Family travel with flair

Fort Worth: Visiting the Stockyards rodeo with children

TweetIt’s not illegal to go to Texas and not see a rodeo, but it is a little bit criminal. That’s because they feature so many elements of Texana: hardy cowboys, skilled cowgirls, kid-friendly silliness, cold beer and lots of “God Bless America”. Everybody stands and says the Pledge of Allegiance. This is no time for irony The thing is, it can be difficult to catch a touring rodeo wherever you’re going to be. So do what we did: Visit Fort Worth, aka Cowtown USA, and you can see an honest-to-goodness, rooting-tooting rodeo every Friday and Saturday night at the Stockyards Rodeo. We saw the Stockyards Rodeo on our trip to Fort Worth this summer and it’s a kid-pleasing family outing. I love the rodeo and it’s a pure distillation of how southern America likes to think of itself: patriotic, athletic, meretricious, traditional, family-oriented. There is no room for cynicism here. It starts with a mouted rider circling the darkened ring with a spotlit American flag while the crowd stands and sings the national anthem, hand on heart. I’m pretty cynical these days about American and world politics, but in this relatively small stadium, sitting in the dark watching this spotlit rider going round and round, I was filled with emotion for my home state. Then it’s on to the cowboys and cowgirls.   A cowboy bolts out to rope the calf Some of the highlights of the rodeo The cowgirls do barrel racing, in which they ride their horse in a pattern around three barrels in a race against the clock. It’s athletic and impressive and the rides are over in seconds. It’s the only event in which we see the women compete. Next up, the bucking broncos try to unseat their riders as the cowboys hold on in an attempt to beat the clock. Then there is the big glamour event: Send in the clowns — the rodeo ones — because it’s bull riding. For endless minutes a group of cowboys gather around a metal stall at one side of the corral. What are they doing? What’s the commotion? Are they all going to ride the bull? No, but obviously each of these guys — all wearing white hats — has an important job in wrassling one rangy guy onto one big angry slab of muscle. A signal is given, the gate is flung open and the rider gives his best impression of a rag doll while the bull kicks up a storm. At my first job I...

9 top things to do with children in Fort Worth

TweetEvery summer we take the kids to Texas to see my family, soak up some sun in 37+° and experience the Lone Star State. Every summer we swim, eat Tex-Mex and BBQ and have fun in our usual haunts of Austin, Houston, Lubbock and Port Aransas on the Gulf of Mexico. But this year we decided to do something different. The friendly folks at Fort Worth invited Jenography to discover the fun activities for family there. If you and your kids want a full-on Texas experience that lives up to that image created by old Western, cartoons and every cowboy cliché you know and love, book your trip now. (And yes, they do wear hats and boots there and double yes, the cowboys do look good in Wrangler jeans.) Fort Worth is very accessible if you fly into Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) Airport, naturally. From Austin, it’s about 2 and a half hours north, straight up Interstate 35. Fort Worth is all about cowboys and cattle, with a bit of countryside thrown in. Here, our top 9 things to do in Fort Worth as a family.   1. Eat barbecue There are thousands of sites that will delineate the differences among barbecue from Texas, Kansas City, other places. Bone up on the intricacies…or just eat it. Your barbecue here can range from the classic experience I remember from childhood (served cafeteria style, eaten straight off waxed paper, followed by peach cobbler in a Styrofoam container) to modern dining (eaten riverside, with dishes accompanied by grilled artichoke and a microbrew). It’s messy, tasty and casual eating. What we loved: The variety in atmosphere and barbecue style. At the Woodshed Smokehouse, the brisket was crusty and delicious. I ate pork rib tamales for the first time in my life, but hopefully not the last. At Coopers Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, the brisket with vinegary sauce was polished off (the chicken barely got a look-in). They also serve our favourite barbecue accompaniments: macaroni cheese and cobbler. What we didn’t love: It can definitely get messy. Don’t wear white, and grab a handful of the wet wipes (packaged in individual packets) to avoid that sticky-all-day feeling. Info: Coopers Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, 1125 Texas 337 Loop, New Braunfels, TX 78130 www.coopersbbq.com; The Woodshed Smokehouse, 3201 Riverfront Dr., Fort Worth, TX 76107 www.woodshedsmokehouse.com   2. Stroll around Sundance Square This plaza in the middle of downtown Fort Worth features dramatic umbrella-like shades, jetted fountains that are turned on from 2 to 6pm so visitors...

