Johnson Space Center Houston Texas Nov 10,2011

It’s been just over 10 years since we toured the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. While we enjoyed that tour, today’s tour of the Johnson Space Center is exceptionally well done. We arrived at 10 a.m. just as they opened.  We immediately hopped onto the tram tour which had three stops……mission control, the mock up training center for shuttle astronauts and finally the rocket displays. The mock training center for the shuttle is mind boggling large and includes not only a mock shuttle, but also lunar lander and the Canadarm.  The equipment is massive and it’s little wonder it takes a decade to train the crew to pilot one. Seen here in the photo right is Canada’s contribution to the ISS(International Space Station) the Canadarm, as well as a lunar module.(not Canadian)

Prior to entry to the Space Center we had to go through a light security check, however everyone boarding the tram, had to be photographed….I suspect the number one reason is for security and the second, they insert your photo into NASA scenes…and when you leave the tour, pass the photo gallery where you are encouraged to buy your photos.

We toured a huge hanger housing a Saturn rocket, with it’s sections separated out for viewing.  There is no way my little camera could capture the size of one.  The photo on the right shows two of the 5 sections of the rocket.

Despite the cancellation of the shuttle program, NASA is busy moving forward with the next phase of space exploration.  The International Space station will be key and NASA continues to be part of development of  the ISS. NASA can be proud of it’s center and the ability to engage visitors.  I think the highlight for me was being able to touch a piece of moonrock and view several other pieces.  In addition, on display was a landing module used by the Apollo Program and viewing a mock up of the cockpit of the space shuttle.  For anyone planning to go, plan to be there for an entire day to see and do most things ( you’ll not have time in one day for it all.)

When Brian and I were planning this two month trip one of the things we hoped we could do, would be to stop in at one of triple Ds featured Diners,Drive Ins and Dives restaurants.  Tonight we were able to cross that one off the list as we ate at T Bone Tom’s which is just outside of Houston and close to where we are staying. To view the clip from Diners, Drive Ins and Dives, check out www.tbonetoms.com

We ordered the three meat plate.  This is a single entree but were sure it would be enough for the two of us.  WRONG!!!!!  The two of us could not finish it.  The plate consisted of a slab of BBQ ribs( sauce on the side), a huge amount of homemade polish sausage and about 8 pieces of BBQ brisket, in addition to two sides, a slice of bread, two slices of raw onion and a handful of pickles. If you view the clip on their website you will see the sausage being made and the brisket coming out of the smoker.  It’s absolutely delicious and just to be little piggies we brought back to the hotel…bread pudding….likely enough to feed four people.  I think I better plan on wearing elastic waisted bottoms the next few days.

We had thought about staying in the Houston area but after checking out the visitor website for Galveston, we’re off to Galveston.  Their visitor website is the best I’ve seen and I expect we’ll be two if not 3 nights there….especially as the hotel prices are ridiculously low.

Galveston Texas Nov 13,2011

It’s a windy day in this part of the world today.  We arrived in Galveston before lunch and had to wait for our room to be readied.  We sat out by the pool and read while we waited. We are staying on the east end of the sea wall and the hotel appears relatively new. Three years ago hurricane Ike blew in and destroyed much of Galveston Island. The photo to the right shows a house left standing, but abandoned.  There are very few of these homes ( largely because most were destroyed by Ike.)  Like New Orleans the rebuilding is remarkable.  There are new subdivisions going up on the west end of Seawall Blvd and most have 12′ of piling above ground.  I am not convinced these homes are used year round as even today with the wind and a temp of 76, the humidity is very high…..I can’t imagine what it must be like in summer when they hit 100. As the homes are being built on pilings, I would hate all those stairs and the mvoing coompanies must love moving furniture into these homes. The lower (ground) level appear to be for parking and a small amount of storage. 

For lunch we stopped at Joe’s Crab Shack.  The waitress tried to get us to try the crab steamers – pails of food ( one entree would feed 4, I swear) for a price of $40+.  I opted for an appetizer called Fun Do – a mix of sea food baked in a cream sauce with garlic toast on the side, while Brian stuck with fish & chips.  Both meals were delicious for under $30 beverage, tip & tax all included.  To see the menu and locations ( over a 100 in the US) their website is www.joescrabshack.com.

We took the car for some fun on the beach.  You can drive for miles on the beach, however we just took her a few blocks…then got some gas and washed all the salt water guk off her windows.

The adventure for today…….when I went to pay for the gas….NO CREDIT CARD!  After some thinking, I realized it wasn’t far away…the hotel must have it, as I gave it to them today when I checked in.  After a rushed drive to the hotel…the clerk had it waiting for me.  Phew……..dodged a bullet!

