February 23 - March 4, 2007: Our Trip to Florida
January 28 - February 2, 2007: A Trip to Florida
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February 16-19, 2007
Visiting Guy at Ruckman Haus

 

 


 

Friday, February 16th

 

The occasion of my trip down to San Antonio this Friday was that Guy Blair was in town from Green Bay, officiating at the anniversary of two of his former parishoners and the renewal of their wedding vows. This is the second or third time that the parish has brought Guy down here for special events; they grew quite attached to him in the years he was here in San Antonio.

In any event, I flew down right after lunch on Friday, and Ron Ruckman picked me up at the airport. We got to Ruckman Haus about two in the afternoon. This weekend, Prudence and Ron had no available rooms at their bed and breakfast, so Guy and I would share a room over at the Best Western Hotel- where Fred and I have stayed once before when the B&B was full up.

The big event going on at Ruckman Haus, as I found out, was that they have begun construction on their new apartment. Since Prudence and Ron began the B&B four years ago, they have been living in the basement of the main house. This has never been satisfactory, but they have put up with it so that all the rooms could be free for guests. While they had enough space for their bedroom and stuff down there, it has always been an unattractive solution to the problem of where the B&B hosts live.

In the last few months, Prudence and Ron have been bouncing ideas off anyone who will listen as to how the new apartment should be designed and laid out. All the plans call for the current garage to be demolished and a new garage built with their apartments above it. They will have a living room, bedroom and bath, kitchen and a small guest suite. Their plans call for an outside stairway at the end of the building.

I have always thought it would be neat to have a covered or enclosed walkway from the main house over to the apartment so that they would never have to be out in inclement weather running back and forth, but my ideas involved extra expense and a lot of design modifications, so I am pretty sure they've decided against it.

Anyway, this afternoon the construction crew is hard at work demolishing the existing garage. The work has been going on for three days already, but I have taken the first pictures of the work in progress. Below are four thumbnails that you can click on to see four full-sized views of the demolition progress:




I also took a movie of the crew at work, and you can view that movie using the player at left.

Guy was busy with his anniversary couple, and so could not join us for dinner. Carolyn Shofner did join us, and we went to Tomatillo's for Mexican fare. We met up with Guy back at Ruckman Haus later in the evening, had some good conversation and then he and I drove over to the Best Western.

 

Saturday, February 17th

 

Today, we didn't do much. Guy was again pretty occupied with his church folks. We did have breakfast at Ruckman Haus before Guy left for his activities. Then Ron and Prudence and I just spent the day together doing errands and stuff. Late in the afternoon, we all went over to San Francesco di Paolo Church for evening Mass, at which Guy was officiating. It was at this Mass that his anniversary couple renewed their wedding vows.

Guy went with the couple to a dinner celebration in their honor, so the rest of us- Ron, Prudence, Carolyn, her husband Michael and I- went to a casual place over near King William for dinner.

By the time we got back to the B&B, it was time to go pick up Guy at the church. He and I shared the French Room together for the next two nights.


 

Sunday, February 18th

 

Sunday was our big day, as Guy's duties at the church and with the anniversary couple were over, and he could spend the day with us. As usual, Ron did a fabulous breakfast for his guests and then for Guy and myself. Once the breakfast stuff was cleared up, Ron suggested that we take the dogs, Max and Cassie, and go over to the Riverwalk. There is a new area of the Riverwalk that has been constructed; I have not seen it yet and it is not commercial and crowded. Ron thought it would be a good place to take the dogs for a walk, even though we'd have to work our way through the crowded part of the Riverwalk first.


To get to the beginning of our walk this afternoon, Ron drove the five of us- Guy, myself, Carolyn, Prudence and himself- and three dogs- Max, Cassie and Carolyn's dog, Maggie- down through the King William district to Washington Avenue, and a park across from the old U.S. Arsenal. Here, there was plenty of room to get all the dogs out and begin our walk. As we left the SUV, I filmed a movie of people and animals beginning our walk, heading north along the San Antonio River, and you can use the player below to watch it:


There is no commercial development at this south end of the river system- no hotels, no restaurants and no people. This is the actual San Antonio River, close to what it must have looked like before the city grew up around it. Now, of course, there are flood walls to channel it and bridges across it and parks along it but not much water flowing through it. There is a dam upstream from here that ensures there will be sufficient water in the downtown, commercial portion of the river system.

