Dear San Antonio: What Have You Done for Me Lately?

The duck that bit my leg had no problem communicating with me, despite the differences in our species and styles. My style that late afternoon being the very human one of I’m spending a couple of romantic days with my husband for our anniversary in San Antonio, filled with possibilities, so the world rightly revolves around me. Her style being adamant and duckish: so you think you can just drop one single tortilla chip, take my photo, and get on with your stupid romance?

What the duck said, after she demolished the stray tortilla chip and then launched her bill at my ankle, was What have you done for me lately? ©BGabriel, 2015,

After many years together, traveling through life, work, travel-as-work, play, family, and pets, I would be pants-on-fire if I told you I’d never had the What have you done for me lately conversation, though never in those words and probably only with myself. People and ducks have a lot in common regarding expectations.

No married person needs to be told it’s work to stay married and be delighted with your spouse for a large percentage of your time. Even when you are happy, it can be difficult to recognize that in the moment, so it helps to get away from your every day once in a while. Brian and I are fortunate in one way that loads of other couples are not: we don’t have children. The child-free by choice element allows us the luxury of time to get away and do stuff serendipitously. Also, we have never had to take a trip to a magic kingdom, sneaking smooches while the kids were being wowed by a 6-foot mouse wearing shorts, and call that a romantic holiday.

Despite our freedom from parental obligations, we don’t spend each waking moment gazing soulfully at one another while sipping a beverage. We have jobs, two dogs, pet fur that needs vacuuming, books to be read, groceries to be shopped for, a car to maintain. Life happens in between the good stuff. What we do is steal a day or two from the fate of everyday life now and then to forget the dog fur and remind ourselves why we matter. Also, every year around our wedding anniversary, we take turns planning a celebration of us. We aren’t gift-givers, as in jewelry or flowers. We go for experiences instead of material goods.

My choice this year was San Antonio. Not just because it is only an hour from our new home in Austin which makes it ripe for exploring, but we had also heard great things about the area along the San Antonio river right in the heart of the city, where you can stroll past restaurants, shops, museums, and the history that makes this place special.©BGabriel,2015,

For visitors, the river is central to the experience and you cannot help but marvel at the foresight involved in creating the River Walk. If you have ever been in south central Texas, you will understand how important water is. The area is often plagued by drought and the summer months are sweltering, making the river a lifeline in the palm of Texas. The Spanish colonizers figured that out right-quick and built their missions along it. The native Payaya tribe called it Yanaguana, “refreshing waters”,  as they roamed along it, hunting game and foraging for plants.

Once San Antonio became a decent-sized settlement, the flash floods, which have occurred for centuries after heavy rains, became a much bigger deal. After a rainstorm in 1921 channeled water at a depth of 9 feet onto Houston street, drowning 50 people, the city planners knew they had to get serious about flood control. Robert Hugman, the designer of the River Walk, came up with a plan to create an area along the river with shops, walkways and stone bridges in a Spanish design, that would control periodic flooding as well. Timing for the project could not have been worse. It was 1929 and the Great Depression was moments away. Hugman’s plan wasn’t forgotten though, and ten years later he served as the architect when ground was broken to begin what is now called River Walk or Paseo del Río.


Prickly Pear margarita? Yes, please.

San Antonio retains the feel of a small city, and technically, the River Walk is a public park. You could spend a few days strolling the walkways, exploring within a few blocks of it and call that good. The hustle of the main River Walk area near the center of the city follows the by-pass channel which takes a loop near the Alamo, shrine to Texas independence. That loop features the greatest concentration of bars and restaurants. For the price of a prickly pear margarita, a platter of warm tortilla chips, and a variety of salsas, you will have a ticket to people-watch as long as you’d like.

Some of sweetest stretches of the Walk are north and south of the main area. Stroll, rent a bicycle, or hop on a river taxi going north and you will pass the lock and dam (which aids in flood control), the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Culinary Institute of America, and the area around the Pearl Brewery which was buzzing with building cranes working on new condos, coffee and book shops when we were there.

Traveling south of  the city’s center along the river will get you to the King William historic district, some green space, and access to Mission Concepción, northern-most of the four Spanish colonial missions created along the river which are now part of the Mission Trail. If history is what you love most about travel, the missions alone are worth exploring for a day or two.

A couple of San Antonians told me about the river parades, which apparently celebrate everything from St. Patrick’s Day to Mardi Gras and Christmas. In April, the city goes all out to celebrate the heroes of the Alamo and San Jacinto battles with a two week party called Fiesta San Antonio, which features parades, music, food and cultural events.

©BGabriel, 2015

Mission Concepción- San Antonio, Texas

Despite not seeing a single parade during our visit, San Antonio answered my question, What have you done for me lately? With: Plenty.

More than one prickly pear margarita found its way to our table. Coffee and dessert one mid-afternoon at Bakery Lorraine gave us a destination on the north stretch of the River Walk (and convinced us to pass on dinner). The Mission Trail’s volunteer docents are enthusiastic and knowledgable about the colonial missions’ histories. The fetchingly-named Sam’s Burger Joint turned out to be a fantastic spot for live music, good whiskey, and making new friends. Every person we spoke to in San Antonio was kind and friendly, including Ramona, who works to keep the River Walk clean and beautiful all while pointing out the highlights to visitors like us.

After our daffy duck friend chomped my leg, she complained awhile longer until her mate fetched her for what I’m assuming was a romantic interlude of their own, leaving Brian and I to toast the city of San Antonio and our good fortune at recognizing that life doesn’t just happen in between the good stuff, but actually is the good stuff.

Check out the links below to read more about San Antonio and Steal Just One Day (or two) of your own, experiencing life in south central Texas.


Barbara Gabriel

Writer. Day Stealer. Chronic Traveler. Raised along Highway 61 in Minnesota, I ran away to sea & messed about in boats. I curse like a sailor and love travel, food, most people, and a well-fitting pair of boots. I try to combine those any chance I can.


  1. Somehow San Antonio is still on my “haven’t been there yet” list. This piece just moved it way up the charts. Great feel for the atmosphere—though, honestly, you had me at “The duck that bit my leg . . .”

  2. Fabulous! I’ve enjoyed Riverwalk every time I’ve been. And you’re so right about the people watching, I could do it all day. I’ve taken the touristy boat ride and, if you have a good guide, it can be really informative and funny too! Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Like you and Brian, Barry and I had no children so we experienced many of those days we could get away from home, just the two of us, and enjoy being together and observing people and places at our own pace.
    I’ve never been to San Antonio, TX, but you certainly make me want to go there. You could be a travel writer, Barbara, or perhaps you are already.

  4. How fun! I had the great fortune to spend most of my 20’s living in SA and working on the Riverwalk. My daughter was born in SA and takes great pride in being a native Texan. My BFF of 40 years lives nearby and I still visit almost every year. You have beautifully captured the spirit of the area and the people, and yes, the ducks! Belated Happy Anniversary!

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