October 17, 2012

Balloon Bust: A Weekend Gone Awry

This was the plan: celebrate our anniversary and our birthdays in one fun, combo weekend. See, the Hubs and I have back-to-back celebrations, as his birthday falls one month, our anniversary the very next month, and then my birthday the month after that. We try to celebrate them all at once for a couple of reasons. But mostly, we like a mini-vacation together versus the whole gift-giving concept. We're all about creating those memories!

Several years ago, we attended the International Balloon Fiesta as our weekend celebration. It was such a blast!

Balloon Festival 2009 
So why not go again? Albuquerque is a beautiful city, and the festival is a great time. We plotted and planned (ok, so we all know I did the plotting and planning while the Hubs watched TV, haha!). We agreed on a fancy dinner our first night in town, followed by a full Saturday at the festival, and then a sightseeing drive on the way home Sunday. 

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry... sigh. Our weekend began with no glitches. It didn't finish that way, but we did start off on the right foot: 

For our first night in town, we had a reservation at my favorite place, the Melting Pot. These restaurants are few and far between, so we eat there whenever we get the chance. If you've never been, go now! You won't be disappointed. 

Fondue is one of my ultimate favorite foods. Most people hear the word and automatically think of chocolate. And hooboy, the chocolate is delicious! But chocolate isn't the only way to enjoy fondue... at the restaurant, you start with a cheese course, followed by a salad, then a main course, and lastly, the chocolate. 

Of course, I started with a drink.... 

The Ying Yang is impossible for me to resist. The restaurant offers a wide selection of adult beverages, including beer and wine flights, along with an impressive list of specialty drinks.

But this is my nirvana. 

Godiva white chocolate liqueur (that's what gets me!), blended with Stoli vanilla vodka, ice cream, and chocolate shavings. 

Ohhhhhh, my....  

Yes, please!

I only have the one, because it is a sweet drink, and I have that whole 'chocolate' thing to look forward to at the end of the meal. I don't know if I've ever been to a Melting Pot without ordering this drink.

Once the drinks are served, it's time to pick out your starter course, the cheese fondue!

The menu offers a wide variety of options. If you're particular or have allergies, it's easy to remove ingredients from any fondue, since your waiter makes it right at your table. 

Want things a little spicier? No problem. Your waiter will sprinkle in more. Want a little less wine? No worries. It's simple to pour in less.

The Hubs and I chose this month's specialty, the Boston Lager Cheddar Cheese Fondue. Starting with Sam Adams beer, cheddar and Emmenthaler cheeses are added, followed by applewood-smoked bacon, onion, dijon mustard, tabasco, and scallions.

Dipper varieties include several types of bread, vegetables, and green apples. Nom nom nom nom...
Technically, the next course is a salad course, which is also delicious. but I forgot to take a picture, whoops!

Somehow, I bet you're not at all surprised that I forgot a picture. One of these days, I'm going to nip that bad habit in the bud!

After the salad, the main course begins. Many people have never eaten a 'main' course fondue before. I hadn't either, until I discovered the Melting Pot. What makes fondue unique is the fact that you actually cook the meat yourself!

Main course - the Fondue Fusion 

First, you choose your meats. The Hubs and I picked out a variety platter called Fondue Fusion (I think this might be seasonal), which included lobster tail, angus sirloin, Old Bay shrimp, buffalo chicken, Memphis-style BBQ pork tenderloin, and wild mushroom sacchetti.

From there, you pick your cooking style, or broth. There are several different broths, but we chose the Coq au Vin. It was delish! Your server prepares the broth, including a variety of vegetables. Next, he explains how to cook your meal. Each type of meat requires a certain amount of cooking time, between 1 and 2 minutes each.

And then you dig in! Spear your meat, plop it in the broth, then eat... and SMILE with satisfaction. The meal also includes a variety of dipping sauces and glazes, so no two bites taste the same.

Though the meal mostly consists of small bites, it is surprisingly filling. After the main course, I was content, but I still had room for the amazing chocolate!

The dessert course offers a variety of flavors, but I was on a Ying Yang kick (white and dark chocolate combo). Your choices range anywhere from the basic milk chocolate to a Flaming Turtle, which is flambĂ©ed table side.

Along with the pot of chocolate, a variety of dippers is provided (naturally), some of them as decadent as the fondue itself! Cheesecake, strawberries, poundcake, marshmallows, brownie bites, rice crispie treats... and the list goes on.

