TOUR TEXAS: Christmastime in Grapevine

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man
grapevine


There should have been a big banner over the street that read “Just add snow!”. 

 

Christmastime surrounded us as we walked along the crowded sidewalk in scenic downtown Grapevine. Everywhere you looked there were colorful lights and smiling faces, giant red bows and displays of the season.  But it was more than the festive decorations; Christmastime was in the crisp north Texas air. You could feel it and it felt real good.

 

Grapevine knows how to celebrate Christmas and it shows in the weeks of activities staged throughout December. On this particular night we were there for no particular reason other than to just enjoy the atmosphere that is Grapevine during the holidays.
 

 

The animated North Pole was a favorite for kids. I stood and watched as they ran from a Keebler-like treehouse with busy elves, to a toy workshop, and then on Santa’s bedroom where more elves frantically tried to wake their bearded buddy for his annual trek to the south.

 

A short walk past whimsically decorated collectible shops and boutiques was a park with thousands of synchronized holiday lights. The gazebo flashed multicolored patterns in the night alongside a conical Christmas tree towering nearby. First solid green then red, next came a rainbow of light followed by total darkness only to repeat again to the beat of traditional Christmas tunes. It was hypnotic and fascinating to watch standing there with hundreds of others who had come to share the joy.

 

Hung high above the traffic along Main Street were reindeer in lights. The sales and wait staff in shops and restaurants were dressed in their winter pajamas to celebrate the North Pole Express making a holiday stop at the Cotton Belt Railroad District through Christmas. 

 

From the Grapevine Opry Country Christmas to the historic pioneer cabins, and the City’s signature wineries and tasting rooms, Christmas was everywhere and everyone was filled with the spirit of the season. You could see it in the children’s faces. But, it was not just the Santa kind of Christmas. It was bigger than that as it should be. It was a peaceful, Joy to the World, reason for the season sort of thing and I’m glad that Grapevine is one of the spots that I chose to spend this holiday season.

 

Merry Christmas y’all.

 

For a listing of more Christmas celebrations across Texas, check TourTexas.com now!

mike






  Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man


Alway check TourTexas.com for the latest Texas Travel and Vacation information, brochures, maps and more.

TOUR TEXAS: German's Don't Drink Warm Beer

Thursday, December 1, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man

 

It was a random conversation in College Station that tipped me off to the Franconia Brewing Company. Just a casual word that I was on my way to a wedding in McKinney, and he mentioned a great craft beer tour just minutes from where I would be staying. What were the odds?

 

Franconia is a regional brew available primarily in the DFW area, and only in kegs. No bottles or cans to be had.

 

From the outside the warehouse-style building appeared to be nothing special; a simple brick building with no distinguishing sign or logo among several others in an industrial complex on the McKinney Parkway. But inside there was stuff happening from one end to the other that would make most craft brewers envious. An old-style German beer was being brewed with several generations of experience to make it right.

Franconia

 

Owner and Brew Master, Dennis Wehrmann comes from a long line of German brewers. His great grandfather was a brewer back in the 1800s where all kegs where made of wood and beer was delivered by horse carriage. Most of his uncles are brewers and even his mom has a degree as a brewery lab technician. I guess you might say that Dennis has beer in his blood . . . literally and figuratively.

 

I have been on several brewery tours, but this one was the best ever. Dennis was one part Brew Master and one part standup comic. His well rehearsed routine was peppered with comedic one-liners skewering the big guys. One minute he was explaining how four simple ingredients combine to make beer, then the next he was debunking the claims of a major beer company that by “triple hopping” their brew it makes it superior. According to Wehrmann triple hopping has been a standard process for brewers since the beginning of time.

 

Perched on a commercial step ladder high above more than 125 visitors, Wehrmann told beer lovers, home brewers, and curious looky-loos about the three temperatures necessary to brew his three signature beverages. He then proceeded to offer to wave the usual $5.00 Franconia tour fee for anyone who would go to Houston’s St. Arnold Brewing Company and come back with their closely guarded temperature ranges.

