San Antonio Notes

We have been back for a couple of weeks, but I wanted to leave a few thoughts about San Antonio. Great city to visit! Here are a few highlights.

The house we rented was on the RiverWalk.  It is really a great place to walk. The boat ride was informative. There was a boat parade on St. Patrick’s Day. The down side to the week we visited was that it was spring break in the area. Kids, kids, and more kids! Yikes.

The Japanese Gardens,  also known as Chinese Tea Gardens, Chinese Tea Garden Gate, and  the Chinese Sunken Garden Gate is beautiful. (But don’t get the Bubble Tea. It’s not very good.)

San Antonio, The Saga. The 24-minute film about 300 years of history  is shown on the facade of the San Fernando Cathedral. The visuals are amazing and the film is  choreographed with surround sound. Don’t miss it!

The Majestic Theater is breath-taking. What you see in the photos is the theater, not the set!

The food. San Antonio has great TexMex, but just about any other kind of food, too. We had great ramen at a neighborhood restaurant. Our last morning we had breakfast with our friend Chris. An old hand at SanAntonio, she was a great tour guide! Oh, I also found out I like margaritas!

We decided to visit the “hill country,” a few wineries and the LBJ ranch. Our first stop was the ranch, both a state park and a national park. The state park contains the boyhood home of LBJ, his grandparents’ cabin and the visitor center. The National Park is where the Johnson family home is located. LBJ and Ladybird Johnson donated their home to the National Park Service.  We visited Pedernales Cellars, Becker Vineyards, 4.0 Cellars and Lost Draw Cellars. The wine was pretty good, but I thought a little expensive.

The drive to wine country also included a stop in Luchenbach.

From Wikipedia: “Luckenbach’s population increased to a high of 492 in 1904, but by the 1960s it was almost a ghost town. A newspaper advertisement offering “town — pop. 3 — for sale” led Hondo Crouch, a rancher and Texas folklorist, to buy Luckenbach for $30,000 in 1970, in partnership with Kathy Morgan and actor Guoch Koock. Crouch used the town’s rights as a municipality to govern the dance hall as he saw fit.

Today Luckenbach maintains a ghost-town feel with its small population and strong western aesthetic. One of its two main buildings houses the remnants of a post office, a working saloon, and a general store. The other is the dance hall.”

On our way home we had to pass through Waco. Couldn’t miss a stop at Magnolia Farms, the creation of Chip and Joanna Gaines of the show Fixer Upper. It was insanely busy. If nothing else, they have made Waco a tourist destination.

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So Many Museums

When you visit San Antonio the museum opportunities abound. We visited several.

The McNay. Marion McNay was a painter and art teacher. She inherited a fortune upon the death of her father. Her art collection, which focuses on 19th and 20th century Europen and American art, is housed in her beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival mansion. When she died, the mansion and art was bequeathed to the city of San Antonio. The collection and the home are both spectacular!McNay-Art-Museum-wedding-San-Antonio-TX-186514-orig_main.1503078851

My favorite museum was the Briscoe Western Art Museum. I didn’t expect to like this museum as much as I did.  The museum is such a mix of sculpture, models, paintings and prints, that there is something for everyone.

 

We also made stops at the San Antonio Museum of Art and The Witte, both great museums. The Witte would be a great museum to visit with children. The animals of Texas exhibit is too much fun.

 

And a total surprise was the USTA Institute of Texan Cultures. This was built as the Texas pavilion at the 1968 HemisFair, the World’s Fair held in San Antonio. You could spend an entire day browsing through the exhibits which highlight all the many ethnic groups that have settled in Texas.

 

 

On A Mission…To See the Missions

San Antonio, a beautiful city with a huge history. When you think of San Antonio, many folks “Remember the Alamo!” The Alamo sits smack dab in the middle of the city, so it is easy to visit. When you think of the Alamo it is usually as a military site. If that is the only mission you visit, then you have missed the best. When you visit the other sites you feel the religious heritage. I feel a sense of sadness when I think of the Spaniards coming to spread Catholicism to the local natives. The culture and beliefs of the native people were ignored and eventually destroyed. What happens in the name of religion is often a sad history. But, it is part of our history.
IMG_8586Our friend Chris, who has wintered here for a few years, volunteered to take us to the missions. Four of the missions and other structures are a UNESCO World Heritage site as of 2015. The Alamo is not part of the site and is owned by the state of Texas. We visited on a Sunday and were treated to mariachi musicians warming up before playing at a mass at Mission Concepción, the best preserved of the missions. Catholic Mass is held every Sunday. Beautiful music!