Cool fact for your night out? If you don't like one of the dippers, or if you have a special fondness for another one, just ask your server for more. It's included, no extra cost at all. The same goes for all the dippers throughout each course, with the exception of the meat.

They might have to roll you out of the restaurant after the meal, but trust me on this... it's worth it. Maybe fondue isn't your normal style, but I urge you to test it out just once. You'll never look at fondue the same way again!

Sooooo, as you can see, our weekend away definitely started off on the right foot! Fat and happy, the Hubs and I headed back to our hotel, looking forward to a little beauty sleep before attending the festival the following morning.

Alas, this was not to be.

Oh, we woke up early. Like, 3:00 a.m. early! And we made the trek to the park-n-ride. And we took the bus to the park. There, we stood around for several hours, freezing our tooshies off, anxiously waiting for the balloons to fly.

Unpacked balloon 

Yep. That didn't happen. Mother Nature didn't cooperate with our weekend plans. Instead, the winds picked up speed, making it unsafe for the balloons to fly. The festival goes on for two weeks, but the Hubs and I only had the weekend.

Of course, we were disappointed.

Luckily, Albuquerque and the surrounding areas offer lots of variety in terms of entertainment. Rather than dwell on the unfortunate circumstances, the Hubs and I decided to make the most of our weekend. What mattered most was that we were together, enjoying each other.

So, as we stood in line for the bus back, I quickly Googled Albuquerque and the surrounding areas (I love having a smartphone). Santa Fe is a mere hour away, and the fall leaves were changing! We've been stationed in the desert for a while now, and I definitely miss the color of fall. So, off to Santa Fe we went...

Our drive took us through the Santa Fe National Forest, where the aspen trees were at peak color. The Hubs and I quickly forgot our disappointment over the balloons when we breathed in that fresh mountain air. I think sometimes our plans don't work out for good reason... if the fiesta hadn't been cancelled, I never would have seen any of this:

(For my iPhone and iPad friends, I've discovered a trick for you! You can download the free Puffin App, which allows you to view slideshows, movies, etc. in Flash. Also, more photos from this trip will be coming soon to the Army Wife facebook page).

There is a certain peacefulness in the mountains that a still camera simply can't capture. The wind in the trees, leaves drifting down from graceful branches... it's a magical place. I tried to capture a bit of that for you here (don't forget to turn up your volume!):

After a several mile hike, plus the drive up and down the mountain, the Hubs and I were starving! Santa Fe is well known for its cuisine, so we opted to test out the local flavor.

Oh boy, oh boy...

It was gooooooooood. 

We stopped in town, right on the square, at a little place called Rooftop Pizzeria. I admit, we did get a little confused in the elevator, but we managed to find it eventually! The restaurant offers a variety of specialty pizza and pastas.

The Hubs would pick basic pepperoni, but I wanted something unique. We managed to compromise on the roasted duck pizza. 

Roasted Duck Pizza  
I promise, it was as good as it looks! 

After dinner, we left Santa Fe exhausted, but happy. A weekend gone awry actually turned out to be a wonderful adventure. A good nights' sleep later, our plan was back on track with a scenic drive home. We made a few stops on the way, including a visit to the Very Large Array. Maybe you remember it from the movie Contact, starring Jodie Foster?

The site has been in several other movies as well, including Independence Day, with Will Smith. It also appeared in 2010Terminator Salvation, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Naturally, this are doesn't exist solely for Hollywood's purposes. They actually do scientific stuff too! The VLA is a radio astronomy observatory, meaning these dishes are sort of like telescopes, but they aren't visual. Instead, they use radio frequencies to construct images.

The Hubs and I have long wanted to visit, so on this trip we did! Although, we almost didn't make it, because GPS thinks it doesn't exist (Anyone besides me have this problem? My GPS is possessed, I swear). If you want to visit sometime, this video will give you the directions we used. We got there in one piece, so hopefully it helps you do the same (don't mind my silly commentary, I can't help myself).

From the Large Array, we wandered to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Preserve. It was beautiful there, and well worth the quick trip. The preserve is located just a few minutes off the main highway.

I really want to talk a lot about the refuge, but this post is extraordinarily long! I'm going to leave you with a slideshow of images instead. A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Pretty, yes? (A complete album will be coming to the Army Wife Facebook page later this week).

The Hubs and I enjoyed a great weekend together, despite the glitches in our way. Next time your plans go awry, try to make the best of it. Maybe the universe wants you doing something new and different!

As always....

Thanks for reading, everyone! 
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