Observations

Air Conditioning

I don’t understand with the cost of energy, why there is a general overuse of air conditioning.  For a week now, we have been in the low to mid 70s, yet any building or restaurant we go into…the air conditioning is on and the temperature is less than 70 degrees.  Yesterday we had to leave the theatre at the Johnson Space center as I beleive the temp was 65.  Every restaurant have fans and air conditioning going and even though patrons are keeping sweaters on or putting coats back on…the owners don’t get it. We just returned from dinner and it’s so cool ouside, the moisture is condensing on the car…yet we walk in…and are hit with a wall of cold air.

Portion Size

I have taken to ordering appetizers.  The portion size served in most restaurants is too much food for most people.  We’ve seen single entrees pass us in restaurants with enough food to feed a hungry family of four.  The amount of food being wasted is sickening. A recent television show indicated the US throws out enough food on a daily basis to fill a football stadium.

US News

Universally the news is soley US based.  The world does not stop at it’s borders…would someone please tell them.  Any information/news from another country is only spoken of in relation to the USA and how it would affect the US.  We have taken ( when asked) to saying we are from Western Canada and live 60 miles north of the Montana border.  It’s not really working well as you’d be surprised how many haven’t a clue where Montana is.  The television networks and the education system is failing it’s citizens.

Touring Galveston Nov 14,2011

Our first stop this morning was the visitor center.  We got tons of tour information so we set out for the harbour where we spent most of the day.  Our first tour was the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum and Education Center.  The site is very impressive and definately educational. The exhibits are very well done and very interesting.  It blows my mind to see how they are able to take steel pipe and bend the pipes just enough to avoid breaking them, yet do bend enough to turn and drill in several directions.  The museum gives an extensive outline of off shore drilling and the safety precautions they use.  I found the mock up living quarters of interest but not sure I would want to work 12 hr days for up to 30 days at a time.

Carnival Cruise line is making Galveston their home base for their ship “Magic”  It has been in port for a couple of days and Galveston threw a huge party yesterday to celebrate it’s maiden voyage out of Galveston this afternoon. We didn’t attend…apparently they didn’t know we were in town and forgot to invite us.  After a light lunch at the Cafe Olympia Grille at Pier 21, we went to the Galveston Historic Museum and watched a film about the 1900 Hurricane, which is considered the deadliest natural disaster as it killed more people than any other hurricane….as many as 6000. 

Shortly after we hopped a small boat for a harbour tour and saw some dolphins playing in the Bay. The port is extremely busy with all kinds of cargo being loaded and off loaded. This photo shows the cargo ship belonging to “Del Monte” being emptied. As we toured the harbour we passed close Seawolf Park where they have a destroyer and a submarine you can tour.  We also saw a free ferry service that takes you to an outer island.  We have decided to stay to take a train tour tomorrow and may also visit these sites as well. Might be fun to take the ferry.  After the harbour tour, we took the car and drove around Galveston on our own.  If you stay on the island, you can’t really get lost.

As we drove around we saw some magnificent homes, usually with man made canals weaving in and out of the cul de sacs.  Many of the homes were vacant with the hurrricane shutters closed. We kept driving and snooping until end of day when we got some beautiful sunset shots.

 I’ll close out by sharing a couple more photos and a “sign” of the day.

 

 

 Bird at shoreline as sun setting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The setting sun

 

 

SIGN OF THE DAY

Galveston Nov 15,2011

We had planned to take a trolley train tour but missed it by minutes.  Instead, just for something to do, we hopped the Galveston ferry ( free) so see where it went.  Well we really did’t see where it went because we ended up squeezed between a wall and a transport truck…and couldn’t open the doors enough to get out.  The ferry is very efficient and we were on and off in 30 minutes.  The ferry takes you to the mainland from Galveston Island on the east end.  Having found that out, we head back to try to get the trolley again.  It’s very slow in the city ( as far as tourists) and it never showed up.

We opted instead to go to Moody Gardens.  The forecast for today was heavy thundershowers and rain.  By noon, still no sign of clouds, so we opted to go on the Steam Boat ride. In fact the weather was very warm and humid, so I left the umbrella and sweater jacket in the car.  We no sooner pulled out and the wind got up and it got cloudy.  Fortunately the rain held off, so once we disembarked the boat, I ran to the parking lot to get our jackets and umbrella. The steam boat ride by the way was a real snooze.  I am not sure why, but you can hardly find a hot beverage in this city…especially the tourist areas. I have been freezing with the wet cold and try to get coffee, hot tea and ask for hot chocolate…..they think I’m nuts!

