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Trip Report Coversos, Crypto-Jews, and Christmas on the Side.

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(Albuquerque October 2011 Elderhostel/Road Scholar Report)

Elderhostel is now Road Scholar. Not sure what the difference is, we were told there is no more age limit, but this is probably not widely known as everybody was over retirement age. The program # 11007 is so great! Didn’t know so much information, learning and visiting can be jammed into only 5 days! For those who don’t know, it’s a “program” not a tour, with learning, watching movies, listening to lectures, and having field trips.

The schedule was intense, from 7 am to 9 pm. The main impression of New Mexico: how polite and helpful everybody is! From the shuttle driver to check-in in both hotels to our group leader to all restaurants and shops to airport employees – or maybe we just were lucky?

We’ve learned a lot about the Jews who in 1492 (and other times) had a difficult choice of leaving Spain without any means of providing for their families or converting to Catholicism. Some walked out from their homes moving across the border to Portugal and later to other countries, some honestly converted to Catholicism, some continued being secret Jews.

Even now the descendants of the honest converts are called “new Christians” in Spain, as opposed to old or “real” Christians, inquisition spied on them and the hidden Jews for many generations. Their descendants later moved to South America, some families now live in New Mexico. There are many books on the subject, and one woman came to teach a class sharing her personal story, and the stories of people she knows.

Now a little trivia: which question is asked most often in New Mexico? The answer is: red or green? It means, the waiter asks if you want red or green chili with your dish. If you are not sure, you say: Christmas on the side, and you’ll get to sample both.

We stayed in MCM Elegante for 5 nights with the group. There are requirements for groups such as rooms for lectures, meetings and movies; full kitchen in case somebody is allergic and needs special food – don’t remember all of them. The hotel was OK, long dark corridor, and the room was far away from the elevator, but the lobby and restaurant looked nice.

We were supposed to use the courtesy phone at the airport – don’t try to use the white phones as I did. The information desk man walked over to what looked like a computerized display and dialed it for us. It seems he’s been doing it quite a lot!

The room was OK, the beds semi-comfortable, the sinkhole was just that – a hole, every time I took the toothpaste cap off I was afraid to drop it in accidentally. The balcony was nice, and the highway noise was like from a sleeping device. We had a balcony, and at night could see the stars despite the highway neon lights. The window curtain blocked the lights off completely, but the door had a slit on top, so the room was never absolutely dark.

Moved to Hotel Blue for 2 more nights – MCM shuttle took us there, it was within their range. We’ve decided to try to stay in a disabled room – it was strange not to have chairs in the room, I would think disabled people travel with somebody to help them who need to sit somewhere. Also there is a plank on the floor between the room and the bathroom – a wheelchair would have to roll over it each time. The high toilet felt good for our tired knees after a day of walking.

Clean, convenient, nice flex shower, lots of counter space, iron, fridge, and coffeemaker. And the bed! Ahh, the bed! We slept on a cloud and overslept the first morning. The local phone calls are free, and they have 2 computers with free Internet in the lobby.

Full breakfast: waffle maker, cold cereal, eggs, juices, coffees, pastries, yogurts, cream cheese among other things. The juices and cookies are available all day. Nice pool area with loungers, tables/chairs with cushions, a fountain. This is where my husband saved a life. He saw somebody struggling in water, so he bent over to scoop it out and put on the floor by the pool to dry in the sun. The bee flew off before he could perform CPR.

The only thing we didn’t like is you get to the room from the outside balcony, like in a motel, so you can’t keep the curtains opened as everybody walks past your window – and if you are in the room during the day, you have to keep the lights on as the curtains are shut to prevent others from peeking.

Most of our meals during the program were in MCM hotel. We were ready for budget meals, so no disappointment here. Some meals better then others, most above average cafeteria meals – and we felt Road Scholar really tried to feed us well within the limits of the program’s price.

The breakfast was good; we had omelettes to order, hot and cold cereals, meats, bagels with trimmings, coffee, and juices. Lunches and dinners were plenty, but sometimes strange: once we had cooked veggies, pasta with veggies, and lasagna: pasta and pasta? Always the same salad, and fruit/cake for dessert, but different entrees, one night it was chicken, another fish, another meat loaf.

