Thursday, July 12, 2012

Southern Hospitality: San Antonio Style

The red structure in the background is the official symbol of San Antonio.
Besides writing, traveling is one of my other passions. This year, I wanted to do something different that would be far from the norm for my family. This yearning led to a four thousand mile road trip through the southern states! My first itinerary, which was in San Antonio, consisted of: The River Walk, The Alamo, Museums, Sightseeing tours, a River Walk Cruise, The Japanese Botanical Gardens, The San Antonio Zoo, Caverns, A Water Park, the Market Square, Restaurants, Parks, the San Fernando Cathedral, Sea World, and not to mention the historical and cultural richness through out the city.

Take a tour on the city's double decker buses!
Being a photographer and author, I tend to travel with and without my family but this time summer was calling us ALL to take a trip.  Therefore, without much hesitation, at at about 2:00 a.m., I ventured out from beautiful Southern California on a family road trip going east on the ten, along with my wife, 11 yr. old daughter and 12 yr. old son. For some people, this long road trip through most of the southern states could be considered a punishment, but to my family, it was the opposite. The solemnity of the desert and the mystery of its living things opened the gates of our imagination. I’ve always wanted to visit San Antonio, the second largest city in Texas. Its rich history and cultural diversity, the home style cooking, and of course its well-known River Walk all appealed to us.

Visit the historical Alamo!
As soon as we arrived, I immediately sensed a different charm to what I have experienced in other cities. As I began to explore downtown San Antonio, I could not help to see the resemblances between the lush waterways of the River Walk and it’s beautifully assembled architectural buildings to the waterways of Venice, Italy and the 1930’s style buildings of the New York skyline. As my hunger towards food set in, I could not help to notice the abundance of inviting restaurants next to the river. I immediately chose one of the Tex-Mex restaurants I thought had the greatest view by the river. We sat there like all the other tourists, slowly savoring a cold drink while at the same time enjoying a traditional San Antonio Tex-Mex meal.
I eventually found the courage to leave the confines of the restaurant to embark on a Rio Cruise that is another unique San Antonio must-do experience. As I listened to the tour guide highlighting the historical aspects of the River Walk and the architecture of the buildings that are complimented by lush and exotic flora, I became sidetracked by the thriving animal life within the beautiful greenery.
The San Antonio River Walk is as vibrant at night as in the day!

With no time to spare, early the next morning, I visited the alluring Natural Bridge Caverns. They are considered to be one of the largest caverns open to the public in Texas. Its inhabitants include bats and other small creatures of the underground world along side its most valuable asset, the limestone formations. We went through a two-hour self-paced tour marveling at how wondrous our world is. The caverns were truly another of San Antonio’s must see attractions.

The Natural Bridge Caverns are minutes away from downtown San Antonio.
From there, we stopped by another particularly enticing place: The Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch. This is a rare and truly unique drive-in zoo that offers the longest running safari park in Texas with different animal species from around the world. Upon entering the Zoo, you’re given a bag of food to feed the animals. It was beautiful to drive slowly, seeing the animals roam about as they would in their natural habitat. Then, from out of nowhere, my camera lenses detected a Llama preparing to spit into my window-but, not before I closed it!
By now, I was ready to attack my itineraries some more! The next morning, we engulfed ourselves into a 45-minute IMAX docudrama entitled “ALAMO-The price of Freedom,” at the San Antonio IMAX theatre Rivercenter. The docudrama relived the history of the unforgettable Texan and Tejano defenders fight for independence. It explained the Alamo and the immense sacrifices that were made. Watching the movie helped me gain a better understanding of the meaning of the Alamo and the many people that made the ultimate sacrifice in order for future generations to live on its land freely. This is a must do attraction!

Great restaurants are in abundance at the River Walk!
Afterwards, my family and I headed back to downtown San Antonio, which beckoned us to explore some of its many other attractions, like the Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum, that is located right across from the Alamo. As we visited the Wax Museum, we ended up having a few moments of fame with Oprah, President Obama and Jay Leno. But after getting spooked at the haunted house, we ended up paying a visit to the historical and breathtaking San Fernando Cathedral and the Main Plaza. The San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio is said to be the oldest cathedral sanctuary in the United States. The famous Alamo defender James Bowie was married and buried there, Santa Ana used it as an observation post and other legends such as William Travis and Davy Crockett are also buried there! The cathedral is a spiritual experience to the soul and to the eyes as it has been breathtakingly designed. Afterwards, we returned to the reprieve of the River Walk for another Texas-size cold drink and the calming waters of the river.

The San Antonio Zoo is also a fun place for the whole family.
There is so much to see and do at San Antonio! There is enough for the young and old in this beautiful city like the: nightclubs, bars, zoos, ranches, caverns, eateries, museums, art galleries and more. However, what makes it all the more remarkable is its rich history and memorable southern hospitality. With that being said, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the city of San Antonio for providing valuable tips and resources that made our experience at San Antonio—an unforgettable one.

A beautiful place indeed!

Stay tuned for Episode II—New Orleans and the Swamps!

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