After crossing its Sunport, Amtrak and Grayhound stations several times the past, I found myself in Albuquerque once again.
by SeenThat on October 25, 2008
With slightly more than half a million inhabitants, Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico and one of fastest growing cities in the USA. Founded in 1706, it was named after Don Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, Duke of Alburquerque and Viceroy of New Spain from 1653 to 1660 by the by the provincial governor Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdes. In the nineteenth century, Amtrak decided to place there its main station in New Mexico and transformed the city into the biggest one in the state. An Anglo-American railroad stationmaster, who was unable to pronounce the name, dropped the first "r" in "Alburquerque" and again the city's destiny became linked to Amtrak.Despite its important location and size, Albuquerque is overshadowed by nearby Santa Fe, the state's capital and its main tourism attraction. Being relatively low (at 4989 ft as compared with the 7000 of Santa Fe) means less natural attractions are available to the visitor; as per cultural ones, the Pueblo Revival style in which Santa Fe is constructed steals the show in New Mexico. Yet, Albuquerque is worth a short visit.The nearby Sandia Mountain is a constant reminder of the city's importance: the Sandia National Laboratories are there, other security related sites are here as well. As in all of New Mexico, Spanish and Spanish names abound. Albuquerque Biological ParkThis park includes the Albuquerque Aquarium, the Rio Grande Botanic Garden, the Rio Grande Zoo, and Tingley Beach; it is located southwest of downtown at 903 Tenth Street SW. Combo tickets can be bought at the main entrance. The weirdest exhibits are the polar bears, seals and sea lion; probably these are the highest specimens of their species in the whole world.Albuquerque AquariumThe aquarium is on 2601 Central Avenue NW and features freshwater fish from the Rio Grande and saltwater species from the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond fish, the collection includes jellyfish, seahorses, sea turtles, rays, Koi fish, a Gulf shrimp fishing boat, and an eel tunnel. Other displays include plants from desert and Mediterranean zones, a farm and a butterfly garden.Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon MuseumThis museum is at 9201 Balloon Museum Dr. NE, next to the grounds of the Balloon Fiesta, and is the perfect solution for those arriving off the balloons festival season. It contains exhibits related to Albuquerque’s balloon festival; admission is free on Sunday’s mornings. Indian Pueblo Cultural CenterThe 19 Pueblos of New Mexico operate a cultural center on 2401 12th Street NW. "Pueblo" is a Spanish word meaning "village," it denotes the original population of the area being sedentary, unlike in other locations of North America.The museum includes a collection of artifacts of the pueblos, an art gallery and a photographs archive.National Hispanic Cultural CenterThis center displays items dedicated to the life of the Spanish settlers prior the annexing of New Mexico by the USA; it is located on 1701 4th St SW. Sandia Peak TramwayLocated on the northeast corner of the city, the tramway runs from a lower terminus in the northeast heights to the top of 10400-foot Sandia Peak; it is one of the longest aerial tramways in the world. The ride takes fifteen minutes, and can be enjoyed from 9 AM onwards; the trip costs $17.50 for a round trip and offers awesome views of the surroundings.Old TownWithout any doubt, the main attraction in town is the Old Town, where the city was founded; it is located east of Rio Grande Boulevard, between Central Avenue and Mountain Road. Despite its humble size, the area is charming, offering a good display of adobe 18th century architecture and narrow brick paths. Nowadays it is the home of souvenirs shops, jewelries and restaurants. The San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest building in Albuquerque, is located there.MuseumsAlbuquerque includes a surprising number of museums; most of them are near each other on Mountain Road, or near downtown. The main ones are:* Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, at 2000 Mountain Rd. NW. Guided walking tours of Old Town and the historic Casa San Ysidro are operated from here.* The American International Rattlesnake Museum, at 202 San Felipe St, displays a large collection of these reptiles.* Turquoise Museum, 2107 Central Ave NW, displays exhibits of this rock, which is widely used for the local souvenirs industry. * The University of New Mexico, on Central Avenue, includes the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, the Meteorite and Geology Museums, and the University Art Museum. These three museums are free.* ¡Explora! Science Center and Children's Museum, 1701 Mountain Road NW, is considered one of the best such establishments in the USA, teaching science, technology, and art. * New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, 1801 Mountain Road, displays a bit of everything, from dinosaurs to a planetarium.* National Atomic Museum, 1905 Mountain Road NW, includes replicas of the Little Boy and Fat Man bombs dropped on Japan, and acts as a reminder of the war horrors and atrocities.
