Sunday, September 7, 2014

Oh, Canada!

Early this summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Montréal, QC, Canada for a business conference to attend board meetings, classes, and to take a certification exam (Note: I passed! Woot!). Although I have been to the west coast of Canada in the past, this was my first trip to the French-speaking province, and I couldn't be more excited to go! As an added bonus, my friends that live in northeast area of Québec were able to clear their schedules so I could see them while I was there. Woohoo!

One fun thing I discovered about Montréal after arriving is that Cirque du Soleil started and is based there. I've seen several shows through the years, and thought it was very neat to see its home base (if you're in town, go see it - tickets available here). To honor this famed troupe, our conference hosts hired several of the performers to entertain us at the welcoming reception. It was SO COOL! I honestly didn't think they could top it the next night...

Boy, was I wrong! On arrival to the second night's reception, we were greeted by a horse drawn wagon! This beautiful creature transported us up Mount Royal to Mount Royal Chalet, site of the best views in the city. I'm not kidding….

The view from the door of Mount Royal Chalet

Evening and night views from Mount Royal (excuse the blurry picture - my iPhone is good, but not that good)

This beautiful venue hosted our jazz-themed reception, complete with an open bar, living statues, and an amazing jazz band. It was awesome, and was a great surprise! (I was in Montréal during Jazz Fest, but was unable to attend the events - this almost made up for it.) Experiencing the Chalet itself was pretty amazing too - I loved the squirrel carvings in the rafters! It felt like a Disney set :)

While I was impressed with the amazing events the conference had planned, I decided to opt out of them for my last day in Montréal. Why, you ask? Because my amazing friend, Caroline, and her hubby came down to hang out with me before I left for home! Yay!

Caroline and I met because of our mutual love of SouthLAnd and Michael Cudlitz, but she quickly became one of my closest friends and confidants. Sadly, our distance has made it near impossible to see each other so I was very excited that she was able to come down to see me! Caroline proved to be a fantastic tour guide, taking me to see three sites I had been wanting to see during my stay.

Our first stop was at Pointe-à-Callière Museum, a historical and archaeological museum located in the heart of Vieux-Montréal (Old Montréal). This amazing museum exhibits amazing archaeological finds from ever era of Montréal's history, dating back to pre-French Québec to modern times. 

The top of the Pointe-à-Callière Museum offers expansive views of the Port of Montréal and the St. Lawrence river. It also had several small scopes pointed at various architectural highlights along the banks of the St. Lawrence, giving the visitor an idea of what they are looking at while taking in the views. It was a great way to see more of the city, especially the Port and the surrounding areas.

While looking at the more recent artifacts, we came across these booklets and bottles. I just liked the look of them, so I took a picture to look at later. Caroline's hubby saw me, and told it me it was "the beer that kills." Curious, I asked what this meant. Apparently, Dow Brewery was founded in Montréal but quickly became the beer for people of Québec, dominating the market for nearly a century. Things continued to go well for Dow for many years until the mid-1960s when an outbreak of alcohol related illnesses hit the province. It was later revealed that these alcohol related illnesses and deaths were related to a cobalt salt that Dow used to increase the head (foam) of the beer. The scandal rocked the province, and the brewery would never recover. Molson, the "it" beer in Montréal, would eventually acquire the brand, producing the infamous brew until the late 1990s. As a beer drinker myself, it was a fascinating story. You can read more about it, and see some awesome pictures of the old brewery too, here

While we were touring the museum, we discovered that it was also hosting a special exhibit on Marco Polo! It was fascinating! It highlighted many artifacts from Marco Polo's journeys, and talked a lot about the history of the Silk Road and his influence on Christopher Columbus' adventure to the "New World." It was awesome! (Random Moment: While touring the museum, we randomly got on the topic of green chile and New Mexico. A gentleman overheard us, and asked if I was from New Mexico. Startled, I said that I was and asked if he was too. Turns out, the gentleman was visiting from my hometown! Such a small, small world we live in!)

