Around Texas: Dinosaur Valley State Park

It is possible to walk on the footsteps of dinosaurs in Texas. Really. At the Dinosaur Valley State Park, located in Glen Rose, about ninety miles southwest of Dallas. We went there on a late summer day and had a T-Rex of a time! (Bad joke alert.)

Although the scenery is beautiful, the main attraction is the genuine dinosaur tracks on the bed of the Paluxy River. They advise visitors to call in advance to check on river conditions to make sure the tracks are visible before setting off. We didn’t call ahead but figured it’d be all right since it was summer and quite a dry one at that.

Paluxy River

The terrain is quite hilly and the river meanders along a small valley. We had to climb down the rocks to get to the riverbed. I was so excited to see the tracks! We had visited the interpretation center, which gave us and idea of what had happened (or what they think happened), millions of years ago. It was something like this: a group of dinosaurs (maybe brontosaurs) was probably drinking water when another group of hungry dinosaurs showed up and probably ate them up (carnosaurs). Well’, that’s my interpretation of the interpretation.

Theropod tracks (I learned the name thanks to Kuban’s Paluxy Website. Thanks!)
More Theropod tracks

We saw some local fauna, like these lovely white-tailed deer. Other local species are coyote, bobcat, various rodents, raccoon, beaver, skunk, opossum, armadillo, fox squirrel, rabbit, lizards and snakes. I’m terrified by snakes so I wasn’t too keen of walking among rocks. However, I’m sure they were more scared of me than I was of them.

White-tailed deer
 The park is located 4 miles west of Glen Rose. Take U.S. Highway 67 to FM 205 for 4 miles to Park Road 59; then go 1 mile to the headquarters.

Dallas for history buffs

Dallas doesn’t have a long history: its first settler was a young lawyer from Tennessee called John Neely Bryan, who came to Texas looking for a place for his trading post and attracted by the advertisements of the Peters Colony, later known as the Texas Emigration and Land Co.

The area where John Neely Bryan is thought to have built his first log cabin in 1841 is now known as the West End Historic District and that’s where history buffs should begin their tour. A replica of his one-room cedar cabin is located at the Founders’ Plaza, bordered by Elm, South Market, Main and South Houston streets.

John Neely Bryan’ cabin at Founders’ Plaza

Across the street, on Main and Market, is the Kennedy Memorial Plaza. The square cenotaph is 30 feet high and 50 by 50 feet wide and is supposed to symbolize the freedom of Kennedy’s spirit. Next to the memorial is the Old Red Museum.

The redbrick building dates from 1892 and was the old courthouse. Today the museum celebrates the history and culture of Dallas County. The collection that I found shocking was that related to the Ku Klux Klan and the segregation era. I learned that in the early 1920s, Dallas Klavern No. 66 boasted the largest membership per capita in the nation! My favourite exhibition is the pioneers’ one, it provides a glimpse into the lives of the early settlers. Don’t miss JR Ewing’s custom-made beaver cowboy hat made by Stetson. Larry Hagman donated it after the first Dallas series ended. He may want it back now!

Scary
Old Red Museum

 

Across the street, Dealey Plaza marks the actual birthplace of Dallas. To the right of Dealey Plaza, on Elm Street, is the world famous Texas School Book Repository from where Harvey Lee Oswald shot President Kennedy. The sixth and seventh floors became the Sixth Floor Museum dedicated to the life, death and legacy of JFK. The collection consists of photos, videos and audio interviews of people who played a role on that fateful day, like the police officer who runs to protect the president and first lady. It didn’t really grip my attention but what I found interesting is that they recreated the corner where Oswald was hidden. Although it’s roped off, you can look out of the next window towards the X painted on the floor and which marks the spot where JFK died.

The exact spot

On Elm and Record streets, next to the Sixth Floor Museum, is the Dallas Holocaust Museum – Center for Education and Tolerance. According to their website, “Holocaust Survivors or Liberators may be available to give their testimonies to groups Sunday through Friday (not appropriate for students under 7th grade)” It sounds incredibly interesting, don’t you think? I have to admit that I’ve never been able to visit any Holocaust museum yet, I think I’d burst into tears as soon as I step inside. Maybe I’m a coward and cannot face so much suffering, pain and loss.