Albuquerque is the main travel hub in New Mexico; despite its being connected by road, railway and air to all the main destinations in the area that does not sum up to much. On the paper, the Sunport is an international airport; in reality, it is hard to find flights to cities beyond the adjacent states. It is Amtrak’s main stop in the state; but only the Southwest Chief crosses the city. Even crossing to nearby Mexico is mainly done through El Paso, in Texas. Thus, understanding the counted available options is important.CarTwo interstate highways cross Albuquerque, the I-40 runs from east to west, while the I-25 from north to south, the last connects the city with Santa Fe and is by far the most important road in the state. The intersection where both highways meet is called the "Big I."A point stated in almost every street sign in town is that Central Avenue is part of the historic Route 66. The avenue is the principal east-west street and is just south of the "Big I," running parallel to I-40. New Mexico University is on that avenue and delimits downtown to the east.PlaneAlbuquerque International Sunport is the major airport in New Mexico, providing mainly flights to the main cities in adjacent states; I have not seen announces of international flights departing or arriving at the Sunport. Due to the security related industries in the surroundings, this airport features the highest security level I have witnessed, including ion mass spectrometry detectors and L-3 machines capable of viewing and picturing a body covered with clothes. The last – by far the ugliest human rights violation the common traveler encounters while visiting the USA – is apparently not yet in use. Thus it is recommended to arrive as early as possible, though the truth is that I came to the conclusion that while within the USA, Amtrak is the friendliest option for travelers. The airport can be accessed from downtown from the Alvarado Transport center, where Greyhound and Amtrak have their terminals. Bus 50 makes the way for $1; take into account that buses leave only every twenty minutes and that the trip lasts roughly thirty minutes. The airport is slightly above the city and offers awesome views of the city and its surroundings; Sandia Mountain is clear visible from there.Amtrak and GreyhoundAlbuquerque is a major refueling stop for Amtrak's Southwest Chief, which connects Chicago with Los Angeles, and Albuquerque with Santa Fe. The station is near downtown at the Alvarado Transportation Center, at 214 First Street SW.The westbound train to Los Angeles arrives daily at 3:55 PM and departs at 4:45 PM, while the train to Chicago arrives at 12:12 PM and departs at 12:55 PM. The facilities at the station include toilets and a restaurant.The New Mexico Rail Runner Express train connects Albuquerque to communities north and south along the Rio Grande, and is planned to reach Santa Fe in 2009, solving thus the commuters’ problem. Santa Fe being a very expensive city, many people opt for working there while living in cheaper Albuquerque.Greyhound serves adjacent settlements as well as Denver, CO and El Paso, TX; however, the service run at odd hours and the buses are old and uncomfortable.The ABQ RIDE city buses charge a flat $1 fare (25 cents for transfers) and have their destination clearly stated; most routes leave from the Alvarado Transportation Center. The buses include sophisticated cameras inside as well as a camera attached to the front window, which watches the streets. Big brother buses.The Rapid Ride is an express bus service with two routes; the Red Line (766) runs along Central Avenue, from Uptown to the Westside, stopping only at the major destinations along the way, while the Blue Line (790) connects the University of New Mexico with the Cottonwood Mall area.-This covers the main transport options; since after all Albuquerque is a rather small town, the existing grid is sensible and allows a comfortable tour of the main attractions.
