San Antonio Sabbatical

Posts Tagged ‘restaurants

  • In: Preparation
  • Comments Off on Preparing for the Return Move

One week from today I leave beautiful San Antonio.  My courses are completed and my sabbatical semester is coming to an end.  I’ve been spending this week getting ready for my move, first to New York to spend Christmas and New Year’s Day with family and then back to Pennsylvania to resume my job for the Spring 2011 semester.

On Sunday afternoon, I made my first visit to North Star Mall.  No plans to buy anything; just wanted to look around and take a picture of those awesome Texas cowboy boots (a huge colorful eye-catching sculpture that sits by the I-410 highway at the mall’s entrance).  After snapping the desired photos, I made a planned stop at Luciano Ristorante, an authentic Italian restaurant (They also have an express version of their restaurant in the mall’s food court.  I ate at the large full-service restaurant).  Italian cuisine (minus the cheese) is one of my favorites and Luciano was no exception.  I sat in their mall seating area admiring the holiday decorations and shoppers while eating my lunch.  I ordered Spaghetti Bolognese and Iced Tea.  I was given a small complimentary bruschetta-like appetizer along with the usual basket of bread and butter.  The food (large portion of seasoned spaghetti that was attractively presented) was delicious and the service was very good.  I’m so glad I got to try the highly-recommended Luciano Ristorante.  This is a place I’d like to return to if I’m ever in San Antonio again.

Later that evening I signed my holiday cards and prepared them for mailing on Monday.  They’re already late for Hanukkah which came early this year.  Due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to include my annual newsletter for my college friends (whom I’ve been keeping in touch with for over 20 years), so I’ll have to send it separately at a later date.  I spent a couple of days getting my San Antonio pictures developed at CVS.  They processed several rolls of film; I had put in 13 Kodak Fun Saver cameras — love them! — and requested single prints, CD and index print for each (I’m nearing the end of my 14th camera and will develop these photos after I move).  The pictures came out really well and I gave copies of a group photo to each member of my Spanish clinic team.  I’ve been saying goodbye to people as the semester has been winding down.

I have to say that moving back to Pennsylvania is a lot easier than my August move to San Antonio.  The first move required many more decisions and preparations since I had to plan for four months away from home.  The reverse process is familiar having been through this stress before.  I’ve returned all of my library books; gave my change of address (mail forward) to the post office and also mailed a box of items (since I can’t carry it on the plane); made my last trips to the hairdresser, grocery store, and bank; made an appointment to have my Internet service disconnected next week; ordered a book to review for NACADA over the semester break; and made my car shipping arrangements via Phoenix Auto Transport Services (located in Vancouver, WA), the same company I used in August.  My 1999 Toyota was picked up at 8:00 this morning.  Knowing that I would be carless for the final week of my stay here forced me to do several errands by early this week.

My stay in San Antonio has been relatively uneventful except for a tropical storm in September and two annoying things: (1) one of the boxes I mailed from Pennsylvania to Texas was lost by the United States Postal Service — the box was insured and I have 180 days in which to file a claim for reimbursement, which I will do once I return to Pennsylvania and can gather the receipts, and (2) the inability to continue receiving my allergy shots in Texas — my health insurance company approved of the out-of-network coverage, but doctors in Texas required that I undergo the allergy testing all over again and have a new mix created based on allergens in Texas (the insurance company had not authorized this extensive procedure and retesting and remixing my serum would have taken too long and not been practical since my stay in Texas is only temporary).  Fortunately, with the exception of a couple of bad days, my allergies presented no major problems here in San Antonio.  I figure that if these are the worst things that happened to me during my semester in San Antonio, then I’ve done really well.

