Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Off the map

On our way back from Austin, we decided not to take the direct route (which, let's face it, should only be taken in circumstances of dire need), but instead to explore some back roads and discover some of the smaller towns between Austin and Houston. (I'll note here that they're only truly 'off the map' when the map looks something like this:

View Larger Map )

We first stopped in La Grange, which established what was to be a pattern for the day -

a small town based around a wide town square and town hall, with shops almost all closed (as it was a Sunday), and virtually no people or vehicles in sight. To our surprise, however, almost the only place open was a gourmet kitchenware shop! and we just had to go in...

Next stop - Schulenburg.

Maybe one other car passed us while we slowly cruised the main street... and I think we saw two pedestrians. There's a railway line just out of shot on the left but needless to say nothing came past there either.

Schulenburg advertises itself for its 'painted churches', but we didn't see any...

I don't know that we'd have stopped in Weimar (pronounce it how it looks, not the Cherman way) if we hadn't been hungry and looking for some lunch.

Weimar welcomed us alright... to Bob's Cook Shack, a delightful establishment serving all manner of fried food, and containing half the town's population, including the local ambulance officers, who were hoping aloud that 'we won't get some emergency right as we're served'.

The place looked like it had been there for at least the last fifty years, with formica tables and gingham curtains under its pressed metal ceilings, but when we had a chat with the owners they said they'd only opened a few months earlier. If they keep serving chicken fried steak and yummy potato salad - and remain the only place open on Sunday - I think they're destined to do well.

The last place we visited was also the most interesting...

Columbus is an absolutely fascinating small town, centred once again on a square with town hall,

but rather different to other places I've seen here. On the far side of the square is a confederate tower, now a museum,

which is unlike anything else I've ever seen in this part of the country... in addition to a gorgeous theatre, built by the eccentric businessmen who had a home next door and had the theatre constructed so that he was able to see the stage from his bedroom, there are many other historic buildings, as well as some fascinating looking shops, and a B&B I'd like to stay in some day: Magnolia Oaks Guest House (and The Little Red House, next door). I think it's safe to say we'll be back.

Oh, and because you've been good, I just have to share this gem, which we saw while driving:

It's an inspired combination just anyway, but it's the 'drive thru' that pushes it into the realms of pure genius ;)

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Capital, Capitol... capital!!

For the most mundane of reasons - Dave needed an official copy of his driving record from the DMV, and he needed it sooner than it could arrive by post - we spent last weekend in Austin. Our business being dealt with astonishingly quickly (I think we waited in line for a total of around three minutes; might this be a record?) we pranced off to the city to see what we could see.

After checking in at our hotel (rather more plush than our usual standards, but we got a great deal online and we heartily recommend the chain), we decided to go downtown to the Paramount Theater to see The Long, Hot Summer (1958), starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, and Orson Welles, amongst others. The lights were already down when we went in, so we didn't get to see the gorgeous interior til after the film had finished - obviously I couldn't take any photos myself, but I encourage you to click on the link provided above which will lead you to some great panoramas.

The next morning saw us about bright and early, starting the day at Bremond Block, a beautiful neighbourhood of lovely old stately homes.

Already it was starting to heat up, but it wasn't unpleasant, and it was so great (and novel, after Houston!) to be in a city where it was possible to walk to places, we left the car parked at Bremond Block and made our way to the Capitol.

The gardens out the front looked impossibly green and cool as we approached the building; as we drew closer it really did look amazingly impressive.

And on the inside at least as much...

There are, of course, Lone Stars everywhere inside the building, from the doorknobs to the lights... (in fact if you look carefully at the light globes, they even spell something out)... the star up inside the cupola is eight feet across, apparently, and there's one in the hand of Lady Liberty, standing on the cupola's dome (I guess they're trying to cash in on the popularity of this blog).

And of course there are some corresponding ones below it:

We caught the first tour of the Capitol, and so were still able to fit in a visit to the Texas State History Museum before lunch. It had many interesting exhibitions, but there was a LOT of reading and less 'interaction' than promised, so we were quite glad to sit down in the museum's cafe and have a break.

After lunch we walked up into the northern part of the city, past the university and some street markets, and found the Neill-Cochran House.

Built in 1855 as a residence for a family, but never quite finished, the house has been beautifully preserved and restored, and has lovely interiors. There were just four of us on the tour - including another Aussie, a guy who's been living in San Antonio for the last 30 years but whose accent still gave him away - so we had lots of time for questions, and to look at everything in detail.

After being on our feet for most of the day, and walking quite a distance in the hot sun, we thought we'd take advantage of Austin's very progressive public transport system and catch a free ride back down the city centre, but after waiting for some time we found that the one we wanted, at least, didn't run on the weekend. We grappled with the automated info-line for at least ten minutes of our half-hour wait, and it was all becoming a bit farcical (not to mention hot and humid!) when a bus finally arrived... it wasn't free, as the Dillo would have been, but at $1 for 24 hours of unlimited travel we didn't feel ourselves badly done by.

Energy flagging, and having done more than we'd expected to fit in when we started the day, what better way to finish it than in the famous Driskill Hotel's 1886 Cafe and Bakery,

sipping iced coffee and eating apple cobbler?

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Summer Camp

Last week we had two boys and a dog staying with us. One of the boys is sixteen, the other just turned five... I'll let you guess which required the most entertaining.

A few of the things we got up to during the week:

- letting Jack take photos of whatever he wanted (including himself) with my old camera

- lots and LOTS of play dough

- baking biscuits (which seems, from this shot at least, to be the new television... he dragged that chair there himself)

- playing with blocks

- covering the driveway in chalk pictures (mainly done in the early evening, for obvious Texas reasons)

Other activities which for some reason have gone undocumented included colouring with crayons, playing with dice, board games, stories, and walking the dog... we also managed a trip to the Children's Museum of Houston, which was having a pirate day in addition to their normal full program.

It was a full week, and not unenjoyable, but this week I'm enjoying the tranquillity!

Friday, 4 July 2008

We hold these truths to be self-evident

My first July 4!

We had a fairly low-key day, though very pleasant for all that... we resisted buying any fireworks from the plethora of stands that have sprung up round the neighbourhood, but we still looked the part, thanks to a local realtor who planted flags on the grass verge outside every house in the subdivision... that's his business card at the bottom.

Dave and I decided to go to Bayou Bend for their open day; we became members of the Museum of Fine Arts a couple of weeks ago, and heard about the open day from their e-news. Bayou Bend is a wonderful old house, surrounded by beautiful gardens, almost in the centre of the city (though you'd never know while there); the legacy of the incredibly named Ima Hogg, it showcases a wonderful collection of American furniture, art and ceramics, mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries.

But of course, I liked the gardens best...

After we'd been there for around an hour, there was a reading of the Declaration of Independence from the terrace,

while 'God Save the King*' was played.

* Actually, it was 'Our Country, Tis of Thee', but I didn't know it was sung to that tune, and was rather bemused by the choice of music til Dave explained it to me.