Growing up on the Gulf coast, my family spent many happy summer days in Galveston. Recently, my husband and I went back to see how Galveston has rebuilt and changed since Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Little signs of the hurricane damage remain, but it's what wasn't there that was striking. Many of the places we had enjoyed years before, like the Balinese room, and other seawall attractions are gone.
Sadly for Galveston, but happily for us, the beaches were not the least bit crowded on weekdays. And don't look for much in the way of restaurants if you plan to eat after 9:30. There seemed to be plenty of nightlife midweek, though, if you're looking for bars with loud music.
We settled for I-Hop at 10:00 one night and enjoyed mediocre food and abysmal service, both of which surprised us. But the iced tea, as always, was outstanding. I-Hop has the best iced tea of any restaurant ever.
When I saw that the better hotels charged extra for wi-fi or a mini-fridge in the room, we opted for a B&B. A little research on Yelp and BedandBreakfast.com and The Villa seemed the obvious choice. A Chamber of Commerce B&B winner for 2 years recently, it was a little worn on the outside, compared to the pictures on the website, but it's hard not to look tattered when you're only 5 blocks from the Gulf with that corrosive sea breeze constantly eating away at paint. My husband's most critical comment about the exterior was that the grass needed to be edged along the curb. But you have to understand that this is a man who takes 6 hours to mow and edge our postage stamp-size yard.
Inside, it was cool (not cold) with abundant antiques, collected or inherited by the owner/hostess Linda Waldren and her husband. Gorgeous cabinets, tables and china sets to die for. I especially loved the 5 piece place settings (for 12!) imprinted with "Manufactured in occupied Japan" on the back.
The 3 bedrooms, upstairs, were nicely furnished: extremely comfortable bed, a wardrobe for hanging clothes, a desk, chair and a chest of drawers, plus bedside tables and lamps. The standing, oscillating fan was nice white noise at night. The bathroom featured a Jacuzzi tub which is great if you like to relax in a humongous tub. Unfortunately, we prefer showers, and it didn't occur to me when booking the room that if there was a Jacuzzi, there probably wasn't a shower. Entirely my fault as there are plenty of accurate pictures on Linda's website.
Still, it's hard to wash sand out of your hair--and elsewhere--when you're sitting in a huge, triangualar shaped tub that takes forever to fill to a decent level because it's so big. We probably doubled her water bill that week, filling that sucker up 3 or 4 times to rinse, lather, rinse, and rinse again.
I suspect most of her guests probably don't spend their days building sand castles and digging for clams. Their loss.
The Villa is renowned for Linda's 3 course, "Red, White & Blue" breakfast. My mouth is watering as I start to write this. It starts with a "sundae" of yogurt, quartered bananas, blueberries, whipped cream and a strawberry on top. Presentation was 5 star. Next follows a plate of scrambled eggs, 2 sausage links and juice, followed by the piece de resistance -which varied day to day. My favorite was German Apple Pancakes, emphasis on "cakes". This is not a woman who buys a mix and fancies it up a little. She was slicing apples and mixing this and that and the result was a moist, cinnamony, apple-y delight.
I like, too, that the website asks you to let her know if you have any particular food needs. It's a good example of her attention to her guests' needs and wants. When she was showing us our room, she asked what time we usually wake up and proceeded to set the timer on the coffee maker for that time. Next to the coffeemaker is a small fridge filled with bottled water and a variety of soft drinks.
All in all, we were very pleased with the accommodations, breakfasts, owner and cost.
As for Galvestion, itself, I remember souvenir shops and fishing piers and restaurants built out on the sea-side of the seawall, but there is almost none of that left. Instead, we found a theme-park-like monstrosity called the Pleasure Pier, complete with roller coaster and other rides, all of which are colorfully lighted well into the night. Just five short blocks from The Villa, the lights really ruined what would, otherwise, have been pleasant viewing of the night sky when we were sittingon the balcony of our room.
Our first day, we ate lunch at Bubba Gump's on the Pleasure Pier. It was packed, but we had less than a 15 minute wait which was plenty of time to browse the ridiculously priced souvenir shop. Really, $29 for a t-shirt? The food was disappointing, too. It wasn't bad; it just wasn't especially good. The hot artichoke & mushroom & jack cheese appetizer could have benefited from a dash or three of cayenne pepper and the fried shrimp wereno bigger, better or fresher tasting than you get in any other restaurant anywhere in Texas. In fact, it wasn't nearly as good as the shrimp I get at Mack & Ernie's in Tarpley.
Service at Bubba Gump's, however, was outstanding. The waiters do a cute little bit where they quiz you on Forest Gump trivia. The waitress at a table next to us was going through the routine with them and our waiter, Timmy, noticed us answering the questions (just to each other) and said he could tell we probably didn't need to bother. He didn't. I've probably watched the movie 20 times. It's one of those movies I'll put on just to have noise while I'm working on something like this. We had an interesting discussion with our waiter and learned that he's getting his degree in at Maritime Transit at A&M-Galveston.
The food at Miller's Landing, down the road about 4 blocks, was much more impressive. We ate there twice and were impressed both times, by the service and the food. The lemon icebox pie was delicious, although it looked so much like Key Lime pie that I kept being a little disappointed with every bite because my eyes were telling me that's what it was, though my brain and mouth knew it wasn't.
We spent one afternoon driving from one end of the island to the other on Seawall Blvd, stopping here and there to take pictures or watch the giant cargo ships headed for or leaving from the Houston Ship Channel. At the east end of the island we pulled off and parked at a little shallow bay area and watched a family crabbing, throwing out lengths of string with a raw chicken leg on the end and then, oh so slowly, pulling it back in, net in hand, hoping that a crab would be latched on to the bait ready to be scooped up for dinner later.
I used to love crabbing. We would go to a shallow bay somewhere that had a long wooden pier (I was too young at the time to notice such things as actual locations). The pier was about a foot above the water which was, at most, maybe 3 feet deep. We would tie slice of bacon to our string and tie each string to a beam supporting the pier and then walk up and down the pier checking the response. I remember days when we would go home with a cooler full of clicking crabs.
Of course, I also remember my daddy telling me to listen to the crabs scream when he put the live crabs in a huge pot of boiling water. I felt sorry for the crabs until my mother said it was just the air escaping from inside the crabs shells, sort of like a teapot "singing" when the water is boiling. Oh, I can taste those crabs now. Who cared if they were small and you had to work to get every bit of meat out of them? They were scrumptious.
But, back to Galveston. I've always heard people talk about The Strand, but I didn't recall going there when I was younger, so it was on my list of "must do's". Really not even knowing what it was, except a historic district, I was disappointed to see that The Strand (the name of a street) is filled with bars/restaurants and stores selling everything from antiques to souvenirs (99.9% of which are made in China).
However, it is also home to a railroad museum, the Seaport museum and the Galveston County museum, among others.
One thing any Galveston vacation must include is a self-guided tour of the hurricane tree sculptures. Incredible work!