Texas, USA - 05

Trip Start Aug 02, 2004
Trip End Sep 25, 2005

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Saturday, May 14, 2005

We landed in the USA with high expectations- well aware of the hype that precedes the country but itching to delve into everything that is Americana. Our plan was to do a 3 month road trip - east, west, north, south - literally as much as possible. Things kicked off in the homelands of Dubya - Dallas, Texas to be exact. Since then we have been zig zagging our way across the country. Our little Chevy Cavalier is holding up strong - we have racked up thousands upon thousands of miles (on the wrong side of the road), have had several run-ins with the highway patrol (but so far have managed to avoid penalties - there is a theory here!) and in the process seen a plethora of cool places.

We initially spent a disproportionate amount of time in Texas - after all it is a bloody big state. Seriously though it has some amazing places and it turned out to be a good place to commence our road trip and get our first insights into the US. Like any country, in the USA you tend to find regional differences according to race, religion, industry etc - and Texas is no exception. One thing for sure is that everything is big in Texas - big roads, big malls, big cars (or should we say trucks), massive supermarkets, big meals, huge factory outlets - the list goes on. You need a car here - it is an imperative - we found out the difficulties of not having a car in Dallas first hand when trying to get from the airport to our downtown hotel - 2 buses, a train and half an hour of walking before we staggered into out hotel lobby. Guess how many confused stares you get when you are dragging luggage along an interstate off-ramp feeling rather miffed? Who needs pedestrian pavements when you have a Dodge RAM 3500 and can drive anywhere and over anything that gets in your way!!!

Anyway, we ended up spending about 10 days in Texas - in part to get ourselves organized (ie. car) and do a bit of planning - something that had escaped us during our South and Central American adventures. After Dallas we basically headed south - to places like Austin, San Antonio, Gruene, Fredericksburg, Johnson City etc. We could go on forever but here is a quick overview of what we have been up to.

What we have done and saw:
- Ruined our budget on Day 2 by spending an afternoon in a Dallas mall (what would you do after wearing the same clothes day in day for 9 months and you are somewhere that has everything? It's okay to look like a gringo in South America but you look underdressed in the USA)
- Experienced the first of many drive-in services- a drive through bank ATM (no need to exit your car). Downside was that it short changed us $20!!
- Visited the JFK museum in Dallas to get some insights into murder of JFK and some of the other characters involved. We later walked Dealey Plaza to see the actual scene of the shooting.
- Visited the Conspiracy Museum - a very different slant on the murder of JFK, Robert Kennedy and others. Certainly shows that there are a lot of unanswered questions still.
- Walked around the West end market place of downtown Dallas.
- Went to the NBA playoffs (1st round game 7 decider) to see a hometown derby - Houston Rockets versus the Dallas Mavericks. Mavericks win and advance only to be knocked out in 2nd Round. Another Texan team - San Antonio Spurs win the NBA 2005 series.
- Visited the Capitol Building in Austin and even managed to catch a short 2min sitting of the Texas senate introducing a new a bill (something rare for a Sunday - the day we were there).
- Watched the 1.5 million Mexican bats fly-out from under the Congress Avenue bridge in Austin for their nightly feeding frenzy.
- Visited our first factory outlet mall in San Marcos - basically a drive through mall with a lot of brand name stores. You don't walk between stores (again we found this out the hard way) - you drive!
- Visited the New Braunfels area and the historic town of Gruene (pronounced Green) - a small town settled by German farmers in the 1840's. It is on the river which makes it picturesque but is home to the oldest dance hall (Gruene Hall - 1880's) and many other historic buildings. We guess a little like York in WA.
- Visited San Antonio and took in the Market Place, O'Henry house (one of the oldest houses in San Antonio which has been moved 3 times) and walked the Riverwalk - a magnificent series of paths next to the river (and below street level) infused with restaurants, shops and plenty of greenery.
- Learnt about the Battle of the Alamo (1835-36) during the Texas war for Independence (from Mexico). Such famous names as Davy Crockett, James Bowie and William Travis were involved. We also took in the actual Alamo area - amazing!!!
- Visited Bandera (self proclaimed Cowboy Capital of the World) and the surrounding rolling hills filled with ranches.
- Visited Fredericksburg - a little hills country town founded in the mid 1800's by German immigrants. It is a picturesque town with a tonne of good looking historical buildings. It is also the only place where historic Sunday houses exist (small one room houses used historically on weekends by ranchers and farmers)
- Took in the Lyndon B Johnson state historical park near Johnson City. Johnson became president after the assassination of JFK and his home was known as the Texas Whitehouse. This was an awesome tour - we learnt so much about Johnson and his policies and how it shaped the US.
- Had our best burgers in the US to date at a place called Fat Boy Burgers in Johnson City.
- Checked out the Forth Worth area including the Stockyards which were playing host to the 5th Annual Texas Frontier forts muster - an annual event with cavalry games, historic re-enactments, Comanche Indian displays, etc Also watched the daily longhorn steer muster through town.

Insights into Texas:
- Clothes are cheap - actually everything is cheap in the US - cheap fuel, cheap clothes, cheap food etc
- Everyone in Texas seems to be rather well off - at least the places we visited. There is a lot of money and material possessions freely shown off.
- Make sure you have a car - life is very very difficult without one here. You will be staggered by the size of the vehicles that surround you though.
- Texas is a lot more built up than we expected - certainly more so than the Mid-West.
- Downtown is often only a place of work and business and can be dead on weekends and after hours. The action is happening outside in the "burbs" - with their massive shopping malls and restaurants spoking off the interstate roads.
- Hotels in the US offer fixed prices even when their occupancy is low. There is no bargaining and the only way to get them down is through AAA membership or free coupon books - the later are often not accepted depending on the mood of the receptionist.
- We have seen several examples of where Americans authorities have shown a preference to improve upon things. Historical buildings seemed to be "upgraded" if they are a bit shabby - we saw this first hand in Austin.

Favourite Things about Texas:
- NBA play-offs - very cool to be part of the hype
- Boots - the home of custom made cowboy boots. Leah is well chuffed about her pair
- Texans - they are super nice people.
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