Our “boutique” hotel here is rather comic, but friendly. Our in-room breakfast deliverer had to “pop to the cafe next door for some ice” and then re-boot the air conditioner. We went to a very interesting display at the local Cultural Centre and now know ( which we didn’t before) that the French in Louisiana were displaced from Nova Scotia. I also learned that the
French only actually owned Louisiana for three years. Napoleon got it from the Spanish and then sold it (in the famous Louisiana Purchase) to the USA within 3 years.
Then moving seamlessly from history to nature we took a swamp tour, in a flat-bottomed boat. Not only did we see lots of alligators (including babies) but the bird life was fantastic: a bald eagle; roseate spoonbills; several new types of heron; three types of egret and more.
Lunch was a non-event: the swamp tour finished at 2pm and we then could not find anywhere still serving lunch! However missing a meal will not hurt us. Last night we ate splendidly in a tapas bistro and tonight will try the concierge’s recommended fish restaurant.
We hope that the grandchildren have received the customised postcards we sent – most recently an hour ago.
By the way, Louisiana is not one of our “new” states: we both visited New Orleans (with Rob and Laura) many tears ago.
Texas is the lone star state, and they fly their flag (see below) as much as the stars and stripes.
We left Galveston after the worst meal of the trip so far – I mistakenly ordered a fried fish platter, which proved to be the brownest, least tasty, platter ever carried by waiter. But the Holiday Inn breakfast was fine, and cheap, so with spirits restored we set off for the best freebie in Texas: The Galveston Ferry. This carried us a mile or so across the busiest waterway in the US – effectively the entrance to Houston harbour – for nothing! The sun was shining, the sea breeze was blowing, the pelicans were flying and all was right with the world. It’s hard to imagine that pelicans were once threatened: they are now very common, as are vultures pecking at the plentiful roadkill.
After 70 or 80 miles of wetlands and wildlife sanctuaries, and a second free ferry, we re-joined real life on the I10 interstate and headed for Lafayette, Louisiana. We have found a small boutique hotel in the university district with huge rooms and “we put out the coffee from 5.30am”. We are booked into a “fine dining” tapas restaurant in an hour’s time and a swamp tour tomorrow. More of those in the next posting.
We chose to by-pass Houston completely, by coming down to the coast at Freeport and driving along the coastal road to Galveston Beach. This proved to be an excellent choice. We drove empty roads and the last 50 miles were along the sea shore. En route we dropped in on Shiner (pop 2000) where it proved impossible to get even a coffee. We are sure it was founded by Gwen’s relatives, but its current only claim to fame is the brewery – and their beer is very tasty.
Galveston is a tourist resort with a long beach and lots of surf. We had a good walk along the sea wall, but found it disconcerting that the hotels are on the other side of a six-lane road from the beach, with very infrequent crossing places. Fine dining was out of the question so we had very ordinary, over-battered, things which once might have been in the sea.
I thought we were pretty hardened and aware US travellers but the level of taxes is getting ridiculous, so here is my digression: when we checked out of our San Antonio hotel after two nights we found that $90 of the total was taxes, and they included a State Occupancy Tax, City Tax, County Tax, and Parking Tax. This amounted to a 16% markup on the listed price of the room. Hard to swallow.
This morning San Antonio had a morning-after feel. The streets were clean already but it was an unusually quiet Sunday morning. We first went to the Alamo itself – it’s a mission, but actually little of its long life was as a religious building. “The Alamo” was the courageous disaster which cost 182 lives (including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie) and led quite quickly to Texas becoming a state of the USA instead of Mexico. The siege and massacre had nothing to do with the indians, nothing to do with religion and actually little to do with the USA, until afterwards.
We then had our second excellent TexMex meal, a light lunch by the riverside walk. After a siesta (the temperature peaked at over 90F today) we discovered where all the Latino population of San Antonio were: at the “market” with, in addition to the stalls, loud bands, a dancing competition and a lot of beer.
Finally, in the evening over another TexMex meal, I drank a Shiner Bock beer and we learned from the waiter of the existence of a small town and brewery called Shiner – Gwen’s mother’s name. It is on our intended route tomorrow so we plan to drop in. It seems unlikely that we will locate any relatives, but Gwen does believe that some emigrated to Texas! More on this breaking story tomorrow.
We watched the annual fiesta parade this evening. I’m not sure what is has to do with The Alamo, but an estimated 700,000 people watched for more than two hours as platoon after platoon of band members, military veterans and assorted community groups (had you heard of the Alzafar Shriners?) marched, strolled and waddled past. I said platoon deliberately: It seemed that more than half the groups were military based, and were taken very seriously. San Antonians (as, I suspect, many other Americans) were long on participation and patriotism but rather low on style and humour. And we must have seen and heard thirty marching bands, none of which distinguished themselves in any way (and we did not wait until the end!). Rio and Notting Hill should not feel threatened!
Nevertheless the whole evening was a lot of fun: we started with a delicious Mexican meal (reversing our rather negative views on Mexican food – it was excellent) and continued by standing on the pavement watching the parade for two hours, until our feet demanded a rest. We plan a quieter day tomorrow, when the forecast is 85 and sunny.
Over the last day or so we have seen (up close): an Elvis impersonator; a Rasta cowboy; a bar with saddles as bar stools (see picture); a drunk man fall off his bar stool (in the hotel!) and many girls with short dresses and mid-calf cowboy boots – not a look we recommend for Waverton.
A varied day today, with hot, dry weather the whole day. In the morning we communed with longhorn cattle, both in their stockyard and during their “drive” through the streets past our hotel (picture attached if I get it right). Their horns really are LONG, but they were the most docile cows we have ever seen – and quiet with not a moo between them. The birds in the trees were much louder and more hazardous (to walk beneath).
In the afternoon we popped over to Dallas (35 miles away) to visit the Kennedy museum on Dealey Plaza. This was very moving, as we stood at the window from which the fatal bullets were fired.
Otherwise Dallas was just a big US city so we came back to blog and plan where to eat this evening. A splendidly relaxing day.