Low Budget Review Guy hit the road again, this time, not to eat Texas BBQ, but to experience one of Texas’ crown jewel cities for travel: San Antonio. But while most go for the River Walk, LBR set out to do some different things a bit off the beaten path. An interesting read indeed. Afterall, it cannot always be about the riverwalk.
Recently we took off down the road to San Antonio, a town much visited in the past. This trip was a little different than most—we were not headed to the famous River Walk and Margaritas. This is quite unusual for us, as we have often been there to enjoy the Old World-style ambiance of the river. This trip was focused on visiting the San Antonio Zoo.
We traveled down late on an afternoon and found a hotel just outside the 410 Loop. This was also unusual for us as over the years we had stopped staying overnight in San Antonio, making day trips instead. Hotels costs in The Alamo City are high, unjustifiably so, even outside of the city core. Plus San Antonio hits visitors with a hotel tax of approximately 18%. Outrageous. I guess they figure to stick-it to all the tourists to help fund city coffers, but what it has done, at least to us, is to cause us to drive down and back the same day—thus the city loses hotel, restaurant, and gasoline purchases at least from us.
After relaxing in the hotel for a while, I started reading the tourist brochures that I always pick up when I hit a new town. We were not going to the zoo until the next day, so we had some options for the evening. Instead of the usual River Walk or even El Mercado (great restaurants and shopping), we found a brochure for “Ghost Hunters” in the downtown area. Having watched the various “Ghost Hunting” TV shows we thought it would be something different and kinda cool. We had been on one years ago in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and had really enjoyed it. No ghosts, but great history stories. So we figured, why not? San Antonio is over 3 hundred years old—gotta have a few ghosts….So reluctantly skipping the siren call from the Bingo Parlor next door to the hotel, we drove downtown San Antonio to meet our Ghost Guides. Parking was easy, at $10 –not cheap, but easy. We had a few minutes before meeting the rest of the group, so we stopped at The Menger Hotel for a drink at the Bar. For you history buffs, the Menger was where Teddy Roosevelt hung out, while recruiting the hard, tough Texans who would go on to fame as The Rough Riders. Small, dark, comfy, and with some Teddy memorabilia inside, the Menger Bar is very cool. Outside of one rowdy Texan at the bar (and how appropriate is that) the crowd at the bar was quiet and relaxed. A few minutes later, we were out the side door, and down the street, literally along the outside wall of the crumbling Mission De Valero—The Alamo. Going around the corner into Alamo Plaza, the lighting striking the façade of one of the world’s most recognized buildings was spectacular. I had seldom seen it at night, and it always takes my breath away.
Meeting our guides and the rest of our ghost hunting team, we were issued EVP’s, little electronic devices about the size of a garage remote control. If the magnetic field nearby changed (supposedly an indicator of ghostly phenomena) it would register. We were also given infra-red guns, about the size of a large squirt gun, that could measure the temperature of various surfaces. “Cold Spots” are another phenomena. Off we went to 13 sites, walking a little over an hour in the downtown area. The Guide was informative, knowledgeable, and had many great grisly stories of the various locations we visited. It was thoroughly enjoyable. Did we see any ghosts? No, but I did find one “Cold Spot” that registered about 8-9 degrees lower than the surrounding area. It was in a “hanging tree” –one of several used in Old San Antonio during its wilder days. I did have a freaky experience with a “Dowsing Rod” –more on that another day.
The next day was overcast and cool, good weather for the zoo. We have visited almost all the zoo’s in Texas, and found that over the years, the San Antonio Zoo was our favorite. Built into the side of an abandoned rock quarry, the limestone walls served as a natural setting for many of the zoo’s beautiful creatures. We had not visited the zoo in a number of years, we visited often when our child was young and we were looking forward to see what changes, if any, had occurred. One thing had not changed, the lack of sign directions on the roads. If you go, get a map, as the signs, if posted at all, are small and hard to spot. Located in Brackenridge Park, the zoo’s parking lot abuts the miniature train-ride and tracks that many visitors, especially the young ones, enjoy. We had gone online and printed a two-for-one coupon, so entrance fee was a bargain. We got our map with the layout when we entered the zoo, and off we went. Very little has changed over the years, but it was still quite enjoyable. My favorites are the cats. The lions were already crashed and oblivious to the touristas, but the Siberian Tiger came over to chat. The cheetah was dozing, with one-eye open then shut, but following our movement with his ears. I always talk to the cats. Sometimes they talk back. The other highlights were the marmosets (like little monkeys), the Rhinos, and the bears. The zebras were behind an enclosure and could barely be seen. There were no signs of any giraffes, although they used to have some.
After a little over 2 hours, we were done and off to a new experience—the area around the old Pearl Brewery. They are in the process of turning the area into a really interesting place. With shops, restaurants, loft apartments, a Cooking School, all in the Brewery area. It is on the San Antonio River, and they have expanded the River Walk down to that area. It is almost 2 miles to the main part of the River Walk—that journey will have to wait another day. We ate lunch at La Gloria, a cool little place with seating overlooking the river. The menu was mostly interior-Mexico dishes. Delicious and good value for the price. I recommend it. After a short walk after lunch down the River Walk towards downtown, we reluctantly headed back to the car and our trip home. A different kinda San Antonio trip, but a fun, fascinating time, in a place that Mark Twain called, “One of America’s four unique cities”.
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