Last year I attended a wedding/commitment ceremony in Albuquerque. That proved to be so much fun, this year I followed it up with another trip there. The newlyweds were in New York tying the knot for real, followed by a dream honeymoon to Ireland, for which they needed a housesitter. This time around the visit was much more relaxed. No fittings, or rehearsal dinners, or hair appointments to chase around the city. The only pressing engagements were a lift for the newlyweds upon their return at the end of the week, followed by a cake tasting at Albuquerque's premier chocolateria. And tamales. If I did nothing else, I wanted to hit El Modelo Mexican Foods for the best tamales the Southwest has to offer.

Albuquerque may be the quirkiest city in America to drive in. The street grid spiders out from Old Town across the river from the modern downtown, where it apparently resets itself to zero again. The result is a grid which requires one to drive counter-intuitively, driving west to find east if you will. Fortunately, I was with the mother of the bride and frequent visitor to Albuquirky who doesn't know east from west at home let alone out of state, but somehow being directionally challenged all kind of magically works for her in New Mexico. Our first day excursions started with a trip to the botanical gardens - a hodge podge of incredibly detailed landscaping around a working farm that grows feed for animals in the neighboring zoo. Next we hit the aquarium with its odd juxtaposition of marine animals and high desert. It's easy to forget Albuquirky's less than a days drive from the Gulf coast.

Another day we traveled out to El Santurario de Chimayo, a quixotic chapel and grounds north of Santa Fe. Legend has it a man named Don Bernardo Abeyta spotted a light shining from the ground. When he dug for it he uncovered a crucifix which he gave to the church in Santa Cruz. The next day the crucifix was back where he found it. It was returned to the church two more times, turning up at its original location each time. So the chapel of El Santurio de Chimayo was commissioned to house the relic, the dirt on which it stands declared sacred. But not so sacred you can't purchase some for yourself.

From there we headed to the top of Sandia Peak which boasts the world's longest tramway, and a night on the town which started at a superb noodle bar and ended at home sans house key, with innumerable stops in-between. By Monday the newlyweds were back, our bags were packed, and from the car enroute to the airport I spied El Modelo. So close, and yet . . . Perhaps next time I'll make it home with the Southwest's finest tamales.