Two weeks. Seven countries. A yellow car

This sums up our European road trip: we drove a vintage car from England to Italy and survived to tell the tale. This trip was our belated honeymoon. You see, when we got married in Buenos Aires eight years ago, Sean had to go back to work immediately and we had to forgo the honeymoon. Life got in the way and we finally decided to do it now.

Our plan was to drive to Tuscany in stages. We stopped in three cities for the night –Troyes, Geneva and Genoa- before coming to our lovely agriturismo south of Florence. We took an overnight train back through Germany to Den Bosch and then drove through Holland and Belgium to the Eurotunnel in Calais.

About to check-in at Victor Hugo terminal, Folkestone
About to check-in at Victor Hugo terminal, Folkestone

We drove a vintage bright yellow car, a 1965 Alvis, which Sean bought from his uncle in 1993. It is his pride and joy but he gets to enjoy it only when he comes to England, which is where the car lives. Just like anyone of a certain age, this car suffers from minor ailments. One is called pinking. The other is that when the car stops and the engine is hot, the fuel evaporates if it doesn’t cool down immediately, the engine doesn’t get any fuel and it stalls.

The Yellow Peril
The Yellow Peril

Sean realized this when we were about to board the train at Folkestone. We checked in and then stopped outside the terminal. When it was time to board, the car wouldn’t start. Nothing seemed to work. A copper came to help. I went inside the terminal to ask if we could board a later train (no problem, they weren’t busy). Sean eventually figured out what to do, started the car and we set off.

We boarded the train and settled for the short journey. The actual crossing took about half an hour. Soon we were on our way to many adventures in Italy.

Notes from a road trip to the Texas Hill Country

Local flora: prickly pear
Local flora: prickly pear

“I’ll need something as collateral, sir. Your keys, your wallet, your watch…the clerk said. This E-Z gas station is located outside Granbury. Customers have to pay inside before pumping. I guess many have not been as honest as they should have and the clerk was forced to take precautions.

“I love your accent” was a recurring comment throughout the trip. Sean’s British accent was indeed a big hit with locals. They were super friendly and asked us a lot of questions. Usually, they would realize I was standing there too once the spell cast by Sean’s accent was broken: “Oh, do y’all have an accent too?” A foreign accent, yes, but not British. “Say something so I can hear it… Are y’all German?” No, I’m not.

Antique store in Llano

We stopped off at Llano on our way to Canyon of the Eagles. On a whim, I decided we should visit an antiques store. I bought a red train set that seems to date from the 1960s. No, it isn’t a toy train but an oversized makeup case. My grandmother used to have a pearl grey one so my new acquisition in a way reminds me of her. I also bought a book printed in 1854. The front page reads “The Fourth Reader or Exercises in Reading and Speaking. Designed for the higher classes in our public and private schools.” It was printed in Portland, Maine. How on earth did it end up in remote Llano, Texas, in 2012?

We took a cruise around Lake Buchanan (pronounced buhk hăn uhn). Our guide, Miss Candy, a retired teacher from the area, helped us spot some local wildlife, such as egrets or ospreys. She shared very interesting information about the history of the manmade lake. We hopped off the boat to visit the ruins of Bluffton, a town that was submerged in 1937 when the Buchanan Dam was built. There wasn’t a lot to see; however, her narration was captivating.

Egret on Lake Buchanan
Egret on Lake Buchanan

“Burnet, durn it! Learn it!” is apparently a popular way to learn and remember the correct pronunciation of Burnet (BER nĕt) because of the easy rhyme. We learned this from Miss Candy too.

Burnet
Burnet

Hello everyone. I’m going to be your guide today. My name is XXXXXX and I’m a fifth generation Texan and a secessionist” This is how our guide to the Longhorn Cavern introduced himself. No doubt as to his lineage and political views whatsoever. Actually, he wasn’t the only person we met this trip that expressed a similar view. Sean struck up a conversation with a three people while we were waiting for a table at a restaurant in Burnet and somehow they managed to mention secession as well. It’s not a subject that usually crops up in conversation in the city.

