Deep in the (flowering) heart of Texas

Last blog I told you that we would be taking our driving tests this week. This is the last official residency thing we needed to do. It will also provide us with photo id rather than our passports or NSW drivers licenses.

Like NSW we booked a specific time at a center about 30 minutes from our home. I think it is called a mega center because of the number of people they try to cram into the two big waiting rooms.  It was packed. People can wait all day at these places. Bad luck if you have to be at work. Anyway, we couldn’t really work out what we needed to do and despite asking two uniformed people who seemed to be directing the waiting masses where to go, we still were not sure. Finally, I went back to the harried looking concierge and reexplained that my appointment was now, and I had to do my driving test. He sent me to a clerk who then told me I had to go with my car (of course) around the back of the building and do the test from there! We headed around the back and joined that queue. There were eight cars ahead of us and only one stressed looking woman taking paper work and then going on the drive with the candidates. The driving part was only about 10 minutes each. I was so nervous- I haven’t done a driving test for more than 30 years. When I finished, Rob had to rejoin the queue for his turn. It was quite chaotic. The system seems completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of people. All-in-all it took from 1pm to 4.50pm for Rob and I to do our tests and PASS (yay!). Anyway, we are now waiting (again) for the cards to arrive in the post (sigh).

Well we have been to some interesting places the last two weekends. This will probably be the last of the quick trips on weekends because apart from a few local sites we are nearly at the end of the easy to get to places.

I did not really know much about Dallas except that JFK was shot there and there used to be a show in the 80’s with JR and a whole lot of big hats and big hair. Not a high level of knowledge, I agree. So, my approach to this weekend visit was to first book us into a JFK tour on Saturday morning. I figured we should get educated. We left Houston at about 6am as it’s a nearly four-hour drive.  The fog was pretty thick early, but it warmed up to a beautiful day. It was nice to get out of the city.

We made it in time for the tour and joined our slightly manic guide and a couple of other people from Las Vegas (there was a hockey game in town). It was quite fascinating but sad too. There was a big emphasis on how the shooting of JFK sort of marked the end of innocence in the states.The guide was completely sure that Lee Harvey Oswald was the shooter and that all of the conspiracy theories are just crazy and misinformed. The lack of security was what really struck Rob and I. Compared to today, the president’s tour was so casual. How the world has changed.

We went all over the old part of Dallas; Dealey Plaza, the Texas theatre even to the backyard of someone’s house to see the picket fence where a photo of Oswald was taken (we were a bit worried we were actually trespassing). We ended the tour at the book depository where there is a fine museum on the 6th and 7th floors.

I was a bit JFK’d out by that stage, so we went to the farmers market for crawfish and margaritas (as you do). The markets were fun and were celebrating St Patrick’s day. It seems that St Pat’s day is a very big deal in Texas (probably all over the US). Anyway, I have never eaten crawfish. From what I can make out they are freshwater yabbies of a type and must be pretty abundant because the special cookers that are used to cook them are enormous. We ate them at a Cajun street food stand and had them three ways: deep fried tails, pistolette and etouffee (like a chowder). It was really yum.

We wandered around for a while and then bought a tasting plate of local cheese and a bottle of local wine for dinner. Dallas was a really worthwhile visit.

The following day we headed to Fort Worth. Dallas Fort Worth is one of the biggest city areas in the country but quite a contrast. Fort Worth stockyards were great fun and really the highlight of the weekend. About 30 longhorn cattle are driven down the main drag twice a day. Apparently, longhorns developed from escapee cattle from the early settlers and became their own feral breed. They are well adapted to the dry hot conditions in Texas. After the civil war, there was very little stock left in the north and the ranchers of Texas became very rich rounding up the longhorns and driving them to Fort Worth where they could be put on trains to go north for sale. That’s when the Fort Worth stock yards started. 

