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San Antonio’s Missions declared a World Heritage site July 6, 2015

Posted by Tracy in : San Antonio, Spain, Texas , add a comment

Alamo-Moon-Al-Rendon_SACVB_Tag_Alamo
Alamo with Moon (Al Rendon photo, courtesy San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau)

Tracy L. Barnett, Special for USA TODAY

Five cherished portals to America’s Spanish colonial past have just been elevated to the stature of Machu Picchu, Stonehenge and the Taj Mahal with Sunday’s decision by the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to grant World Heritage status to San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

“We are thrilled,” said San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, calling from Bonn, Germany, soon after the announcement was made. “The decision came right after Independence Day and we felt we were representing the United States on a world stage, so it was very exciting.”
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True-Blue Texas Bluegrass: A slice of life January 11, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : Texas , add a comment

A couple of months back – it seems like an eternity now – I had the pleasure of enjoying one of the finer backwaters of Texas culture: the Salmon Lake Bluegrass Festival. It was truly a step back in time, and good company with some of the friendliest, down-to-earth folk I’ve run across – not to mention talented.

Just Fiddlin’ Around, an article I wrote on Texas Bluegrass, appeared recently in Texas Journey Magazine, and I promised videos and extra content – a promise I’ve been slow on delivering, due to my overcommitted work and travel schedule.

Here at long last is the first of the two videos I promised:

Keep an eye on this spot for a video demonstration of the amazing Doyle Campbell, a truly original bluegrasser who makes instruments out of everything from washtubs to bedpans to a dog dish. Also, an interview with the Pickin’ Professor Rod Moag, and a link to his article, A History of Texas Bluegrass, which contains everything you’ll every want to know on the subject.

Thank you for your patience, those of you who have been looking for the promised videos and extra content. I appreciate your readership and your support!

San Antonio is in the heart January 9, 2010

Posted by Tracy in : San Antonio , 2comments

Yes, I know it’s the tourism board’s sentimental slogan, and I am now nowhere near the River Walk, 700 miles to the south in Mexico City. But nostalgia dies hard, especially when it comes to San Antonio, and so I was pleased to be asked to write a story about my former hometown for the Houston Chronicle. The story appears in today’s travel section. San Antonio Express-News travel readers will get a treat from my former Houston Chronicle colleague, Harry Shattuck, detailing some of the finer points of the Bayou City.

Here’s a little taste of my San Antonio story, together with a slide show and a link to the full story, for those who don’t have access to today’s Chronicle. If you’d like to see more of my San Antonio ramblings, click here for a beyond-the-Alamo tour guide.

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More to love in the Alamo City

If you liked San Antonio before, get ready.

The Alamo City is just about to give you a whole lot more to love.

From the revitalized Main Plaza at the heart of the city to the restored Mission Concepción in the south, from the newly polished gem of a Japanese Garden in Brackenridge Park to the hip and happening Pearl Brewery complex, there’s already more to see in San Antonio than you may have suspected.

The city’s crown jewel — the famed River Walk — is undergoing a $384.5 million expansion that will increase its reach by several orders of magnitude. This 13-mile linear parkway is unfolding in stages until late 2013, transforming a neglected, weed-choked drainage ditch into a word-class attraction. In the process, the project is transforming the city itself.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Galveston calling December 4, 2009

Posted by Tracy in : Galveston, Texas , 2comments

Tomorrow’s the 36th annual Dickens on the Strand, and Galveston is going into its finest Victorian mode – with candy apples, bagpipes, games and crafts, and a whole cast of Dickens characters roaming the streets.

The festival began in the dark days of the Strand, when the Galveston Historical Foundation was casting about for ways to rebuild a decaying treasure. The first few years, lifelong Galvestonian Christine Hopkins told me, the festival was held only at night, when the festive lighting cast the shabby Victorian buildings at their romantic best.

Eventually, a multimillion-dollar restoration brought the charming historic downtown to life, but the city took another big hit last year when Ike deposited eight feet of floodwaters in the streets of downtown.

Nonetheless, Galvestonians being the hardy lot they are, the town has rallied impressively. A visit a few weeks ago with my daughter showed just how far the city’s come.

Here’s a little glimpse of a sunny day a couple of weeks ago.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Beyond the Alamo in San Antonio August 26, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in : San Antonio, Texas , 4comments
San Antonio's West Side is alive with color, culminating in a collection of murals that tell its stories.

San Antonio's West Side is alive with color, and scattered with murals that tell its stories.

There’s a touch of irony in the Alamo’s stature as the No. 1 stop on the San Antonio tourist trail. The Alamo was all about the battle to wrest Texas from Mexico. Though Santa Anna lost the war, he won the battle in San Antonio, and the Mexican spirit has prevailed – which is the other part of what people come to see. Hispanic influence touches everything: the art, the literature, the music, the cuisine, the activism. And that’s a huge part of what makes San Antonio so special.