San Jose “The Queen of the Missions”

Mission San Juan

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Mission Espada

Out on the Bayou…

Off to Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, about 50 miles west of New Orleans. Breaux Bridge is a sleepy, little town, known as “la capitale mondiale de l’écrevisse,” the Crawfish Capital of the World. History says Acadian Firmin Breaux purchased land in the vicinity of the present-day city of Breaux Bridge in 1774. In 1799 he built a suspension footbridge across Bayou Teche. When getting directions, travelers were told to “go to Breaux’s bridge.” Hence, the name of the city.

The current bridge was built in 1950 and is a steel bridge that lifts a span vertically.

The population is about 8,000. The town is about ten miles east of Lafayette. Lafayette is the fourth largest town in Louisiana, population around 125,000. So, anything you want can be found a short distance away.

But, after driving through Lafayette, we were glad to get back to our little AirBnB in Breaux Bridge. It was a lovely little bungalow on Bayou Teche. The hosts, Linni and Trent, were just amazing. We hit it off immediately and spent quite a bit of time with them.

The legend of Bayou Teche is:

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When I asked about Zydeco music, Linni suggested Whiskey River in Henderson, LA, a few miles up the road. The bar is located at Whiskey Landing, up and over the Henderson Levee. I couldn’t help wonder what would happen with a flood as the bar is on the wrong side of the levee!

What a blast! We met a couple from Welsh, LA, and talked and danced for a few hours. Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie provided amazing zydeco. It just made you smile.

Swamp Tour!

And I just have to add this photo. There are little ice machines all over the place. 20 pounds of ice for $1.50. Just insert coins, a bag fills and a tray opens. Voila!IMG-2493

Food, music and psychics

This is my fourth trip to New Orleans and I enjoyed it all over again. Of course, New Orleans is all about food and music, and we had plenty of both. Bowls of gumbo, muffaletta sandwiched, jambalaya, and of course, beignets.

 

The music is everywhere. On the streets, in the bars and restaurants.

 

But I enjoyed two unusual experiences,

an evening ghost tourIMG_8470and having a psychic reading by Philip at Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo.  It was unnerving how much information he had for me. I was quite shocked. The good news I have a long life ahead of me!

 

We spent several hours at the World War II Museum in New Orleans. Again, we left emotionally exhausted, not having even seen the entire museum. A 4D movie, Beyond All Boundaries, narrated by Tom Hanks, began the experience. The museum has so many film clips, artifacts and interactive exhibits. It is truly one of the best history museums I have ever visited. I hope I can visit again to see what I missed.

National Civil Rights Museum

As we drove to our AirBnB, we passed a familiar image, the Lorraine Motel.IMG_8415 It was a bit of a punch to the gut seeing the balcony where Martin Luther King was shot. I didn’t realize that the motel was part of the National Civil Rights Museum. It also includes the building across the street where the shots were fired from. The exhibits trace the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. from the 17th century until today.

We spent about four hours there. It is an excellent museum, but we left emotionally exhausted. I guess that means the museum exhibits were effective.

Music, Music, and More Music

Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, B B King, Jerry Lee Lewis…. Beale Street, Sun Studio, Stax Records… So much musical history. We decided on two places to take in the musical history of Memphis. Graceland. Not really what I expected. I guess in my mind it was bigger. GracelandThe house was certainly interesting. Lots of colors and 70s designs.

elvisYou can tell the family decided what to show of the King’s life. There are no photos of his later, heavier years or talk of what really killed him. The autopsy is sealed until 2027. It is hard to believe that in the later photos he was just 42 years old.

 

Across the street from the Graceland home, the museum sprawls into new buildings with a gazillion gift shops along with Elvis’s car collection and other memorabilia.

A short trip from Graceland is Sun Studios. A pretty quick tour, but they clearly hire very witty people to do tours. A very enjoyable experience.

 

On to Home of the Blues

 

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Just a quick stop in St. Louis and on to Memphis. We started out on US 55, but once again I veered off the beaten path to US61, “The Great River Road.” So much more relaxing than the interstate.

As former teachers, there are some things that we must stop to investigate. The sign said “New Madrid.” We studied earthquakes in school. New Madrid was the site of the most powerful earthquakes to hit the contiguous United States east of the Rocky Mountains in 1811-12. Must stop. The town of New Madrid was pretty sad. But why would anyone really want to live in an area that has had regular earthquakes since 1811 and wasn’t even near a beautiful ocean. The video described the earth rolling in waves and the destruction. Yup. Wouldn’t want to live there, but the museum was a nice, informative stop and the view of the Mississippi (at a very high level) was great!

