Tower Life Building, San Antonio

Downtown San Antonio, Texas has a lot of interesting buildings.  One of them is the neo-gothic Tower Life Building.  The 30-floor skyscraper was designed by local architects Ayres & Ayres and opened in 1929.  Originally named the Smith-Young Tower, the building was the home of San Antonio’s first Sears, Roebuck and Company Store.

I love the unusual octagonal shape of the tower and the two-tone brick and terra-cotta exterior.  The gargoyles jutting from the top floors are a bit unusual for San Antonio.  It’s a beautiful building.

At one point, a television transmission tower topped the building.  Luckily for us, the tower was transmission tower was removed and the copper dome and flag pole were restored in 2010.

SA Tower Life Bldg 2

Booth Western Art Museum, Cartersville, Georgia

It had been many years since I’d visited Cartersville, a small city of 20,000 north of Atlanta.  In October of 2017 my wife’s sister took us to the Booth Western Art Museum.  I never imagined that this gem of a museum was in the little town famous for the world’s first outdoor Coca Cola sign and the Etowah Indian Mounds.

The museum is home to the largest collection of western art in the United States and is the second largest art museum in Georgia.

Booth Museum of Western Art
Booth Museum of Western Art

The grounds contain sculptures by leading western artists, including the wonderful “An Honest Day’s Work by Fred Fellows.

The museum hosts hundreds of paintings and sculptures from artists as diverse as Frederic Remington and Charles Russell to Andy Warhol and Leroy Neiman.  The art is divided into galleries focusing on various aspects of western art.  There are also galleries dedicated to the American Civil War and U.S. Presidents.




The Millar Presidential Gallery is fascinating, with portraits and information about each of our presidents.  There is a trivia question for each president.  Did you know that the “S” in Harry S. Truman doesn’t stand for anything and that Ulysses S. Grant was the first president to be pulled over for speeding?  Interesting and fun stuff.

My favorite gallery was the Modern Art gallery, but all the galleries were full of beautiful works. There was a lot of art by Native American artists and African American artists as well as famous artists like Frederic Remington.  Here’s a wonderful painting by Shonto Begay titled “Our Promised Road”.

Shonto Begay, Our Promised Road
Shonto Begay, Our Promised Road

Bob Vann has a couple pieces in the museum including “The Victorio Campaign”.

Bobb Vann, The Victorio Campaign
Bobb Vann, The Victorio Campaign

Andy Warhol’s “Sitting Bull” is one of the highlights of the Modern Art gallery.

Andy Warhol - Sitting Bull
Andy Warhol – Sitting Bull

And now for something completely different.  Bill Schenk’s beautiful “From Dust to Dusk” celebrates the beauty of the western landscape with an unusual jazz theme.

Bill Schenck, From Dust to Dusk
Bill Schenck, From Dust to Dusk

We spent hours at the museum and could probably return to find new art or art that we failed to notice on the first trip.  If you’re in the Atlanta area I hope you’ll visit this wonderful museum.

The House in the Horseshoe

Built in 1772, the House in the Horseshoe, also called the Alston House,  gets its name from its location, a horseshoe shaped bend in the Deep River of North Carolina.  The house was the site of a Revolutionary War battle between Philip Alston, a colonel in the Cumberland Militia, and a troop of Tory Loyalists led by the infamous David Fanning.  During the battle, Fanning and his men attempted to burn the house down by pushing a wagon loaded with hay bails against the building and setting it ablaze.  The attempt failed and, after numerous casualties on both sides, Alston’s forces surrendered to Fanning under terms negotiated by Alston’s wife.

Alston House
A re-enactor guards the house from a potential Tory attack

Both Alston and Fanning went on to lives marked with controversy.  Alston was accused  of murdering Thomas Taylor during the war.  The death was found to be a legitimate act of war and Alston was pardoned by Governor Richard Caswell.

Alston was then elected to the General Assembly, but his seat was contested by George Glascock and several others on the grounds that Alston had been accused of Taylor’s murder and that Alston had threatened to instigate a riot if he lost the election.  Alston was removed from his seat, but a bitter feud broke out between Alston and Glascock.  Glascock was murdered by Dave, one of Alston’s slaves, but Alston had an alibi.  He had thrown a party on the night of the murder and made sure that his presence at the party was beyond doubt.

