Trip Report – Galveston Texas

I just got back from a three-day vacation in Galveston.  I had reached maximum boredom levels in San Antonio so it was time to get out of town to recharge.  I told the boss I needed some emergency vacation, booked a room and hit the road the next day.  I chose Wednesday-Friday hoping to at least avoid the weekend masses yearning to breathe free.  Even though it was a weekday vacation there were still a lot of people there who should have been at work.

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The Hilton
I booked my room at the Hilton on the sea wall.  I spent more than I usually do for a room.  A hotel is for sleeping so I don’t usually see any point in paying for a fancy one.  This time I wanted to see what it was like so I paid $180 per night for an ocean facing room.  It was OK.  Not really much better than any cheaper motel.  They called the place a “Resort.”  That doesn’t make much sense since a resort is expected to be more than a hotel with a slightly fancy swimming pool with a swim-up bar.  I even had to pay $10.00 a day for Wi-Fi.  Something you get FREE at a cheaper place.  I’m not impressed by the Hilton.  It’s fine but not worth the extra cost.  Meh.

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The Beach
The “beach” runs the length of Galveston Island.  It is a thin swath of sand against the protective sea wall.  Not impressive by beach standards but clean enough.  Yes. The sand is brown but it’s like that all along the coast.  It gets lighter as you get further south towards Mexico.  There were lots of families braving the blazing daytime sun to play in the brown surf.  The beach is good enough if you don’t care.  Kids don’t care.  They were having a great time.

I wasn’t there for the beach anyway.  This trip was about sightseeing.  There are a number of great museums on the island and I visited the ones I cared about:

Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum
My first stop was an old offshore oil rig that was brought back to port and turned into a museum.  This place is really interesting.  Here you will learn all about the different kinds of offshore drilling and oil transportation.  It is full of actual drilling equipment and machines.  The price of admission is $8.00.  I parked right up at the museum entrance for $1.00 per half-hour.  It was TOTALLY worth the $9.00.

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Texas Seaport Museum and The Elisa
Right next door to the Drilling Rig museum is the Texas Seaport Museum and the old sailing ship “Elisa”.   This historical Tall Ship  sailed the world’s oceans in the late 1800s transporting goods using the power of wind only.   You get to walk the deck and tour the crew’s quarters and captain’s quarters.  I was awed by the way the crew had to live.  I can’t imagine having to sail around in such a manner.  The weather was HOT and I could imagine trying to sleep in the tiny bunks in sweltering heat as the ship heaves.  I’m sure I would be heaving as well.  (Try to ignore the recently installed engine.)  Don’t miss this!

The price of $8.00 includes admission to the Texas Seaport Museum.  I was not really impressed by this.  It was good for a few minutes of air conditioning as I looked at the pictures of the shrimping industry.  Meh.

Casey’s Seafood
I was hungry and I would be remiss to not eat seafood here at the coast.  I found Casey’s menu on the internet.  Prices were a bit high but Galveston is a tourist trap so I went with it.  I had a grilled fish and shrimp plate.  I think it was grilled Tilapia and two kinds of shrimp over rice.  It was quite good.  I recommend Casey’s if you don’t mind spending a little cash. It’s not too overpriced.

I went back to my hotel and tried out the pool.  It is shallow for the kids.  5 feet at the deepest.  It swims around a stone island to a bar where you can get drinks and order food.  I tried a Margarita.  I’m not much for alcohol but I wanted to pretend I was a regular person.  It cost $7 something with tip and wasn’t really great.  I choked it down.  After a little while longer in the pool and sitting in a deck chair as darkness fell I went back to my room, did some research on the next day’s visits and went to bed.

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Railroad Museum 
Back near the Elissa is the Railroad Museum.  The museum was badly damaged by the Hurricane of 2008.  There is a room with pictures showing the damage.  That must have sucked.  All around the island you can still see ruins of buildings that have not been restored.  The museum is supposed to have a model railroad display but the building is pretty much empty.  It has not been rebuilt after the storm.  Out in the rail yard are a number of old steam engines and rail cars.  Many of them are open.  You can actually climb into a steam engine and look at it.  Steam locomotives have a special place in my heart.  You have to love them.  None of these were in working order.  You can tell a non-working engine because it is painted within a inch of i’s life.

There was also a diesel-electric locomotive that looked almost as old as the steam locomotive it sits right next to.  I’ve never paid much attention to diesel locomotives but it was interesting to climb into the cab and see all the switches and lights.  I walked out on the sideboard and looked inside one of the doors at the engine and generator.  It looked so old!  I love old wires and electric equipment.  The wooden floor of the cab was rotting away and had holes all the way through.  It was probably dangerous to be in there but I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that the museum lets you do it.

