Tag Archives: San Antonio TX

Early Family Travels

San Antonio in 1952

San Antonio in 1952

TRAVEL BUG TALES:  RUTH & GEORGE ARE NEWLYWEDS

Last week we took a quick honeymoon in Arkansas with my parents.  No matter how tight the finances, Mom and Dad always traveled somewhere, even if it was just a day trip.  Let’s follow along for a few years and enjoy some of the photos they took.

Summer Vacations as a Couple

In 1952 my parents took their first summer vacation.  They traveled to San Antonio, a place I’ve been to with them many times and which continues to be a favorite of mine to this day.   They made it all the way to the Smoky Mountains in 1953.  BPS01252016_0004

By 1954, my grandfather was ill and they spent their vacation money traveling to and fro between, Little Rock AR where Dad was stationed and McKinney TX, where Mom’s parents still lived.  We lost my grandfather in October of 1954, just months before I would make my appearance.

Here Come the Kids

Nineteen-fifty-five, the year I came along, Mom and Dad still managed short trips to Hot Springs and Petit Jean Mountain, but finances were very tight.  Not only did they have a new baby, but they had helped with the expenses of my grandfather’s hospital bills and his funeral.

BPS01252016_0003The newly weds were caught up in the challenges all new parents face and spent most of their time hosting my grandmother and my doting aunts.  I turned five in 1960 and dad had been transferred back to Mckinney.  Our little family took a trip to South Texas, affectionately referred to as The Valley in many travel magazines.  Mom was pregnant with my little sister, but I doubt I had much cognizance of it.  When I was older Mom told me stories of choking back morning sickness and suffering the sweltering humidity, all so we could have a vacation.

My little sister was born in McKinney and shortly thereafter we moved to Dublin GA. Our travels changed then. Every time they could afford to, we were on the road back to Texas to spend time with family. Usually Dad traveled with us, but I remember one year the only way we could get to Texas was for Mom, my sister and me to ride with another family – three adults in the front, four kids in the back. Obviously, bench seats were still in vogue for the family sedan and seat belts weren’t required.

Our Landmark Year, 1966

At Mrytle Beach

At Mrytle Beach

By 1966 Dad’s job had moved us to Augusta GA. and we took our summer vacation in Texas, as always, but we also visited Myrtle Beach SC where our next door neighbor’s family had a beach house.  We made several trips to the beach with our neighbors, the Lides, during the years we lived in Augusta.  Their family beach house became one of my mom’s favorite places on earth (outside Texas) and Mrs. Lide was her very best friend until Mom’s very last day.

BPS01252016_0018

At the beach house, wishing I was just a little bit older.

I particularly remember that trip to Texas, because it was my first visit to Six Flags and my first taste of Tex-Mex at El Fenix’s downtown Dallas location. (Well, the first taste I can remember. When I was small, my parents frequented a little Mexican cafe in Little Rock and they swore I loved it.)  Oddly however, I can find no photographic record of the trip.

While we were in Texas, Dad visited some of his fellow Canteen Officers and heard wind of some canteens in the state which would be going through personnel changes. On the way back to Augusta, Dad stopped in Atlanta, the Canteen Service regional offices, to check out the rumors he’d heard. There was joy aplenty when he returned to the car and reported we’d be moving to Dallas, TX.

Our family travels changed once again when we were finally home in Texas and didn’t make the mad dash there at every opportunity.  What’s ironic is that in just a few years, my parents would start making an annual pilgrimage to Myrtle Beach to visit the Lides.  Goes to show that wherever most of us are, we think we want to be someplace else.  We’ll quit zipping through the decades now and slow down to appreciate the miracles of my mother’s travel planning.  Next week we’ll head out for El Paso TX and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.

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Strolling Away from San Antonio

Gristmill Restaurant, Gruene, TX

Lunchtime in Gruene, TX

TRAVEL THERE: FROM SAN ANTONIO TO DALLAS VIA GRUENE

All good things do eventually come to an end, one way or the other – even a girl’s trip to San Antonio – but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun on the way home!

