Labor Day Weekend in San Antonio

I extended my Labor Day weekend by taking off Friday and boarding a plane for San Antonio. I left Raleigh at 6:15 AM and with the time change and on-time flights from Southwest Airlines arrived at the airport at 11:30 AM. It looked like a war zone with all the demolition and construction. Cousin Eve met me at baggage claim and we enjoyed one of the favorite San Antone pastimes:  walking over hot concrete to get to the car.

She had targeted a vegan restaurant, Señor Veggie, near downtown. 

It's hard to frame a picture properly in the bright sunshine when using a cell phone camera, but you get the idea...

It's hard to frame a picture properly in the bright sunshine when using a cell phone camera, but you get the idea...

The food was very good, so was the craft beer from a nearby brewery. Eve introduced me to the compilation of possible activities she'd put together for the weekend. It was extensive and more than we could do in a week's time, much less a 3-day weekend. It was super to have options to choose from. 

After lunch we went to one of the nearby attractions, Mission San José, a U.S. National Heritage site. There's more than one mission in San Jose--the Spanish strung them along the river due to the lack of cars and highways in the old days when they were built. The most famous one in town is The Alamo. We visited it on my visit on Texas in October of last year.

First up on the agenda was to tour the small museum while waiting for the 20-minute movie to cycle around on the history of the mission. We went in and the movie rolled. The combination of the dark theater, my big lunch with beer, and my early departure from Raleigh meant one thing for me during the video:  Z-z-z-z-z-z-z... Eve told me she'd give me the highlights as we walked around the grounds.

The mission was inside a walled compound and we had to walk a little way from the Visitor Center across a parched field to reach the mission building. Here's what it looks like as you approach:

Get a little closer and it looks like this:

Here's the sign that gives the full name.

Click on the image to learn more about Mission San José...

Click on the image to learn more about Mission San José...

We made a quick stop at Central Market on the way back to the apartment to pick up a few things then headed for her flat at River House Apartments. Borrowing text from the website--they're brand-new apartments with sophisticated features in a vibrant urban setting. Very true!

Eve has an apartment on the second floor. An elevator took us up from the secured parking garage in the basement of the building. I was really impressed by the high ceilings and floor to ceiling glass in her living room. She's furnished the flat in a contemporary style that's clean, attractive, and comfortable. Here's a sculpture that tells a story of two of her lifelong interests:

Looks like a museum piece, no?

Looks like a museum piece, no?

Speaking of museums, the San Antonio Museum of Art is directly across the river from Eve's flat. Here's a shot of the museum taken from the RiverWalk.

A new exhibit, "28 Chinese, Social and Political Activism in Art", opened for members on Thursday evening. The museum is open until 9 pm on Friday nights and Eve is a member so off we went for a quick tour of the new exhibit on our way to a neighborhood restaurant for dinner.

The artists represented in these galleries reveal the variety of social and political work being created (in China) today. While some artists directly confront the tumultuous history of China by repurposing and manipulating traditional texts or objects, others use performance and conceptual art to respond to issues such as social alienation, environmental destruction, the dangers of rapid globalization, and the effect of rampant consumerism.
— Placard in "28 Chinese" Exhibit

Whew! Here's a quote about the exhibit from guest blogger Eve:

Ivan and I had the chance to raise our level of cultural awareness with a much-touted new exhibit at the San Antonio Museum of Art on Friday evening.

’28 Chinese’ is a special SAMA collection of modern art by 28 young Chinese painters, sculptors, cinematographers, and more. Artists who are also social and political commentators were featured.

A theme running through this thought-provoking exhibit was violence. Videos depicted fanciful bondage and imagined self-mutilation; a huge photo showed a naked male artist who had wrapped his torso in the bloody ribs of a hog. An exhibit consisted of stuffed animals inside huge ceramic vases, with a viewing platform that revealed - surprise! - a goat face staring at close range, and a large snake in the act of striking.

But nothing prepared us for...Dead Guy.

As we rounded a corner into a new gallery, there in the corner he lay: wearing a business suit, face down, limbs splayed, life-size and real enough to freak the viewer completely.