On a lighter note, those interested in pioneer history should definitely head to the Dallas Heritage Village in Old City Park, near the Dallas Farmers Market. Please note that it closes during August. 19th century life, both in towns and the frontier, is recreated through original Victorian homes, log cabins, a train depot, commercial buildings like a saloon or a general store, a mill, a schoolhouse, a doctor’s office (I’m so glad I live in the 21st century!), to name a few. It’s a fun place to visit with children, the gardens are beautiful and docents in period dress are ready and willing to answer any questions you may have.

A pioneer teacher… or maybe not
Main Street
Dallas Holocaust Museum
211 North Record Street, Suite 100
Dallas, Texas 75202.For information call 214-741-7500 or email info@dallasholocaustmuseum.org
 
Dallas Heritage Village
1515 South Harwood Street
 
 

A Medieval Gem in Miami: Ancient Spanish Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux

“Sorry, we’re closed” the lady in charge of the gift shop mouthed through the glass door. But then she saw the despair on my face and gestured me to come in.

The monastery closes at 4 and it was 4:02. I explained that I’m from out of town and got lost trying to find the place. The lady took pity on me. “But I’ll have to charge you anyway” I was willing to pay (almost) anything to go in. I was frustrated enough by the long, convoluted drive and did not want to go back to the hotel with nothing to show for it. I ended up paying half price, $4. I picked up a guide and hurried to the monastery.

Cloister entrance

The cloisters of the ancient Spanish Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux have a very interesting history. The monastery was built in Segovia, Spain, between 1133 and 1144 and occupied by Cistercian monks for seven centuries. In the mid-1830s, social unrest caused the monastery to be sold and converted into a granary and stable. Cut to 1925. William Randolph Hearst purchased the cloisters and outbuildings, had them dismantled, packed in 11,000 wooden crates and shipped to the U.S. Hearst’s financial problems forced him to sell them at auction.

The stones remained in a warehouse in Brooklyn for twenty-six years. In 1952 Messrs. W. Edgemon and R. Moss bought them to use as a tourist attraction. It took nineteen months and one and a half million dollars to put the buildings back together in Miami. In 1964 Bishop Henry Loutit acquired the property for the Episcopal Diocese of South Florida. Years later the monastery was put up for sale due to financial difficulties. Robert Pentland, Jr., a multimillionaire philanthropist, purchased the Cloisters and presented them to the parish of Sr. Bernard de Clairvaux.

The contrast between the ancient buildings and their surrounding couldn’t be greater. The medieval carved stones, at home in some European town, are set among palm trees and lush tropical vegetation. The sticky heat hugs you like a glove. A three tier water fountain offers the illusion of relief from the oppressing South Florida heat. Lizards crisscross the rugged stone walls and paths.

View of the cloister patio and well

There were three people planning an event in the cloister patio -which has a granite well dated sometime in the 2nd century AD. I hoped it was a wedding. What a wonderful backdrop for the reception!

The chapel was originally the refectory. I opened the doors, which did not creak, and went inside. The two round telescopic windows above the altar create the illusion of a face looking back at me in astonishment.

Tha altar looking back at me

Miami is, understandably, the last place where one expects to find a genuine medieval building. While driving around, I saw one of those brown signs used to mark historic places that read Ancient Spanish Monastery. I couldn’t pass up on the chance to visit it. And I’m glad I did.

I guess the moral of the story is read street signs and follow the arrow. You never know what you’ll find!

Lovely contrast
Touring hours of the monastery
Monday to Saturday 10:00 to 4:00
Sunday 11:00 to 4:00
Admission: adults $8, seniors $4 (62 and older), children under 12: free
16711 West Dixie Highway
North Miami Beach
(305) 945-1461
www.spanishmonastery.com
 
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Interesting things to do for free in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires offers many interesting cultural activities to do for free. Here are only a handful of them.

Free concerts

You can catch these concerts while you’re out and about.

Live music, mainly tango and contemporary, at the Carlos Morel Hall at Teatro San Martin. Fridays and Saturdays at 7. Avenida Corrientes 1530.