There are some old wooden box cars that look like they are about to fall apart.  There are a lot of passenger cars and cabooses. (cabeese?)  Some are lightly restored and some look like they haven’t been touched since they were last used maybe a hundred years ago.  I was amazed that you can walk through them.  I especially enjoyed the unrestored ones.  I felt like I should see a ghost.  Very eery with the cracking and peeling paint, torn seats and dirty floors.  I liked it.

Inside building is a train station with old wooden pew-style seats.  The seats and floor were occupied by plaster cast people of the 20s.  It is a ghostly scene right out of the past.  Wonderful!

Don’t miss the railroad museum if you like trains at all.  What man doesn’t?  It was well worth the $6.00 admission.  You will probably have to pay $5.00 for parking right across the street.

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Seawolf Park
Across a short bridge and across Pelican Island is Seawolf Park.   Here you will find two World War II ships.  The first is the submarine USS Cavella.  I was here early so it wasn’t too hot yet but the sub had some AC installed to make it bearable.  I REALLY enjoyed wandering around the belly of this beast.  You take some stairs up and walk along the wooden slat deck past the conning tower.  Near the bow is a hatch taking you down to the torpedo room.  You immediately have to say, “WOW!”  It’s like Steampunk meets the Navy.  So much copper tubing and piping around the long torpedo tubes.  Real torpedos line the walls ready to be loaded.  You can almost hear the captain ordering “Fire One!” through the intercom.  The crew’s bunks were right there above the torpedos. I stood there and studied the valves and tubing.  “Awesome” just doesn’t cover it.

You proceed forward along the sub through the tiny captain’s quarters, galley, crew’s quarters, engine room, control room and aft torpedo tubes.  I was glad this exhibit was not crowded because I spent at least an hour closely examining all the equipment.  A few other families breezed through like flashes.  “Normals” who don’t properly appreciate special things.  I savored every inch.  There was so much to see it was overwhelming.  You just can’t take it in.  I tried to imagine the crew knowing how to operate it all.  No computers here.  You did it all manually by pressing buttons, flipping switches, pulling levers and turning valves.  WOW!   Can you appreciate it?

Right next to the sub is the Destroyer Escort USS Stewart.  You can tour the deck, captain’s quarters, crew’s quarters and galley and the wheelhouse.  The ship is looking pretty bad.  It needs a lot of work.  The rust is having its way so see it while you can.  Unfortunately not all of the ship was open.  The lower decks were closed.  I would have really liked to see engine room.  Not as impressive as the sub but still fun.  Don’t miss these exhibits!!

The rest of the park is pretty shabby.  A really cool futuristic looking building is boarded up.  That was a shame.  You can also fish here.  The admission price is $10.00 and parking is $10.00.  There are a lot of rude signs warning that if you leave you have to pay again to come back in.  This place needs an attitude adjustment and some repair.

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Moody gardens
My next stop is Moody Gardens.  It’s not really a garden at all.  It’s more of a theme park kind of thing.  There are three large pyramids.  I went to one of them which was an aquarium.  Lots of people here.  It was a cool place to spend a hot day.  Lots of huge aquariums with all sorts of sea life from algae to sharks.  Not a bad exhibit.  Kind of boring if you’ve ever been to an aquarium before.  Same thing different location.  Great for the kids.  Lots of oohs and aahs.  It was OK.  Admission was something like $15.00.  I Don’t remember but parking was FREE!

I didn’t care about the rainforest pyramid and discovery pyramid.  I barely made it to the Paddlewheel boat named “The Colonel”.    This is a slow cruise around the small harbor area while listening to some paddlewheel-appropriate Cajun music.  Right away I noticed that the boat, if it ever was an actual paddle wheel boat, had been converted to dual catapiller diesel engines.  That’s disappointing.  I was looking for a real paddle boat ride.  It’s kid of like finding out that Santa Claus is just some child molesterer in a red suit at the mall.  I was not impressed by “The Colonel”.  Meh. Don’t waste $10.00 on this unless you have kids.  They might enjoy the ride just because it is a boat.  It’s kind of long for them though.  Kids will get bored.

