Friday, April 26, 2013

Things I Learned in San Antonio

Paseo del Rio
I visited San Antonio, Texas for the first time last week (once again representing my company at a conference, seeing as an actual vacation is still out of reach). In spite of the fact that it was a weekend conference and I've now been working for 10 days straight, as always, I tried to make the most of the time I had in the city. I even got to see my niece and grand-niece who drove over on Saturday and spent the night at the hotel with me. :) I didn't encounter any stalkers at IRA this year (thank goodness), but I did learn a few things. Among them: 

San Antonio is much prettier than I ever imagined. ~ I must admit, I didn't have high expectations for San Antonio. I somehow pictured a dry, dusty old-west type of a city. Kind of like the Ghost Town on the Brady Bunch. Although there is plenty of history in San Antonio, it was far more beautiful that I thought it would be. 

A river can run through just about anything. ~ The first thing that amazed me about San Antonio was the San Antonio River that flows (literally) through the city. The river is extremely narrow - probably half the width of our canal - and shallow too. The shady, tree lined Paseo del Rio (or River Walk) features shops, restaurants and hotels. There are pretty bridges every couple of blocks that allow access to the other side. It was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. There were also ducks everywhere. Not the ugly Muscovy ducks we have in Florida, but pretty Mallards. It was the first weekend of Fiesta when we visited, so the River Walk was packed Saturday night. Sunday morning though, it was desolate and peaceful again, as the partiers were sleeping off the tequila. 

Mariachis are kind of scary. ~ I have never been particularly drawn to mariachis, but when I first saw them singing to tables of patrons at some of the restaurants on the River Walk, I thought it was kind of cool and very San Antonioish - especially considering the fact that it was Fiesta weekend. I did observe that one requirement of being a mariachi appeared to be wearing pants that were at least two sizes too small. Just because they're stretchy doesn't make it ok. 
As I learned at Rita's on the River, where a group of three mariachi's were serenading (?) the diners two tables over from us, they are very loud. And they take requests. And they just keep performing. (It was like they were never going to stop.) After about 15 minutes, they moved on to the table next to us. Not only could we not hold a conversation, we got up close and personal with those tight pantalones. No mas! We prayed that they would not decide to perform for our table (we even tried to convince my grand-niece to start crying if they came over to us). We didn't have to worry. It appears that they only sing to patrons who are Latino. Maybe someone can explain that to me. No matter. I was happy to see them move on.

The Alamo is very small. ~ I had been warned about this. It is true. The legendary Alamo is tiny. It is also located right across the street from the Hyatt and right down the block from Fuddrucker's. Kind of takes away some of the historical charm. I didn't have an opportunity to go inside because it was closed by the time I visited, but there isn't a whole lot to it. 

Trees grow very big where there are no hurricanes. ~ Although I wasn't able to actually enter the gardens at the Alamo, I was able to see them (and, of course take pictures of them) through the gates. There was the most incredible old tree that had the longest branches I had ever seen. The cypress trees along the river were also huge and beautiful.

People you'd never expect are authors of children's books. ~ I was standing at our booth when I saw a man and woman walk by. The man looked very familiar to me, but I didn't immediately recognize where I knew him from. A few seconds after he passed by, I realized it was Mike from American Pickers. I wondered why on Earth he was at the International Reading Association conference. Turns out, he wrote a children's book (thanks, Cynthia, for finding that out for me!). Small world. :) My inner Wang is so disappointed I didn't get a picture.
Looking up the face of the Emily Morgan Hotel

San Antonio's architecture is amazing. ~ The city has some of the most ornate old buildings I've ever seen. Spooky as it is, I have to admit that the Emily Morgan Hotel had the most impressive architecture. The "grotesques" depicting medical ailments (as the hotel was originally the Medical Arts Building) were creepy, but the other sculptural details of the building were breathtaking. Many other historic buildings in San Antonio had equally interesting architecture.

Tower Life Building
lit for Fiesta
San Antonio is a busy railroad hub. ~ I realize that San Antonio is pretty centrally located in Texas, which would make it a convenient spot for a transportation hub, but I never realized how many trains pass through the city in the wee hours of the morning. A Saturday morning, no less. Blowing their horns. The first morning I was there, I counted no less than FIVE trains passing by between 3 and 6 a.m. It sounded like they were running right next to the hotel, but after daybreak, I realized that the tracks were actually pretty far away. FYI...if you stay in downtown San Antonio, bring earplugs!

Dairy Queen's menu heads south of the border in Texas. ~ We stopped at Dairy Queen for Blizzards one night and I was tickled to see that the DQ menu had been Texified (or Mexified). Not only can you get the usual frozen treats, burgers, hot dogs and chicken tenders, you order jalapenos on your burger and you can also get tacos and something called "Jalitos". ;) Ole

People in San Antonio are very friendly. ~ Everyone I encountered in San Antonio, from the staff at the Hilton, to the waiters in the restaurants to the cashiers at the shops, everyone was so welcoming and kind. The senoras y senoritas especially were really looking out for me. The female guard at the convention center stopped me on my way in, thinking I had missed a couple buttons on my oxford shirt (she must have thought I had partied too hard at Fiesta) She didn't realize that I was wearing a shirt underneath it. It was sweet of her, though, to make sure that I wasn't exposing myself to all of the reading teachers. The cashier at the Five and Dime gently scolded me for buying a bag of cashews and a Coke Zero for lunch, telling me that what I was buying was not a meal and that I needed to take better care of myself. LOL! ;) I promised her that I would eat a good dinner (and I did). There are a lot of good people in San Antonio.

Tower of the Americas
at sunrise
I still have a lot more to see... ~ There were a number of really cool places in San Antonio that I didn't have an opportunity to see in the short time I visited the city. I may be going back at the end of June (it might be a little hot) for another conference. If so (and I can find time to do so), I hope to visit a few more places, like La Villita Historic Arts Village and HemisFair Park. I would LOVE to watch the sunset from the top of the Tower of the Americas (although it was pretty darn nice from the hallway of the 22nd floor of the Hilton). :) As with just about every other city I've visited for work, I hope to take my family there someday. Traveling is just not the same without them!

Con Amor y Aloha ~ Nancy

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