Sunday, March 23, 2014

Deep in the heart of Texas, cont.

Clay gets a lesson from Mr. Charles.
On day seven of our trip, it was off to the Institute of Texan Cultures. Based on my research, this place seemed like a perfect fit for little man. There are tons of displays on all the different cultural groups that have settled in Texas (American Indian, French, Greek, Dutch, Italian, Swiss, even an exhibit on the Lebanese!). Plus, visitors can enjoy a moving multimedia show projected on the facility's dome show theatre ceiling. Then, in the "Back 40," outside the museum, you can go inside an adobe house, a fort, a one-room school house, a barn and a log house. Kids can pick up/touch all the furnishings and get an idea of what life was like for settlers in Texas.

But the very best part? Because it was spring break, the museum had trained, costumed volunteers throughout the facility to help kids with hands-on activities, answer questions and tell them about Texas history. Mrs. Frances let Clay spin wool into thread so he could make a bracelet. Two cowboys at the chuck wagon taught him how to climb into a saddle. Mr. Charles out in the school house showed him how to keep the stove stocked with wood to heat the building and fetch water in a pail from the pump so kids could have a drink. In the barn, Clay ground hard corn kernels into meal. 

This raccoon was from Montana.
Our favorite was the frontier man, dressed all in skins over at the log cabin. He and Clay made fire. I kid you not. Coolest. Thing. EVER. Clay was completely dazzled. (Plus, when the frontier man saw Clay's coon skin cap, he pulled two REAL coon skin caps out of his pack. Clay got to touch them, feel how soft they were and guess where the raccoons had lived based on the thickness of their fur.)

After a morning of fun, we were ready for lunch. A kind lady at the museum's entrance suggested we walk over to Bill Miller BBQ for a fast, filling meal that was easy on the pocketbook. We had to cross a few very busy streets, but there were crosswalks. We went through the line and bellied up to brisket, fries, green beans and a big slice of apple pie. Yum! Food was delicious, service was super-quick and the tables were packed at this casual spot.

Then, it was off to Boerne for an activity I'd arranged in advance - a one-hour trail ride! Clay had ridden a tethered horse around in a circle before, but he'd never been on a real trail ride. I found Stricker Trail Rides, only about 30 minutes north of San Antonio, on TripAdvisor. Initially, we'd planned to spend a half day at a dude ranch in Bandera. But because it was spring break, they were only offering full day bookings. I worried that a full day (plus an hour's drive out, and another hour's drive back) might be a bit much for little man, so I investigated other opportunities. 
He cowboyed up!

I'm so glad I did. Mr. Willie Stricker himself led our ride, and the horses were gorgeous. Clay got the smallest horse, Anna (and a bike helmet, because you can never be too safe). Brian and I both got big, beautiful horses. Mine was named Spirit, and Brian's was named Prize. There were other folks on the ride, too, and our entire party was around 10 people. Mr. Willie saddled up, and we enjoyed a little over an hour on horseback, following a trail through the Texas hills. Yellow wildflowers dotted the hillsides, and the breeze blew my hair back off my face. We even got to trot in a few level spots! It had been a while since I'd ridden a horse, and I forgot how wonderful it was! As soon as the ride was over, Clay wanted to go again. Now that we're back home, I'll be looking for some close places he can ride here!

On our way back to San Antonio, we figured we'd find some dinner. Our guidebook recommended a place called Bin 555 for Mediterranean tapas and wine. We typed the address into our GPS and hit the road. But when we arrived, we didn't see the spot. When I asked, a local told us that a few weeks before, the owners had completely reinvented the restaurant, redesigning the menu to reflect an Asian fusion sensibility and renaming the place Umai Mi. We decided to give it a try!
The scenery was gorgeous.