Visiting Dealey Plaza & standing on the grassy knoll

TweetDallas’s role in the national tragedy of JFK’s shooting was something we learned a lot about while I was growing up in Texas. The city had a reputation of being a cold, money-oriented metropolis, miles away from the hippie vibe of Austin or the international oil reputation of Houston. We spent an entire section in my university American history course on Dallas, the city’s collective guilt about the shooting and conspiracy theories . Then for the most part, the city’s particular role in the tragedy faded for me. That is, until a few years ago, when we visited Dallas with the children and went to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza, downtown Dallas. My English husband was the driving force behind the visit. Now I would recommend it to anyone visiting the city. The museum in the former book depository where Lee Harvey Oswald was positioned as the President drove by in the open-top convertible. You can stand feet away from where he supposedly sat (the area is glassed off, with a tableau of cardboard boxes and old books) and look down on the route the Presidential calvacade took. We’ve all seen the picture, the famous Zapruder film. You may have watched Oliver Stone’s movie JFK. What’s striking is that the site looks astonishingly identical to the old clips and photos, accessible and set within the downtown office district. There are white crosses painted on the road marking where the first and second bullets hit. You can drive right over them in your car. Will Self visited Dealey Plaza and describes it as a cramped, workaday urban space. I would describe it more an unexceptional, if you didn’t know its history. There’s a roomy parking lot next to the Museum entrance. There’s a small urban park. There is the grassy knoll topped by a fence — you can go and stand on it.   If the children had been older I would have loved to linger more at the museum. It is appropriate for children although younger ones less engaged with politics will want to scoot through more quickly. It paints a picture of the time period, the world events that occurred before the shooting, the event itself and what unspooled afterward. I had been worried I would feel like a leering thrill-seeker. Instead it refreshed my memory on the time period and made it more real. The city is commemorating the anniversary of Kennedy’s death, soem say acknowleding and coming to terms with its role more than...

Is Franklin Barbecue really the best in the world?

TweetThis weekend Meatopia is making its first appearance outside of the States. This flesh-eating food celebration in Tobacco Dock, Wapping features big-time chefs and hallowed meat-cooking halls such as Hawksmoor, Pitt Cue, St Johns, Shake Shack and more, all devoted to delicious meats. One of the featured guests is Aaron Franklin over from Austin. But I have to tell you, something seemed amiss to me when I read earlier this year about his joint Franklin’s Barbecue. People seem to have lost their minds. There is no sense of proportion when talking about this meat that’s smoked and eaten off a plastic tray. Aaron, who runs the business with his wife Stacy, is hailed as a “BBQ genius” by Bon Appetit magazine, which named it as possibly the best barbecue in the world. Is this even a category? Oh yeah, they also named it one of the country’s most important restaurants. In Zagat restaurant guide fans swoon that it’s “exceptional”. Chef Anthony Bourdain came to visit with camera crew in tow. I grew up in Texas and love good barbecue but wasn’t it time for a reality check? So on our annual trip to Austin we visited Franklin Barbecue, although “visiting” makes this sound like a more casual outing than it was. To eat at Franklin’s, you have to plan, plot and queue early. We set the alarm for 7:00, drive from North Austin and join the queue at 8am. Already 20 people have arrived before us. Some sit in folding chairs, their laptops balanced on their knees, or reading the paper. Others sit on the steps leading up to the entrance, chatting or playing with their phones. A 20something woman has laid out a small red piece of cloth on the sidewalk, a bottle of water at her side. At the very front are three University of Texas students in shorts and baseball caps, undoubtedly feeling very early bird smug. One sports a t-shirt promoting a breast cancer charity. It reads: “Save Second Base”. The queue continues to build behind us, and by 8:30, it runs down the side of the brick building, into the parking lot where the morning sun is already beating down ruthlessly. A few groups have had the foresight to not only set up folding chairs with sun umbrellas but also bring coolers that kept them furnished in ice-cold sodas and beer.     My husband and I had been a bit nervous about keeping the 9- and 11-year-old occupied during the wait. We had...

