I guess it was those repeated boxing -day viewings of John Wayne’s “The Alamo” throughout my early childhood, which formed my earliest imaginings of San Antonio. So much so, that all the travel books and all the Googling and all the acquired knowledge from numerous TV documentaries about the great modern-day city it has subsequently become could not erase those preconceptions. As ever, it was only by actually visiting the place that reality could finally trump the Hollywood representation in my mind’s eye.
Unlike most of its “fellow” mission station at Rorke’s Drift – the scene of an equally heroic-if-more-successful stand against vastly superior numbers – the original Alamo mission building is still standing, and remains the city’s main tourist attraction. But equally, in stark contrast to its South African equivalent where the scene of the battle has barely changed since 1879, the Alamo building, now stranded in the middle of a thriving, colourful modern city – rather like an old man at a rave – evokes little of its historical connection to the conflict of 1836.
For me at least, this did not prove a disappointment, as the city itself has so much more to offer the contemporary traveller than the murky history of Davy Crockett’s doomed and vainglorious encounter with Santa Anna.
Apart from all the culture – of which there is plenty, like most American cities – and the delicious Texan, Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine on offer, there is the beautiful “river walk”.
The river walk is an elaborately engineered system of canals and waterways by which the once lethal San Antonio River now flows harmlessly and elegantly beneath the downtown area of the city. Like a kind of sub-tropical Amsterdam-cum-London’s Regent’s Canal, the river walk by day offers a cooling and serene contrast to the stifling bustle of the commercial streets above, and at night transforms into one great waterside party. Long sections of the water walk are lined with countless numbers and endless varieties of eateries and bars, with plenty on offer for those not satisfied with merely tacos and beefsteak, from British style gastro-pubs and high-end French and Italian bistros and trattorias , to every type of Asian cafe and restaurant. It’s a simply wonderful place to while away an evening or several!
The images presented below barely do San Antonio – and in particular the water walk – justice, but they do begin to give the feel of the place.