20 September 2012

Destinations - San Antonio's River Walk and a margarita recipe

I'm finally getting around to writing a post about a trip to Texas taken back in May.  As was the case in '09, this was a trip to meet up with the Glass family, whom my partner Keith has known since his Dallas boyhood.  The '09 trip was to Austin, but this one was primarily to San Antonio, where the youngest Glass, Robby (son of Keith's childhood friend Rob), was graduating from St. Mary's law school.

Keith and I stayed in downtown San Antonio at the Omni La Mansion del Rio.  This hotel backs up to the River Walk - more about that later - but in fact bears a connection with our visit to the city: the hotel was adapted in the 1960s from what was the original St. Mary's School of Law.  It's an attractive downtown hotel with a strong Spanish/Southwest feel to it.
San Antonio is a huge city and its outer suburban areas are as unmemorable as any other American city, but the downtown core is outstanding.  Perhaps because of some great art deco architecture and the fact that the San Antonio River winds through it, I kept thinking of Chicago.

The Alamo, a justly famous place in Texan, American, and Mexican history was just a few short blocks away from the hotel. As I'd read before, it is a surprisingly small building considering its fame. Time did not allow for us to do this landmark justice.
Most of what we saw was on our morning powerwalks largely along the River Walk both south and north from the core downtown where most visitors stay.
Go north and you will reach the San Antonio Art Museum (located in a former Lone Star Brewery) and the former Pearl Brewery complex with shops and restaurants.  (A place I'd really like to go back to is a Mexican restaurant called La Gloria just above the River Walk and on the Pearl Brewery property.)  There are numerous locations where you can cross the river.
If you don't want to walk, an effortless and cool way to explore the north end of the River Walk is use the water taxi that runs as far north as the Pearl Brewery complex with many stops.  You can buy single ride tickets, or 1 or 3 day passes.
Go south and you'll pass by the King William neighborhood, the Guenther House Restaurant (at the historic and very much still active Pioneer Flour Mill owned by the C.H. Guenther & Son Co.), and further along the Blue Star Brewery and Blue Star Contemporary Art Center.
Every single one of these I've mentioned deserves a longer exploration.  The King William neighborhood is noteworthy.  It was originally settled by Germans (as in C.H. Guenther) and named for King Wilhelm I of Prussia.  (Wilhelm became anglicized into William.)
Most visitors to San Antonio probably don't leave the downtown area of the River Walk, and that's a shame considering how much else there is to see, but understandable.  Downtown offers a wealth of history and architecture, not to mention restaurants and bars of all sorts.
Shilo's German Delicatessen
Which brings me to the margarita part of the post.
The Omni La Mansion del Rio is renowned for its housemade margaritas.  (No mixes, please.)  The picture below is of Keith conducting research on these famous margaritas on the outside bar of Las Canarias Restaurant at the hotel overlooking the River Walk.
The following evening after we returned to the hotel, we stopped at the small, poolside bar and chatted up the young bartender as she concocted our drinks.  While she didn't provide the amounts of each component, she told us what went in while we watched.  For safety's sake, the pool bar margarita went into a plastic cup instead of a festive cocktail glass, but it tasted just as good.
Here's the margarita recipe inspired by the hotel, which I developed after I got home.  This makes drinks for 2 persons.  The ingredients are expensive so you might not care to make this your everyday margarita!
good standard tequila such as Sauza: 1.5 oz
better quality reposado tequila: 1.5 oz
fresh squeezed lime juice: 1.5 oz
Cointreau: 1 oz
Grand Marnier: 1 oz
agave nectar: 1/2 teaspoon
I found that this makes a fairly sweet margarita and if you, like I, prefer your margarita a little more on the tart, limey side, then you might reduce the agave nectar by half and increase the lime juice by 1/3.  (In the recipe for 2 drinks above, this adjusted dosage would be a 1/4 teaspoon of agave nectar, and 2 oz of lime juice.)  Play around with the measurements and see what you think.
A final libation-related note about San Antonio.  Though not originally from San Antonio (the original is in Fort Worth, Tex.), Flying Saucer is a Texas-sized emporium of good beer.  Around 200 - yes, 200 - beers at any one time are on tap.  Robby Glass, the newly minted law school graduate, took Keith and me to the incredibly popular San Antonio outpost while we were there.  (This is not located in the downtown area.)
They have their own loyalty program ("UFO Club") that rewards regular customers who try lots of different beers.  Flying Saucer hasn't currently been spotted anywhere near California, but UFO sightings have been reported from Texas to the Carolinas across the southern midwest and upper south.