Though everything had not gone exactly as planned, Deb and I had a pretty amazing time in San Antonio.  Now it was time to go home.  We left San Jose Mission after the Mariachi Mass and headed north on I-35.

What’s for Lunch

I’d suggested a few lunchtime possibilities which would be within striking distance of our ride home.  Deb agreed they sounded interesting and we decided on the Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar in Gruene.

Back in 2013, on my South Texas Ramble, Bill and I stopped by Gruene – a place I’d heard of but never visited.  We enjoyed the town for several hours, but we’d just had a late breakfast in Austin and weren’t interested in a meal.  We did meander through the Gristmill and I made a mental bookmark, because it looked like my kind of place.

Small Town Traffic Jam

When Deb and I pulled into Gruene on the beautiful Sunday afternoon in June, we realized just about everybody else in Central Texas must have also decided it was a good day to visit.  We inched along at a snail’s pace until reaching the public parking lot, found a spot and headed toward the restaurant.

Watch the Board

The Gristmill has no pagers, they don’t call your name over a PA system and you don’t have to wait in line.  You head over to the outdoor stage to enjoy a little music and keep an eye on the board.  This was by far the most unique, most elaborate and most entertaining seating method I have ever seen or heard of.

Cute young things in cut-off shorts work themselves to death in this particular arrangement, but it’s a lot of fun.  One group of girls stay busy writing names up on this board of folks whose tables are ready and erasing names of seated parties.  Another group of cute girls play messenger between the hostess stand and the board monitors.  I was just beginning to get the rhythm of the set up when they added my name to the list of parties being seated.  Since I was hungry, I was glad to see it, but I confess I’d hoped to watch the activity just a little bit longer.  I’d been so engrossed I hadn’t even paid any attention to the musician who was supposed to be entertaining us.

Onion Rings, Gristmill Restaurant, Gruene TX

Be Sure to Order the Onion Rings

The Gristmill really is an old mill, but it was a cotton-gin, not a place to grind meal.  I’m still wondering why they didn’t call it The Cotton-Gin or just The Gin, but who can argue with success – and are they ever successful.  The riverside venue was just made for throwing back a few cold ones while you nibble away at tasty vittles.  Folks of all ages are gathered around the tables, but it did appear the lion’s share were college-aged or recently-college-aged.  I’m not sure how they managed to get an occupancy permit, because the place looks like it might fall down during the next rainfall, but so far it hasn’t.

I had the Chicken Salad Sandwich.  I think Deb had something with lettuce and chicken too, but in another configuration – though it might have been a burger.  Before the main course, we did indulge in the house specialty – fried onion rings.  It’s a good thing we declared the weekend a “no-calorie zone”.  Even with all the walking we did, I’m sure there was the potential for more calories than our steps would have walked off.

Ready for the Last Leg

After our pleasant respite on the patio with great food and warm sunshine, it was time to do get back to the Metroplex.  We did stop at the Buc-ee’s in Temple, but soon afterwards we were home.  There’s no place like home, but there’s also no place like a road trip with your best friend.

Come back by next week and see what other kind of trouble I have managed to get into.

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On the Mission Trail

Mission Concepcion, Mission Trail, San Antonio,TX

Mission Concepcion

TRAVEL THERE: SAN ANTONIO’S MISSION TRAIL

Mission Concepcion

Deb and I both had been on San Antonio’s Mission Trail before, so our visit was just a refresher course. We started at Mission Concepcion and arrived during a break between services.

Very modern families shared the latest news on the mission lawn.  White-frocked priests chatted with parishioners.  A large black dog wove among pants legs and teased children, earning a pat or two along the way.  Some version of this scene has played out, right there, for several centuries.  I found it heart-warming.

