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Published: July 12th 2010
God Bless America
Rachel took this one, what an amazing photo
Hello again everyone, time for another one of our waffling blogs!
We left the sunshine (and animal gonads) behind in Oklahoma City as we made our way south and back into Texas for a few days. The blue skies and sunshine soon disappeared and the heavens opened as we arrived in the unispiring looking Fort Worth. The rain continued to pour as we searched for a hotel and also a Walmart to stock up. Walmart was fine, the hotel however wasn't! It was a Days Inn hotel chain and the room smelt a little strange when we went in, but it wasnt until about midnight when the front desk was closed and everyone asleep that we realised it was leaking because of the heavy rain, but leaking through the floor! Oh well, we put our armbands on and went to sleep, hoping we wouldn't be flooded in the morning!
We awoke to more grey skies, a very wet carpet and the realisation that most of the good things to do in Fort Worth were happening at the weekend (It was Thursday). We drove to Fort Worth's Stockyard District to have a nosey round and see what there was to
do. It seemed to be a more touristy version of the same place we had been in Oklahoma City the day before. Everything in Stockyard City seemed to be geared towards the upcoming July 4th celebrations that weekend, so after buying a couple of souvenirs we cut our losses and got on the road to Dallas where we had two nights booked in a city centre hotel.
It is a very short drive from Fort Worth to Dallas so we had plenty of time to do some exploring once we had checked into our hotel and unloaded our things. We jumped on the tram and headed towards the John F. Kennedy Memorial near Dealey Plaza where the 35th American president was assassinated in 1963. The memorial was very understated and simple and happily for us not very busy. Neither Rachel or I knew much about the events of November 1963 so the natural thing to do seemed to be to head to the Sixth Floor Museum.
This museum was dedicated to JFK's life as well as his untimely death and the events surrounding it. It was situated on the Sixth Floor of the Texan School Book Depository, which
The tailend of Alex
Rain lashing down as we got to Fort Worth
is where the fatal shots were fired. The museum is a fascinating collection of press reports, information on the former president and the events following his asassination. It included pictures, video and other artefacts and really was accurate and informative. I was that intrigued by the whole thing I was persuaded to buy a very thick and detailed book called Four Days in November which I am almost finished and I can safely say is a fantastic read.
Friday was a bit of a non event due to the tail end of Hurricane Alex pounding Texas and making the day a washout! We did however have the rodeo to look forward to in the evening. We booked ourselves VIP Club tickets at the Mesquite Championship Rodeo just outside Dallas. The tickets included all you can eat, all you can drink and front row tickets for the event. We really didn't know what to expect when we pulled up and joined the queue amongst men in stonewash denim, plaid shirts and cowboy hats and women in, well the same!
The all you can eat was a delicious barbeque with huge ribs, delicious home made beans and coleslaw and other
tasty meats, and Rach was delighted to help herself to the all you can drink American beer. (I'm not drinking at the moment, no reason why, I just don't want to - 4 weeks since I last had an alcholic drink). The homemade lemonade was also very tasty I will add though!
When we took our seats we were just in time for the stadium announcer to start his "lay it on thick, chest thumpin', whoopin' and hollerin', foot stompin', flag wavin', land of the free, independance weekend patriotism" that it seems only Americans are capable of. It may get mocked around the rest of the world and it may be over the top, but it was very refreshing to see a nation displaying how proud it is of its acheivements and its history rather than being scared of upsetting or offending anyone. After praising the church, the forces serving abroad and democracy, the stadium launched into a rousing rendition of the national anthem and the action began.
Having seen rodeo events on the tv occasionally, we really weren't prepared for the electrifying ferocity of the horses and bulls as they tried to throw their riders from the
I guess they hope bank robbers also travel by horseback!
saddle. Especially when the action was no more than two or three feet from us! As well as the standard events including calf wrestling, steer wrestling, bronco riding and bull riding, there was barrel racing which was a womens only event and the hilarious mutton bustin'. Mutton bustin' was basically rodeo for kids! I don't think a single child managed to stay on their buckin' sheep longer than a second and as the stadium announcer succintly put it "You can't even tap your kid's ass when they misbehave in Walmart but you can throw them on the back of a mad sheep and tell them to hold on for dear life!" During the interval, we saw what is probably the most surreal thing we have or will ever see in our lives. Tim and the Ghost Riders. Sounds like a cruel throwback to the days of the Klu Klux Klan or maybe the name of a new band. Nope, it was monkeys, riding sheepdogs, rounding up goats. Yep, monkeys on dogs. Crazy.
