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Thursday, 7 May 2015

SAN ANTONIO IN A DAY

In our quest to explore Texas, we had to pay a visit to San Antonio. One beautiful weekend in March, we packed our overnighters and headed east from Houston. Highway I10 takes you for a bit over three hours through central Texas past abundant green pastures with grazing cattle and quaint little Czech or German towns along the way.

Start your day South of Downtown with a hearty breakfast in an old German flour mill, soak in the scenery along the River Walk, pay a visit to the Texas legend of the Alamo and marvel at Art Deco buildings along Houston Street. Skip the Mexican market (unless you are into touristy souvenirs made in Mexico) and wander around the historical public buildings. Want Details? Read more after the jump!
We stayed in a private room in the part just South of downtown, away from the hotels and usual tourist biz. This area is spotted with old mansions and estates that show the grandeur of a glorious past, when San Antonio was a bustling hub and commercial center. The mixture of Spanish speaking Tejanos, catholic Spanish/Mexican influences and central European immigrants makes for a astonishing combination, only partly covered with a thin layer of Americanness. Small restaurants and cozy bars in repurposed buildings and lots of outdoor seating make for pleasant strolls through this area.
We started out with a short walk to Guenther House, a cafe housed in the mansion and on the premises of one of the oldest still working grain mills in Texas. Founded by German immigrants, the house was built right next to the mill in 1859 and houses a restaurant, a small museum and a store.

Guenther House
205 E. Guenther Street
San Antonio, Texas 78204
www.guentherhouse.com



Provided with enough energy for the day, we continued along the River Walk. The the San Antonio River cuts through the city roughly from North to South and you can walk along it for miles. Walk ways have been prepared and it takes you through many different quarters from the villas of the King William historic district past the skyscrapers of down town towards the repurposed industrial remnants on the North.
The closer we got to donwtown, the more business people joined us for a lunch time stroll. Unlike many other American cities, San Antonio has a functioning city center. Here, the River Walk diverts from the river and bends around in a U-shape. This is San Antonios tourist hub, as the main streets go above it and you have to descend from street to water level.  Seamed with restaurants, river boats cruise the canals with guides narrating the historic development. In the Southern part, the so called Villita, or small village, was built by a conservation society to display how the first urban settlement looked like. Today it houses gift shops and caf├ęs, but a quick stroll gives a sufficient impression.
Follow the River Walk further but leave it in North-East direction following the sign to the Alamo. The legend of the Alamo is centrepiece in the history of Texas, as it marks the site of a decisive (although lost) battle between fierce Texan volunteers and an overwhelmingly superior Mexican army in the Battle of the Alamo.

The Alamo
300 Alamo Plaza
San Antonio, TX 
http://www.thealamo.org

All Texan school kids learn about the Alamo, and most say they are disappointed to see that is actually a rather small, one storey church. The complex was built by early Spanish missionaries eager to convert the local Indians to Catholicism. The current building was established in the late 18th century, and consisted of a Courtyard with the church, living quarters and workshops. It is a nice complex lush with trees and bushes and free to visit. The museum shows a full diorama of the battle.
From the Alamo, we decided to head West, bound for a Mexican market that was recommended to us. Good we did, because Houston Street offers a stunning array of wonderful Art Deco architecture. Facades clad in tiles, geometrical structures, old department stores, hotels, casinos and the truly majestic Majestic Theatre from 1929 may give you a stiff neck from looking up, but make for a beautiful stroll and make you feel transported back in time. Need to rest a little and get new energy?  Stop at

Sip Coffee & Espresso Bar
160 E Houston St
San Antonio

 
We headed further West to check out the Mexican market on Commerce and S Santa Rosa Ave, but did not find it to our liking. It is an array of shops, stalls and Mexican restaurants, selling the standard Mexican fare of nic nacs, skeleton figurines and plastic bunting. The area is also not especially interesting, so we soon returned to the more central part of town.
The San Fernando Cathedral and San Antonio Court house are beautiful to see and relaxing to wander around.
Soon it was time to head back along the River Walk, and the setting sun painted everything in remarkably soft glowing light.
Our last cocktail before heading back to Houston we had in the

Liberty Bar
1111 S Alamo St
San Antonio
A two story bar and eatery in an old now bright pink painted convent, but options are plenty. Get a table at window and let dusk wrap you in its magic atmosphere.

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