Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Texas April 2016 Westward Ho! 6 Texas Hill Country and San Antonio

They say that no-one thinks of driving 3 hours to go somewhere in TX so our drive from Corpus Christi to Canyon Lake, which took a little longer because we travel more slowly, was no big deal and it was pretty nice anyway.  We left the coast and headed north along I-37 so it was highway driving until we got to New Braunfels which is northeast of San Antonio.  From there we headed a bit farther north and then west to Cranes Mill COE Campground on Canyon Lake.  Aaaaaah.  Beautiful.  We'd been recommended this campground by a couple we met in GA and it was lovely...even if the weather wasn't.

The dawn came laden with moisture and after the drive the day before we were not anxious to drive a long way somewhere. I figured we had a lot of plans for the next 10 days so I might as well get the laundry done right away.  I hopped in the car and set off with my handy Google map...which told me the laundromat was on the left but it wasn't left, or right.  I continued to a cleaners and after a few other stops finally determined that the laundry had been on the right BUT they had just repainted the building and the Laundry sign was still not back up, so a long building with several offices and businesses sits at the side of the road, incognito like.  Got the laundry done, picked up a few groceries at the market in town and then we decided that we'd drive to New Braunfels and do some RV related errands at Camping World and get the groceries I had not found in Startzville.  It always is a bit of a shock to the system to drive from rural and verdant fields-which right now are COVERED in a riotous profusion of reds, yellows, oranges, pinks and blues as the wildflowers bloom carpeting the roadsides-into concrete jungles but we got most of what we needed, found stuff we hadn't realized we did and then drove back to camp.  The next day we were eager to get going so we headed to San Antonio.

Whether it was small country roads lined with fences or...

larger ones lined with cones and

the rocks that were cut through to form the highways,

everywhere we saw the beautiful flowers of the Hill Country in Spring

It was the first day of Fiesta 2016 but since we were not staying for the evening festivities there would be little for us to see in that regard.  So, we started our visit with a walk along the incredible San Antonio River Walk which is below street level and runs along the San Antonio river (duh) under lush trees, past sculptures, fountains, waterfalls and restaurants.  We took a brief detour up into La Villita which was charming but since we were on sort of a time schedule (with Phoenix left in the car in a covered parking garage and no idea what else we could do) we did not spend time looking in all the galleries and shops in what is now an artists village.  Truth be told, I always feel somehow rude to go into a store where an artist has works for sale with absolutely no intention (or ability) to buy because chances are there would be too many things I would want.  Then again, with the time to spend doing so, there are few things I like better than viewing and admiring the amazing talent that is so often on display.  From La Villita we continued on the walk to the King William historic district which is one of the more diverse neighborhoods we have seen in terms of houses and architecture.  From very small, to very modern to vast estates, both sublime and ornate the area is worth walking through.  Luckily for us, as we stood looking at a house designed by Alfred Giles, a woman stopped to take a picture as well.  It turned out that she is a local interior designer, Robin Black, who was a fount of information about the district and many of the houses, especially Villa Finale (perhaps why she and her partner called their house Casa Finale?) which was totally restored by Walter Nold Mathis in the late 1960s.  He would then turn his attention to the entire neighborhood where he purchased and, at least partially, restored 14 of the other houses then sold them to "preservation minded" individuals.  Robin pointed out several of them telling us what he had done.  We spent a good hour chatting with her about her travels as a young person with a father in the military and then her decision to move to San Antonio in the 1970s.  Since Phoenix had come along with us on this part of the walk and was getting thirsty, Robin invited us to the back of Villa Finale where she knew there was a water bowl.  The two ducks that were partaking as we arrived graciously relinquished their positions so that Phoenix could slake her thirst.  Then happily watered we walked back along another street in the district, stopping for a quick juice at a small cafe before we returned to our car and the campground.


Steps up to La Villita

Store window in La Villita

A mariachi birthday serenade

Even the reflection of the water on the underside of bridges was beautiful.



The next several days were brightened only by the chance for a reunion with a childhood friend and his wife, both from St Croix and living in Texas for the past 12 years.  Curtis was one of my brother Chris's best friends and although his wife, Jenny, moved there just before we left, I had come to know her through Facebook and was very excited to meet her.  We spent a lovely, rainy several hours in the restaurant at the marina where they keep their boat and enjoyed delicious Texas barbeque -for the first time. Yum. The memories and laughter flowed and I was reminded once again how utterly wonderful this life we have chosen is, especially when it gives us a chance to connect/reconnect with people.  When we decided to extend our stay, Curtis and Jenny invited us to join them again, this time for dinner near their house.  Dinner was delicious-once again firsts: I had chicken fried steak and Don had King Ranch chicken, fun and during the ride to their house for a brief visit we were treated to a rising full moon. 