Fun at the trampoline park in Austin

Tweet One of the things we MUST do when we visit Austin, according to my daughter, is go to Jumpstreet. This place has nothing to do with the natural beauty of Hill Country where Austin is located, nor is it connected to the groovy cultural vibe here. It is a warehouse-style building filled with 25-yard-long trampolines, a mechanical bull, an inner tube slide and a foam ball pit with rope swing. It’s situated next to a mall off a huge concrete highway interchange. America. Still, there’s a reason why my husband and I allow ourselves to be cajoled here. It’s clean and air-conditioned, allowing the kids to run around and burn off energy outside of the Texas sun (it’s 100 degrees here today). Natural light, a rarity in indoor playscapes in the UK, floods the main space. There is free wifi, which is making this post possible. We can sit and chat or plug in and work while the kids bounce, space walk, flip, swing or hold onto to a fake bull for dear life. Of course, capitalism looms large, and this is a money spinner for the company: Entry today is $8 per child for the first hour, with each additional hour £6. Access to the bull and the tube slide are $3 extra per child. On weekends the hourly price is $12; a Tuesday discount costs $10 for 2 hours. No outside food or drink is allowed, which is to be expected, but the ban extends to water bottles; this seems mean to me and not in keeping with the idea of healthy active play and keeping hydrated. You’re less likely to if bottles of water cost $1.75. (Although there is a water fountain by the loos.) Overall though, we come as a once a year treat and enjoy it. The children come off the trampolines with flushed cheeks, their hair curling in the damp, having had a ball. The only lingering question in my mind is when are they going to do one for grown-ups? Jumpstreet, gotjump.com, 12617 Ridgeline Blvd. Suite B, Cedar Park, TX 78613, +1 512.506.8583...

They don’t eat horses, do they?

TweetThe news of beef burgers in several big supermarkets around the UK and in Ireland being contaminated with horse meat is all over the headlines today. It reminded me of this picture that I took in Brenham, Texas, last summer. At the time, I was surprised to see it — I’d never heard of horsemeat being an issue in Texas. I knew from living in France and visiting other countries that people do eat horse but always thought of it as an issue of personal taste and social custom. When I researched the issue after returning to London, I found out that slaughtering horses had become a heated debate. Slaughterhouses in Texas exported the meat to Asia and Europe and many Texans were against it, based either on the belief that the animals suffered unduly or that these creatures — because of our attachment to them as pets and companions — aren’t the kind of animal you should eat. It’s strongly tied to identity, as my picture shows: We aren’t the kind of people to eat horse. In 2007, Texas slaughterhouses were shut down, and some activitists kept fighting the sale and transport of Texas horses to slaughterhouses in Mexico. But there are also some America politicians promoting horsemeat, as detailed in this Houston Post blog. Of course, the issue for the beef burgers here is slightly different: something was in the burgers that shouldn’t have been and that wasn’t divulged to consumers. That has to be rectified. But the stories highlight our discomfort both in the US and the UK about eating horses. We think of them as beautiful animals to ride, race and own. We still have the problem of a few unscrupulous owners who mistreat their animals. But whatever you do, the consensus seems, don’t put them on our plate....

