Television phenomenon ‘Breaking Bad’ has now spawned a prequel – ‘Better Call Saul’ – starring Walter White’s dodgy lawyer Saul Goodman.
While we were addicted to BB, we were also captivated by those opening sequences of empty deserts and big skies that held portents of things to come.
Both TV shows were filmed in Albuquerque New Mexico, one of the road stops along the fabled Route 66, so armed with a shooting schedule of our own, we head down New Mexico way for a day to see what’s cookin’.
Sun-bleached desert + ragged mountains equals lots of hot air making Albuquerque a self-proclaimed hot air ballooning capital.
Visit in October and you can capture brilliant images when the city hosts more than 500 balloons at the International Balloon Fiesta. Open all year, the futuristic Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum dedicated to the art, history, science and sport of ballooning, shows just how far our imaginations have soared since a rooster, sheep and duck embarked on the first balloon flight in Paris in 1783.
Native American, Spanish and Mexican cultures flow through the veins of Albuquerque’s historic Old Town, a shady plaza anchored by the picturesque San Felipe de Neri church and fanned by ten blocks of pueblo-style adobe buildings. We order an El Gringo breakfast cook-up at the atmospheric Church Street Café before exploring the Old Town’s winding lane ways and gardened patios riddled with shops, art galleries and museums. Local artisans sell their handmade pueblo silver jewellery, kachina dolls and pottery under the colonnaded walkway at La Placita Portal on the plaza while The Candy Lady on Old Town Plaza does a roaring trade in Heisenberg’s transformative pork pie hats and blue-dyed rock candy.
Route 66 – the ‘Mother Road’ – slices through Downtown Albuquerque’s Central Avenue.
We get our lunchtime kicks at 66 Diner, an impeccably restored ‘50s diner with a vintage Plymouth driven through the back wall and a juke box stacked with classic hits before exploring Nob Hill, a hipster area of cafes, wine bars and boutiques filled with mid-20th century vintage treasures.
With a unique, open-air adobe trolley adorned with New Mexican motifs, Jesse Herron and Mike Silva take Breaking Bad – and now Better Call Saul – fans on a city tour that unravels the chemistry between plot and place. “We’re huge fans of the show so completely understand the obsession,” says Herron whose ‘R’ rated BaD tour sells out months in advance. These guys know their city and deliver a great traveling show to tour riders from around the world.
While some don’t speak English, they all speak the universal language of ‘Breaking Bad’ and pulling up at haunts such as Crossroad Motel, Saul Goodman’s law office, Gus Fring’s house and Los Pollos Hermanos aka Twister’s Grill elicits squeals of recognition.
With the cocktail hour approaching, we head Downtown to the Apothecary Lounge rooftop bar and patio on Central Avenue to sip classic Prohibition-era cocktails as a fiery sunset blazes across the city and rugged Sandia Mountains. Some Breaking Bad stars have made Albuquerque their home and the hottest places to celebrity spot are at the nearby Grove Café and Market, an Aaron Paul favourite that was featured in the final series, and in one of the private casbahs off the neo-Spanish lobby at the eco-friendly Hotel Andaluz.
Then it’s on to the Kimo Theatre, uniquely designed in Pueblo Deco style that’s in perfect harmony with quirky Albuquerque, to catch a classic flick.
It’s cool to think that almost 40 years before Walter White and Jesse Pinkman began their infamous ‘cook’, Bill Gates and Paul Allen were cooking up their own recipe for a ‘small company’ in an Albuquerque garage. For a final keepsake, we call into Great Face & Body on nearby Broadway Boulevard where law-abiding day spa gurus Keith and Andre West-Harrison invite customers to cook up ‘Bathing Bad’, their top selling line of blue meth bath salts which is now part of their all-natural spa product range. Wearing hard hats and goggles, smash your own tray of bath salts (the colour comes innocuously from red cabbage) and grab some 8oz baggies to take home.
Obviously, Albuquerque takes its tourism slogan “It’s a trip!” seriously…….
Albuquerque Trolley Co. Book well in advance as the ‘R’ rated weekly BaD Tour is a sell-out. Priced around $65, it departs from Historic Old Town, 208 San Felipe Street, NW Albuquerque For this and other tours visit www.albtrolley.com
Numerous hot air balloon companies will take you up, up and away. For more visit Albuquerque at www.itsatrip.org
The sophisticated yet friendly Hotel Andaluz offers gracious rooms, sublime bedlinens and feather-soft pillows. 125 Second Street NW, Albuquerque. www.hotelandaluz.com
Legendary Indian pueblos, vibrant museums, exotic galleries, artisanal jewellery and folk art are just some of the reasons to visit Santa Fe just one hour’s drive from Albuquerque and the fabulous Taos Pueblo a further 1.5 hours away.
For more visit www.santafe.org