Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Enjoying Downtown Bryan, Texas…

Bryan Texas, population of about 77,000,is the county seat of Brazos County and lies immediately adjacent to the larger College Station Texas (home of Texas A&M University). When we first moved to this part of Texas Bryan was a small town with a dying downtown district. Over the years the downtown area has undergone major revitalization and has finally turned the corner to become a really cool little town and a neat place for a stroll.

College Station TX 043

Our stay in Bryan and College Station has been a bit stormy as it seems to be raining every other day if not more. We have been dodging storms and rain since we arrived but have managed to sneak in a lot of visiting of friends as well as visits to places we enjoy including downtown Bryan Texas.

There are some interesting buildings located in the downtown area and most can be explored using the newly created Citi-Beat Walking Trail. It won’t take a long time to walk the 1.5 miles trail but after completing the trail walkers will have a good feel for downtown Bryan as well as surely being tempted by the excellent eateries and bars found there.  As we walk the trail we are always amazed to see what has been accomplished in the revitalization of a once forlorn place.

There is also a huge festival that takes place in Bryan Texas each year called the Texas Reds Steak & Grape Festival. It was originally held in the summer but with the growing crowds and as a response to visitors complaints about the brutal summer heat it is now a fall event with the next one scheduled for Sept. 26-27, 2015. It is a must do festival for anyone in the area at that time as there are always wonderful wines to sample as well as a great music lineup.  It is simply a blast to attend!

Also in Bryan is the fully restored LaSalle Hotel which is a great place to pop in for a visit and a drink or light fare for happy hour at the restaurant/bar in the lobby. Not far from the LaSalle is the Queen Theatre which is being restored and is near completion. Bryan also is home to one of the oldest Carnegie public libraries in the nation. Nearby is a nice venue for outdoor concerts at the Palace Theater as it is shaded with seating for around 400 people. Around town visitors will come across small train sculptures that have been erected and artistically decorated to honor the impact that the railroads have had in the Bryan community.

2012-03-29 Bryan Texas 03404-03-2012 013

Anyone hungry at the end their walk can be treated to some great spots to dine in downtown Bryan. Some of our favorites are Mr. G’s Pizzeria and Caffe Capri for Italian, Casa Rodriguez and Papa Perez for Tex-Mex, Margie’s Bar and Grill has a great burger, and for some real good chicken fried steak go to the Longhorn Tavern. For an adult beverage we love The Proudest Monkey and the LaSalle but the Downtown Uncorked is the place to be for a nice glass of wine.

So when we want a more laid back small town atmosphere Bryan Texas is where we go......

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Reminiscing at Texas A&M University…

image

We moved to College Station so I could attend Texas A&M University and ended up living there for 34 years.  Coming back to Texas A&M University, or Aggieland as it is often called, is always fun.   Our return rekindles my Aggie Spirit and Aggie Pride.

imageimage

A&M was founded in 1876 as an all-men’s school, one hundred years after the birth of our nation. Texas A&M University has grown to become the fourth largest university in the United States and now enrolls nearly 60,000 students.

As Sharon and I have enjoyed strolling along the campus many memories come back to life for the two of us as living in College Station meant that much of our lives centered around university activities. Our thoughts are interrupted as we hear an occasional “Howdy”, a traditional greeting from Aggies to others, as we walk across campus. We pass the building where I received my undergraduate degree from the Wildlife and Fisheries Department back in 1978. I remember back to the days when I had to study hard while on the G.I. Bill to get through the coursework. I also fondly remember the friends and fun we had back in that bygone time…

imageimage

We passed by the Animal Industries Building where I worked toward a Range Science degree and it is under renovation. Spending a few years in that building working on my Master’s in Science I made some good friends and learned a great deal. We also strolled past various other buildings I had an office in over the years but the one I remembered and liked the most was the Student Recreation Center where I worked for 17 years after earning my final MBA degree.  It too is under renovation and expansion.  We couldn't resist going in and were greeted with many of the same faces I worked with just a bit over four years ago. It is great fun seeing old friends and coworkers who always seem happy to welcome us back…

