Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Texas Bucket List: Walking the River and Remembering the Alamo

My Texas Bucket List began taking shape shortly after we arrived in College Station. At first the list consisted of only a few touristy day trips and experiences - like Sea World and Six Flags - I'd thought of or heard about prior to our move. But as we made new friends, especially new friends who grew up in Texas, we learned from them about the lesser-known - at least to Midwesterners - but not-to-miss sights and sounds of the Lone Star State.

Each time I cross something off my Texas Bucket List I document it here, both because Chasing Roots serves as my Texas journal and because looking back on these posts and "watching" our love affair, if you will, with our now-home state unfold is a beautiful thing. 

You can see my full Texas Bucket List here. Feel free to tell me what I'm missing!

We hit the road for San Antonio midday on Tuesday and made our first stop just 30 minutes down the road at a Sonic Drive-In. Ordering through the two-way speaker on the outdoor patio was easily one of the kids' favorite activities on this trip.
I don't like 85 MPH.
We stayed on the River Walk, which made the trip even more enjoyable despite the hotel's slightly higher price tag. As soon as we arrived on Tuesday afternoon we checked in, traded our sandals for sneakers, and headed out to explore the River Walk and its many shops. We walked through quite a few types of rain - spitting and drizzling and sprinkling and moderate showers (basically everything except a torrential downpour) - that afternoon and evening, but the kids and Tom didn't mind getting wet so I tried to ignore the fact that my shoes felt disgustingly soggy and my hair took on a frizzy life of its own. We ate dinner at the Rain Forest Cafe (appropriately, given the weather) on the River Walk, which while tasty, didn't impress the kids the way I thought it would.

The kids were, however, impressed by the outdoor pool at our hotel. That first night we swam for more than an hour in the pool's comfortably warm water, in the rain, in the dark, and after bed time. When our fingers had pruned too severely to stay in the water even another minute, we retired to our hoe-and-tell* room where we took warm showers, ate jelly beans, and watched The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Tom and Will) and My Little Ponies (Erin and Hallie) while cuddled up in bed. As you can probably imagine, behind Christmas Eve, last Tuesday night was the best night of Will and Hallie's young lives.

On Wednesday morning we started off slowly - one of our family members had a little trouble getting up and going until she heard the word "donuts" - but after a stop at Shipley's for a cinnamon roll and an apple fritter, we headed to the SA Zoo. Over the years Tom and I have visited A LOT of zoos, and while we enjoyed ourselves at this animal hangout, it didn't earn a spot in my top three. (In case you're curious, my three favorite zoos are the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE, the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, IL, and the Henry Vilas Zoo, in Madison, WI.) The grounds impressed me though, and I found myself taking as many pictures of the spring flowers and flowing waterways as I took of the animals.

Can you spot the brand new baby monkey? If you look carefully you can see his fuzzy little orange head poking out from his mother's death-grip of an embrace. He was SO sweet and playful.

On our drive to the zoo we'd passed a stone tower ("A PRINCESS LIVES THERE!!!", screamed Hallie from the backseat) surrounded by a small group of interesting stone buildings, so after we'd had our fill of animals we headed back to the princess' tower. The buildings turned out to be what remains of an old cement quarry…as well as the entrance to the most breath-taking Japanese Tea Gardens. Even though Mother Nature saw fit to water the gardens the entire time we wandered through them, that spontaneous stop was my favorite of the trip.

Later that afternoon we took the River Walk boat tour, which Tom, Hallie, and I truly enjoyed and nearly put Will to sleep. Perhaps he'd stayed up a little too late watching The Hobbit the night before…

After a bit more shopping - we bought two Christmas presents! - we ate a delicious dinner on the covered patio of a Mexican restaurant and then finished the meal off right with Ben and Jerry's ice cream. (We went in searching for Jimmy Fallon's new flavor, The Tonight Dough, but it had unfortunately sold out earlier in the day. Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz to the rescue!)

Tom and I visited San Antonio 14 or so years ago as college students. We toured the Alamo, took the River Walk boat tour, and tried out a number of River Walk restaurants, but we spent the majority of our time at a little piano bar called Durty Nelly's. That hole in the wall - where with our best friends (including my little sister) we listened to rowdy music, drank warm beer, and filled our stomachs with a never-ending supply of peanuts - holds a special place in our hearts. We couldn't go inside Durty Nelly's on this visit (it's an 21-and-older kind of place, not to mention the fact that stepping inside could literally kill our allergic-to-peanuts kiddo), but we did pause to take pictures in front of the sign. Durty Nelly's on St. Patrick's Day…brought back (somewhat fuzzy) memories of who Tom and I were in our previous lives.

We spent Wednesday evening at the pool again, though this time the water felt like someone had filled the giant kidney bean with ice cubes. Tom and I took up residence in the hot tub and "judged" the kids' cannonballs from afar.

On Thursday morning we tried a terribly slow and less-than-tasty market for breakfast and then headed to the Alamo. As one might expect, Will and Hallie grew bored long before Tom and I did, but both kids appreciated different aspects of the experience. Will loved the weapons and the battle stories, while Hallie insisted I take a picture of her in front of every flowering tree and with every single cannon on the grounds. She also licked a well when she thought we weren't looking...

As Hallie and I strolled through the Chapel (the main building on the Alamo grounds), I explained to her in age-appropriate terms why our family had taken time to visit this historic landmark. Just as I tiptoed up to the fact that the men who fought to defend the building in which we stood had all perished, she and I came upon the plaques on which all of these men's names had been etched. In what seemed a respectful-beyond-her-years request, Hallie asked me to read aloud all of their names so she would know at least one thing about them. I cried as we walked from plaque to plaque, paying tribute to all those who lost their lives at The Battle of the Alamo. (Interestingly, at least a quarter of the men had the name "William" so Hallie could easily help me read the names…)

After the Alamo we wandered back to the hotel via the River Walk and then began the journey back to College Station. The stop at Chick-fil-a for lunch on the road home was another of the kids' favorites parts of our vacation.

We had a great trip - the perfect little break from work and school and responsibilities at home - and crossing "walk and take the boat tour on the River Walk in San Antonio", "visit the Alamo in San Antonio", and "visit a Texas Zoo" off my Bucket List felt pretty darn satisfying.

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