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The little family Pyke » Archive of 'Apr, 2009'

San Antonio No comments yet

Last weekend we visited San Antonio just more than an hour’s drive south of Austin. San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the US (Houston is the fourth largest and Austin ranks sixteenth) and is generally known to be somewhat rougher than Austin. The fact that San Antonio is so large is not readily apparent due to its sprawl. The downtown area isn’t enormous (unlike Atlanta’s) and the combination of older buildings and a scruffier feel gives ol’ San Antone a bit of a frontier feeling. That’s the weird thing about US cities, a place like San Antonio can feel small-ish while a smaller but more dense place like Atlanta(which ranks only 33rd on the list of US cities) feels enormous. Although I should say that Atlanta is a special case since it’s metropolitan area is the 8th largest in the US, easily outranking San Antonio’s which ranks 28th. Anyways, enough statistics – suffice to say that while Atlanta really does feel like its gleaming towers that rise into the sky, San Antonio feels like the Western frontier it helped create.

Downtown San Antonio - click for photo album

Downtown San Antonio - click for photo album

In its heart of hearts San Antonio feels like it’s most famous building, the squat Catholic-mission-turned-fortress, The Alamo. The Alamo is famous as the site of a brave defense against a Mexican assault by outnumbered Texan revolutionary soldiers in 1836. And even though the Texans lost the battle, the Alamo became a source of pride and motivation which eventually led to Texas winning its freedom from Mexico. That’s right, Texas was originally part of Mexico. The Alamo’s most famous inhabitant, who also died at the battle of The Alamo, was one David Crockett. That’s right, Davy Crockett hung out at the Alamo – it doesn’t get more frontiersman-like than that.

The Alamo

The Alamo

The Alamo is a great source of pride for Texans and, as a war memorial, San Antonio passed an ordinance that no building may cast a shadow on it. Therefore all the buildings that immediately surround it, and it is smack in the middle of downtown, are limited to being no more than four stories tall.

We didn’t spend much time at The Alamo, preferring to walk around the downtown area. The city has an amazing mixture of architectural styles which I’ll call American Gothic, Nouveau, Chicago Modernist and New York 1920’s boom (Anita can correct me if need be). Somehow this mash-up of buildings, together with the original Spanish colonial influences, just enhances the happy scruffiness of the city. It’s somehow stuck together from a bunch of buildings, some in better condition than others – nothing gleaming about it. The most impressive of these buildings is the doomed Tower Life Building, built at the height of the 1920’s boomtime at a cost of 2.2 million dollars, opened in 1929 just before the depression hit, and auctioned off for a disasterous 27 thousand dollars in 1930. That’s a 98.77% drop in value in one year. Still, it’s a beautiful building and, as we saw from the rooftop swimming pool of our hotel, dominates the skyline at night.

Tower Life at Night - click for photo album

Tower Life at Night - click for photo album

So we hung around downtown, sat in the rooftop hot tub at night, and, uhm what else? Oh yes – The Riverwalk. San Antonio’s Riverwalk is the equivalent to the Waterfront in Cape Town; water, restaurants, tourists, music, shows, tourists, boats, tourists, ducks, tourists. To be fair, it is cool. The Riverwalk is a U-shaped portion of the San Antonio river which was split from the main flow in the river in the 1920’s when flood protection gates were installed. Instead of filling and paving over the unused stretch of water an architect named Robert Hugman designed a winding series of paths that run below street level under enormous cedar trees and past clusters of beautiful houses, apartment and office buildings, shops and restaurants.

A Bridge over the River San Antonio - click for photo album

A Bridge over the River San Antonio - click for photo album

These days its lined with restaurants and bars and a tour company runs shallow boats around the walk. Tourists flock to the Riverwalk, and for good reason. In early spring with the trees in prime blooming condition the riverwalk is a shady, lively and thoroughly fun way to spend a Sunday morning.

The Riverwalk - click for photo album

The Riverwalk - click for photo album

Our trip to San Antonio may have been short, and we didn’t really visit many of the attractions, but headnig back to Austin after brunch on Sunday I certainly did feel like we had a jolly little vacation in ol’ San Antone. And I think Adam liked it too.

Dreaming of Davy Crockett

Dreaming of Davy Crockett

Walkies No comments yet

Most Wednesdays, my friend Brooke and I take Adam and Will for a walk along town lake. (Werner works with Brooke’s husband, Dan).

The trees have been sprouting in the last few weeks so it’s green and lush and beautiful, although people keep pointing out that soon it will be so hot that walking between 10 and 4 will be completely out of the question. Werner and I and I often speculate about whether it really gets that impossibly hot, or whether Americans are not big on discomfort.

The bike and hike trail around the lake is busy almost any time of day – Austinites are really into outdoor exercise, and a few weeks ago the mayor jogged passed us while we were walking (Brooke recognised him – to me, he was just another sweaty guys with his shirt off). I mention this only because:

  1. This guy has the best name ever for a politician. Will Wynn. I kid you not
  2. I want to know what he was doing jogging round the lake at 10am. Doesn’t he have work to to??

And the boys have fun hanging out too…

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