Espada Mission

We stayed a few minutes and then passed by San Jose Mission, because we would be returning shortly for Mariachi Mass.  With only 45 minutes to spare, we chose to see Espada over San Juan.  Deb couldn’t remember which was which, but I knew Espada was my favorite.

Mission Espada, Mission Trail, San Antonio, TX

Mission Espada

When we pulled into the parking lot Deb knew I had chosen correctly.  It’s her favorite mission too, even though she couldn’t remember the name.  She recalled it from a previous visit, long ago when her boys were young.  We sauntered among ruins and enjoyed the rustic feel of the old church.

Big News for the Mission Trail

As we chatted with each other about the lovely place a gentleman overheard our appreciative comments and shared some news.  Mission Espada has been chosen as a World Heritage site.  Since the official announcement didn’t come out until July 5th, finding this out in early June was a big deal.

On the surface this sounds like a good thing, but I really don’t know whether I want UNESCO messing with my favorite mission or not.  All five missions are included in the designation, but Espada has been singled out as the site of the interpretive center.

Deb and I both feel a very spiritual connection to this particular mission, because it seems to be the least modernized.  We feel as if there is still a link to the men who originally suffered and sacrificed to bring the Good News to the New World.  We know that not every priest who came to the Americas had the best interest of the natives as their goal, but something about Espada makes us believe the men who came there did.

What we really don’t want is a bunch of people in costume making like they’re historical figures and signs all over the place explaining how abusive us Europeans were to the natives.  Sure there were abuses, but we’re afraid new abuses are about to be perpetrated on the beautiful Espada Mission.  It is a church first and it should stay that way.

After hearing the news we entered the chapel and spent some time in prayer.  It was a holy moment for us, touching both our hearts.  We hope we can have that experience the next time we visit Espada.

Time for San Jose

Mission San Jose, Mission Trail, San Antonio,TX

Mission San Jose

A peek at our watches told us we had lingered too long.  We made a mad dash back to San Jose.  Of course, we parked in the boonies and raced around wildly trying to find the worship center.  A woman took us in hand and found us a seat.

The Mariachi Mass

I have bad news.  The Mariachi Mass isn’t what it used to be.  The last time I was at San Jose, parishioners were excited about the renovation about to occur.  I’m afraid they did to San Jose exactly what I don’t want them to do to Espada.  They improved it above and beyond my recognition.

Not The Way It Used to Be

I have memories of a small dark sanctuary filled with the exhilarating music of mariachis laced with the intoxicating smell of incense.  The new sanctuary is big, bold, bright and completely out of touch with my memories.

Back in the old days, the mariachis wore incredible costumes sparkling with silver conchos.  The new uniforms have stamped metal conchos, but only the color is silver, not the metal.  The old mariachis wore the complete costume.  Sombereos atop their heads, heavily embroidered suits with silver conchos and heavy black leather boots.  The new mariachis wear white shirts with mariachi bowties, but it’s not the same.  Someone once told me the same family had performed as a part of the mass for many generations.  I don’t think any of them are still there.  One of the violins was so off key that I actually thought I was going to have to leave.  It was like nails scraping a chalkboard.

Here’s how bad it was.  One of the choir members recognized us as strangers and apologized to us.  That’s pretty sad.

It was time for us to head towards Dallas, but one more adventure awaits.  Come back next week for lunch at Gruene’s Gristmill.  In the meantime, enjoy the Mission Trail photos below.

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A Little More Strolling in San Antonio

Mi Tierra, San Antonio, TX

In the Mi Tierra Bar

TRAVEL THERE: MORE SAN ANTONIO STROLLING

On this trip we’d already hit some of my favorite culinary spots in San Antonio: The Guenther House in the King William District, Casa Rio and Boudro’s on the Riverwalk and NAO street tacos at The Pearl Farmer’s Market. We’d also tried and fallen in love with a new place, The Chart House at Tower of the Americas.  Now it was time for brunch at Mi Tierra.

