A short guide to historical sites of interest in Dallas

The history of Dallas may not be long, but it certainly is interesting.

It all began when, in the mid-1800s, John Neely Bryan purchased some land from the Caddo Indians and opened a trading post along the Trinity River. He later founded a permanent settlement in the area now known as the West End Historic District. A replica of his one-room cabin can be found at the Dallas County Historical Plaza (junction of Main, Market, Elm, and Record Streets).

Replica Of John Neely Brian's cabin at Founders' Plaza
Replica Of John Neely Brian’s cabin at Founders’ Plaza

Nowadays a premier entertainment district, the West End is located in northwest downtown Dallas, north of Commerce, east of I-35E, west of Lamar and south of Woodall Rodgers Freeway. After the Texas Pacific Railroad intersected with the Texas Central Railroad in the areas, Dallas became a major distribution center. The historically preserved redbrick buildings in the West End were used as warehouses.

A short walk from the West End is the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History & Culture. It is housed in the Old Red Courthouse built in 1892 and it is a symbol of the city’s heritage. The Museum is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm. General admission is $8, children 3-16 are $5 and seniors, age 65+, and students with a valid student ID, are $6. It is located on 100 S. Houston St. and is close to the Union DART Station.

The Old Red

Uptown is one of Dallas’ oldest neighborhoods. It boasts the best preserved collection of Victorian houses in Dallas, all built in the late nineteenth century. These elegant mansions were commissioned by wealthy businessmen and built along Maple, McKinney, Routh and Fairmont streets. The McKinney Avenue Trolley (M line) operates around Uptown and the Arts District. Some of its stops include Uptown’s four historical cemeteries.

Uptown’s contiguous historic cemeteries are Greenwood Cemetery (Protestant) opened in 1874, Cavalry Cemetery (Catholic), Temple Emanu-El Cemetery (Jewish) and Freedmen’s Memorial. Freedmen’s, with historical ties to slavery, contains the unmarked graves of thousands of African Americans.

Uptown’s limits are US 75 (Central Expressway), Blackburn Street, Turtle Creek Boulevard, Harry Hines Boulevard and Woodall Rogers Freeway.

The Traveling Man Sculpture welcomes you to Deep Ellum

The Deep Ellum area is nowadays a hotspot for arts and entertainment near downtown Dallas. It is circumscribed by the Central Expressway, Pacific, Elm, Main, Commerce and Canton Streets. The history of the area can be traced back to 1884, when Robert S. Munger built a cotton gin factory and later others followed his example. The Grand Temple of the Black Knights of Pythias was built in Deep Ellum in 1916. It was used as as the state headquarters for the Knights and it also contained the offices of Black doctors, dentists, and lawyers. It was the first commercial building for and by African Americans in Dallas.

Located on Swiss Avenue, the Swiss Avenue Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and was designated Dallas’ first historic district in 1973. It is also recognized as a Texas Historical Site. Originally developed between 1905 and the 1920s, the area has about two hundred carefully preserved and restored homes built in diverse architectural styles ranging from Prairie and Spanish to Craftsman and Georgian.

Estate sale 5 Swiss Ave

Last but not least is the site where events occurred that changed the course of US History: Dealy Plaza (with its grassy knoll), where President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 as his motorcade was going past the former Texas School Book Depository on Elm Street. An X marks the spot where he was shot. The building now houses the Sixth Floor Museum, where films, photographs, artifacts and interpretive displays document the events that took place on November 22, 1963, the findings of the official investigations that followed, the historical legacy of the tragedy and the spot from which Harvey Lee Oswald allegedly fired his gun.

Dallas is a comparatively young city that honors its history and that of the nation.







My Istanbul: Hagya Sophia

It was a 15 minute walk from our hotel down Ordu Caddesi (Turkish for street) to what became my favourite place in Istanbul: Sultanahmet Square. There’s so much history that my head was sent spinning a few times. Where else can you sit down for a rest next to a column built in AD330 to celebrate the inauguration of Byzantium? Constantine Column is located in Ҫemberlitaş not too far from the Grand Bazaar.

Haghia Sophia bathed in winter sunlight
Haghia Sophia bathed in winter sunlight

Istanbul has a long and interesting history. According to legend, Greek colonist Byzas founded a colony in 667 BC known as Byzantion. In 64 BC it was incorporated into the Roman Empire as Byzantium. In AD 324 Constantine the Great became emperor and moved the capital from Rome to Byzantium, which became known as Constantinople. On May 29, 1453 Sultan Mehmet II the Conqueror invaded Constantinople after a long siege. He later rebuilt the city, which was from then on known as Istanbul.