I am soooo glad we did. We ordered several small plates - the tom kha soup, the combination fried rice, the shrimp rolls, the "expensive" mushrooms (on special at $6) - plus one larger plate of lemongrass chicken. The food was amazing. The soup was a rich, flavorful broth dotted with cilantro oil. The fried rice was full of delicious goodies, and the shrimp rolls were hot and crispy without being greasy. The good-sized portion of tender lemongrass chicken came with a bowl of steamed rice. Clay happily munched on fried rice while we watched the kung fu movie being projected on a nearby wall. (There wasn't any sound, so we got to make up everyone's lines! It was a very interesting plot, to say the least!) On the way out, Clay got his boogie on in the restaurant's shaded deck. (Umai Mi plays an unexpected mix of hip hop and R&B over its sound system while you eat. Clay can't resist a beat!)

Stained windows at St. Joseph's
Saturday was our last day in San Antonio. We decided to try a late breakfast at Schilo's, which was only a few blocks from our hotel. It was a quick, yummy trip! The German deli is something of a historic landmark in downtown San Antonio, and it's housed in a former mercantile building. I chose the apple struessel with a side of bacon and a big cup of coffee, and hubs and Clay both had pancakes. The struessel was HUGE and delicious! (The pancakes weren't bad, either. I might have poached a couple of bites!) Schilo's was packed with young families and retirees, probably all drawn by the fun atmosphere, good food, quick service and low prices. 

After breakfast, Clay and I peeped into St. Joseph's Downtown Church. Out boat tour guide had pointed it out to us, and it was open, beautiful and free. We took a minute to admire the stained glass windows.

From there, we moseyed on over to RiverCenter Mall. We'd passed by it a few times, but hadn't checked it out yet. Of course, we found a Disney store inside. And a small kids' play area. After hitting both of those and buying a couple of souvenirs for hubs, we stumbled across a movie theatre. The sky was threatening rain outside, so we bought a couple of tickets for Mr. Peabody and headed in.

A few notes: 
  • The kiosk where you buy the movie tickets may not be the place where the movie is actually being shown. We bought tickets down at what I now know is the IMAX theatre, but the movie we were seeing was upstairs in the traditional theatre. Because our time was so close, we had to race upstairs! Luckily, we got there just as the previews were ending.
  • When I bought my tickets at the kiosk, I had to choose assigned seating for us. I thought that was pretty weird. Because the show was imminent, there weren't many choices left. I had to pick two seats on the second row. I worried we'd get cricks in our necks from craning to look up at the screen.
  • I had no reason to worry. When we got to the theatre, we sat in huge leather home theatre chairs with big cup holders. Not only that, a button on the arm rest literally reclined the chair almost fully back. You could practically LIE DOWN and watch your movie. Clay thought it was a HOOT, and so did I. 
The view from our balcony. Sigh.
After the movie, I dropped Clay back at the hotel with Brian so I could take a last walk around town. Finally feeling hungry again after our giant breakfast, I made my way to Zinc Bistro and Bar. A friend had recommended it, and she wasn't wrong. I chose a refreshing glass of sangria and the spicy spinach artichoke gratin. Mmmmmmmm. Feeling satisfied, I strolled through the La Villita area, poking my nose into shops and finding a few treasures to take home: some stained glass, some copper, a pale green pottery vase. It was St. Patrick's Day weekend, and there were tons of booths and other preparations going on. I people-watched, read the signs about this historic area and took my time. 

Hubs telephoned to say they were dinnering at Whataburger, so I was on my own. Online reviewers seems to agree that Biga on the Banks was amazing, so I decided to pop in for my last dinner in San Antonio. I was just in time for their Winter Fare prix fixe menu. I had a lovely salad, a nice piece of fish with sides and their famous sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Washed down with a glass of red and a cup of decaf with cream, it was the perfect ending to a glorious trip!

Then, it was pack, pack, pack for our VERY early flight the next morning. What a fun town! San Antonio is a big city, but it's very navigable. We loved our visit!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Deep in the heart of Texas, cont.

