It was so nice to get away for the weekend to explore an area we had never been to. We heard so many great things about the International Balloon Festival in Albuquerque and thought it would be fun to take the kids to see all the balloons. It took us about 6 hours to get down to Albuquerque. The drive down was definitely entertaining as we entered New Mexico. We saw a bear on the side of the road, almost ran over road kill, and almost ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere. We were all relieved once we finally pulled into the Hilton Garden Inn in Albuquerque late that night. We went straight to bed out of exhaustion but also because we would be getting up at 4:30am the next morning to head over to the balloon festival. It was a very early morning but everyone managed to get up and we were out the door by 4:50am. We didn't get stuck in too much traffic and were able to get a really good parking spot close to the entrance of the festival. It was a bit chilly outside but with some hot chocolate and cuddling close to each other on our blanket we were able to stay somewhat warm. At 6:00am we saw a handful of balloons rise and fly into the sky as part of the Morning Glow crew. It was fun to see the balloons light up in the dark sky. We walked along the huge field to the next group of balloons that would launch around 7:00am. We walked right up to one of the balloons and stood within a few feet of the basket. The great thing about this festival is that fact that you are able to talk with the pilots and come close to all the balloons. We were all cold but we enjoyed being able to be so close to all the action. It was amazing to see all the balloons launch one right after another. It was quite a site to behold in the clear sky. We only stayed for a little bit longer before heading back to the warm car. On the way back to our hotel we could see all the different kinds of balloons that were going up. Among the original shaped balloons were other balloons such as a pig, a chicken, a cow, a wagon, Tweety Bird, Darth Vader, and Yoda.
After warming up and filling our bellies with some yummy breakfast we rested at the hotel before heading to the Aquarium and Botanical Gardens. The kids loved the aquarium and even though we have been to plenty of aquariums in the past there is always something so miraculous about seeing sea life. We all liked the shark tank the best and spent a good deal of time pointing out our favorites. Right next to the aquarium was the Botanical Gardens. We enjoyed the beautiful weather as we walked around the gardens. Our favorite part was definitely the Japanese Gardens. I was so excited by the entrance to the Japanese Gardens because it looked EXACTLY like the entrances to most of the shrines in Japan. There was a tidy path surrounded by a rock landscape, the bell situated up on its own mound and the area where you wash your hands before entering the shrine. Even the gated entrance was so authentic. Once inside the gardens there was a beautiful pond filled with carp fish and surrounded by the kind of scenery you would expect to see in Japan. It was absolutely perfect. It made me so happy to have a piece of Japan today.
After leaving the Botanical Gardens we headed to get ice-cream at Baskin Robbins and to rest some before heading to see some good family friends. We enjoyed seeing Jean and Mike Meehan who were my neighbors growing up in California. Their daughter, Katrina, also came with her husband and two kids. It was fun to catch up and let the kids play.
On our way home the next day we stopped in Santa Fe to explore Old Town and grab some lunch. We enjoyed touring the St. Francis Cathedral and walking around looking at the shops and the small vendors along the street. Lunch was by far the highlight of Santa Fe. We ate at a quaint little outdoor restaurant called La Casa Sena. It was nestled in an inner courtyard area with live entertainment. The atmosphere was pleasant and the weather was perfect. The food was also delicious. It couldn't have been a more perfect ending to a wonderful weekend getaway.