image

Afterward we strolled out and could see the massive expansion that will transform Kyle Field, Texas A&M’s football stadium, from what it was in the Big 12 Conference to what it will become now it is part of the SEC Conference.  It will eventually seat 102,500 people, making it the largest football stadium in Texas and the SEC. As we wander past the cranes erected to complete the project we remember all the fun times we had here tailgating and going to Aggie football games. I also worked at Kyle Field for about 15 years as a statistician for the football and basketball programs. The press box I once sat in is now in rubble as they are rebuilding the entire west side of Kyle Field.

imageimage

We delighted in the finished product on the east side where huge banners display exceptional players the school has had over the years.  This expansion has taken out what was once our tailgating area where we would mingle with friends, eat snacks and have a few cold beers awaiting the band marching in signaling the game would soon begin.  A huge 12th man statue has been erected capturing the locking of arms and the swaying of fans during the Aggie War Hymn sung before and after the game and at the end of each quarter of play.  We were like tourists snapping pictures as well as ooohing and awwwing at the impressive addition.

Each and every time we walk around the Texas A&M campus new memories are made and memories are relived, never to be forgotten… After all, we are the Aggies, the Aggies are we...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Sharon’s Thoughts on Visiting Friends…

image

imageEvery time we come “home” to College Station it seems we see different sets of our old dear friends. We completely understand as we zoom into their already busy lives and they often cannot squeeze in a visit with us. I saw a saying recently that said, “good friends are like stars, you don’t always see them but you always know they are there”. So we never have hurt feelings about not seeing someone as we figure we will just see them next time or we will stay in touch via Facebook or email. When we do happen to meet up with these good friends we seem to pick right up where we left off and have a wonderful time sharing news from when we last saw each other.

Almost always soon after we arrive we realize quickly we need to create and maintain a calendar to avoid confusion or double scheduling. Along with touring and socializing there’s also the dental appointments, hair appointments and rental of the Rug Doctor for our spring cleaning to coordinate while we are here so that calendar becomes our planning guide to get everything done. This time around we are doing a few cleaning items each day rather than our past efforts where I was so intent upon getting it all done the first couple of weeks. This way has given us more flexibility to socialize making it lots more fun than when I pretty much closed us off for the first two weeks to clean and get it done leaving the last two weeks as another rush trying to see everyone.

image

The very first week we have taken cleaning breaks to visit our old favorite bar several times and have seen several friends that way. We visited John’s former workplace and saw many more friends. Then through my pictures on Facebook of our campsite several other people have dropped by to see us and the motorhome! Before I would have been horrified that people were over before I finished cleaning. Now I just explain that we are in the midst of spring cleaning so pardon the disarray and now I wonder why I ever worried about that in the first place. Live and learn.

imageOn one particular day when we were cleaning out drawers and cabinets 3 people happened by. First was my dear friend (my hairdresser who was an angel to me during my breast cancer bout) dropped by so we had a nice 3 hour visit (amongst the drawer and cabinet contents) laughing and telling stories just having a good ole time. Not long after she left John’s friend Bill came by while on a lengthy bike ride. Again we dropped everything and had a great visit. After he left, we finished our tasks for the day and at Happy Hour yet another dear friend, Annie came by to share some wine and fun while we all sat on the patio enjoying sunset, snacks and each other’s company.

