Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Vacation Part I

We had our Christmas with the Family on the 17th.  I had the week between Christmas and New Year's off work with the addition of the Monday after.  This gave me 11 days to spend with my wonderful husband.  What to do?  He wanted to go West, but the weather wasn't cooperative, so we headed East on a road trip.

I had a bit of excitement on the way to Galveston, which was the first stop on our agenda.  Near Lake Jackson in kind of a marshy area, I saw what I thought was a huge flock of Whooping Cranes.  "STOP, STOP!  Back the car up... those are Whooping Cranes!".  Bruce did and out I jumped to get some pictures. 

As soon as I started across the ditch, the birds stretched their long necks, started strutting in the opposite direction and ended up taking flight.  They didn't go far, but far enough to make getting a good picture impossible with the little camera I brought along.  I also began to feel like I was being pelted with dirt balls, which turned out to be giant hungry mosquitoes!  I was covered in them!  I darted back to Bruce for help in slapping them away then we both dived back into the car for protection. 

I learned later, from my birding expert Lynn, that the birds I saw were most likely Sandhill Cranes.  I would swear that the birds I saw were white, but the pictures don't show it.  Still, it was an exciting sighting.

We got to Galveston and checked into our hotel, the Beachcomber Inn.  I had reservations for two nights.  We got settled and rested up a bit while we decided what to do.  Moody Gardens looks good!  They have a Festival of Lights event going through the Holidays that looked perfect. 

We bought tickets for the Aquarium, the Rainforest and the FOL exhibit and started with the fish.  I always enjoy watching the fish swim around.  The rays are very neat.

I would have to say though... the PENGUINS are my favorite here.  We stood watching these little guys glide around through the water, flipping and turning with a line of bubbles rising up from their backs.  It looks like they have a hole in the middle of their back that allows the air to escape, which I assume aids them in maintaining the desired position in the water.  Fascinating!

We saw many small tanks with another of my personal favorites... the Seahorses!  They have the usual kind and some unusual ones as well.  They even have a tank with tiny little seahorses about the size of your fingernail.  They were clinging to the sea grasses with their tiny little tails.  (They are in the video).

The Aquarium has a big tube that runs through the largest tank in the building.  The walkway runs right under the water where you can stand and gaze up at the Sharks and other fish swimming round this artificial reef.  I could stand there for hours watching the fish swim around... it's so soothing. 

Check out the video montage I made of all the clips I took in the Aquarium. It's long... like 8 minutes. 

We decided to save the Festival of Lights for last and go to the Rainforest pyramid next.  I guess I didn't get the right memo... Moody Gardens must have been open all day and just the FOL started at 6pm. 
It would have been better to tour the Rainforest in the daylight.  At night, it was very dark inside with little or no artificial lighting.  All of the animals except for some coral colored birds high in the treetops were sleeping somewhere. 

 I did enjoy the orchids, however...
 and the bromeliad Christmas tree...
We left the Rainforest, and none too soon.  They did a miraculous job of creating a tropical atmosphere that had me dreaming of putting up my hair and stripping off my clothes.  Hard to believe it was still winter outside of the pyramid.

By this time, the long day was wearing on Bruce and I both.  We picked up a snack of cinnamon encrusted cashews that were heavenly and took them off on the Festival of Lights trail. 
We were trying to make our way past the crowds of milling people and probably missed the majority of the beautiful display... but we were done. 

We finished the circuit, found our car and went back to the hotel to crash.  A long day but a good one. 

The next day we had rain... all... day... long!  We had planned a beach walk but that didn't happen.  We had to find indoor things to do.  We did a bit of shopping and had a nice lunch at Gaido's.  Good food but too much of it.  I'm beginning to notice a theme here... 

Bruce wanted to go and tour Bishop's Palace.  We took a short driving tour of the Seawall and the Strand district.  The weather was just icky... cold, wet and windy.  The whole island was shut down...

It was Christmas Eve and we weren't sure that there would be much open at all.  Unfortunately we had booked our room for two nights so we were committed.  We made a mad dash in the rain and luckily there were still tours going on at Bishop's Palace

We hoped it would be similar to the Mansion's tour in Newport, RI.  We had thoroughly enjoyed the Mansions.  This place was much smaller than those... but the interior was beautiful.

We arrived just as a tour had begun and the lady there was kind enough to sneak us up to the foyer via the servant's stairs.  We insinuated ourselves into the group without notice.  The tour began in the front hall in front of a magnificent stairway.  This set the tone for the whole house... carved wood artistry! 

The Historical Society doesn't allow photos to be taken on the tours so I found some on the Internet.  The interior pics are not mine, but we did see these ourselves.  The stair is hand carved and it's massive!  The stained glass windows behind it are just beautiful. 

This stairway is the central focal point for the home.  It goes from the ground floor to the highest point of the three story (plus basement) home.  The glass atrium at the top is beautiful and curiously, not exposed to the outside.  It provides light while being in the attic and protected from the elements.  It is also ringed by open vents which draw air up through the entire house to cool the un-air conditioned rooms. 

The home was built to incorporate all of the newest modern amenities including both gas and electric light.  There is only one of the original fixtures with both still in the home, but the rest of the fixtures were installed either by the Grishams or by the Bishop who lived here after Mr. Grishom's death.

We strolled through the rooms with our host pointing out the high points and telling stories about the family.  Each room is dominated by a different hardwood. 

There are 11 fireplaces in the home.  Each is unique and has a story.  The workmanship is exquisite.  It's fun to try to imagine what these rooms would cost to recreate in today's economy.  I'm not even sure it's possible.  The artisans who created these treasures are gone.

When the Bishop bought the home, he had one of the rooms converted to a Chapel.  The stained glass windows came from Germany and are hand painted using brush and needles.  They are in need of repair, the estimated cost... over two and a half million dollars.  To REPAIR!  What would they cost to create?!!  Bruce and I took a close look at them.  The faces are incredible.  They almost look three dimensional. 
I could go on and on describing the rooms and the lives these people must have led... the excess!  Mrs. Grisham had a hand carved statue made just to hold her calling cards that today would not be had for any price.  Go see the house yourself!  It's worth the price of admission.

We left there and drove around the island some more, then later in the evening, with the businesses shutting down one by one for Christmas... we dashed into the Rainforest Cafe.  We had a coupon for a free appetizer.  The ambiance was fun but I would say that the food and drinks were mediocre.  Home to our hotel and a good night's sleep. 

Christmas Day, we were up early and out the door right after breakfast.  Our next stop would be New Orleans, LA.  We ignored the iPad map's chosen route and opted for the Coast roads again.  This began with a ferry ride! 

The Ferry took us to the Hurricane Ike ravaged Bolivar Peninsula.  We don't know what it looked like before the storm, but there are still remnants of the destruction all along the way. 

Next stop... NOLA!