Recently Allison from funfamily.vacations ask me to write about the top three thing to do in my hometown, Huntsville, Alabama. So check it out below.
Lately in a number of wine publications I have seen the AVA talked about and discussed at great length. What I was reading talked about how one area produced one kind of grape, or how this are produced a more acidic grape. As I have a background in geography this discussion got me curious, so I thought I would take a look at what an American Viticultural Area really is.
American Viticultural Areas (AVA) is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) of the United States Department of the Treasury. This surprised me. I just assumed that if a government agency would control a designation like this, it would be the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
When a winery in the United States wants to let you know the geographic pedigree of its wine, it uses a tag on its label called an Appellation of Origin that provides the geographic origin of where the grapes were grown. An appellation is a legally defined and protected geographical indication used to identify where the grapes for a wine were grown; other types of food often have appellations as well. Restrictions other than geographical boundaries, such as what grapes may be grown, maximum grape yields, alcohol level, and other quality factors, may also apply before an appellation name may legally appear on a wine bottle label. An appellation may be defined by political boundaries or a federally recognized American Viticultural Area. Twenty-four states have AVAs that are single state AVA. As you would guess this means the entire are of the AVA is within the political borders of a single state. Additionally there are fifteen AVAs that cross state borders. Just to muddy the waters, in some places the same plot of ground may be in two separate AVAs. For instance, the AVA of Martha’s Vineyard is a single state AVA in Massachusetts. Martha’s Vineyard is also listed as a part of the multi state AVA of Southeastern New England.
AVAs range in size from the Upper Mississippi Valley AVA at 29,900 square miles across four states to the Cole Ranch AVA in Mendocino County, California, at only 60 acres. The Augusta AVA surrounding the area around the town of Augusta, Missouri, was the first recognized AVA, gaining the status on June 20, 1980.
Unlike most European wine appellations of origin, an AVA specifies only a geographical location from which at least 85% of the grapes used to make a wine must have been grown. AVAs are more similar to the Italian Indicazione Geografica Tipica than other European appellation of origin systems. American Viticultural Area designations do not limit the type of grapes grown, the method of vinification, or the crop yield. Some of those factors may, however, be used by the petitioner to justify uniqueness of place when proposing a new AVA.
Have you ever seen a picture of the San Antonio Rivewalk? The one of the restaurant with all the colorful umbrellas down by the water? That is Casa Rio. Casa Rio was the first San Antonio business to open its doors to the River and take advantage of the River’s setting. The restaurant sits on land first granted title in 1777 by the King of Spain. The Spanish Colonial period hacienda became the core of the restaurant’s building. The cedar door and window lintels, the fireplace, and thick rock walls, are still evident inside the building today.
Tradition is not abandoned, and the trademark colorful umbrellas still stand tall like giant posies in the San Antonio sun. The Margaritas are surprisingly reasonable and rather delicious, especially the top shelf versions. Talking to some of my foodie friends who asserted these kind of places serve the always anticipated rice, beans, salsa and routine enchiladas that everyone knows…and admittedly, loves. Our response was, “Yes! That’s right, and we want it too.” By the looks of the extensive crowds, so do many other visitors and locals alike. The food is simply really good. The rich & creamy but not too spicy queso, or melted white and yellow cheese dip, matches well with the thinly crisped, hot nacho chips. Their salsa is freshly prepared, moderately seasoned, and thick enough to hold on to each chip. Even the guacamole is uncomplicated, screamingly fresh, salted well, but not too busy with competing ingredients. There is an elegant simplicity to these familiar and comforting servings.
I loved my taco salad, so maybe not a Mexican as it could be, these are a go to of mine when traveling. The beef was will seasoned and while the portion was good sized, I did not come away stuffed. My daughter wen for the guacamole salad and just raved about it. I thought it was small for an entrée, but she ate it all and said it filled her up.
My one negative comment was the mariachi band. They were gracious when we declined as they made their way around the restaurant, but maybe they should only play once per room rather than asking at every table. Playing at three of the five table in the room we were in made it difficult for us to carry on a conversation.
The service is entertaining and super warm and friendly. These proprietors know their business, clientele and are subsequently, wildly successful. The reason is pretty straight forward: the folks in the kitchen have a clue and understand what the people demand. Sure it seems predictable, but the reality is this Mexican food continues to stand t all among the best
High on my families list of things to do after we arrived in the San Antonio area was a trip to Sea World. My children love the animals and for the older two hit the thrill rides. Sea World really is a place where there is something for our entire family. Even though we went on what had to be one of the hottest days of the year everyone had a good time.