14 September 2012

Amtrak Service and Fares - # 17 - Passenger type discounts

Here and there during the fares part of this series, I've included an example or two of applying a passenger type discount.

In this chapter I'll go through the various discounts systematically.

To start with, let me briefly repeat a point I've made numerous times.

Passenger type discounts only apply to the coach fare, also known as the rail fare.

When passengers occupy upgraded accommodations such as business class, first class, or sleeping accommodations, the passenger type discount is applied to the underlying rail fare, but the extra charge for accommodations is almost never discounted by passenger type.

I wrote almost in the last sentence.  Some years ago I saw a AAA member discount for sleeping accommodations.  And there probably have been a few other isolated instances over the years where a passenger type discount was permitted during a promotional period, but these are the rare exceptions to an otherwise ironclad rule.

Another limitation is that none of the passenger type discounts currently apply for weekday travel on Acela Express.  This is Amtrak's solid gold service for business travelers so all passengers regardless of age or affiliation pay the full adult fare.  Amtrak does offer discounts for government travelers and high-volume corporate travelers, however.

In this post I will cover the most commonly used passenger type discounts.

Children, ages 2 through 15.  Discount: 50%.  Two children per adult passenger are entitled to the discount.  (If one adult were traveling with three children, the third child would have to pay the adult fare.)  Children traveling alone do not receive the discount.  Children under 2 not occupying a seat travel free.

Seniors, age 62 and above.  Discount: 15%.

AAA members, adults and children receive a 10% discount.  This is the one instance where there is a double discount.  Children of AAA members pay 50% of the already discounted AAA adult fare.  There is no AAA senior fare, so AAA members who are 62 or above do better using the senior discount.  One important restriction that applies for the AAA discount but not for the senior or regular children's discount is that reservations and ticketing must be done at least 3 days prior to departure.  A AAA member making reservations less than three days prior to departure would pay the regular adult fare.

Military, adult and children is identical to the AAA discount but without the 3-day advance reservation restriction.

Various other less common membership discounts also apply.  See the page at Amtrak.com that covers passenger type discounts.

Let's look at how Amtrak applies the discounts.  In the first example, which we'll play with in several different ways, two passengers are traveling one-way from Portland, Ore. (PDX) to Whitefish, Mont. (WFH).  We'll look at the results that Amtrak.com would serve up.

The lowest available fare for coach travel is the BOF1, at $115 one-way, sold in YB inventory.

Two regular adults: (2 x $115 = $230)

Here's the same example, but in this case it is one adult and one child: (1 x $115 + $57.50 = $172.50)

Now it's one senior and one adult: (1 x $97.75 + $115 = $212.75)


And now it's two AAA adults: (2 x $103.50 = $207)

One AAA adult and one AAA child: (1 x $103.50 + $51.75 = $155.25)

Let's look at one final example that shows the passenger type discount and how it does not apply to sleeping accommodations. 

In this last example we'll imagine that a senior is taking a grandchild from Sacramento (SAC) to Glenwood Springs, Colo. (GSC) and occupying a roomette.  Do you remember how in Chapter 16 you learned that when passengers are in sleepers, they always pay the lowest rail fare, regardless of whether the applicable coach inventory (YD) is available?

In this example, Amtrak applies the lowest rail fare (DOF1, $120 one-way per person, full fare), discounts it by the applicable passengers type(s), and then adds the accommodation charge.  In this instance, the lowest level charge available for the roomette is the EC inventory at $226 one-way.

Here's what it looks like from the consumer perspective at Amtrak.com:

The total of $388 is broken down as follows:

Note: the full fare DOF1 coach rail fare is the underlying fare per person before the passenger type discounts are applied.

Senior discount of 15% = $102   ($120 less $18)
Children's discount of 50% = $60   ($120 less $60)
Accommodation charge for EC inventory = $226   (not discounted by passenger type)

Total = $388  ($102 + $60 + $226)

Amtrak Service and Fares - navigational links
Backward to # 16 - Fares, sleeping accommodations