Part Two: ROMANTIC SAN ANTONIO
San Antonio is located about 80 miles southwest of Austin, but it is well worth the effort to make a little detour on the way and visit the historic community of New Braunfels. Founded by German settlers it is located in the heart of the Texas Hill country. The little town has interesting hotels, restaurants and plenty for visitors to do. We felt that we had to make a stop at New Braunfels’ Naegelin’s Bakery, because it is 139 years old and the oldest bakery in Texas. Try their sausage or fruit Kolaches as well as their famous strudels. A cup of coffee and a treat from Naegelin’s will be just about right to help you finish the journey to San Antonio.
The Alamo City is one of the great tourist destinations in America. Downtown San Antonio profited greatly from the improvements left from their World’s Fair held in 1968; most notably, the charming Paseo del Rio or Riverwalk. Although the Riverwalk was designed in 1929 it was the renovation for the Fair that made it the magnate for visitors that it is today. The length of the Riverwalk is crowded with a warren of eateries and watering holes. One can hear a wide range of live music ranging from Mariachi bands to excellent jazz. Hotels and beautiful Cypress trees line the banks; one ancient titian is reported to be three hundred years old. One of the most pleasant ways to see the sights is by taking Rio San Antonio Cruise. The cruise lasts for about 40 minutes and includes a really informative narrative while you float along 2 ½ miles of the river.
We did make a food stop at the Casa Rio Restaurant, were we once again were tempted by the chili, which we found excellent. Do stick with a cold cerveza and skip the sangria. Schilo’s Delicatessen is not strictly speaking on the Riverwalk, although it is right around the corner on East Commerce. Established in 1917, it is a San Antonio institution serving German Deli food and pitchers of their glorious homemade root beer.
Mi Tierra Café y Panderia (Bakery) should be at the top of anyone’s restaurant list while visiting San Antonio. This San Antonio landmark has been serving Mexican food since 1941. The restaurant is located within the old Mercado and shopping can still include clothing, leather goods, paper mache’ art, blankets, and pottery. Mi Tierra is open 24/7 and is often the last place to visit after a night of revelry in the city.
We began with a Margarita and their Botanas platter of assorted appetizers. We especially enjoyed their assorted nachos and the refried beans. I was determined to sample the Enchiladas de Polla en Mole. Chicken Enchiladas in Mole Sauce which is a rich dark brown sauce that contains some dark chocolate. It doesn’t much taste like chocolate but it does taste wonderful. My wife opted for the Menudo, a beef tripe stew that is famous in the Southwest, among other things for being something of a hangover cure. Does it work? We didn’t have the necessary buzz going to be able to test it, but the locals swear by it. More because it was there than because we were still hungry, we did order the Vanilla Flan and Dulce de Leche Cheesecake. There also literally dozens of Mexican pastries and candies that you may order from their Panderia (bakery). In my many years of visiting San Antonio I do not believe that I’ve ever missed the occasion to dine at Mi Tierra.
Millions of tourists visit and most make a stop at the Alamo- its real name being the Mission San Antonio de Valero. It is one of five historic Spanish missions laid out over about an eight mile stretch of the San Antonio river. These Franciscan missions were not in the strictest sense just churches, they were walled communities. They became small Indian towns, complete with bastions of fortified towers. The missions in some cases had small living quarters built in the walls themselves. There were churches within the complexes of course. Today those historic sites are still active Roman Catholic Parish churches, as may be noted by service schedules and worshipers quietly praying even in the midst of visiting tour groups. I love visiting these old missions, there is always something soothing and serene about them. I have thought many times about how far away from their home these Franciscans were and the challenges they must have faced bringing their religion and culture (for better or worse) to the new world. It was the missions in the southwest that first introduced viticulture to America because of their need for wine for Mass.