 

He mocked the Rocky Mountain claim that “frost brewing” makes beer taste better by asking the crowd when was the last time any of us saw “frosty steam” rising from a heated beer kettle. “After a workout, why spend money on expensive protein shakes when there is just as much protein in the foamy head of a great tasting beer?” he asked. No one in the crowd with a pint of lager in-hand could dispute that statement.

 

Wehrmann went out of his way to explain a complicated process in a manner that everyone could understand. From start to finish he made it sound so easy, though we all knew that this was a skilled master of his craft. Unlike many brewery tours, this was more than a two-hour drinking party. It was a learning experience for anyone who appreciates the process of brewing a tasty tall one. From a traditional German lager, to the Wheat and the dark Durkel, Wehrmann has gotten it right.

 

As we were leaving his lecture Wehrmann asked us to stop and listen closely to his final words. He said that Americans have three major misconceptions about Germans that he wanted to set straight. “First, Germans don’t wear lederhosen all the time.” There was a laugh. “Second, Germans did NOT invent the Chicken Dance . . . in fact, we don’t even do the Chicken Dance.” This time there was a bigger laugh. “And three . . . Germans don’t drink warm beer.” Cheers filled the room.

 

These were words to live by. . . words that I won’t soon forget.

 

mike






  Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man

Always visit TourTexas.com for Texas Travel Information, city maps from around Texas and travel guides.

TOUR TEXAS: Malt Shop Memory Maker

Tuesday, November 29, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man

 

My chocolate malt was a tad thicker and creamier than any that I have had in years. Topped with a mound of whipped cream and a single stemmed maraschino cherry, it was more than tasty . . . for me it was a flashback to the days of Billy Hailey, Chuck Berry and the Big Bopper. This was the real deal right in the middle of Corsicana, Texas.

Originally opened in 1905, The Diner on North Beaton Street is the oldest continually operating soda fountain in Texas and with the same ice cream machine purchased in 1922 it still cranks out old-style Dr Pepper floats, sodas, sundaes and banana splits to customers from the Piney Woods to Waco and north to Ennis. 

Diner

It’s been years since I had a Purple People Eater – a tall drink of grape soda and vanilla ice cream, or a Brown Cow – an incredible mix of root beer and chocolate syrup with vanilla ice cream. When was the last time you even heard of a Phosphate? For readers under the age of 50, a Phosphate is a well balanced mix of flavored syrup and soda water over ice. The perfect combination should be left to the professionals like Pepper, our waitress and hand scoop extraordinaire.

As we sat at a red vinyl booth it was impossible not to take in the history around us. The scuffed, stained floor was worn white tile with Art Deco patterns in black, red and teal green. The matching green and red counter was original with a row of chrome-railed red and black vinyl swivel stools. Above the mirrored back wall behind the counter hung a large sign from the early days that read “Hashop Drugs – ice cream”.

Well used Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper fountains rested on the counter top as customers sat and enjoyed their meal to either side.

 I ordered my cheese burger done the old fashioned way, the way burgers used to be served up during the heyday of diners and soda shops. It was loaded with great taste and better memories.

As I savored those memories along with the ¼ lb. stack of beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and extra mustard, classic country tunes from the ‘60s floated over head. If only for a moment it was small town Texas from decades past and I was hanging on to every second of it for as long as I could.

When the check came I quickly returned to present day reality . . . there was no 5-cent dipped ice cream or 15-cent soda on my tab like there used to be. But, the modern day price was well worth the cost of admission to this malt shop memory maker in Corsicana.

mike







  Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man


Always check with TourTexas.com for the latest Texas Travel Information, and for Texas City Maps, Brochures and Travel Guides.

TOUR TEXAS: Galveston's Mardi Gras Ghost

Monday, October 17, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man

For years the Mernard House at 33rd Street and Avenue N 1/2 has been known as "the" haunted house of Galveston.
Menard
Built in 1838, the home of Michael Mernard - one of the original signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence, sat empty for many years with its windows boarded shut. The imposing oaks surrounding the mansion only added to its eerie appearance. In fact, long time Islanders such as my old friend Sheila Lidstone still talk about crossing the street as kids in order to avoid passing directly in front of the "creepy" old house. Like Ashton Villa, Mernard House is today one of Galveston's most beautifully restored historic homes with rumors of its own resident ghost.

