Neither Melody nor I have been to Texas, so this year we took the opportunity to visit her sister Celeste in San Antonio. Later in the week we plan on driving to Fredericksburg and Austin. Melody's mom Jean came along, too.
Jean showed up on Monday to spend the night so we could head out to the airport in the morning, and we did our normal bus/train routine. We were in the North Terminal, a change from usually doing the small commuter planes to Long Beach. When our plane arrived at the gate, it was interesting to see it had Disneyland branding all over, even though we weren't even getting close to California.
The flight was uneventful, and Celeste was waiting for us when we arrived. We went to the motel where Melody and I checked in and dropped off our bags. That done, we went out to the Pearl Brewery to find a place to eat, ending up at The Granary, which does BBQ but with a more modern twist. We shared a couple appetizers (cauliflower risotto and roasted beets) and a BBQ platter, which ended up being plenty of food.
Back to the motel, then time for a quick walk to check out the San Antonio River Walk, which is quite close. Even though it was nighttime, there was a bit of activity, and we got to see that an art installation where we joined the trail was a bunch of fish which were lit from inside; they were arranged to look like a small school swimming in the air. We also walked past a small dam and locks used by the river taxi between different river segments.
After we finished walking, we did some quick strategizing, then Celeste took Jean to her place for the night, where Celeste's dog Frankie could get excited by having someone new to play with.
We woke at 2am to someone knocking at the door. The door to another room opened, and Melody heard the knocker say that the other person had told him our room number. Back to sleep.
After we woke for real, we went to check out the complimentary breakfast, which wasn't bad, but wasn't as nice as the same motel chain in Kelso (when we were at Mount St. Helens). Celeste and Jean showed up, and we started walking towards Downtown San Antonio to start the day, following a walking tour that Melody had found.
Having gone a bit along the river and a bit on surface streets, we arrived at Market Square, where we admired the architectures of the various buildings and walked along the vendor stalls. There weren't many people there yet, so it felt almost like we had the place to ourselves. As we were walking outside, it started to feel like rain, but fortunately the weather held out for us all day, even clearing up to blue skies in the afternoon.
Spanish Governor's Palace
Next on our walking tour was the Spanish Governor's Palace, which is what's left of the Presidio San Antonio de Bexar, built in the mid-1700s. The Palace was originally the Commandancia, or the office and residence of the Captain of the Presidio. The Presidio was built to protect the missions in the area, including San Antonio de Valero Mission (The Alamo). When the capital of Spanish Texas moved to San Antonio, Spanish governors started staying in the Commandancia, which is how it became known as the Spanish Governor's Palace.
San Fernando Cathedral
San Fernando Cathedral, built in the 1730s, is the oldest standing church building in Texas. The altarpiece is quite large and almost completely covered with gold, giving it an almost glowing appearance.
San Antonio River Walk
After leaving the cathedral and Main Plaza Park, we descended back to the river. Celeste had promised us that the downtown part of the River Walk was prettier and more vibrant, and we agreed. There were shops and restaurants all around, and each section seemed to have its own character. The traffic and foot bridges were all different, and waterfalls were all over (they help to aerate the water).
We also walked through the Arneson River Theatre, which has the stage on one side of the river and seating for about 800 on the other. Interestingly enough, at least some shows charge admission, and it would be interesting to see how they enforce that, since it seems people would just stand on the walkway to watch the show.
It was getting to be about lunchtime, and we knew the next thing to do was to see an IMAX movie about the Alamo at Rivercenter Mall. We followed the river right up to the mall; a man-made extension goes down the middle of the mall, ending right in the food area. When we got to the mall itself, Celeste remembered that a friend of hers has a store near where we were. She found the store and we dropped in to say hello.
We went upstairs to check when the next movie was, finding it ran at the top of every hour. We got tickets, went back downstairs to get lunch at the food court, then back to the theaters. Before sitting down, we wandered around the Alamo pieces on display, including a huge diorama.
The movie, Alamo: The Price of Freedom is pretty old (from 1988) but did a good job of describing the battle and the characters, William Barret Travis (commander), Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (leader of the Mexican forces), David Crockett, and James Bowie, among others.
After watching the movie about The Alamo, it was time to visit the real thing. After a bit of walking around, we found our way and started by going into the chapel, then walked around the grounds. There were more people at The Alamo than we had seen yet during the day, but it nowhere near the size of the crowds during peak tourist season.
A nod to modern crowds was the big signs pointing towards the gift store, which included a place where you could buy fudge ("Buy 2 get 1 free special!"). We ended up not stopping by there, knowing there were still a few more places on the walking tour.
Back down to the River Walk, since we knew that would probably be the easiest way to find La Villita, another shopping center. This one seemed much more uniform than Market Square, but was still quite quaint.
Our final destination of the walking tour was the Tower of the Americas, located in Hemisfair Plaza. Fortunately once we got to a clear area it was easy tell which direction we wanted, but before we actually got to the tower I walked around a bit among the Hemisfair Plaza fountains. There are many sections to the falls, and you can even walk up to the top and see them from above.
Tower of the Americas
After I got my fill of water fountain photos, we got tickets to go to the top of the Tower of the Americas. The elevator ride was pretty quick, and after getting off, we went straight outside to take in the great views of San Antonio, and Celeste was able to point out different landmarks, and we began to get our bearings.
After we went back inside, we strategized what else we wanted to do. One of the options was the river boat tour, but that meant getting back to Rivercenter Mall, then back to the motel after that. Because we had been walking quite a bit, we decided the best course of action would be to find some ice cream.
Ice cream break
There were several options around the mall for ice cream, but as we were at an intersection deciding the best way to get to the mall, we looked up and saw an ice cream store which served Blue Bell Ice Cream. In we went to get our scoops and rest our feet. It took a while (since we were concentrating on ice cream) but at one point we looked up and noticed that all the paintings on the wall were of The Alamo. Made sense, since it was only a block away.
San Antonio Rio Boat
Newly refreshed, it was time to get tickets for the boat ride. We originally thought it would be about an hour, but ends up the tour was a bit over a half hour. That was fine, since we got to see a lot of the downtown section of the river. We were wondering if we would go through the locks we had seen the night before, but no.
Back to the motel
We definitely didn't feel like walking back to the motel, so we started looking at busses. We found one that left about a block away and would drop us off not too far from where we were staying. We didn't have long to wait, so we gathered our change and hopped aboard.
It was getting close to dinnertime, but we each had varying amounts of hunger. What we finally settled on was Celeste and Jean would head back to Celeste's place, and we would order something to eat. We settled on a pizza, and honestly didn't have very high expectations. We were pleasently surprised that it was quite good, with pretty good quality toppings.
Quite a full day, and the next day promised to be busy, too.