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North America

Rose of San Antone

Jonathan van Bilsen



June 4, 2017

Rose of San Antone

There are hundreds of wonderful places to visit and explore on this planet, but the question is always, which ones to choose to avoid disappointment? One such place, I recently had the pleasure of visiting was the South Texas town of San Antonio. I had heard several positive comments about the city of 2 million, and was pleasantly surprised upon my arrival.

Air Canada will take you from Toronto to Houston in 3 hours. From there a quick, thirty minute hop will get you to San Antonio. If you stay near the River Walk district you can see all the sights in 3 or 4 days and best of all you can walk most everywhere. I stayed at the historic Menger Hotel, built in the 1850s with rooms that whisk you back in time. The best feature of the hotel is its location, next door to the Alamo and within walking distance of everything you need to see. (When booking, be sure to ask for a room in the original part of the hotel).

The San Antonio River runs through the town, but in the 1930s the mayor took on a project to redirect part of the river's course and build walkways along a twenty km stretch. This started a massive build of hotels, restaurants and bars along the downtown section. The River Walk, as it is known, weaves through buildings, along waterfalls, past foliage and around restaurants, all with outdoor patios for you to enjoy the scenery. Food choices are endless including, of course, a large selection of Texas style steaks and beef. 

Depending on your likes and interests, I would suggest a five day trip, where days 1 and 5 are reserved for travelling, leaving you three full days to explore. After a refreshing sleep the first morning put on your walking shoes and head up river to the Guenther House (about a forty-five minute walk). On the property is one of America's largest flour mills, but also a restaurant, which is the talk of the town. It is only open from 8 until 3 and specializes in breakfast food, but until you have had their pancakes with berries or a waffle topped with strawberries and whipped cream you have not experienced food. You can of course, drive to the restaurant but the calories you burn by walking will equal those you consume. 

After a stroll through the gift shop, pick up a free brochure on King Williams's Historic District and begin your trek along King William Street. The wide boulevard is lined with historic homes, dating back to the eighteen hundreds and the brochure explains the history of each one. The entire walk back, including the stroll along King William takes a good half hour.

For the afternoon I would highly recommend a visit to two of Texas' oldest missions: San José and Concepción. They are too far to walk and taxis would be expensive, but there is a great two day ‘Hop On, Hop Off' trolley system, which makes the adventure very affordable. It starts at the Alamo (beside the Menger Hotel) and I would suggest you stay on until you get to San José Mission. It will pick you up an hour later, which just happens to be the duration of the free tour. There is no admission and the history dates back 250 years. Your next stop is Concepción Mission, where a visit will give you a well rounding of history of the early Texan people.

You end up downtown late afternoon. Hop off at Market Square (El Mercado), a maze of shops and kiosks, operated mostly by Mexicans, selling Mexican souvenirs and artifacts. A wonderful Mexican restaurant and bakery, Mi Tierra, is in the centre and has delicious food in case you cannot wait to get back to the River Walk. From the Market you can easily walk back downtown in 15 or 20 minutes.

Friday and Saturday nights the Menger Hotel offers dinner and a ghost walk, organized by the Sisters Grimm. After a tasty meal you are escorted through the hotel, which is North America's most haunted hotel, with 32 resident ghosts (although I did not see any). The tour and dinner takes about three hours and visits several buildings in the downtown core. 

The next day, walk the ten minutes or so to HemisFair park, the site of the 1968 World's Fair. The main feature of the park is the Tower of the Americas, which is the second highest in the US (next to Las Vegas' Stratosphere). The trip to the top is included in your trolley price and the view is spectacular. If you choose to dine up top you will need to make a reservation.

Located next to the tower is the Texas Museum of Culture. Here you will find a history of Texas, most of which surprised me. I did not know Slavic people settled the land, nor did I realize German is the third language of Texas. On your walk back, stop at La Villita, an artist colony, where you can visit numerous shops and studios, meet the artisans and check out their work. Stroll back to the River Walk where restaurants are plentiful and you will not go hungry. Margaritas and Alamo Ale flows everywhere, and the atmosphere is conducive to tourists who want to have fun.

The morning of the third day should start with a tour of the Alamo. This mission, built in the seventeen hundreds, is of course best known for the big battle against the Mexican Dictator, Santa Anna and is the place where Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, along with 180 volunteers lost their lives. You will be caught up in the history of the place and an audio guide will take you through it in chronological order.

After lunch visit the IMAX theatre in the River Walk Shopping Centre and catch the hour-long film depicting the historical battle. After the film you may want to consider a river tour on one of the barges (also included in your trolley tour price, which, by the way, is only $35 per person for two days). After the boat ride spend an hour or so shopping in the River Walk Centre, which has no shortage of shops and boutiques.

The temperatures in South Texas tend to be in the low twenties in the spring and fall and mid-thirties in summer. Most of the hotels have pools and outdoor cafes are everywhere. If you have a few days and want to go somewhere safe, affordable, warm and fun, think of San Antonio as a destination. I’m sure y'all will enjoy it a great deal.

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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