A curtain/drape formation at Natural Bridge Caverns
On day five, our big plans were tickets for the Hidden Passages tour at the Natural Bridge Caverns! After breakfast, we loaded up in the car and drove about 30 minutes north of San Antonio to the attraction. We got there *just in time* for our timed tour!

Our guides led us to a small pavilion, explained that we'd be climbing down 180 steps into a series of caverns, and then climbing those same 180 steps back UP, to see the rock formations growing below the surface.

The caves really are amazing. We saw stalactites and stalagmites, really unique formations (like the pincushion), a gorgeous formation called the Diamond River (with tons of sparkling little crystals) and beautiful, almost liquid-looking drapes of rock. Clay oohed and ahhed and asked tons of questions. ("Are there vampire bats in here?" he piped up during one noticeable silence.) When we got to the very bottom of the caves, we sat down on some benches. Then, our guides turned out the lights (completely) and asked us to listen. We could hear tiny drips of water everywhere, but we couldn't even see our hands in front of our faces. Really, really cool.
Diamond River formation - sparkly!

After that, we began the ascent up, back to light and air. When we finished our cave tour, we walked around the rest of the attraction. They have a big central entry point, where they sell tickets and operate a gift shop and cafe, and they also have some new storefronts. One building sells geologic souvenirs, there's a sweet shop and they also have a gorgeous Canopy Challenge - a ropes course with zip lines. Clay really, REALLY wanted to do the ropes course (and so did I, because the thing looks AMAZING), but he wasn't tall enough. Luckily for us, the attraction also offered the Amazen' Ranch Roundup, a maze course. Clay, Brian and I all did it, navigating our way through until we punched our cards at certain checkpoints and found the exit. It was a hoot! (Although, at moments, I thought I might die in there.) After a quick stop for a souvenir, we loaded back in the car.

HemisFair Park was built in the late 60s for the World's Fair.
Next up for our hungry crew was lunch in the city. We directed our GPS to Azuca, a nuevo latino place that turned out to be one of the best finds of our trip! We started with the fireballs as an appetizer, yummy corn fritters with different sauces to taste. I had the lunch catch, a fresh large serving of tilapia with sauteed vegetables and mashed potatoes. It came with a red salsa and a creamy adobo sauce, one on each side of the plate. Oh. Em. Geeeee!! This was soooo good. For dessert, we all split the tres leches cake, which was creamy and soft and sweet. Everything was fresh and tasty, prices were more than reasonable, and service was sweet, friendly and quick! We loved this place!

Our traditional "nerdy selfie at the top of a building"
After lunch, we visited HemisFair Park. We walked over from the hotel, taking the long avenue from La Villita that leads visitors directly to the Tower of the Americas. The park and the tower were both built in the late 60s when San Antonio hosted the World's Fair. (If you enter the park by this route, you'll walk by several vacant historic homes that sit within the park's perimeter. They are in bad shape and sad to see, but don't despair! The city has announced a revitalization of the park, which you can learn more about online.) It was a pretty day, so we enjoyed the park and the playing fountains a bit before buying our tickets for Tower of the Americas.

Then, we took the elevator way, way up to the top of the tower. When we got there, we had fun matching city landmarks in the skyline with indoor photos before going out onto the open-air observatory. What a rush! The winds were really, really high! It reminded me of when hubs and I went to Hawaii and stopped at Oahu's Pali Lookout! My purse was literally flapping above my shoulder, and my hair whipped around my head something fierce! Exhilarating! We stayed at the top of the tower for a while, alternating between admiring the skyline from indoors and going out to the observation deck for more windy fun. Finally, hunger drove us to leave, so off we went in search of dinner.

The wind was terrific at the top of the Tower of Americas!
We ended up back at Zocca. This time, I tried the clam linguine! YUM! After dinner and a glass of wine, we strolled very slowly back to the hotel and gratefully sank into bed.

By day six, I was ready for a bit of alone time. (Too much togetherness can spell doom for a family vacation.) Hubs and Clay decided they were going to try out the hotel pool again, and I headed out for a morning at the McNay Art Museum. What a good idea!

I got there just as it was opening, and the very helpful woman at the front desk walked me through a map of the facility. I hung a left, enjoying the museum's collections in modernism, post-impressionism, impressionism and sculpture before rapturously arriving at the theatre arts rooms.

Jacob Epstein's Helene bronze
Now, many museums don't even nod to the theatre arts. And it can be a difficult medium to capture and display. But the McNay has a stunning collection of marquettes from wonderful productions: Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George, Richard III. Accompanying information puts the designs into context and gives you an idea of the overall production effort. Screen projections show you the art in action. It's just really, really well done. And the adjacent room is all about the technical values of the Fiddler on the Roof revival!! Woot! Drawings, sketches, models, even notes scribbled on the odd piece of notebook paper. Wonderful, just wonderful.

After spending significant time in the theatre arts rooms, I made my way to the southwest and medieval rooms. From there, you can step out on the glorious second-floor balcony, overlooking the museum's main center courtyard. You can take in the air, survey the beauty and feel what it might have been like to be Mrs. Marion McNay. A small staircase will lead you down to the courtyard, where you can watch the fountains play, sit on a bench, admire the flowers and then head back in to see the rest of the facility. (I peeped into the "Works on Paper" gallery. I remembered that when the greeter was talking me through the facility map, she'd specifically pointed this room out to me, noting, "You'll really enjoy that room," with a gleam in her eye. You know what was in there? Drawings of male nudes! They called the exhibit "The Full Monty!" Sly old girl!) At the end of my tour, I enjoyed a large temporary exhibit of Robert Indiana's work. Bright, colorful, opinionated.
One of Indiana's famous LOVE installations

By this time, I was hungry. I telephoned my partners-in-crime and asked if I could pick them up for lunch. I drove to get them, then came back out on Broadway to treat them to lunch at Chappy's. I had a juicy steak frites, and hubs and Clay both had burgers. The food here is so, so good. Prices are a bit spendy, but you get the distinct feeling that you're dining with more locals than tourists. Service was impeccable. There's a lot of construction on Broadway right now, but the restaurant has off-the-street parking.

After lunch, we decided to visit the San Antonio Botanical Garden. We were already on that side of town, and it was a sunny, pleasant day. After parking and paying our entry fee, we strolled through Gertie's Garden and ducked under a wisteria arbor. The Japanese Garden was closed for renovation, but we enjoyed the sensory garden, full of fragrant and tactile plants like rosemary and lamb's ear. Next, we headed for the Lucille Hall Conservatory. These pavilions were so enjoyable and beautiful. The tropical plants were lush and colorful, and we loved the desert environments with all their prickly denizens. Clay got a HUGE kick out of the "food" garden, which featured a coffee bean plant, a chocolate plant, a vanilla vine and many other recognizable edibles. We walked under the waterfall in the fern room, and then we climbed up, up, up through the palm and cycad pavilion! From there, we cut across to the children's vegetable garden, a very large plot full of all kinds of goodies. (Their children must be MUCH more hard-working than mine! Ha!)
Palm and cycad pavilion

Then, we wandered trails that reflected different Texas environments: the south Texas arid climate (with a cleverly concealed bird watching blind), the east Texas pineywoods (with a big lake, ducks you can feed and a log cabin to play in) and the hill country. We ambled back through the formal and display gardens before heading for a break in the hotel.

We weren't too hungry for dinner that night after such a hefty lunch. We popped out to Bella on the River, near our hotel, for cocktails and a few nibbles. I had a Bella Blush, hubs got a couple of bottles of beer and we split the antipasto platter. Clay had pasta marinara. We talked and laughed with the other diners seated al fresco as we watched the boats go by. It was a fun, relaxing ending to a fantastic day.

More to come . . .

Deep in the heart of Texas, cont.

