We arrived in San Antonio early in the morning two days before New Year's Eve.
Our first stop on the way towards downtown was at the McNay Art Museum on the
north side of town. The art in the McNay museum came largely from private
collections, and is housed in an elaborate mansion. It's of a very manageable
size to see in a couple hours and has a good variety of everything from
medieval stained-glass to modern art.
After that we headed downtown. Our original plan was to visit Hemisfair Park
and then eat at the restaurant atop the tower there. These first two pictures
were taken in Hemisfair Park (the first one took about seven attempts until
we finally figured out the remote control on Melanie's new camera). Hemisfair
park was built for the World's Fair of 1968.
The centerpiece is the Tower of the Americas which pretty much dominates the
skyline from anywhere in the San Antonio vicinity. Unfortunately, there was
an hour and a half wait for the restaurant so we just went up to the
observation deck instead.
This is a view of downtown from the top of the tower. The barely
distinguishable contours on the horizon would be the so-called Texas Hill
Country. More on our lack of Texas Hill Country photos later. The Alamo,
the Riverwalk and other popular downtown attractions are nearly invisible
from this height due to the surrounding buildings.
The Riverwalk (which we know an awful lot about due to the history-filled boat
tour) was quite the successful urban renewal project. A horseshoe shaped
section of the river in downtown was dam-controlled and in recent years the
walks on either side of it have become lined with restaurants and shops. (Which
did not have an hour and a half wait by the way). River level is a fair bit
below the street level (the bridge in the photo). At night it is quite
festive, with lights strung from the trees and along the banks.
Remember this? It's the Alamo of course, the most photographed thing for
hundreds of miles around. Not to mention a shrine and pilgrimmage site for
millions of Texans who relish their few years of independence. Apart from
that it is completely mobbed with people and well, not that interesting. It's
also hard to learn much about it as you have to struggle through a crowd to
get to any of the informational displays. We recommend you look at it from
about this distance and then move on to Missions Historical Park (see below).
After the Alamo we fled back to the hotel and later returned to Riverwalk
for dinner and such.
The next day we drove south to the coast of Texas and Corpus Christi. The
drive is really almost unbelievably dull. There's about 120 miles of barren
nothingness followed by a final 20 miles of oil refineries. Downtown Corpus
Christi and the waterfront area are actually quite nice though. Hidden beneath
an enormous bridge, one can find the Texas State Aquarium. One can also find
this lovely otter sculpture out front. (You didn't think we'd have a trip with
no otters involved, did you?)
Besides being a fine indoor aquarium there is a very nice outdoor area on the
bay featuring sea turtles, alligators, otters, and some mischevious stingrays
who seem to have learned the fine art of directing water at specific people.
That's the U.S.S. Lexington in the background, another area attraction which
failed to attract us.
From atop the aquarium you have a partial view of downtown Corpus Christi
(the rest is occluded by the squarish building across the water). Padre
Island Seashore would be behind the city from this vantage point but
unfortunately we didn't have time to visit it.
Yes here it is - the highlight of the trip - Otter Claus and his eight
Otterdeer. This little-known twist on the more common folklore was found
inside the giftshop of the aquarium. Honest, Melanie did not build this
herself, although now that we've seen it we can expect one of our own next
We left Corpus Christi after this and drove across the southern portion of the
state to Laredo. This is also a rather scenically-challenged bit of a drive,
but we had a certain fascination with the fact that people actually lived here.
The last 60 miles or so between Freer and Laredo is particularly filled with
nothing whatsoever. Perhaps we should have taken a picture to share with you,
but you can pretty much just imagine varying shades of brown and you're close
Downtown Laredo is something to be missed. It mostly consists of Mexicans
who've crossed the border in order to buy cheap American goods. This is quite
interesting because Nuevo Laredo is filled with Americans who've crossed the border
to buy cheap Mexican goods. We became the latter and wandered around Nuevo
Laredo for a couple hours. In all fairness, we did get some extremely cheap
Tequila and a wool blanket, both of high quality. If you visit Nuevo Laredo
you can expect to be asked if you want any prescription drugs approximately
once every 3 minutes. We had a fantastic dinner before returning to the US
to drive back to San Antonio.
We started New Year's Eve at the San Antonio Zoo (which is a bit tricky to
find). This is a Dik Dik, and apparently quite a shy one as it was mostly
trying to hide behind a very small tree. If it appears very small, it is.
This is an adult, but he's only about 2 feet (.6 M) tall.
This tigress and her two cubs were particularly amusing and active. Well,
the cubs were anyway. We used up an entire roll of film watching the cubs play
first with each other and then with their reluctant mother. These are the
best of those pictures.
Yes, more otters. Those in the Texas Aquarium sculpture (and tanks) were
North American River Otters. These at the zoo are Asian Small-Clawed Otters.
This is the last otter picture or reference on this page. We promise.
We mentioned earlier that we'd recommend skipping the Alamo and visiting these
missions instead. There are five missions in San Antonio, the Alamo being one
of them. This, the headquarters of the national park and one of the best
preserved, is Mission San Jose.
San Jose was founded in 1720 and it is a few miles south along the river from
the earlier mission San Antonio de Valero. San Antonio de Valero is the
original name of what is now the Alamo. This is the front entrance of the
church which is surrounded by stone walls (partially restored). The mission
also contains a granary within its walls and at its height was home to over
300 local Indians in the courtyard area.
The two-story structure visible here with the stone arches was originally a
All five missions were built to spread Catholicism and enforce the wishes of
the Spanish Empire. Agriculture was not particularly easy (and still isn't)
in southern Texas. Indian attacks were also a regular facet of life,
although we personally didn't even see any during our visit. :)
This is Mission San Francisco de la Espada, another of the five missions. This
was the first mission in Texas. San Francisco is not as well preserved as
San Jose. The outer wall is crumbling and missing in some sections entirely.
The bell tower is called an Espadana and this is still a 'working' church. In
fact, the inside looks completely out of context as it has modern carpeting,
shiny new pews and so forth.
There's not much to be said about these next two pictures, except perhaps that
they really shouldn't be posted on the web. We spent New Year's Eve partially
at San Antonio's festival downtown and partially at the bar at Planet Hollywood
on Riverwalk. It started out as a convenient place to use the restrooms and
then it turned out to have a pretty nice bar and they eventually gave us some
of these exciting party favors. The intent look Melanie has is because she's
using the camera remote again.
We watched some unspectacular fireworks over the Tower of the Americas with
some festive San Antonians (and other tourists too). We'll skip over the bit
of singing we began the new year with and jump to the hotel where this picture
was taken amidst more revelry. The ticker tape stuff has at this point
followed us from downtown, through the ride back to the hotel and in and out
of the room several times. We honestly can't remember why we're laughing here
but you can probably jump to your own conclusions.
We didn't exactly get up very early on New Year's Day. In fact, it may have
been somewhere around 2:00 PM when we finally left the hotel. Or it might
have been later. Either way, we cancelled our tentative plans to explore hill
country and instead went to visit various cemetaries in New Braunfels in search
of the tombstone of David's great-grandfather.
Later we drove into Austin (state house shown here) and sat beneath the
Congress St. Bridge for about an hour at dusk waiting for the bats to come out.
They never did. So then we tried to find a restaurant which also failed as
the University was still out for the holidays so there weren't many people about
and not much open. Instead we just went back to San Antonio and ate there again.
We left Texas the next morning.