Texas – Part Two: San Antonio

Apart from gorging myself almost constantly, I was also able to walk around San Antonio and enjoy its tranquil ambience, rich history and warm weather. The city features colonial cathedrals, quaint cobbled streets, and Romanesque towers, all hidden like gems in amongst its tall concrete office buildings. After turning every other corner I would be pleasantly surprised to stumble across some charming side-walk café or an old fashioned tram rattling along a stone-tiled street.

I later found out that this is actually the oldest active cathedral in the Unites States!

We also visited The Alamo, a former Roman Catholic mission and fortress compound, and site of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 (thanks Wikipedia). It is apparently a very important landmark in the history and culture of Texas, but don’t ask me about it – I was too hot and tired to be bothered to read the information provided inside the building. I did like the architecture though, and could appreciate its history though I didn’t necessarily know anything much about it.

My favourite part of downtown San Antonio was, inevitably, The Riverwalk – a network of pathways alongside the banks of the San Antonio River, creating an oasis of tranquillity one story below the bustling city. Elegant restaurants with little white-clothed, flickering-candled tables line both sides of the river, while flowering trees twist upwards and droop over the green water. Picturesque boats of photo-taking tourists glide slowly past underneath stone arch bridges, and the atmosphere is definitely one to be savoured.

Usually, I am not the kind of person who would be taken aback by such a commercial place, but honestly, I loved it. The fact that this peaceful place could be found just by descending a flight of steps from the busy city streets above made it all the more alluring.

One balmy night we decided to eat at a particularly classy restaurant on the Riverwalk. Feeling extremely sophisticated after being seated at one of the pristine white-clothed tables, and getting deep into conversation before our appetizers were brought out, I froze mid-sentence after feeling something warm and lumpy drip suddenly onto my head, down the back of my neck and inside my new white shirt. Already knowing my doom, I rushed (rigidly, with fingers spread out on stiff, extended arms) to the bathroom, and gagged when I turned around in the mirror to find the confirmation that, yes, a pigeon had decided to expel its bowel contents into my hair. In my opinion (and sadly I am talking from ill-fated experience), the Riverwalk is one of the worst locations in the world to be defecated upon. However, if I look on the bright side, I will now certainly never forget that place. Thank you, kind pigeon.

The Riverwalk allows you to see the city from below, so the next day we decided to get another perspective – we visited the Tower of The Americas. This tower with its viewing deck offers an aerial perspective of the city, and like the Riverwalk’s view from beneath San Antonio, the view from above also provides some tranquillity. From 750 feet above ground, the viewer can watch the hustle and bustle of city as though from another world, with the wind whipping through the air being the only sound he can hear.

This was my last day. The 5 days had gone quicker than I had expected and already it was time to say goodbye. That evening we went out for farewell drinks, and, naturally, being with Mexican friends in Texas, we drank tequila. (In an Irish pub, obviously.)

Cheers!

I got home and packed, and eventually slept at 3.30. At 4am my alarm went off, ready for me to wake up and leave for the airport, in order to head back to St. Louis for the next 5 days. As I said before, 30 minutes sleep the night before a flight is never a good idea, but spending the evening with new friends was definitely worth it. I was sad to leave so soon, but I am sure I will be visiting again in the future.

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Texas – Part One: Good Food and Missing Passports

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.

Like these guys! Real life cowboys!

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.

enchiladas de pato

I’m getting fat.


These were the three restaurants I enjoyed the most out of a week of good food. I will write about what else I got up to in my next post!