As we were coming down the access walk from the car to the river, I asked Guy, Carolyn and Maggie to sit on a bench and pose for a picture. When we got down alongside the river, I asked the whole group to pause so I could record the beginning of our trek. As we started off, you could look ahead and see that the sidewalk pretty much paralleled the river all the way to downtown where we'll pick up the San Antonio Riverwalk.

Just under the Durango Street bridge we passed the studios of KWEX TV on our right, where I got an interesting, artistic view of the KWEX broadcast tower .



From the TV tower, we continued north along the river, following the sidewalk as it undulated along the grassy riverbank. Just under Nueva Street, we came to the south end of the actual San Antonio Riverwalk system. For the Riverwalk system to work, the water in the commercial areas needs to be at a constant level. Even though the San Antonio River is an actual river, and its flow would naturally fluctuate during the seasons and during heavy rains and such, the Riverwalk itself must maintain a fairly constant level of water. At this downstream end of the river, this dam ensures that just enough water is let through to keep the water level more or less constant. If there are heavy rains, then the dam allows more water to flow over it (and through it). There are some springs way upstream that add water to the river constantly, but in particularly long dry spells, when evaporation starts to cause the water levels to drop, additional water is pumped in from outside the river system.

I've learned that the Riverwalk System is occasionally drained and cleaned; otherwise, stuff that people may accidentally drop into the river (or intentionally discard) as well as sediment that enters the system naturally would affect the navigability or the aesthetics of the Riverwalk System. And since so much commerce depends on its visitors, that can't be allowed to happen. When the Riverwalk System is drained, there are special tours you can take to inspect the engineering that keeps the system functioning.

Before we left this area and headed into the commercial part of the Riverwalk, I filmed a movie of the dam operation that you can watch with the player below:



As you can see in the map at left, the Riverwalk System is ingeniously-designed so that major sections of it can be isolated, drained and cleaned yet the river itself can keep flowing. That is the purpose of the leftmost channel. The central circle is where much of the commercial development is. Attached to that at the right side is a "Y" where a canal leads to two branches each of which dead ends at a major attraction- either the Riverwalk Mall or the Convention Center. The river boats (actually barges) ply the central circle and the canals to the Mall and Convention Center; they carry tourists for sightseeing and some of them are also run by restaurants and serve lunch or dinner.

As indicated on the map, we walked around the southern, eastern and northern sides of the central circle. On the south side of the circle, we passed the Homewood Suites and Westin hotels that were across the canal from us, and shortly after passed under a spiral staircase that led to one of the surface streets above us.


While we were walking along this part of the Riverwalk, one of the tour barges came along, carrying its load of tourists. The boat operator was doing his usual spiel about the history of the Riverwalk and San Antonio, and pointing out some of the buildings and other items of interest along his route. When he saw me filming, we had a lively interchange that you can watch using the player at right.

One of the newest hotels on the Riverwalk is the Westin Hotel, and they have done a very nice job on a small garden area at river level outside the hotel. It was planted with impatiens, and even in February they were doing nicely. Hotels like this one have their main entrances on street level, of course, on the other side of the building, but they tend to put much more effort into designing and decorating the side of the hotel that faces the Riverwalk, as it will be seen by vastly more people.

We passed by the La Villita area, where we had to temporarily go up to street level because of some construction along the river, and we came back down to the Riverwalk through the Ameson River Theatre- an amphitheatre built into the side of the river and used mostly for music or singing performance during major festivals. There were quite a few people just sitting in the terraced theatre having lunch or relaxing when we brought the dogs through and down one of the aisles back to the Riverwalk. At the southeast corner of the central circle, we turn to the north in front of the Hilton Palacio del Rio hotel.

Walking north along the River, now, we discovered that there were a number of early Mardi Gras celebrations going on, and that many of the tour barges had been given over to the celebration. Many of them had been decorated or turned into the aquatic equivalent of Mardi Gras parade floats, complete with costumed characters throwing strings of beads to passersby, just like Mardi Gras parades in cities like New Orleans. The celebration had brought more people than usual down to the Riverwalk, and you can view some movies of these "floats" using the players below:


This portion of the Riverwalk, including the north side as well, is lined by restaurants and hotels and is usually very busy. Here is a typical restaurant and a tour boat passing by it. While many of the restaurants are Tex-Mex, there are also other cuisines, so there is always a good place to try. Many of the restaurants are two-storey so that they can be entered at street level as well. And many of them are like this one, with seating right along the river. The only drawback to doing that is that you have a continuous stream of people going right by your table, as the walkways go right through these al fresco dining areas. But that's part of the fun.