All in all it was a very entertaining evening and a taste of real America.
The following day did the four hour drive south to Houston
through yet more thunderstorms. It was a really dull drive down one main interstate highway for 200 miles or more. The sun started shining as we made our way across Houston to the Space Center, it was late afternoon and we found out that our entry ticket to the center was fine to use again if we didn't see everything before the place closed. We spent an hour looking round the Starship Gallery which had exhibits and history from the USA history of space travel, including replicas of rockets, the actual capsules from early space flights and moon rocks amongst other things. There was so much information to look through and we only had time to do one more thing when we finished. We decided that this one thing would be a tram ride into the Johnson Space Center which adjoins the tourist attraction we were in. The tram took us to the Mission Control building, the actual Mission Control building where they have directed the space flights over the last decade or so. We were given a brief but informative introduction to what goes on here. The tram then took us took to "Rocket Park" where we could look
round and learn about the Saturn V rocket. It was absolutely huge, only actually seeing it brings home just how large the rocket is. The Space Center was closing when we got back so we would have to come back another day to see the rest of it.
As we were pulling into our hotel car park at around 9pm on the Saturday evening after the Space Center (3rd July) we had the first catastrophe of the trip. We have two money belts in which we split the currency we are carrying and the passports, vaccination records and important documents. The day before we took some money and the passports to the rodeo with us and left the bulk of the money and other bits in the safe in the Dallas hotel room. Where it stayed. Even after we left and drove to Houston. Oops. That wasn't the word that came out of either of our mouths when we realised though! Luckily, we managed to get hold of security at the hotel on the phone and they went to look for the belt in our room. A couple of hours later they rang back and said it was found
The Texan School Book Depository
The fatal shots were fired from the 6th floor window round the corner from the left hand side of this part of the building.
and that the money was still in there. Therefore we had to get up at 7am on Sunday morning (Independance Day) and drive the 220 miles of boring highway back to Dallas to collect it, and then drive all the way back to Houston for about 4pm ready for the Freedom Over Texas party we were really looking forward to! Rachel's back and my neck didn't thank us at all after driving 13 hours over the last day and a bit!
At least we made it back in time to make our way to Eleanor Tinsley Park in Houston for the July 4th celebrations. Entry cost was a tin of food per person for the Houston homeless food bank, and we joined around 150,000 other people in the park. We had a good walk round and saw the Texas Beach Volleyball competition (Male unfortunately), some country and western bands (this genre of music is really growing on us!) and other stalls and stands. Rachel particularly liked the Houston Police Department SWAT team stand where she had a good natter to one of the policemen. So, if it isn't cowboys its policemen! Maybe she isn't a floozy, she just has
a penchant for the Village People!
Being clever and efficient Brits, we decided instead of fighting the crowds to get to the front, we would make our way back to the car park (in the city center) and watch the fireworks from there so we wouldn't get caught in the traffic leaving. A lot of the locals also came out to watch the fireworks from the streets too so we were in good company. They were great but we were told that they were nowhere near as spectacular as previous years due to the flooding and rain over the preceding days which meant parts of the park where they normally launch from where out of use.
We enjoyed the night but I think if we were to do it again we would try and experience small town Independance Day, with parades and parties rather than the huge festival which was alot less personal, very busy and not quite as patriotic as we expected. still, all in all a very good evening.
On Monday morning, we went back to the Space Center to finish looking round. We learnt a lot more about NASA, its history and its future
plans. One of which is the launch of an unmanned rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 30th which we will try and go and watch because we are there at that time. After looking around the inside of a replica Space Shuttle and getting a couple of things from the gift shop we left space behind and got on our way.
We had been tipped off by a local at the fireworks on Sunday that just south east of Houston was a lovely little town called Kemah that we should visit, so we took the ten minute car ride to there and had a little walk around. It was beautiful especially with the sun shining and the temperatures back up in the 30's and the Gulf Coast waters were sparkling and not showing any signs of the catastrophic oil spill. We had lunch and cooled off and said our goodbyes to Texas before hitting the road on the way to the much anticpated Louisiana.
Next time we update the blog, there will be stories of the Big Easy "Noo Orlens", 15 foot alligators, state penitentiaries, picking figs and gardening for homeless people. Louisiana was
amazing and we were sad to leave it behind today.
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