Four Days in San Antonio
By: Leo N. Ardo
(The first visit was an overnight stay, then an early morning drive to Austin with ten other victims of poor travel planning.)
This time, my vacation partner is attending a business conference which started Sunday. She meets me in the lobby, then deposits me in the room where the thermostat is showing a chilly 67º. It takes the ninety minutes of her last meeting to warm the room to 73º.
Our hotel is on the Riverwalk. In the heart of Tex-Mex and great Mexican food, another downpour helps us decide on an Italian restaurant, with a large canopy, next to the hotel.
The Alamo is our first attraction. In San Antonio, is there another first attraction? The Alamo is well preserved and the historical museum-like presentation is very organized and subtitled in several languages. In two and a half hours, we are able to visit every public building at the mission, while avoiding a ten-minute rain.
A maddening episode of phone calls and Internet inquiries lands us Spurs vs. Heat tickets to game four of the NBA Finals. We leave the hotel ninety minutes before tip-off. The taxi driver is accommodating but extremely quiet during the long ride. We are dropped off in the middle of a parking lot about a half-mile from the AT&T Center arena. We get in line and shuffle forward for six minutes to find that our tickets’ pedigree does not qualify us for this VIP line.
It is another long walk to find the right line. We luckily enter a few doors from the Spurs Fan Shop. The shop is packed and ten cash registers mark the beginning of ten long lines of shoppers. We pay, wade through the sea of shoppers, and discover our seats are across the corridor. While waiting in line for burgers, the national anthem is broadcast on the corridor’s flat screens.
We laugh that ninety minutes after leaving the hotel we are still not in our seats. Time flies when walking across a large parking lot, standing in the wrong line, purchasing souvenirs, and waiting for the food ticket number to be called.
We cheer for the Spurs—partly for self-preservation—part because they are the western division champions. We send self-photos from our cell phones to friends and family. Sad to report the Spurs lost. After the game we find the never-ending line of sad fans waiting for a taxi. We enjoy the slapstick, impromptu, entertainment provided by the police trying to control the pedestrians and cars. It is like watching a new owner (police) training a new puppy (pedestrians): the owner talks, the puppy wants to play, the frustrated owner talks louder, the puppy wants to play, the owner is enunciating every word with emphasis, and the puppy keeps playing.
The San Fernando Cathedral is a short walk from the hotel. We wander around outside, enjoying the marvelous care of the 286-year-old mission. The gift shop also serves as the mission’s museum.
The opportunity to photograph the interior is lost as a noon mass begins while I try to photograph a yellow flower tossed about by the breeze. The law of big numbers works in my favor—I take enough shots that luckily one of them is in focus.
After a little search, we find out how to take the Riverwalk barges up river to the San Antonio Museum of Art. It’s a pleasant ride that includes a lock system to raise the barge nine feet. On the way up, the lock system is reported to cost $6.2 million. Inflation must be at play on the return trip as the lock system cost is reported at $7.4 million.
The museum is very well done and displays a vast cross section of art: paintings; photographs; Italian, Grecian, artifacts; vases; puzzles; illusion; costumes—just to name a few items. Three hours in the museum is not enough time to enjoy everything.
The late afternoon rain begins as we arrive back at the hotel. For an hour we check e-mail, return calls, and take a short nap before dinner. The rain stops long enough for us to stay dry walking to the restaurant.
Walking back to the hotel after dinner becomes a test of endurance. We exit the restaurant, and it begins to sprinkle. My travel companion has on “the most comfortable pair of sandals I have ever owned.” But, they limit how fast she can walk. The rain gradually increases. After we cross over the river, we continue straight into a section of the Riverwalk that is not familiar to us. Oops! We forget to turn left after the bridge. The detour takes about fifteen minutes—enough time to get thoroughly soaked by some serious rain.
We opt-in for breakfast by room service.
The taxi ride is all too familiar: GPS system cannot find the address, there is a lot of talk in an unrecognizable language with someone on a cell phone, and it is obvious she has no idea of the location of the Concepcion Mission. She may not know where we are going, but we are getting there fast.
Mission Concepcion is wonderful. Photo opportunities are everywhere. It is as old as it looks. Wandering around back we find signage marking the entrance to the church. Whoa! The interior is in pristine condition—it is still a functioning church.
A grotto is on the edge of the property: flowers, statues, birdbaths, and 112,869 mosquitos counted before we started swatting them. Two hundred thirty-four dead mosquitos later, a nice couple offers their lifesaving bug spray.
The San Antonio bike rental system has dozens of bike racks, including the four missions inside the state park. The rental process is simple, and we have transportation for the three miles to the next mission, San Jose. Did I mention it was hot and humid?
At San Jose Mission, we place the bikes in the rack, go into the visitor’s center to cool down, and hear an announcement for a twenty-three minute movie. We look at each other, not a word is said, but we know the other’s thoughts: it’s inside, air-conditioned, and twenty-three minutes.
San Jose Mission is restored to its original configuration but with different [cheaper] materials. The mission is whole: walls, barracks, thick wooden gates, aqueduct, gristmill, church, etc. The restoration is well done and aids the imagination of life nearly three hundred years ago.
A few hours later we are biking to Mission San Juan—it’s hotter and more humid. We are a mile from the San Juan Mission when we are told the road is still washed-out from the rainstorm last week. The alternate route involves riding on busy, narrow streets without a helmet. We ride two miles back to San Jose Mission and call a cab for the hotel.
The time in the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is very enjoyable. We manage to make a day out of two of the four missions, and look forward to visiting the last two missions on our next trip to San Antonio, Texas—hopefully in October or April next time.