We arrived at our AirBnB in Memphis in the late afternoon, tired and hungry. Oh, what good luck. Gus’s Fried Chicken was right around the corner. Yummo!

A short walk and we were on Beale Street. Even on a Sunday night there was music. Alfred’s on Beale had a big band. Nice way to end the night.IMG_8392

Get Your Kicks on Route 66

Looking for just a little warmer weather, Mike and I headed out from chilly Michigan southward. The first three hours were familiar territory, highways we have often traveled. But we decided to go off the beaten path in Joliet, Illinois.  IMG_8289

U.S. Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway and The Mother Road was established in 1926. One of the most famous roads in the United States, it ran from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California.

 

 

 

John Belushi (Joliet Jake Blues) and Dan Aykroyd (Elwood Blues) put Joliet on the map in the movie The Blues Brothers. They are immortalized in many places in Joliet.

The Gemini Giant is in Wilmington, IL outside the Launching Pad Drive-In. I read there were many of these giant 30 foot tall statues around the US in the 60s. This giant was named after the Gemini Space Program.

Also in Wilmington, the Sinclair dino sits on top of an auto body shop.

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The next stop was the Polka-Dot Drive-Inn in Braidwood, IL. Not my normal diet food, I totally succumbed to a chili dog and chili cheese fries. Yummo!

In Gardner, IL we met Tom and Rufus, his dog. Tom owns The Perkins Shop which is full of coca cola memorabilia. His little shop was originally the office for the lumber mill that his grandfather owned. The mill was torn down and replaced by grain silos. Oddly, the silos and other buildings were all torn down the week before we arrived. Tom clearly loved talking about the history of the area he has lived in his entire life.

The same town boasts the two-cell jail, built in 1906 and used until the 1950s. When we peeked in there was a group of young people in the cell. Not sure what they were doing, but they seemed to be having fun. Right next to the jail is a Kankakee streetcar that was converted into a diner in 1932 and recently restored as a Route 66 landmark. No food is served by the chef that is painted on the wall.

Restored gas stations can be found in Dwight and Odell. Just south of Odell a barn sign for Meramec Caverns has been restored.

IMG_8314On to Pontiac, IL. More than 20 murals adorn the walls of buildings in the town.

Small town America is seen in the barbershop and movie theater that still boasts a streetside walk up ticket booth. The town boasts a beautiful county courthouse.

Pontiac was supposed to be our last stop, but I had to detour into Atlanta, IL when I read that a brother to the Gemini Giant, a huge Paul Bunyan had been moved from Cicero to Atlanta.

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There is also an octagonal library, as well as a clock tower with a clock that is still weekly wound by “The Keepers”.

 

 

Planes, trains, but no automobiles

Last spring I traveled to Holland with my friend Jan and her sisters. We had a wonderful time bicycling from Amsterdam to Bruges. No, we didn’t bicycle the entire distance. At the end of each day of biking we were met by Jantien and Henk, owners of the beautiful barge Merlijn. We were wined, dined and taken care of by Jantien and Henk. It was an amazing trip.

In early spring Jantien ran a contest on Facebook to identify the location of an image. I spent hours on the computer, finally found the answer, and won a week biking from Bremen to Magdeburg on the Merlijn. So, here I am off again with Jan for a biking adventure. Thank you Jantien and Henk!!

After three flights, a subway ride and a train excursion we finally arrived in Bremen 31 hours after leaving home. The longest flight from Atlanta to Paris offered no sleep as we were sitting next to some very poorly behaved children (and parents.) So when we finally checked into our Airbnb at 6PM German time, we had just enough energy to go out to eat. We walked about two blocks to a beautiful town square and chose the Bremen Ratskeller, located in the Bremen Rathaus (town hall.) The  building of the Rathaus began in 1410 and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We had a wonderful dinner of lamb stew for me and corned beef, mashed potatoes and eggs for Jan. And of course, a German beer.

   

With full stomachs we headed home and fell into bed.

The next day, fully refreshed we headed out to explore Bremen. What a beautiful town. It lies on both sides of the Weser River and was part of the Hanseatic League. Of course the most famous thing about Bremen is the story of the Bremen Town Musicians. There are statues all over town representing this folk story. There are other little works of art  all over town.

             

Roland was the protector of trade. This fine statue of him was erected in 1404.


We investigated the old town area of Schnoor and walked along the promenade. All along the waterfront area of Schlachte there are biergartens. It was Saturday and a band played and food vendors sold local goodies. 

After a day  of exploring we headed for the Merlijn.