Saturday, January 12, 2008

Downtown San Antonio

January 13, 2008 -- Braunig Lake RV Park in San Antonio, TX

Our excursion to downtown San Antonio ended as daylight faded and the city lights were coming on. We decided to take a table on a balcony overlooking the River Walk, order a couple martinis, watch people go by, and simply relax and enjoy the end of the day. I have this love/hate thing with crowds. I hate standing in lines, waiting, getting pushed, and dealing with rudeness. Driving in heavy traffic is just the mechanized version of the same thing. I hate it. But I do like being around other people -- even lots of other people -- as long as it's a more relaxed setting. There's an energy that comes from being around others, talking, laughing, and making wise-cracks, as long as there's a common goal of enjoyment, a degree of civility, and everyone can keep their competitive natures in check. As the day ended today, we had that. Of course, a couple jiggers of gin didn't hurt.

After our early morning exercise walk, we headed for downtown. San Antonio is supposed to be the second largest city in the state behind Houston. But how, you say, can little ol' San Anton be larger than say Dallas? Or Fort Worth? The answer to that question is "suburbs"... Dallas has many and San Antonio has virtually none. Dallas is about 340 square miles surrounded by dozens of suburban communities. San Antonio is 407 square miles with very few surrounding suburbs. Our RV Park feels like it's well away from the city and there are no residential communities as far as I can see, but we're in the city limits. So San Antonio feels like a much smaller town to me than it should, based on it's population of 1.2 million. The heart of downtown is only 10 minutes away from our RV Park. It didn't take long to get ourselves downtown and parked. After a short jaunt we were at The Alamo.

The Alamo was originally the first Mission started in this area by the Franciscans around 1720. It was then known as Mission San Antonio de Valero. It evolved but didn't appear to reach the same level of development as some of the other Missions we visited a few miles to the South. For example, the church never had a completed roof on it during it's Mission years. The story goes that these Missions had a stone mason around to direct the more complicated building tasks -- like building an arched or barrel roof on a church this size. According to some, the stone mason at this place became smitten with a young women in the community, but she was already married. It seems he was laying more than stone. Well love works in strange and sometimes tragic ways, and this stone mason ended up killing the woman's husband. He had to leave town to avoid the wrath of the rest of the neighborhood, and the poor old Mission never got another stone mason to finish the church.

This Mission was dissolved in the late 1700's, and the land given to the natives that had been living and training there. The name "The Alamo" came from a name given the place during a Mexican occupation some years later. In the early 1800's San Antonio, the community, continued to grow around the old Mission grounds, as did the struggle for independence from Mexico. It all culminated in 1836 when the fateful battle at The Alamo took place, and a few weeks later Santa Ana was defeated at San Jacinto by Sam Houston, which led to an Independent Republic of Texas.

The Alamo is now under the permanent oversight of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. It's operated as a shrine to the people who died here and a monument to the struggle for independence. It's role as a Mission is minimized and under-played. The grounds have been heavily modernized and museum-ized. Only the church building, which now, finally, sports a real poured concrete roof, and a portion of the barracks and convento are, in part, original. No interior photography of any kind is permitted, but Dar and her rebel nature got us a few pictures for our album before she was nearly cuffed and carted off for questioning. It's a place that should be visited when in San Antonio.

Next on the list was the River Walk, a developed area of restaurants, shops, bars, and hotels along both sides of a bend in the San Antonio River as it flows through downtown. It's an easy walk of just a couple blocks from The Alamo. Originally planned in the 1920's by dreamer and architect Robert Hugman, rejection and a great depression delayed any work on the idea until the late 1930's, and then WWII stopped further work until the late 40's. Through the 50's and early 60's it lingered and wasn't appreciated or patronized. But all that changed with the surge of development prior to HemisFair '68 --the 1968 World's Fair -- that turned this place into one of the top Texas tourist attractions.

The River Walk is a level below street-level. There are no cars or street traffic hassling you as you traverse the paved paths and walkways that go past dozens of establishments and street-vendors of all kinds. In some ways it seems separated from the city. This weekend was "Mud Festival" -- the celebration of water returning to the river after the annual draw-down and clean-up of all the flotsam and jetsam that accumulates when this many people are this close to a waterway for a full year. We're happy to report that the water is, in fact, back. We also took a 30 minute guided boat tour that provides a nice overview and some history.

Downtown San Antonio is a first-rate place and we recommend it.

T