After our tour of the Pointe-à-Callière Museum, Caroline, her hubby, and I walked through Old Montréal (Vieux-Montréal) trying to decide on a spot for happy hour. This was a happy hour more than a year in the making - and it was amazing! The bar itself was really neat, and the drinks were pretty good too!

The next morning, Caroline and her hubby picked me up from my hotel to take me for our last adventure - to visit the Jardin Botanique et Biodôme de Montréal. Located in and around the Parc Olympique (host of the 1976 Olympics in Montréal), the Jardin is actually much older and much more famous that its Parc Olympique counterpart (its gleaming tower pictured above). The Parc Olympique tower was the centerpiece of the Olympics, and is the world's tallest inclined tower (165 feet; 45 degree angle). Visitors are transported to the top observation deck by a rare funicular, the only one in the world to travel along a curve. It's pretty impressive, and is visible from nearly every corner of the Jardin Botanique and Biodôme.

Our first stop was to the Biodôme, home to four unique ecosystem replicas, including an aquarium, rainforest, North American forest, and the local St Lawrence ecosystem. It was really nice meandering through the various ecosystems and learning more about the local environment, especially since it was all I got to see during my visit outside of the city itself. Fun Fact: The Biodôme is located in what used to be the velodrome, which was used during the 1976 Olympics for cycling events!

Our last stop was to the Jardin Botanique itself, which boasts over 20 gardens in a space of over 185 acres. The gardens were stunning - it's no wonder that it is largely considered to be one of the most important botanical gardens in the world. My favorites had to be the rose gardens, the Alpine garden (reminded me of home!), and the Japanese and Chinese gardens. There was a raw beauty to them that made them seem so much more authentic than other similar gardens I had visited recently. I enjoyed them a lot! If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit. You can learn more about the Jardin Botanique and Biodôme, including directions and ticket information, here.

Alas, even the best of trips have to end and our short time together quickly passed. Caroline surprised me at the airport with a great variety of goodies, including delicious homemade maple candies, a Québec sun visor, a Québec coffee mug, two keychains, a pen, and a can of delicious Canadian Maple Syrup! It was such a lovely surprise - one I appreciated immensely. (Thank you, Caroline! It was wonderful seeing you!) I have lots more to share about my trip to visit our neighbors in the north, but this post is already long. So, I must bid you adieu!

Until next time…

--- Becks

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Blue Sky Day - Sunset

"Why not a door? Sometimes you get fixated on something, and you might not even get why. 
You open yourself up and go with the flow, wherever the universe takes you." - Jane Margolis

There are places that you will live during your lifetime that feel like home. They don't have to be home - they just feel like it. The neighborhoods in and around the University of New Mexico campus will always be that for me. I love the adobe buildings and their boldly painted doors. I love the crunch of the leaves scattered on the xeriscaped yards during the fall. I love smell of the fireplaces burning when the Indian Summer turns cold. It was the first place I ever lived that I had that feeling, and it's something I'll never forget. 

Houses were always a secondary character on Breaking Bad, something I really loved about the show. When Jesse Pinkman started apartment hunting in the second season of Breaking Bad, I immediately recognized the neighborhood. HOME! Or at least my version of it. When Jesse drove up to Jane's duplex, I immediately recognized it as being somewhere in the university area. So many of my friends lived in duplexes similar to the one on the show during school - there was simply no way it could be located elsewhere! The screenshots from the show above show it from different angles - the style so familiar and easily placed. 

Jane's Apartment
325 Terrace St SE
Albuquerque, NM

It came as no surprise at all when I looked up the Jane/Jesse duplex to find it just south of campus on Terrace St. The building was built in the early 1900s, and is part of a group of buildings rented out by called 325 Terrace  SE (which happens to be the exact address of Jane's apartment). The buildings have studio, one bedroom, and two bedroom apartments, along with at least one 3 bedroom, standalone house. Surprisingly, the Jane/Jesse building is on the corner of a fairly busy street… it would have been interesting to have seen them film here. From what I can tell, the actual interiors of these apartments were used on the show. I'm not sure what the going rent is for these buildings in particular, but similar one bedroom apartments in this neighborhood range around $550 - 700/month. Not bad, especially when you compare to similar homes in California! You can visit this location for yourself at 325 Terrace St SE in Albuquerque. Be mindful that these are private residences on a fairly busy street, and the surrounding streets are one way only - use caution and visit at your own risk. 

