Turning 40 Texas style
I have been adamant the last few years that when the dreaded moment came to turn 40 that I would do it sitting on top of a Texas Longhorn back at Fort Worth Historic Stockyards
Planning a Texas Road Trip
I have been adamant the last few years that when the dreaded moment came to turn 40 that I would do it sitting on top of a Texas Longhorn back at Fort Worth Historic Stockyards. I say ‘back’ because I actually celebrated my 18th birthday there on our last family holiday when I promised my Dad that once I had made it in life, I would take him back there. I haven't made it, my parents paid for their own flights, but we did make it back like I said we would one day. I think my desire to go back was largely nostalgia but also the fact that the saying is true, everything is bigger and better in Texas. Apart from my hair that is: that was definitely bigger in Texas but certainly not better. Just think of Monica from Friends....
After booking the holiday a few months earlier - it was all meant to be very simple, I would do my work conference in Orlando and fly to Austin (Texas) to meet my husband and my parents off their direct British Airways flight - a huge spanner was thrown in the works when I broke my wrist in three places.
I was delayed heading out to the US for my week-long work trip but was determined - some may say stubborn - enough to get out to the US five days post surgery. Turns out it was the first or two operations I needed to have and I actually had a trapped nerve the whole time I was in the US. But that’s a whole other story I won’t bore you with. Actually, I will just say how miffed I was that my accident meant I was unable to drive in the US. Since being at University in South Carolina, I have always loved driving the highways and byways in the USA. I was absolutely gutted that I would have to leave the driving to my husband and Dad for the whole ten days.
Being the travel planner extraordinaire that I am (I get it from both my parents) we had spent a lot of time finalising our itinerary and we booked our holiday with US specialist operator, Purely America. We would start in Austin as British Airways launched their direct flight from London Heathrow to Austin Bergstrom International Airport in October 2021. Our first night in Austin actually coincided with Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural party, as they fly direct there now too. We would do a loop through Texas, ending again back at Austin for our flight home.
Our route was Austin - Dallas Fort Worth - Houston - San Antonio. We all chose one thing we really wanted to do. Mine was to go to the rodeo at Fort Worth, my husband’s was to see where JFK was assassinated, Mum's was to listen to live music in Austin, and Dad’s was to go to the Alamo in San Antonio.
Austin is the capital city of Texas and is actually the 11th largest city in the US. My first taste of Austin was at night. Trying to help my husband fight off any potential jetlag, we hit a few bars with friends that had driven up from San Antonio. The city was buzzing! There was a converted parking garage called (ahem) The Garage and a speakeasy with an unmarked entrance behind a Floppy Disk Co sign - luckily for us, our friend had managed to get the code to get in. The cocktails were incredible and had all sorts of interesting creations - such as cereal - in them.
During the day, Austin is an interesting place. We spent a good hour or so exploring the Capitol Building and the museum there filled with historic artifacts and chuck wagons. The Bullock Texas State History Museum is definitely worth a visit. Since it opened in 2021, over nine million visitors have come to learn the deep story of Texas over three floors of galleries, interactive displays and exhibitions.
Getting our cowboy on in Dallas and Fort Worth
Fort Worth was hot, hot, hot! I mean the difference in the temperature the further north we drove through the Lone Star State was considerable. The drive from Austin to Fort Worth Historic Stockyards took just over three hours and we arrived in plenty of time for the 4 p.m. cattle drive, one of the two daily cattle drives down East Exchange Avenue. Texas cowhands drive a herd of Texas Longhorns and the sides of the roads were lined with visitors wanting to catch a good view. It was just as thrilling as I remember it being - real life cowboys! Yeehaw!
Sipping a cold beer in the heat to the sound of booming applause, laughter and fake gunshots from the scheduled Wild West performances, I knew I was back in my place.
That evening we returned to the Fort Worth Cowtown Coliseum to watch the Stockyards Championship Rodeo. This is the world’s only year round rodeo and it takes place every Friday and Saturday at 7.30 p.m. offering visitors an authentic cowboy experience. The excitement was electric and we had fabulous seats in a little box just for us, right next to the ring. It was exhilarating when the first of the cowboys came out to hold on to his bucking bronco as long as he could. I couldn't wait to see the bulls though. They were massive! The evening competition lasted for about three hours, and there was a nice break in the middle where the children in the audience got involved in the ring. It was clear that the competitors loved their country as well as their craft. It was a brilliant evening.
We only had one day in Dallas and wanted to spend a decent amount of time at the Sixth Floor Museum at Delaney, the museum located within the former Texas School Book Depository building that details the life, death and legacy of perhaps the most iconic President, JFK. The museum had changed a lot in the 22 years since I had last visited with new artefacts and exhibits. It was still just as moving though for me second time around and after seeing the location countless times in historic footage and finally being stood in the location, my husband really felt the magnitude of what happened there in 1963. We spent a good few hours there, taking it all in, before wandering around Elm Street and the infamous Grassy Knoll where some say the shot was fired from.
A friend of mine that lives in Dallas wanted to show us his favourite restaurant in the historic Bishops Art District. Boulevardier is a French-inspired neighbourhood restaurant offering a wide variety of house-made bistro options. My husband and I shared one of the charcuterie boards paired with one of the 150 French and American wines on offer. The board comes with three meats and three cheeses, rotated regularly by the chef. The food was exceptional and we loved dining with the locals.
Taking Dad back to Houston
We only briefly stopped into Houston en route to our friends in San Antonio but it was a very important stop. Back in 1978, my Dad got given the Key to the City of Houston by the Mayor whilst on a tour with London Welsh Rugby Club. Almost 45 years later, we returned to City Hall so Dad could show us where he and his teammates were treated like absolute rock stars by the locals that were very excited that the team was playing in their city. It was a really special moment for us all.
Mind-blowing San Antonio
Staying with friends in San Antonio meant we got to experience the vibrant city like locals. Our first stop was obviously to the iconic Alamo, a historic Spanish fortress famed for being part of the 13-day Battle of Alamo during the Texas Revolution. This was Dad’s bucket list - think Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier! I was really surprised that the Alamo is actually right in the heart of the city. I was expecting to drive out into the plains to find it, standing mighty and alone. The original church was spectacular and the exhibits fascinating. We learnt that singer Phil Collins has the largest collection of Alamo artifacts in the world and you can view some of them in the museum.
Hopscotch is a gallery in the city centre that features 15 distinctive immersive and interactive installations from over 40 local, national and international artists. The displays were out of this world and I particularly enjoyed the ‘confessions booth’, featuring the three old phone boxes where visitors could record their confessions. Alongside the wall is a line of retro phones - completely alien to anyone under the age of 25 I would imagine- where visitors could listen to all the confessions previous guests had left. Basia Goszczynska’s Rainbow was created from 40,000 plastic bags and was inspired to show the end of the Biblical Flood. The bags lit up by mutli-coloured LED lights represented the amount of bags used in Texas every two and a half minutes. It was really moving. Outside of the gallery we found food trucks serving delicious food and cocktails. There were a lot of people salsa dancing. The vibe was just chilled and San Antonio is a surprising city that perfectly blends the mix of historic and contemporary.
I had the most incredible 40th birthday and loved Texas so much that we're going back this summer. There wasn't enough time to explore all The Lone Star State has to offer.