My visit to San Antonio has been incredibly busy, especially the last 3 days, so I haven't had much time to write. Not much worth blogging about happened in my fourth day here, though, but thankfully for those of you who complained about me being too harsh on the city, it was all quite positive.
Take That, Seattle
I've already mentioned some of the have-tos in San Antonio: you _have to_ have dinner at the Riverwalk, or just walk it; you _have to_ go to the Alamo. So here's another one - you _have to_ go up the Tower of the Americas and be humbled by how tiny everything looks. That's the way it works, and I'm not one to charge at windmills. So that morning I phoned my friend Ben, told him to meet me at the entrance of the Hemisfair Park, and since I know he's a lazy bum who would take forever to get there, I set off on a leisurely walk through the King Williams district in the general direction of the park.
The classical houses were even more impressive in the morning light that they had been that first night in town, so I took some more photos for you guys. You can actually enter some of them for a few bucks, but I didn't have the time. Maybe this weekend I will. So here's a house I loved the look of:
The San Antonians can correct me, but I believe the Hemisfair park was built when the World's Fair came to San Antonio in the 60s. Nowadays there's not much in it: there are both Mexican and Texan culture institutes, and a fairly large convention center, but most of the small buildings and houses are closed. There are many beautiful fountains and artificial waterfalls surrounding the tower, though, so walking through the park is worth your time even if you don't go up the tower.
Still, you have to. It's a freaking tower! Its entire purpose for existing is being tall and having people look stuff from the top. And there's certainly enough stuff to look at.
The entrance ticket costs 10 dollars, if my memory doesn't fail me (plus taxes - which sucks for the foreigners who didn't know every price is the USA is without taxes until they started paying and now the money is leaving their pockets at a certain percentage more quickly than they thought it would), and once you have it you can go up and down as many times as you want, from 10 AM to 10 PM. Included in the ticket is the "4D Texan Adventure" feature, which I'll mention in a few paragraphs. Once in the elevator, there are several levels you can go to: one is a bar, another is a restaurant - both were closed at the time we were there, though, so we were taken straight to the top level.
The view is simply spectacular. As you look out the plexiglas windows San Antonio spreads out in front of you as far as the eye can see, in every direction. A very useful photo with references helps you identify several landmarks and famous buildings, and when you're tired you can check the audiovisual history of Texas at your back. My favorites were the panels set around the perimeter of the tower that had old photos of San Antonio in different special ocassions: one, for instance, was Lucille Ball being shown around the city on an Army jeep, trying to boost war bond sales during World War Two; another was the oldest photo of the Alamo, a daguerreotype, taken 30 years after the battle and which I'd seen at the Alamo museum first; my favorite, though, was the one that showed these old school badasses:
Walking down the stairs you leave the closed off observatory and reach the balcony. Ben suffered from a sudden bout of vertigo, and even though I was tempted to chalk it up to his innate wussiness, we were forced to reach a compromise theory when I started feeling it too. First of all, the plastic wall is leaning forwards, which gives you the sensation of falling by itself. Secondly, as any other tall building during a windy day, the tower has a very slight swaying motion that can bother you subconsciously. And then, only the bottom of the wall is covered in plexiglas, so the wind seemed to come up from the top that day, curving on the wall behind us and pushing us forward. It wasn't bad, but it's something to keep in mind if you don't like heights.
Once we came down we decided to check out the 4D show I mentioned. While we waited for it to start, Ben and I kept theorizing about what that fourth dimension would involve. Basic Physics told me that the fourth dimension was none other than time, so in my boundless naivete I expected to see a show about San Antonio through the years - it wasn't to be. A lady walked us into an empty room with a large screen, and we were shown an introductory video explaining we were about to see Texas from the air. Fasten your seatbelts, pilots! When it finished, the lady came out again, gave us large, yellow-tinted plastic glasses, and ushered us into a small cinema. The film started, and we quickly figured out what the 4th dimension was all about: the seats started shaking slowly in time with the video, a strong fan set up above the screen and pointed straight at our faces was turned on, and when a scene of the rodeo started and the film switched to a handheld POV, a bull spit at us and we received a sudden sprinkle of water in our faces. The seat-shaking and occasional sprinkle went on for 5 more minutes, and then we were quickly led to the exit, deep into the tower's gift shop.
