Don't Mess With Texas

Trip Start May 01, 2003
Trip End Sep 01, 2003

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Highlights: oil rigs, astronauts, republicans, butterflies, sausage, ranches, windmills, rivers, log houses, austin business suits, second-hand smoke, wild flower picking, tejano music, smoke house, blue bonnets, stars, cowboys, sunday houses, bats, six-hour long-haul, curds and whey, biergarten, riverwalk, schlitterbahn, apples and peaches, lbj, grist mill, texas wines, peter and isabelle, our isabelle hurls, over 3,200 miles so far...

May 17 (Day 17) Fredricksburg, TX
We loved Fredricksburg!!! The Texas Hill Country is a geographic anomaly from the rest of the Lone Star State. As the name would indicate, Hill Country is softly rolling, heavily wooded land and a huge relief after the windswept wasteland of southeastern New Mexico and the only slightly more interesting plains of West Texas. Fredricksburg, as most of Hill Country, is heavily influenced by German settlers. So the streets are named "Hamburg Strasse" and the like. We are seriously abusing our diets here! For breakfast, our B&B, the Hotopp House, delivers a traditional German breakfast of freshly-baked goods (like Brochen) laden with butter, cold cuts and cheese. Lunches and dinners are typically in a Biergarten, a German restaurant with outside seating, music, very cold beer in big steins and a choice of sausage, sausage or sausage. (Sorry Tina Vindum, we will work it off). First order of the day, get Kirsten a decent cup of coffee!!! This was a more difficult task than it might seem. It appears the Germans are better with beer than coffee. Anyway Kirsten finally found a satisfactory cup and we headed towards Johnson City (founded by LBJ's forebearers). This area is heavy LBJ country and we headed to LBJ's homestead, now a state park. This is a living museum/working farm and the girls loved pulling eggs from under hens in the hen house, watching pigs root in the muck, and playing ball with an inflated sheep bladder. We adults reveled in seeing how curds and whey are made from milk (curdled our stomachs!). After this, we headed to Wildseed Farms, just outside of Fredricksburg. This is a wildflower farm, with carpets of bluebonnets and indian paintbrush The girls went into the fields and cut wildflowers, making their own bouquets. We headed to dinner at the Auslander Biergarten (more sausage and beer, of course) and then retired to our "Sunday house" at the Hotopp House. The evenings here were wonderful summer evenings of our childhood, humid and breezy, with all the small town hallmarks; a nearby church steeple tolled on the half hour, and a real community feel.

May 18 (Day 18) Fredricksburg-Kerrville-Bandera-Boerne-San Antonio
We left Fredricksburg early as we had several intermediate stops before we reached San Antonio that evening. Our tour took us on a circuit through the winding roads, winding streams and ranchland that sits between these picturesque towns. As we crossed the numerous tributaries, invariably there were people fishing, kids "tubing" or families picnicking along the banks of these streams. The culture of those in this region are tied tightly to the rivers that flow through. We decided to stop along one of these rivers in Kerrville. Although it was a Sunday morning, already families were flocking to the banks. We put the girls aqua-socks on and watched them explore and toss stones along the river bank. Isabelle sat in a muddy eddy with her dress on and then cried as we had to finally pull these girls into the car for the next leg. As we passed a man parked under a large shade tree with a folding chair and a cooler we said "you have the best seat in the house", to which he replied "and I am not moving all day". What a way to spend a Sunday. We tried to hit the Cowboy Artists Museum in Kerrville, but it would not open for another three hours so we pressed on to Bandera. This is really the heart of cowboy country, and we saw ranches but few cowboys. This area is also known for apples, and the girls enjoyed an apple cider slush at a roadside stand (Love Creek Orchards), with their first introduction to a "brain freeze" due to over-consumption of slushy beverages. This place went overboard on the apple theme, with apple pies to apple cookies to apple strudel flavored coffee. The town of Boerne (Burney) was also quaint but not really an improvement on Fredricksburg. We arrived late afternoon in San Antonio, had our first run in with hotel reservations (they said we did not have one), finally found our room at the Fairmount on Alamo Street. We made a short side trip to the Texas Cultural Institute, which chronicles the major cultural influences in the history of Texas (Tejano, German, Afro-American and Mexican) and then went to the top of the 750 foot Tower of the Americas for a look at the San Antonio Skyline. Jocelyn was a bit freaked-out by the altitude, so it was a short visit. We cruised the Riverwalk for dinner. The Riverwalk, for those who have not experienced it, is a stroll past bars and restaurants along a river which winds through downtown San Antonio. The interesting thing is you walk down 15 or 20 feet below street level so you are in a mini-canyon of shops and dining. It has an intimate, if slightly too commercial feel to it. I wondered what happens to Riverwalk during a flood stage on the river, but forgot to ask.

May 19 (Day 19) San Antonio-New Braunfels-Gruene
We performed the obligatory pilgrimage to The Alamo in the morning. How did we find it? We just looked for the sea of humanity. It is a bit incongruous, for here is this ruin and significant chunk of Texas history among the high rises and McDonalds and Blimpies chains downtown. We beat a hasty retreat to the air conditioning of the car and headed to New Braunfels/Gruene (Green). This area has much going for it, classic architecture, friendly people, water activities galore and more good Texas cookin'. It was hot hot hot here to, so as we checked in to our B&B and the sprinklers came on, Jocelyn shed her clothes and ran through the sprinklers squealing with delight. I had not seen sprinklers bring delight like that since my summers in Michigan. We turned in early as the girls had a big morning ahead of them with more water activities.