Mi Tierra

I’ve always known about Mi Tierra, but until I went with Bill back in 2013 I’d never managed to get anyone to go with me.  It was everything I’d hoped it would be and more, so it immediately moved to my list of favorites – and since it’s open 24 hours I should always be able to find a way to squeeze it in.

Brunch

Sunday morning Deb and I packed up our belongings, checked out of Hotel Contessa and toted our belongings to the car, but we decided to walk to Market Square.  It seemed as if every time we left the Contessa we either headed north or east.  We’d been neglecting the west, something we were ready to correct.

Market Square is one of the oldest parts of town and during its long history it’s always been an area of mercantile.  The actual old El Mercado isn’t what it used to be.  It probably deserves the “tourist trap” slam many folks have given it on sites like Trip Advisor, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater – especially if that baby is Mi Tierra.

My previous visit to Mi Tierra had been during a freak winter storm that blitzed out about half of what I wanted to do.  We made a mid-week visit for lunch and then headed over to the McNay.  The crowd was primarily business people grabbing a quick lunch and a few of us tourists who had braved the cold.  There had been no wait for a table.

Things were a little more lively on this Sunday morning.  The bakery counter was busy and you had to wait for a table.  Deb and I settled in the bar and watched for our buzzer to go off.  Remarkably we only had a few minutes of cooling our heels, so I think they opened up the patio.

Once seated, we made selections from the breakfast menu and sat back to enjoy the show.  Mariachis entertained us on the patio and just outside vendors were setting up booths from which to sell their trinkets.  The food was delivered fresh and delicious.  It was a little early for a margarita, but I couldn’t help wishing I had one.

Back to the Car

When we headed back to the car I spotted that one of my favorite shops was open.  I never can remember the name of it, but you can’t miss it.  It’s right next door to Mi Tierra.  They have clothing and jewelry on the first and second floor and wonderful ceramics in the basement.  Maybe next time I’ll actually write down the name.  I’d love to be able to afford some of their beautiful embroidered dresses on the second floor, but I’m not paying three figures for a sundress.

Main Plaza, San Antonio, TX

Main Plaza

Along the way back to the car, we enjoyed the beautiful Main Plaza, but we agreed that the western part of downtown couldn’t compare with the eastern side.  It won’t be my last trip to Market Square or Mi Tierra, but I won’t walk next time. I’ll either grab the trolley or hop in my car.

Next we’ll head out on the Mission Trail, so come back next week.  You’ll love it.

 

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Budro’s Texas Bistro on the Riverwalk

TRAVEL THERE: BUDRO’S ON THE RIVERWALK

In spite of all the strolling we’d done so far in San Antonio, there is something about the Riverwalk which inspires ambulatory activity. After happy hour margaritas at The Cork Bar, Deb and I made another circuit of the Riverwalk to shop for a dining spot.

Bodacious Budro’s

We settled on a riverside umbrella at Budro’s Texas Bistro.  Confession: I’d been hoping this was where we’d land.  My mouth still had fond memories of my previous visit and I knew Deb would love it.  We started with wine and worked our way around the menu.

The whole experience was perfect. I was determined to eat al fresco, but there was only one table left on the patio and another couple was discussing it with the hostess when we arrived.  They stepped aside to consider their options, so I stepped right up and took the table.  The couple ended up with inside seating, which I hope is what they preferred.

Our waiter seemed delighted we joined him for dinner.  He rattled off the specials.  Deb chose a seafood something and I went further down the menu to the meat.  We were having so much we could have been eating hamburgers and it would not have mattered.  We people-watched, nibbled at our dinners and polished off a bottle of great wine.  Does it get any better than that?

The Evening Winds Down

When the meal was over we were, too.  We’d been non-stop for three days and for most of that we’d been hoofing it.  We discussed options our options, all of which sounded like entirely too much effort.  We chose a movie in our room, but I needed a Diet Dr. Pepper.  I always need a Diet Dr. Pepper, but this was an acute case, so we went on the hunt for a convenience or drug store.  We found a CVS and I’m pretty sure something chocolate followed me back to the hotel.