Personally, I think they have this virtual reality thing wrong. I don't want bulls to spit on me; I want to travel through space, perform magic and wield a badass sword. In any case, they can keep their 4D show as long as they never get rid of this little machine that we came across at the top of the tower:
Someday I'll buy one of these machines and act only on Zoltar's suggestions. I should be able to become the first astronaut ninja president of the world in no time.
I managed to resist getting rid of the paper bracelet that proved you had bought your ticket during the rest of the day, and I actually went back that night after dinner. I went up at 9:50 PM, just as it was about to close, and saw San Antonio at night, light up by a million and one lights. I wholeheartedly recommend it, even if you're a hardened San Antonian who's lived here your entire life.
I finally had the opportunity of going out with my host, Tom. I've been staying in his guest house, which is awfully nice of him, but both of our schedules were awfully packed this week and we hadn't coincided much at his home. Tom works for the Spurs, and he was fundamental in me getting access to all of the great things I will talk about in future posts. I can't say enough nice things about this guy.
He took me to a little place near his home called "La Tuna". It's what the locals call an "ice house". My best attempt to describe it would be to say it's a small, open bar, and all the tables and chairs are set in a small yard in front of it. There are no walls, no roof over your head, and a fire can be started in the middle of the tables to keep you warm. You grab a beer, you sit down, you chat with people... I'm not doing it justice, so I'll just say that I loved it. It's the closest I've felt to home since I hopped onto that plane, and I'm sure I'd be there every day if I lived in San Antonio.
We met some people, friends of Tom's, and then Tom's girlfriend Tanya joined us. In the meantime Tom kept making me taste all the local beers: there was the local beer from New Orleans, Abita, that was rather good; then I tasted the Alamo beer, a local brand, and it quickly became my favorite; finally Tom forced me to have some Lone Star beer, also a local brand, that at some point had been manufactured not two miles from La Tuna. It was crap, horrible taste-like-nothing beer, but thankfully Tom had warned me beforehand.
In case one of my fellow foreigners is wondering, Texas is called the "Lone Star" state. I've asked everyone where the name came from, but no one is sure - the best and most common answer I've received is "because the Texan flag has one star". Funnily enough, the Texan flag resembles the Cuban flag a bit, which led me to wonder where such a large Cuban community had come from when I kept seeing it everywhere. (Yes, I know, I'm an ignoramus.)
Anyway, eventually we decided we had had enough to drink, said our goodbyes, and walked towards Tanya's car. As we walked I finally looked down at the "gravel" I had been stepping on for a couple of hours: instead of the little rocks I expected to see, thousands and thousands of rusted bottle caps met my eyes. Every night they gather all the caps and throw them in their lot, I was informed. I don't know if that's sanitary, honestly, but it sure is awesome in my book.
I told Tom people kept insisting I _had to_ have the famous chicken-fried steak, a local delicacy, so he thought about it for a while and then led us to a place called Josephine St. When we arrived I noticed that Josephine St was right next to the famous Liberty Bar Lauri, Bell et al keep talking about. Unfortunately we didn't have time to enter and have a drink, but I did get my photo of the leaning building.
I really need to mention one of my favorite things of Texan eateries, cafes and bars: free refills. If you buy a drink that doesn't come in a bottle, you often tend to get free refills, as many as you want. My friend Ben explained it thus: most of the cost of a bottled drink comes from the bottle itself and the packaging; the drink, a soda for instance, is mostly water and sugar, and thus relatively cheap. It makes sense, but it's still unheard of in Argentina and other countries I've visited. So now you know.
The interior of Josephine St was simply decorated, but it had a worn, homely feel to it that I liked. The chicken -fried steak was markedly similar to a traditional Argentinian meal, our "milanesa", so it was a welcome respite from so many tacos and salsas and enchiladas. Near us, in the middle of the restaurant, there was a big tree that seemed to go through the ceiling - I asked the waitress, and she told me it used to be a very tall tree that was hit by lightning many years ago. It's dead now, but the owner didn't see a reason to remove it completely. Cool, eh?