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San Antonio: A Texas Charmer

Megan Kopp - Click to Enlarge
by Megan Kopp

My first visit and I fell in love. I was infatuated... with a city.

Hovering near the 1.2 million mark San Antonio may be the eighth largest U.S. city, but strolling along Riverwalk, Paseo del Rio, under bald cypress trees festooned with lights, you’d never know it. It’s a city out for a fun-loving good time - and whether you’re a solo traveler or family, history buff or thrill-seeker, you’ll find something to love too.

Before daybreak locals are seated at Mi Tierra savoring a rich cup of coffee and a breakfast tortilla. I walked down quiet streets with a friend at 5:30 a.m. one morning to share a cream-filled, pecan and caramel-topped piece of heavenly baked goods. We drank copious quantities of fresh brew, chatted with cheerful waiters and soaked up the bustling atmosphere. An institution at Market Square since the 1940’s, this cafe/bakery shines brightly - always open, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year - with Christmas fervor. One year it was just too busy to take holiday decorations down and so they remained, changing once a year. 

The over 25-year-old tradition now takes several months to plan and execute, with dozens of pinatas, countless strands of glistening papel picado, foil banners, and thousands upon thousands of lights - which oddly enough complement the massive relief mural by artist Don Jesus Garza. Generations of the founding Cortez family, personalities and history from Pre-Columbian America to the Mexican Revolution can
be found in this ceiling to floor masterpiece.

As we left, nearby vendors were preparing for the upcoming day. Sidewalks were swept clean of broken cascarones, the ever-popular confetti-filled eggs that await by the dozen to be cracked over the heads of unsuspecting victims. Trolley buses began plying Houston and Commerce Streets with increasing regularity.

Strolling Riverwalk is a sensory feast. Photo credit: M. Kopp. Click to Enlarge
Strolling Riverwalk is a sensory feast. Photo credit: M. Kopp. Click to Enlarge
Downtown, Yanaguana Cruise boats are brought out from their nightly moorings and readied for hourly tours of San Antonio’s Riverwalk. We relaxed with the gently rocking motion of our boat as our guide Angelica, wearing the uniform straw hat and khaki shorts, began the well-rehearsed litany of sites of interest. In a state of contemplation, we passed the statue of St. Anthony (presented by Portugal in honor of the 250th anniversary of the naming of the city), marriage island where over 20 couples will say their vows on an average Valentine’s Day, and the box elder laughingly referred to as “the largest tree house in Texas.”
Tourists were streaming into courtyard of the Alamo, built in 1744 as the church of Mission San Antonio de Valero, as we arrived. A never-ending line developed as people waited patiently to enter the shrine, often having to be reminded by watchful staff to remove their hats before crossing through the heavy doors. We stopped to gaze at cannons left from the 1836 siege and silently read the white marble cenotaph engraved with names of Travis, Crockett, Bowie and 186 others who lost their lives. Sick gargoyles grace the Emily Morgan Hotel, once a hospital. Photo credit: M. Kopp.  Click to Enlarge
Sick gargoyles grace the Emily Morgan Hotel, once a hospital. Photo credit: M. Kopp. Click to Enlarge

On one side of the Alamo, lies the historic Menger Hotel, built in 1859 by a German beer magnate. It was in this hotel that Teddy Roosevelt rode his horse to recruit Rough Rider volunteers for service in Cuba.  One of my favorite sites was on the other side of the Alamo - the Emily Morgan Hotel, once a hospital. In keeping with a tradition of adding carved figures to ward off evil and ill spirits, architects added
a twist - gargoyles with illnesses. After all, what good is a hospital that won’t allow the sick to enter?

A few blocks away, we loaded the elevator would take us to the observation deck on the 750-foot tall (228 meter) Tower of the Americas. Stomachs lurched as the ride sped upwards and the glass-fronted elevator displayed the quick ascent. From the deck, a verdant patch of lush green trees almost blocks from view the stately
mansions of King Williams District, historic homes of many turn-of-the-19th-century German merchants. La Villita, the original settlement, bustles with artisans and tourists with the inverted sunflower roof of the Assembly Hall serving as a aerial focal point. 

Off to the western edge of the city, Seaworld of Texas delivers Shamu Visions, hypercoaster rides and interactive animal education programs.  To the north, Six Flags Fiesta Texas dishes up stereo screams as souls brave bungee-jumping, log riding, coaster-dipping thrills along with theme park style shows. A little closer to downtown, Brackenridge Park invites families with picnics to enjoy open fields, stone bridges and walkways in the Japanese Tea Gardens and over 3000 animals found within the confines of the San Antonio Zoo & Aquarium. 

As darkness cloaks hill country, the lights of Riverwalk beckon once more. We dine alfresco under colorful umbrellas at Casa Rio, enjoying crisp chicken flautas and cheese and bean chalupas. Visitors are invited to soak up the foresight of restaurant-founder Alfred F. Beyer - the first to see the potential of gondola and paddle tours, evolving into today’s tour and dinner cruises. Throughout town strains
of mariachi bands mingle with jazz and country, laughter and conversation. Families mingle with couples and singles along the concrete walkway. The nightlife summons those with energy remaining.

For now though, the sun must set. Hasta manana - until tomorrow!

If You Go 

Getting There

Continental Airlines operates daily flights (11 each way) from Houston to San Antonio. Call 800-525-0280 / TDD 800-343-9195 or visit them online at http://www.continental.com for further information.

Getting Around

VIA Streetcars run on five separate routes in the city and cost 50 cents, with discounts for seniors, children, the mobility impaired and Medicare recipients. For further information ask for a Streetcar Map/Schedule from Information Centre across from the Alamo, call 210-362-2020 or visit online at http://www.viainfo.net.

Yanaguana Cruises cost $5.25 adults, children 5 and under $1, seniors $3.65. For further information call 800-417-4139 or visit their website at http://www.sarivercruise.com.

Accommodation

Best bet: pick up (or request) a free copy of the San Antonio Lodging Guide. Menger Hotel (204 Alamo Plaza), ranges $132-142/night.  Radisson Market Square (502 W. Durango) $149-159/night. Super 8 Motel (1614 N. St. Mary’s St.) $39.95-$79.95.

Information

Contact the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau, toll-free at 800-447-3372 or online at http://www.sanantoniocvb.com.

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Megan Kopp is a freelance writer published in a variety of markets including Reader’s Digest, Canadian Living, Western People, YES Magazine, Western Parent, Northwest Family and The Traveler’s Journal. She has traveled extensively throughout Western Canada and the United States; spent time in the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Belize and have recently been re-directing her writing efforts towards sharing my passion for new sights, smells and sounds.

Email:  Megan Kopp

 

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