A Weekend in San Antonio

The trip to San Antonio, Texas on Southwest Airlines started from Raleigh Durham airport on Friday, October 3. 2014. My connection was through Nashville, where I waited over an hour to catch the next flight. Both flights were on schedule. I arrived about 12:30 Central time. My cousin, Eve, greeted me in the baggage area .

We drove straight to Las Kekas restaurant, a spot she’d identified through diligent research. Prior to my arrival she’d told me she had a long list of possible things to do on my visit. It would require prioritization because the list had enough things on it to take up at least a week or two and I only had two and a half days.

I had never heard of a keka. Neither had Google Translate or my Merriam-Webster Spanish dictionary. Nevermind, a keka is a small pastry filled with your choice of fillings. The normal cost for one is $2.75 so we figured that ordering three each would make a good lunch. When the food arrived the kekas were covered with shredded iceberg lettuce, crumbled cheese, and a cream sauce. We also had 5 bottles of liquid salsa placed on the table by our server to use on the food and a basket of tortilla chips. Two or three of the bottles could have been called liquid fire because they were super hot and spicy. Others were hot and tasty. The food was excellent and filling.

Once we finished and paid it was time to escape to Eve's apartment. She has a 2-bedroom, 2-bath flat in the suburbs behind a security gate, located close to the University of Texas at San Antonio. I had the guest room and bath. No complaints at all--everything was comfortable. I noticed that all her pictures were propped against the wall instead of hanging. She's only been there since July and she likes the pristine nature of the walls without holes in them.

A view of the San Antonio Riverwalk

Unpacking and unwinding from the flights with a beer was also in order. The night's entertainment was a visit to the San Antonio Riverwalk, a hot spot for tourists and locals alike. We took a few other pictures and found a restaurant/bar with a table along the River Walk  to have an adult beverage, some chips and salsa, and people-watch.

A view from our table at a bistro on the RiverWalk

The back entrance to the gardens behind the Alamo

Saturday morning the first order of business was to remember the Alamo. It’s in the heart of downtown and opens at nine a.m. We got there early to beat the Saturday tourist crowd and to get a good parking place. The grounds of the Alamo are landscaped nicely. We spent a few minutes with a re-enactor who was cleaning a musket in preparation to fire it in about 40 minutes. He gave us some background and history of the Alamo in response to a question. If we had asked him another one we could have been there all day. Just being on the grounds fired up my interest in learning more about the historic old mission and the famous 1836 battle where Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett died.

Once he put his flintlock rifle down and started talking with his hands I knew we were in trouble. He was definitely into the history of the Alamo.

It didn't take long to tour the small building . A large diorama effectively showed that during the battle the Alamo was completely surrounded by many Mexican soldiers. I was inspired to get a couple of books on the Alamo to read up on the history and resolved to find a couple and buy them online. I bought a couple later that day from Amazon, both novels.

Cousin Eve and I remember the Alamo with a selfie.

The sign outside the museum is a good indicator of what you will find inside.

Then we were off walking through downtown a few blocks to the Briscoe Western Art Museum. We got in on the last few minutes of a member reception for an exhibit of Native American art and jewelry. My cousin is a member and membership does have its advantages. We weren’t in buying mode so we left the exhibit hall after having a cup of coffee and a few small pastries. We enjoyed seeing the historical artifacts like an old staircase and ceiling salvaged from historic buildings. The museum has a fine collection of paintings and sculptures of the Old West. We even saw a stagecoach, a covered wagon, and an old time banjo with a leather case from the King Ranch. Everything was tastefully displayed and well lighted.

One of the excellent sculptures at the museum

 Sidewalk view of Paris Hatters

Sidewalk view of Paris Hatters

Once we had done the Briscoe it was time for another item on our list, a visit to Paris Hatters, in business in downtown San Antonio since 1917. I was looking for a cap, not a Stetson ten-gallon hat. We moved past an impressive collection of hats and boots and on to a good selection of camps. With assistance from a salesman and my cousin’s opinion I purchased a black leather one. It will work well to keep my noggin warm on cold Carolina winter days.

Note the top hats over my right shoulder...

After the successful hat purchase and a picture in the store (No Pictures Allowed!) we headed back to the car. Our goal was to eat lunch at a well-known Mexican restaurant near downtown. The GPS took us around the block where the restaurant was located inside a complex called Market Square. A Hispanic festival was underway in the area and many of the streets were blocked off. We decided to go instead to the Pearl Brewery Entertainment & Restaurant complex to find an alternative restaurant.

A remnant of the days when this was the Pearl Brewery site

Turns out we arrived at the Pearl and found a parking place just when the weekly farmers market was reaching its peak. We navigated through the crowds to a restaurant called the Arcade and after a short wait we were seated. The food was good and the ambience of the restaurant was wide open. It was a converted warehouse and was not crowded for lunch on Saturday.

 

I shoot Eve...

She shoots me.

After lunch we returned to Eve's apartment for a little college football fix for me. Eve gave me some tips on evaluating a used violin . That was helpful because I not only got good tips on what to look for in case I decide to buy a fiddle but also I was able to saw away a little on her instrument. It didn't sound too much like a cat fight! so I'm encouraged on taking up the fiddle in the near future.

I gave Eve a couple of ukulele tips. She's just acquired one and we played a few simple songs from The Daily Ukulele. She volunteered to make a veggie stew from a recipe she found for dinner. She put that together in fairly short order. I was impressed with her Moroccan stew, modified from the online recipe by doubling the spices.

