We have found the rainy season along the Gulf Coast -- mist, sprinkles, showers, steady rain, and thunderstorms alternate with brief periods of sunshine which dazzles and steams the wet ground. Rivers are running high, and there are big puddles in the fields. Seems like good weather for growing rice and waterfowl. There's no question but that wet weather puts a damper on tourism.
This is the low season for motels and tourist venues; some close for the season, most offer reduced hours and, often, reduced rates. So on a midweek in mid-November, Galveston is quite quiet.
Reading our tourist manuals we discovered that Galveston was once the largest city in Texas -- a city of commerce and industry and Victorian The Bishop's Castle splendor. But all that came to a screeching halt with the hurricane of 1900, which killed thousands of people and wiped out the gulf beaches. Eventually the Corps of Engineers built an enormous sea wall and groins to restore the beach, but by then the city had been marginalized as a commercial center. Hurricane shutters were very much in evidence when we arrived as a number of homes and apartments were closed for the winter.
So modern Galveston suffers from a plethora of older buildings whose owners can't afford even a coat of paint; yet some of the nineteenth century palaces and mansions still stand, and the City is busily struggling to reinvigorate itself, despite blows like the closing of the Naval Air Sacred Heart Church Station. We imagined the size of the summer crowds as, approaching fron the northeast, we saw signs miles in advance warning that people who drove down the shoulder to cut into the ferry queues would be punished by the law! The ferry ride was pleasant, although the bay was choppy in a stiff wind, and most of the parking lots were empty. We found an attractive beachfront motel for the same price we had been paying further inland, and reflected that lodging is a perishable commodity.
Our sightseeing was modest, consisting of a driving tour of the historic districts, some walks along the sea wall, and a visit to the aquarium at the Moody Gardens. We like the Gulf Coast architecture, with wrought iron and overhanging balconies, and some lush gardens surrounding the old homes. The beach seemed rather narrow, not as attractive as the beaches of West Florida, though we haven't seen the effect of this year's Galveston Aquarium hurricanes there. Along the beach towards the southwest are a number of large, flashy resort hotels.
The aquarium was a special delight, the tanks spotlessly clean, and even a few busloads of school kids were easily absorbed leaving us time and space to view all the exhibits. Spiral ramps allow you to view the fish from different perspectives, there are lots of interactive exhibits and video explanations. One tank has a walk-through tunnel and all of them let you have closeup views of the fish. Special attractions include the large collection of king and chinstrap penguins, as well as a corridor of venomous and poisonous critters. We liked the Gaboon viper whose enormous Inside the Aquarium head was camouflaged with a pattern of a leaf.
There's a lot more to see and do in Galveston, but we've given up night life and crowd scenes, so we can't provide you a direct report. Besides bar-hopping and nightclubs there are evening events in the wintertime like the Parade of Lights and Dickens on the Strand which the city fathers have inaugurated to improve tourism, especially in the winter. In the summer, we suppose Galveston has all the visitors it can handle streaming down the freeway from nearby Houston to enjoy the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The cruise ship terminal is doing well, and hoping Aquarium filter system to expand, and we noted the cruise ship parking lots were filled with cars.
Both the University of Texas and Texas A & M have developed branches here. The University of Texas Medical Branch includes a medical school and hospital, while Texas A & M concentrates on ocean-related specialties -- oceanographic studies, biology and the like.
We'd enjoy coming through again in the off-season; there's also a botanical garden at the Moody, a submarine and oil rig to tour, and the ferry ride itself is quite pleasant. We didn't see any dolphins playing, but did catch some nice views of Coast Guard cutters, as well as a steady line of tankers and freighters queued up to use the Houston-Galveston Ship Channel.