A surprise for me was how cold San Antonio can get, especially at night.  This is something that I underestimated and wasn’t prepared for.  I brought with me only one casual long-sleeve sweater and four casual long-sleeve shirts.  I had to buy a pair of thicker pajamas once here.  But, I didn’t want to buy too much because I won’t have room for it on the plane.  Since I have a washer and dryer in my apartment, I’ve been doing laundry more often during cold weather.  I’m glad that my furnished apartment includes heat and warm bedding.  People warned me of the heat in Texas (and it can be brutal in the summer), but not the cold.  So, if you come to Texas in the fall and winter months, bring some heavier clothes.  You’ll need them.  My winter clothes are in New York waiting for me at my Dad’s house when I arrive there next Friday.

Things are winding down and I’m using these last few days to do some leisure reading.  Soon I will need to clean my apartment and pack my things.  First, I’m giving myself a couple of days to just relax.  Then, I’ll get busy.  On Sunday evening one of my clinic team members will be hosting an end-of-semester potluck dinner party for the team and I will be going (another team member has offered to give me a ride).  Other than this event, I have no major plans.  My sightseeing is over.  I’m tired, so I’m actually looking forward to some downtime now.  And I’m really looking forward to reducing my expenses (i.e., not paying twice for rent and utilities each month) and paying down my credit card bill.  This four-month excursion to San Antonio has been wonderful, but I think I’m ready to get back to my normal life.

  • In: Diversions
  • Comments Off on Books, Food, and a Movie

I’ve recently read some more Spanish children’s books in order to practice using the language and to learn about Hispanic/Latino culture.  Most of these books were picked up at my local public library (Cody branch), but I also made a special trip to the Central Library downtown in order to read a recommended book that was not allowed to be checked out.  As mentioned in a previous post, even children’s books in a foreign language can be challenging due to unknown words, regional dialect, and creative sentence structure.  On a positive note, this batch of books was easier to get through than the last batch; I guess the practice helped.  I recently read six books:  (1) Sopa de frijoles: una poema para cocinar/Bean Soup: A Cooking Poem (bilingual) by Jorge Argueta and Rafael Yockteng; (2) In My Family/En mi familia (bilingual) by Carmen Lomas Garza; (3) A Gift from Papá Diego/Un regalo de Papá Diego (bilingual) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz and Geronimo Garcia; (4) The Empanadas that Abuela Made/Las empanadas que hacía la abuela (bilingual) by Diane Gonzales Bertrand and Alex Pardo DeLange; (5) Dancing Miranda/Baile, Miranda, baile (bilingual) by Diana de Anda and Lamberto Alvarez; and (6) The Everything Kids’ Learning Spanish Book: Fun exercises to help you learn español by Laura K. Lawless.

On a related note, when I stopped by the SEFLA office yesterday to pick up my diploma for successfully completing my course, I was pleasantly surprised.  I received a grade of A+ for Advanced Conversational Spanish.  I really enjoyed my weekly lessons with Elvia.  These private lessons were an added out-of-pocket expense, but they were definitely worth it.  Although several native speakers have told me that I speak Spanish very well, I still don’t have the comfort I would like in using the language.  This will come with more practice and time.

Earlier this week on the way home from my clinic practicum, I had take-out food again from El Pollo Loco.  I ordered their 2-piece chicken meal (leg & thigh) that came with two sides (I chose the broccoli, cauliflower, and carrot veggie mix and a corn cobette).  The meal came with tortillas.  I also ordered an individual serving of chocolate cake.  This dinner was delicious; it was very tasty for fast food.  I like this restaurant chain but we don’t have it up north where I live.  Yesterday, on the way to SEFLA, I picked up a take-out Chinese food lunch from Beijing Express (5203 Fredericksburg Rd. at Callaghan), a new restaurant for me.  I decided to try a different dish than usual so I ordered the Almond Chicken lunch special; it came with fried rice and an egg roll.  This meal was okay (Chinese food is not my favorite but I do like a few select items and order them occasionally).

This morning I went to AMC Huebner Oaks 24 to see Katherine Heigl’s new movie, “Life As We Know It”.  Since the movie start time was 11:30 a.m., I got the before-noon ticket price of $5.00 — a good deal.  But, the small popcorn I ordered was $5.75.  It cost more than the movie!  I remember reading recent survey results in which Americans named movie theater popcorn as being the most overpriced food.  I would have to agree.  Anyway, this movie — a comedy/drama — was entertaining, although I’m getting tired of seeing Katherine Heigl play the same type of movie role.  I really liked her on the TV series “Grey’s Anatomy”.