The last location for our do-it-yourself Breaking Bad tour was the Pinkman residence, at first owned by Jesse's parents and later owned by Jesse himself. This beautiful home was given the fictional address of 9809 Margo St, but a quick Google search will show you that Margo St doesn't exist - the closest to it would be Margo Rd in the somewhat rural South Valley. In reality, the Pinkman residence is located in the beautiful Huning Castle neighborhood, close to Old Town and Albuquerque Country Club near the heart of the city. 

Jesse's House
322 16th St SW
Albuquerque, NM

This is one of my favorite locations in Albuquerque for a variety of reasons. I like the older, established neighborhood because it's one of the few in Albuquerque to still have grass lawns and trees. It's near both Old Town and Downtown, which in turn are close to many of my favorite restaurants, stores, and museums. And I love the style of the homes around here - it's not a cookie cutter 'hood at all! As with the duplex, the Pinkman residence is a real private residence. The actual interiors were used in season 1, but the show was forced to rebuild the interiors on a soundstage after the home was sold in Season 2. You can stalk it at 322 16th St SW in Albuquerque, but again use manners and common sense when visiting. Stay off the lawns, out of the road, and definitely do not disturb the people that reside there. 

While you are in the area, feel free to visit some of my favorite spots! The Dog House mentioned in my last post is only a half mile away (easy walk), or you can pop over to Old Town for delicious New Mexican dining and shopping. The Albuquerque Zoo, Aquarium, and Biopark are also nearby and worth a stop while you're here. Heck, while you're in Albuquerque… stay for a while! There's a lot to love about my favorite city, and more to do there than you would think. Casinos, hiking, dining, museums - it's a cultural mecca that I wish more people would take advantage of. I make it a point to play tourist every time I go home for a visit (you can read about my visit last year here). If you do go, let me know what you think! And if you need suggestions, feel free to ask. : )

Hope you enjoyed the notes from our tour! Until next time…

--- Becks

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Blue Sky Day - Part Two

"I hide in plain sight, same as you." - Gus Fring

As I mentioned in my last post, one of the things I loved most about Breaking Bad (beyond the amazing cast and superb storytelling) was spotting so many of my favorite haunts and neighborhoods in and around Albuquerque. It was like being home, even though I lived in Texas and California while the show aired. My favorite locations were primarily located in the University, Downtown, and Old Town areas of Albuquerque, so that's where we headed for the second leg of our tour. 

One of the most difficult characters for me to watch on the show had to be Wendy. I've had the misfortune of seeing a few people I know succumb to meth and other drug addictions, and her depiction of the same made my stomach turn. It was far - too - real! (Note: Julia Minesci deserved an award for playing Wendy. I'm always impressed when character actors can hold their own against heavy weights like Aaron Paul and Dean Norris.) That being said, I did hope that people that watched the show would see her character, believe it, and not make similar choices. Probably the best scene that depicted the sadness of Wendy's plight had to be the montage above. 

Wendy appeared to live at the Crossroads Motel during her three season appearance on the show (screenshot above from the show). The motel is often referred to as the Crystal Palace throughout its run on Breaking Bad, referring to its popularity with junkies in the Albuquerque area. Funny enough, some fan sites thought this was not a real motel, or that it was a shuttered motel used only for the filming. I drove by the motel often during college (it's right down the street from UNM, at the corner of the I-25 frontage road and Central Ave), so I knew it was a real motel back then at the very least. I was curious to see if it was still operating, so it became our next stop on the tour.

