Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dallas: Day 28

If it’s going to be this cold and snowy in Dallas, we might as well go home.

On the last days of the journey, we drove up to Dallas and saw their record snowfall. Schools closed and children were struggling to find makeshift sleds or build lopsided snowmen. This has the makings of tales they would tell their own grandchildren, decades from now.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Austin: Day 27

Forget the live music, the Governor’s Mansion, LBJ museum or the bats. We came to Austin for the wood-fire BBQ.

Some of the best of its kind can be found at a converted “speak-easy” with a panoramic view of Texas Hill Country, at the edge of the city.

This is the County Line restaurant (On the Hill location), one of 2 in Austin. There are 2 in San Antonio, and ones in Montgomery, Houston, Albuquerque and Oklahoma City.

The menu features bring a chuckle to the reader with such entries as “all you can stand” family size platters, Skeeter’s Caesar Salad and the Hippie Burger. The burgers come with a “heap of fries and a bowl of beans.”

Come hungry. This is real Texas-pit barbecue

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Texas Hill Country: Day 26

In the mid-1800’s a large number of German settlers migrated to Texas to avoid political persecution and economic troubles back home. Baron Ottfried Hans von Meusebach founded the town of Fredericksburg naming it after Prince Frederick of Prussia. It’s one of the charming small towns in the Texas hill country where visitors can find a number of B&Bs, wineries, dude ranches and parks.

In 1849 Fredericksburg was the last stop for gold rush prospectors bound for California to load up on supplies before heading to the coast.

A number of shops, restaurants and historical buildings lure travelers from all over, and it’s a favorite weekend destination for folks from nearby San Antonio and Austin. One such building is the Nimitz Hotel, originally hosting stagecoach travelers in the 1860’s, now houses the National Museum of the Pacific War.

16 miles east of Fredericksburg is the LBJ historical park, complete with memorabilia from President Johnson’s childhood, and the family ranch.

On the road, we saw a trailer transporting a couple of cows. If you look closely, you can see a border collie sharing the ride.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Castroville: Day 25

The last place I would expect to find great sauerbraten would be west of San Antonio, in Castroville located on the edge of the south plains of Texas.

Entering the 150- year old European style “Old Alsatian Steakhouse & Ristorante”, is like walking into a scene from a fairy tale, with old stone houses with beamed roofs and little gardens.

Here, diners can feast on steaks, seafood and northern Italian cuisine for lunch and dinner, as well as authentic Germanic dishes. I was tempted by the Alsatian sausage sampler with mustard and pickles, the veal marsala, Alsatian salmon, German apple rum cake - but could only fill one stomach.

The village was founded in 1844 by Henri Castro of Landes France, who obtained a land grant of more than a million acres of land in Texas, then recruited 700 colonists from his native land, particularly the Alsace-Lorraine region.

Today, visitors can take a walking tour to view some of the 50 buildings from that time – many of which are B&Bs, restaurants or private homes. The Chamber of Commerce publishes a catalogue detailing the history of many of the houses.

If you speak Alsatian, you’ll feel right at home conversing with folks of the older generation who live in Castroville.

Visit their website at

Thursday, February 11, 2010

San Antonio: Day 24

On a rainy, cold morning, we walked the four blocks from our hotel in the downtown area of San Antonio to the bullet-riddled remains of the Alamo.

Now a national shrine, the mission was built in 1724 by Spanish missionaries. What remains of the original complex contains the chapel, the long barracks – site of the most bloody hand-to-hand combat, and a gift shop/museum.

Inside the church, visitors can listen to a docent who relates the history of Texas and the Alamo. During the battle, a handful of women and children were gathered in the sacristy for protection. Many of these survived as eye-witnesses to the fight.

Originally, the church did not have a roof although one was added about 100 years after the battle. Standing inside the grey stone walls, with it’s crumbling frescoes, you can smell the cold, damp stone.

General Santa Anna’s 5,000 Mexican troops attacked the site in February 1836. The siege lasted 13 days, ending on March 6th. All 189 defenders were killed. They had come from many US states as well as Scotland, Ireland, England, Germany and Denmark. Here was the last stand of Davy Crockett (frontiersman), Jim Bowie (the knife fighter), and Col. Travis.