Back at the room we put on our jammies and vegged out in front of the TV.  I have no recollection of what we might have watched.  Seems like it might have been an Ancient Aliens marathon or something equally paranormal, but then again maybe not.  Lord knows we’ve watched enough episodes of Ancient Aliens that we feel like Giorgio Tsoukalos is one of our buddies, but if he really were he’d have better hair.  I promise.

Have I mentioned how much we loved our room at the Hotel Contessa?  Yes, of course I did.  I just didn’t want you to forget.  It was perfect for a couple of worn out girls.  Each of us had our own sofa and a large round coffee table to prop our feet on.  At bed time we each crawled into our own queen size bed and dreamed sweet dreams.

What’s Next?

Our final day was approaching. We had to be out of the room by eleven, but we’d be up and out before that, because we wanted brunch at Mi Tierra, the Mariachi Mass at 12:30 and if there was time a little bit of the Mission Trail.  Come back next week and see if we squeezed it all in.

 

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Cork Bar at The Hotel Contessa

Cork Bar, Hotel Contessa, San Antonio TX

From thehotelcontess.com

TRAVEL THERE: HOTEL CONTESSA’S CORK BAR

Where were you when American Pharaoh won the 2015 Triple Crown?  Deb and I were in Hotel Contessa’s Cork Bar.

Post-Siesta Margaritas

We’d taken a small siesta, gotten all gussied up and were ready for happy hour.  The Cork Bar, on the River level of Hotel Contessa, was a lively place.  Last minute guests were arriving for a wedding on the Las Ramblas patio and bridesmaids were being lined up for their entrance.  Televisions near the bar were tuned to a horse race.  Deb and I ordered up a pair of margaritas, then settled in to enjoy the activity.

Vicarious Wedding Guests Watch Acrobatic Nap Demo

The wedding was our first focus.  San Antonio is a big military town, so we weren’t surprised that most of the men in the wedding party wore uniforms – and impressive uniforms they were.  We didn’t know the groom, of course, but he had to be a tough guy just to carry around all those medals on his chest.  The bride was lovely, but being unable to hear through the glass wall of the bar, we soon brought our attention into our immediate surroundings.

We chatted about how much we loved the hotel, how great the service was – especially the doormen and commented on the decor.  About that time a woman came down and tried out a large upholstered bench close to us.  She was in town with her adult son and joked about the luxury of not having to take him to the potty as she had when he was young.  After several attempts at sitting on the bench in different positions she decided the appropriate one for enjoying that particular piece of furniture was to lay down, but she didn’t want her son to catch her.  So her little nap was only a couple of minutes long.

The Triple Crown

The wedding continued, but we recognized quite a buzz around the bar.  Someone had turned up the sound on the TV.  We were almost irritated until we figured out it was the Belmont Stakes and American Pharoah was poised to win The Triple Crown.  The last time anyone had done that was back in the 1970’s.

As the pre-race coverage gave us the background stories leading up to the Belmont Stakes, Deb and I reminisced about our own horse racing experiences.  Chief among mine were George and Ruth, my very Baptist parents who followed the Triple Crown religiously every year, “betting” on who would win.  Soon the newly married bride and groom, led their guests to a mezzanine nearby, but we noticed several guests lagged behind.  It was almost race time.

American Pharaoh was a clear favorite, but the commentators hedged their bets by pointing out potential spoilers.  American Pharaoh would have none of that.  When the gate opened she was out and away.  No one even got close.  It was a thrilling outcome.  When the race was over, the wedding guests made their way up to the mezzanine and the others in the crowd wandered away.  Dinner time was upon us.

Deb and I had not decided on a specific spot.  I had my eye on The Fig Tree, The Little Rhein Steakhouse or Boudro’s Texas Bistro, but I was open to other options.  Where did we end up?  Come back next week and find out!