A year later, Alston was arrested for contempt of court and jailed.  He escaped from jail and fled to Georgia, only to be murdered a few years later.  Legend has it that the murderer was none other than Dave, the slave who murdered George Glascock, and who had fled shortly after being bailed out by Alston.

David Fanning, the Tory who had captured Alston and his men at the battle of the House of the Horseshoe, moved to the Bahamas before settling in New Brunswick.  In 1800, he was accused of raping 15-year old Sarah London and was found guilty and sentenced to death.  He was eventually pardoned but exiled from New Brunswick.  He settled in Nova Scotia, where he died in 1825.

After the Revolutionary War, the House in the Horseshoe was sold to future North Carolina governor Benjamin Williams.  The Alston House is now a North Carolina Historic Site and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.  The house, now nearly 250 years old, still bears the scars of the battle between Alston and Fanning.  Bullet holes mark the walls, both inside and out.

Bullet Holes
Bullet holes mark the wall around the door

We were able to visit the house on a beautiful summer day a few years ago.  Alston picked a beautiful place to make a home.  The grounds and land around the house are beautiful.

The beautiful land of the Horseshoe

The house is a beautiful plantation house built in the coastal lowlands style.  Four rooms have been furnished and there was a small, but interesting, display of medical tools that would have been used by a doctor during the Revolutionary War.  The most interesting aspect, to me, was the bullet pocked walls.  After nearly 250 years, I would have expected one of the owners to patch the walls.  Luckily, history won out and the scars of the battle are there for us to see.

Bullet holes can be seen on the wall behind the bed

If you’re ever in Moore County, North Carolina and want to get close enough to Revolutionary War history that you can literally touch it, the Alston House would be a great place to visit.  Walk the grounds and take a tour of the house.  It’s well worth the trip.



Smokin’ Joe’s of Texas, San Antonio

My wife and I are pretty adventurous with food.  Whenever we travel we do our research and find outstanding restaurants that offer something we can’t get at home or from a chain.  San Antonio was no different.

Ann Marie did the research this time.  Since we were in Texas, we figured this was our chance to get real Texas Barbecue.   Smokin’ Joe’s of Texas was the restaurant she decided on.

Now, we love barbecue, but Carolina barbecue is different from Texas barbecue.  Western Carolina, or Lexington, barbecue uses a red, ketchup-based sauce.  Eastern Carolina barbecue uses a vinegar-based sauce.  In both cases, the meat of choice is usually pork.  It makes sense.  There are more hogs in North Carolina than people.

In Central Texas, the emphasis is on the meat, which is usually beef.  The meat is usually seasoned with salt and pepper only, though occasionally other spices are used.  Sauce is optional and is served on the side.  That’s the style we found at Smokin’ Joe’s.

We didn’t know what to expect but, from what we had seen around the River Walk, I expected a large fancy restaurant along the lines of Republic of Texas Steakhouse.  What we found was much more fun.

Smokin’ Joe’s is a tiny place tucked between a used car lot and an equally tiny Mexican restaurant.  The outside is typical Texas, with two giant six shooters displayed under the sign.  Once inside, we were greeted by a nice lady at the register, who I think was Joe’s mom.  Joe came out when we ordered and visited for a few minutes.  It’s truly a family operation.  There was Joe, his mom and one other gentleman in the kitchen.

It’s not fancy, but Smokin’ Joe’s isn’t a here today- gone tomorrow joint.  Joe has been smoking meat in San Antonio for over 35 years and his restaurant has been open since 2010.  Joe knows what he’s doing and, he’s not going stop any time soon.

We ordered each ordered a plate with two meats and two sides.  Ann Marie had the brisket and ribs while I had the brisket and sausage.  As is usual with central Texas barbecue, the meat was served with pickles and sliced bread.

Everything was very good.  The meat was really nice and the sides- baked beans and watermelon, in my case- were great.  The sauce was really just to add a little moisture to the meat, but wasn’t really needed.  In Texas, it’s the meat that counts, not the sauce.

The stars of the show, though, were the desserts.  We had a slice of lemon cake and a slice of Black Russian cake, and shared them.  They were both incredible.

Our visit to Smokin’ Joe’s was just what we were looking for.  We found traditional Central Texas barbecue, a relaxed atmosphere, friendly people and good food.  I’d say that I’d recommend this little barbecue place to people, but it’s too late.  I’ve already started telling people check out Smokin’ Joe’s.