May 20 (Day 20) Gruene-Austin
We are going to the Schlitterbahn ("Slippery Road" in German) this morning. This is the number one rated waterpark in the country and we can see why. Take any Six Flags amusement park you can think of, add fire hoses to every ride and you have an idea of the scale and sheer fun of the Schlitterbahn. There are human flumes, rides which shoot you up a slide with water cannons, tsunami pools, etc. Don't call child protective services just yet! We only took the girls in the "Kinderlund" for toddlers, while Kirsten and I salivated over the adult festivities. WE ARE COMING BACK FOR A WEEKEND FOR JUST THE TWO OF US AT SCHLITTERBAHN (and make sure our life insurance is topped off). Do not miss Schlitterbahn if you are in this area, they are open May through Sept. From there we headed to Austin. We arrived early afternoon and, you know what, it just never clicked for us here. We can see why adults would love it with all of the live music and night life, but for kids, tours of the State Capital do not go over big. We took a few mile walk through the cities neighborhoods, saw the Governors Mansion (where Dubya slept), visited the West End with its shops and restaurants and then beat a hasty retreat for room service at the hotel and early bed time. I guess the Schlitterbahn had taken its toll.

May 21 (Day 21) Austin-Houston
We wrapped up in Austin and made the two hour drive to Houston. We stayed in the "museum district" in Houston, on the recommendation of our friend and recent Houston transplant Peter Goldmacher. This section of Houston reminds us of Washington DC, with fountains, parks, museums and universities. We took the girls to the children's museum in Houston, which was well done and much larger and more impressive than the Discovery Museum in the Bay Area. The museum, however, was geared to an older audience and so the onslaught of elementary school field trips was too much and we retreated to the health and medical science museum, which had a walk-through human body, with molars the size of foot stools, an eye lens the size of a basketball and a two-story ribcage. We all enjoyed this museum, and it was funny watching a medical school volunteer (obviously childless) trying to explain the food pyramid to Jocelyn. Jocelyn correctly identified all the fatty and sugary foods at the top of the pyramid, but quickly lost interest as the healthier foods appeared lower down. We retired to our hotel, and were to meet Peter's fiancée, Isabelle, for a stroll thorough the museum of natural science. As we woke our Isabelle from her nap, she was inconsolable and obviously in pain. We walked to the museum, hoping she would shake whatever was ailing her, but her wailing only increased. We had not seen her like this in some time, so were a little concerned. When we returned to the hotel, Isabelle was sick in our room and the hotel moved us to another room. We started to make contingency plans to remain in Houston if Isabelle could not travel, and so forth. All she wanted to do was sleep, and we went to sleep expecting to all awake feeling the same as Isabelle and having to fall off our schedule.

May 22 (Day 22) Houston-Lafayette, LA
Miraculously, Isabelle awoke singing and had a good breakfast. She seemed fine and we seemed fine. Chris had breakfast with Peter to get caught up on all of Peter's latest day trades and reminisce about the good old days at Merrill. After breakfast, we decided to press on to Louisiana, with a stop first at the Johnson Space Center/Mission Control in Houston. Chris was particularly excited about this stop. However, it was nothing like what we had expected. First, it was beyond commercialized, with Rolex, Coke and even automakers marques emblazoned all over the pavilion; secondly, it was complete and utter sensory overload for children, with rap music pounding, three story tall tube systems with older kids scurrying and sliding through. Of course Jocelyn saw these and wanted to climb and slide with a single-mindedness which lasted through lunch, to the exclusion of everything else. The actual tram tour to see mission control and astronaut training facilities like the zero-G tank lasts 90 minutes, which is 70 minutes too long for our girls. So unfortunately we paid a lot of money to see next to nothing at NASA. Live and learn. We drove east on IH-10 towards Lafayette, LA. The balance of the drive through Texas was uneventful. However,we were amazed at the transformation as we crossed the Sabine River into Louisiana. The land changed before our eyes into swampland, the air became noticeably heavier, and the road went to hell. Apparently, Louisiana did not pay its Federal highway bill, because we bumped, bounced and swerved our way towards Lafayette. We were going to the heart of Acadia (Cajun) Country. Our first night in Louisiana was just outside Lafayette, in St. Martinville (the sixth oldest city in LA) . As we approached town, we came across a sight which would be ubiquitous in Loiusiana, mobile homes. This state is near the bottom of the rankings in per capita income, and this took some adjusting to. We stayed at the Old Castillo Hotel, on the square in the St. Martinville Historical District. This was a very old hotel and a bit worn. For dinner we walked across the square to Foti's Cajun Restaurant and had our first taste of Cajun cooking, including gumbo and crawfish. Two funny incidents at the restaurant. First, I asked the waiter what kind of beer they had and he answered Bud, Bud Light and Miller. When I asked if I could try a local beer, the waiter said the "Bud was brewed nearby". The other entertainment from our waiter. He asked how old the girls were and we said "three and a half and just turned two". Then he asked "are they twins?"
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