TRAVEL: On the road... deep in the heart of Texas
An American road trip is the ultimate dream adventure for many. John Fahey tops up his gas and heads for the highways of Texas
Americans are known for their friendliness and
hospitality, so it’s a bit of a shock to be tooted at aggressively by another driver, moments after landing on US soil. With freeway exits looming on every side – and no sat nav – I wasn’t going to be rushed on my journey from the airport to the hotel.
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Luckily, it’s only another 20 minutes or so before my buddy Paul and I are safely checked in at the Houston Omni Galleria, enjoying a cooling beer on the balcony as we contemplate a 720-mile road trip taking in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and some quieter backwaters in between.
American freeways are some of the most thrilling, terrifying and illuminating places to press your foot to the floor.
Often, there are as many as seven lanes on the interstate and, unlike England, with our quaint life-saving idea of a “slow’’ lane and overtaking lanes, in America you can pick a lane and apparently go as fast as you please.
I actually quite like it: if the beautiful blonde in the Mustang behind wants to leave you in a cloud of dust, she will.
And every time I arrive at my destination in one piece I experience a genuine sense of achievement.
After a first-rate steak dinner at Eddie V’s Diner, it’s off to bed to recharge our batteries for two of Houston’s major draws.
For a feel of Texas through the ages, we head to The George Ranch Historical Park.
It is a living history museum tracking four generations of one family, the Joneses, and how they evolved over 100 years, including cattle-working demonstrations and a working blacksmiths.
As the late February sun beats down (even in winter Houston tends to be mild) we make our way around the park, noting the wooden “Beware Alligators and Snakes’’ sign before, carefully, towards the 1830s Jones Stock Farm, where we learn about family life when Texas was an independent state.
From Texas past to Texas future all in one day, we then head to the Johnson Space Centre just an hour’s drive away.
NASA’s official visitors’ centre is a multi-sensory experience, where we pass a happy couple of hours in space. Well, learning about it, at least.
In the evening, we abandon the car and get a cab to McGonigel’s Mucky Duck. The bar has become a cityduring the past 20 years and neither one of us wants to be the designated driver.
Our good, wholesome food (beer-battered cod with fries, and salmon in a spicy Javanese glaze with spinach and wild rice) is way better than yourBritish gastro fare, and the locally-brewed ales make the taxi worthwhile.
The venue made its name through music and is known for featuring Texas-based singer-songwriters. We’re very lucky: country music legend Bill Kirchen is in town with two buddies and the performance is incredible.
With the music still ringing in our ears the next morning, we set off on the three-hour drive for San Antonio to enjoy breakfast at one of the city’s treasures: Mi Tierra Cafe. The family-owned restaurant, which brings the festive atmosphere of nearby El(market square) indoors, never closes, and feeds musicians, locals and tourists alike with a huge selection of classic Tex-Mex dishes under strings of colourful lights.
In the evening, we dust off our boots and head to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo for a night of entertainment, Texas-style.
The evening passes in a blur of Stars and Stripes flags, public prayers led by the MC, and cowboy acts of bravery which are just the right side of lunacy.
It’s astonishing to see first-hand the incredible conditioning and athleticism of the cowboys, all of whom seem immune to the pelvic-battering convulsions beneath them.
The highlight of our road trip, however, is 90 miles on, in state capital Austin.
They love their music in Austin, which is known as the blue dot in the red sea because of its democratic politics and more open approach to life. Austin dubs itself the live music capital of America and hosts the world- famous South by Southwest Festival.
And it lives up to its title: East 6th Street, the main area of bars, seems to showcase every type of musician.
We find live country artists, rock bands, hip hop acts and jazz groups within 10 minutes of each other.
The next day, we shake off our hangovers and breakfast at the 1886 Cafe and Bakery (inside the beautiful, historic Driskill Hotel) before exploring the very boho South Congress Avenue, known as SoCo.
SoCo sums up Austin: alternative, arty, eclectic, inclusive. It is a strip of road punctuated with antique and vintage shops, all kinds of eateries, from high-end restaurants to roadside shacks serving cheaper alternatives (such as Guero’s Taco Bar, which is a favourite with celebrities and musicians), record stores and a ’50s barber shop, complete with white-coated stylists serving up slick looks.
It is also home to Allens Boots – the place to part with your cash for the authentic Western look – and you cannot miss it, because of the giant red boot on its roof.
Austin, America’s 14th largest city, feels like a city on the up. Not content to rely on its thriving arts scene, it is now hosting the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix from 2012 to 2021.
The F1 complex, Circuit of the Americas, will also host MotoGP championship motorcycle races.
But for most, two wheels are better than four and Austin is a cycling town, with 20 miles of urban trails to cycle.
Flagging, and with just a day left, we zoom the three-hour drive to Dallas for a whistle-stop stay at the beautiful Hotel Adolphus, three blocks from the spot of President John F Kennedy’s assassination (marked literally by two Xs).
The Sixth Floor Museum is a last-minute highlight of the trip as it chronicles the rise of JFK, the problems awaiting him, his murder and the astonishing aftermath.
We’d hoped for a taste of Texas in our all-too-short stay, and now we can’t wait to head back for more.
John Fahey flew to Texas as a guest of British Airways and Funway Holidays, with car hire provided by Alamo.
A seven-night room-only stay in mid-November, with BA flight
into Houston and out of Dallas Fort Worth, leads in at £1, 079, including two nights at The Westin Oaks Houston, two at The Emily Morgan Hotel, San Antonio, two at Omni Austin Southpark, and one at Gaylord Texan Resort in Dallas Fort Worth.
Car hire included: economy car two/four door, automatic.
Regional departures include Manchester, £1,099.
For reservations ring 0844 557 3333 or visit: