Saturday, March 22, 2014

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 . . .

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