Clay and I at the Alamo
Monday was cloudy but a bit warmer, so we decided to visit one of the major attractions on our must list - the Alamo. Contrary to what you might expect, the Alamo is located right in the middle of downtown San Antonio, as the city has grown up around it over the years.

First, we admired the Alamo cenotaph, a giant monument that memorializes some of those who died during the historic siege. Then, we made our way through the quiet gardens and the wall of history (which explains and interprets 300 years of significant events at the site). Lastly, we strolled through the building itself, exploring the galleries in the long barracks building afterwards. (It's worth noting that no photographs are allowed inside any of the structures at the Alamo. We took plenty of photos outside and in the gardens, though.)

The Alamo cenotaph
A few things particularly struck me about the Alamo. The exhibits referred frequently to a collection of letters from Alamo commander William Travis. Travis wrote the missives on the eve of the siege (and some as it began), and you can almost hear the desperation in his voice as you read them. He obviously knew that, unless help arrived soon, he and his men would die. Reading his words all of these years later - you could tell he knew what was at stake. It was so human. I also loved standing in the sacristy rooms, which sheltered women and children during the siege. You can feel a whisper of the weight those survivors must have felt. It's both terrible and moving.

On our way out, we stopped in the gift shop. Clay picked out a (fake) coon skin cap, which he wore often during the remainder of our trip. (Every day, Clay would ask, "Is it cold out? 'Cause I might need my hat." So cute!)

Pretty Market Square!
We decided to stroll back to our hotel through the Riverwalk and hunt up some lunch. We passed Las Canarias, which our guidebook said was worth a stop. I chose a delicious redfish sandwich, hubs had a burger and Clay scarfed down an artisan PB&J. As we ate, it started to rain outside. We dodged the drops on our way back to the hotel, where we hit the pool for some relaxation. By dinnertime, the rain had abated, and we popped out to Zocca on the Riverwalk for delicious pasta and pizza. I had a lemony, creamy pappardelle strewn liberally with crab and asparagus. Brian had a meaty rigatoni, and Clay nibbled on the pepperoni pizza. We loved this place. It was close to the hotel, the food was delicious, the service was fast/friendly and the prices weren't outrageous. Winner!

The next morning, it was gloriously warm and bright. After two and a half days of spotty rain, I was ready to feel the sun on my face! After breakfast, we started with another walk through Market Square. With good weather on our side, we took our time, perusing the shops, going into the big warehouse where all the booths are and selecting a few souvenirs.

The walled garden at the Spanish Governor's Palace
On the way back to the hotel, we popped into the Spanish Governor's Palace. It's one of the oldest buildings in San Antonio, originally built as residence and office of the commanding Spanish Captain of the Presidio, who was charged with protecting the area's missions. The building has had many lives (including bar, clothing store and produce shop), but a portion of the existing structure still remains. In the 1930s, it underwent an extensive (and editorial, not historical) renovation to turn it into a tourist attraction. What you basically learn as you walk through the charming structure is that what you are seeing is probably something much nicer and larger than what the Captain of the Presidio actually had to work with. No worries, though. It's a fun, quick, educational stop, and admission is cheap. We loved the walled garden, the kitchen and the children's room.

Mission San Jose cathedral dome and missionary ruins
Then, we got our car out of the garage to grab some lunch at Le Frite. I'd heard good things about this place online, and I couldn't wait to try it! It's a cozy little bistro at the far end of downtown, near HemisFair Park. We pulled into one of the designated parking spaces and tumbled in. First of all, we had a GREAT waiter. Even though Le Frite doesn't have a kids' menu, he fixed Clay right up with some pasta marinara. I chose the mussels with fries, and hubs had the croque monsieur. My order of mussels was GIANT and delicious! I had plenty of fries to share, too! Prices were reasonable, and I WILL go back to this place the next time I'm in  San Antonio. We paid our tab, then hopped back into the car to check out Mission San Jose.