According to local legend, well before the Civil War the Mernard House was the site of Galveston's first ever Mardi Gras Ball. At midnight a young woman tripped on the front hall stairway, fell and broke her neck.

For years that followed on Mardi Gras night, Mernard's slaves were said to have seen the ghost of the young woman standing on the stairs. It is not known for sure who the young woman was, but it is believed to be Mernard's daughter, Clara, who reportedly died in her teens.

Another ghostly tale of Galveston Island . . .
 
mike




  Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man

Always use TourTexas.com for Texas City Maps, Texas Brochures, Family Vacations in Texas and more...



TOUR TEXAS: Miss Bettie Brown - the "Haunting" Hostess of Galveston

Monday, October 3, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man

Galveston Island is one of the most "spirited" towns in Texas.  From the old community cemetery on Broadway to several stately homes and residences on the east end, Galveston is said to be filled with Gulf Coast ghosts after sunset.

Carl Wade is was said to be one of several folks over the years to see for himself evidence of one of Galveston's well known specters - the ghost of Miss Bettie Brown, the flamboyant hostess of Ashton Villa. Ashton Villa is a marvelous example of Italianate architecture built in 1859 by James Moreau Brown. Today the magnificent house on Broadway is a museum home open to the public.

Though strongly denied by management for many years, it has been rumored for years that the spirit of Miss Bettie is still very much "alive" and well at Ashton Villa. "While my brother was a docent at the house he told me about straightening a bedspread in Miss Bettie's sitting room at closing time only to find it rumpled the next morning as if someone had sat or slept on it during the night," reported Carl's sister Adrienne.

Ashton Villa ghost

The rumpled bed linens were just one of the more regular occurrences referred to by staff members over the years when speaking of Miss Bettie's spirit. It was reported that a caretaker sleeping in the carriage house adjacent to Ashton Villa was awakened late one night by the sound of a piano playing. He reluctantly entered the house and is said to have seen the faint image of a woman sitting at the keyboard of the home's beautiful antique piano. An instant later the music stopped and the apparition vanished. Needless to say the flustered caretaker slept with the lights on in his carriage house apartment for the rest of the night.

There are stories of ceiling fans and lights that mysteriously turn off and on, burglar alarms sounding while in the "off" position during the day, and a trunk belonging to Miss Bettie that locks and unlocks itself without a key. There was an alleged sighting of Miss Bettie during Galveston's annual Dickens Christmas blow-out in 1991. An unidentified woman in a nineteenth century turquoise gown was seen by a docent standing at the top of the home's grand staircase. What made this so odd was that Ashton Villa had not yet opened to the public, and no staff person working in the house was dressed in a turquoise gown that day. The incident was written off as nothing more than Miss Bettie overseeing the final preparations for the holiday festivities.

Though there have been many unexplained happenings reported throughout the years, no one has ever had an ill-feeling about the house or its resident spirit. Ashton Villa's former manager Lucy Testa summed it up best saying, "Several of us have had different feelings while in the house, but never anything spooky or gloomy. It's a happy house, and we were never afraid of the presence that we all knew lived there," she said.


mike








   Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man


Always check-in at TourTexas.com for the latest Texas Travel Information, Texas City Maps, and Texas Travel Guides.

TOUR TEXAS: Mini Mass in Warrenton

Sunday, September 25, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man

It has sat quietly along Highway 237 between Warrenton and Round Top for more than a century - a tiny sanctuary for reviving the soul and praising the Lord.

At just over 250 square feet, Saint Martin’s is said to be the World’s smallest Catholic Church. The simple white frame structure is home to an equally small congregation that meets there for Mass once a month.

st martin

From the hardwood floor - worn smoothed from years of wear, and twelve small bench pews, to the exposed roof beams and traditional bell steeple above, this pint sized house of worship may be simple in construction, but it’s filled with the Spirit.