  • In: Diversions
  • Comments Off on Sightseeing Tour: Austin in 90 Minutes

Well, I’m down to my final two weeks here in San Antonio.  I’ve been cramming in a lot of sightseeing and food sampling lately because in a couple of days I will be putting my car out for shipping back to the northeast region of the U.S.

Yesterday I made my first visit to Austin, Texas — the state capital and a city known for its weirdness.  Austin is only about 80 miles (a 1½-hour drive on I-35 North) from where I’m currently living.  I had heard a lot of good things about Austin and decided to go see for myself.  Prior to arriving there, I booked a 2:30 p.m. sightseeing tour by van so that I could see as much as possible in the limited time I had available.  The weather was nice for touring; temperatures rose into the 70s.  At 11:30 a.m. I arrived in Austin, parked my car at a meter ($1.00 per hour – 3 hours maximum), and asked a businesswoman who was exiting her office for directions to the Visitor Center.  She was very friendly and generous, giving me almost $3.00 in coins to feed the meter (since neither one of us had enough dollar bills to make the correct change; she refused the $5.00 bill I offered her).  We then walked together for about two blocks since she was heading in that direction anyway.  I was so appreciative of her kindness toward a total stranger and thanked her both in person and in a follow-up e-mail.  At the Visitor Center, I picked up some local information cards, mentioned that I would be taking a tour that afternoon, purchased postcards and a Texas pecan praline candy (yum!), and asked for lunch recommendations.  The friendly worker (Patsy) gave me the names of a few places within walking distance and offered to let me view the menus on their computer.

I ate lunch at Annie’s Café & Bar, one of Patsy’s recommendations.  Annie’s seems like a popular place and it was full of noisy lunchtime diners when I arrived (I was lucky to find a seat).  For a change, I ordered one of my favorite junk food dishes, a hamburger and french fries (“Bistro burger & frites”).  The portions were large — I couldn’t finish it all — and the meal was delicious.  After lunch, I re-fed my parking meter and then went to the Visitor Center to meet my tour.  On the way there, I passed a large colorful sculpture of a guitar on the sidewalk.  Music is a major theme in Austin.

The Austin in 90 Minutes Tour is a narrated van tour of Austin and the surrounding Hill Country.  I booked the reservation ($24.95 plus taxes and fees) through the Austin Tours website.  This tour is run by Austin Overtures and has three daily departures.  My 2:30 p.m. tour had only three tourists — me and two others — plus our driver/tour guide, Maggie, who has been a resident of Austin for the past 15 years.  Austin in 90 Minutes provides an overview of the city by covering a 30-mile radius of its most important features.  Maggie drove us around the area pointing out historical and cultural places while explaining their significance.  Her comments were interspersed with pre-recorded narration that is provided as a safety feature for drivers as they navigate the busy city traffic.  It was obvious that Maggie is very knowledgeable about the Austin area and she is proud of her city.  We drove around the Capitol area, the 50,000-student University of Texas campus (which houses the Blanton Art Museum and the LBJ Presidential Library), the Austin Hill Country where some famous Hollywood stars and athletes have homes, and passed some music venues, eateries, parks, and a variety of other notable buildings and sections of Austin.  I took some pictures but this was difficult to do from the van.  Maggie mentioned that Austin is a popular city for young people, especially college students and recent graduates.  This city has so much history and culture and a vibrant live music scene.  The downtown area and Hill Country show remarkable contrast.  Austin seems to have something for everyone and this adds to its appeal.