Cathedral entrance stone work and carved door
Out of all the San Antonio missions, Mission San Jose seemed to be the largest and most well-restored, so it got my vote for a visit while we were in town. On a cloudless day, the stone of the cathedral and the missionaries' quarters stood out in sharp relief against the blue sky. After a brief tour through the on-site museum (They offer maps that guide you through the site.), we entered through a gate in the wall that used to encircle the settlement. All along the edges of the walls are small apartments that functioned as housing for those the missionaries had converted. You could even go into one or two of them. Wells were placed here and there near the apartments for convenient access. Then, we explored the ruins of the missionary quarters and approached the cathedral from the side. It's a beautiful space, with elaborate stone work (including an intricate rose window, said to be carved by an artisan in honor of a lost love) and ornate doors. Lastly, we walked back to the grist mill and through the granary, where a really interesting narrated model of the site explained what life might have been like for the missionaries and those they'd converted.

Riverwalk at night
By this time, we were pooped! We headed back to the hotel for a quick rest before dinner. After cooling our heels a bit, we strolled the Riverwalk to Saltgrass Steakhouse. It's Texas chain offering really good steaks at a very attractive price point. I was still full from lunch, so I opted for a glass of sangria and a crab cake appetizer. Hubs had a big ol' steak, and Clay got a hamburger. Food was served quickly, it was yummy, and it wasn't very expensive. Service was friendly, too!

After dinner, Clay and I decided we'd go on a special date, just the two of us. First, we went up to the 15th-floor terrace to watch the sun sink. (He mentioned to me that if he were Spiderman, he could sling a web onto one of the adjoining tall buildings and swing off into mid-air.) Afterwards, the two of us trooped down to the Riverwalk and strolled a bit. We decided it was high time for us to take a boat ride, so we bought our tickets and got in line.

What fun! We puttered through the whole Riverwalk, and our sweet guide told us all kinds of interesting things about the area, the buildings we passed and the history of San Antonio. If you're planning on visiting the Riverwalk area, this is a must-do!

After our ride, little man and I headed back to the hotel room and snuggled up for a bit before bed.

More to come . . .

Deep in the heart of Texas

Lobby at the Drury Plaza Hotel Riverwalk
Once little man officially started school last year, we quickly learned the wisdom of planning family vacations during school holidays. (Otherwise, you take the schedule hit twice - once when you vacation, and again when school is closed.) The problem with this strategy is that lots of popular family vacation destinations are absolutely mobbed during the weeks that schools are traditionally out. So, with spring break 2014 looming ahead of us, hubs and I knew we had to make a plan.

San Antonio had been on my let's-go-visit list for a while. I'd seen it included in several round up articles as a good family destination. Though their spring break was the same week as ours here in Mississippi, I figured that San Antonio wouldn't be swamped with college kids. (They'd head to the beach, right?) While we guessed that San Antonio would probably be a regional destination, we felt comfortable enough about crowd levels to book a week there. Right after Christmas, we reserved our plane tickets, and we were well on our way to Team Bradshaw's Amazing San Antonio Adventure.

Mi Tierra's colorful decor
None of us had ever been to San Antonio, but I knew I wanted to stay on the Riverwalk. After some online research, we settled on the Drury Plaza Hotel Riverwalk. What a find! The hotel is in the old Alamo National Bank Building, and much of what you'll see inside the lobby is original to the structure. A beautiful stained glass window, gold leaf moldings, original brass/bronze fixtures and gorgeous marble have either been painstakingly restored or recovered. The vault is even still in the basement! (You can learn more about the restoration process here.) Not only that, tons of extras are included in the (very reasonable) room price: free hot breakfast buffet, free snacks and drinks each evening, and free sodas/popcorn each afternoon. We splurged a bit on a king suite with a balcony and a gorgeous city view. Our room was spacious, with two televisions, a king bed, a fold-out couch, and a mini-fridge/extra sink. (And the staff was soooo friendly and went out of their way at every opportunity to help us. I've rarely felt more welcome in a property. Two HUGE thumbs up for this hotel.) Once we checked in a freshened up, it was off for adventures!

