Sunday, March 2, 2008

San Antonio: From the eye of an accidental tourist.

Did you know that San Antonio is the second largest city in Texas and the 8th largest city in the U.S.? I didn't! I had no idea! Over 2 million people live in the greater San Antonio metropolitan area, smaller than Houston and larger than Dallas/Ft. Worth. This "little" mission town is experiencing labor pains as it grows into a huge city by leaps and bounds...and it shows.

Development and construction is rampant. It seems every available scrap of land is being built upon. Roads are under construction, traffic can be a horrible nightmare, especially traveling between San Antonio and Austin which can take 5 - 6 hours on a bad day. People tend to drive like little old ladies going very slowly in the fast lane...or they drive like "screaming banshees from hell" switching lanes as if they were in the Indy 500. Seriously bad accidents on the Interstates are common here. You can throw your GPS out of the window as exits are closed, there are frequent street closures because of special events, and streets become one-way seemingly over night making navigation systems useless here.

I would also like to note it seems suburban areas are not as "clean" or well maintained as the older city center of San Antonio and close-in neighborhoods. People roll up on the side of the road and dump their trash, furniture or whatever they consider to be garbage right there in plain sight. No one seems to care! I've driven down Hwy 151 near the 410 Loop and seen piles of crap just dumped on the shoulder of the road. It's disheartening and disgusting.

Now that you're aware of the bad and ugly...I'll tell you about the good and beautiful! Let's start out in the country and work our way back to San Antonio.

Even though the outskirts of town can be a bit dingy, I have found the inspiring beauty of the Texas hill country. The folks in the hill country keep the litter picked up and they keep the countryside looking quite pretty. I've been to Medina Lake, Canyon Lake and Guadalupe River State Park. Loved all three! Both lakes are man-made and well stocked with fish. Sailing, power boating, canoeing and kayaking are all favorites out on the lakes. If you fancy fly fishing, the Guadalupe River is the place to visit. Local outdoor shops can recommend good guides for fishing, hunting and just about anything outdoors. There are several caverns, state parks and wilderness recreation areas just waiting to be explored!

There are also many enchanting vistas to be found as you drive along the winding wilderness roads to the west of the I-35 San Antonio to Austin corridor. One of my most favorite scenic drives (so far) is down the twisting and narrow River Road which lazily follows and criss-crosses the Guadalupe River between Comfort and New Braunfels. This area is known as "tubing heaven", the place where all the locals go with big truck tire tubes in hand used to float down the river on hot summer days.

If you're into motorcycles, you'll want to check out "The Three Sisters". Here's an excerpt from the Hill Country Cruising Website:

"The Three Sisters" or " The Hundred Mile Loop" (RR335, RR336, & RR337) are without a doubt the best motorcycle roads to be found in the Hill Country of Texas. These are the roads everyone wants to ride when they visit the Texas Hill Country. Again I caution, if you are a new rider or are a cautious type, then you DO NOT belong on these three roads. They follow canyons and climb over jagged, steep and crumbling hills. They have many tight twisty curves with shear drop offs and not much in the way of guard rails. In one section about 15 miles long, there are around 65 curves. If you are an experienced rider, then this is the ride for you. If you like scenic panoramic views, bring your camera and take this ride!"

Out in the Hill country you'll find quaint little "western towns" where cowboys in big buckled jeans, dusty boots, cowboy hats and
"grande" pick up trucks are the norm. Be sure to visit Bandera which is a blast from the past! It's like stepping into a town from the days of Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid. Be sure to visit the "Cowboy Store" where you'll find all the fixins to make yourself "a little more country". Other towns of note: Comfort, Kerrville, Gruene (pronounced Green), Boerne, and Brackettville...where the movie THE ALAMO, was filmed in 1959 starring John Wayne. The Alamo Village movie location remains today as a tourist destination.

Now on to San Antonio!

San Antonio came into existence as the result of Spanish colonization and was named for the Italian Saint Anthony of Padua, whose feast day was on June 13 when a Spanish expedition stopped in the area in 1691. The city of San Antonio grew up around a military presidio, a Spanish villa and the Mission San Antonio de Padua today known as "The Alamo". Originally there were six missions, only five remain today.

Four missions are part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. I started my "self" guided tour at Espada in the south and worked my way north up to Mission Concepción in the city of San Antonio. The Alamo is the first and original Spanish mission in S.A. and I saved it for last as it really isn't as exciting or vibrant as the others. I also visited Espada Dam and Espada Aqueduct which is authentic medieval and fashioned exactly as a Roman Aqueduct. Fascinating to say the least! The missions do offer tours guided by park rangers throughout the day. Each mission has it's own distinct style and architecture. All are magnificent remnants of a historical past which shaped the destiny of Texas.

One of the most impressive places I've visited is the San Antonio
River Walk (also known as Paseo del Río) which is a network of pedestrian walkways around the San Antonio River. Built one story beneath the busy streets of downtown San Antonio, River Walk is a tourist destination which winds and loops under bridges lined with rather pricey bars, shops and restaurants. I suggest you take the guided water boat tour to see and hear the history of River Walk, Alamo Plaza, River Center, the Arneson River Theatre, and the Tower Life Building. During the annual springtime Fiesta San Antonio, the River Parade features flowery floats that literally float!

Downtown is home to many districts including the Alamo District, Alamodome District, Central Business District, Convention Center District, Historic Civic District, Houston Street District, King William Historic District, La Villita District, Market Square District, North Downtown, North River District, River Bend District, SoSo (South of Southtown), Southtown, and the University District. All have quaint shops, bistros, clubs, bars and their own individuality. They are all worthy of visiting if you have time.

Other notable places to visit:

~San Fernando Cathedral, the oldest active cathedral in the United States.
~The Aztec Theater built in 1926, is the only surviving exotic-themed movie palace in Texas, and is one of the most impressive such buildings in the U.S.
~ The Tower of the Americas, the theme structure for HemisFair '68.
~ The San Antonio Japanese Tea Gardens (also known as the Sunken Gardens) is a registered Texas historical landmark located in an abandoned limestone rock quarry.
~La Villita, a thriving artists' colony dating back to the 18th century.

I've managed to find places which have taken my breath away and inspired me. They are here...!

Follow these links to see a few of my S.A. pics (be sure to hit the back button after viewing each picture):

Espada Aqueduct

Mission San Jose
Espada Dam Crossing
Mission Concepcion
Cross at Mission Espada

Until next time!

1 comment:

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