Monday, January 19, 2015

Mission Impossible (Theme Song)

Another beautiful, sunny day in San Antonio. We are on a mission today to visit several missions on the Mission Trail. The Alamo is the northernmost of the six missions and the smallest. We drove south of the city to see Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo. It is a beautiful place considered the queen of the missions.

Founded in 1720 by Franciscans from Spain. The Friars were sent to convert the native peoples and convert them to Roman Catholicism, teach them Spanish and train them in skills useful to the mission so they could pay taxes to Spain. We saw an informative movie and went on a guided tour with a National Park Ranger.

Much of the exterior walls and housing units had been destroyed and were rebuilt by the WPA during the 1930's. Unfortunately the church was locked because of it being a national holiday, Martin Luther King Day. So we decided to visit another mission where we could view the church interior.

On the way we stopped at a local cafe for some Mexican food for lunch. Then on to the Mission Nuestra SeƱora de la Purisima Concepcion de Acuna. That is quite a mouthful. The grounds here were smaller as the perimeter buildings had been destroyed and not rebuilt.

We were able to go into the church and they have beautiful frescoes adorning some of the walls. These are original art and so wonderful to see. It is considered one of the country's oldest original stone churches. Both churches we visited are still functioning with services held each week for the local community.

Back to the hotel for a little rest and then a short walk to the Riverwalk. We bought tickets for a boat tour which took 45 minutes. So much fun to ride along the narrow San Antonio River and see all the restaurants, bars and craft booths on the river.

Under bridges and alongside hotels which sit right on the river. We took a loop coming back to the same place and headed off to explore and finally a margarita and chips on the river's edge. We sat under one of these brightly colored umbrellas.

At 6:00 we had a dinner reservation at Boudrous which was recommended by our concierge. We sat outside with large heaters and blankets on every chair in case you were chilly.

The food and ambiance were great! I had a soup that was cheddar on one side and black bean on the other. Really good. Then I had wood fired grilled sea bass with (drum roll) mashed potatoes and grilled zucchini. A delicious dinner. We waddled back the hotel where we packed and now watching TV and soon to sleep. Left a wake up call for 7:00 am so we can get to the airport in plenty of time.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier

Texas is all about Davy Crockett who preferred to be called David. He was killed at the Alamo along with James Bowie and everyone else. His portrait is in the main hall of the state house and he is revered here as a founding father. So today we drove to San Antonio to actually see the Alamo.

First stop was a lovely brunch hosted by Marlene and Bob. It was fun to spend time with the bride and groom and the family. We were in a private room at a great Tex-Mex restaurant with delicious food. I loved having good guacamole for breakfast. Lots of photos and family hugs.

 Mother of the bride, Marlene, with grandson Lincoln.

Cousin Faith and Tony.

Me with cousin Arnie. We share a birthday.

 Arnie and Celeste.

Erica and Derek, the bride and groom.

Now it is time for us to move on and wonder when we will see each other again.

Checked out of the W and headed south on I-35. It is mostly a strip of stores and restaurants for much of the trip. We made a stop at the town of Gruene, pronounced Green. This area was settled by Germans and many of the towns have German names. Gruene is an arty little town with antiques and restaurants. It also has the oldest dance hall in Texas. We went in to see the old wood floors and the place is still in use with a large bar and crowds listening to a band.

On to San Antonio which is an old city with a vibrant downtown. We found our hotel, the Sheraton Gunter, and checked in. After unpacking we walked about four blocks to see the Alamo.

It is a lovely site with lots of Live Oak trees. The original mission building was a church that was not completed. It had no roof and that was added later when the Texans used the property. During the war with Santa Anna the rebels used the mission and grounds and were all killed there. Soon after Santa Anna was defeated and Texas became an independent empire. Interestingly the four commanders at the Alamo were Crockett, Bowie and two others from South Carolina.

We toured inside the mission and around the grounds. In the long barracks building we watched a documentary and visited the gift shop. Then it was time to eat so we walked to the other end of town and the Market Square. This is a colorful place with restaurants, shops and kiosks. Mi Tierra was recommended and was a fun place to eat. It is a Mexican diner, huge, serving 700 at one time. They had mariachis serenading and tinsel decorations hanging from the ceiling.

The food was fast and good and lots of fun. We enjoyed cool margaritas and all the ambiance. They also have a large bakery with very tempting pastries.

Time to go to the hotel and rest. Sunday night means Downton Abbey and we climbed into bed to watch.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Yellow Rose of Texas

Texas, they are so proud of this state. We woke up to another beautiful day and met up with the bride Erica and her sister Jessica and family for breakfast.

Then we drove off with cousins Meryl and Rich to explore. First stop was a farmer's market near our hotel.

Then we went along Lady Bird Lake where there is a huge park crowded with joggers and sports enthusiasts enjoying the weather. We walked through the nature center seeing some caged hawks and owls and dodging tons of little kids. Then we drove to the sculpture garden, but decided not to go in. Looked around the UT campus and went home to nap and get ready for the wedding.

At 5:00 pm we went to the second floor venue in the hotel and visited. The ceremony started promptly at 5:30 and Erica walked down the aisle with her dad, Bob.

She was the most beautiful bride and just beaming. A rabbi did a short and meaningful service and Derek broke the glass starting their life together. Now it is time to party.