I think this is going to be the best stay ever. None of the cleaning is as meaningful as these impromptu visits or the flexibility to walk around town soaking in the beauty of springtime in Texas. I am glad I am learning (finally) to relax and go with the flow…

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Back to Where It All Began…

image

It was almost like coming back to the scene of a crime as we recently rolled our motorhome back to where it all began… College Station, Texas. About five years ago we were living in this town wondering what the future held for us.  We were set to retire in March of 2011 and both really craved a new chapter of life.  We came up with the RVing plan but we still hadn’t bought an RV until about two weeks before leaving!. What the hell were we thinking? Yet four years and a month ago that on March 3rd of 2011 we had our motorhome, cleaned and packed up with our remaining possessions we hadn’t either sold or given away. On that sunny morning we pulled out from in front our home of over 17 years and headed off for the unknown…

Here we are today back to where it all began. We have done a lot over the past four years and have seen most of the United States by now but we still haven’t seen much of our country in detail so we still have some driving to do. Looking at the map of our travels it is noticable that there is a big void in the middle of the USA.  It appears as if we are avoiding that part of our country and well, actually that might be partially true. In our working life we had traveled most of those states before we started RV’ing and so we haven’t gone back to revisit as we were drawn to go places we had never been..

Interestingly after a little over four years of traveling our motorhome has logged just under 33,000 miles and our Honda CRV has logged around 60,000 miles. So between the two vehicles we are traveling around 22,500 miles per year. That’s a lot of miles!!! I figure we put more miles than that on our previously owned cars (her Toyota Camry and my Ford Ranger) but we are sure enjoying putting on the miles this way that the way rather than how we used to put them on by mostly going back and forth to work!

It  really is nice to be back in College Station, Texas, our former home. After four years we are still excited to come back to our old stomping grounds to revisit friends, some of our favorite places and restaurants. The question that arises is – Is this still our home? I have to admit that I no longer feel as if this is my home but it will always be a place I like to return to for an extended visit especially this time of year. Spring is the best season to visit most of Texas and despite an occasional severe thunderstorm rolling through we plan to enjoy ourselves while here for a month....unless the urge to get back on the road hits us sooner...

Friday, April 17, 2015

More BBQ and a Road Trip to Austin, Texas…

Austin road trip 009

While in Lockhart we decided since we were close to the state capital of Texas, Austin, we would make a road trip to see how it has changed since we last visited. Man o man is this town under massive construction. There were cranes everywhere changing the skyline of Austin at that very moment!

Austin road trip 002    Austin road trip 001

Austin is about a half hour drive north of Lockhart State Park so we headed out about lunchtime. But before hitting the road to Austin we stopped at Black’s BBQ to have one more brisket hit from Lockhart. Blacks is the oldest BBQ establishment in Lockhart and thus has more history than do the others. Upon walking in the door past the sign that says they are open 8 days a week there is a line to stand in while waiting to order your road treats. Lining the walls are lots of photos of days gone by and some interesting ones of LBJ and Matthew McConaughey who either new one of the Blacks or had BBQ there. Out back of the place is the largest stack of wood I have ever seen… takes a lot of wood to smoke that meat!!!

Lockhart State Park 018Lockhart State Park 013

The brisket we had at Black's was much more moist than was Smitty’s this year but the texture at Smitty’s was nicer than Blacks. As for taste they both had that nice smoked ring and the dry rub on both was perfect. These two I rated pretty much neck and neck overall unlike last year when we had Smitty’s ranked as our favorite. However, there is still one more BBQ place we wanted to try before leaving Lockhart.

Austin road trip 008Austin road trip 007

After lunch we headed north and pulled into the parking lot near a baseball field by the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake. Instead of walking around the capital like we did last time we decided to do an urban hike around Lady Bird Lake or as I use to know it ......Town Lake. The trail is described as “a lush, urban path that meanders along the water’s edge and passes by skyscrapers, neighborhoods, ball fields and cultural attractions” and that pretty much nails it.

Austin road trip 004

The trail is 10 miles in length but we did a shorter segment of it as there are several well appointed pedestrian walkways across various locations along the lake. Lots of people were out on this perfect weather day either jogging, walking or kayaking yet we never had the sense of being in a big city until seeing glimpses across the lake of the numerous skyscrapers and the soon-to-be-completed waterfront condos going up. What a great place for a walk.

