I’ve visited Texas many times over the years – my aunt moved to Dallas almost 30 years ago and my sister and I visited often when we were little. The highlight used to be watching the latest Disney film at the cinema before it had come out in the UK, and later going on shopping sprees at the mall; not to mention eating out a lot. And the cinnamon toast. I loved the cinnamon toast.
This time, though, I’m an adult (yes, I am!) and I’ve had the chance to sample a bit more of the culture that the state has to offer. The food has still featured pretty prominently on my agenda, but I’ve expanded my repertoire to include some dancing, bull riding, and even some politics. Here are 5 things to do in Texas for that (sort-of) authentic cowgirl experience…
The first thing I said to my cousin when I arrived was that he had to take me line dancing. In the end he arranged for an evening of two-step, which apparently is more typical for Texas but had me feeling quite nervous as it sounded like “proper” dancing. And so it was that we drove to the biggest dance hall (or any hall) I’ve ever seen, dominated by what was essentially a racetrack with various bars in the middle and all around the outside.
Two-step essentially consists of the same three steps (yes, three!) over and over: quick-quick-slow, quick-quick-slow. You can do some spins and other fancy things but most of us simply quick-quick-slowed our way around the track. Our dance skills (or at least our confidence) improved as the night progressed – completely unrelated to the amount of beer and shots that were consumed, I’m sure… There was even a bit of line dancing, hurrah! It’s actually a really nice change to go out for some couples dancing compared to the solo hip shaking that’s more common nowadays.
2. Mechanical bull riding
We didn’t make it to a rodeo event but I did experience the next best thing. My cousin, very supportive in trying to give me the authentic Texan experience, kindly nudged me in the direction of the mechanical bull during that night of two-stepping. Okay, he dragged me up there. I think I did pretty well (there’s even a video on YouTube to prove it) – although I’m sure the operator went easy on me and didn’t push up the speed and rotation to the levels the bull is capable of. The tricky thing is that you have to hold on with just one hand and keep the other up in the air – all the while making appropriate facial expressions, of course. It’s a strange thing to do really but after seeing it in films for so many years I feel it’s a worthwhile experience to have had.
3. The State Fair of Texas
My other cousin also offered up her services in my Texan tourist quest and came along with me to the annual State Fair. I imagined something similar to what I’d seen in films like Meet Me in St Louis, Pollyanna, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – and, to be honest, it wasn’t far off. Attractions included the world’s oldest alligator, the world’s smallest horse, and even a freak show – none of which we paid to enter, I should hasten to add.
We focused our attention on the culinary experience: first, a foot-long corn dog; then a red velvet funnel cake. I had hoped to find some fried cookie dough along the way, but thankfully we couldn’t locate that stand and eventually gave up as the crowds took over. It was “OU weekend”, the busiest weekend at the fair as Oklahoma University played Texas at the Cotton Bowl stadium and a host of maroon shirts (OU fans) mingled with all the burned orange-coloured shirts (TU fans). (The uniform for women otherwise, as I’ve found at the two-stepping and here at the fair, is cowboy boots plus teeny tiny hot pants – just so you know.) We also took a ride on the Texas Star, North America’s highest amusement ride (of course!), and snapped a selfie with Big Tex, the mascot of the State Fair.
4. The George W. Bush museum
So I initially resisted suggestions of going to the George W. Bush Library and Museum but I’m glad I succumbed in the end (but don’t tell my aunt I said that). It’s a strange kind of experience really, going to such a politicised museum, but it was an interesting reminder of the key events of Bush’s presidency as well as offering an insight into who he was as an individual. Highlights included visiting a replica of the Oval Office as it looked during his term as well as the interactive “decision point theatre” where we got to see how difficult it is to make a call on complex issues when your advisers are all saying different things. We also got to watch how George W. Bush successfully threw the first pitch to open a Yankees game – a big deal, apparently.
(I also highly recommend the Sixth Floor Museum, housed in the location from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK – I went there several times when I was younger and always found it fascinating. There’s a great conspiracy section at the end if you’re into that kind of thing!)
5. All you can eat
Now as the saying goes, “everything is big in Texas” – and that’s no exaggeration. People also eat out a lot here, and we’ve done so every day. We’ve eaten a LOT of food, of every type of cuisine there is – Tex Mex of course, as well as Argentinian, Hawaiian, Japanese, Indian, Lebanese and good old-fashioned American. Although portions are big (think all-you-can-eat chicken wings), you can always take the extra food home in a doggy bag. It’s not just the size, though, as they also do an incredible job at making even the healthy unhealthy: who ever heard of adding sugar and cinnamon to sweet potato?! Or candying the walnuts in your salad? I can also particularly recommend the whiskey cake at Whiskey Cake. Yu-um.
Speaking of healthy, the food binging is complemented by a complete lack of exercise, as you simply don’t walk anywhere at all. Each time I walked across the street to work from the local Starbucks I risked my life, the drivers completely oblivious to the idea of pedestrians. You even drive to the gym to walk on the treadmill. In fact it’s so hot in the summer that you hardly go outside at all, spending your time (at least in my case) shivering in the below-freezing air conditioning in all the shopping malls and restaurants. So the area benefits from amazing weather – but you don’t really get to enjoy it…
Thank you Karl, Becca and Birgitta for my all-American Texan experience! See y’all soon for some more cowgirl craziness…