I have just arrived, exhausted (please remind me to never again catch a plane without having had at least 30 minutes of sleep the night before), back to St. Louis, after spending 5 days in Texas. (Actually, I returned yesterday. I was just too tired to think about writing until today)
After a struggle in St Louis airport trying to convince the authorities that, yes, I could take an internal flight within the United States without a passport just as long as I had photo ID (and having to explain to them what the phrase ‘internal flight’ meant), I arrived in San Antonio, Texas, on Sunday morning ready to spend the coming days being shown around the city and spending time with friends. Upon landing, I discovered that the popular saying – “everything is bigger in Texas” – was indeed true. The first thing I noticed when stepping out of the plane was the amount of obese people wearing ridiculously bright colours (I didn’t think they needed to be drawing any more attention to their bodies which rippled beneath their neon sportswear with each waddling step). I also found, to my delight, that people in Texas actually do wear cowboy hats – something which, until then, I had always thought was just a clichéd stereotype. This was to keep me amused for the next five days.
I was picked up from the airport by my friend Jesus (I know! Plus his best friend is called Angel, so I felt like I was in the bible the whole time) and from there we went to the end of the church service to meet some more of his friends and then go out for lunch, where everyone laughed at my accent when I ordered a Doctor Pepper. Come to think of it, the majority of activities we did during my stay in San Antonio were based around food, which I believe is the perfect, and perhaps the only true way for an outsider (and especially one with limited time) to gain knowledge of, and get a feel for a new place and its culture. Here are some of the restaurants we ate at:
On the first night, Jesus, Angel and I went to Mi Tierra, a family run Mexican restaurant and bakery which first opened its doors back in 1941. It is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and all year round it is decorated with over-the-top Christmas decorations. Mariachi singers float from table to table, serenading couples and families as they dine with Mexican love songs in their deep-voiced harmonies and dramatic vibratos. There I tried fried ice cream (another thing about Texas – EVERYTHING is fried. More about that later.), which was delicious: a scoop of vanilla ice cream rolled in coconut, pecans, peanuts and toasted flakes, topped with a homemade caramel sauce and whipped cream, and served in a ‘sopapilla’ (a kind of thin, deep fried pastry shell). All of this was then sprinkled with icing sugar (powdered sugar for the Americans) and the whole thing was amazing.
The next day we drove for over an hour outside of San Antonio to eat at a restaurant called The Salt Lick. The journey led us through miles of countryside: around rolling hills, through green and yellow farmlands, and over sleepy streams, until we came to the restaurant. A brick and wooden building stood in the middle of this uninhabited countryside, with no visible sign of civilization anywhere except for the full-to-bursting car park which encircled it – a sign of a good restaurant. As we walked through the doors, the first sight to welcome us was a huge open pit barbecue laden with enormous steaks, full racks of ribs, and sausages hanging in bunches above the grill in its rising smoke. From this moment I knew I was going to enjoy my meal. The restaurant had a bring your own beer policy, so customers would come in clutching six packs of it. We sat at a wooden bench table and I ordered ribs and sausage with coleslaw and beans. The meat was so good, and their homemade barbecue sauce made it even better.
The next day we drove to Austin, which, though only an hour’s drive away, had a completely different atmosphere to San Antonio. It was a vibrant, youthful city, full of young fashionable (and noticeably healthier – i.e. less obese) people. I didn’t see one cowboy hat that day. We spent our time touring the city, eating good paninis in hipster cafes, visiting the state capitol and walking along the river. (Hugo and Angel kayaked; Jesus and I watched). Later that night we went to another restaurant called Fonda San Miguel – recognised as one of the finest Mexican restaurants in the country. The dramatically lit building, surrounded by banana plants, palm trees and brightly coloured exotic flowers, was washed in light greens and blues and decorated with Mexican mosaics. The huge hand-carved wooden doors bounded by engraved stone welcome you inside to an interior full of hanging lanterns, warm colours, large plants, Mexican artworks and a lively atmosphere. The food was to die for. I had enchiladas de pato (duck), followed by pastel de tres leches (three milks cake), and finished it all off with café de olla, a sweet cinnamon coffee.