Austin road trip 010Austin road trip 014

 

We then did a smaller urban hike around the University of Texas campus in central Austin. We have walked this campus many times before and it was comforting being at a place in Austin that hasn’t changed much. Next up for us was a visit to a cool little pub owned by a good friend of ours called The Crown and Anchor. They have really great hamburgers and tacos, and a nice assortment of Texas craft beers. We really enjoyed seeing our friends Craig and Donna over a burger and craft brews but it was time to head home….

Austin road trip 011Austin road trip 016

Our last morning in Lockhart we readied to leave but before going had one more brisket run to make. Chisholm Trail BBQ is known more as the “locals spot for BBQ” than the other joints. We tried their brisket as well and even though we ranked them third last year we declared them the best of the lot this year (albeit just barely). Their brisket had a nice smoky flavor, good crust and the texture and moisture were all there. Glad were we that we saved it for last… now we are off to our former home in College Station for a 3-4 week stay!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Lockhart Texas and Smitty’s Market BBQ…

Lockhart State Park 018

Although it was only 41 miles to Lockhart State Park we took our time as it was drizzling. We pulled in and selected one  of the 10 full hookup sites facing the golf course.  We are staying at Lockhart State Park for just three days so after setting up we immediately headed over to town to begin our carnivorous intent. Since it was lunchtime we went to our favorite BBQ in Lockhart from our last stay, Smitty’s Market, a true Road Treat!

Lockhart State Park 008Lockhart State Park 017

Lockhart State Park 011There really isn’t anything like Texas smoked BBQ when it is done right and Lockhart has at least four BBQ joints that know how to do it right which is the only reason we come to stay here. Smitty’s has won many state awards but in the most recent annual list of the best BBQ Smitty’s didn’t even make the top 50 list according to Texas Monthly. They have been in the top ten list multiple times but making the top 50 list is tough in Texas and even though we still think Smitty’s makes some excellent brisket we may have to start expanding our horizons to include some other places beyond Lockhart.

 

Lockhart State Park 012We were served our smoked brisket on some butcher paperlong with some bread and anxiously gave it a taste. We agreed that this is still some mighty fine brisket but we also thought the meat was not quite as tender as our last visit .  It did however,  have an excellent smoke ring and was seasoned perfectly with an excellent dry rub. It might not be a Texas Monthly imagetop 50 but I really can’t imagine that there are really 50 better briskets in the state than what can be had at Smitty’s We did discover it made Southern Livings top 20 BBQ places in the south!

After indulging in a meat fest we decided it was in our best interest to take a walk around town. Lockhart has a lot of historical buildings found in the town square. In the middle of the town square is the Caldwell County courthouse which is as elegant as it is majestic. The historic courthouse currently standing was built in 1894 to replace the existing courthouse which was said to be too small for the rapidly growing county.

If you love BBQ (as we do) and old historic towns then we think Lockhart would be a great stopover!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Last of the family time and meeting RV friends…

Lockhart State Park 007

Our nine day stay to visit our grandkids is coming to a close here at Canyon Lake and, man, it has been busy with the youngsters… They camped with us both weekends and we made a two day trip over to their house in San Antonio mid week to see them in their normal routine

While in San Antonio we also decided to do an April Thanksgiving dinner since we missed the last several years of turkey dinners. We roasted a turkey, made my homemade cornbread dressing, green bean casserole and all the sides including deviled eggs… a family favorite. We had a blast at their house helping them with homework, bowling with them on their Xbox, watching them ride bikes and just visiting. Luckily we escaped most of the rain forecasted during our 9 day stay as the rain only interrupted our outdoor plans the last day this past Sunday.

