Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Day Touring San Antonio

We expected the drive to San Antonio to take us little more than an hour, as had our drive from the San Antonio airport to Austin a couple of days before, but we were caught in a horrendous traffic jam (on a Saturday!) on the freeways into town from the north; the upside was that by the time we reached our accommodations for the evening, the King William Manor, it was nearly check-in time and instead of just leaving our bags and heading out to tour, we were able to get into our room.  It was quite large, and nicely decorated; the bed was comfortable, and the receptionist was able to give us good touring suggestions. 

Our room at King William Manor

Front View of King William Manor

Rear of King William Manor

I would rate the inn highly were it not for the breakfast — instead of providing breakfast, that function was outsourced to the Madhatter up the street, where we got a voucher for a beverage and a main course (several different varieties of scrambled eggs, for the most part).  And our order, presented at a counter where we got a number to take to a table to which it would  be redelivered, got lost somehow, so we were left sitting around waiting to eat for much too long, until we asked a waiter what had happened.    The time mattered to us, because we wanted to see several of the missions south of town the following morning but also had a long drive to our next destination and a deadline – we needed to be in time for a pictograph tour.

From our inn, we took the long route to our planned itinerary, a stroll along the River Walk to the Alamo, looking at some of the fancy old houses in the King William neighborhood, which was the first of the suburbs to develop outside San Antonio’s original downtown

Our Inn had a brochure for a walking tour of King William; had we more time in San Antonio, I think we would have chosen that as an addition to our limited itinerary in town, or perhaps a walk on the River Walk away from down town

The San Antonio River walk provides paths on both sides of the — river, not only in the immediate downtown area where it is lined with restaurants, hotels and other establishments, but south of town for miles. 

We passed by a St. Patrick’s Day celebration along the walk

before we climbed up from the river to walk to the Alamo.
The part of the Alamo where fighters for the Texas Republic were besieged by the army of Mexican General Santa Anna, actually just the chapel of the entire mission complex, was a relatively small building, and there was a long line awaiting the (free) entry. 

A series of placards with historical information lined the walls of the archway through which the line extended, so that that we could read while we waited, and the line moved quickly enough.   There were a series of exhibits inside – no photos allowed within the buildings, and at the transept of the old chapel, a staffer of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, which has recently been displaced by the state as the authority operating the monument, was talking about the fears of the current staff about whether they will lose their jobs.  We were later given to understand that the state authorities claim to have found discrepancies in the DRT’s books, and that there is larger controversy about how to manage the plaza in front of the Alamo. 

No waiting in line was needed to enter the larger grounds of the mission that contained the Alamo, and many people were milling around in the gardens and walkways.   A narrator was giving an impassioned account of the battle of the Alamo – in a Brooklyn accent — to an assembled crowd of hundreds of people.   We listened for a while, then moved on.

At the suggestion of our friend Smitty back in Austin, we went looking for Schilo’s, where, Smitty told us, they made root beer the old fashioned way.  We stopped in and had not only a delicious root beer (two frosted mugs of it for the price of one) as well as a light meal to tide us over until dinner.

Thus refreshed, we went to see a few of the other sites of downtown Austin, including the San Fernando Cathedral,

 inside of which we found a mariachi band serenading someone’s happy birthday,

and the interesting Bexar County Courthouse

On the way to Market Square, we passed the small building where O. Henry lived and edited his newspaper “The Rolling Stone."

Market Square, despite its English name, is actually a cultural center for the local Chicano population, and the area was pulsing with music from bands as well as being packed with people.  I was up for inching my way into the crowd, hoping to do a little souvenir shopping as well as soaking up the vibe, but Nancy reminded me of my very bad experience pushing through a packed crowd in Salvador, Brazil, the previous summer.  Besides, our dinner reservations for the evening were fast approaching, so I reluctantly agreed that we should head back toward the King William district.  As it was, we got there barely in time to meet up with our friends Katie and Dunx.

Dinner at Azuca was excellent – good food on a modernized Latino theme, served in a pleasant patio atmosphere. Ceviche was an excellent appetizer coming with delicious crackers, and my parrillada mixta was so large that it easily served as lunch on the road the following day

As our dinner wound down, a band was setting up for a 9:30 PM salsa performance.  I liked the idea of staying for dancing, but our friends had plans to go hiking the following morning, and not only did we need to be on the road in time for a 3 PM tour in Seminole Canyon State Park, but Nancy and I had decided what we would try to visit some missions on south of the city on our way out of town.  So we all headed off to bed.

After our breakfast problems (see above), we only had the time to see one of the several missions south of the city, and we chose San Jose, the largest of the missions. 
On the way in, we passed this drive-in theater named after the mission facility (you can see a painting of the mission on the wall below, and the church’s dome and steeple in the background)

It was a fine building

set on expansive grounds, even more expansive than the Alamo.  We were surprised to see at least a hundred cars parked in the lot at the edge of the grounds, and damned if there wasn’t a church service going on that Sunday morning in this National Park Service facility!  (we felt compunctions against taking interior photos as a result).  We learned afterward that they government is trying to avoid establishment clause issues by leaving the church building itself in the hands of the Roman Catholic Church (although we also heard that the church’s restoration was carried out by the WPA).  A woman headed to the podium for a beautiful sung version of the23rd psalm – this small woman had a very big voice, and although she was singing into a mike, it wasn’t at all clear that she needed amplification.

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