Dead Guy is some sort of comment, but we are not sure exactly what. What careers can do to us? What happens when markets fall and fail? Western business attire can be fatal? Western standards can be fatal to Chinese values?

We returned on Sunday to photograph Dead Guy, which we were too startled to do on our first visit.. When securing our passes we were told by the man at the box office that museum guards and staff have been warned about potential screams coming from Dead Guy’s floor.
— Guest blogger Eve
Taxidermy as art

Taxidermy as art

Click the pictures to advance the carousel.

Then it was time to exit the museum through the gift shop and proceed to The Luxury, a few minutes walk along the river. Eve held our place in the short line for ordering food while I looked over the astounding beer list.

Both of us went for the Pura Vida salad. Ignoring the beer list we were taken by a "fresh sangria" sign by the bar window. It tasted like sangria kool-aid but the salad was outstanding.

Okay, by popular demand---the Pura Vida salad!

Add some light lime dressing and you're good to go! Hearts of palm are included, too.

Add some light lime dressing and you're good to go! Hearts of palm are included, too.

The ambiance was super, sharing a picnic table with a friendly oil field worker with a view of the river. (He got zapped from this panorama by Google camera.)

Click to enlarge...

Safe and on-time flights, lunch at Señor Veggie, Mission San José, 28 Chinese, and The Luxury--it was a great start to the Labor Day weekend!

Saturday morning we assessed Eve's "things to do" list and decided to head for Brackenridge Park for a ride on the train and a visit to the Japanese Gardens. But first we took a stroll on the RiverWalk with the dogs. We headed for a scenic spot not far away when Rufus decided to attack a miniature dachshund on the narrow path. Eve restrained her newly-fierce dog and we made it to the grotto without further ado. Here are a few shots from our stroll.

She secured the dogs at the flat and we were off to the Park. I decided to pass on the Zoo. However, a ride on the narrow-gauge train encircling the park sounded like a fun way to start the day and to assess the lay of the land. 

Lukey, the train

Lukey, the train

We rode the circuit then went around again and got off at the Japanese Garden stop. The gardens have an interesting history going back to 1917 when work on the abandoned rock quarry began to turn it into one of the city's most beautiful places to visit. I won't get into detail on it here, but you can learn more about the Gardens here

Here are a few photos of the Gardens:

How about some fung shui from the waterfall?

Touring the Japanese Gardens we worked up a thirst. Here we are enjoying Moroccan Mint and Tropical Time iced tea in the Jingu House Café.

Tie dye shirts from an arts and crafts afternoon on Eve's visit to Raleigh in July.

Tie dye shirts from an arts and crafts afternoon on Eve's visit to Raleigh in July.

We returned to Eve's flat, parked the car, regrouped, and set out for La Gloria restaurant near the Pearl dining and entertainment complex, a short stroll up the RiverWalk.

We enjoyed a light lunch and a margarita here (and a delicious coconut flán) because we planned to hit another Mexican restaurant for dinner. On the flán--if a restaurant has it on the menu my advice is to order it for lunch. It's likely to be gone by dinner.

Here's a mariachi musician I met as we were leaving the restaurant:

We walked across the hot concrete parking lot and strolled back along the RiverWalk to Eve's where it was siesta time. Then we hung out for a while and got ready to go to an early dinner at Paloma Blanca--reputed to be one of the best Méxican restaurants in the city.

The food, service, ambiance, and margaritas were excellent! Here's a shot of part of the menu. Lots of creative options, reasonably priced. I had the Enchiladas San Miguel.

Here are a few more restaurant shots.

It was still early when we finished. We went back to the flat and relaxed for a while. The plan for the evening was to wait until it was completely dark then visit a new rooftop bar, Paramour. It had recently opened to lukewarm reviews. We decided to walk to burn off a few calories.

Not far from Eve's flat we found these electric fish swimming under an overpass Just one of the many artworks along the RiverWalk.

Here are some shots from Paramour, an upscale bar that's generating lots of buzz in newspaper columns and reviews.

