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!

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