"Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it."
– Madeleine L'Engle
Hello from Hondo, Texas everyone!!!!
What a town, this Hondo! We had terrible cell service and the campground's WIFI left a lot to be desired, so we have been somewhat incommunicado this past couple of weeks. For me, it hasn't been bad because I was in Chicago for the first week. For Steve, however, it's been a long two weeks. Not that this part of the country is completely devoid of charm - - au contraire mon frere! It is quite lovely in this here part of Southern Texas. There are huge praries that sport funny looking cactus and some wild looking trees. And the sunsets - - well check out Steve's pictures for a taste of those. The wildlife is also interesting - - we had a roadrunner dart out in front of us the other day! HOW COOL! Unfortunately, that thing moved so fast we couldn't get a picture of it. The best way to describe this part of Texas is to take you back to an old western movie - - the ones where the cowboy walks through the swinging doors of the bar and takes his hat off, hits it against his thigh, and dust kicks off of it. Yeah, now you've got the picture. Very very old frontier, but quite charming.
We did a lot of stuff this week. We visited a museum called Shooting Star Museum in Castroville, Texas. This museum is run by several women, one of which is a commercial airline pilot for Continental Airlines. In this museum, they focus on WWII memorabilia as well as some other interesting stuff. They are putting together an exhibit of handmade quilts and one of the women there, Alice, was responsible for making a good many of them. Very talented lady!!!! Our tour director, Donna, took us out to the barn where they had a huge exhibit of "hit and miss engines". They also had some old games from my childhood on display and those brought back a ton of memories. We enjoyed our time visiting with Donna, Alice and Lilly. Before I leave Castroville, however, I want to tell you that this is the Alsatian capital of the United States. Apparently there is some connection between this town and the Alsace region of France, and in 1998 the Steinbach House was gifted to Castroville. The house is so "Sound of Music" and I swear I heard Julie Andrews singing "The Hills are alive . . . . " when we visited. This house was originally built in 1618 in Wahlbach, France and is unbelievably cool. Castroville even has Alsatian restaurants (which is really similar to German food) and an Alsatian bakery where Steve and I picked up some coconut/date/fig cookies that were to die for.
Okay, moving on. We visited the town of Bandera, Texas and toured through the Frontier Times Museum there. Honestly, when you get into this part of the country, you can almost picture the cowboy activity that took place 150 years ago. Bandera also boasts the country's second oldest Polish-American Catholic Church - - St. Stanislaw - - which was built in 1876 and served the needs of the Polish settlement that began in 1855. Hey, my people were here!!!!!!! No wonder this town felt so warm and inviting to me!
One day, Steve and I went into San Antonio and took a carriage ride around the historical part of the city. That was totally not worth the $40 that we paid, so if you are in the area and are thinking that it would be a nice thing to do - - save your money. Anyway, we headed to the Riverwalk and had a nice walk alongside the canal. We ate at an English pub and had some good British food - - one of my favorites: Shepherd's pie! After that, we headed to the Alamo and the other 4 missions that follow the San Antonio River south. WOW did we enjoy that. First, of course, is the Alamo which has a long history. It was originally named Mission San Antonio de Valero and was originally built in 1724, then Spanish territory. In the early 1800's Spain used this mission as a fort and stationed their cavalry there. It got the name "Alamo" from these soldiers in honor of their hometown Alamo de Parras, Coahuila. (Who knew?) It was a strategic for during Mexico's struggle for independence from Spain. Finally, this mission played an important role in the Texas Revolution in 1835 and 1836. In March of 1836, nearly 200 men, including Davey Crockett and Jim Bowie, were killed by Santa Anna's men. The Alamo is currently owned by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and is maintained strictly by donations and is really worth a visit when in the San Antonio area.
In addition to the Alamo, there are four other missions in the area: Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission Espada. We were not able to see Concepcion, but the other three missions were spectacular. First, we visited Mission San Jose, which is quite spectacular. This mission was built in 1720 and is in remarkable condition for being nearly 300 years old. The Indians and missionaries both called this mission home and worked together to produce crops and mill flour for sale to the locals. The church was breathtaking and is still actively used today for Sunday mass. The facade of this church was worth noting. The stone carvings around the door all mean something:
heart = love
pomegranate = symbolizes church unity and the growing number of converts
shell = baptism
rose = martyrdom
angels = link between God and man
The statues also have particular meaning:
At the top was St. Joseph (San Jose) the patron saint of the mission
Below and to the right is St. Francis of Assissi - the founder of the Franciscan order that provided the missionaries to this church
Below and to the left is St. Dominic to whom Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared and told him to pray the rosary
At the bottom right is St. Anne, the mother of Mary
At the bottom left is St. Joaquin, the father of Mary
So beautiful! We visited the grist mill and learned that they could produce about 50 pounds of flour in one hour using this mill. This was a money-making venture for the mission!!! From there, we visited San Juan Capistrano, which was completely under construction but we could at least grab a picture of the mission. We also saw the hugest cactus ever there!!!! See if you can find my face in the mess of cactus leaves.
Lastly, we visited Mission Espada which is he oldest of these missions. It was built in 1690 in a different location but moved to San Antonio in 1731. This mission taught the indians trades like blacksmithing, weaving and masonry. What I loved about this mission was the inside of the church. It was so quaint and beautiful - - you walk through two very heavy wooden doors and enter the interior space which looks very much like it did when it was built. The ambiance was just the coolest. And believe it or not, this is a very active church as well. I would have loved to attend services there as it just really gave you the feeling of being in the Old West back 200 years ago. I loved it.
Steve and I did some geocaching in two of the state parks in the area: Garner State Park (where we saw the roadrunner and an armadillo) and Government Canyon State Park. Very nice parks. The Hill Country of San Antonio offers so many different kinds of views and vistas that hiking is an absolute joy. Unfortunately for both of us, when I got back from Chicago, I came down with a terrible cold (half my class was sick) and then poor Steve got it from me. But we made the most of our time in Hondo and enjoyed it. Heck, Steve even won $50 at Bingo at the Catholic Church!!!
Alright, that's it for this week. We are headed to Big Bend National Park next week where I am sure we will get some awesome pictures! It's going to be in the 70's there so you people in Detroit/Toledo, SORRY FOR YOUR LUCK!!!!!