On either side of the ornate gold and white painted alter are iconic symbols Catholicism: the Virgin Mary, Christ and a Crucifix, and a large oil painting of St. Martin – Patron Saint of soldiers. There are vases of fresh and silk flowers, and framed words of wisdom.

A hand-written note lay on the Alter – an open letter to God. Though short on words, the message was strong. “Almighty Father. Empower the Holy Spirit to help us with decisions that we have to make at this time. Sweet Jesus, give strength to our daughter and her family to cope with having a very special daughter, our RETT ANGEL. Thank you Lord for all you have given us, especially our children.”

The double doors to Saint Martin’s are always open to visitors, and an expectedly small donation box is there for those wanting to support the upkeep of this tiny treasure, home of the mini-Mass in Warrenton.



mike






Michael Baxter is the Texas Travel' Man


Always check  TourTexas.com for Texas City Maps, Texas Brochures, Texas Tourist Information and more.

TOUR TEXAS: God's Glass

Sunday, September 25, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man



Small Texas towns. What’s not to like about them? Maybe it’s a special shop, restaurant, historical site or the town “character” you meet at the gas station that makes the visit memorable. But, on this day it was more. It was the white limestone church on the hill with its steeple towering above twisted old trees. It was the historic Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Round Top.

Dedicated in 1866, the church was designed in an old world style by Carl Bauer, a German immigrant who moved to Texas along with so many others during that time. The $2,400 cash needed to construct the building was collected by the congregation and all the inside furnishings – from the altar covering to the massive pulpit Bible and Crucifix - were donated.

church

For more than 140-years, music has lifted high into the sky around Round Top every Sunday from the handmade cedar pipe organ that still plays from the balcony overlooking the sanctuary. Its 408 hand-shaped pipes were crafted from cedar trees grown nearby.

On the gently sloping turf to the rear is the church cemetery.  There are the headstones marking the final resting places of church founders, Texas war veterans, children taken by illness and more. It’s the history of Round Top there to ponder.

As impressive as the building, its contents, and its long history are, one element within the church spoke to me like no other; God’s glass . . . the stained glass windows that have inspired congregations for generations.

Shades of blue and purple are wrapped in bands of gold and orange. Diamond shaped panels spray a rainbow of colors onto worshippers seated in the well-worn wooden pews below.

Each window displays its own distinctive biblical message in a circular pattern among the diamonds. One features a lamb and pennant, another a cross and crown, and a third displays an open bible with the Greek letters Alpha and Omega. The image of two carved stone tablets with the Roman numerals “I, II, III, IV . . . X” share another window with crossed trumpets announcing “Ye Praise the Lord”. It is an emotionally moving display of spiritual art created by devout German believers in small town Texas at the end of the Civil War.

The Bethlehem Lutheran Church is at 409 S. White Street, just a block or two off Highway 237 in Round Top. You can’t miss it . . . just look for the steeple on the hill and God’s glass in the walls.


mike






 Michael Baxter is the Texas Travelin' Man


Always check TourTexas.com for Texas Tourist Information, Texas Travel Information, Texas City Maps and more.

Chicken Fried Steak Review: Humble City Cafe in Humble, Texas

Saturday, February 19, 2011 by The Texas Travelin' Man
Humble City CafeThe next time you find yourself in downtown Humble, make sure you leave time to eat at the Humble City Café. You'll have a great meal. It’s as local as local can get. The building dates back to 1914 and once housed a pharmacy, post office, bus stop, and grocery store. The Humble City Café opened in 1995.

I’ve been to the Humble City Café several times but I’ve always ordered their hamburgers which are fantastic. Since I’m not looking for the Best Hamburger in Texas, I ordered the Chicken Fried Steak. On their menu it says “the best Chicken Fried Steak in Texas.” Well it isn’t.

