Día de los Muertos

The Day of the Dead is a celebration that takes place in Mexico, most of Latin America, and other Catholic nations. This holiday commemorates the dead. Relatives and friends who have passed from this life are remembered. Altars are built for this purpose. One of the more famous aspects of this holiday is the painting of sugar skulls on people’s faces.

San Antonio, Texas heavily celebrates this holiday due to the large number of Hispanics in the city. This year, I had my first experience with Día de los Muertos by attending SA’s festival, which took place downtown at La Villita.

Here are a few of the altars I saw. They included some items that the ones who had passed found special, such as their favorite book or food.

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There was a big altar in the main plaza as well.
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The artwork there was amazing and included papermache as well as hand-crafted jewelry or decorations that were for sale. My favorite was the artwork on the lamp posts.

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And of course there were many people with their faces painted like skeletons, which are called sugar skulls. I loved it! I asked a few people, and they told me it usually takes 1-2.5 hours to pain their faces. That’s dedication!
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There were also bands playing all weekend. I was able to listen to some mariachi music, as well as a local band called The Sugar Skulls. Both were excellent! And you can’t beat listening to music at the Arneson Theater at the River Walk. It’s kind of magical there.
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All in all, San Antonio puts on a fantastic festival, and I’m glad I got to experience my first Día de los Muertos.

How to Survive the Texas Summer

Well, everyone kept talking about this SW Texas heat. I’ve been wondering when it would show up. 90 degrees hasn’t been too terrible. Well, here it is…

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Average of about 100 is a bit much for me. But sometimes I forget that I lived in Hangzhou, China for 2 years, which is considered one of the 5 furnaces of China. So I can handle San Antonio, right?

Here’s my tips so far for surviving the heat. I’ve learned these things quickly.

1) Always walk in the shade when possible.
– This helps avoid the sun’s blistering rays, especially right after leaving your air-conditioned workplace. Walk under the trees, slink in the shadow of that annoyingly oversized pickup truck, and do strange zig zags through the parking lot if needed. Your co-workers might question your sobriety, but, let’s be honest, they were probably already doing that anyway.

2) Don’t touch your steering wheel while driving.
– I’ll admit; this one is tricky. However, no one enjoys having their fingerprints melted off by that hot plastic. (If you’re a parolee and have been wondering how to accomplish this feat, you didn’t hear it from me.) I have not quite mastered this one yet. I’m still at the fingertip driving stage, but I’ll get there by the end of the summer.

3) Don’t ever leave your house.
– This one is like West Virginia in the winter. Stay inside a lot and resume your life in the spring. I’ve been told that April is the end of the nice season here and then festivals and outdoor activities will pick up again in September or October. I will look forward to wearing shorts on Thanksgiving Day, but, until then, I’m staying inside with my $249 electricity bill.

4) Drink lots of sweet tea.
Duh. We’re in Texas, y’all.

I hope these new-to-Texas tips will help you make it through the summer heat. Is it hot where you live? What kinds of things do you do to avoid burning alive?

San Antonio Museum of Art

I’m loving living in a new city and exploring it when I have the chance. San Antonio has so much to do and see! Today my friend Erin and I went to the San Antonio Museum of Art.

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It’s located in an old brewery downtown on West Jones Avenue with easy, free parking directly across the street.

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The museum has 4 floors of permanent exhibits and a separate special exhibit that can been seen for an additional fee.

The first floor boasts an Egyptian collection.

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And an area of Roman and Greek statues.

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There is an Asian art wing.

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And an Oceanic section.

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The contemporary art  was probably my favorite. It included an electric chair, some abstract paintings, trash turned into art, and a giant fish. (??)

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There’s so much to see that you can easily spend 3-5 hours there. We were there for about 3 hours, and it wasn’t quite enough. Regular admission is $10, children get in for free, seniors pay $7, and students and military have a discounted rate of $5. This museum is full of history and art and worth every penny. If you’re ever in San Antonio, be sure and stop by!
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Forget The Alamo

I’ve only been in San Antonio a few weeks, but I decided to make a quick trip to Spain.

Many parts of what is now Texas were colonized by Spain. Between the years of 1690 and 1821, “New Spain” acquired many cultural practices of Spain, including the Spanish language and religion. In an attempt to convert the “savage” natives of the area, the Spaniards set up churches. These churches were more than just churches; the Native Americans lived at the compound, learned the Spanish way of life, and participated in Catholicism.

There were 26 missions in Texas. The most well-known mission is The Alamo. Many people visit this landmark while in San Antonio, but most miss out on the other missions in the city. These 4 other missions, in my opinion, are grander and more beautiful than the Alamo.

San Jose, known as the “Queen of the Missions”, was built in 1720. It is the largest mission in San Antonio and once hosted over 300 Native Americans.

San Jose Mission in San Antonio

Inside San Jose

Inside San Jose

Prayer candles

Prayer candles inside San Jose

Spanish architecture at San Jose

Spanish architecture can really be seen at San Jose

San Antonio churches

Walls surround the entirety of the mission

Tourist at San Jose Mission church in San Antonio

I felt like I had left the US!

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San Jose Mission door and carvings

The carvings were extraordinary!

Prayer Garden at San Juan Mission

In the prayer garden before entering the actual mission

San Jose Mission

A look at the church from inside one of the other buildings on the compound

Mission San Juan was established in 1731. This one stuck out to me because of its white color. Visitors are able to go inside each of these missions and worship services are still held.
Mission San Juan

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Mission Espada has been around since 1731. There’s really not too many building left that existed before the US was even a country!

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Not the Alamo

I was in love with all the doors!

Mission Concepcion is the oldest unrestored stone church in the US. This mission is the one that looks the most like it did in the 1700s.

Mission Concepcion

Mission Concepcion

Fresco inside on church wall

Mission Concepcion

I loved the palm trees surrounding this mission!

The missions are part of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. Admission is free, and the inside of all of the churches are open until 5 each evening. Feel free to wander the outside of the missions after 5, but I highly recommend getting a look around inside each church. You will need to drive to each mission, unless you plan to spend a bit more time there by biking or hiking. We spent almost 4 hours there, so, if you go, make a day of it. Make sure you visit the visitor center first, close to San Jose. There is a neat 15 minute documentary that will explain some things to you before you begin.

So if you are planning to come to San Antonio, Texas anytime soon, please don’t miss out on these jewels of the city! And contrary to the infamous phrase, please do forget the Alamo!