|By Helen Anders, Austin
American-Statesman, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 19, 2012--San Antonio's vintage Hilton Palacio del Rio gets a thoroughly modern makeover
If you've been in Austin long enough, you'll remember the modular hotel that popped up in San Antonio in 1968 across the street from the site of the HemisFair. The Hilton Palacio del Rio was a modern marvel, each room furnished before its module was lifted into place by a crane. All the rooms were stacked in 46 days.
The hotel's still there, and it just underwent a $27 million guest room renovation. You wouldn't recognize the rooms if you've stayed there in recent years. And there's a cool, new elevator system, too.
The rooms are contemporary, with a few Spanish notes such as hand-carved headboards reinforcing a vibe described to me as "hip hacienda." The decor is mainly dark woods and subdued colors, with pops including the striped rugs, designed to evoke Native American blankets. A new presidential suite was added with a sweeping city views. All have really good beds with quality linens.
Guests had asked for bigger bathrooms, so they were enlarged by creating a door that serves both the bathroom and the room's closet. The change added enough room for a large, granite vanity.
But the coolest innovation just might be the elevators, which I greatly enjoyed riding. (Some might say I'm easily amused.) There aren't any floor buttons inside. Instead, there's a touch panel in the hall, next to the elevator bank. Each person is supposed to enter which of the 21 floors he or she would like to arrive on.
A voice then announces which elevator -- A, B, C or D -- the person should enter. That elevator then goes to the floors its occupants selected -- and only those. So if you just pop into an open elevator without entering a floor, you might not get where you want to go.
I loved having the elevator zip immediately to the floor I selected, but I confess I still felt weird not pressing a button inside the elevator. I guess you get used to it. (There's a big board offering directions in the lobby.) The elevator knows which times of day it should, for example, focus on getting newly checked-in guests headed up and which days it should hover high, planning to taking many guests to lower floors.
Next up for renovation: meeting rooms, ballrooms and the restaurant.
The hotel's at 200 S. Alamo St., and summer rates start at $169. Find out more at online.
Heavy rains bring plump peaches early
A recent trip to Fredericksburg yielded an unexpected bonus for me: Gillespie County peaches, ahead of schedule. Many of the farm stands in Fredericksburg and Stonewall are selling peaches, thanks to the crop coming in early because of the hearty rains we had earlier this spring. I picked mine up at Gold Orchards, 14329 U.S. 290 in Stonewall (and they became a tart but delicious cobbler that very night), but a comprehensive list of stands -- as well as predicted ripening dates for the various types of peaches -- is available at texaspeaches.com.
Santa Fe resort offers fun times outdoors
Bishop's Lodge Ranch Resort & Spa, just outside Santa Fe, N.M., has a summer sale starting at $179 through August. (There's also a $30 resort fee.) The resort offers horseback riding, skeet and trap shooting as well as fishing, basketball and more, and it has an excellent spa and restaurant. To reserve or learn more, visit bishopslodge.com. 1297 Bishop's Lodge Road.
Music fans: Head west for five days of blues
Next up on the music festival circuit: the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland., Ore., July 4-8. The five-day fest will include performances by the Steve Miller Band, Elvin Bishop Band with James Cotton, Booker T., Charlie Musselwhite and a whole lot more, including plenty of zydeco.
Because the first night is July 4, there will, of course, be a fireworks display. It all happens on the banks of the Willamette River (which, by the way, is pronounced wil-LAM-et), and each day of the festival costs only $10 and two cans of food for the Oregon Food Bank. So, it's $50 for five days of music. Buy tickets and find out more at waterfrontbluesfest.com.
Travel the canal like Bogie and Kate
When I was in Key Largo a couple of years ago, I revisited the old African Queen -- the actual boat used in the John Huston movie of the same name starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn -- in the marina behind the Holiday Inn at Mile Marker 100. The boat was in dry dock and in need of repairs. Good news: It's been repaired and is ready to take you on a spin. It's $49 for a canal cruise and $89 for a dinner cruise. Reserve at africanqueenflkeys.com or call 305-451-8080.
Baby wolves sure to warm visitors' hearts
Baby wolves are adorable. And the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minn., just added two of them. This is a center dedicated to preserving and learning about wolves. You can see the animals and an exhibit about their interaction with humans with a self-guided tour: $6.50 for adults, $6 for seniors and $4.50 for kids. It takes one to three hours. Advance registration is strongly encouraged. Sign up and learn more about the wolves at wolf.org.
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