Here’s the recipe. You get a choice of “The whole thing” which is 8 ounces of a tenderized round steak at a cost of Humble City Chicken Fried Steak$13.39 or “only half” which is 4 ounces at a cost of $11.39. I got smart and ordered the “only half” (it’s a shame the cost wasn’t “only half”). The meat was thin, juicy and very tender and only had a little grease on the bottom. The white gravy needed help. It was thick, but lacked pepper. Once I added the pepper it was better. The breading was crispy and covered the entire steak and didn’t fall apart when I dug in. The breading could have been more seasoned. You get 2 sides (from a choice of 19 sides) and I chose mashed potatoes which were not worth the calories. I even put butter, salt and pepper on the mashed and it still didn’t help.

I had the green beans which were the best I’ve had to date. They were crunchy and smoky with pieces of bacon and had a little kick to it. They start you off with a choice of rolls or a cast iron skillet of homemade corn bread. Get the cornbread. It comes with regular butter and a cinnamon butter. The cinnamon butter is very heavy on the cinnamon. 

They have specials everyday for lunch and a buffet Sunday morning.

Humble City Cafe

Who is that mapped man? It's the Texas Travelin' Man.

The Texas Travelin' Man
URating Legend

The Texas Travelin' Man's Multi-Generational Vacation to San Antonio - Final Day

Friday, August 6, 2010 by The Texas Travelin' Man
Day 4 - Natural Bridge Caverns, Celebrating its 50th year
Just 35 minutes from the Springhill Suites/Six Flags, and a must visit, especially if you have never been to a Cavern before. We have been deprived of this experience, so we went. What we didn’t have time to do was experience the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch which is located next door.

Natural Bridge CavernsWe did the Discovery Tour which was about 75 minutes long with a guide. There was plenty of time to take pictures (if you have the right camera. Most of the pictures did not come out). You must wear shoes as the walk down and back up are steep and wet in places. Flip flops just won’t work. If you are very, very claustrophobic you may have a problem. I am, but there was only a very short period of time I felt it. The scenery and narration helps you forget your claustrophobia.

$17.95/adult; $9.95/child 3-11

Canyons

Splashtown:

The grand kids didn’t get enough of the water parks at SeaWorld (even though they got soaked from Shamu, the raft ride and the log ride) and Six Flags, they wanted to go to a full fledged water park. So we opted to go to Splashtown because it was closer, we figured it would be less crowded  and we had to leave early to make our dinner reservations.  Everyone did have a great time in the wave pool, on the slides and along the lazy river. I especially enjoyed myself as I stayed under a large covered area next to the lazy river and people watched.

Splashtown was not crowded, but it was very tired looking. It does need a makeover. I think I’m safe in saying that The Water Park to choose is The Schlitterbahn.  Go the extra miles, pay the extra price and wait in lines if you have to.


Dinner at
The Chart House atop the Tower of the Americas:

Chart HouseThere are so many great restaurants to choose from in San Antonio to celebrate the end of a great vacation and a birthday (The Texas Travelin’ Man had a birthday). We were going to choose a restaurant along the Riverwalk, but I decided it would be special for the grand kids to experience a revolving restaurant high above the city (plus it would be much cooler than eating outside). It was perfect, except for the people facing the window looking out as the sun was in their eyes. The waitstaff and the food was right on the money. Speaking of money, it was more expensive than I expected, but good food, good service and good atmosphere comes at a price (and someone has to pay to have the restaurant spin around). The perfect ending to a perfect vacation with family.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog, the kids and grand kids were an important part in the planning of this Multi-Generational Vacation so I thought I would let you hear what they had to say.

Abby C.

Amber R.

Matt C.

Sadie R.

So, go and make memories now while you can. We chose San Antonio to make our memories. Choose yours.

The End.

Who is that mapped man? It's the Texas Travelin' Man.

It's the Texas Travelin' Man.

Gallivantin’ in Galveston

Sunday, September 13, 2009 by The Texas Travelin' Man

Gallivantin' in Galveston, Texas


Galveston, Texas continues to make music. Galveston SquareThere are a few band members missing, but the beat goes on.

This was my first visit since Hurricane Ike and my first impression as I drove over the Causeway was things are looking good. The mighty Seawall did its job. It kept Galveston as safe as possible. Just about all the hotels and restaurants in Galveston are open and doing well.

