An Albuquerque Valentine
It's different here.
The air is different, filled with the fragrance of the ubiquitous pinon tree. The light is different, bright and vivid one minute, soft and subtle the next. The colors are different, too, in the mountains and the high-desert and the vistas-without-end.
From the top of 10,600-foot Sandia Crest - accessed via a spectacular cable-car ride - you can see a hundred miles in any direction. To the west, towering purple mesas roll into distant horizons where the Acoma people live. To the north and south, the peaks of the Sandia Range line The Turquoise Trail to Santa Fe. And below lies a city with wonderful museums; colorful neighborhoods like eclectic Nob Hill or Historic Old Town; excellent restaurants; and a vibrant tri-cultural ethnic mix.
Albuquerque, named after a Spanish duke, was first settled in the late-1500's, where Old Town is now. Here, the majestic San Felipe de Neri Cathedral overlooks the plaza. On weekends, the plaza is often filled with Native Americans selling their beautiful silver-and-turquoise jewelry, paintings, weavings, and pottery.
One of the other sides of Albuquerque can be seen at the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum. It's considered the best balloon museum in the world, sweeping you from the two 18th-Century Frenchmen who first took a balloon into the air (and toasted their flight with champagne!) to the enormous flying kaleidoscopes of today. (And the Albuquerque Balloon Festival every October - in which more than a thousand balloons take to the skies - is the largest in the world.)
At the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, you'll get a look at the ancient cultures and artifacts of the area's original residents, and see ceremonial dances and crafts.
Albuquerque also lays claim to one of America's funkiest museums. The Tinkertown Museum is a multi-colored, ramshackle wooden building on the road up to Sandia Crest, with nearly a million objects of Americana filling every nook and cranny, ranging from two-hundred-year-old saddles to cigar-store Indians to working carousel layouts, and from Lionel trains to Hollywood photos to carnival barkers to original Coca-Cola bottles to...well, you get the picture.
Albuquerque has a romantic side, too, in its intimate little alleys and passageways, its ornate wrought-iron gates and balustrades, its candle-lit Colonial restaurants (many of them in 200-year-old buildings), its omnipresent luminarias (small paper candles) everywhere you look, and in the narrow streets of Old Town, where each doorway leads to surprises. In fact, "Redbook" magazine recently named Albuquerque one of the most romantic date destinations in America.
This romantic spirit really comes alive during the week of Valentine's Day.
The first Valentine's event is the Friends & Lovers Balloon Rally, on February 9-10. As the sun rises over Balloon Fiesta Park, nearly 150 balloons will take off to ride the currents above the city. On the same weekend, the Amor Y Mas Valentine's Celebration will take place in Historic Old Town. There'll be special deals at the shops, galleries, and restaurants, along with live entertainment, chocolates, and Valentine's gifts. And - if you really get carried away by the Valentine spirit - there will be marriage certificates and free walk-up weddings!
On Valentine's night, the romantic Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm will offer an elegant three-course dinner showcasing the food and wine of Spain, kicked off by a sherry tasting in the library and featuring strolling musicians in the gardens.
On Feb. 10, Chatter Cabaret in the stylish Hotel Andaluz will feature the romantic music of the Ravel String Quartet. This is ensemble classical music in a cabaret setting, with plush sofas and special wines, beers, and cocktails, along with tapas.
On Valentine's Night, the Latin Love Fest will feature "sensual salsa and dessert," with a live band, dance performances, food, and drink. And you'll be mingling in a magical Valentine's atmosphere of chocolate fountains.
For the most romantic views of Albuquerque, head up to the two restaurants on Sandia Crest...High Finance, at the top, and Sandiago's Mexican Grill, about midway. When you step outside onto the decks, the city will be ablaze in light below you. And the black-velvet sky will be filled with stars above you.
At that moment, you'll feel that this is the most romantic spot in the world.