipped Stephanie, the guide.)

Back in Taos, we did some more walking around town. We found Ledoux Street, which has some lovely galleries, but since it was after 5, most of them were closed. Thursday night seems to be a big night in Taos. There was live music in the plaza, as well as a couple of young potters firing some pieces. We listened to the music for a while, and then drove to El Meze, where we had made reservations for dinner. The food and service were wonderful. We had a big bowl of the herb frites (with thyme and lavender) and aioli, then Serrano ham, manchego cheese, and white nectarines. Final app was grilled romaine hearts with a lemon anchovy dressing and more manchego cheese. It was wonderfully smokey. I ordered the buffalo tamale with green chile. John ordered the grilled whole trout with preserved lemon, mint, cilantro and garlic. Both were excellent. The tamale was super spicy, and we swapped plates ½ way through. For dessert, we ordered the almond semifreddo with the burnt sugar sauce and berries. I had a sherry. El Meze is fine dining – new cutlery for every course, wonderful service, and surprisingly affordable. The entire bill (including tip) came to about $125.

Finally it was time to leave Taos. I hadn’t been so impressed to begin with but I have to say that it really grew on me. There were definitely activities we wanted to do – river rafting, a llama trek – and we just didn’t have enough time. I really enjoyed my time there.

After b/fast on our patio, we packed up and drove to Albuquerque. We had booked Old Town B&B, and Nancy, the owner, had upgraded us to the suite since there was a problem with the room we had booked. The suite is gorgeous – the whole property is lovely. It’s very close to Old Town, so we spent some time wandering around Old Town. It was so hot outside! Much hotter than Taos. We went over to the High Noon bar/restaurant for happy hour. I finally was able to get a good margarita (2 in fact)! We had booked Jennifer James 101 for dinner – intended to be our final (and pricey) blowout. But John was tired of driving and didn’t particularly like the idea of driving to the restaurant that night. I agreed with him – much easier to find a place in Old Town where we could walk. Our host recommended a few restaurants and we decided on La Crepe Michel. It’s a tiny restaurant and was bustling – I was glad we had made a reservation. We started with the goat cheese wrapped in puff pastry over a salad with a grainy mustard dressing. I had the crepe au porc dijonnaise (love mustard) and John had the tuna served with a flavoured olive oil and potatoes gratin. For dessert, we shared the assortment of desserts (5 smaller desserts that were all delicious). I had a couple of Quebec beers to drink, while John stuck with Perrier. The whole meal came to $80.

After dinner, we walked to the plaza where we had noticed a live band setting up earlier. We caught the end of their show, then went back to the B&B. Nancy’s breakfast the next morning was lovely – fresh fruit, yogurt, an omelette, bacon, toasted English muffins and lots of great coffee. After breakfast, we drove to the airport and dropped off our car. The trip was officially over.

The flight back was fairly straight forward, although longer than I would have liked. We flew to LA on United, then Air Canada to Toronto. (The joys of using ff miles.)
In summary, we loved our time in New Mexico – it’s a really beautiful state. The weather was just about perfect, people were friendly and we enjoyed all of our experiences. I’d definitely go back!

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