After the ride we took in the rainforest exhibit which is exceptionally well done and reasonably priced.  By the way…the parking is free. I enjoyed all the flora and fauna and this Scarlet Ibis was really giving me the evil eye!  As I said, the exhibit is well done with one exception….we couldn’t find the exit and kept going up and down and all around. We were pretty pooped by the time we got out so rather than tour another exhibit, we took in a 3D movie about the ocean and wildlife in it.

While we were touring the exhibits, the severe thunderstorm did happen…and that was largely the reason we decided to stay for the movie. 

We weren’t able to find a lot that interest us in and around Austin, so we’ve had a change of heart and heading to Corpus Christi tomorrow.  We’re going there to tour the Lexington and perhaps check out the bird watching on Padre Island.

Very much looking forward to seeing Kathy & family on Friday evening.

Driving to Corpus Christi Tx Nov 16,2011

The day didn’t start off particularly well, as when I was brushing my teeth, a huge chunk of tooth fell out.  I think it was tooth…or hopefully filling.  All I know is I have a big hole.  The good thing is, it doesn’t hurt.  Thanks to our friend Bob, I’ve got a dentist appointment Dec 2, to have it repaired.  Keep your fingers crossed it doesn’t get worse before then.

Before leaving Galveston we stopped for breakfast at Denny’s and had the $4 slam – two pancakes, two eggs and two strips of bacon.  The weather was clear and calm and for the first time there wasn’t a haze of moisture and sand coming off the water.   The price of gas was $3.14 a US gallon, so we filled up before we left.  I hate having to guess what it’s going to take and pay first.  They won’t take a postal code and the zip has to match the address on the credit card…so in I go everytime…except twice this whole trip in the US.

The hotel we stayed in was on the east end of the Galveston sea wall and when we arrived on Sunday, they had been booked all weekend.  However Monday and Tuesday nights, I think they had us and perhaps two other rooms filled.  They cancelled their housekeeping staff yesterday and we were told, if we need towels etc, just to come to the desk.  Not sure who did it, but they did come in and clean the room and provided fresh towels.  Last evening the owner was manning the desk and when we came back from dinner,he had the front doors locked. I feel for him as it was obvious a lot of upkeep has been done as the hotel was like new. We had an L shaped room with two beds and a sofa.  A nice large room I think they rent out as a suite but they gave it to us fo $68…the regular room rate.

The navigation system took us through Houston…not sure why as there was a secondary highway…however we followed along.  OMG…the freeways in Houston are massive and I don’t think I would ever try one without a navigation system.  Even with it, it takes two sets of eyes to get the correct exit..  Sometimes the entire screen was taken up with intersecting roads.  I wouldn’t want that drive everyday.  As we drove west of Houston we certainly saw evidence of the drought.  We drove over some bridges crossing what used to be a river…and found it was dry on more than one occasion. 

Tonight we are staying in Portland Texas…just outside of Corpus Christi.  You wouldn’t beleive the highway system….the nav gets all confused when you give her a highway address….so we saw the hotel but had to drive miles before we could get to the hotel…due to one way frontage roads…..and very few exits.  You can’t even get in here from the back as it backs onto a ditch.

In our travels today we drove through Taft, Texas.  Their sign says “friendliest cotton pickin town in Texas.”

We did not want to venture out in the dark given how hard it was to find this place in daylight, so we walked next door to the restaurant called “Pepito’s”  Great mexican food and service.  We were met by this very young looking Mexican man, dressed in a suit and taken to our table.  We learned later…this was Pepito.  Owns his own restaurant at 28 and does well given his watch he was wearing.  We were surprised to see this sign…the caracature is of an RCMP officer….so here’s the sign for the day.

USS Lexington Corpus Chrisi Texas Nov 17,2011

We toured the USS Lexington harboured in Corpus Christie. The ship was decommissioned in the early 90s and several communities vied to have her based in their harbour….obviously Corpus Christi won the honor. Today’s posts will include several “signs of the day.” You may have to double click on the photos to enlarge them enough to allow you to be able to read them.

This is quite a tour and you can spend a day touring this ship. Unfortunately they have not made it handicapped accessible but Brian and I persisted and toured 8 levels including the bridge. The stairs are steep and very narrow, but they have chain ropes to help pull youself up with.  The ship is chock a block full of WWII memorabilia with so much to look at and read.  Some of the items appear so antiquated but at the time I am sure they were state of the art.  There is no doubt the comforts of home were a lot less comfortable many years ago.

There are many interactive activites on board for grown ups and children….including being able to walk the plank ( see sign on the left.) ( The plank is the photo on the lower right.)