 

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San Antonio’s Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese Tea Garden, Brackenridge Park, San Antonio TX

Japanese Tea Garden, San Antonio TX

TRAVEL THERE: JAPANESE TEA GARDEN IN SANANTONIO

Thanks to the VIA trolleys Deb and I were visiting San Antonio attractions we would’ve never reached by walking and we weren’t having to hassle with driving and parking.  That’s the way to enjoy sightseeing.

The day was drawing to a close, but we had energy enough for one more attraction. We walked out of the San Antonio Botanical Garden just as the VIA trolley pulled up to the curb and rode over to the Japanese Tea Garden.

Brackenridge Park

Both the Botanical Garden and the Japanese Tea Garden are part of a larger complex of attractions called Brackenridge Park.  Included in the Brackenridge Park Conservancy is a zoo, a golf course, the Witte Museum and other recreational activities.  Brakenridge Park is an important part of what makes San Antonio such a wonderful place to visit.

The Witte is undergoing a major overhaul right now, but on a previous trip, Bill and I had thoroughly enjoyed the museum with its South Texas Heritage Center.  My last trip to the zoo was decades ago, long before I was blogging.  Though small in comparison to some zoos, like San Diego for instance, it was quite charming.  What sets it apart from other zoos, in my mind, are the beautiful animal sculptures sprinkled throughout the exhibits.

Visiting the Japanese Tea Garden

As I planned this trip with my bestie, I hoped we’d have time for the Japanese Tea Garden.  I kept telling myself that surely somewhere along the way I had been there, but I could never recall a specific occasion.  So, I looked forward to refreshing my memory.  The VIA trolley rolled up to the entrance, I took the obligatory picture and then my bestie and I climbed the hill to the garden.

Pavilion, Japanese Tea Garden, Brackenridge Park, San Antonio TX

The Pavilion

Once we reached the top and walked over to a pavilion where other tourists were madly snapping pictures, I realized I had never actually been there, because if I would have been, I would never have forgotten the view!

San Antonio’s  Japanese Tea Garden was re-claimed from a quarry and the results are dramatic.  From the pavilion you look down into a verdant landscape with two large pools.  Then your eyes travel to the far side of the garden which features a cascading waterfall.

Garden Needs TLC

Since I’m always honest with you, I have to tell you, this is not a pristine garden like, Portland’s or Fort Worth’s Japanese Gardens, but the landscape is so unique it is still well worth a visit.  As I was writing this series of articles and pulling up sites for linking, I noticed the Brackenridge Park Conservancy urging San Antonio’s citizens to come to a meeting about a new Master Plan.  After seeing the condition of the Botanical Garden and the Tea Garden, I have to say they need a Master Plan.

A wedding ceremony was underway beneath the falls when we arrived so access was limited, but we made our way down the hill to the pools.  One pool has perfectly clear water (well mostly clear water) and the other is clogged with some sort of algae or plant.  Hopefully the new Master Plan will include clearing the murky pond.

When the wedding concluded and we were allowed back under the waterfall.  The site, which had been so impressive from the pavilion, lost some of its charm up close.  Like the Botanical Garden, the Tea Garden suffers from lack of maintenance.  No one has loved either of these gardens well enough in quite a while.  Enjoying gardens the way I do, it was sad to see what once must have been a stunning garden struggle to stay alive.

Back to the Trolley

We made a circuit of the garden, stopped in the tea shop for refreshments and headed towards the trolley stop.  Truth be told, we were pooped.  With the exception of a few quick trolley trips we’d been walking all day.  Deb wears a Fitbit and when she told me how many tens of thousands of steps we’d made, I was suddenly even more exhausted.

The trolley finally showed up and we dragged our tired bodies into our seats, but the day wasn’t over.  After a short respite in our wonderful suite we were rejuvenated and recharged – just in time for happy hour and dinner.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about that!

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