My first trip to Austin was okay.  Although I enjoyed the Austin in 90 Minutes Tour (Maggie is friendly and she did an excellent job), I wish I had more time on my own to spend walking around the city.  This day trip was squeezed into my schedule and I was tired from the previous day’s museum visits so I couldn’t fully appreciate all that Austin has to offer.  But, from what I’ve seen so far, I definitely prefer San Antonio as it is more charming in my opinion (e.g., Riverwalk and Spanish-themed architecture), has a lot of Spanish speakers, and has a great contemporary art scene (In general, I prefer visual art over music).  Also, it is more spread out.  Space is a big concern for me because I’m not a big city person to begin with.  The congestion in Austin reminded me of New York City; both have a lot to offer but there are just too many people.  San Antonio has less of a big city feel.  Surprisingly, despite the extreme summer heat, I’ve fallen in love with San Antonio (I never expected to like living in the south) and have added it to my list of places to consider for retirement.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I enjoy art but I’m better at observing it than creating it.  However, that could change in the future.  I’m looking forward to the graphic design class that I am scheduled to take next semester.  But, today, I spent several hours in two wonderful San Antonio museums.  Is there such a thing as art overload?

This morning at 10:30 I arrived at the gorgeous (drool!) and historic Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, the first museum of modern art in Texas.  I didn’t leave until 3½ hours later.  The McNay Art Museum is set on well-manicured grounds in the Alamo Heights section of San Antonio.  Prices are reasonable — $8.00 for adults; $5.00 for students; and an extra $5.00 fee for their current exhibit, “Landscapes from the Age of Impressionism”  (through January 16, 2011).  I was warmly greeted at the door and given a brief summary of the collections along with a Visitor Guide (map).  I stopped at the featured exhibit first and admired paintings by many artists, including those of Claude Monet, one of my favorites.  Then, I wandered through the rest of the house/museum (both levels) — including the large picturesque patio — in a happy frame of mind engulfed by decorative and peaceful surroundings.  While upstairs in the Orientation Gallery, I watched a short film about the life of Marion Koogler McNay and the founding of the McNay Art Museum.  Viewing all of this great artwork made me feel inspired (and gave me some ideas of things to try with my own art next semester).  Visiting museums is like being transported to another world (art museums are my favorite, followed by science museums, and lastly, history museums).  Art is a very powerful tool of expression and I like seeing the innovative — and sometimes crazy — works that artists produce.  As a somewhat creative person myself, I can certainly appreciate the time, talent, and technique that are required.  I spent the last ½-hour at the McNay Art Museum in its unique gift shop with a variety of cute art-inspired items for sale.  Of course, I had to buy a few small things.

So, after leaving the McNay Art Museum at 2:00 p.m., I got lost on the way to the Italian restaurant that I wanted to try for lunch, and arrived there around 3:00 p.m.  Piatti Ristorante & Bar (not far from the McNay Art Museum and right by Quarry Market) has a mouthwatering website and great reviews, so it made my to-do list.  By the time I got there the lunch crowd was gone so it was quiet (which I like).  I chose to sit inside in a booth — there are tables out on the patio too — and received prompt and polite service.  I ordered Bruschetta (Vine Ripened Tomato Crudo, Blue-Bonnet Farm Basil Pesto, Garlic & Grilled Sourdough Bread) and Ravioli Alla Zucca (House-Made Butternut Squash Ravioli, Brown Butter Sage Sauce) — this is usually offered as a special selection at certain times, but they were kind enough to make it for me since I saw it listed on their website and asked, and Iced Tea.  While waiting for my meal, I ate a couple of slices of bread dipped in their delicious oil mix.  My lunch arrived rather quickly and it too was tasty.  I loved the Bruschetta; it was flavorful and full of tomatoes.  The Ravioli was good too, but the flavor combination (especially the sauce) was new to me so it takes time to get used to.  As usual, I ended up taking home leftovers.  Piatti is a restaurant that I would highly recommend to others.