They have a flight simulator …which I didn’t try…I get motion sickness easily.  There were other simulators where you could try to shoot down an enemy either from a plane or from the deck of a ship.  You can also try “landing” a plane.  I managed to shoot down a couple of planes…but died in a crash landing!  They sponsor education programs for schools and you can even arrange to spend a night on board.  I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that.  They have altered the ship so they could accommodate an I Max theatre which show two productions….each one is 45 minutes in length.  We watched a film called “Fighter Pilot” which is a documentary following a pilot taking part in “Red Flag” which is an international training exercise held near Vegas for allied forces.  This is the final training for pilots and flight crews before they go to combat.  According to statistics, if a fighter pilot survives 10 missions, his chances of survival rise greatly.  The purpose of the exercise is to simulate those first 10 missions.  It was a very interesting documentary and gives one an appreciation for the young men who choose ths as a career. 

 

 

 

Plaque over the sleeping quarter for the crew

 

 

 

 

 Crew sleeping quarters

 

 

As I mentioned, you could spend an entire day touring and we spent most of the day.  They have a very good cafe on board and guess what……they had hot chocolate!  Not only that…as the weather was cooler, they had overheat heating units.  WARM AT LAST!

 

 

Captain Brian..from the Bridge

 

 

 

Tomorrow to start our way north.  We will have a long drive from here to Dallas.  We are sooooo looking forward to being with Kathy & David and the kids.  It will be such a nice change of pace and a chance to eat real food and catch up on the laundry. We leave them Nov 26 and should be home the evening of Nov 30 if mother nature cooperates with us. I can’t beleive this long planned will be over in two weeks.

Sign outside the dentist quarters

Corpus Christi to Dallas Nov 18,2011

We were up early as we had a long drive ahead of us…about 650 km. I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time….we’re heading to Dallas to see daugther Kathy, her hubby Dave and both grandchildren, Naida and Brenden and of course grand dog Radar.  The drive was pretty uneventful.  We took the shortest route so drove highway 77 north for most of the trip.  This was an excellent choice as the road is 4 lane divided highway…and virtually no traffic.

As we drove north we saw more and more evidence of the draught.  We passed over many bridges with only trickles of water passing beneath.  Some fields the cattle had desimated the grass. Highway 77 is actually quite picturesque as it takes you through “the hill country” east of San Antonio and Austin.

We arrived safely around 330.  The Ast’s have a beautiful home. Brenden has grown at least an inch since we saw him this summer and is turning into a man, complete with the deepening voice.  Naida has topped out at 5’8″ and Brenden now towers over her.

We’re looking forward to relaxing and spending time with family…and of course catching up with laundry.  Brian is eager to attend the Dallas/Miami football game on Nov 24 and I will join Kathy and Naida for black friday Nov 25.

Visiting Kathy Nov 19,2011

We’ve had a quiet day catching up with laundry and visiting.  Brenden had a hockey game this afternoon so off to the rink.  Brenden’s team was on the losing side, but Brenden was credited for an assist…and spent some time in the bad boys box.  Dave, Brenden and two friends from Midland are attending the Stars game tonight, so we three girls and Brian went out for dinner.  Brian is heading for a hot tub and I think I’ll relax and do a little reading.  I was however able to find a “sign of the day.”

 

 

 

Brian enjoying the hot tub

 

 

 

 

 

Naida keeping Grandpa company

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radar guarding

Visiting JFK Museum – Dallas Texas Nov 21,2011

Like most people of my generation, we remember where we were, when we heard about the shooting and death of John F Kennedy 48 years ago tomorrow. Brian and I went to the JFK museum in the book depository….the building from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal shots. The photo right has Brian standing on Elm Street with the book depository in the background.

The museum is not particularly well done in our opinion.  It is a self guided tour and tours like a maze, with the videos occuring in tight areas, therefore causing backups/congested areas.  It was interesting to see the window from which the shots were fired and how Oswald had moved the boxes to keep himself from view.

The photos and videos taken that day are on display as well as the cameras used to take same.  Photographs are not allowed…even to the street from inside the building.

On Elm street, the street is marked by two X s, one for each of the shots that hit the President. Note the X on the street just left of my purse in this photo. Behind me is the “Knoll” although it is not marked.  We found little if any signage indicating this was the area of JFK’s shooting…as if the residents of Dallas want no reminder of this piece of history.

You will notice I am once again wearing my winter jacket.  The day time high today was 14C with a brisk wind and threatening clouds.  I’m sure I will have issues getting used to the cold once we get home.

Brian celebrated ….well not really…..his 70th birthday when we were in Duck Key.  Apart from having dinner out and getting a card, it was not much of a celebration.  Tonight the Ast family provided a bit more fun and celebration with a special cake and cards.