Besides the egrets and ospreys, we spotted other local wildlife too. One night, we stopped the car the let a tarantula cross the road (no, really!). I’d never seen one before; it was as big as my hand. Just in case, I watched her progress from the safety of my car. We also saw some buzzards eat a dead animal lying beside the road. We spotted a roadrunner, which wasn’t running but flying low. I looked up to check that an ACME safe wasn’t falling from the sky. Last, but by no means least, we say a herd of buffalo grazing on a field. That was a first for me too.

Buffalo
Buffalo!

The award to most creative (and scary!) ranch gate has to go to the folks whose gate reads “We don’t dial 911” below a shotgun. Across the road there is a satellite dish with a biblical quote.

2012 World Championship BBQ Goat Cook-Off (Yup. Really)

Looking for something different to do on Labour Day Weekend, we planned a road trip to the heart of Texas. Or, at any rate, that’s what the town of Brady calls itself.

We started the long weekend off with some goat meat at the 39th International Goat BBQ Cook-Off at Richards Park in Brady. Right off the bat we were offered samples of goat sausage wraps by one the competing teams. The food was very tasty and the team members were very friendly. Actually, everyone we met was extremely friendly: people waved hello, struck up conversations with us and gushed over Sean’s British accent, which never fails to enchant people.

Elmer!

This team’s smoker had the Texas Tech logo and a picture of Raider Red. I noticed he was very popular in the Hill Country. Or maybe the deer hunters reminded me of him.

The air smelled of barbeque and summer, smoke and fried food. There were many teams huddled over the smokers, tasting their food, rectifying the seasoning and graduating the heat. Most team members wore matching t-shirts or button down shirts and hats.

A team in action

We sat down to eat some goat. We had a piece of neck, which was tough as old boots and inedible, and goat wraps. The meat was stringy but at least we were able to eat it (though we wished we’d brought some toothpicks).

The judges’ tables were on a trailer bed along with the trophies. On each table were pen and paper, toothpicks and a bottle of TUMS (a popular antacid). The judges wore matching powder blue button-down shirts with the competition’s logo and cowboy hats. We didn’t stay for the judging but I felt kind of sorry for the old boys judging the “Mystery Meat” competition.

The judges’ table (no, Tom Colicchio and Padma weren’t there)

I also noticed that while most teams were flying the Lone Star flag (the official flag of the State of Texas), a handful also had the Confederate flag alongside.  I guess this sentiment still runs deep.

Flags over Texas

PS: I still haven’t figured out why it’s called “world” championship.

Travel Memory Mondays: drive from London to Southwestern France

Back in August 2006, Sean and I were due to fly to London and then drive to France the day after the liquid bomb plot was foiled.  My parents called to persuade us to cancel the trip. I understood their concern but thought that airports would be the safest places on earth that weekend. As it happened, I was right. Dallas-Fort Worth airport was eerily empty, there were security guards and police officers absolutely everywhere and there were practically no queues as many passengers did cancel their tickets.

Sean’s cousin picked us up from Heathrow and drove us to his place in Tunbridge Wells, where we picked up the Yellow Peril, Sean’s 1965 Alvis. Our plan was to cross the Channel and drive to his brother’s house in Bourg-de-Visa, in the Tarn-et-Garonne department in southwest France. It looked feasible on paper. The actual deed was another matter.

Ready to cross the Channel

We set off immediately to Folkestone, where, after some delays, we got on the train to Coquelles and then drove south. Our first stop was Limoges, where we spent the night. The eight-hour drive was brutal. We didn’t factor in the exhaustion after an overnight flight when we planned this road trip. We nodded off quite a few times on the autoroute and were lucky not to have crashed!

The bright yellow Alvis got a lot of attention. Entire families would wave at us on the autoroute, men would ask what make and model it was and, best of all, it was easy to find in big parking lots.