San Fernando Cathedral at dusk
We'd heard from several people that we should work in a visit to Mi Tierra during our trip. It's touristy, but it's so totally worth a stop that I have to recommend it. We walked through colorful Market Square to find it. Bands were playing, kids were dancing, and chubby little birds were feasting off the odd piece of carelessly dropped street food. After putting our name on the list, we found there was a 30-minute wait. Stomachs grumbling, we headed to the bar area for drinks and munchies. What luck! We immediately got a prime table up in the little loft area. Great views of the vibrant scene and a quick waitress found us happily enjoying strawberry margaritas (lemonade for little man) and the botana platter (miniature flautitas de pollo, cheese quesadillas and chalupitas de picadillo) within minutes. By the time we'd finished with our appetizers, our table was ready. I helped myself to the michoacan, a plate of tender pork tips with all the fixings. While we ate, musicians serenaded us, and Clay and I picked out matching images on the colorful cut-out paper banners strung from the ceiling.

Japanese Tea Garden
Later that day, we decided to check out the San Fernando Cathedral, which we could see from our hotel balcony. We slipped over just after mass ended to admire the interior. The original church, which sits on the geographic center of San Antonio, was built sometime in the mid-1700s and was host to the wedding of Jim Bowie in 1831. In addition to beautiful architecture, the cathedral is where Santa Ana hoisted his flag of no mercy and also holds what are said to be the remains of some of the Alamo defenders. We loved the ornate retablos and the stained glass windows. Tired from a full day, we turned in early that night.

Feeling super at the Witte Museum!
The next morning dawned cloudy and cool. We decided to visit the Witte Museum, but it doesn't open until noon on Sundays. After enjoying a late breakfast at the hotel, we decided to poke around Brackenridge Park. We took a train ride (fun, but chilly!) and stepped into the sweet little gift shop (had to add to our Lego collection) before crossing the street to see the Japanese Tea Garden. Even though the trees were just beginning to leaf out, the garden was enjoyable. We walked over sweet little bridges, watched the koi, ambled down some of the paths and took in the views before popping into the Jingu House (which is on-site in the garden) for hot tea and cookies.

By this time, the Witte Museum had opened. Off we went! After checking out the dinosaur gallery, we hit the rotating exhibit - Alien Worlds and Androids. Clay and Brian both loved this. There were life-sized replicas of the Iron Man costume, C3PO, the alien from the movie Alien and more. You could also learn more about the scientific possibility of life on other planets and trace the journey of the Mars rover. Fascinating stuff. After that, we checked out the Texas Wild exhibit, learning all about the animals and climate of Texas. A trip upstairs found us face to face with mummies and a really cool exhibit on the evolution of screen projectors. Then, it was outside to poke around in log cabins. Lastly, we went into the gorgeous, two-story South Texas Heritage Center, where Clay tried out a saddle, admired all kinds of cowboy gear and got kinda creeped out by the talking mannequin near the entrance.

Chocolate cake at La Fonda on Main
After all of that running around, we were starving! We'd heard that a nearby restaurant, La Fonda on Main, was a winner, so we pointed our GPS in that direction. We arrived after the lunch rush but well before dinner, so we were immediately seated. I ordered the decadent Sunday Breakfast, which included eggs, Mexican French toast with a caramel sauce and all kinds of deliciousness. Clay had a soft chicken taco with a fruit cup, which he gobbled up in short order. Then, you know we had to try dessert. The chocolate cake was huge and the stuff of a little boy's wildest dreams. It was served with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream, and we made quick work of it.

Feeling a little weary, we headed back to the hotel for a nap. When we awoke, it was raining, so we checked out the hotel's indoor pool. While Clay splashed around with some of the other kids, I soaked in the hot tub and realized it had been far too long since I'd taken a vacation.

A couple of free drinks for us (and a free hot dog for Clay) at the evening kick back, and we were set for the day.

More to come . . .