The final stop was to The Museo Alameda in the Market Square area of downtown San Antonio.  I arrived there at 4:15 p.m.  Be aware that no parking is available at the museum, but there are parking spots on the street (I was lucky to find the one remaining free spot nearby — $1.50 per hour; I paid for two hours since the museum closes at 6:00 p.m.) and there are parking lots/garages downtown from which you can take a bus.  The Museo Alameda is the nation’s largest Latino museum and the first formal affiliate of the Smithsonian outside of Washington, D.C.  This museum is housed in an attractive pink corner building with an artsy metal cut-out design exterior that hints at the creative and cultural pieces inside.  The Museo Alameda is inexpensive ($4.00 for adults; $2.00 for students).  The current exhibition (through July 15, 2011) is “Revolution & Renaissance: Mexico & San Antonio 1910-2010”.  The collection represents a variety of styles and artistic media and the items are attractively displayed on both gallery levels.  Once again, it felt good to be in the presence of so much art.  As the exhibition title suggests, the artwork contains some troubling images (e.g., war) as well as peaceful ones.  I’m glad I finally got to visit The Museo Alameda.  It was on my to-do list for a while, but the current exhibit just opened less than two weeks ago.  The more I see of San Antonio and learn of its history and culture, the more impressed I am by the contributions of many groups, especially Latinos.  Since my sabbatical project involves learning more about Latino history and culture, this Museo Alameda visit was a perfect fit.  I hope you’ll add it to your travel itinerary.

  • In: Diversions
  • Comments Off on Foodie Tour: King William Culinary and Culture Walking Tour

Yesterday I did another foodie tour.  While the weather didn’t seem promising with early morning freezing temperatures, it did warm up to the latter 50s/early 60s by the afternoon for this outdoor activity.  This King William Culinary and Culture Walking Tour ($39 for adults; $35 for local residents) was offered by Historic Texas Tours, the company with whom I did the Flavors of San Antonio Foodie Tour and the San Antonio Mission Trail Tour.  Gracie, Alex’s daughter, led yesterday’s foodie tour which is described as a leisurely walking tour that combines cuisine, history, and art.

This King William Culinary and Culture Walking Tour began at 1:30 p.m. in the artsy Blue Star area of San Antonio.  There were 11 of us in all, including our tour guide, Gracie.  We walked around nearby as Gracie explained the important historical elements such as the area’s German heritage and architecture.  We passed by several beautiful and expensive homes and learned about their significance.  Gracie, like her father, is friendly and knowledgeable about the subject matter.  After about one-half hour of walking, the tour group made the first of four restaurant stops.

The Friendly Spot Ice House (formerly King Willie’s) was our first place for sampling foods.  It’s a cute kid-friendly snack place with a playground.  We were given thick tortilla chips with three dips — guacamole, salsa, and ceviche.  I don’t like raw meat or shellfish, so I didn’t try the ceviche, but the chips and other dips were really good.  We then got to try “street tacos” (soft taco shells filled with pork cubes and pickled purple onions).  These were okay, but I prefer hard shell tacos filled with ground beef.

Our next stop was Frosted Delights by Joyce, a bakery that has been open for only six weeks.  Each member of the group got to sample one of their mousse cupcakes and one of their many flavors of either coffee or tea.  I tried the “Pretty-N-Pink” Cupcake (strawberry cupcake with strawberry mousse icing) and Spring Jasmine Green Tea.  The cupcake was delicious; I especially liked the dark flakes of strawberry flavor that had been baked into the batter.  The mousse frosting was sweet, light, and creamy.  The tea was flavorful.

The third place we ate at was Casbeers At The Church, a restaurant located in a former Methodist church (which we went upstairs to see after eating).  Here we sampled enchiladas topped with chili (mine was cheeseless) and “buckshot balls” (breaded and deep-fried meatballs filled with cheese, jalopeno, and panko bread crumbs) with salsa ranch for dipping along with iced tea and water.  I was provided with a no-cheese buckshot ball.  I think this was the first time I had heard of or tried buckshot balls and I really liked them.  It’s an interesting and tasty combination of ingredients.

