San Antonio, Texas, the land of ma’am, terrific tacos, Chicana literature, and Nora Jones.
I’m here for a writing conference, which ended yesterday.
The place where I’m staying called me back to the neighborhood of my childhood.
Wood houses with peeling paint, chain link fences, front yards of abundant flowers, blossoming succulents. Stucco homes of bright green, azure, yellow and old white guarded by courageous dogs, barking their heads off, but tails wagging. The sleeping cat lifted her head when the man selling paletas jingled by.
After a few days of workshops, I needed alone time, so I spent the morning walking the San Antonio River (the non-restaurant row part). There are 15 miles of RiverWalk, from downtown through Hemisphere Park, and through several neighborhoods, should you care to take on the whole adventure.
Gentrification is around the block, across the train tracks, where the ten-story apartment buildings begin and Airstream trailers sell bar-b-que, tacos, and cold beer under a rainbow of stringed light bulbs. Breweries take up full blocks buffered by outdoor cafes.
The walking path along the San Antonio River is rimmed with Cypress trees, duck marshes, leased dogs, stately homes, and from time to time, the sight of an older man fishing off the ledge.
“There’s still catfish, bass, and gizzard shad,” the man tells me when I stop to see where his fishing line landed. I nod, wish him good luck, and good eating.
Cool wind pushes along marshmallow clouds, giving a respite from a warming sun. A passel of joggers run by me. “Run the Alamo Marathon” began twenty-three miles back.
Two men, one in front of the other, sing out a call and response in cadence, encouraging one another for the last mile. Two women in their fifties, who look like sisters, hold hands, one slightly in front of the other who is flushed red, but wears a face of granite determination and trust. They jog almost shoulder to shoulder. Their whispered cadence call is for them alone.
A “Do not feed the ducks” sign is posted by a toddler throwing bits of saltines in the water. Soon there is a duck fight among the reeds, where the mallards flap, circle, and honk until one dives underwater and upends his opponent.
Sugar aromas of Belgian waffles drift by. A large Art Nouveau house, turned restaurant, looms into view. The library now houses a museum of Dresden china, gas-lit chandeliers, and original 1920’s memorabilia.
Hunger won out after mile three. I bypassed the colossal restaurant and explored a much smaller venue where I had more coffee, veggie scramble, homemade bread, and jam.
Music from nearby DJ’s played, the sun broke through the clouds again, and I rested.
The quotes on this page sum up a great deal of why I travel. Some years I go overseas, other years I’m exploring a new U.S. state.
I’m a planner. I’ll search for the best flight, best hotel deal, research the sights, read the reviews of tours, and generally go on a quest of the intended travel site at least four months in advance of the trip.
Detailing an itinerary is not on the menu. Instead of “we need to see this in this day,” I list top sights to see on the trip. We usually get to most of the sights and find new ones when we get lost. And we always get lost, not scary lost, just wrong turn lost.
“When overseas you learn more about your own country than you do the place you’re visiting.” – Clint Borgen
The Churchill Arms pub is full of atmosphere inside and out, but I’d stick to having a beer or beverage and skip the food, which isn’t pub food but Thai (mediocre).
I overheard a seventyish English gentleman having a conversation with an American couple, in their forties with Southern accents, about President Trump. They were Trump supporters. The Englishman said, “He’s a stupid arse,” to which the conversation ceased and the couple left the pub.
Several times we were approached and asked if we were Americans; a couple of times we were invited to drinks. I wasn’t viewed as an ethnic minority from the USA, I was identified as an American. This made me think about how we are seen by the citizens of another country. Refreshing change. There was an interest in what we thought about issues but a strange fascination with Southern California.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch
Although I’ve been to London twice before, I’d not seen several areas beyond the city. Planning this was a little trickier since I needed train reservations from London to Manchester, Manchester to Bath, and Bath to Heathrow.
I used National Rail to find routes and fares. Buy your tickets at least two weeks in advance; a month is better. Buy the day before or day of almost doubles the price. I had no problem using the self-service machines to collect my pre-paid tickets and the staff at the machines was always helpful. Take a train and explore the region.
“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” – Seneca
Every day we made our ‘activity’ goal, you know the one on the iPhone app that tracks your steps. Each day we walked more than five miles, once it was twelve miles. Those Tube and train stairs made me so glad we only brought one piece of carry-on luggage each.
We had friends in Manchester, an industrial city, where we visited the Rylands Library, a library to rival libraries. It’s a late Victorian, Neo-Gothic building, with a tremendous amount of books and archives, including medieval illuminated manuscripts and a Gutenberg Bible. Interestingly, this was built as a memorial to John Rylands by his wife, Enriqueta, his Cuban born widow.
“Take only memories, leave only footprints.” – Chief Seattle
Bath was a hub for us. You can walk or take a bus or a river barge and see the sites in one twenty-four hour period or a leisurely two days. Walking is better.
The city was in a Jane Austen Festival frenzy with the 200th anniversary of Jane’s death. Several women dressed in Jane Austen attire strolled the streets or ducked into a pub for a Jane Austen Earl Gray Red Ale, a beer brewed special for this occasion. The main garden area had this lovely floral structure, an ode to Jane, although my photo doesn’t do it justice. They’re taking volunteers for the 2018 festival next September.
The highlight of our trip was the mini-van tour, Mad Max Tours, from Bath to Stonehenge, the Avebury Stone Circles, Cherhill White Horse (the Uffington White Horse is 3,000 yrs. old), and two Cotswold villages. Gorgeous scenery and such interesting commentary. We went early before the crowds and had a chance to take photos without too many people swarming Stonehenge.
Enroute to our destination we stopped to view the Avery and Cherhill White Horses on the hillsides. These are from 1750 and 1805 and part of seven white horses etched into the hills. They signified protection in ancient times.
Lalock and Castle Comb villages were a step into another time. Castle Comb is the quintessential English village. Both places are home to several movie scenes from Dr. Doolittle, Pride and Prejudice, Harry Potter, Downton Abbey, and we just missed Johnny Depp at the pub by two days, when filming for Fantastic Beast 2 wrapped up.
This 1361 pub in Lalock used to roast meat on a spit turned by specially bred dogs called Turnspits (of course) which was a long-bodied, short-legged dog, now extinct.
Part of our memories in our travels was the food. My favorites: Steak pies, chicken and mushroom pies, Cornish pastries (pas-tays), fish and chips, elderflower beverages, the beer, minted peas, mushy peas, and Sunday roast. I need a meat pie and minted peas recipe and find Elderflower beverages.
There was a diversity of dishes, from Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Turkish you name it, they had it, even Mexican burritos (which we didn’t have because, well, we’re from California).
I could go on and on about the wonderful sites, the food, the people, but I have included some photos on my Instagram (newly opened) page. I’m at m. alvaradofrazier in case, you’d like to view my other photos.
Next year I may go back and see the more of the Cotswolds and travel to the rest of the UK. I’m thinking I can fly solo, something I’ve never done before, but why not.