by BILL BARTLETT*
One does not go to San Antonio and not go to The Alamo, the most visited spot in Texas and one of America’s historically important and admired monuments. Originally a Spanish mission and later a military garrison, the structure has endured since 1724. Surprisingly it is in central downtown. Most think it’s a distant drive. So, walk and take in the many fine shops and cafés to and from.
More surprisingly admission is free, just walk in. There are many helpful docents. I advise for a small fee visiting the Battlefield or enjoying less crowded after hour tours. The central point is the Shrine but be certain to visit the Long Barrack, the well-stocked gift shop with quality items, not cheap trinkets and be sure to include the gardens.
(Alamo foto by Bill Bartlett)
Now, I am off to cosmopolitan Houston, America’s 4th largest city. The 3-hour drive is uninteresting.
H-Town as it is known locally has unfavorable weather and worse traffic. Both can be circumvented with careful planning. My destination is the Icon. Normally I avoid chain hotels, in this case Marriott and properties this large (132 rooms). With some prudent shopping it’s possible to book rooms for under €125. The Magnolia is an equally good choice. Both are well located for enjoying Houston. I will not see or need my car again, conveniently parked, until I depart for my final two stops.
International visitors of course want to explore the Johnson Space Center. They should. It is a museum in its own right. At least 10 other exceptional museums in the “Museum District” deserve visits. Among the 19 in total, The Museum of Fine Art, The Children’s Museum, The Menil Collection, Contemporary Arts Museum and Museum of Natural Science. The District encompasses Hermann Park housing the Houston Zoo, a Japanese Garden, McGovern Garden and Miller Outdoor Theater.
The frequently awarded zoo, one of the top 10 in the US, sits on 22 ha and boasts 6,000 animals from 900 species. The grounds include the Kipp Aquarium, a water play park, plus a children’s zoo. The zoo is especially known for its animal encounters where visitors can actually touch a variety of the inhabitants.
Food is essential to the Houston multi-ethnic culture. Dining is a main attraction. Houston has a Southern heritage so expect dishes favored in the neighbor south. Latin American cuisine is paramount in Houston with Peruvian restaurants my favorite. Brazilian, Argentinian, and Chilean chefs have put Houston on the American food map. H-Town of course is the zenith of Tex-Mex, a culinary creation of the Tejano people of Texas, the distillation of Northern Mexico and Texan rancher.
(Houston photo by Bill Bartlett)
Having eaten my way through the Heights and Montrose, Houston’s top restaurant districts, I head north for the 4-hour drive to Fort Worth also known as Cow Town. Dallas and Houston have a cosmopolitan sensibility with world class style albeit Texan to the core. Fort Worth is cowboy Texas where rodeos and livestock remain central to its heritage.
There is much to do and see, some times of the year more animated than others. And for all its cowboy culture you can go, as I do, to the Kimbell Art Museum known worldwide. Here, art and architecture combine and house one of the best permanent art collection in the US with masterpieces by Picasso, Rembrandt, Matisse, Goya and many others.
I find the Ashton and its historic status and location worth the extra price. Parking is irritating at €26/night as is the nightly preservation fee. However, it is perfectly situated in Sundance Square, a 35-block entertainment and residential district in downtown Fort Worth with hundreds of bars, restaurants, boutiques and galleries in beautifully restored historic buildings.
The nearby Botanic Garden, the oldest in Texas, is one of my first stops. There are 23 specialty gardens within the 44 ha lush and lavish space that offers a panoramic view of the city, Rose Garden with 2,000 roses, a conservatory, and my favorite, the Japanese Garden with the ubiquitous components of ponds, bridges, bamboo and sculpture-like plantings.
(Texas size burger photo by Bill Bartlett)
I would never miss the Water
Gardens. It is here that water and Philip
Johnson architecture are perfectly blended forming pools, cascading water, and
terraces all eventually finding their way to a sunken gorge. My visits to Forth
Worth always coincide with the Stock Show, an international livestock
extravaganza every March for 3 weeks that includes one of the top three rodeos.
The show is Texas in all its regalia.
My final stop - and just as easily you could this itinerary in reverse - is Big D or Dallas as the world knows it. There is a serious rivalry between Dallas and Houston as to which is more important in commerce, culture, and world prestige. This argument will never be won.
Dallas is one of those major cities where ‘downtown’ is not a
tightly defined area. Furthermore, Dallas is also known by its sprawl and many
suburban neighborhoods each with a deep sense of self. The Highland Park or
Bishop Arts District would be your best locations. I am still inclined to
choose the Canvas in the CedarsDistrict about as downtown as is comfortable.
The most visited sites in Dallas surround the John F. Kennedy assassination. If that is of interest then it will be easy to organize yourself. Dallas claims to be the largest urban arts district in the United States, situated on 20 square blocks with a rare concentration of cultural attractions. My time is mostly here.
(Dallas photo by Bill Bartlett)
You will find time to visit plenty of the attractions in the area like the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Klyde Warren Park and the Winspear Opera House. Highly regarded venues and institutions stand side by side in the Arts District, from the superb Dallas Black Dance Theatre in the east to the Dallas Museum of Art in the west.
If your interest is architecture, monuments like the neo-Gothic Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin Guadalupe (1902), with a 68-meter spire and 100 stained glass windows are typical of Dallas buildings among the predominantly steel and glass skyscrapers. Take your architecture outside a bit to the Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden, an oasis about 15 minutes from city central. This is a Texas size garden that among other events features Dallas Blooms from February to mid-April with over 100 varieties of spring bulbs and a half million tulips! The choice of attractions and live art in Dallas is endless. Find yourself there.
(Hill country photo by Bill Bartlett)
From the Dallas airport there is non-stop service to over 20 international destinations. Getting home is easy. Saying good-bye to Texas may be more difficult. Texans will show you a good time. Visit soon.
(Part 2 - the end)
* BILL BARTLETT (Bill is Managing Director of Cascade
Travel & Photo in Central Oregon. Texas is the first of a series of 4
articles for foglieviaggi. Bill has traveled to 58 countries on 6 continents.
His travel focus is history and architecture. Look for Alaska – the Last
Frontier to appear soon)