Riverwalk

San Antonio Art & Water

The captivating riverwalk, while touristy, just is so cool that the crowds don’t matter. All the remember the Alamo jokes (still managed to forget it), coupled with giddy people taking selfies out front of it, are just too damn funny to get mad over. Emphasis on art, emphasis on places and spaces to stroll along appreciating the surroundings endeared me to San Antonio over 2 days in January of 2018.

 

It was an uneventful, gray hour on I-35 from San Marcos into San Antonio:

Greyhound bliss

It felt good and classy to be dropped right in the middle of downtown San Antonio. Texas consistently places Greyhound bus stations centrally, unlike the Midwest (think more out the side of a gas station, by the highway, approx 2-10 miles from anywhere you’d want to be):

Downtown San Antonio

Got a really nice lunch nearby. Again what a difference it makes for the bus station to not be out in the middle of nowhere. Back out on the streets, on came the parade of amazing historical buildings along the Main Plaza. First up, one of the oldest cathedrals in the US. Behold Catedral de San Fernando, circa 1738:

San Fernando Cathedral

Next a graceful statue explaining the proclamation of “San Antonio” by Spanish Catholic missionaries in 1691; stemming from their arrival on the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua (patron saint of all lost things):

The ashes of heroes of The Alamo are housed in a marble coffin in the foyer of the cathedral:

Remembering The Alamo

The red sandstone Bexar County Courthouse built in 1896:

Bexar County Courthouse

The Lady Justice sculpture out front of the courthouse had recently been painstakingly restored for San Antonio’s upcoming Tricentennial celebration:

Lady Justice

An innovative pedestrian scramble crossing where I could satisfy my constant urge to travel on the diagonal:

Finally I saw the famous river that snakes its way thru downtown:

San Antonio River

San Antonio River

I have a vivid memory of a river scene along here from one of my favorite 70’s films, The Getaway, starring Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw. McQueen gets the lowdown on a bank robbery while cruising along in a boat amidst flocks of carefree tourists.

After the 1970’s of course came the 80’s….which is probably when this sign was made:

More historical architecture around the corner. The limestone Old San Antonio National Bank Building:

Touristy warts abound among the scattered historic structures:

It was raining, I was tired and I never get into as many museums as I dream of doing on my trips. The sculpture outside the Briscoe Western Art Museum caught my eye. I decided to head in:

Some really beautiful paintings, sculptures and exhibits:

With daylight fading, it was time to find my sleeping spot. An old friend from my time in Maine lived in an apartment no more than a mile from the center of downtown. If I wasn’t so fortunate to have such a close aquaintance in town, I’d spend more time in a place like the Central Library:

San Antonio Central Library

Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

I had made it to my friend’s place. A former Cadillac dealership building converted to apartments with a swanky pool:

Time to cross boundaries on day 2. The plan as I headed out in a morning mist was to head north into residential areas beyond the highways ringing downtown. Getting to a class at a yoga studio was the stereotypical motivating factor here.

I thought I’d get a jump start on my exploration by taking the bus for a few miles. Didn’t work out. I waited 20 lonely minutes here:

Sad bus stop

Couldn’t stand the waiting any longer, so I walked on. Here we go over top of the interstate:

Pretty…

The highway’s effect on the blocks immediately beyond it was dramatic:

Highway killed the neighborhood

Destitute motel turned into apartments:

Streets started to perk up a bit:

Cool sign

Real head-scratcher as to why Google maps proposed a random jog to my route, but seeing as how dismal the scenery had been so far I just went with it:

Huh?

Ahhhh here we go lots of large historic homes. Old Money area of town I guess:

Things got so fancy so fast. I guess this is a sidewalk roundabout?!

Sweetness

Coming across a map of the city bus system explained a lot about why I struck out catching one earlier:

What is that?

Getting super close to the yoga studio. It was somewhere in amongst train cars repurposed as businesses:

Found it:

Unfortunately, the yoga disciples here were a little intense. Someone was in my face the moment I set foot inside. The people were helpful as to how to pay, explained I was welcome to join the kirtan going on upstairs, but they all stared so so hard. I gently plodded up a staircase, anxious to see the group of chanting yogis in action. Couldn’t be any worse than the downstairs squad…

Things got crowded in the loft studio space as class was set to begin. There were several newbies in the room it turned out. After a long reading by the instructor, class kicked in with standard vinyasa yoga moves. Nothing surprising for me, but the predictable sequencing brought some reassurance that perhaps the weirdness had peaked.

To my dismay, it became apparent the woman next to me was a very devout follower and had her eyes on me the entire time. A few times she offered unsolicited feedback, tips on hand or foot placement. I don’t think she was even an instructor and I never got her name. The style of yoga was Ashaya which puts an emphasis on earnest, heartfelt language from the instructor. The regulars, like my dutiful pal Gale or whatever she called herself, seemed to be hanging on every word.

I wish I had picked a more relaxed studio for a class, but hey what can ya do. The instructor made the rounds after class as everyone was putting on their shoes to leave. She was quick to mention classes that might be good to other fellow newcomers. When she came to me and I made it clear that I was just passing thru, she quickly moved on to someone else.