20150405_19135620150404_190148

Our first year of full timing our son Jason and his wife Kelly enjoyed some free time while we took the kids to stay with us.  After that first year the annual visits now include JJ and Kelly as they have come to love camping too!  The adults take the fold out airbed while the kids enjoy our sleeping bags on pallets in the living room.  It might be a little cramped but what fun we all have together...so much so that now JJ and Kelly are thinking about purchasing a camper!  We all appreciate the quality time together here at Canyon Lake!

Lockhart State Park 003image

Lake Pointe RV resort has become the perfect location as we have the lake to hike to and skip rocks at, there is a movie room, book exchange, playground, swimming pool, swap table, dollar Blue Bell ice cream on weekends and of course plenty of very tame deer that will eat out of your hand.  It is also close to some beautiful hill country drives around the Guadelupe River where on one of the days we weren't visiting the kids we shared some quality time with some fellow full timers we briefly met at Quartzite.  We had a blast with Tina and Jeff (who have a blog called RV Travels with Tina and Jeff) as we became fast friends having so much in common.  What an enjoyable afternoon we had with them...so much so that we were surprised at the time when we hopped back in the car....sorry Tina and Jeff if we overstayed...we sure had fun!

imageimage

We caught a break between storms so we let the kids ride from our site to the front of the RV park where there was more room to hook up the CRV.  They really wanted to experience what it was like rolling down the road all packed up with the slides in… They really seemed to enjoy that short but exciting ride… As we said our goodbyes we hit the road as it once again began to drizzle. We only had a short 41 miles to drive as we headed east towards Lockhart State Park. We will be staying in Lockhart for three days to see if we can get our fill of some really awesome Texas BBQ… stay tuned…

Friday, April 10, 2015

Day Trips Near Canyon Lake…

New Braunfels Tx 017

In between visits from our grandkids we ventured out for a few excursions to see some of the sights in the area. One trip we made was to Gruene, Texas (pronounced Green). We have been there several times before so we mostly made the drive to see the wildflowers along the roadside on the way there. We also hoped to stop at Guadelupe Brewery but they still haven’t built a tasting room. It really is a shame as I feel this is one of the very best breweries in Texas and if they don’t figure out their marketing they may not make it…

20150406_15552120150406_150625

On the way out of Gruene we stopped at Bubbas Big Deck, a dive bar. We like this bar for its New Braunfels Tx 015location… it is right on the river. We usually stop in for a Shiner beer and a chance to dip our toes in the Guadelupe River. It really is relaxing to sit and listen to the water rush by in this very green area. Spring is in full force here and I have to admit that after all the years I have lived in Texas this year’s wildflower explosion would rank in the top five of all time. The flowers are abundant, very showy and are seemingly peaking about now in both color and abundance…

Another day we took off for the nearby artsy town of  Wimberley, Texas. We have only been through Wimberley once before but it was raining and hailing at the time so we didn’t walk around the small town. There isn’t really a whole lot to see in Wimberley so we parked on the square to walk by all the shops and restaurants in town. The town has apparently adopted the boot as its symbol as we saw several artistic cowboy boots all around the small artsy town. I love towns that embrace this as we find it fun to find each one to discover what each artist wanted to express…

Leaving Wimberley we stopped to check out the recently opened Middleton Brewery. This brewery was originally at a different location recently relocating to its current location just outside of Wimberley. The tasting room is pretty neat albeit a bit “dive'ish” but we weren’t overly impressed with their beers. Sharon and I did play a little bean bag  toss out on the deck and I am glad we weren't keeping score or I might of had my butt kicked!

Untitled-2Untitled-1

We left and started back home when we decided to swing by to check out the Wimberley Brewing Company which also is the Brewster’s Pizza place. They have a very nice Porter and we really enjoyed chatting with the owner who is a former San Francisco 49’ers football player who played alongside Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. He later played for Philadelphia where he found his soon to be wife. Thirteen kids later he has found himself owner/proprietor of the pizza restaurant and brewery. It was interesting to chat with this fellow and hear his story. Indeed  it is a fun place we'd highly recommend for a cold beer and a chat…