Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On the Road to Tucson (2) San Antonio & Austin

February 19-22. San Antonio and Austin, about an hour apart, were great cities to walk around and see the sights. We decided to spend 2 days in each, while staying in San Antonio. (We even got to eat Texas-shaped waffles at the Residence Inn!)

Our first stop in San Antonio was at the Conservation Society to pick up a self-guided walking tour of the historic downtown. One our way there we met a couple from northern Ontario admiring the old victorian houses, those renovated and those needing renovation. They were on a Friendship Force trip. This is a travel exchange started during the Carter presidencey. (thefriendshipforce.com) Sounds intriguing. I'll have to get more information.

We parked for free in a residential neighborhood and walked about 15 minutes to the Rivercenter Mall where we saw an IMAX movie, "The Alamo...The Price of Freedom." The 40 minute movie (for $10.50) was a re-enactment done by the History Channel. It was excellent. Finally, I understand the significance of "Remember the Alamo." In 1836 the Texas Territory declared independence from Mexico (most residents were from America & Europe). The President didn't like that so he stormed the fort. (The name Alamo was taken from the town that the Mexican military was from who occupied the fort in the early 1800's. Before that it was a mission.) The Texans were greatly outnumbered but fought to the bitter end to defend their right to freedom and independence. Unfortunately, they were all killed by the Mexican troops. Within a month Sam Houston defeated the Mexicans and Texas finally got its independence. The Alamo is basically a memorial to those courageous people who died, two famous ones being David Crocket and James Bowie. There are artifacts, historical information and a short movie (a good complement to the IMAX movie).

The Riverwalk is gorgeous - a great way to spend some time walking and people watching. It's also cooler by the water. What an amazing idea, first conceived in 1929 after the 1921 flood. It was finally finished in 1941 as a WPA project. There are stores, hotels, and restaurants with walks, waterfalls and beautiful landscaping along a 2 1/2 mile stretch of the San Antonio River. It was really relaxing to eat our lunch at a table next to the river watching ducklings and small cruise boats, with Andean music in the background. Later we took the informationative 20 minute cruise. On our next visit (in November) we'll go at night when the trees are lit up like it's Christmas!

For 50% off we went back to the IMAX theater and saw the story of Lewis and Clark made by National Geographic. It was excellent and added to the information we got from a book on tape we had listened to a couple of years ago. What courageous people they were!

At the Witte Museum we learned a lot about the geography of Texas. Wow, Texas has a little bit of almost everything: desert, plains, woods, mountains, prairie, and swamps/marshland. There were also good displays of the Native Americans who lived here.

Austin is in a little higher elevation than SA, partly in the "hill country". The Visitor Center had a bunch of different walking tours and we chose Congress Street since we were headed up that street anyway to tour the Capitol. (We've found that visiting capitol buildings gives us great overall information on a state.) We saw interesting old architecture. The Driskill Hotel was gorgeous with a stained glass dome on a hall ceiling. And where else but in Texas would you find not a leather couch but a cow-hide couch!

We had a really enthusiastic tour guide for the capitol, the tallest of all the US capitols, taller even than the US Capitol Building! (Who's surprised?) The billboard says it all. One interesting thing was that after an election pictures of all the new legislators are displayed along with pictures of their children and grandchildren!

The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum on the UT campus was excellent! Opened before LBJ died, it displayed the highlights of history in words, pictures, and video from LBJ's birth in 1908 until his death in 1973. (It's the only presidential library that's free, per LBJ's request.) On the 4th floor was a 1/8 scale model of his Oval Office as well as photos of other main rooms in the White House along with Ladybird's oral description. They even had a role player of Sen. Johnson in 1959 give a speech and take questions. We continue to learn more history.

A hike up Mt. Bonnell gave us a great view of the Colorado River (not the same one that flows through the Grand Canyon) and the big, beautiful homes below each with their own boat slip. What a great view! Homes on the other side were just as large.

Thursday (2/21) was a pretty exciting day in Austin. We took a walk through the UT campus as they were prepping for the Clinton/Obama debate: lots of TV vans, cameramen, portable fences, secret service men, and people with campaign signs.

The Texas History Museum, very close to campus, was excellent. Texas is a unique state. Besides their slogan "Everything is begger in Texas," they showed a movie promoting pride in being a Texan and "anything is possible." It was a real rah-rah movie. (Did you know that Texan students pledge allegiance to the flag of Texas?) The museum was organized really well: Encounters on the Land, Building the Lone Star Identity, and Creating Opportunity (ranching, oil, etc.). There was also a very interesting special exhibit of first person accounts of historical events like Thomas Jefferson observing the first violence of the French Revolution and President Carter's notes on a private meeting with Pope John Paul II. We also saw another IMAX movie there, "Dolphins and Whales." I've never seen them up so close. It was very cool!

Our visit to Austin was capped off with a delicious dinner with friends at Chez Zee. We met Colleen Schmitt, her fiance Jason, and Sarah Collins there. We've known Colleen since she was little and are friends with her parents. Sarah is a friend of Scott's and we've known her and her parents since junior high. They all work in Austin. It was really a fun evening, with never a pause in conversation!

Next adventure: Hiking in Big Bend National Park on the Mexican border.

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