Sea World San Antonio is very much like the other Sea World parks we have been too. There are the sea lion shows, the penguins, and of course the stars of the show the Orcas. Along with the marine mammals are birds from pink flamingos to brightly colored cockatoos, Sea World is composed of three attractions.
1) The Marine Park, check out shows with the star Shamu, beluga whales, penguins, walruses, seals, and dolphins. Feed dolphins for $5! Visit the aquariums with sharks, exotic fish, tree frogs and more. It’s just a really fun time!
2) There is also a water park that draws many people. Don’t forget your bathing suit because it’s hot and you’ll want to cool off!
3) There are amusement park rides, two roller coasters and a river raft ride. Also, in the kiddie area are rides for the small ones.
Details to Know:
Hours: The park usually opens at 10am (9am on some weekends) and closes at various times depending on what day it is (generally around 6pm-10pm) from early March to December. Multiple-day tickets are available but you can do everything in one day.
The Marine Park is by far my family’s favorite (we are not big water park types). The marine park is really. My eight year old is always entertained by the sea lions and the trick they do. He laughs when the animal always seems to get the best of his human competitor. As for the One Ocean Show (Shamu) I have three comments. First, the show is great it is magnificent the way that Sea World shows off these animals and I really hope it inspires people to take better care of our oceans. Second, the fact that Sea World acknowledges the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and Airmen both serving and veterans is great, but they take it a step further and also recognize any member of the Armed Forces of the Allies of the United States that may be present. This is really cool. My third comment is kinda negative, the One Ocean pavilion is big and covered so you are out of the sun, but some big ceiling fans would do wonders for the audience sitting there waiting for the show to begin. It was really uncomfortable being in their on a hot day with no air moving.
In Sea World San Antonio there are five “Thrill Rides”. One small coaster, Shamu Express, which is really for small than 48 inch crowd. The Great White which is a suspended coaster with multiple inversions. The Steel Eel which after a 15-story drop that plunges into back-to-back camelbacks covers 4,000 feet in about two minutes. You really get some great air time on this coaster. The last two are water rides. Rio Loco is the river raft ride and I must say it is not very thrilling. It was a long line for a short ride and a soaking from a waterfall. No big drops, not even any big waves splashing in. Journey to Atlantis is another typical water ride, in a boat, up a lift hill around a corner and a steep drop to get you soaked. Neither of the water rides have any real theme to them, their purpose is strictly to get you wet, so skip the line and head to the water park.
Some tips to help you enjoy the park:
- Buy your tickets online, this saves time waiting when you first arrive at the park. You can also purchase your parking online. If you will go more than once in a full year, you should really consider an Annual Pass. This may be cheaper in the long run.
- Plan your day in advance by checking out the show schedule. Plan to be seated 45-30 minutes before the show starts to get good seats.
- You are welcome to bring in a small (6 pack size) soft sided cooler with individual waters or juice boxes and a reasonable amount of individual snacks. Try to time your meals with the shows or at abnormal times, otherwise you will be waiting in line for a long time for food. Additionally, the new All-Day Dining Meal makes sense if you plan on being there all day.
- Bring your own stroller or rent one – nothing worse than dragging a tired little one around all day. Not to mention it is a great place to keep your cooler and souvenirs you might purchase.
- Plan for it to be hot! Wear lots of sunscreen and hats, find places to cool off, and have lots of patience.
Sea World has a great smartphone app. It has all of the park schedules and the things you would expect, however it goes one step further. When you park your car you can tell the app, and then when you leave tired and can’t remember where you parked, it will lead you right back to your car.
Opened in 1964 to help preserve artifacts and information about the varied elements of San Antonio’s fascinating transportation history. In 1967 the museum moved to is present location on 40 acres in McAllister Park, just north of the International Airport on Wetmore Road. The museum’s mission statement is “Texas Transportation Museum is a volunteer lead organization that collects, preserves and displays transportation equipment and related items. We operate a working passenger railroad, several model train layouts and many road vehicles. We provide an educational and entertaining experience which interprets how developments in transportation technology shaped and continue to impact daily life.”
