Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fredericksburg, Texas

Roger here..... Still in the Texas Hill country!
We have driven through Fredericksburg several times during our recent exploits. On Monday we parked the car and spent the afternoon in this scenic town that is full of German Heritage. The town, named after Prince Frederick of Prussia, was founded in 1845. The town is about ten blocks in length and full of restaurants, shops, museums, parks, and music. We parked at one end and walked all the way down one side of the street before crossing and walking back on the other side.

Our first stop was at the Fredericksburg Coffee and Tea shop, where Dianne bought several six-cup packages of coffee. The lady at the counter recommended Texas Pecan coffee (everything here is Texas-something), so we were sure to get some of that. (Dianne here: Because of our new lifestyle in small quarters, our souvineers now tend to be either wearable (T-shirts) or consumable (wine or coffee).

Lunchtime was approaching and we were kind of hungry. We intended to eat at Hondo's (the door with the prickly pear cactus
Christmas tree), but it was closed on Mondays, despite the "open" sign. As we wandered on down the street we passed the public Markplatz (marketplace), a large park that included a twenty-six-foot-tall Christmas pyramid
that was handcrafted in Germany specifically for Fredericksburg. Dianne is standing in front of the tower, to help illustrate the size. In the far background, not visible, a public ice-skating rink was set up for the holidays.

We checked out several crowded German restaurants and finally opted to eat at the less-crowded Rathskeller, a small stone place located below street-level.
The reuben sandwich I had was delicious. The homemade
peach bread pudding with caramel sauce dessert that Dianne and I shared may be the best non-ice-cream dessert I have had in years, if ever. (Dianne here: I assumed the peach dessert would be good, because this area is known for its delicious peaches in the summer. There are peach stands everywhere, but of course they are all closed for the winter.)

On down the street, people were enjoying Texas-style food outside while a cowboy played his guitar and sang - the same cowboy that we heard at the Grape Creek Winery last Saturday! He obviously gets around.

Our longest, and most interesting, stop was at the Admiral Nimitz/National Museum of the Pacific War. Chester Nimitz grew up in Fredericksburg. His grandfather operated the four-story hotel
in the picture that now houses the Nimitz portion of the museum. At the rear exit, a huge propeller
from the Aircraft Carrier Essex dominated an interesting walk through memorial-ladened gardens, including a Peace Garden
donated by Japan. The outside walk led to the extensive Pacific War exhibits that were housed in the recently expanded H.W. Bush Gallery.
We spent a couple of hours wandering through the fascinating displays (many interactive), artifacts, and memorabilia. We could have spent days. Because the exhibits were backlit and in darkened areas, we only took one photo - that of an excerpt regarding the recapture of Guam,
where Dianne's father, a Marine, was awarded a Purple Heart and Silver Star. (My dad was stationed in the Philippines, where he built bridges with the Army Corps of Engineers).

If you want to read the print in the photos, click on them and they will enlarge.

(Dianne again: My dad told some harrowing stories about the Battle of Guam, especially landing on the beach amid machine-gun fire and losing friends who were running right alongside him. He was just a kid when he fought there, 18 years old. Like many other teen-agers, he enlisted right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
He lay outside all night, severely injured, before it was safe for him to be carried out, then spent a year recovering in various hospitals. He came very close to not surviving that battle, which of course would have meant I would not be here right now writing this blog. Whether or not you have a family member who fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II, this museum is very well done and well worth the visit.)

After the museum tour, we crossed the wide, wide, wide street (wide enough for cattle drives) and started our trip back to the car. We hesitated in front of the Auslander restaurant to listen to the country music that escaped onto the sidewalk - too early for dinner, or we would have gone in.
I love architecture, so it was easy for me to enjoy the unique limestone buildings
as we sauntered down the street. The photo of the mansion-like building is actually the town library.

We made a short stop at the Fredericksburg Winery right on Main Street, where we tasted and purchsed two bottles of wine, including a bottle of white "Vintner's Cuvee" to share with our friends Chuck and Cindy when we see them in March. Dianne also bought a Save Texas Water, Drink Texas Wine t-shirt, that features the Texas flag that she likes so much. Then, on to the car and back to the boys in the motor home.