Following intense yoga was intense suburbia. Behold the suburban neighborhood that declared itself a city, Olmos Park:

If only I wasn’t on foot; pretty sweet looking yard sale:

Traffic noise started to pick up. The City of Olmos Park is completely encircled by San Antonio. I came off the last gently arcing residential street onto busy East Hildebrand Avenue. Soon the road crossed over Highway 281. To my horror, I noticed you have to walk over the highway to get from Incarnate Word High School over to Incarnate Word University. Not the most wholesome or healthy setup; being close to a highway has many negative health impacts. How safe does it feel to walk across that span at night? Whose bright idea was it to put the highway here?

IMG_4271.jpg

That pedestrian overpass gave me false hope that the city of San Antonio was looking out for walkers. But to my surprise the sidewalk disappeared. At first no problem with a lawn to walk on, but as I came around a corner I got trapped:

Still safe

What happened?!

The main entrance to the San Antonio Zoo was less than a block away, but I guess you’re only truly welcome if you come by car. I ran across the street when there was a break in traffic.

Finally safely at the zoo entrance:

Donkey Barn building

The zoo lies inside sprawling, stately Brackenridge Park. So many different aspects to appreciate. One of the coolest city parks I’ve seen:

So many chidren’s birthday parties setting up on a Saturday afternoon:

This elegant watercourse is the San Antonio River. The placid, controlled state of the river is due to Olmos Dam just a few miles upstream. With the vastly diminished threat of flooding, landscaping and other artful touches can exist immediately beside the water:

Thanks for donating so much land man:

Out of the park onto busy Broadway Street. Some classic 1960’s era motels followed by a large play park for kids:

I was walking south back towards downtown. Faced with a massive highway interchange up ahead, I decided to veer west under highway 281 and come into the revitalized Pearl Brewery district:

Lots of people, lots of places to eat and shop. I was just lookin’ to walk and take photos so I proceeded onward to find the river. Cool signpost alerted me that I had found my scene:

It was love at first sight. So refreshing to be away from cars. So much more peaceful to be nestled right along water. Slightly unnerving at times with no railing along the water when large groups and/or bicycles came along, but I’ll take it. Managed to not fall in just fine.

A few miles strolling alongside the river had elevated my mood to such a level that I didn’t get annoyed coming into the tourist clogged areas of The Riverwalk. No thank you to being on a barge packed shoulder to shoulder like cattle though:

I scampered back up to street level and was back at my point of arrival to town:

I walked a few different streets than I had previously and was rewarded with several large street paintings. Not far away was Artpace San Antonio, a gallery and work space for artist both local and international. I was fortunate to cross paths with an artist-in-residence there, John Medina, who had a beautiful exhibition going.

Even the plasma center building had unique character:

I quickly realized that I needed to make a beeline for The Alamo….I hadn’t properly remembered its hours! I hustled that direction. Too many unique street scenes along the way to not stop and take pictures though:

The Alamo! Unfortunately closed for the day, but still plenty of visitors around:

Festive Alamo atmosphere

Horse drawn carriages all over the area:

Around the corner from Alamo

The Alamo is situated along a broad plaza with lots of stone paving. Very lovely views of the surrounding city. The setting also triggered another classic San Antonio film memory. This time of 80’s vintage: Cloak & Dagger circa 1984. It featured evil adults led by Dabney Coleman (think 9 to 5) chasing the young Henry Thomas (ET star) all around San Antonio and especially this specific spot. Here’s a great then and now video showing film scenes side by side with present day footage.

I sadly needed to rest and charge my phone. As any logical tourist would do, I scanned the now hyper-touristy area for a Starbucks. I found one in a matter of just a few blocks, but it was crazy packed. This was a Saturday evening so not a surprise.

I calmly proceeded thru the adjoining shopping mall, down each corridor, eyes fixed and scanning at the point where the floor and the walls come together for outlets. I probably put in 1/2 a mile of indoor walking before finding the perfect dead-end, low traffic spot that just happened to have an outlet in the corner.

A bench would have been much more comfortable, but my seat on the hard floor was bearable for 20 minutes:

View from charging spot

Phone charged and ready to go back out on the streets. Dinner time was at hand, but I wanted to explore my options before settling on somewhere.

Found the river by night. Sweet lights on the boats!

And then found the bus station by night too:

Sweet lights on the hotels:

And sweet lighting under things:

And on things:

Bexar County Gingerbread House

The artist John Medina had listed off several unique local sights for me to hit on my day of walking. He included Mi Tierra Cafe for at minimum a peak inside at its amazing decor. Totally did not disappoint:

Mi Tierra Cafe

Mi Tierra was packed, so I headed back towards the river to select one of many, many local restaurants. Then a quiet walk back to Cadillac Lofts to rest up after 15 miles of walking and sightseeing.

No need to sweat a confusing bus service when you’ve got a riverwalk to follow. All the lighting after dark, all the art and the ample stock of well preserved historic buildings kept me captivated in San Antonio. Seeing the settings for two of my favorite films was great too. Plenty more sites that could keep me busy if I had another day. Alas it was time to hop on an early morning bus to El Paso to continue on my circuit around Texas.