Smokin Joes

Aveiro, Portugal

We were able to spend a couple days in Aveiro, Portugal in March.  It was our first trip to Portugal and we were exploring cities that we felt we can retire to.  Aveiro is on the short list.

First, the details.  Aveiro is a city of approximately 80,000 people in the Centro region of Portugal.  Once an important city for salt and seaweed harvesting, Aveiro is now better known as a popular tourist destination.  Known as “the Portuguese Venice,” the coastal city is built around a couple canals where former salt and seaweed harvesting boats called moliceiros now carry tourists along the river.

Aveiro Canal Sunset

Now, a tourist attraction isn’t what we’re looking for as a place to make a new life.  That being said, Aveiro had a lot that appealed to us.  First, it’s a beautiful city.  Aveiro is famous for its art deco and art nouveau architecture, so the buildings are quite interesting.  There’s plenty of calçada, the wonderful patterned pavements of Portugal, and azulejos, the blue and white tiles common throughout the country.


Aveiro also has plenty of green space.  One of our favorites was the Parque Dom Pedro Infante, also known as the City Park.  It’s a beautiful place just a few blocks from the canals and a wonderful place to spend time.

Parque Dom Pedro

Culturally, there’s a lot to do.  Aveiro is home to the University of Aveiro and, as you’d expect, there’s plenty of things to do to keep the 15,000 students entertained.  The Museu de Aveiro was once a monastery and home to Aveiro’s most famous resident, Princess St. Joana.  It has a great collection of sacred art.

Museu de Aveiro

There are plenty of good restaurants.  Being a coastal city, seafood is plentiful in Aveiro.  One specialty in Aveiro is eels from the lagoon.  We didn’t try them, but we did go for the city’s famous sweet, ovos moles.  It’s a tasty mixture of egg yolks and sugar.  Ovos moles are served either in small shell-shaped casings or in small wooden barrels.  We opted for a barrel and shared.

Ovos Moles

We also found a great little cafe for breakfast and a popular hamburger joint, both just minutes from the canal.

There were a few things we weren’t able to experience in our limited time in Aveiro.  There are two popular beaches  just outside town.  The Estádio Municipal de Aveiro is a 32,000 seat stadium that occasionally hosts the national football team and Portuguese Super Cup games.  The Teatro Aveirence is an entertainment hall showing movies as well as putting on concerts and plays.

Aveiro made quite an impression on us and is one of the cities at the top of our list for potential retirement destinations.  We enjoyed the city and I can’t wait until we can make it back to explore it in more depth.

Aveiro Sunset


San Antonio River Walk

I’ll be honest.  Texas has never been on my list of places to visit.  I found out this week, however, that San Antonio has a lot to offer.

I was in the city for a work conference, but did have a bit of time to explore San Antonio.  After the first day of the conference, my coworkers and I were treated to a tour of the River Walk.  It’s quite beautiful and a wonderful showcase for the city.

The San Antonio River is both natural and man-made.  In 1921 a hurricane hit San Antonio and the accompanying flood killed 50 people.  Originally, the city planned on covering the river and turning it into an underground flood control system.  Public outrage over the plan put a stop to it.  Architect Robert H. H. Hugman felt that the river could become a tourist attraction and presented a plan to add a bypass channel to handle potential flooding and to turn the area around the river into a park.  The River Walk was born.

SA River Walk Day

The River Walk is a beautiful place, and it’s no surprise that it’s become San Antonio’s top tourist destination.  Restaurants, shops and hotels line the river and the adjacent streets.  One thing that struck me was how the buildings lining the river reflect many different styles and time periods.  This interesting building is what I think of when I think of Texas architecture.

SA River Walk Old Building

Architect Robert H.H. Hugman is memorialized in the face of the building now housing the Republic of Texas Steakhouse.  A few feet from the building there’s also a plaque memorializing the creative mind behind the River Walk.

SA Republic of Texas

There’s a lot of art to be seen along the River Walk.  Murals by Oscar Alvarado are located under the many bridges that cross the river.  The Arneson River Theater is an outdoor amphitheater located in a bend of the river, and is a popular concert venue.  The Briscoe Western Art Museum backs up to the river and the beautiful “Camino de Galvez” sculpture by T.D. Kelsey sits along the river behind the museum.