Check back soon, because we are really in the "tourist mode" this week, and have lots to share about this area.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Luckenbach, Texas + "Texasisms" We've Learned

Hi all, Dianne here --

Keep reading to learn about our visit to Luckenbach, Texas, and remember that some photos are better if you click on them for a larger view.

(Roger here... The sun is so bright here that when you do go into the shade, the shaded areas are very dark. It is a neat effect, but Dianne's suggestion to click on the pictures to make them larger brings out more of the details.)

But first, I want to share some "Texasisms" that Roger and I have learned during our brief time in Texas. Keep in mind, neither one of us had spent any time at all in the state of Texas before, other than one night in Amarillo ten years ago and a day trip to San Antonio for an Alamo Bowl football game. We are seeing this very-friendly state through "new" eyes.

Roger here... Every place we have visited in the motor home seems to have its own distinct culture. None of the places exhibit that culture more than the locales we have visited in Texas, where everything is bigger than life, and the very friendly and outgoing people demonstrate extreme pride in their state. Livin' the Good Life in Texas is an ongoing theme that makes this place special.

The first inkling I had of a "Texasism" occurred while we were still in Oklahoma, driving toward Texas. I kept seeing Hummer after Hummer with Texas license plates; we decided it must be the state car of Texas! (Jeeps take a close second place.)

As soon as we crossed the state line we learned another "Texasism": There are more Texas flags
waving in this state than U.S. flags! While in Indiana it is rare to see a state flag other than in a school or state building, here they are everywhere. And when you DO see a U.S. flag, chances are it will be paired with a Texas flag. I don't really blame them for this; after all, it is a really nice-looking flag! The pride Texans have in their state is obvious at every turn.

A third
"Texasism" concerns the lawn ornaments here. Many ranch entrances seem to have them. No little gnomes or angels to be found. Instead, there are huge, at-least-life-size statues of bison, horses, and all things western. We didn't have our camera at the ready to catch them in the entrances of the ranches and houses we passed, but we did get a good shot of a life-size horse at a place that sells them. It's true that everything is bigger in Texas.

There are two "Texasisms" that we learned about the highway system here: First, if there is a road paralleling the interstate highway, the cowboys here think nothing of gunning their pickup trucks across the grass to enter the interstate without the bother of an entrance ramp! (We saw this happen at least eight times in a two-day stretch. It is really not as dangerous as it seems, due to the fact that you can always see a trail of dust heading toward the highway in your peripheral vision. One time, there was not even a frontage road, the pick-up came straight out of a field!) The first time I saw this happen it kind of freaked me out; later, as we drove farther into the state, there were actually paved "mini-ramps" onto the interstate highway from the local roads. Not only that, but there are paved "mini-ramps" EXITING the interstate directly onto the local, parallel roads. There are even signs on the local roads warning motorists to yield to any exiting interstate traffic. That's a good thing, as there is no merge lane; you exit right into the traffic lanes!

Another quirky Texas highway custom is the fact that on some state roads the shoulder
is used just as if it were a traffic lane. If traffic builds up behind you on a two-lane road, you simply move onto the shoulder (not even slowing down) and let those behind you go past. This was convenient for us while driving the motor home. Those passing by always give a friendly Texas thank-you wave, too. This even happened in the Matrix after we'd been tailgated for a time. (I was only going 70 mph on the 70 mph road.) We moved over to let the tailgater pass, and they also gave us a friendly Texas thank-you wave. (All five fingers; imagine that!) I managed to get a shot of this custom in use while we were out driving on Texas highway 16.
Note the white car on the right. They are NOT in a traffic lane; they are driving on the wide shoulder of highway 16. Even the road shoulders are bigger in Texas!

We've been looking for a car wash for our dirty Matrix. We finally stopped trying to find them at the gas stations; car washes seem to be a stand-alone business here.

We also enjoy the no-litter signs in this state. They are indicative of the attitude and Texas pride shown everywhere.

Now for our afternoon in Luckenbach. My Amazon Workamper friends, Jose & Jill, told us to be sure to check out Luckenbach if there was anything going on. Our Texas A&M friends from the winery the other day suggested the same thing. Rob, another Amazon friend, who gave us several suggestions of things to do in Texas said that a visit to Luckenbach was a MUST, so off we went.
Luckenbach, Texas (population 3) consists of an abandoned
post office, a dance hall, an outdoor stage with seating, a concession stand with bottles of beer in tubs of ice, and a food stand and small
souvenir shop.
The town was purchased in the 1970s and turned into a music mecca for the likes of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kenny Chesney. It was made famous by a song whose lyrics go like this:

"Let's go to Luckenbach, Texas
with Waylon and Willie and the boys...

