“. . . San Antonio, the only one truly lovely city in the state.” — Larry McMurtry, In a Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas
“Its tree-vaulted River Walk, winding gently on both sides of the narrow stream — its watercraft cruising quietly past umbrella-topped tables in the shadows of lovely buildings — has made it ‘the Venice of America.'” — Frank W. Jennings, San Antonio: The Story of an Enchanted City
“San Antonio! Loveliest city in Texas, Venice of the Drylands, its river runs right through the heart of town, providing a colorful waterway for festive barges and an exotic riverside walk along which one could promenade forever.” — James Michener, Texas
We started our Texas trip with three days in San Antonio. My immediate first impressions were 1) that the landscape was flat, and 2) there were so many trees, something I was not expecting.
These were carless days for us, as we did not pick up our rental vehicle until we started the road-trip portion of our vacation. But that worked out well, for San Antonio is a walkable city. We took a local city bus from the airport — with transfer it cost less than $1.50 to get within one block of our hotel. (The internet is a great tool for figuring out transportation options in advance, and our plans went flawlessly.) On each of our daily sojourns around the city, we preferred as much as possible to walk along the lovely and cooler Riverwalk. It was colorful, teeming with people (tourists, mostly, I suspect), lined with an abundance of restaurants. The air held the sound of mariachi music from musicians strolling among the restaurant tables.
Closeby the Riverwalk is the Alamo, the site of the massacre that rallied Texans to go on to achieve independence from Mexico. Today it is a memorial and a museum, telling the story of this important moment in Texas history.
San Antonio is also known for its missions, which were established by the Catholic Church to convert the Indians to Catholicism. They had limited success. The Alamo was originally a mission. There are four other missions “that line the [San Antonio] river like a string of jewels on a necklace” (James Michener, Texas). They are now a National Historic Park and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visited the Mission San Juan just when there was a mass about to start in the little church.
We were fortunate that our days in San Antonio coincided with its annual Fiesta — 10 days filled with events celebrating its diverse cultural heritage. We took in the street market at Market Square, the evening carnival, a powwow, and a Mexican rodeo.
“We have never really captured San Antonio, we Texans — somehow the Spanish have managed to hold it. . . . San Antonio has kept an ambience that all the rest of our cities lack.” — Larry McMurtry, In a Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas
“San Antonio, of course, is a city. It is of Texas, and yet transcends Texas in some way, as San Francisco transcends California, as New Orleans transcends Louisiana. Houston and Dallas express Texas — San Antonio speaks for itself, and much of its charm is in the way it embodies its past. Not a little of its charm, like that of El Paso, is attributable to the presence of Latins, who almost always improve an Anglo-Saxon town.” — Larry McMurtry, In a Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas
I loved strolling through the evening carnival in the warm air. Admission was free, although one needed tickets for the rides. Local families were enjoying the event. It was colorful, with the smell of barbecue wafting in the air and calliope music in the background.