One of the best things to come out of Hurricane Ike is the new Galveston Beach. I could tell you how much new sand they brought in, but you just have to see it to believe it.

Moody Gardens (in my opinion it's the place to stay and play in Galveston)

The hotel is as good as ever. The only thing missing are the fish in the lobby pond. They were having a special on Sushi the day I was there, but that may have just been a coincidence. As for the attractions, they're all open.

What can I eat on the Island?
You can smell the fresh seafood as you are driving along Seawall Blvd. Once you enter certain restaurants such as Casey's (Gaido's casual cousin) most of what you smell is fried seafood.

A few suggestions. Don't order the Fried vegetable combo. It's not worth the calories. Also if you like Louisiana Po-Boys, stay away from the Po-Boys at Casey's. The grilled anything is the way to go, and the menu is priced right.

Olympia on The StrandGo Mediterranean on Pier 21. The Grill at Pier 21 opened in June and is right on the harbor. The restaurant is beautifully designed, but make sure you dine al fresco. Now here's a tip for dining al fresco. Never turn away from your food. Why you ask? You want to make sure nothing drops in it from above. Is that a caper in my salad? Now if you are dining with Al Fresco, you have nothing to worry about. The food is top notch and the prices are reasonable. They even offer you 3 free hours of parking. Oh by the way. If you dine (al fresco) Friday or Saturday night there is live music and belly dancers.

The Strand

Is everything open? No. But renovations are everywhere. Is there enough to see, eat and drink? You bet your Tequila there is. If you liked Galveston before, you'll like it now. Don't wait to visit. Visit Galveston now. Not because they really need you to, but because you'll have a great time.


Where to Stay


Moody Gardens Hotel, Hotel Galvez, San Luis Resort, Hawthorne Suites at The Victorian and The Tremont are all top notch and ready to swipe your creditcard.


What to Eat


Soooo many restaurants, but the only tip I'll give you is go seafood. Now that being said it doesn't have to be your typical seafood restaurant. There are great Italian, Mediterranean, Asian and BBQ Restaurants. OK, here is another tip. Don't eat the seafood at a BBQ restaurant.


What to Do


Moody Gardens, horse drawn carriage rides, Bishops Palace, Duck Tour, Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum, The Strand and The Schlitterbahn waterpark to name just a few.


Here are 2 audio clips you may enjoy:

Gallivantin' Galveston Gal (Gene Autry)
Listen to clip

Quick As I Could (Billy Bourbon)
Listen

For more information or to order a free travel brochure, visit Galveston on TourTexas.com. Go ».


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A Texas Travel Information Blog - Why not?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009 by The Texas Travelin' Man

A Blog about Texas travel? Why not? What will be different from other Blogs about traveling in Texas? You'll just have to keep reading to find out.

Now I'm not a native Texan, but I'm a Traveler. I've lived in Texas since 2005 and have had the opportunity to see just a small part. My goal is to visit every corner of this great state to find the good, the bad (I'm not looking for the bad, but I know it's out there) and the ugly. I'm also very opinionated. So you'll hear about the good things and the bad. Are my opinions right? YES. Will you have different opinions? Sure. Will you have an opportunity to refute my opinions? Yes. I dare you. I'll also give you some helpful travel tips, not just for Texas.

Topics you'll be seeing on a regular basis:

  • Places to eat and places not to eat.
  • I'm searching for the best Chicken Fried Steak (I've stocked up on Zocor)
  • Travel bargains
  • Websites to check out
  • Tell me where to go (I know you want to)

Travel Tip: When searching for the lowest hotel rates and you don’t want to use an online travel agency like Travelocity, Expedia, etc, go to a specific hotels website (or a chains website) and check out their rates. They should be the lowest available. You can also go to the destinations Convention and Visitors Bureau website and if you see a search box that says “BookDirect” you can view the lowest rates of all the hotels that are available with just a few clicks.


So keep an eye on out (old joke) for my Blog, and let's have some fun.




Check out this video clip from The David Letterman Show about Blogging

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