This is a continuation of my travel journal from Austin and San Antonio, TX (See Day 1 and Day 2). I’m going to catch you up on how I recently spent 4 days in Austin, TX (okay, 3 days + 1 in San Antonio, and actually… the total trip was really only 72 hours due to flight schedules, so this theoretically could all be done in one very busy 3-day weekend):
Day 3 – Monday – San Antonio, TX
Today I try a new food at breakfast – Vegemite! I eat breakfast with a group of Aussie travelers visiting the US on their Australia Day holiday. They show me the “correct way” to eat Vegemite (with butter on toast), and wait with great anticipation for my decision about whether I like it (I don’t, and they all say, “What?!” and look really disappointed). There’s nothing to compare it to because the flavor is unique, but I can say that it’s a combination of salty and savory (pungent) tastes. It’s not so offensive that I wouldn’t be able to eat it if it was served to me, or if I decided that I wanted to learn to like it (definitely seems like an acquired taste). I decide it’s an “everyday adventure” and put it on the retrospective bucket list.
After breakfast, B. and I begin the 2 hour drive to San Antonio. On the way, we listen to the audio book of Frank Delaney’s Ireland: A Novel (I get commissions for purchases made through that link*), which is fun to hear read aloud, since it’s about an oral storyteller and the tone of the book is perfect for listening to.
The driving time passes really quickly, and before I know it, we’re stopping at a gift shop for my first taste of San Antonio. We wander through the town, looking at historical buildings (almost every building has a historical landmark sign) and stepping inside several to learn more.
San Fernando Cathedral is the oldest Catholic church in Texas, the oldest continuously functioning religious community in Texas, and one of oldest cathedrals in the entire nation. The building is gorgeous, inside and out. It is also the site where Santa Ana raised the flag of “no quarter” during the battle for the Alamo, and some of the defenders of the Alamo are buried at the church (I notice that people buried at a church doesn’t seem weird to me, but I don’t understand the desire to display pieces of saint’s bones or clothing as they do in the cathedral, which seems a little creepy – it’s definitely a cross-cultural experience).
We also visit St Mary’s Catholic Church, the second oldest Catholic church in San Antonio (after San Fernando). The exterior doesn’t stand out (walking along the street it just looks like another old brick building), but the interior of this building is super beautifully decorated (probably even prettier than San Fernando). However, the truly eye-catching thing for me is the statue outside titled “Homeless Jesus,” with the quote, “In Truth I tell you in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (from Matthew 25:40). I find this convicting and inspiring, especially coming from Seattle, which has a large population of people experiencing homelessness, and visiting San Antonio, which seems to have the same.
Of course we go to see the Alamo (which was the place I was most excited to see), but it ends up being kind of a disappointing experience. It sits in the middle of the city, and most of it is gone, but you can see where the walls used to be and go inside the remaining buildings. I like watching the video and looking through the museum, and I get my National Parks Passport book stamped, even though they aren’t a National Park (they’re managed by the Daughters of the Republic of the Alamo under the Texas General Land Office).
Part of my disappointment is also that I don’t connect to the site emotionally like I thought I would. Intellectually, this is so sad (it’s always sad when people die), but I just don’t have the heart connection to the events at the Alamo. I expected the same level of sadness I felt when we went to Little Big Horn (site of Custer’s last stand) or the personal connection and interest I felt at the Aztec National Monument. I feel weird because when I read the names of the people who died at the Alamo, I feel like I should be sad because so many people died here. But I don’t, and although I try to make myself sad about it, I can’t. Have you experienced this? Are there sites you emotionally connect with more than others?
**By the way: If you’re planning a visit, you might want to know that the Alamo is considered a sacred site, so inside the Alamo church building there are rules meant to show respect. Men are required to remove hats, everyone is asked to talk quietly, and no photographs are allowed inside.**
After the Alamo, we wander along the River Walk. It’s beautiful (although very touristy), and the weather’s perfect for it – not too hot or cold. When we get hungry, we decide to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe. I know, we’re on the River Walk, with so many unique restaurants, and we choose the lamest one out of convenience/fueled by hunger. I have a big choice in this decision, and I kind of regret the choice. But, while we eat, we sit outside on the river and watch the water taxis, tours, and the birds, which is all very pleasant. And near the end of our meal, across the river, we see a restaurant with a bunch of people with bags on their heads. We look it up and find out… it’s an insult restaurant! (Would you want to go to this?)
The Alamo isn’t the only historical mission in the area. After lunch, we decide to visit Mission San José and the Visitor Center museum, both of which are way more interesting than the Alamo, and closer to what I expected from the sites.
We can see the rooms where people lived in the wall, which is intact, and look at the different rooms and buildings of the mission compound. One building has a small collection of signs to teach visitors about the space and history of the site. Outside the walls of the mission, there’s lots of park-like space, similar to other national park sites. I get my National Parks Passport stamped again, this time with the stamps from all the missions (even the others that we won’t see today) – the ranger at the desk assures me this isn’t “cheating.” 🙂
**Good to Know: The church at Mission San José is an active site of worship (as are churches at the other nearby missions), so visitors are asked to be considerate of any services and people attending.**
On the way back to Austin, we make our last major stop at Buc-ee’s (pronounced Bucky’s) for souvenirs, and to see what my friend calls “a Texas-sized gas station.” Inside, the convenience store is the size of a large grocery store (but with fewer fresh foods, mainly processed and a few fruits and vegetables). It also has a full-sized gift shop. More impressive is the outside – they have 60 gas pumps! This means 120 cars could fill up with gas at the same time (there are two covered sections with two rows of 15 pumps each, and each pump serves two cars). Want to see for yourself? Check out the street view on Google Maps). It’s impressive, but really, why do they need this many!?!
The hostel is noisy when I return, because it’s Australia Day and there’s a non-stop party going on downstairs, but my dorm room is quiet, because all my roommates went home or to the next stop in their travels. It’s nice because I have the room to myself to pack up and get good sleep to be ready for tomorrow. I’ll need to be rested, because it will be my last day in Texas and I plan to make it count!
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