Further along the street from Constantine Column is Sultanahmet Square on the right and Hagia Sophia on the left. I had been looking forward to seeing Haghia Sophia for a long time. Luckily for us, there were relatively few people queuing up outside (it was late December). We bought a museum pass (MüzeKart) for 85 Turkish liras, which is valid for 72 hours at all public museums and, most importantly, helps you avoid long lines.

The imam used to preach every Friday from the minbar. To the left of the minbar is the mihrab that points in the direction of Mecca
The imam used to preach every Friday from the minbar. To the left of the minbar is the mihrab that points in the direction of Mecca

The interior of Hagia Sophia (first a Christian church, then a mosque and now a museum) is striking. There are so many amazing things to look at: the calligraphic roundels in golden Arabic script, the upper galleries, the upper galleries, the mosaics, the painted ceilings, the marble columns and the light. It was a sunny day –the only sunny day of our week long stay- and beams of sunlight shone through the windows creating a magical effect.

Hagia SophiaIMG_3598

Haghia Sophia, the church of Holy Wisdom, was built in the 6th century AD and inaugurated by Emperor Justinian and used as an Orthodox Christian place of worship. In the 15th century, the invading Ottomans converted it into a mosque. They added the minarets, fountains and mausoleums. In 1935, President Atatürk decided to convert Haghia Sophia into a museum. 14 centuries of history, art and religion are contained within these walls.

I am thankful that the Ottomans decided to conserve the mosaics –or at least they didn’t set out to destroy them- although they are Christian symbols. Despite the ravages of time, these mosaics are still beautiful.  I find it bewildering that someone had the ability to paint such stunning images with small colourful tiles: Byzantine emperors and empresses, Christ, the Virgin Mary. On a personal note, these mosaics reminded me of art class at school. The teacher had taught us the Byzantine mosaic technique using tiny paper squares. We had to draw a picture, cut up the paper squares from magazines and paste them onto the picture to colour it. It made me appreciate the Byzantine artists a lot more.

Mosaic depicting Jesus
Mosaic depicting Jesus
Haghia Sophia (Ayasofya,  unesco World Heritage Site) is located across from Sultanahmet Square, a few hundred feet from Sultanahmet tram station.
Summer hours (15 April – 1 Ocotber) 9 am to 9 pm
Winter hours (1 October – 15 April) 9 am to 5 pm
The ticket booth closes an hour earlier. Entrance fee: 25 TL
There is a café and public restrooms on the grounds.

The food in Istanbul

Where to start? The delicious kebaps? The freshly squeezed pomegranate juice? Or the glorious baklava? My taste buds were in heaven!

Restaurant food

The most traditional dish, which I think I ate every single day, is the kebap (spelled kebab or kabob in English speaking countries.) It consists of skewered chunks of lamb or chicken cooked on a grill and served with grilled tomato and green pepper, rice or bulgur wheat and chips.

There are many different types of kebap, like the donner (the meat is shaved and served on a piece of flatbread,) or the iskender, chunks of lamb served on top of pieces of bread with tomato sauce.  The lamb can also be finely ground and made into meatballs (kofte.)

Among my favourite kebaps was the patlican kebap: grilled chunks of aubergine and lamb meatballs. One of favourite vegetables and deliciously seasond lamb with a wonderful smokey taste; what´s not to like!

Yummy iskender kebap
Yummy iskender kebap

There are fish restaurants on both sides of the lower level of the Galata Bridge. Their specialty is the fish sandwich. The grilled fish (the day’s catch) is served on a big bun with salad and onion. I don´t care for fish but my husband said it was very nice. I ordered a kofte sándwich -lamb meatballs with salad.

Fish sandwich
Fish sandwich

I was surprised to find so many familiar desserts in Istanbul. It was a sort of epiphany which really brought home the fact that most of the food we eat in Argentina was introduced by immigrants. The first day at breakfast I tried a little piece of a beige paste-like dessert. Its flavour brought me back to my childhood. I yelled “Mantecol!” As it turned out, it was halva, a traditional Turkish peanut dessert.

Other desserts we eat back home and are really traditional Turkish sweets are candied figs, candied pumpkin, candied quince or dried figs stuffed wuth walnuts. The difference is that Argentineans eat them with a slice of cheese and Turks eat them by themselves of with some yogurt. I felt at home when it came to desserts in Istanbul.

Delicious nuts and angel hair nests
Delicious nuts and angel hair nests

Ayran, slightly salty yogurt,  is a traditional Turkish drink. I still can’t decide whether I liked it or not. At least I’m happy I tried it.

