Saturday, March 22, 2014

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 . . .

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