Eating at the food trucks in Austin, Texas

TweetAustin has been circling the food wagons for some time – food trucks have become such an institution in the capital of Texas that they’ve prompted innumerable blogs and even a next-generation fashion truck called Bootleg, which is a shoe shop in an Airstream trailer featuring hard-to-find labels.     We go to Austin every summer and every summer I love to visit the food-truck enclave on South Congress. The trucks are all around the city, but the original Austin food trailer The Mighty Cone is based here, started by one of Austin’s star restaurants, Hudson’s on the Bend.           While according to some food trailer blogs, this isn’t even the best place to get “truck food”, I like this location. Back when I lived off South Congress this was a decidedly less cool part of town to say the least. (Think: a surfeit of porn shops – yeah, that’s a vintage sentence.) Now it’s crawling with hipsters. One of the best burger places I’ve been to is just across the street (that’s a whole other post). There are other cool restaurants and shops that are busy day and night. Plus, you’ll find one of Austin’s premier live music clubs here: the Continental Club. It’s a long, straight shot down from the capitol building and home to a wide range of trucks serving sausage sandwiches, thai food, cupcakes and more.   We tend to come in the middle of sizzling August afternoons for shaved ice, then sit on one of the picnic tables to watch the cars and people go by. Eating at one of these establishments just feels cool. Most of them are run by small independent traders, I’m told, and the funky vibe of these places just feels like Austin. The food is decidedly Texan. It’s cheesy, meaty, sugary…in a word, tasty. I can sit on a picnic table in the afternoon heat with sweat pouring down my face and feel a part of the spark of the city, even as it has transformed into a vastly wealthy, tech-focussed metropolis. It kinda’ reminds me of Austin the way it was, but with better food. In the baking heat we never seem to be in the mood for barbecue or other big meaty sandwiches, but one day I hope to try them all. My advice for anyone visiting Austin and wanting interesting, fun food: Keep on truckin’.        ...

How to display travel pictures: the Big App

TweetThere’s nothing quite like travelling to a new and exotic place, capturing it on film or in bytes, adding it to the 1,768 pictures on your computer and never seeing it again. Or you finally get around to putting it up, then reconsider. Witness: When I first took this picture of a vintage petrol pump in Hico, Texas, I really liked it. I had it printed poster size and framed it. Now, several years later, I kinda hate it. But the cost and effort of replacing it with something else has always seemed too onerous. Until now. At BritMums, we are working with Kodak to promote its Big App, which is a great way to cheaply print and display travel pics in large format. You upload your image to the Big App site, its converted into a multi-page PDF, then you print it out on A4 photo paper. (Join our Big App Challenge. I’ts ridiculously easy: you post a picture on your blog that you think would look good wall-sized, include the Challenge badge and add your blog to the Linky. You could win a digital camera or a printer package worth more than £200 including a printer, paper and ink. Check it out now!) So far, I’ve done this with a picture in downtown Austin (I love the music flier and this girl’s rainbow socks) and with a vintage liquor sign in Brenham, Texas (are you seein’ a theme here?). But now I’m hooked and have hauled out a bunch of pictures from years past to see the different looks I can get when they’re wall-sized. So which do you think I ought to use?   Or… Or… Any suggestions?...

When it's time to leave the beach

TweetGiven the old choice of mountains or beach, I'll choose beach every time. The sun, proper surf for wave-jumping, bodyboarding or surfing, and sand in places my doctor's never seen. Bliss. Every year we visit the same resort in Texas, Port Royal in Port Aransas. I hestitate to even mention it by name. As unlikely as it might seem that a bunch of Brits would turn up on this lightly developed section of Padre Island in the Gulf of Mexico (oil-free, I might add), it's such an idyllic, trapped-in-the-'70s vibe here we hold our breath on the ferry ride over every year, wondering if it will be "ruined".  Here we bounce between the beach and the biggest pool in the state. There is a swim-up bar and slides and little waterfalls that the lifeguards don't discourage you from jumping off. Yet a funny thing happens after a couple of days. Suddenly you notice the unappealing slick of suntan oil on the surface of the pool. The fact that there's just a little too much rubbish sticking out of the sand here and there. The floating plaster as you get out when the sun is going down. We're all a little bit sunburned and a little bit sore from jumping into waves and whizzing down the slides at funny angles. We've had another great visit. Now we're at the final stage of a good seaside hols. There's nothing quite so nice as that feeling that you're ready to go home....

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