by SeenThat on October 24, 2008
On Travel and NamesCertain names are especially attractive for travelers; I commented on that while reporting on Kashgar. Mentioning the name of Chiang Roon can put the most sedentary Thai in move. Considering that, my having breakfast at the Flying Star Café on the morning of a day in which I was planning to have three flights was the most natural thing.The Warning"Be careful, it is rather expensive," I had been told. With a simple filter coffee costing $2.29 and breakfast dishes approaching the ten dollars, the warning was true. Yet, I have learned to have big meals before such loaded days; in such a way, avoiding airports’ food is easy, though not always recommended.The EstablishmentPlaced in a big building next to a parking place, the café is hard to miss. Being close to Central Avenue it is also easy to reach from downtown Albuquerque. Huge windows do not allow much privacy to those sitting inside; maybe shading them could improve the experience.The interior is very spacious, with the counter opposite the entrance and several dining areas arranged between them and below a smaller second floor, which offers a few additional tables. Customers can seat by tables, or on coaches enclosed by low divisions which impart a sense of improved privacy. Naturally, I chose the last option. The MenuThe menu is colorfully written above the counter, next to it are boards written with chalks offering special items. Everything was written in that hybrid New Mexican English sprinkled with Spanish. Hinting to what was going to happen, it was very extensive and after a while I just gave up studying it. Being this the last day in my current visit in New Mexico, I chose the "huevos rancheros" (ranch eggs) breakfast and a cup of filter coffee.The menu included also pastas, home made muffins, burritos, chile stews, salads, specialty wines and a plethora of other items. The customers seemed to be loyal patrons, since it was obvious they knew the staff; I took that to be a good sign.The RecipeThe sign on the wall claimed that my breakfast would include: "Two eggs over medium with spicy pintos, home fries and cheddar-jack cheese over a big flour tortilla. Choose red or green Chile."Overall, that seemed sensible. I asked for it at the counter."Green or red chiles?" countered the waiter."Red, please.""Huevos rancheros with green chile and a coffee," he summarized; I didn’t bother to fix him. Green chiles are by far more popular in New Mexico.After paying, he gave me a huge sign with a number – 32 – printed in over-large characters. I took it to a nearby coach, and put the number on the table. The ServingSoon, a waitress approached me with a tiny cup of coffee and put it in front of me. There was no chance that would be enough for the breakfast. Later - almost too late for enjoying that - I found it could be refilled in a secondary counter placed perpendicularly to the main one.By the end of that cup, the waitress approached me again carrying a strange package. She held two plates - one atop the other - while a white thing could be seen on the upper plate. She put that in front of me and left.The MonsterThe dish was fit for two; apparently that was the reason for the two plates. The description on the menu was correct, but except for the two eggs quantities had not been stated there. Without using scales, the dish seemed to contain at least a 1/2 kilogram of food; there was no chance I’ll consume it.All the food was placed atop the tortilla, creating a dish which was relatively difficult to handle. The tortilla was of the thin variety; since they do not get soaked, it could hold the hot mixture atop it with no damage. The pinto beans were good, but in an excessive quantity, the green chiles were medium and added the perfect amount of spiciness to the dish. I try to avoid eggs, but these were fresh and well done. The melted cheese mixed wonderfully with the chile. I really enjoyed the dish, but it was too much; even if willing to each such amounts of food, I prefer to divide them among several dishes. However, that was a goodbye breakfast and I did my best.My FlightI had a morning flight out of Albuquerque to Dallas, thus - though not in a hurry - I had a tight schedule. However, after finishing the meal, there was no chance I could leave the table. It took three coffees to leave the place; rushing to the Sunport, I was barely able to finish the check-in on time.Goodbye, New Mexico.
ObsessionAlbuquerque has an obsession with Route 66. The name appears in almost every road sign in town. Why? It may awake nostalgia to a far gone America, hint to the Number of the Beast (in morbid America that may play a role, see Hollywood's output along the last century), or just an attempt to make an easy profit on the many travelers rushing to nearby Santa Fe. Regardless the reason, once in Albuquerque it made sense to spend a night at the hostel of that name, despite the fact that it was surrounded by better - and less expensive - establishments.LocationLocated on Central Road - which in the past was part of Route 66 - the hostel enjoys a superb location near downtown. Many restaurants and the Alvarado Transport Center are accessible by foot.SetupThe house where the hostel is stands out among the other hotels in the area; those are built around a central parking lot in a typical American fashion, while the hostel occupies an attractive house featuring several arches and a