One day we had a box lunch – this I remember! Tasty croissant sandwich with a banana and a cookie; and a bottle of water. Upon check-in we were given coupons for 2 drinks a day per person that could be used from 5 pm to 7.30 pm – we got bottled water, so didn’t need to buy more.

Had group lunch at La Fonda Del Bosque at the Hispanic Center with buffet lunch, no signs of what in that dish, and everything had so much cheese in it, you couldn’t recognize the food. We were asking each other: what is this? what is that? as there was nobody else to ask.

Rancho de Chimayo in a historic building, walk around with a camera, and stay for lunch. It was the most memorable meal – I had chicken salad with avocado that comes in a hard shell, not only tasty, but also beautifully served.

Sweet Tomatoes – well, what can I say? Of course we found something to eat… the dessert was good, they cut up half bananas that you top with ice cream from a dispenser and sprinkle with anything you like.

First night in the Hotel Blue was the night of the planned get-together. It’s good I had the cell phone of one of the two Fodorites who supposed to meet us; I called her 2 hours before dinner only to learn that both had cancelled. The other Fodorite sent me an e-mail the day before, but I don’t use computer while on vacations.

We decided not to venture far from the hotel; Villa di Capo is across the street, full of people who looked local to us. The food was great, and so was the wine. We liked it so much, went for dinner next night. Friendly service, pleasant atmosphere, inside and outside seating in a park-like yard.

In the Old Town we went to La Hacienda for lunch, I Googled it, and it has bad reviews on Trip Advisor – we got a friendly server who helped us pick a dish as to me the menu looked like written in Spanish, and I didn’t know what those dishes’ names mean. He also advised us to share, as the dish was huge. We would certainly go back! And the outside seating was nice.

We had a tour of the city visiting the Holocaust memorial, rode the remnants of the historic route 66. One morning there was another Road Scholar group in the hotel – their program was “Route 66” from Chicago to Los Angeles. Lots of history, but every day a different hotel for 16 days of that program.

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center was very interesting, and the gift shop had great items… at even greater prices! Going to Acoma Pueblo (Sky City) was even more interesting, nice rock formations on the way, real Native settlement, fry bread, souvenirs, church visit (missionaries converted the locals to Catholicism). I am always interested in the Natives’ life and history, and in New Mexico we had a great opportunity to see and to learn.

National Hispanic Cultural Center has some interesting paintings and ceramics. San Felipe de Neri church really has stars of David over the altar.

Stopped at Santuario de Chimayo on the way to Santa Fe. We were told, there is dirt with healing powers inside the church, and even given zipper plastic bags to collect some. I guess, one must not to be a skeptic to believe this fairy tale, but it was a nice area for walking, taking photos and relaxation. This is where I finally had revenge of the nerds. My cell phone is T-mobile, and the coverage is not so good. For the first time, my phone had full reception while others’ did not!

We stopped at Ortega’s weaving shop – not just a shopping stop, the owner showed us how he works. The small museum was closed; we wandered around and saw a pair of sneakers hanging over electric wire. Asked the tour guide and the driver if it means in New Mexico the same as in San Francisco – marking a spot where you can buy drugs. They had no idea!

In Santa Fe we had museum coupons and visited Governors Museum and history museum – recommend to visit, you just walk over a courtyard from one to another; and Art museum – only if you like contemporary art. Beautiful, beautiful town, just walking around looking at the architecture you can easily fill a day. We felt like being in some other country.

We stayed for 2 more nights after the tour, on Friday when the program was over and we moved to the Hotel Blue, we only went to the Holocaust and Intolerance Museum. Highly recommend visiting, it’s not only about the Jews; they have displays on Armenian, Greek, Rwandan genocides. Spent some time by the pool, the warm sunny weather just forced you to feel lazy!

The last day was in the Old Town. If going to the Albuquerque Museum, don’t miss the Sculpture Garden outside, it’s behind a hill, not visible from the entrance. We drove by while on the program, and wanted to come back to take photos. Also the rattlesnake museum is on the other side of Old Town, if you’re interested in live vipers.

We took bus 66 from and back to the hotel, the area looked iffy but not scary going toward the Old Town. The buses are clean, easy to use, just make sure you know your stop, the bus announcements help, but some stops are far away from each other.

Now back home… then next trip is to Pasadena, CA to watch the Rose Parade with a friend.

The photo link:

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