We started off with the mandatory family pictures and then went into the ballroom which was decorated beautifully. We sat with Meryl, Rich and Matthew and Joann and Harlan, all first cousins. The photos below are my first cousins and then "The Others." These are spouses and children of the cousins.

The dancing started with a hora and we had fun circling and laughing. The DJ did a great mix with lots of oldies and we danced the night away. Delicious food completed a great night.

We got back to our room and collapsed into deep sleep.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Peggy Sue

Buddy Holly is remembered as a favorite son of Texas and we heard this song played over and over in the state history museum.

Woke up to a sunny morning with the promise of warmer weather. Carol and I had coffee and tea at the Starbuck's next door and then set out to see the town. Austin is a pretty city and very walkable. Bob and Marlene gave us a ride to the University of Texas campus and a quick tour. It is huge with modern buildings and lots of construction. We passed the Longhorns stadium and they dropped us off at the LBJ library.

Jeff and I are trying to see all of the Presidential Libraries and the three in Texas are on our list. I feel guilty about seeing the LBJ without Jeff, but I am here. It was built in 1971 and very well done. Immaculately clean, great exhibits and many movie presentations. Much space was devoted to the Civil Rights bill and the Great Society. The Viet Nam war was another major topic. I enjoyed the displays on life in the 60's with the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Lawrence Welk. Definitely a must see if you are visiting Austin.

Outside it had gotten warmer and we walked around the campus to our next musem. Luckily it was mostly down hill and we stopped at a small cafe for lunch. We visited the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum and it is another winner.

Recently built this is a three story structure with an IMAX theatre attached. We saw the permanent exhibit about the founding and growth of Texas and a temporary exhibit on a shipwreck being restored. The history part is well done starting with the Spanish and then the Mexicans controlling the area. Learned all about the struggle for independence from Mexico and a good exhibit on the Alamo
with a replica of the building. Later Texas became a US state and then seceded with the Confederacy.
Other areas concentrated on agriculture with rice and cottons crops and, of course, oil. The top floor also had culture exhibits including famous folks.

We left there just before 4:00 and walked a few blocks to the State Capitol. This is the largest State House in the country and an impressive building. Built out of Texas limestone and granite and taller that the Capitol in DC.

At the top is an statue of Lady Liberty holding a gold, five pointed star.

You can never forget that star as it is everywhere in the building. Every door handle, door hinges, chandeliers and more!

We took a free tour and visited the Senate and Legislature halls. Stood in the  rotunda looking up at the dome which has a16' star at the top. Around the walls are photos of the past governor's including George W. Bush. Governor Perry's photos are in the Senate and House chambers and he has served as Governor for 14 years. A new governor will be inaugurated this Tuesday and they were setting up scaffolding for the event.

Outside we walked around the grounds for a while and visited some of the statues and monuments. The Heroes of the Alamo had the names of all lost there including David Crockett and James Bowie.

 The Confederacy monument had all the states names with South Carolina being first to secede. On top was a statue of Jefferson Davis who shared a birthday with Jeff on June 3. Now there is a piece of trivia for you to use.

Finally done with the sightseeing we walked towards the hip 6th Street which is full of restaurants and music venues. Mostly a young crowd, we got a recommendation for a Tex-Mex place which turned out to be wonderful. The Iron Cactus is large and we were seated by a front window where we were able to watch all the characters outside. We ordered margaritas and mine was made made with a a pear alcohol and very yummy. Lots of chips with warm salsa and queso. I had a shrimp dish and Carol had beef and we were stuffed. We took a cab back to the hotel and walked in to find more of our cousins arriving. Lots of kissing and hugging and finally up to our room. We watched TV and fell asleep.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I'm Getting Married in the Morning

First time in Austin, Texas! My cousin Marlene's daughter Erica is getting married and Carol and I are attending the wedding along with several of our first cousins. Jeff took me to Savannah airport and I took a flight to Atlanta. Very short connection to my Austin flight and Carol was on the same plane connecting from Boston. We arrived just after noon, got a rental car and drove to our downtown hotel.

We are staying at the W, where all the employees look about 12 years old, but very competent. It is a young, hip place and we have a nice room with a view on the 14th floor. After unpacking we set out to the SoCo area which stands for South of Congress. It is a few blocks of restaurants and funky shops. It is only 45 degrees and not many people out on Thursday night. We walk to a graffiti sign that has become a symbol of the city and take pictures.

After checking out a few stores we settled in for dinner at a recommended restaurant, The South Congress Cafe,  with great food and service. Carol and I both had a vegetarian dish with grilled squash and eggplant. She had grilled shrimp on top and I had scallops. To start we shared a terrific bleu salad with loads of Maytag blue cheese and candied pecans. Later the shuttle from the hotel picked us up and we got friendly with the driver, Tim. He is a really sweet guy with loads of tips on where to see sights and eat.

Back at the hotel we ran into Marlene and Bob who were checking in and are the parents of the bride. Marlene is my cousin and closest to me in age. Later she came to our room and we hung out and talked and talked.

Called Jeff as he is home and busy with rehearsals for his upcoming play. He is in the cast of "Lend Me A Tenor" which opens next week. Wish he could be here with me.