Crossroads Motel
1001 Central Ave NE
Albuquerque, NM

I'm happy to report that the Crossroads Motel is still very much an active hotel, albeit a bit empty the day we stopped by. And contrary to college rumors and its appearance on the show, I've read that the show is a fine budget hotel, centrally located and less than $50/night (but check with them directly). They get a fair number of tourists stopping by to  take photos - while we didn't have any issues, I'd still recommend stopping by the office to say hello and let them know you're taking pictures before you start. I've read online that some of the employees are a little wary of unknown people stopping by to take photos, but are pretty accommodating if you go in to the office and ask first. You can visit the Crossroads Motel for yourself at 1001 Central Ave NE in Albuquerque. 

Our next stop was the location of Walt & Jesse's infamous showdown in episode 512, "Rabid Dog." I instantly recognized this location the moment it aired - Civic Plaza is a common gathering place in downtown Albuquerque, hosting festivals, concerts, and more. That said, I did chuckle a bit when the episode aired - I don't think I've ever seen vendors hanging out on the Plaza when an event wasn't also going on. Still, filming on this location had to be a beast - it's centrally located in downtown Albuquerque, with most of the city's major government buildings and hotels located within a two-block radius. I wasn't wrong - you can see a bit of what went into filming this via the AMC behind the scenes clip located here.

Civic Plaza
1 Civic Plaza NW
Albuquerque, NM

Without the trademark blue benches and nonexistent phone booths actually located in the park, my sister and I worried a bit that we wouldn't be able to pinpoint the exact locations where filming took place. We were wrong! The surrounding buildings gave us great insight to where to capture our reenactments, as demonstrated with both the Albuquerque Police Department behind Walt in the scene above, and the DoubleTree hotel behind Jesse in the scene below.

Civic Plaza is pretty "stalk" friendly, as far as filming locations go. We saw a lot of people doing the same thing we were while we were there, and even saw a group of 8 guys setting up to film something else from this very location. So cool! You can visit Civic Plaza at 1 Civic Plaza NW in Albuquerque. Warning: This area is under some pretty heavy construction, so parking is limited. You may be able to find parking behind the DoubleTree on 3rd St, but keep the construction situation in mind if you stalk this in the near future. (PS - A big THANK YOU to my beautiful sister for amusing her sister by reenacting Walt & Jesse's scenes!)

The last location of our Breaking Bad tour for tonight's post is one of my favorite hot dog stands in the world - the Dog House! Seriously - I probably ate a thousand of their chili dogs while I was in college, and I'm neither a chili or a hot dog fan. They're fantastic, but not for the faint of heart. This is seriously spicy (and delicious) stuff! It was a favorite for a lot of my guy friends back in the day, and continues to be a mainstay in the Albuquerque area. Definitely Yelp worthy - you can read the reviews here and decide for yourself! Anyway, I was SUPER stoked to see it featured early on in the series. It was the first location I saw and immediately exclaimed, "I've been there!" It actually appeared several times throughout the series - appearing in Seasons 1, 2, and 5.

The Dog House
1216 Central Ave
Albuquerque, NM

Somewhat unsurprisingly, my family has not enjoyed the yummy-deliciousness that is the Dog House in Old Town Albuquerque. When I told my sister we'd be going there, she actually didn't remember the iconic location upon first mention. Of course, she had also only seen the location on the show as it was filmed at night with all of its neon glory. Once we got there, however, she instantly recognized it as a favorite of Jesse's on the show. You too can enjoy Jesse's favorite hot dog joint next time you're in Albuquerque - just stop by the Dog House at 1216 Central Ave. Get the chili dog and a chocolate shake… you can thank me later ; )

Guess that'll do for tonight. More to come - I promise! (Seriously. Not kidding this time. Honestly!)

Until next time…

--- Becks

Monday, September 1, 2014

Blue Sky Day - Part One

"I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really… I was alive." - Walter White

If you've ever read this blog, you know that I am from New Mexico and went to college in Albuquerque. It was never my plan to end up there - I originally intended on going to school in the midwest. Alas, I ended up in Albuquerque, attending UNM, and had the best time of my life. Ever the gypsy, I knew I'd leave Albuquerque as soon as I graduated. And I leave I did… twice! Despite my wanderlust, however, nowhere I have lived thus far has felt as close to home as good ol' Albuquerque. 

