I’d been contemplating attending the annual ACUI Conference in San Antonio since last fall, and after some deliberation and talking with my former boss Jim, decided to give it a go, particularly since neither Joanna or I had spent any time in Texas. We both viewed it as an opportunity to introduce ourselves to the Lone Star State.
As we planned to drive to San Antonio and were looking at a full two days to get there, we figured we’d add some more destinations into the itinerary and make some other stops. First up was Birmingham, Alabama, about six hours away from Charlotte and home to Carolyn, a good friend who I first met while volunteering with ACUI.
She lives in the Forest Park neighborhood, not far from downtown and the University of Alabama Birmingham. Her 100 year old two-story house, while updated still exudes the charm and grace of homes built during that era. We relaxed on the front porch a bit with a glass or two of wine and after having caught up a bit on the details of our lives, walked down to Claremont Ave. S. to the Little Savannah Restaurant and Bar for dinner.
I started with an Old Fashioned (Four Roses Bourbon, Aromatic & Orange Bitters, Brandied Cherries, and Orange Twist) while Joanna tried a Patio Spritzer (Cathead Vodka, Ginger, Lemon Juice, and Sparkling Cucumber Water). Both were uniquely refreshing and a nice break from the wine we’d been enjoying and would imbibe later with our entrees.
Joanna and I split a bowl of Spring Broccoli Soup with wild chives and for entrees, the Hickory Smoked Duck Breast (Peas, Fennel, Oyster Mushroom Risotto, and Orange-Strawberry Gastrique) for Joanna, while I opted for the Traditional Bolognese (Veal, Beef & Swine, Creamy Tomato Ragu, and Basil) as I’d snacked a bit too much before we got there. The food was excellent, making us sorry we’d only have the one meal there, particularly as the menu changes regularly.
The next morning being Easter we all arose at a reasonable hour, put on some nice clothes, and made our way to All Saints Episcopal, the church Carolyn attends. It was a refreshing break to sit in the pew and attend to the rituals of the service, sing melodic hymns, and listen to a sermon with a positive message of hope and a glimpse at enlightenment. I usually spend my Sundays worshiping in a different fashion, on my bike seeking the clarity a long ride gives. But when the day comes that the need for what a church offers becomes compelling, I’ll recall that Easter morning in the pew and think kindly of All Saints Episcopal.
After the service Carolyn took us on a driving tour of Birmingham and the University, talking about the many changes that have occurred on campus and in the neighborhoods that surround it. After returning to the house we went out for a nice three-mile walk, near her house, hilly territory with a number of pocket-sized parks that lend a relaxing atmosphere to the area.
As we had a twelve-hour drive the next day to San Antonio and Carolyn had to work it was a quiet evening featuring a nice home cooked meal. We spent quite a bit of time out on the front porch, exploring any number of conversational gambits, all allowing us to draw closer together as friends.
The drive the next day, Monday the 6th, to San Antonio was as long as anticipated, particularly as we encountered very heavy rush hour traffic heading west out of Houston. We arrived at our destination, the San Antonio KOA around 9:00 pm and checked in. The cabin we’d reserved wasn’t available and we ended up with a larger unit, a nice upgrade for free. We’d decided to get a cabin for this part of the stay as we had the dinky dog with us and were concerned about daytime temperatures if we left her at camp while sightseeing.
Being as the cabins have air conditioning we felt it would be a good solution. I’d spend a couple of nights at the conference hotel on the Riverwalk with Jim and Joanna would meet up with us when we were free. We’d eaten on the road, a quick stop at a Taco Bell, nothing more than inexpensive and moderately healthy (if you make the right choices) food so we once we arrived, we could just set up the cabin, make up the double bed with our sleeping bag and close out the day with some of the Jack Daniels we’d brought with us. It was a nice way to end a long day, especially since it started to rain, quite hard, making us doubly glad to be indoors and not in our brand new tent, not yet weather tested.
We’d later realize that staying in a cabin, or camping, at a KOA reminded us of the campgrounds we used in Europe. The bulk of our camping in the United States has been in State and National Parks, which tend to be uniform in nature in that they are located in large natural areas, usually some distance from a town and the main attraction is the beauty of the place and the outdoor activities you will engage in. Each campsite will include a table, fire based cooking grill, and occasionally a locker for food or a pole to hang a lantern on.
This tends not to be the case in Europe, where our recent experience saw us staying in campgrounds where more often than not, we had an individual site (many still are just feature an open field and can get very crowded) which has no individual amenities like a table, etc. But the campground itself could have a store, restaurant/bar, swimming pool, indoor and outdoor seating facilities, and would be located within a short commute, often by bus, from the city you are visiting.
This KOA was just like Europe, with a small store, nice swimming pool, easy access by bus to the heart of San Antonio less than ten miles away, a “chuck wagon” that on weekday mornings served reasonably priced breakfast items like bacon and eggs, pancakes, and breakfast tacos and a short but nice greenway where we could ride our bikes. Our travel plans for the coming years will be to visit cities and attractions much like we did in Europe and having resources like this KOA, and other commercial campgrounds (often more closely associated with RV parks) will facilitate our desire to camp while traveling. We’ll just have to see where it takes us.
Little Savannah: http://littlesavannah.com/
All Saints Episcopal: http://allsaintsbirmingham.org/
San Antonio KOA: http://koa.com/campgrounds/san-antonio/