Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Texas Riviera - Galveston

Earlier this month we took some back roads from Somerset to sunny and MUGGY Galveston .  We arrived via the west end of the island.  Had a $2 toll bridge to cross before landing on the island itself.  Toll booth is a weird arrangement of a drawer that extends toward your car and you put money in a flat plastic container, the kind you carry your leftovers in to work.  In the car in front of us were some folks from Louisiana.  We sat there and watched as they tried to pay, but ran into trouble as their bills flew out of the drawer....the driver quickly jumped out to catch one of the bills next to the car.  At the same time his wife is running in front of the car to grab the other bill before it was gone.
We watched in amazement and laughed....until it was my turn to pay.
So, I thought I would try to put in my dollar and then add the quarters Fred was handing me to keep bill from flying away. Turns out that in addition to the breeze, the drawer is too far away. Well in my effort, one of the coins slipped from my fingers so now I am also out of the car trying to keep bill from blowing away and picking up coin on the ground.  It was a sight that only the toll booth guy was witnessing, no one behind us-whew.  It took quite a bit of this and that before the toll was paid.
I drove off laughing and Fred said "pitiful" while shaking his head in disbelief .  Ah, life on the road can be quite entertaining.

Anyway, we continue driving along the main road of Galveston Island, which is just a small two lane road until you get to the city of Galveston.  The sun was shining, it was warm, the speed is slow, so we open up the sunroof.  Big mistake, since about 20 mins later we are in town and I can barely deal with the humidity.  We close up the roof and turn on the ac, which quickly cooled the windshield making the hot moist air condense on the outside. In my mind the inside was fogging up, so never thought to turn on the wipers which would have solved the problem.  I just kept hoping to reach the hotel before I lost all visibility....
We pulled up to the Tremont House, which was our home for the next few days, to find that there is only Valet parking.  As we leave the car I say to Fred that I hope the poor guy can park the car without too much trouble with our foggy windshield.

The original Tremont House was built in 1839, burned, rebuilt, burned and rebuilt.  The Tremont House that we stayed in was built a block away from the original location, in what had been a former dry goods store. This is a good place to stay if you are taking a cruise out of Galveston, to Mexico, the Bahamas or the Caribbean.  The cruise ship dock is just two blocks away and can be seen from the back of the hotel.

Gingerbread Tremont House

The city of  Galveston is located on the Island of Galveston, which is just off the Texas coast in the Gulf of Mexico.  It is 27 miles long and 3 miles wide.  Galveston had been the richest city per capita in the nation during the late 1880s.  It was "the port" where goods arrived from around the world.  A wooden bridge with a train track connected it to the mainland at that time.  That railroad line has now been turned into a highway.
The big yearly event in Galveston is Dickens on the Strand.  It is a full weekend of parade, souvenir/craft booths, food and just general frivolity.  English flags are flown from houses and buildings, which we still saw upon our arrival right at the end of the event.  We were told that Charles Dickens great granddaughter arrives for the event every year.  Charles Dickens never came to Galveston and did not have any connection to the Island.  We were not sure how this all got started, but have learned by reading link below.  Sorry we missed this, but maybe next year.

Jean Lafitte once made his home here in the early 1800s, since it was a good island refuge for pirates.  When he was forced out by the Americans, he burned his house, set out to sea and was never heard of again.  Presumably lost at sea somewhere.
In 1900 a major storm (hurricane) devestated Galveston.  Except for a very few homes, the island was destroyed.  There were estimated 6,000 dead, far to many to bury, so the bodies were weighted down and then buried at sea.  Unfortunately, due to the tides the bodies washed ashore again.  Now any able bodied man was conscripted to gather and burn the bodies.  Many forced at gun point, since this was horrible work.  Once all the debris was cleared away, the island began building again.

Our hotel was located in the old historic east end of the island.  It was wonderful area for walking around and just checking out the many Victorian homes that had been built after the 1900 storm.  Many homes had been damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008 and were still in restoration process.  Some have not been touched, lack of insurance, money or some folks just gave up due to the ever present threat of hurricanes in this area, probably many reasons.  We walked many of the streets just looking at all the beautiful homes and the lucious mediterranean type plants and trees.  So much "eye candy" in every direction.  What a joy!

One day we walked across the width of the island, from the harbor side to the gulf side, which turns out was 6 miles round trip.  A beautiful walk in warm sunshine. Thankfully all of the island is flat, with the only difficult part being the up and down the high sidewalks.  Once out of the business core, the sidewalks were still 2-3 steps high, but did not always include easy ups and downs.

We did visit two very grand homes that survived the 1900 storm and all others since, Moody House and the Bishops' Palace.  Both were originally built with steel substructure and 20" of  bricks thick.  Both homes had very large stately rooms on the main floor and large bedrooms above, with much wood work, grand inside stair cases, stained glass windows and full height windows to let in the sea breezes.  The Bishops' Palace was originally a family home built for the Greshem family and has 52 rooms.  It was later bought by the church as a residence for the Bishop of the Archdiocese of Galveston/Houston.,_Jr.

We did try to visit the Galveston Historic Museum, but it has still not opened since the 2008 hurricane.  All of this makes us realize how difficult and how long the process of restoring life can be after a major hurricane.  All the folks on the east coast have a long road ahead of them after Hurricane Sandy.

The Railroad Museum was open, so we spent a few hours there looking at the old trains and various memorablia.  They are still working at getting it in full operation.  Only one of the model train displays is up and running.  Cleaning of china and silverware from their  collections are still being done.  It was interesting though to see and walk through some of the old trains.  Fred even saw an original cattle car that he had built slat by slat as a kid.  There was a big smile on that face....!

I really loved Galveston and would visit again, even for longer if given the chance, but I would not live there.  I can not imagine what those folks go thru each fall as the threat of hurricanes looms.
Well, we think that is our last big trip for 2012.  We will probably just do some day trips in our area.  We need to get our plans organized for our trip back up to Seattle early in 2013 when our new grandson will be arriving.  We are looking forward to being able to visit with many of you again.  Till then....
Merry Christmas to all!  Happy New Year!

Michelle and Fred
Traveling the country so you don't have to.