On Saturday night, the somewhat rainy weather we'd experienced up to this point (3 days) was about to get worse with huge storms forecast.  Jenny and Curtis graciously offered a roof over our heads if it got too bad out at the campground but despite crashing thunder, a sky streaked with bolts of jagged lighting that lit up the night and rain and wind we were fine. I spent some of the time looking at places we might visit and learning how to pronounce them "Texas style" Gruene=Green; Pedernales=Perdenaliss; and Boerne= Bernie (hey even the early Texans Felt the Bern!)

Because of the rainy weather and because of the way we live/travel we decided to extend our visit at Cranes Mill for another 5 days. Our new site was closer to the water and more shaded AND we had a mallard pair visiting most days.  Cadbury was fascinated with them and they put on a great show one day.

She ate...

she posed

They used a puddle to wash up...

...they scrubbed the hard to reach areas...

...and then they were all done.

Cadbury watched with fascination (and no doubt unfulfilled dreams) 

For the next several days, see: (or read on and then click below to follow) Westward Ho! 6a

 Our last day was spent finally going back to San Antonio and what a day it was.  Spectacularly beautiful with blue skies and sun the hour long drive was easy and we arrived to find that there would be a parade as well.  Our first stop was the Alamo and we spent some time walking around both the Shrine and the museum before heading out to the area in front where the viewing stand for the parade was located. I was, of course, disappointed that photography is not allowed inside but having helped Richard with a report on the Alamo when he was in 5th grade I found myself thinking "Oh yes, I remember that/him..." so the vast amounts of information were not overwhelming.  It is difficult, however, to envision this battle in a mission/fortress that started in the "middle of nowhere" and now sits in the middle of a booming metropolis with tall, sprawling shade trees throughout but the story of both the mission and the battle is filled with lessons that it seems have not all been learned.

When we'd arrived we had found most of the streets where we wanted to go were closed off because the Battle of the Flowers parade would be taking place later in the morning.  One of the highlights of the Fiesta, it is even a school holiday so the streets were packed.  It is also not only the oldest event and largest parade of Fiesta but it is produced entirely by women, all of who are volunteers.  They are recognized by their bright yellow dresses and hats.  There were stands strategically placed around the reviewing area for people who bought seats on them, and on the other streets chairs set up, as well as families that brought their own and were perched in the very limited open spaces.  The kids were having fun, the music ranged from school bands to mariachi, there were horses and floats bedecked with flowers and several carrying the various Princesses of the Fiesta.  Each of them would perform one of the traditional poses as they moved along...resplendent in their fancy, usually sequined, always sparkly long dresses they would lift their skirts to display... their boots.  They are Texans and proud of it.


 Merry making for sale

Grand Marshal Rosemary Kowalski, the "Queen of Catering"

Her Honor, Mayor Ivy Taylor

A parade volunteer (in yellow) 

This guy must have been getting some great shots

And these guys were having some of the most fun of all the groups in the parade

The Battle of the Flowers Association builds 9 floats each year and invites 9 high schools to participate.  Each one of them was excellent with all types of music

There were flowers everywhere

The variety of cultures was evident from the different groups

A Fiesta tradition-wearing one's collection of Fiesta buttons 

She may be a parade princess in a fancy dress but she is Texan and she wears boots

We stopped to buy a delicious taco from one of the street vendors before returning to the car to continue at the missions.  Our first mission had, of course, been the Alamo, but Mission San Jose would be our second and, ultimately, last mission visit.  One of the 4 missions in the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park and AKA Queen of the Missions it is also the site of the visitor center.  As usual the displays were informative and well done and the gift shop held some nice items and as usual I fell into conversation with one of the volunteers.  He and I shared our mutual enthusiasm about state parks and we left with a list of ones he recommended.   We had decided on the guided tour and were glad we did. Our guide was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and gave us a wonderful history and perspective of the missions. Not one to simply follow the "official" version she put all of what she told us into perspective but was open about the ironies and suppositions that blind acceptance of the "glory" of these enterprises, ignores.

As we arrived so too did a group celebrating this girl's QuinceaƱera

The Missions were not simply churches but communities established to bring religion to the natives. However, the churches still operate as churches to this day

There is a myth associated with the Rose Window click here

The arches here are from 2 different periods

Entrance to the church (detail)

Mesquite used for centuries for so many things

stairs to the top of the bell tower

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