Out in Luckenbach, Texas
ain't nobody feelin' no pain...."

It's out in the middle of nowhere, and not even that easy to find. People DO find it, though, and the day we were there, there was a live band rockin' the place. They were great! I'm not much of a country music fan, so I was happy to see that the band this day was more rock-oriented. They did a rousing rendition of "Bobby McGee" that Janis would have been proud of!

Roger and I purchased ice-cold bottles of
Shiner (Texas beer) and chili dogs and enjoyed the show.

When we first walked into town, we noticed a cowboy with a longhorn steer who was hawking photos to the visitors. I walked swiftly right on by, but after some atmosphere and beer, Roger talked me into having my photo taken on the steer. (I was shocked that I actually convinced Dianne to do this. I find that subtle persistence does pay off from time to time.) First we went back to the car to fetch our cowboy hats that we'd purchased in South Dakota. The longhorn steer was huge. The cowboy seemed to enjoy himself as he helped boost Dianne all the way up into the saddle. He told her that he would have to charge extra if he had to shove on her butt to get her up there.

When we paid the cowboy for his help, he asked where we were from. When we told him Indianapolis, he joked, "That's just a little north of 'Amarilla,' ain't it?" I answered, "Yep, a fer piece north of "Amarilla!"

What I wish we'd gotten a photo of was the cowboy riding the steer, trotting like a horse, back to its trailer for break time.

While stowing books at Amazon last month, I came across an old James Michener book, "Texas." Right then and there I ordered a copy, and I'm about a third of the way through it. It's really helping me learn about Texas history and have a new understanding of this place. And, just like everything else in Texas, the book is huge - 1,096 small-print pages!

That's a benefit of our new lifestyle; we can really immerse ourselves in a place, spending more than just a week on vacation. By the time we leave Texas March 1, we should feel like Texans, too!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Texas Hill Country Winery Tour

Roger here.... "You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille....."

Don't worry, no one is leaving anyone, but the memory of how our day of wine tours ended was highlighted with the refrain of this song by a lonely cowboy playing his guitar in the warm Texas sun. More about that later.

The day began with a three-mile walk with the dogs to the dead-end on the road where our RV resort is located. Our resort, The Buckhorn Lake RV Resort, is located in a quiet area in the Texas Hill Country. There was little to no traffic on the road during the walk through the pastoral rolling hills, other than other walkers and bicyclers from the resort. The topography is like no other place we have been - hills, limestone outcroppings, small streams, scattered live oak trees, and oh that bright, bright sun and beautiful blue sky. It was chilly, actually below freezing, when we left, but by the time we returned we were forced to shed our coats. The "boys" appreciated the long walk since they have been few and far between lately.

After a change of clothes we crated the dogs and headed for the Texas Wine Trail. When we investigated the Hill Country we had heard good things about the wines here. As it turns out, there are fourteen wineries just outside of the town of
Fredericksburg, many of them adjacent to each other. In Texas style, the people who own the wineries consider them to rival and exceed Napa and Sonoma. In fact, they refuse to use anything other than Texas grapes in the wines that they produce, thumbing their noses at California grapes.

In the Hill Country, the people (many of German heritage) celebrate Boxing Day. The result for us was live music, food, and congenial people at each of our stops. Our first stop was at the Becker Vinyards and Lavendar Farm. Becker wines have been served at the White House and have been featured in Wine Spectator and the Food Network. The setting was spectacular in the large limestone building (the one with Dianne standing in the front).
As we were entering a group of people were sitting in a circle doing a "Boxing Day" recitation. Dianne and I wandered to the tasting room (Roger standing by the counter),
where we tasted five wines for $5. (For those of you who have not done a wine tasting, the tastes are just that, a taste - pretty much a couple sips of each selection. We both liked the Syrah, so we bought a bottle to take home and two glasses of wine to enjoy outside with a plate of delicious snacks - the smoked
salmon was s-o-o-o good.