Although I try to get back to New Mexico and Albuquerque as often as I can, I don't get to go as often as I would like. When the governor of New Mexico started advertising film tax credits as a way to boost the economy, I was both amused and excited… hoping that it might mean I would get to see my beloved city more often on TV and in movies. Sadly, most movies and shows filmed in the city use Albuquerque as a backdrop for other cities - rarely featuring the city as a character itself. When Breaking Bad aired, I was thrilled! Finally, a show based in Albuquerque! And it was fantastic television to boot!

Last month, I visited an exhibit at FIDM showing various television costumes from various Emmy nominated television series, including costumes from Breaking Bad. This gave me an idea - I would take my own Breaking Bad tour when I visited home over Labor Day! I convinced my mom and my sister to join in (my sister LOVES the show), and we scheduled a couple of hours to tour various spots before they left me in Albuquerque. I already knew most of the locations from recognition alone, and we filled in the blanks with the help of friends and Foursquare. What follows is the first half of our tour. 

While Albuquerque as a whole is definitely a major character, one cannot dismiss the importance that the White residence played in the show. This house, given the fictional address of 308 Negra Arroyo Lane, is a real home used in every single season of filming. So many pivotal scenes took place at this home - it's hard to pick a favorite. The screenshots above show the house through the years, including seasons 1, 3, and 5 respectively. Surprisingly, only the front and backyard ever make an appearance on the show. Despite looking incredibly realistic, the interior shots were not filmed on location - they were shot offsite on a soundstage. The owners have taken great pains to make sure people are aware of this - they've had quite a few classless looky-loos who have disrespected the property trying to get a sneak peek. 

Walter White's House
3828 Piermont Dr NE
Albuquerque, NM

While I knew it was located in the Northeast Heights, I was surprised to discover that it was in a neighborhood that I knew quite well. It's actually only a few short blocks away from my cousin, and less than 5 minutes slightly southwest of Saul Goodman's office. Thousands of fans have taken the trek to visit the iconic property, much to the annoyance of the owners and the neighbors. If you do decide to visit, be respectful of the private residence itself and the surrounding neighborhood. Don't block traffic or driveways, and definitely don't trespass, loiter, or vandalize the property (don't throw pizza on the roof!). You can visit the White Residence at 3828 Piermont Dr NE in Albuquerque. 

Saul Goodman's Office
9800 Montgomery Blvd NE
Albuquerque, NM

As I mentioned earlier, the White Residence is located less than 5 minutes from another famous location from the show - the offices of Saul Goodman! Saul's character was a riot, and appears to be based on a lawyer I remembered from my college days. (Yeah… not going to name him! But if you're from Albuquerque, you probably know who I'm talking about!) Hilariously enough, I did not recognize this location when I watched the show - my friend had to point it out. Why is that so funny? Because the strip mall is the site of a couple of my biggest college haunts! Haha! "Better Call Saul" has already started filming, but it doesn't appear that they are using this location for this prequel. Still, you can visit his former offices at 9800 Montgomery Blvd NE in Albuquerque.

A1A Carwash (Have an A-1 Day!)
9516 Snow Heights Circle
Albuquerque, NM

Our last stop in the Northeast Heights was just a bit further down the road, and was something I instantly recognized when I saw it on the show. Standing in for the A1A Carwash, the Octopus Carwash chain has been an Albuquerque staple for over 45 years. Sadly, the family owning the chain recently sold to Mister Car Wash. Although they were confident that Mister Car Wash would keep the "look" of the place intact, Mister Car Wash itself was recently sold to a private equity firm leaving the future of this location rather uncertain. So… stalk it while you can! Visit A1A Carwash in person at 9516 Snow Heights Circle in Albuquerque.

Well, that's it for now! I'll try to blog about the rest tomorrow : ) 

Until next time…

--- Becks