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McFadden Beach
I had pretty much used up the island at this point.  There is more to see if you like historic houses and history but I didn’t really care.  I drove to the end of the island and took the ferry ride to Bolivar Peninsula.  The ferry ride is actually more interesting than the paddle wheel at Moody Gardens plus it’s FREE!   You can see large ships and feed the seagulls.   On the other side I drove about 25 miles to where the road turns away from the beach.  Here you drive carefully a few miles off the beaten path and you can get naked and enjoy the beach properly.  It’s not an official nude beach but there is not much traffic here so who is to know?  I met a couple there and talked with them for about 30 minutes.  They were from Dallas.  (Yankees!)  I played in the surf for a while and headed back to the hotel.  I didn’t want to get too sunburned.  An hour is plenty.  It’s a shame you have to go to such lengths to swim naked.  Everyone should do it as a standard.  This planet sucks.

Cajun Seafood
The heat and action of the day had me worn out.  I hadn’t eaten since breakfast at IHOP so I stopped at a Cajun seafood place whose name I can’t quite remember.  I had a fried seafood platter.  It was quite good.  Fish, shrimp, oysters, crab puffs, fried and hush puppies.  It was about $14.00.  Many of the restaurants on the seawall are a bit upscale with white tablecloths and wine glasses.  I don’t know about you but when I’m on the beach, fine dining is not what I am looking for.  The Cajun place near the end of the island with the funny name I can’t remember is just the casual thing I wanted.  Good food without the pretense.

I was beat so I headed back to the hotel with a full stomach and went to bed.

NASA / Johnson Space Center
It was time to leave Galveston for home so my last stop was just south of Houston at the Johnson Space Center.  I expected a civilized exhibit but instead was greeted with a theme park.  After another parking fee I got to the entrance and was surprised to see it would cost $21.00.  More if you want the audio player.  I almost left but had already succumbed to the parking fee scam.  I went ahead and paid the admission price while standing in line surrounded by busloads of children.  After paying and going through the security screening you finally get to the door.

Inside the main building is basically a playground for kids.  I was having admission remorse.  Dodging the flying children I found the theatre where the film was about to start.  It was short and not special.  You’ve seen it all on TV before.  You leave the theater into an exhibit of actual moon rocks and space vehicles.  Not bad.  I was feeling a little better.  It was good stuff.

Outside the building you get to wait in a snaky line to go through an airport-style metal detector.  At the beginning of the line was a photographer.  I told him I didn’t want a picture and he said it was for security purposes.  I didn’t think so and the green screen kind of took away from the credibility but I could see from his expressionless face that he had been brain-dead for a long time so rather than argue I just let him take my picture.

While waiting in line and listing to the young people’s foolery I started talking to a woman next to me.  She was from Brisbane Australia.  We kind of stuck together during the tram-ride that took us to see NASA’s training and simulation building.  Pretty interesting!  Next stop was a large hangar that displayed a FULL-SIZED Saturn rocket on its side.  Oh man.  That thing is huge!  I can’t belive it takes that much rocket to put a capsule maybe 10 feet tall into space.  Something is wrong.  I don’t think we are doing it right.  Still it is quite impressive.  In the end it was worth waiting in line.

When the tram returned to the main building there was a rack of pictures of ourselves where the green screen had been replaced by a NASA background that we were able to buy for $30.00.  Yep.  I knew it!  Walked on by.

There was another tram ride to see Mission Control which I would probably have enjoyed but I just couldn’t bring myself to go through it again.  I was hungry and already tired with a long drive ahead of me.

The Trip Home
I did my best to avoid going into Houston on the way back to San Antonio.  After a million small street traffic lights then a 250 mile ride home and two traffic accidents I finally returned.  In a way it’s good to be home but it is a bittersweet return.  You must always return to Mundania.

Conclusion
In retrospect, Galveston was a good place to visit once.  I’m pretty sure I’ll never return in this lifetime.  There are too many other places to see.

An interesting personal note about the trip.  The whole time I was there I felt like I shouldn’t be here.  It was bad the first day and slowly subsided.  It has been such a long time since I’ve had a vacation away from town.  I wonder if this is normal for everyone or just me.

I also went on this trip ALONE.  I considered asking someone along but that’s such a pain in the ass.  You have to deal with their crap and always get their approval on destinations and wonder if they are enjoying it.   You cannot properly enjoy museums with other people.  If you are not alone to appreciate everything in its own time then you might as well not go at all.  I was proud of myself for not wasting any time wishing to have someone with me.  Perhaps on the beach but last time I was on the beach with someone I spent the whole time trying to convince her to go in the water.  Screw that.  Beach is for swimming.  Overall, I’m glad I went alone.  It would totally have sucked having to tow someone around.

Lessons learned:
1. You have to get away.  Vacation is mandatory for sanity.
2. Wherever you go, there you are.  Pretty much standard.

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