Thursday, June 18, 2009

It may be New, but it's still Mexico

Traveled with A and his parents to New Mexico and found New Mexico charming. I was pretty enthusiastic the entire trip and found myself exclaiming about how "cute" everything was. There are a few words I dislike, among them and high on the list, are cute and stupid, so I felt pretty stupid blathering on about how cute everything was.

At any rate, I loved New Mexico. We landed in Albuquerque Sunday afternoon and spent the day with our friend D who showed us the sights of Albuquerque including old town, the plaza and Tingley Beach. She explained that many of the towns in New Mexico are centered around a plaza and church, which shopping a restaurants all around. We saw a lot of life in these plazas including tango dancing, choirs, Indian vendors and even just locals having a lunch break. Shopping around the plaza in Albuquerque had better prices than around the plaza in Santa Fe, but there is ever so much to see in both places.

I learned that barter is still practiced in New Mexico when a pair of earrings we were looking at dropped quickly from $120 retail to a special offer for a pretty lady at $25. I'm cheap, but I think even spendthrifts will find that they don't need to spend more than $5 to get some great turquoise and silver earrings. One great place to shop in Albuquerque is the Blue Portal (2107 Church St NW) which is a craft shop for seniors. It's run as a charity, so the seniors who's work is sold get 100% of the price you pay and there is no tax on the items. The prices were much more reasonable than at other shops as there is no mark up, but the selection was somewhat limited.

Monday morning, we picked up A's parents in our rented Prius and drove up to Santa Fe by way of Madrid, New Mexico. Pronounced mad-rid like "mad hatter," Madrid is the cute artsy town featured in the movie Wild Hogs. It was a great halfway point on our drive up the turquoise trail and we were delighted with the galleries and boutiques. I especially was drawn to the works of Ms. Liz Falkoner, a local artist in Madrid who's gallery Tombo is an old train car with a couple of dogs to welcome you out front. I also loved the gourds by Carol Lee and was especially intrigued by Liz Paterson's white clay pots and sculptures. I left Madrid with the feeling that I want to resume my own artistic creativity!

When we arrived in Santa Fe, we were pleased to check into the Villas de Santa Fe where we had a 1 bedroom condo - I'm sold on the idea of a condo for traveling - it's so nice to have a kitchen and a place that feels like a home. A and I even headed out to the Santa Fe farmer market Tuesday morning for some fresh produce. The prices seemed steep, but we later realized it must be hard to grow fresh produce in those local environs. We picked up some tamales for dinner that night and salad fixins. My only regret is that I didn't get the local kombucha I saw there - I thought I would see it around, but I never found it again and would have loved to try it as the flavors, like Sangria and Mojito, sounded fantastic!

Lots more galleries in Santa Fe - including the Mineral and Fossil Gallery where A purchased an interesting 150 million year old fossilized squid piece. We didn't even get to see that much of Canyon Road as we started out near the plaza. The drive by we took later was just enough for A to know he needed to go back for photos the next morning and me to know that I could happily return to Santa Fe another time in the future. Our other explorations included churches: San Miguel Mission and Loretto Chapel; food: Upper Crust Pizza (whole wheat crust! yum!) and Bumble Bee Baja Grill (squash quesadillas are my new favorite!); and chocolate!

Oh, the chocolate! A sweetly put together a list of the best chocolate places in Santa Fe for my tasting pleasure. It was catch as catch can and we nabbed chocolates whenever we could find them, but were surprised at the dearth of chile inspired chocolates. At Todos Santos, we tried the red chili and tangerine cream truffle - it was good, but not quite spicy enough for our local adventure. At Kakawa, we were put off by the incredible focus on elixirs, but tried a couple of truffles and elixirs anyway. From the mildest Marie Antoinette to the strongest Aztec Warrior, we decided that cocoa elixirs were not for us. We did enjoy the truffles, though. Number 1 for us was the Peach Pink Peppercorn truffle which neatly combined the sweet peach and spicy peppercorn flavors. The Gorgonzola truffle was also quite good, but we are biased to our own local smokey blue cheese truffle. Another interesting taste that we didn't love, but which is worth a taste was the paprika truffle. Basically a chocolate truffle rolled in paprika, it's strange at first because it's a whole lot of paprika, but once the flavors blend in your mouth, it's actually quite good. After that, we were on a mission to find chili chocolates.

A wrong turn put us at Chocolate Maven, but we were in no mood for distraction, so it was back into the car until we finally found our original destination of Chocolatesmith. Next time, it would be worth taking time for Chocolate Maven, but every time, it's worth taking lots of time for Chocolatesmith! Both were featured on Food Network which will make them popular tourist spots, but you don't get on Food Network for nothing! Chocolatesmith was generous with their tastings and we were able to try many things, including a white chocolate lavender lemon bark and the mountain bark (with cherries, coconut, toffee and white and dark chocolate!), both of which we loved. In our excitement over the green chiles, we even forgot to try or purchase any red chile chocolates, so those are on my list for when I go back! We walked away with dark chocolate dipped ginger; pistachio, cherry and green chile bark and a single spat all of which were consumed with great delight. It's hard to say if I liked the bark or the spat better - the spats are "Pan Roasted Tamari PiƱon (pine nut!) in a bed of Buttery Home made Caramel trimmed with Dark Chocolate" and were DELICIOUS! The sum of our chocolate tasting - yes, there is good chocolate to be had in Santa Fe!

We also spent some time in Bandelier National Park after which I welcomed the highlight of our vacation: a trip to the spa! A booked us a room at Ten Thousand Waves, but not just any room, the best room they have, the romantic Ichiban private bath house. It was an amazing place to relax and rejuvenate and an even more amazing place to receive a marriage proposal. Yes, A asked me to marry him while we were relaxing together at the spa and I said yes. This vacation and this place will therefore always hold a special remembrance in my heart.

Must do's next time I'm in Santa Fe:

  • Try local kombucha
  • Canyon Road art galleries
  • Chocolate Maven: breakfast and baked goods
  • Chocolate Smith: more spats, red chile chocolates
  • More authentic New Mexican cuisine
  • Ten Thousands Waves, again and again

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