Our final restaurant stop was at the Blue Star Brewing Company Restaurant & Bar where we began the tour.  Here we sampled pecan pie and their homemade lemon soda (from pure cane sugar rather than corn syrup).  Both were good, but a bit sweet in my opinion.  On this King William Culinary and Culture Walking Tour, we sampled a variety of mostly snacks and desserts and got to see some of the local culture.  Although we passed by a few art galleries and boutiques, we didn’t stop inside.  Tour participants seem to have had a good time, and the tour ended around 5:00 p.m.

One place that I was hoping we would stop at is Rosario’s Mexican Café y Cantina, a popular restaurant that is highly recommended by San Antonio‘s locals.  Gracie mentioned that this food tour visits Rosario’s on Thursdays, but that Rosario’s can’t accommodate the tour group for samplings on Saturdays due to its high volume of customers then.  So, once the foodie tour had ended, I walked down to Rosario’s (located at the corner of S. Alamo and St. Mary’s) and ordered a take-out dinner to bring home.  I had Pollo con Mole (boneless chicken breast smothered in our delicious molé sauce and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds; served with rice & refried beans), Sopa de Pozole (lightly seasoned broth, diced pork, hominy and shredded cabbage, garnished with fresh onions, cilantro, oregano, crispy corn chips), and a virgin strawberry daiquiri.  The meal came with soft corn and flour tortillas.  Later that evening, I ate this meal and enjoyed both the tasty chicken dish and the savory soup.  The daiquiri was too watery and could have used more strawberry flavor.  But, overall, I was pleased.  The menu at Rosario’s has a wide selection of Mexican dishes and its diners rave about the wonderful food.  I’m glad I got to give it a try before leaving town.

Prior to the foodie tour, I started the day by meeting Elvia, my SEFLA Spanish teacher, for breakfast.  I drove to her house (she lives in the King William area where I would later be meeting the tour group) and arrived at 8:30 a.m.  As planned, we walked to the historical Guenther House which has a restaurant, museum, and store.  We ate a delicious breakfast in The Guenther House Restaurant.  (This was my first time there; Elvia had been there previously).  I had the special pioneer breakfast of two pancakes, two country sausage patties, and a fruit cup along with hot tea.  Elvia had an egg dish with fruit and coffee.  Both of us really enjoyed our meals.  The ambience was warm and welcoming and the place was decorated for the holidays — Christmas tree, colorful lights, large candy house, etc.  We walked through the adjoining museum and store; I took pictures and bought a few postcards and a decorative refrigerator magnet.  After The Guenther House, Elvia and I walked by the river and around the King William/Southtown area and visited art galleries and shops.  This was fun to do especially as the weather warmed up.  Elvia and I finished up around 1:00 p.m. then I headed over to the Blue Star area and browsed a bit before my foodie tour.  I really like this artsy part of town.  This was my third time here.  Previously, I came with Elvia for Mueritos Fest First Friday and with Donna Simon for a Studio Art Tour.

As you can see, I had an activity-filled “pig out” Saturday.  OMG!  Six restaurants in one day — that’s definitely a record for me (even though four of them were for samples only rather than for full meals).  It’s really true that San Antonio has lots of great food.  Come on over and see for yourself!

  • In: Diversions
  • Comments Off on Sightseeing Tour: Hill Country Tour

It’s Thanksgiving week so my Monday evening class was canceled.  I used the free day to visit the quaint Hill Country area of Texas.  Monday, November 22nd was a great day to do this outdoor activity because the weather was beautiful; it was unusually warm with temperatures reaching almost 80 degrees (yes, in late November!).  I booked this 7½-hour Hill Country Tour with Alamo Sightseeing Tours (adult price is $59.50 plus taxes).  There were eight of us plus the tour guide/van driver, Tom, who picked us up in the Alamo Plaza area for a 9:00 a.m. departure.

