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Adobe-lined streets, walking tours, galleries and shops greet you in Albuquerque’s Old Town

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San Felipe de Neri Church in Albuquerque's Old Town was built in 1706 and is open to visitors. (Journal)

San Felipe de Neri Church in Albuquerque’s Old Town was built in 1706 and is open to visitors. (Journal)

After a morning of craning your neck toward the skies of Albuquerque in admiration of the colorful floating orbs, drive on down to Old Town where you can stretch your legs, take in some history, check out the galleries and shops and get a bite to eat.

“During Balloon Fiesta there’s always a lot going on,” says Julia Brown, president of the Old Town Merchants Association.

Shops will open early and close late, and many galleries will have artist demonstrations taking place throughout the week.

Brown says to keep an eye out for strolling mariachis and Native American dancers will perform on the Plaza gazebo.

Local guided tour companies will host Balloon Fiesta outings, as well.

For example, the ABQ Trolley Co. will have an ABQ Trolley Glow. Passengers take a ride on a trolley to Balloon Fiesta Park for evening events. Food and other extras are part of the package deal. Tickets sell out early, Brown says.

For those who want to get in some exercise during the fiesta, Routes Rentals will hold Balloon Fiesta Bike Tour. Riders leave Old Town on a rental bike and pedal over to the park, Brown says.

A trip to the past

Venturing into Old Town is like taking a trip back in time with its adobe-lined streets.

You’ll find Native Americans selling their wares beneath a portal on the east end of the Plaza; to the north is San Felipe de Neri, a Catholic church built in 1706. It’s open to the public for viewing.

The Plaza in Old Town has plenty of spots to take a break on a bench in the grassy park under shade tree. For those feeling fearless, take a walk through the American International Rattlesnake Museum.

Visitors who want to learn more about the history of Old Town can take a walking tour with Tours of Old Town. The tours are held four times a day. And, each evening after the sun sets, ghost tours of Old Town take place, Brown says.

If you don’t have much time to spare but need to find the perfect Balloon Fiesta related souvenir, check out the Old Town Basket & Rug Shop. It’s known simply as the Basket Shop, and it carries way more than baskets alone. You will find lots of New Mexico-themed fun stuff — coffee mugs, chile pepper wind chimes, shirts, ball caps, aprons and more.

Laura Martinez, general manager of the Basket Shop, says the former grocery store and post office was built in 1875. Now it’s a sprawling 10,000 feet of Southwestern goodies.

“We’re a misnomer,” Martinez says.

And, the shop is gearing up for Balloon Fiesta.

“We’re so excited for Balloon Fiesta,” Martinez says.

Hot-air balloon ornaments, sparkly, colorful wind chimes, coffee mugs, a puzzle and metal spinners are among the fiesta-related items for sale.

“In general, we’re sold out by the end of Balloon Fiesta,” she says. Dining & shopping

When your stomach starts to rumble, you won’t be hard-pressed to find a place to eat. La Placita Dining Rooms and La Hacienda Restaurant & Cantina face the Plaza. Just off the Plaza you’ll find Quesadilla Grille, Church Street Cafe, High Noon Restaurant & Saloon, Seasons Rotisserie & Grill and many others.

Around the corner from the Basket Shop is Pike’s Peak Chocolate Company, where you can stop in for a sweet — whether it’s candy, a cool beverage or ice cream.

Keep on walking down Romero, and on the west side of the street is Gabby’s Handmade Soap shop.

Brian East, who co-owns the shop with his wife, Gabby, says the couple moved the shop from another Old Town location to its current spot a few months ago. They’ve been in business about a year.

For Balloon Fiesta, East is planning a table of Balloon Fiesta soaps in fluorescent colors and fun labels.

“I’ll have 13 different balloons and a multitude of colors,” he says.

The shop carries soaps for just about anyone, East says. There’s wildlife soap, bug repellant soap, soap for your dog, lye (“It will burn the skin right off you,” East says.) and lots of herbal concoctions.

“Everything is all-natural and all-American,” he says of the handmade soaps.

Head north from the soap shop to The Christmas Shop at Church Street and Romero, which will feature a hot-air balloon Christmas tree adorned with lots of colorful ornaments in glass, tin and wood to choose from, says Stephanie Silva.

A block over on San Felipe Northwest, Judie Breidenbach of Native Arts and Design in Old Town says the shop carries a variety of pueblo artists’ pottery, as well as that of northern Mexico.

The shop features pottery from Acoma, Zuni, Jemez, Taos and Santa Clara, which is known for its black-onblack pots.

“All of the very best (pottery) is made with the coil method,” she says.

The shop also carries some jewelry, storytellers and a variety of fetishes that fit in the palm of your hand.

“(The storytellers) would be great fun to take home because you can’t find them anywhere else in the country,” Breidenbach says.

Special spots

At Patio San Felipe del Norte at 400 San Felipe NW, a brick walkway leads to a few shops, including the Old Town Cat House and Casita de Kaleidoscopes, which sells hand-crafted kaleidoscopes in all shapes and sizes.

La Crepe Michel, which serves French cuisine, sits at the end of the patio and offers quaint outdoor seating.

Just south of there, you’ll walk to the entrance of Nick Garcia’s Patio Shops, also known as Poco a Poco, where flute music plays as you stroll through.

At Sacramento Mountain Weavers, all the tapestries, rugs, wall hangings, scarves, shawls and other creations are made by Kelly Stewart and Kenny Nix. They use locally sheered alpaca and wool, which is hand-dyed, says Pam Schrode, a jeweler who works in the studio/ shop.

The artists’ studio/shop, which has been open in Old Town for about a year, is filled with color. And for those who weave, knit or crochet, the shop carries locally produced wool.

In addition to weaving, Schrode says that Nix knits hats and hand-dyes silk scarves and wraps.

Schrode, whose necklaces, bracelets, earrings and key chains are for sale in the store, makes what’s called chainmaille, a sort of armorstyled mesh. Using two pairs of pliers, she carefully attaches tiny metal rings to each other.

Schrode and Nix demonstrate their techniques at the shop throughout the week of Balloon Fiesta.

Barbie Goetz, who co-owns Flights of Fancy with her sister, Alexis Powell, says her shop, located just around the corner from the weaving shop, is a perennial favorite among Balloon Fiesta visitors.

And it’s easy to see why. Look up to the ceiling, which is adorned with lots of hanging ornaments — many of which are hot-air balloons. And, most of them are designed and made by Goetz.

But that’s not all that’s balloon-related. The motifs are on one-of-a-kind aprons, pot holders, serving trays and recycled glass ornaments.

“We are a popular store for Balloon Fiesta,” Goetz says. “People come in to do a lot of (holiday) gift shopping.” If you go

For information on Old Town, go to albuquerqueoldtown.com.

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