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Fiesta is the biggest party of the year in San Antonio and I’m afraid that I haven’t fiesta-ed nearly as much as I should have as a travel blogger.

I guess we probably should go back to the beginning. Well maybe not all the way to the beginning, because that’s when groups like the Apache, the Comanche, the Caddo, and the Coahuiltecans were the only humans in this area of North America, and that’s beyond the scope of this post (I may share some of that part of the history of the area when I write about the various mission).  In the 17th Century, the government of Spain decided to expand New Spain, which was located in what are now Florida and Mexico, into the mainland of what is now the United States.

In 1810, Mexico (which included most of the southwest of the United States, which included parts of Colorado and Wyoming) began an 11-year process of gaining independence from Spain.

Well, once Mexico had its independence, Texas apparently decided that this was a pretty good idea, and so they fought a roughly six-month war against Mexico from October of 1835 until April of 1836 (you see that April there? we’ll be coming back to it in a minute).

The first major battle was fought in San Antonio on October 28, 1835. This was the Battle of Concepcion, so called because it was fought on the grounds of Mission Concepcion. The Mexican soldiers took comparatively heavy losses and retreated, making this a win for the Texians (yes, that “i” is intentional — it was the demonym for Texas back then).

Things wouldn’t go so smoothly on March 6, 1836. This was the date of the Battle of the Alamo, in which somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 Texians  were killed and Mexico was declared the winner. Most of the bodies of the slain Texians were cremated on pyres near the site of the battle. The exact sites have been lost to history, but I have heard that the place where the San Antonio Fire Museum is currently located may have been one, and others may have been along Commerce Street.

Then, on April 21, 1836, the two armies faced off for the final battle of the war near present-day LaPorte. Ultimately, the battle, known as Battle of San Jacinto for reasons that I can’t quite get confirmation of, took 18 minutes. The Mexicans retreated and the Texians reportedly chased them down, killing as many Mexicans as they could. Nobody ever said that the Texians were good winners.

In the late 19th Century, the city of San Antonio decided to mark the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto with, well, a party. Originally called Fiesta San Jacinto, the centerpiece of Fiesta was the Battle of the Flowers, which was sort of like the Tournament of Roses Parade, if people would rip the flowers off of the floats and throw them at each other. Look, I’ve lived in Texas for 24 years, as of next month, and sometimes I suspect that I’m no closer to being able to explain Texans now than I was back in 1993.

Fiesta San Antonio decorations, 2014

Plastic papel picado decorations on the River Walk, Fiesta 2014

The name was changed to Fiesta San Antonio in 1960 and Fiesta is now ten days long, beginning the Friday before April 21 and ending not that next Sunday, but the Sunday after that, so an entire week and two weekends. The day of Battle of the Flowers Parade is a day off for many, including all teachers, staff, and students of the schools of San Antonio.

In my 24 years here, I’ve never gone whole-hog for Fiesta. I’ve been to Fiesta events at the Botanical Gardens and I think maybe the zoo once. My mother and I went to Fiesta San Fernando, which is music, dancing, and food in Main Plaza one year, I even attended the Battle of the Flowers Parade in 2014 (it was a parade; except for the Fiesta princesses on some of the floats, it didn’t look much different from the Fourth of July parade in my Chicago suburb home town), but not much else.

I began writing this post on April 28, which was Battle of the Flowers Day, but it took several hours to compose and so now it’s Saturday. Later today, if I can get the energy up to do so, I hope to rectify some of my Fiesta non-participation. I hope to make it to Market Square for their Fiesta event and if I can hack the hour walk there and back, I might check out the King William Fair, as well.

But, before I can even consider doing any Fiesta-ing, I’d better get some sleep.

This was the original first paragraph that I wrote for this post: I have to admit that I’ve only been to the Shedd Aquarium (the full name of which is “John G. Shedd Aquarium”) a few times.  I recall a childhood field trip to the Aquarium, one trip with my parents when I was pretty young, and a trip sometime in the early 1990s.

At this point, I remembered that I had a trip to Chicago scheduled and that Alex and I could actually visit the aquarium and wouldn’t need the explanation that I hadn’t been there in over 20 years. So we did.

One thing that I’ve noticed about Chicago is that retail was a big deal there in a way that it doesn’t seem to have been in other cities. In Pittsburgh, for example, the Carnegie family was a big deal — the Carnegie Museums, Carnegie Mellon University, etc. In Chicago, one of the leading families was the Field family and you see their name on the Field Museum, for example. Marshall Field & Co. also was instrumental in the founding of the Shedd Aquarium.  you see, John G. Shedd was an executive at Marshall Field & Co.

Shedd Aquarium Dome

Shedd Aquarium Dome, 2016

I wasn’t really thrilled by the aquarium when I was younger. For my first visits, I was too short to really see into the tanks comfortably (I loved the reef in the center of the building, though, since the glass goes all the way down to the floor). I loved the architecture, though. There are carvings of sea life, like scallop shells and sea stars, in the details on the building, and the octagonal dome above the reef is gorgeous. The rest of the building is long sort of galleries with an arched ceiling that gives the building a unique feel.

In 1991, they opened the Abbott Oceanarium and then they made another addition in 2003.  Today the Shedd Aquarium is home to 32,000 animals, including dolphins, beluga whales, and sharks. There is also a tank holding sea lampreys, which are a major pest animal in the Great Lakes.

Most of the museum is accessible to wheelchair users. If you give the museum two weeks’ notice they can also get a sign language interpreter for deaf visitors. Also, as I write this, there are plans to add special features for blind visitors.