Our itinerary included a rest stop in Blanco, a stop in Johnson City to see where 36th U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson grew up (we visited his boyhood home), and then to Stonewall to tour the LBJ Ranch (Johnson Family Cemetery, the reconstructed birthplace/home and the barn behind the house) and the Texas White House which are operated by the National Park Service.  These morning activities were full of history and culture.  I’m not a history buff (history has always been my worst subject in school) but I really liked hearing about President Johnson’s upbringing and presidency.  I was born in the latter ’60s, towards the end of his presidency during this conflict-ridden period in U.S. history, but I was too young to know it then.  This part of the tour was very informative — lots of facts were provided by Tom and by one of the park rangers who took us inside of LBJ’s remote White House (it’s nice!).  We saw several furnished rooms.  The park ranger mentioned the significance of this day — November 22, 1963 was when 35th U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated.  He said that LBJ’s cook was baking a pie for President Kennedy’s expected arrival at the LBJ Ranch when the news of his assassination spread across the world.  We saw the original oven in the kitchen of the Texas White House on the LBJ Ranch.  It was a nice coincidence that our tour group visited the ranch on that significant date.   As we drove through the Texas Hill Country, we passed  several types of animals — longhorns and other cattle, buffalo, deer, emus, and goats, for example.

After our LBJ Ranch vist, Tom dropped us off in Fredericksburg (a charming German town) around 1:00 p.m where we were to spend the remainder of the trip on our own.  First, we split up to eat lunch at one of the many restaurants on Main Street.  Then, we used the free time to do sightseeing and shopping.  At the Peach Pit BBQ Restaurant (the name reminds me of the popular TV show, “Beverly Hills, 90210”), I ate a delicious barbecue meal (beef brisket with green beans, potato salad, and macaroni salad) and drank Hawaiian Punch.  This was a comfortable homey restaurant with really good food.  Around 2:00 p.m. I strolled along Main Street, looked inside of an art gallery and bath shop, and purchased a jigsaw puzzle (one of my hobbies) and small book from the Spunky Monkey toy store.  Then, I returned to the drop-off/pick-up location to meet the van for the ride back to San Antonio.  Everyone on the tour seemed to have had a good time.  Tom dropped off passengers at their hotels.  I returned to the Alamo Plaza area around 5:00 p.m.  While there, I went to the Häagen-Dazs shop and treated myself to a kiddie cup of Vanilla Chip ice cream (I came prepared with my Lactaid pills).  About ½-hour later, I drove home.

Overall, I had a good time on this Hill Country Tour offered by Alamo Sightseeing Tours.  This company has a selection of other tours as well.

  • In: Diversions
  • Comments Off on Sightseeing Tour: San Antonio Trolley Tour

The weather was nice yesterday (temperatures were in the 70s) so I decided to spend the day downtown seeing a few places I hadn’t yet been to.  Even though I have lived in San Antonio for three months, I became a tourist again.  I chose to go on the San Antonio Trolley Tour in order to get an overview of the city and its main attractions.  I purchased a ticket ($26.00 plus tax) for the 60-minute narrated tour plus hop-off/hop-on privilages with a 2nd day of trolley touring for free.  The highlights of this trolley tour are the Alamo, Tower of the Americas, Hemisfair Park – Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Plaza Water Park, Mission San José, Mission Concepción, King William Historic District, Market Square, Main Plaza (Plaza De Las Islas), Spanish Governor’s Palace, and San Fernando Cathedral.  I had already been to the Alamo, the missions, and part of the King William Historic District on previous outings.  My main goals for this trolley tour were to ride the cute red trolley, to hear information about the city of San Antonio, and to explore three places — (1) Tower of the Americas, (2) Institute of Texan Cultures, and (3) Market Square.

I knew that I had a long Saturday ahead of me, so I got an early start and boarded the first trolley of the day which left Alamo Plaza at 9:30 a.m. with nine passengers plus our tour guide, Leroy, a home-grown Texan who said he was born in a mission.  He noted that the downtown area of San Antonio is only one mile in area, and gave other interesting facts along with some humor thrown in.  Five passengers got off the trolley at Mission San José, the location that Leroy suggested be toured first due to its distance from town, the beautiful weather (pleasantly cool morning for walking outside), and the 1½ hours needed to fully explore this mission.