garden. The reception is located next to the entrance, while the kitchen, a library and sitting room, and the dorms are located at the ground floor. Private rooms are upstairs.Love Song I"Do you have any single rooms available?" I asked an attractive young woman sitting behind an impressive desk."No," she said. In the following minutes, I refused a $20 bed at their dorm and settled for their most expensive room, a double costing $35 (all the hotels surrounding the hostel offered better rooms for $29.99). She was speaking slowly, but not excessively so. Her accent was superb, thus I assumed she was local and that she didn't suffer of hearing problems; she was not wearing any hearing devices and understood my speech even when she couldn't see my lips. This innocent observation became handy."Can I have your ID?" she said; I gave her an American ID. The document – despite being official - didn't state my nationality. Her next question justified my early judgment."I did notice your accent, where are you from?" she asked me while typing the ID details in a computer. She didn’t look at me while I answered."Israel, I guess you do not hear that accent here very much...""Are you Jewish?""Excuse me?" I have never heard such a question in the many hotels I have visited; my surprise was complete."Are you Jewish?" she repeated without a blink."No, I am a Christian." I almost offered her a church member card I got when I was elected to the Lutheran National Assembly in a different country."Oh" she said, without further explanations.I kept quiet.Feeling the tension, she stood up - I found her taller than expected, her eyes were at same level as mine - and said:"My name is ___." Was that a clumsy Southwestern attempt to apologize?"Do you mind my writing a review about your establishment?" I asked."What?"I repeated the question."Oh, I'm sorry, I don't hear very well," she summarized without asking me to repeat the question.I hope she can read.Love Song II"Let me show you around," she said while walking around the desk. Then, she led the way into the structure. She knew I would stay for less than a day since while registering I had mentioned a flight the next day, and yet she laboriously, in her slow and perfect intonation, explained everything - including the dorm rules. We went out a side door and I found myself locked out in the garden."If you arrive late, punch here these numbers and you can enter," she said.Back in the building, she climbed the stairs and showed me my room.After showing me around (there were two rooms and a bathroom) she stood by the door, waiting.Did she expect a tip for being rude? After a while, she left.The BooksBooks were everywhere, in copious amounts in a room next to the communal kitchen, and a few within my room. I couldn't find out if they could be exchanged or purchased, but since I didn't find any book worth the extra weight in my baggage, that was not relevant.The KitchenThe kitchen was well equipped and included a big fridge in an adjacent room; it offered good cooking facilities, eggs and margarine were free of further charges. Other items stored there belonged to the guests. There was a filter coffee machine, but I couldn’t bring myself to put an end to the happy colony of fungi growing there. Nearby, I found better dining options.No Sleeping BagsThen hostel actually has a conduct guide placed in every room and given as a leaflet at the reception desk.From "Your Guide to the Route 66 Hostel" (I kept the original phrasing and capitalization):"No Sleeping Bags in the HostelNo intoxication in the HostelNo Smoking on the grounds (due to state law)You may have a guest visit in the common areas, but we do not allow local residents to stay at the hostel"On HonorThe hostel operates a system of chores. Several of these are described on cards attached to a messages board next to the kitchen. Dorm guests are supposed to pick one chore in the morning and to perform it before 10:30 AM, and then they should give the card at the reception. Performing the chores is imperative for getting back the $5 deposit given at the registration time. Before checking out, dorm guests must return their sheets and towel to the reception.On their honor system, from their guide:"Because people abuse the honor system we are faced with having to find a way to encourage people to do their chores, or raise prices so we can hire people to clean for you."Wouldn't have been simpler to ask the staff at the adjacent hotels how do they manage to do exactly that while charging less?The RoomMy main room included two beds - each one of different size and shape, but both obviously old – and a television with an outdated aerial antenna and no cables. A fan was attached to the ceiling and a heating device was in the corner, but the weather was good and I skipped both of them. An attached room was a kitchen in the far past (its double sink had been disabled) and had a huge closet; this room led to a bathroom with a hot shower. The hot water was excellent; my shower there was the high, and the only positive event of my visit.HalloweenI visited the establishment just before Halloween; the reception room was fully prepared for that pagan celebration, while the receptionist slow talk and premeditated movements helped to enhance the pseudo-scary environment. Suddenly, my early assumption regarding the linkage of the Number of the Beast with Route 66 seemed more plausible.Next morning, I flew far away.