TD Kelsey Camino de Galvez 2014

While many of the restaurants and shops along the River Walk are relative new comers to the city, there are several establishments that have been there for many years.  The Esquire Tavern, established in 1933 to celebrate the end of Prohibition, is one.  Despite a recent renovation, walking into the Esquire is like walking into the tavern when it first opened 85 years ago.

The Esquire Tavern

After the river tour we enjoyed a dinner at the Iron Cactus Restaurant.  By the time dinner was over, it was dark.  The River Walk is quite beautiful at night as well.

SA River Walk Night

San Antonio changed my mind about Texas.  There’s more to the state than just Austin.  San Antonio is definitely worth another visit.

Ogromna, NC Art Museum Park

Ogromna is a wood sculpture by American artist Ursula von Rydingsvard.  Starting with cedar blocks, von Rydingsvard creates works of art that are both abstract and natural. Interestingly, her works start as 4″ by 4″ cedar beams, which are then cut into blocks before being assembled, chipped and carved into the final sculpture.  Her works feel natural, rather than man-made.

This twenty foot tall sculpture reminds me of a tree turned upside down, or the face of a cliff.  It appears to have been formed by nature. Ogromna is a beautiful work of art.



San Antonio’s River Walk Mosaics

I was able to spend a couple days in San Antonio, Texas.  Most of my time was spent at work, but one evening my company took us on a tour of the city’s River Walk.  One interesting aspect of the tour was a series of mosaics by local artist Oscar Alvarado.

Most of the murals are under the many bridges that cross the San Antonio River.  I wasn’t able to photograph all of the murals, but here are some of my favorites.

The first is a portrait of José Antonio Navarro, a Texas Patriot.  Navarro was one of the original signers the Texas Declaration of Independence, was instrumental in drafting the first state Constitution of Texas, and served three terms in the Texas Senate.

SA Riverwalk Mural 4

The next is a mosaic map of the San Antonio River, with the five historic frontier missions pictured along the river.  The five missions- Mission Concepción, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, Mission Espada and the Alamo- are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

SA Riverwalk Mural 6

This mural is a street map of San Antonio.  I’m not sure what the structure in the upper left represents.  It is interesting, though, and I like the stone bench in front of the mosaic.

SA Riverwalk Mural 3

This beautiful piece shows famous landmarks of San Antonio, including the Alamo and the Tower of Americas.  I’m not sure what the dog has to do with San Antonio, but, hey, I like dogs.

SA Riverwalk Mural 9

This beauty is a strange one to me.  I get the clouds, but I’m not sure where the hills come from.  San Antonio is one of the flattest places I’ve ever seen.  You can see for miles, but there are no hills in sight.

SA Riverwalk Mural 5

This mural is a bit different from the others in that it integrates part of the bridge structure into the art.  The center of the swirl is a cover of some kind.  My guess is the mosaic represents a hurricane or storm and the cover may be part of the flood prevention system.  A hurricane in 1921 did flood San Antonio, killing 50 people.  San Antonio’s River Walk is a direct result of this hurricane and flood.  A bypass channel was designed and built to alleviate flooding.  This man-made section of the San Antonio River became the River Walk.

SA Riverwalk Mural 10

I’ll be honest.  I have no idea what this represents.  I do, however, find it quite beautiful.

SA Riverwalk Mural 7

Oscar Alvarado’s mosaics are just one reason why the River Walk is the top attraction in San Antonio, making it even more popular than the Alamo.  The mixture of old and new architecture is quite fascinating as well.  And it’s a beautiful place to spend time.  If you’re in San Antonio, don’t miss it.

Stone Sculptures

These wonderful sculptures were part of the collection at the now defunct Chinqua Penn Plantation near Reidsville, North Carolina.  Built in the 1920s by tobacco magnate Thomas Jefferson Penn and his wife Betsy, it was once one of the best preserved early twentieth homes in North Carolina.  Eventually, the financial failures of the last owner led to the foreclosure of the property and the sale, at auction, to all of the wonderful art that had been collected by the Penns.

We were able to visit the home a few years before it was sold, while it was still a tourist attraction.  The Penns had collected many works of art from around the world.  These  particular sculptures were outside the gift shop and winery.  I love the expressions on the faces.

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