For the first fifty minutes, I stayed on the trolley as it made its first cycle along its route so that I could see and hear about San Antonio in its entirety prior to making my stops.  This worked out well for me because once I got off the trolley at Hemisfair Park, I never made it back on again (I took one of San Antonio‘s streetcars — $1.10 per ride or $4.00 for a one-day pass — to Market Square and finally back to Alamo Plaza).

At 10:20 a.m. Leroy le me off at Hemisfair Park, site of the Tower of the Americas and Institute of Texan Cultures.  I immediately went to the Tower of the Americas where I spent the next three hours.  Adult admission tickets cost $10.95 plus tax and include access to the observation deck and to the 4D theater ride.  The view of the city from the top of this 750-foot tower is spectacular.  The “Skies over Texas” 4D sensory experience was different — the seats jerked back and forth, the audience got sprayed with water, and the theater got cool and scented.  It was weird that this movie was actually more like an amusement park ride.  Afterwards, I went to the gift shop and purchased a Texas-themed canvas totebag (navy blue with Texas flag design) and a few small souvenirs.  Then I went for lunch at the Tower of the Americas restaurant, Charter House (which they seem to have shortened to Chart House).  It’s located at the top of the tower and the seating area revolves (a full rotation takes 1¼ hours).  Leroy had warned us trolley riders that this restaurant is expensive and to make sure that you bring a fresh credit card should you decide to eat there.  He wasn’t kidding.  Be prepared to spend a minimum of $50.00 (including tax and tip) for an entree and non-alcoholic beverage.  Okay, this was my big splurge of the day.  This Charter House lunch was one of the most expensive meals I’ve eaten in my life — but it was worth it.  And the ambience was really nice.  You’re paying for the view as well as the food.  Hey, you only live once, right?  I’m a happy beef eater and enjoy a good steak, so I ordered the 8 oz. Filet Mignon (well-done) with a baked potato and iced tea.  I ate this delicious meal while watching the changing views outside the window and taking pictures when an eye-catching composition emerged.

It was almost 1:30 p.m. when I finished eating lunch and headed over to the Institute of Texan Cultures, one of the best multicultural museums I have ever seen!  So many cultures are on display in the well-prepared and artful interactive exhibits that everyone can find his or her roots here.  If you’re seeking a great education about the history and heritage of Texas, this is the place to go.  I highly recommend it.  You’ll learn about the stories of Texans.  I spent over two hours here covering the entire museum, watching a 10-minute “Dome Show” video, and seeing a one-man performance/reinactment, and enjoyed my time immensely.  Now I’d like to go back and spend more time at each exhibit reading the in-depth background information provided.  The Institute of Texan Cultures is part of the University of Texas, San Antonio and is affiliated with the prestigious Smithsonian Institution.  General admission is $8.00; the student rate is $6.00.

I waited at the trolley stop for the last trolley at 4:20 p.m.  When it hadn’t come by 4:50 p.m., I took the yellow streetcar to Market Square which has several Mexican-themed shops selling clothes, jewelry, artwork, knick knacks, and food.  I found a couple of small local souvenirs at a Texas-themed shop before the markets closed at 6:00 p.m.  While in Market Square,  I visited a highly-recommended 24-hour restaurant, Mi Tierra Café y Panadería.  I was still feeling a bit guilty from my costly lunch so rather than eating out for dinner, I just got two pastries to take home with me.  I selected a strawberry-frosted cupcake and an “empanada de guava” from Mi Tierra and also got a take-out menu (I’d like to back there for a meal).  So far, I’ve eaten half of the cupcake and it was really good.  Looking forward to continuing my restaurant excursions.  After getting my bakery items, I took the red streetcar back to Alamo Plaza, then walked to the nearby parking lot to get my car (Alamo Parking at E. Travis Street — one block from the Alamo — costs $8.00 per day; this is a bargain compared to parking prices in other cities), and drove home.  I arrived home at 7:15 that evening feeling really good — and surprisingly, not tired or sleepy (maybe the protein-rich steak helped to boost my energy level).  This was a very satisfying and productive day.  Mission accomplished.  Cheers!



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