We crossed over an arched bridge at the junction with the canal to the Mall, and continued north, turning back west just past the Hyatt Hotel. Here is a typical Riverwalk scene near the La Mansion Del Rio Hotel.


When we got to the northwest corner of the central circle of the Riverwalk, we turned and headed north into the newest portion of the system. Just past the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk is this view of the Riverwalk looking north, taken at Point 1 on the map. This area of the Riverwalk system winds through the financial and cultural end of downtown San Antonio, so there are not restaurants and hotels lining the river, and that makes for a rather different experience. But I think it makes the Riverwalk a nicer experience. Here, for example, is a typical view of the northern Riverwalk taken at Point 2 on the map. There are office buildings up ahead and there is a museum on the other side of the river at the left. Notice the lack of crowds; this is why Ron thought that bringing the dogs would be a good idea as he doesn't have to worry now about taking them through crowds.

This portion of the Riverwalk has some different decoration than the other parts. These are mosaics that are set into the walls next to the walkways, typically at or near the bridges that carry the various streets over the river. There were quite a few different ones, so I've chosen a couple of the best ones to show you. They were located at Point 3 on the map, and you can look at them here and here.

At Point 4 on the map, where the river makes a sharp curve, they have built a fountain and some steps and seats. There wasn't much water in the fountain; perhaps it isn't finished or wasn't turned on, but it was a very pleasant place to stop and rest nevertheless. We took two pictures here; I took one of Guy at the fountain, and he returned the favor and took one of me.


We walked a good ways north, and then came up to street level, crossed over the river, and then descended down again to the sidewalk on the other side for our return trip. When we reached Point 5, we were right opposite the fountain area. The other guys had gotten ahead of me while I was filming the north part of the Riverwalk (you can watch that movie with the player at right), trying to get everything in. From the same spot, I took a picture of the view looking back north, and you can see the Southwest School of Art and Craft at the left and up above.

As we were heading south, and just a bit further on, I came to the Bank of America tower (Point 6 on the map), and it had a really nice waterfall on the river side of its building. I'm sure that at lunchtime this area is filled with office workers; I know it would be a favorite spot of mine, if I worked anywhere around.

For the rest of our walk, we just continued south along the west side of the Riverwalk, and crossed back over to the east side, where we'd left the car, just below the central area. It was a really great walk, and I am sure that Max and Cassie (and Maggie, too) enjoyed it as well.


 

Sunday Dinner at the Palm Restaurant

 

Ron had asked me earlier in the day if he could plan dinner and not have me or Guy fighting him for the check or anything, so I knew he was intending on something special. He and Prudence took Guy and I and Michael and Carolyn to one of their favorite places- the Palm Restaurant downtown. The Palm is very upscale (well-deserving of a couple of dollar signs in any restaurant listing) but the food was very, very good. Unlike a lot of really expensive restaurants, they DID believe in giving huge portions, and it was all I could do to finish my excellent pork tenderloins.

Everybody enjoyed what they had gotten, and Ron ordered all the side dishes (each of which comes separately); they were all very good. Prudence and Guy and Carolyn liked the wine they had chosen, and the meal was a great success. Before we left for the restaurant, Guy had taken me aside up in our room to talk about how things were going for him in Green Bay, and he told me what I already knew- that he really wasn't happy doing what he was doing. He was worrying overmuch about a lot of things, not able to concentrate or sleep well, and in general really down about everything. His blue mood was also affecting him physically, and he wanted to let me know that he might not feel up to coming down to Florida next week.

Of course I know that Guy has been through a lot lately. The move from San Antonio to Green Bay was not what he wanted. The church in Green Bay is old, losing members and having a lot of difficulties. On the personal side, Guy's mom is quite ill and the relationship between his parents is also not good at all. All these things would conspire to make anyone feel really "down," but I did tell Guy that I was sure some time away from everything in Florida might work wonders. But he'll take the next week to see how things go, and we'll talk again this coming weekend.

I took Guy to the airport early on Monday morning for his flight home, came back to the B&B and went right back to bed for a while. When I got up again, Ron had done another nice breakfast for his guests, so he and Prudence and I ate some after they were all finished.

Ron took me to the airport after he'd finished clearing things away; I thanked him and Prudence for a particularly nice visit, and hopped a Southwest flight home.


 


February 23 - March 4, 2007: Our Trip to Florida
January 28 - February 2, 2007: A Trip to Florida
Return to Index for 2007