Amtrak's Southwest ChiefAmtrak's Southwest Chief connects Chicago with Los Angeles, passing in the way through Kansas City, Topeka, Dodge City, Raton, Lamy (Santa Fe), Albuquerque and Flagstaff. Santa Fe - AlbuquerqueBy the end of the nineteenth century a dramatic event shaped the future of Santa Fe; Amtrak decided to skip the city in favor of Albuquerque. Consequently, the last became the largest city in the state, while Santa Fe kept its status as the state's capital. Currently a direct railway - called the Rail Runner - is being constructed between Santa Fe and Albuquerque - the first Amtrak station south of Lamy-Santa Fe. Being a major Amtrak stop, thus trains passing trough Albuquerque stop for refueling and uploading food, thus the breaks there tend to be lengthy.In an attempt to counterbalance Amtrak's decision, early in the twentieth century it was decided to create a tourism industry by building Santa Fe mainly of adobe in the Pueblo Revival style. The hamlet of Lamy - roughly eighteen miles southwest of Santa Fe - houses the nearest Amtrak station to the capital; from there, the Santa Fe Southern Railway brings passengers and cargo to the city. Lamy was the name of Santa Fe's first bishop; the quarry from where the stones for the cathedral were taken is next to the Amtrak's station. This time I joined the Amtrak's Southwest Chief in Lamy and left it in Albuquerque. As per the travel conditions, the short trip lasts between a hour and ninety minutes, thus instead of finding a seat in a couch car, I loitered the whole trip at the lounge car.PracticalitiesAs of late October 2008, the trip costs $16; though the additional cost from Santa Fe to Lamy should be added. Amtrak operates shuttles between them, but since the last adds $20 to the cost, the trip is not recommended, unless - of course - you are writing an IgoUgo review. As of the same date, there is no public transport from Santa Fe to Lamy.The CarsAmtrak cars have two levels, the entry one is often dedicated to boarding the car, hand-luggage storage, some couch seats and toilets, while the upper levels host the couch, sleeping, and dining areas. The lounge car is usually located between the dining one and the first couch car.The Lounge CarAfter having traveled extensively in Chinese trains, the American ones offered an interesting and complementing experience. There is no doubt that the Chinese one are more modern, faster and often more sumptuous; however, those failed to provide a lounge car.In comparison to other cars, the lounge one offers a slightly different arrangement. Its upper level offers an attractive sitting area while the lower one hosts a snacks bar, a cozy sitting area with proper tables and toilets much larger than the ones in other cars. A point to keep in mind is that the upper level has air conditioners, while the lower one is cozy and warm; that is of special relevance after the sun is gone, when the train becomes a training camp for Arctic conditions.The Upper LevelConnecting the dining car with the couch ones, the upper level of the lounge car is the perfect place for sightseeing while enjoying a coffee and a snack. At its ends are television sets, though I have never seen them working. Not that it matters since the seats are arranged perpendicular to it and facing large windows covering much of the walls and ceiling; ignoring the moving landscape is impossible. Small tables are on the sides of some of the low chairs; they fit for drinks and small snacks, anything more substantial should be consumed in the lower deck The Lower LevelIn Chinese trains I enjoyed very much the free hot water offered at the samovars located by the cars' ends (the other end featured the toilets). Boarding a train with a tumbler or a cup and a large stock of coffees and teas ensured pleasant trips, where I stayed hot and happy in the freezing Chinese winters. Not surprisingly, American trains do not feature samovars.The snacks' bar is the local version, and how its name hints, it is much larger than the Chinese counterpart. This is the economic version of the dining car, offering drinks, snacks and small meals. All the heating is done using microwave ovens, thus sandwiches and similar products end up chewy and rather spoiled.Electric OutletsElectric outlets can be found on both levels of the lounge car and allow recharging gadgets. However, they often do not work properly. If trying to use the one on the upper level, take note that it is not allowed to leave the cable across the central passage.The AnnouncementsThe way between Lamy and Albuquerque crosses several Pueblos - indigenous settlements of the high desert. The word is Spanish for "village" and denotes the fact that the indigenous people in the area lived in settlements andwere not nomads.One of the attendants kept informing us of the sights along the way through the speakers system; this happens only along interesting stretches of the trip, and as a matter of fact this is the last such stretch until Los Angeles. I have witnessed this several times by now, the event always provides entertaining moments:"The church would be facing this way," the conductor proclaimed, apparently unaware we couldn't see her hands. She giggled when she caught herself, but did not gave us the correct direction.The FoodFood is available in the dining car and in the lounge; at the lounge car it is in the form of a snack bar at its bottom level. Unlike most of America, the prices here include taxes and are rounded, saving thus the need to deal with dimes, nickels and pennies. A coffee in a paper cup costs $1.75, the complete menu is presented in one of the pictures added to this entry. However, the choice of foods includes just comfort and fast foods and the service is patchy with often breaks; a sign on the counter announces the time it will re-open.The ViewsThe second half of October in New Mexico's high desert is beyond the frost date, hence despite the days being hot, the nights are freezing. Thus, the vegetation offers a rather timid display with the greens fading into yellow. Low grass fills the space between scattered bushes and tree, while "mesas" (table-shaped rock formations) provide interesting views. Next to Albuquerque, the Sandia (Watermelon in Spanish) Mountain is especially beautiful.
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