Music at midday at the Carlos Morel Hall at Teatro San Martin (recordings). Tuesdays through Fridays from 1 to 2 pm. Avenida Corrientes 1530.

Midday live music at Teatro Gran Rex. Every weekday at 1 pm. Avenida Corrientes 857.

Museums

Some museums take a couple of hours of your time and some, maybe half.

Museo del Bicentenario. Avenida Paseo Colon 100 (just behind the Government House). Winter hours (March 21 to September 20) 10 am to 6 pm. Summer hours (September 21 to March 20) 11 am to 7 pm.  The museum is housed in the remains of the old Buenos Aires Fort from the 18th century and the Customs Building –known as Aduana Taylor- built in 1855. Both buildings have played a crucial role in our history. The museum covers the last two centuries of Argentinean political history.

Remains of the Fort of Buenos Aires at Museo del Bicentenario

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Avenida del Libertador 1473. Tuesdays through Fridays 12.30 am to 8.30 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 9.30 am to 8.30 pm, closes on Mondays. It’s the most important art museum in the country. Its permanent collection comprises works from Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, modern art, Argentinean art and much more.

Biblioteca Nacional (National Library). Agüero 2502. Mondays through Fridays from 9 am to 9 pm, Saturdays and Sundays from 12 am to 7 pm. The Sala del Tesoro (where rare books, etc can be seen) is open Mondays through Fridays from 10 am to 6 pm. A wealth of Argentinean and world culture and literature is housed here.

Museo del Libro y de la Lengua (The Book and Language Museum) Avenida Las Heras 2555.  Tuesdays through Sundays from 2 pm to 7 pm.   This museum is devoted to the variation of Spanish language spoken in Argentina.

Recoleta Cemetery. Junin 1760. This historic cemetery is like an open-air history and art museum.

Museo del Agua y la Historia Sanitaria (Sanitation Museum) Riobamba 750. Monday through Friday from 9 to 1.  The collection consists of terracotta ornaments, pipes, meters, taps, historic documents like a bill dating from 1915 for emptying a cart with sewage and toilets!

Check out the free guided tours around the city organized every month by the local council here (in English).

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Palacio de las Aguas Corrientes (aka the toilet museum)

I must have walked or driven past this magnificent building a few dozen times but it never crossed my mind to go inside. As it so often happens with the attractions of one’s hometown, I never really paid much attention to what was inside the building and when it was built and what for. Now that I’m a tourist in Buenos Aires, I learned that there is a museum inside the Palacio de las Aguas Corrientes, owned by the water company, AySA.

View of the north-east corner (Riobamba St – Cordoba Ave)

A potted history first

Back in 1871, the city government decided to build a water treatment plant and reservoir as the prevailing sanitary conditions were poor. Although a small plant had been built in 1869, the majority of the population depended on water from wells and the river. Also, the lack of sewers and sanitation made Buenos Aires highly vulnerable to yellow fever and cholera epidemics.

So in 1886 plans for a big reservoir and treatment plant were approved. The idea was to build a monument to public sanitation as well, so the building should be grand and in keeping with the posh surroundings. An English engineering firm, John F. Bateman, was hired to design the facade, and a Belgian conglomerate was in charge of the iron structure inside. The construction was carried out by two Argentinean companies.

Blueprint for a terracotta ornament

The building is square, with each side measuring 90 metres. The design was inspired by the architecture of the French Second Empire and some Central European buildings, like the Palais de Justice of Antwerp. The 300,000 multicolour terracotta pieces that adorn the facade were made by Royal Doulton & Co from London then shipped to Argentina and the puzzle was assembled on site. The building was opened in 1894 and declared historic landmark in 1987.

Detail of a terracotta ornament

Museo del Agua y de la Historia Sanitaria – Sanitation Museum

This small museum is located on the first floor: go past a desk and turn right, go up one flight of stairs and the entrance is on the right. The entrance is free of charge, just walk in.

The collection consists of terracotta ornaments, pipes, meters, taps, historic documents like a bill dating from 1915 for emptying a cart with sewage and … ta dah… toilets!  You can trace the history of the loo in this place!

Loos for every taste
Riobamba 750
Buenos Aires
Open Monday through Friday from 9 to 1.