Wonderful San Antonio reaches out and embraces you the moment you arrive downtown. The large, tree lined square surrounded by magnificent old hotels and shops creates an almost theatrical setting. Horse drawn carriages, decorated as if ready for a fiesta, add to the backdrop as they line up for the tourists. And it is here, right in the heart of the city, that the famous Alamo stands. Its iconic façade is immediately recognizable and you are welcomed into the historic compound free of charge and can walk through the church and compound, soaking up the legend of courage, slaughter and ultimate glorious defeat.
The Alamo and the Emily Morgan hotel behind
Inside the Alamo compound
In 1836, the colonial settlers were getting very uppity with the Mexican lords and masters and decided to rise up sporadically to show their displeasure by dispatching a few of the latin soldiers to that hacienda in the sky. The Mexican general, one modestly named Antonio de Padua Maria Severino López de Santa Anna y Perez de Lebrón, had enough and marched north into Texas with 1500 men to quell these troublesome upstarts. One of his first stops was the Alamo, a former Spanish mission, now a makeshift fort. Only 200 brave defenders stood their ground as requests for reinforcements were either denied or acted on far too slowly. After a two week siege, Santa Anna attacked on March 6th. 600 Mexicans died but virtually all the Texians (as the settlers were called) perished, some cruelly killed by bayonets even after they had surrendered. It was a vicious, sadistic assault but it served only as a Pyrrhic victory as it buoyed up the uncontrollable anger in all the other settlers who gained their bloody revenge at the Battle of Jacinto some weeks later on April 21 1836 when the famous cry of "Remember the Alamo" rang out in this decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. The story goes that, one day, Santa Anna upset his 'mulatto' mistress Emily West, whom he had taken prisoner en route, and she went skipping over to the other side to warm the bed of one Captain Morgan (as only spurned lovers do) and promptly gave away to her new suitor the ex-lover's plans and location. It was all over in literally minutes - the surprise attack and battle that is, not the nocturnal shenanigans. A free, independent Texas was born. And the sobriquet "Yellow Rose of Texas" was spawned for the duplicitous Emily, who is now better known as Emily Morgan.
San Antonio itself walks you through its secrets, guiding you with historical signs as you explore this amazing city. The most stunning feature is the sensational River Walk. It is sheer Disney. Paris meets Amsterdam meets Venice. It is spectacular. You just want to walk and walk along the edge of mirror-like water and then rest up in one of the many pavement cafés overlooking the river. It is best that the pictures do the talking.
We have fallen in love with San Antonio and will be probing all its fascinating corners for the next two weeks. Thank you for staying with us and sharing special moments like San Antonio. This is what it is all about.
We left Bastrop with some haunting memories.
On Saturday night, we bought two tickets for the Opera House to see the local production of 'Sleepy Hollow', a story of ghouls, headless horsemen and gruesome murder. We got to the lovely old Victorian theatre early and, after learning the play was an hour and a half long, with no interval, we sat in two seats on the outside end of a row towards the back, in case we needed a strategic early exit.
As we waited, three people sidled along the empty row from the middle - a young gaunt man in his twenties, long greasy hair tied back in a ponytail and weirdly wearing leather armulets, like something out of a Thor film. Two little old ladies, straight out of Arsenic & Old Lace, followed him, the second one marshaling the seating like a bossy school ma'am. Both had those old lady haircuts, gray, chopped and boysy with the same make-up free, down-turned mouth faces. The scary bossy one directed the youth to sit next to Sandie and the other lady next to him and then left to spook someone in the foyer. We started a conversation with the quieter lady and it transpired that she was the kindly grandmother and the haragan was the great aunt. She soon told us how her sister, the wicked witch, was about to move into her house with her. After a pause, I simply said "Have you been homeless before?" Well, at this the young man shrieked and collapsed into a bundle, his head between his knees and his arched back quivering with hysteria. That was when Sandie noticed the two large knives on his belt. Thoughts of the next day's newspaper headlines came into our heads - 'Texas Opera House Massacre'. She asked him why he came to the theater with two large knives. "You never know', he replied in a slow Texan drawl, 'You might be very pleased I am here'. After 90 long minutes we scurried out to find the nearest bar, only to be met by hordes of Halloween costumed locals. Bastrop gets weird at night.
The Bastrop Opera House
A quarter of a mile away, hidden away from the center of town, is a cafe. But this is no ordinary cafe and you may not have the stomach to eat there. It is called We Slaughter Barbecue and is a complete replication of the eatery in the 1974 classic movie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, down to the last bloodstain. There are small cabins there for overnight stays, if you have got the guts. The owner used to enjoy appearing at the cabin doors at 3am, his chainsaw screaming in the still Texan night, just to add to the authenticity. Apparently, his insurers made him stop.
The creepy cafe
The creepy cabins
Inside the 'café'