I took my two sons (8 and 14) here on a Saturday not really expecting much. Boy were we surprised. The volunteers that were working that day made the experience. From the nice lady working the ticket counter, the crew of the train ride and the nice guy that made sure we got on the last fire engine ride of the day. They all took the time to talk to and answer the questions of my youngest even when they were kind of random and really nothing to do with the museum. I highly recommend a stop at The Texas Transportation Museum It will this hour and a half to two hours will be well worth your time.
Along with buggies, fire engines, cars and running trains, the museum has a several large model railroad displays. The displays cover the gambit in scale from N to G with several trains running on each display. The HO Scale display is very large. My boys really thought the garden display which is outside was really neat. This is the largest public G, or garden scale outdoor layout in Texas.
We are looking forward to “Halloween Spook-track-ula” at the Texas Transportation Museum. It is designed for younger children so it’s a little scary but not too frightening. The huge site is dressed up for the show and so are most of our volunteers. You can ride on the “Transylvania Express,” walk through the “Ghost Train,” take a haunted train ride, plus see the whole museum in an entirely new, spooky, way.
Another special event at the museum is Santa’s Railroad Wonderland is an extravaganza of Christmas activities. There are night time train and hay rides. Just about every part of the forty acre site is decorated, from the historic depot, the trains, the garden railroad, the three other scale model railroad layouts and everything else in between. They have their own character, Choo Choo Claus. Bring your camera and make your own Christmas memories.
You can get more information about the Texas Transportation Museum on their website (http://www.txtransportationmuseum.org/index.php ). Generally the Museum is open Friday thru Sunday with train rides Saturday and Sunday. Admission is very reasonable between $6.00 and $8.00 for an adult depending on the day. There are discounts for senior citizens and military. There are also discounts associated with various events throughout the year, such as the school supply drive.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and by sure luck the day before our visit the park became the newest USESCO world Heritage site in the United States. The group of former missions includes not just active churches, but also farmlands, living quarters, granaries, workshops, kilns, wells, perimeter walls, a cattle ranch and irrigation systems (acequias) that are still functioning after hundreds of years. These achievements were possible through the combined efforts of the Spanish and indigenous peoples living in the missions.
Mission were used by the Spanish to transplant their culture to frontier in the New World. While many people associate missions with the Catholic faith, they were much more than just churches. The purpose of this mission was to convert Native Americans into Spanish subjects. Although missionaries introduced native people to Catholicism, they also taught them skills like farming as well as the Spanish language and about the Spanish government. Once the missionaries had completed their task, they would move on to another area and another native population. Hopefully, there remained a self-sufficient community where before one had not existed. What had really been accomplished, though, was the creation of a population that reflected both its original and its newly adopted culture.
Of course the most famous of the misisons is “The Alamo”. The story of the Alamo begins with the establishment of the Mission San Francisco de Solano near the Rio Grande River in 1700. There, Father Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares worked to convert many of the Coahuiltecan bands to Catholicism. In 1718, after many Native Americans had left Mission Solano, Olivares moved the mission’s belongings to the new site near present day San Antonio.
While the mission changed locations several times, the present location was chosen in 1724. The foundation of the stone mission church was laid in 1744. Until it was secularized nearly 70 years later, San Antonio de Valero was home to Spanish missionaries and their converts. It was the first of five Spanish missions in the San Antonio area.
On February 23, 1836, the arrival of General Antonio López de Santa Anna’s army outside San Antonio nearly caught them by surprise. Undaunted, the Texians and Tejanos prepared to defend the Alamo together. The defenders held out for 13 days against Santa Anna’s army. The final attack came before dawn on March 6, 1836. As Mexican troops charged toward the Alamo in the pre-dawn darkness, defenders rushed to the walls and fired into the darkness.
The San Antonio Missions site now joins a list that includes cultural and natural sites of universal importance such as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the Taj Mahal in India, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
The site is the 23rd World Heritage Site in the United States out of more than a thousand inscribed worldwide. Other recent inscriptions to the list from the U.S. include the Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point, Louisiana, inscribed in 2014; and the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, Hawaii, inscribed in 2010. The Papahanaumokuakea is a vast cluster of islands and atolls with surrounding ocean to the northwest of the main Hawaiian Archipelago.
Gary Arndy for Everything-Everwhere.com does a great job describing the San Antonio Mission NHP and their UNESCO World Heritage site designation on his Podcast The Global Travel Conspiracy, Episode 4 so check it out.