Longhorn cattle were nearly extinct by the mid 1960’s and are still listed as critically endangered. They are pretty lean so while good for those of us who don’t like a lot of fat on our steak, they are not so popular in the bigger market. Still, Fort Worth stockyards keep a small herd of rescue cattle and there are breeders who also keep them.

 We took a free walking tour and it really helped with understanding the place. Fascinating little piece of information- bulldogging (now cattle wrestling) was started by a bloke called Bill Picket who watched how trained bull dogs pulled down escaping cattle by biting them on the lip. He decided he give it a go (as you do) and that’s how bulldogging started. He actually did bite the cattle on the lip as he wrestled them down (not recommended). He did it for the crowds at rodeos all over the place for many years.

We finished off the day in a honky-tonk saloon chatting with a bunch of people from Oregon and enjoying the music. Fun.

The drive home was a bit of a drama as we ended getting a flat tyre. (my US computer does not like how I’ve spelled tire). The roads here are not only crowded but the potholes are extraordinary. When you add to that the speed, it’s tough on tires and expensive.

The Texas wildflowers are out and so we thought we would take a long weekend and drive up to what is known as the hill country and then onto San Antonio. Wow, wow, wow. This was probably the best weekend so far.

The drive up to the hills went close to Austin then headed west along state highway 29. The wildflowers are mostly a blue/purple flower called bluebonnets, but there are also buttercups, primroses and Indian paintbrush. They probably needed another weekend to be perfect, but it was still spectacular. We really enjoyed being out of the towns and found the scenery a bit reminiscent of the northern tablelands around Tenterfield although not as hilly. There is a big granite uplift called the Llano uplift and in it is a pink granite hill called enchanted rock. We thought we might go into the state park and have a look but the queue just to get into the park was about a mile long. We gave it a miss and continued onto Fredericksberg. This is a German settlement town a lot like Hahndorff near Adelaide. Unfortunately, we did not find any apple strudel.

We did, however, find some wineries. Some grapes are grown in the area although we discovered that most are grown in north west Texas and then brought to the “Hill country” because its more accessible to the big cities of Texas and therefore is more of a tourist destination. The winemakers no doubt prefer to live in Fredericksburg too. We enjoyed the short visit to winery 4.0 where four wines are showcased, all but one is made from 100% Texas grown grapes.

On to San Antonio. Our son and daughter-in-law told us about San Antonio and how pretty it was. Really it surpassed my expectations. There are two main things to do in San Antonio: the river walk and the Alamo. The Alamo is almost sacred to Texans. A bit like how Australians celebrate Gallipoli, Texans revere the Alamo. Two hundred rebels held off 6,000 Mexican soldiers for a short time before they were defeated, and all were killed. However, it became the battle cry for the rest of the war between rebel Texans and the Mexican army. A few days after the fall of the Alamo, the Mexicans were defeated at San Jacinto and Texas became a republic. I don’t know really what I expected but the Alamo is a very small fort with a few lovely old brick buildings including a Spanish mission style church. It’s a well-done exhibit with long queues every day.

The River walk is another thing altogether. It is beautiful. The gardens and bridges along the way are artistic and interesting. It reminded me a lot of Italy but cleaner and newer. We used the hop-on-hop-off bus to get around and have an overview. One spectacular place was the Pearl, on old brewery site now turned into residential high-rise with market places and restaurants. As it was Saturday there was music and lots of people sitting on the grass eating ice-cream and shopping at the markets. We walked about 3 miles from there to the main part of the Riverwalk area which is restaurants, gardens and artwork; so pretty and restful. At night the restaurant area is full of people music and food; excellent fun.

There is lots more to see in San Antonio. We loved it.

Luckily, petrol (Gas) is pretty cheap here, so, these long drives are not too expensive on the fuel. When you go to a service station you pay up front at the bowser. Put in your credit or debit card and choose your gas. There is no 98, only standard (83%), 87% and 93%. The price for 93 per litre is about cents (US). Its no wonder everyone drives, and they have not bothered with public transport infrastructure. I am travelling to Australia next week and will be there for most of April. I may not post again until May.

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