Tracy and Peter on the River Walk

Tracy and Peter on the River Walk

In honor of Travel Detective Peter Greenberg, who has invited me to appear on his excellent travel show, Peter Greenberg Worldwide, I’ve put together a list of my favorite off-the-tour-bus San Anto sights and experiences. Listen to the podcast here, and browse Peter’s site for a wealth of travel news. Peter’s logged more miles than anyone I know, and amazingly, he finds time to serve as a volunteer firefighter in Long Island on the weekends. And please add your favorite San Antonio haunts in the comment section below.

To begin, you need to find out what’s going on in town when you arrive and drop in on an art opening, a poetry reading or a concert before diving into the sumptuous restaurant scene. Check the Downtown Blog and the Events Calendar by downtown denizen Ben Olivo of the SA Express-News and the events calendar of the San Antonio Current to be in the know.

Downtown

* Main Plaza, scene of many free concerts, San Fernando Cathedral and the historic town square

* La Villita, another concert, festival and gallery venue amid San Antonio’s oldest neighborhood.

* Hemisfair Park, a lushly fountained and landscaped park created for the 1968 World’s Fair, is a quiet getaway where you can explore spectacular public art, drop by the Institute of Mexican Culture and take a ride up in the Tower of the Americas to have a drink and watch the sunset at The Chart House restaurant.

* Museo Alameda, the Hispanic Smithsonian, right on the corner of Market Square – don’t miss the gift shop, the quirky, kitschy creation of San Antonio artist Franco Mondini-Ruiz.

King William District – The city’s German heritage and history is concentrated here, with mansions, galleries, and eateries (Azuca, La Foccacia, Cascabel, Gunther House, Mad Hatter Tea Room).

West Side:

The West Side has a reputation that comes from its long history as a low-income area. But it’s also the birthplace of a vibrant arts scene, and the casual visitor will find a colorful, welcoming community full of Mexican and Chicano culture, authentic pride and some of the world’s best tacos. For me, the West Side is the true heart of San Antonio.

Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, a beautiful arts venue and culture center. Everything from the Tejano and conjunto music of San Antonio native Flaco Jimenez to the Latin American film festival to live teatro campesino can be seen here, and the gift shop is full of great finds. Here is where you’ll find the supersized Virgin of Guadalupe candle, a spectacular mosaic created by San Antonio artist Jesse Trevino. The artist, a veteran, lost his painting hand in the Vietnam War, and his struggle to express his vision has made him the beloved artist laureate of San Antonio.

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Matagorda: The Secret’s Out August 6, 2009

Posted by Tracy in : ecotourism, Nature tourism, Texas , add a comment

Hundreds of miles of coastline stretch from Corpus Christi to Galveston. I’d always wanted to explore that stretch in between where the Colorado River meets the sea. But aside from a state park on an island that is no longer accessible, nobody I spoke to could say much about what I might find there.

This only made me more curious. So one day I picked up the phone and started calling around. And before I knew it, I was packing my bags and headed for the coast.

What I found surprised me: spectacular beaches, abundant wildlife, great food, a fascinating history, fishing to die for and friendly folks who will make you feel right at home.

What I didn’t find was an overabundance of tourists. A couple from Fort Worth, a father and daughter from Houston, a family from Pearland and a handful of locals — but mostly, miles of white sand pounded by surf and backed by graceful dunes.

Take a look for yourself; I think you’ll see what I mean. And read the story in the Aug. 9 Travel Section of the Houston Chronicle or the San Antonio Express-News – or click here for the online version.

SA chefs vie for trip to Tahiti July 31, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in : Food, San Antonio, Texas , add a comment

On a May visit to San Antonio, I happened by the new Bistro Bakery, the latest offering by the prolific and popular French chef Damien Watel. He had brought in his mother to help run the place, and the two were running hither and yon to keep up with the overflowing crowd.

Damien, a descendant of a chef who served French King Louis XIV, has been my favorite San Antonio chef since he turned an old laundromat into Ciao Lavanderia, which serves infallibly fabulous cuisine. I liked him even better when he converted the neighboring nail salon into Ciao Vino, perhaps the city’s best wine bar. Since then, he’s opened two new restaurants in the exclusive Stone Oak development on San Antonio’s upscale north side.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUFNfVsZP0o&hl=en&fs=1&]

His project made headlines recently when he got into trouble with the Stone Oak property association for installing a sculpture of a fork without authorization. Watel responded to the censure by erecting an also controversial “Wall of Censorship” partially obscuring the offending fork.

Little wonder, given the hyperactive Watel’s peripatetic pace, that he’s thrown his hat into the ring for a free getaway vacation in Tahiti.

Today I received this item in a press release from Tahiti Tourisme North America:

“Damien Watel and his girlfriend Lisa of San Antonio are battling it out with more than 20 other couples for a trip to Tahiti.

The couple (both professional chefs) entered Tahiti Tourisme’s “Invest in Your Love” video contest by submitting a video, Recipe for Tahiti, on why they need (and deserve) an escape to the beautiful islands of Tahiti.”