We stayed long enough to drink a glass of wine. Decided to forego any of the $11 mixed drinks. Our plan for the morning (after dog walking) was to rent a couple of bicycles and go riding on the RiverWalk. The rental rack was just outside Eve's parking garage.

You can't beat the convenience...

You can't beat the convenience...

Here's guest blogger Eve on our River Walk biking experience:

As Ivan and I prepared to rent our B-Cycles and explore the River Walk, perhaps as far as the Missions (6 miles one way), we pondered the rent rates. I/2 hour is free! All day is $10. There was only one reasonable choice, and we were off.

As soon as our front tires hit the River Walk, it became clear that normal space-time laws had been suspended. The sidewalk beneath us shrank to a cross distance of about 6 inches, while moments of time stretched into nightmarish length.

Enormous baby strollers appeared from nowhere, careening back and forth unpredictably across the ‘Walk. Bands of runners arm in arm singing Socialist Worker Party anthems sprinted around corners to face us. Dogs leaped sideways with unusual agility, directly into our paths.

At the same time, the River Walk itself, previously perceived to be more or less straight, took on hairpin turns and twists.

We took to surface streets, leaving the River Walk with the relief of children on early dismissal. We returned in stately order to the rack from which our B-Cycles had been rented, to discover we’d been out precisely 31 minutes.

It was well worth $10 to experience this nightmare of existential trauma and live to tell the tale.
— Guest Blogger Eve

It was still early in the day and the sun was less than broiling. We decided to change clothes for a dip in the River House pool. It was a triumph of modern pool design--a small oval with one side dropping off about 4 feet in a cascade. The water spilling over and hitting the concrete below made a pleasant sound. Another side had futuristic plastic chaise lounges partially submerged in six inches of water. Getting into and out of the chairs was a bit challenging. The jury is still out on whether having your butt submerged while the rest of you bakes is sufficient cooling. I didn't stay in the chair long enough to find out. While there, the view was pleasant. It was a fine sunny blue-sky day.

Soon it was time for lunch and we returned to The Luxury for a couple of Pura Vida salads to take out. Here are a couple of shots. The restaurant creatively re-purposed two shipping containers to provide working space for the kitchen and bar.

There's a classic quote from Davy Crockett on the bumper sticker above the window:

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.
— Davy Crockett en route to The Alamo

Our orders seemed to weigh two pounds in the carry-out bag. The cook was generous and we were again impressed by how good the salad tasted. Eating a pound of salad with Texas tortilla chips (each unbroken one shaped like the state) and drinking a Hopadillo IPA put me in the mood for a siesta.

We snacked on specially-imported-in-my-suitcase North Carolina boiled peanuts ntil time to walk over hot concrete to the Pearl for dinner at Green, a veggie restaurant.

I had a Mediterranean bowl with falafel (above) and Eve had a veggie wrap in collard green leaves. Our tasty appetizer was "buffalo wing" cauliflower.

After dinner we had to thread our way through a throng of Sunday afternoon revellers who'd gathered at a small amphitheater on the RiverWalk to hear live Latino music. There were numerous beer vendors. Unfortunately the band was on break when we passed by.

The only thing remaining on our sightseeing agenda was an evening ride on a Rio Taxi. We caught one at a dock by the Art Museum. The theory was you could hop off and hop back on anywhere in the bar/restaurant district downtown. In reality the holiday weekend crowds were huge and we decided to stay on the boat for a round trip that stretched to almost 3 hours due to stops, passing through a lock, a couple trying to buy passage with a series of credit cards that were declined. Nevertheless we had plenty of good views along the scenic San Antonio River.

Click image to advance the slide show...

The taxi ride on the San Antonio River wasn't exactly Stygian but it did last a lot longer than we anticipated. Here we are being released from the lock. We were lowered about six feet while enclosed. Warning: the action in this video may induce sleep.

There you have it, travel and adventure fans. I left at 6:00 AM on Labor Day, dropped off at the airport by cousin Eve. Thanks to her pre-planning and research it was a super visit!

Hasta luego, San Antonio!