The phrase “Remember the Alamo” was the battle cry of the Texans who then defeated Santa Anna’s men at San Jacinto some 46-days later, in a revenge battle. That victory signaled the birth of the Republic of Texas.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

San Antonio: Day 23

Twenty feet below street level visitors can sip margaritas and feast on any number of local specialties as they watch the flat-bottomed chalupa boats float down the San Antonio River. This 2-1/2 mile stretch of river bank is bordered by stone walks and lined with shops, restaurants, hotels, bars and museums. It's traversed by 13 bridges and flanked by 11,000 trees.

Ask most travelers about San Antonio and they might mention the Alamo. But more than an outpost at the edge of the South Texas Plains, this town is the seventh largest city in the US.

The night these travelers discovered the River Walk it was unseasonably cold and windy for January. We chose to sit outside on the verandah under the propane heaters and bundled up in wool panchos, while our server prepared a bowl of fresh guacamole at tableside.

Holed Up In Houston: Day 22

Leaving the hotel in Montevideo at 1:00 am to catch a 4:00 am flight to Panama City early Saturday morning, we ran into a mega storm cell that pushed back departure by 90 minutes. Just enough to snarl up the connecting flight from Panama to Houston.

That flight was also late, imperiling the connection to ORD. It took nearly an hour to get through immigration (I can never remember a time when I wasn’t queasy, achy and worn out weaving through those lines). With minutes to spare after picking up luggage, we got through customs, but the flight scheduled to be the last leg of the journey, was pulling away from the gate.

We took a taxi to the nearest hotel and let the dust settle for a couple of days.

By then, we were running dangerously low on G7 instant coffee. For those who enjoy café sua, this is the nearest thing to heaven-in-a-cup.

Luckily Houston is home to the largest population Vietnamese-Americans in the country, in fact it has the largest Asian population of any other city in the South. So we stocked up on coffee at the Tan Binh Market on Bellaire Blvd., in the vast New Chinatown area. In its parking lot shoppers can admire the sculptures honoring military who served in Vietnam, and its people.

Montevideo: Days 12 - 21

Two days later, I felt miserable and became convinced I would shrivel up in the hotel without seeing the light of day. Between Monday morning (when I weighed myself in Panama) and Thursday I had lost 38 pounds. (No typo here).

Friday morning, called in the doctor - this was the 3rd one. He assured me I was on the right path, and added Cipro. He also didn't seem too concerned about all the weight loss, and assured me I would gain it all back... drat!

So what does one do all day then (esp. with only 1 or 2 channels of English language TV?) I was too sick to do anything except drag myself to the bathroom, and drink Gatorade and/or ice water. Did not even have the strength to open/read/write emails. Too tired to read. Too tired to open the computer, except for short bursts after a long rest. Slept hour after hour, day after day. Now I'm trying to catch up on things.

Total consumption of solid food: 3 tablespoons of rice, 2 tablespoons of applesauce and a banana in 5 days.

When my health began to improve we went to a favorite restaurant where I nibbled on plain chicken. The picture above shows the facade of Locos de Asada, and its sister restaurant Tannat.

Not a fun way to enjoy Montevideo for 11 days, but we did see some lovely sunsets from the room.

Finally mustered the strength to walk around and enjoy some of the lovely summer days in downtown Montevideo. The picture on the left shows a vendor of mate (the national drink of Uruguay) mugs, while the one on the right was taken at one of the many city squares where craftsmen sell their wares.

Panama to Montevideo: Day 11

Monday noon we left Panama City for the 7 hour flight to Montevideo, Uruguay. About 2 hours into the flight I started to get achy and chill. As the next 5 hours dragged on I was getting sicker by the moment. High fever, chills, anorexia (so unusual for me not to want to eat), weakness, lethargy, stomach pain (and worse). Really felt miserable and it was one of the few times I didn't pack antibiotics and Tylenol in my carry on.

By the time we got to the hotel in Montevideo, I just wanted to curl up in a dustbin and die. Everything hurt (the typical flu symptoms, plus “la tourista”)

Tuesday morning I awoke feeling even worse, and agreed to bring in the heavy guns. The doctor arrived within minutes. Through the hotel interpreter, I learned that she wanted to administer an IV antipyretic - Yikes! I didn't even recognize the name. By then I didn't have the strength to inquire or resist. She gave me a stack of stuff to do-take-etc. 12 hours later, I was still miserable and by then had made a zillion trips to the banos.

Called the doctor again. Arrived soon after. Made a few adjustments. Reassured me I'd be fine.