What’s even more fun: You can vote for Damien’s vacation here:

“Now it’s up to the public to decide who gets to move on to the finals.  Voting for this round is open to the public and runs from July 25 through August 8.  Videos that receive the highest number of public votes by August 8 move on as finalists and then the winner will be selected from an expert panel of judges.

Visit investinyourlove.com to watch the videos, vote and for information on how to enter to win a trip to the South Pacific island paradise of Tahiti.   There are four more contest periods to submit a  video for a chance to win, running until the end of November.”

I don’t know about you, but I think he’s earned it.

Marvelous Matagorda July 25, 2009

Posted by Tracy in : ecotourism, Nature tourism, Sustainability, Texas , 1 comment so far

East Bay at sunrise

Hundreds of miles of coastline stretch from Galveston to the Coastal Bend.

buy prednisone

I’d always wanted to explore that stretch in between where the Colorado River meets the sea. But aside from a state park on an island that is no longer accessible, nobody I spoke to could say much about what I might find there.

This only made me more curious. So one day I picked up the phone and started calling around. And before I knew it, I was packing my bags and headed for the coast.

What I found surprised me: spectacular beaches, abundant wildlife, great food, a fascinating history, fishing to die for and friendly folks who will make you feel right at home.

What I didn’t find was an overabundance of tourists. A couple from Fort Worth, a father and daughter from Houston, a family from Pearland and a handful of locals — but mostly, miles of white sand pounded by surf and backed by graceful dunes.

Last week I got to spend a couple of glorious days soaking up some of the best this region has to offer. On Aug. 9, the story will appear in the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. Meanwhile, here’s a preview.

[slideshow id=3170534137693571499&w=426&h=320]

SA hotels make "World's Best" list July 17, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in : Food, San Antonio, Sustainability , add a comment

Recently I was in San Antonio to visit the new stretch of the famed River Walk, and to visit with chef John Brand, the culinary wizard behind the remake of two River Walk classics, Pesca and Las Canarias.

Brand has distinguished himself with a cuisine that is both cutting-edge and creative, while being an active adherent to farm-to-table and sustainable harvesting practices. Here’s an interview I did with Brand at Las Canarias after a memorable lunch in May.

Pesca and Las Canarias and their parent hotels, the Watermark Hotel and Spa and Omni’s La Mansion del Rio, have more to celebrate this month than a new stretch of the River Walk. Both hotels made Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best Hotels” list — the only hotels in Texas to have received this honor.

Here’s the story in the San Antonio Business Journal.

Of course, it can’t hurt that they’ve got a world-class chef at the helm of their two restaurants. Congrats, y’all.

Biking Bohemeo Style July 11, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in : Biking, Houston, Texas , 2comments

Last night I followed up on a welcome invitation from Patrick Taylor, organizer of a new biking group over on Houston’s East End. I couldn’t think of a better way to meet new friends and explore my new city than this one — so I packed up Bessie and headed east.

Bohemeo’s, it turns out, is a pretty cool little cooling-off spot in itself – tucked inside the Tlaquepaque Market (an East End community center that’s as much fun to visit as it is to say), it’s a coffeeshop (yes, free wifi), restaurant, bar, and art & music venue all wrapped up in one.

Bohemio's, the East End's first art and music coffeehouse

Bohemeo's, the East End's first art and music coffeehouse

And now, it’s also the departure point for the city’s coolest new biking club.

Patrick Taylor checks Lajla Cline's tires in preparation for our inaugural ride.

Patrick Taylor checks Lajla Cline's tires in preparation for our inaugural ride.

It quickly became apparent that this group was not going to be like the bicycle club I trained with for the MS 150. No padded bicycle shorts or gloves here, and barely a helmet to be seen. The important thing here, I was told, was to have a good time.

“I work hard enough during the daytime,” said Elise, who was fetchingly attired in a denim dress and pink headscarf. Her hobby is biking from bar to bar, and “the getup is really important for that,” she confided. Note to self: I need to work on the getup!

There was an impressive turnout for the group’s first ride. I guess it shows the power of Facebook – and Patrick’s organizing skills. Or maybe it was just a good idea whose time had come.

Ready to roll

Ready to roll

Our first ride took us down the new Columbia TAP Trail, a rail-to-trail project inaugurated in March, and past scores of new trees planted as part of Mayor Bill White’s Million Trees + Houston Initiative. We cruised through East End neighborhoods and the TSU Campus to the McGowan Street Trail, a bike trail that parallels Brays Bayou and runs through the so-called “River Oaks of Houston,” a wealthy black neighborhood where you’ll find the mansions of famous locals like Beyonce Knowles.

The bayou here is sadly paved in concrete, unlike the Buffalo Bayou in my neighborhood, which was mercifully left intact. But the skies opened up here to the prettiest sunset I’ve seen in awhile, and I can honestly say the breezes were refreshing.

We did seven miles on this first round, and got back to Bohemeo’s before dark — in time to drink a cold one and enjoy some live music. A little soggy for a public appearance indoors, unfortunately — so the music will have to wait!

Mission accomplished

Mission accomplished