San Antonio

Picture of hemisfairpark 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.
Picture of davidpark 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.
Picture of tower 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.
Picture of skyline 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.
Picture of riverwalk 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.
Picture of alamo 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.
Picture of ottersculpture 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?)
Picture of ccwaterfront 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.
Picture of corpuschristi 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.
Picture of otterclaus 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 year perhaps. 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 enough.
Picture of nuevolaredo 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.
Picture of dikdik 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.
Picture of tiger3 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.
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Picture of otters 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.
Picture of mission1 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.
Picture of sanjose 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.
Picture of sanjose2 The two-story structure visible here with the stone arches was originally a convent.
Picture of sanjosemission 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. :)
Picture of sanfrancisco 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.
Picture of nyeve 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.
Picture of nyeve2 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.
Picture of austin 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.
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