The Yellow Peril at Bourg-de-Visa

Refreshed after a good night’s sleep, a shower and a delicious breakfast of café au lait and croissants, we left for Bourg-de-Visa. We didn’t have a GPS at the time and had to rely on maps. And on good luck. We decided it would be fun to take a detour –I think we mistakenly called it shortcut- across country. We drove along winding country lanes, past vineyards and fields and fruit orchards and ended up in the charming little town of Castelnau-Montratier, where we stopped to get our bearings.

Castelnau Montratier

We finally made it Bourg-de-Visa, right after Sunday market finished. The balmy air of that après-midi in the French countryside held the promise of roses in full bloom, freshly picked fruit, lazy afternoons lying in the sun, visits to medieval bastides, freshly baked baguettes and delicate pastries and, above all, great memories.

Bourg-de-Visa
View of Bourg-de-Visa from afar
Vineyards in the lovely countryside

 

All’s well that ends well

This is part 2 of our spontaneous, unplanned road trip. Read part 1 here

 

This trip graduated to the road trip category the moment we stocked up on sodas, gummy bears, chips and other equally nutritious food. We left Austin before noon and headed to San Antonio. We had no plans except check in at our hotel and grab some lunch. It was another scorching hot day in Texas. Oh joy.

Out of the blue, I remembered reading an article about the Franciscan missions in San Antonio and my inner history buff was doing cartwheels at the thought of visiting them. I suggested we visited only one and be done with it as I was aware that this may not be Sean’s idea of how to spend an afternoon. He was very sweet and obliging and drove me to all five of them.

We started at Mission San José, created in 1720. It is the biggest and best preserved of them all. I absolutely loved it, it’s so beautiful. This and the other missions were founded by the Franciscan order to teach local Indians – the Coahuiltecans- “to live and worship as Spaniards and, ultimately, live independently from the mission.” The Indians were taught to blacksmith, to weave on European looms, to cut stone and to make shoes and cotton clothes.

Mission San Jose

The compound consisted of a church, the centre of life at the mission, a granary, acequias for water, Indians quarters, the armoury, a mill and the friars’ quarters and offices. Most buildings are still standing and some even show traces of original frescoes. The church is quite big with an ornately carved front. Unfortunately I couldn’t see the inside because there was a wedding in progress as it still functions as parish church. The bride was waiting outside, baking in the sun, which struck me as odd. At my wedding people waited for me!  We waited until the doors opened and I caught a glimpse of the sky blue and gold leaf altar.

Waiting bride

We followed the signs of the Mission Trail to the next one, Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña- or Mission Concepción. All that remains now is the church, the granary and one other building, or rather, a big room. Luckily there wasn’t a wedding so I could go inside. Sean stayed in the car; he was probably “missioned out” by then.

There are still traces of the original frescoes and the church is beautifully restored. Here, as in the rest of the missions, Franciscan friars converted the local Indians to Catholicism and imposed Spanish customs and traditions as well. It was a way of maintaining Spanish control over Texas, a remote corner of the Spanish Empire at the time.

Mission Concepcion

Next came Mission Espada. It’s mostly ruins now except for the small church.  And guess what? There was a wedding in progress so I couldn’t see it inside. It was interesting to see a Franciscan friar walk by. It must have been an all too common sight almost three centuries ago.

At Mission San Juan, what little remains was closed off to visitors due to restoration work. At least there wasn’t a wedding.

You may be wondering which is the fifth mission. Remember the Alamo? Yep, that’s the one.

After cooling down at the hotel, we went out for dinner to a great restaurant called A Cenar. It’s right on the River Walk and has a lovely terrace but it was too warm to eat outside. We had margaritas and delicious Mexican food (not Tex-Mex). We strolled along the river for a while after dinner before going back to our hotel.

The next morning we walked around La Villita, an art community, a district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but most shops were closed.

We pushed on back to Dallas. We had one more stop to make: West. The town of West, right outside Waco, was founded by Czech immigrants and that’s where we stopped for lunch. We were lucky to find Nors Sausage and Burger House open. We had a nice lunch but didn’t have enough room for kolaches. Maybe next time.

Another wedding at Mission Espada
El Alamo
West

* Thanks Johanna from RestlessJo for the inspiration for the title