Tale of two cities

The Texan cities of Hous­ton and San An­to­nio tell a rich tale of the Lone Star State’s very own space-time con­tin­uum

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A vi­brant city of his­tory and cul­ture

Deep in the heart of Texas, San An­to­nio may be eas­ily mis­taken for a Euro­pean city from its abun­dance of in­trigu­ing his­tor­i­cal sites show­cas­ing Span­ish and Ger­man ar­chi­tec­ture. This All-Amer­i­can city, that is cel­e­brat­ing its 300th an­niver­sar y in 2018, proudly cel­e­brates the many her­itages that in­flu­ence its cul­ture and at­mos­phere. To un­der­stand the city ’s past, a visit to The Alamo is im­per­a­tive. For out-of-state visi­tors, the stone façade of the chapel at The Alamo, com­plete with carved pil­lars and arches, is im­pres­sive enough, but its his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance makes it a ver­i­ta­ble pil­grim­age des­ti­na­tion for many. In 1836, sev­eral hun­dred rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies died de­fend­ing the fort from Mex­i­can forces as part of Texas’ war for independence, mak­ing it one of the state’s defin­ing mo­ments and an en­dur­ing source of Texan pride. Learn more by join­ing a one-hour tour around the perime­ter of the old fort, and fol­low it up with the free talk and film on site, which of­fer dif­fer­ing per­spec­tives on a bat­tle whose events re­main dis­puted to this day. Down­town San An­to­nio houses the River Walk – a pic­turesque prom­e­nade of ho­tels, shops, cafés and para­sols along the river­front. A re­cent ex­pan­sion to the River Walk also al­lows you to ac­cess more of the city ’s his­tor­i­cal riches and the eight-mile Mis­sion Reach path to the south leads to the eye-catch­ing ar­chi­tec­ture of the four ad­di­tional Span­ish Colo­nial Mis­sions. Mis­sion San José is a beau­ti­ful, tow­er­ing mass of thick stone walls and gap­ing arches, topped by the el­e­gantly car ved rose win­dow in the church. Even San An­to­nio’s bur­geon­ing, fash­ion­able Pearl District is a know­ing wink to his­tory. The Pearl Brew­ery has been re­de­vel­oped into a large, multi-pur­pose shop­ping cen­tre, with sev­eral cafés and restau­rants. Just like in times gone by, you can still find beer here, namely at the Souther­leigh Fine Food & Brew­ery within the Pearl com­plex. Here, you can sam­ple craft ales of all shades and flavours in a 19th-century set­ting, as well as tra­di­tional San An­to­nio dishes such as corn­meal-crusted cat­fish. The city ’s deep his­tor y is just a part of its rich cul­ture, and you can tell San An­to­ni­ans care. The Witte Mu­seum, ded­i­cated to Texas’ na­ture, science and his­tor y, re­cently com­pleted a US$100 mil­lion ex­pan­sion and ren­o­va­tion. San An­to­nio Botan­i­cal Gar­den is also un­der­go­ing a US$40 mil­lion ex­pan­sion to show­case unique flow­ers and fauna in a nat­u­ral and artis­tic man­ner. For a city full of his­tor y, it’s easy to see it’s on a mis­sion to­ward the fu­ture.

A glance to the fu­ture

Hous­ton is a heady brew of clas­sic Texan hos­pi­tal­ity and cos­mopoli­tan zest. You’ll walk by starched jeans and Stet­sons one minute, and skinny drain­pipes and top knots the next. This play­ful dy­namic is em­bod­ied by the com­pelling sites and spa­ces around town. At the fore­front is Space Cen­ter Hous­ton, act­ing as the of­fi­cial visi­tor cen­tre of NASA’s John­son Space Cen­ter. With more than 400 at­trac­tions on of­fer, it deser ves a visit. See a full-size rocket and space shut­tle, in­ter­ac­tive dis­plays, as well as the chance to see real as­tro­nauts at work. One ex­hibit not to be missed is the His­toric Mis­sion Con­trol, where all the Apollo mis­sions were closely mon­i­tored and com­mu­ni­cated with. It was this room that heard Neil Arm­strong’s im­mor­tal words, ‘The Ea­gle has landed’ af­ter Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969. You can even step into a shut­tle your­self in the Independence Plaza fa­cil­ity. Hous­ton is a city full of mod­ern spa­ces. If you want some fresh air af­ter fre­quent­ing its artis­tic mu­se­ums, such as the ex­ten­sive Me­nil Col­lec­tion, a great spot from which to take in the Texan sun is the newly de­vel­oped Buf­falo Bayou Park, west of the Down­town area. Find sprawl­ing paths and spa­ces for ex­er­cise and art ex­hi­bi­tions. Ar­guably the most serene way to take it all in is a kayak tour along the Bayou, while the Eleanor Tins­ley Park sec­tion pro­vides the best view of Down­town Hous­ton, es­pe­cially at sun­set. Fur­ther ev­i­dence of the city ’s youth­ful­ness is Down­town Hous­ton, home to some of the city ’s hottest restau­rants, bars and nightlife, in­clud­ing Pearl Hous­ton, a lively night out that is es­pe­cially pop­u­lar among the LGBT com­mu­nity. Bovine & Bar­ley com­bines cock­tails with hearty meat dishes, while his­toric Down­town is where you’ll find Hous­ton’s old­est bar, La Carafe. The Heights neigh­bour­hood is also a good spot for a bite to eat, whether you fancy the Texan BBQ favourites of the Hub­cap Grill, or Ca­jun-in­spired de­lights at BB’s Café.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT Ex­te­rior of Mis­sion San José; some of the finest work at the Hous­ton Mu­ral Fes­ti­val; the sun shines on Her­mann Park, Hous­ton; float­ing un­der Presa St Bridge in San An­to­nio

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