We picked a bench on the porch in a sunny
area where we listened to a live Blues Band and watched other people doing the same. A couple of people brought their dogs (wish we had known it was OK to do this). Dianne had to take pictures of the
Pointer and the very friendly Pit Bull.
By the way, the small cabin
with the windmill in the background is actually part of a bed and breakfast.

Our next stop was the Torre di Pietra Vinyard. (The only picture here was of the front door)
Dianne wanted to sample the Sangiovese Wine that they advertised. Unfortunately, they had sold out, so we did not sample the wines at this vineyard. We needed to pace ourselves, as we planned to make one more stop and did not want to be unsafe. Dianne did sample the apricot jelly and bought a jar. We also bought a string of lighted grape lights that look very festive along the window on the dashboard of our motorhome. A fitting souvineer of our day in the wine country of Texas!

On to our favorite stop, the Grape Creek Vineyards!
The setting, both inside and outside, was along a sprawling replica of a Tuscan Villa.
We did do a tasting here, again for $5, and enjoyed a variety of dry red wines topped off by a small taste of port with chocolate. We both really liked these wines, and though they were more expensive than the wine that we typically buy (in a box :-) ) we purchased six bottles that we only intend to open on special occasions. Our favorites were the Super Tuscan - Bellissimo, and the Mosaic (more expensive) that was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. We are definitely not wine snobs and certainly cannot describe the subtleties of different wines, but we did like these.

We carried our purchase to the car and sauntered back to enjoy a glass of the Bellissimo in the warm Texas sunshine. We picked a spot at one of the picnic tables next to a warm fire
that was blazing in a huge fire pit. A lone musician with his guitar
played his repertoire of cowboy songs as we enjoyed the afternoon. After a short time, two young couples asked if they could join us at the table. (Smoke from the fire was blowing directly at their table). We had a great time talking with them as we enjoyed the atmosphere. They were all graduates of Texas A&M and live near Austin. We kind of hit it off. We talked about Texas, travel, A&M football, Austin, traffic in Austin :( , and other places that we should visit in the Hill Country, for about 45 minutes.
They highly recommended that we visit the town of Luckenbach, which boasts a post office, a famous dance hall, and nothing else other than a famous country song. We'll probably do that tomorrow. We took each other's pictures before they took off for the next winery. Nice kids - friendly people in Texas.

After our young friends left, Dianne took a picture of the beautiful
tile roof and the singing cowboy. I took a picture of the very bright afternoon moon through one of the live oak trees.
Then, it was time to go home to the refrain of the lonely cowboy singing, "You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille....."

We truly love this place. There is a lot to see and do here, and we are falling far behind on posting blogs about our explorations. We intend to do blogs about the resort where we are staying, as well as a blog on "Texasisms."
In addition, we still have a lot to see and do here before we leave. We may be posting every other day for a while, so be sure to scroll back in case you miss one.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Johnson City Texas Lights - Merry Christmas!!

Hi all -- Dianne here:

Here's just a quick blog post showing the terrific Christmas light displays we saw last night. It's our way of wishing each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas!! These photos are worthy of a click to make them larger to get the true effect!

On Wednesday, Roger and I drove from Austin to our holiday destination, Buckhorn Lake RV Resort in Kerrville, Texas, in the Texas Hill Country. We plan to stay here until New Year's Day, then drive to Mission, TX for January and February. Buckhorn Lake RV Resort is a little nicer place than we normally stay on a day-to-day basis, but since it's Christmas week and we deserve a little R & R, we decided to go for it. We'll describe the RV resort in more detail in our next blog.

The resort has its own bus and takes tours now and then around the area. Last evening we joined the tour, which went to

Mamacita's in Fredericksburg for an early dinner, then on to Johnson City to view the town's Christmas light displays. We met some nice people and really enjoyed the evening.

At Mamacita's,

Roger had chicken enchiladas with "Mamacita sauce," and of course a margarita. I had a Corona and a lighter entree (chicken salad with walnuts, etc.)

The lights in Johnson City were incredible! The court house, as you can see, was just covered in lights.

Then we went to the electric company property where they had enveloped each of the live oak

trees on their large property in thousands of lights. The overall effect was surreal! There were children romping under the trees and adults standing around staring in wonderment.

There were carriage rides with Percheron horse teams

all lit up with jingling sleigh bells giving folks rides through town.

It was a nice evening weather-wise, and a perfect way to get into the Christmas spirit!