We finished every meal with a cup of coffee (kahvesi) or tea (chay.) The coffee is strong and dense and goes down a treat with baklava. The tea is served in small glasses and its flavour is also intense. Apple tea, however, is very refreshing and tastes like you’re biting into an apple.

Turkish coffee and lokum
Turkish coffee and lokum

 Street food

I must confess I never consume food from street stalls, it seems unhygienic and teeming with bacteria. However, I dared try street food in Istanbul and discovered a new world, both delicious and affordable.

One of the things I tried and loved was sahlep, a warming drink made with orchid bulb starch, milk, sugar and cinnamon. It has a slightly floral aftertaste. Or maybe it was my imagination, I don’t know. Sahlep is like a fluid custard. It retains heat for a long time, so be careful! It’s perfect for cold weather.

Sahlep vendor in Sultanahmet Square.
Sahlep vendor in Sultanahmet Square.

Seeing the first freshly squeezed pomegranate juice vendor made me very happy. The pomegranates were as big as my hand, bright red and very tempting. Their juice has an intense flavour, somewhat astringent, not too sweet and very moreish.

Simit was another great discovery. A bagel-like ring of bread, chewy inside and crunchy outside, covered in sesame seeds. Quite cheap (TL 1, about US$ 0.50,) I found it to be a highly addictive snack.

Simit with Hagya Sophia in the backround
Simit with Hagya Sophia in the background

There were roasted chestnuts (kestane) vendors everywhere. The smoky aroma permeated the city and was redolent of cold days spent curled up next to the fireplace.

In shops

There are many pastry shops, or rather, baklava shops, in Istambul where you can buy baklava and other sweets made with walnuts or pistacchios, syrup and angel hair of phyllo pastry. I t difficult to choose a favourite. They’re all suprisingly light and not too overwhelmingly sweet. Then there’s the famous Turkish delight –lokum-, a chewy, sticky, very sweet confection. I like the rosewater flavour the best but there are many different flavours to choose from. It was generally served with coffee.

The spice shops are a wonderful experience of colours, flavours and smells. They sell a wide variety of spices, teas, dried fruit, or nuts. They are worth a visit  so you can take a pinch of Turkey home .


Free SIM cards from O2 – all that glitters is not gold


We arrived in Heathrow, London, two days ago for a family visit.

As we were making our way to the exit of Terminal 3, a young girl offered us free SIM cards from O2. I hesitated but then took one. She explained to me how to use it (stick it in your phone and top it up.)

I did exactly that. I inserted the SIM card in my phone and dialled 4444 to top it up. I entered the phone number and the credit card number. Then they asked for my postcode. I entered my Texas one because I was using an American credit card but was rejected.

I then tried online. This time, I entered my in-laws address and postcode. Rejected again.

I wonder if you need a British card only. In that case, it’s a really stupid idea to give out free SIM cards to foreigners at the airport since they will not definitely have a British credit card.

Beware of freebies. I should have known. I’m not the world’s greatest fan of Telefonica…

Rant over.

West Texas Road Trip: The Planning Stage

We need to get out of Dodge

Labour Day Weekend was fast approaching. We needed to get out of the scorching heat and humdrum of Dallas. Since we didn’t want to fly, planning a road trip was the next logical step.

Which way?

We started by choosing a cardinal point: west. Then I scanned a guidebook called Quick Escapes – Dallas/Fort Worth for ideas. The title of Escape Four caught my interest: Wandering the Wild West. It conjured up romantic images of cattle drives, bison herds, pistol duels in deserted streets with everyone hiding in the saloon, Indians wielding their tomahawks at full gallop.

Unexpected help

As I was thumbing this guidebook, which I’d bought second-hand, a magazine clipping fell off. It was an article about a cafe called Peanut Patch located in Turkey, Texas. I loved the idea of visiting a town called Turkey and promptly added it to the itinerary.

Planning materials

I looked Turkey up on Google Maps. It was little out of the way but still roughly in the same area. Instead of following the guidebook’s recommendations to drive west in a straight line, the inclusion of Turkey would mean driving in a circle of sorts.

My new BFF: Google Maps

What I did next was enlarge the map of Texas on Google Maps and look at the towns that lay on or near the roads we were going to take. If a name caught my fancy, I would do a quick online search and include it in our itinerary if there was something interesting to see or do. It was great fun to watch people do a double take when we told them that we were visiting their town just because of its name.

This is the final list of towns: Mineral Wells, Palo Pinto, Wichita Falls, Memphis, Turkey, Matador, Roaring Springs, Spur, Abilene, Buffalo Gap, Thurber, home sweet home.

How do you plan your road trips?

(P.S.: Stay tuned for our adventures in the Wild West.)