Our entertainment for the evening was a Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing, staged in a small theater on the UTSA campus. Eve had purchased tickets in advance online and we went a little early to pick them up from Will Call. She also gave me a campus tour. The university buildings are impressive, but it was built less than 20 years ago and doesn't have old-growth trees hanging to shade the sidewalks. A large atrium in a central location with an artfully-designed canopy spanning it is a student gathering place near the food court.

Eve must have purchased our tickets when they first went on sale-- we were in the first row. The play was presented with a minimalist set and six British actors. They didn’t use microphones and it was very hard to hear the dialogue. At intermission we both agreed that we had seen enough and heard too little so we headed home. The actors and actresses were very talented and flexible while playing multiple roles. They just didn’t project their voices very well.

Eve by the door, enjoying her latté

 

On Sunday we had a field trip on the agenda for the morning. I'd been told by a friend from Texas that it was a good idea to get visit the hill country. Eve had identified a couple of places to visit in the little town of Boerne (pronounced Bernie), a 30 minute drive from her apartment. When we arrived in the downtown area she spied a bakery and coffee shop, the Bear Moon Bakery. We stopped there,  got a couple of coffees and pastries, and enjoyed them at a table on the sidewalk. Eve said they make an excellent latte. I had a cup of decaf. They also had a good business going with their brunch buffet.

 

Plaque by the gate that guards the cave entrance and the 85 steps down

Our main destination was the Cave Without a Name. That's the name of the cave. It was maybe 5 miles out of Boerne’s downtown area. We arrived about 10 a.m. when the gift shop and ticket office opened. We were the first visitors for the day. We bought our tickets and a couple of souvenirs. Eve bought a beautiful pink rock crystal set of bookends for her office. I was going to purchase a salt crystal lamp, but then Eve offered to get it for me as a birthday gift. On the trip to Texas I’d packed a gallon of boiled peanuts from the Raleigh flea market. Now I was going to be packing a rock in my suitcase to take home.


There was a sign by the cash register that said, “There's a staircase with 85 steps descending to the cave. You must be able to go down the steps and climb back up. We figured that we could handle it so, taking advantage of our senior citizen discounts, we bought our tickets and prepared for the tour.


We were the only two people there at that time of day so we had a private, guided 1-hour tour of the cave. Our guide was a very knowledgeable man who presented the history of the cave in a very interesting way. He pointed out intricate rock formations and explained how they built up through many years. The cave path was lined with colored Christmas lights so we could easily find your way. I still managed to skin my head on a part of the trail where we had to duck down to go through a little place. I saw the sign that said “watch your head”--I didn't watch it carefully enough. No serious harm was done. I just a nice ringing in my head that resounded in my head for a while before it stopped hurting.


Head still ringing and hurting, I took this shot of one of the main rooms of the cave.

The formations of the cave were intricate and beautiful. I've included a few pictures in the photo album. The tour lasted an hour and then it was back up the stairs to the surface. We got in the car and headed for another place that Eve dug up in her research, Mary's Tacos, to pick up a quick bite before heading back to San Antonio

Mary's Tacos is a local place, located in a nondescript former house on a side street. When you go in you see the kitchen behind a service counter where you can order and a rail where people line up to place their orders. The menu was listed on two 8 ½ x 11 placards. Everything was made from scratch starting with the flour for the soft tortilla wrappers. There must have been 20 people working in the assembly area cooking and loading the ingredients into the tortilla shells. The tacos were very reasonably priced, about $3 each. I ordered two veggie models. There were no tables available in the small dining area so we took our order and ate it in the car. Small plastic containers of taco sauce made the dining experience complete. They were the best tacos I've ever eaten!

The Telling Project

We were on a tight schedule because Eve had purchased tickets to a 2:00 PM performance of The Telling Project, to be held at the Tobin center along the RiverWalk downtown. We arrived with time to spare and we took a short stroll before entering the theater. We were able to buy a couple of glasses of wine to sip prior to and during the performance. We entered the small theater about 20 minutes before curtain time. Seats were general admission so again we got seats on the front row.


The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, seen from the RiverWalk

The Telling Project is a group of military veterans and military family members telling the stories of their service in the armed forces. Fortunately each performer wore a wireless mic so it was easy to hear what they had to say. Their stories were powerful. The director of the presentation had each member of the cast tell a small vignette and then take a seat while another veteran told a bit of their story. The members of the cast lived locally around San Antonio. The oldest member of the cast was a veteran of the Vietnam War, the youngest, of course, a veteran of the Iraq invasion. A woman who had been at the Abu Graib prison was especially bitter and angry about her time in the service. She did have fond memories of singing the national anthem before a boxing match during her time overseas.

 

After a short break we sat in on a question and answer session. Then we headed again over to The Pearl complex. We had an adult beverage at the Boiler House Texas Grill & Wine Garden followed by dinner at The Green, a vegetarian restaurant. I had a Mediterranean sampler that was delicious.

 

After dinner we headed back to the apartment and I started packing. My flight departed at 6 a.m. on Monday. We made plans for an early drop-off at the airport. Everything went smoothly and I arrived back in Raleigh around midday. I used the Fast Park and Relax remote parking facility, a recommendation from cousin James who lives in Raleigh. I found it to be an excellent service--covered parking along with shuttle to the airport and a free car wash when I returned for only $7 a day.

This post is longer than I anticipated. Cousin Eve did excellent research and planning on possible activities and places to visit. We were able to prioritize our adventures and pack a lot of cool experiences into a short period. I want to visit San Antonio again and perhaps use it as a jumping-off point for a visit to Mexico.

To close here's a special muchas gracias to Eve for being a well-prepared tour guide and for diligently programming a hundred Favorites into her GPS!

Click here to view the trip photo album on Google+.