Best Getaway to Czech Out

This might just be the “Best Little Day Trip in Texas.”

Etched in the eroded headstones in the city cemetery and the cemeteries at the nearby “painted churches”—quaint little chapels with exquisite, spangled interiors—are the names of German and Czech immigrants who flocked to the town starting in the 1840s. With its rich heritage, it’s no surprise that La Grange is the hub for celebrating the Czech culture in Texas. Over 80 percent of the Czech Moravian families that settled in Texas at some time lived in Fayette County before they spread out across the state. La Grande is on the Colorado River between Houston and Austin on Texas Highway 71.

Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, Czech out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. Vitáme Vás is the Czech equivalent of “howdy” and you’ll certainly feel welcome. This museum gives visitors a feel for the culture and early days of Fayette County when thousands of Czech immigrants populated the area. The museum has clothes, relocated homes, and lots of musical instruments. Crank up the Polka, baby!

Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another must-see stop is the Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Site. Located on 40-acres of land on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River and La Grange this park holds two historic sites and a ton of beautiful nature. One site is Monument Hill honoring the Texan heroes who lost their lives in the Dawson Massacre and Mier Expedition where Texans were forced to draw beans for their lives. The other stop is the stone ruins of the Kreische Brewery, one of the oldest commercial breweries in Texas started in the 1860s and the house of the Kreische family which you can tour.

Fayette County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Czech immigrants incorporated different aspects of their culture into the town, perhaps the most apparent being the architecture of the buildings standing in the town square. In the center of the Square sits the most recognizable building in La Grange, the Fayette County Courthouse the fourth structure to house county business since 1838.

Fayette County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This stately temple of justice was designed by 27 year old James Riley Gordon of San Antonio and constructed in 1891 at the cost of $99,407.04. The architecture of the courthouse is Romanesque Revival style which was popular during the mid to late 1800s.

Texas Heroes Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Honor Texans who have served and sacrificed at the Texas Heroes Museum. The museum is in the Fayette County Old Jail that operated from 1883 to 1985. Located just off the Square, it is a beautiful Victorian Gothic rusticated limestone building that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside is a portion of an original jail cell, bunk, and a wash basin and commode combination. Sheriff’s memorabilia include badges, handcuffs, a hanging rope, Sheriff Will Loesin’s gun holster, and photographs.

Colorado River from Monument Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn about the volunteers from Fayette County who were killed in the Dawson Massacre and the Black Bean Lottery and are now buried in the nearby Monument Hill State Historic Site. Learn about Texas Heroes like Sam Houston, Audie Murphy, Chester Nimitz, and Chris Kyle. See how uniforms, helmets, and other gear have changed over the years. Over 1,000 books are in the museum’s reference library.

Kolaches at Weikels Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The early Czech settlers also brought with them the kolache, an open-faced pastry traditionally prepared with a sweet filling which is now beloved across the state.

Kolaches at Weikels Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just as the Czech koláč became “ko-lah-chee” on the tongues of Texans, kolache fillings evolved over time. Many Texans first experienced traditional kolache flavors that include poppy seed, prune, apricot, peach, and cream cheese. As the pastry grew in popularity bakers developed new flavors from lemon and pineapple to Philly cheese steak and the distinctly Texan sausage known as Klobasnikies (Pigs-in-a-Blanket) even though no kolache would contain meat in Eastern Europe.

Kolaches at Weikels Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery. Here you find cinnamon rolls, strudel, cream cheese pound cake, pecan sandies, and cookies of all kinds, plus a repertoire of a dozen kolaches. The kolache is Weikel’s specialty, the shop’s motto (on the highway billboard): We got’cha Kolache.

Weikels Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t worry—you don’t have to squeeze every flavor into one trip… Weikel’s will ship these goodies anywhere in the country!

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas history is a varied, tempestuous, and vast as the state itself. Texas yesterday is unbelievable, but no more incredible than Texas today. Today’s Texas is exhilarating, exasperating, violent, charming, horrible, delightful, alive.

— Edna Ferber

Everything’s Bigger in Texas: Best Road Trips from Houston, San Antonio, and Austin

As t-shirts and bumper stickers are quick to remind us, Texas is big

There’s an old saying that “everything is bigger in Texas” and what counts as a commute for a Texan may well qualify as a road trip in other states. From Conroe to Freeport, Katy to Baytown, the greater Houston area spans more than 100 miles north to south and over 50 miles east to west. The Dallas/Fort Worth metropolis isn’t much smaller especially as suburban sprawl continues to spread and San Antonio has expanded significantly in recent years.

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big cities mean wide highways and fast speed limits: The 41-mile stretch of Texas Highway 130, just east of Austin, boasts a speed limit of 85 miles per hour—the fastest legal limit in the country. Austin retains traces of its small-town vibe although locals whisper about a future where Austin and San Antonio could morph into one giant megacity. And Austin is notorious for its daily traffic jams.

La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking to ditch the hustle and bustle of big-city life? There’s so much to see in Texas beyond its major metropolitan areas. Houston, San Antonio, and Austin are strategically placed for road trips in Central Texas. Here are some of my favorite getaways for a day trip, a week, or longer.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note that, in 2020, it’s imperative to check websites and social media updates beforehand to ensure that your destination is open and accepting visitors at the time you arrive. Many state parks and public areas require passes beforehand or impose a strict limit on the number of guests allowed at any given time even during normal circumstances.

Black’s Barbecue, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart

A trip to this flavor-packed smoke town should be on any food lover’s bucket list. Dubbed the “BBQ Capital of Texas,” Lockhart is easily one of the most legendary barbecue destinations in the world. While you could make it a daytrip you’ll need several days or more to eat your way through it. Tackle at least two of the Big Three on Day One: Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (est. 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948). Proceed in any order you please. Lockhart has one more stop in store for you: Chisholm Trail Barbecue (opened by a Black’s alum in 1978).

Lockhart State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But there’s a lot more to Lockhart than just smoked meats. Golfers can look out on the rugged Texas scenery while enjoying a round of golf at the Lockhart State Park Golf Course which also offers an on-site swimming pool, camping sites, and fishing hole.

What is next? Off to Luling for some more barbecue? How about a Shiner beer? A nap? Or both? You deserve it!

Luling Oil Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luling

This little town is known for BIG flavors—and whether you prefer sweet or meat, both are delicious here. Gorge yourself on juicy watermelon or fill up on some of the best barbecue in the Lone Star State—either way you’ll leave here full. And while you’re eating your way through town, you’ll also find some pretty epic nature spots.

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dive into the history of “the toughest town in Texas” at the Luling Oil Museum where you’ll learn about the oil boom of Central Texas in the 1920s. Walk through a model town and see real tools from the oil boom days. Around this oil town, you’ll find tons of pump jacks decorated as everything from quarterbacks to killer whales. It’s the perfect mixture of art, history, and liquid gold!

Spoetzal Brewery, Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shiner

Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week where visitors can see how their popular brews get made. Tours and samples are free. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

Blue Bell Creameries, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brenham

Blue Bell fans travel from all over to see the making of their favorite ice cream. At The Little Creamery in Brenham, visitors can watch the manufacturing process from an observation deck while attendants narrate and provide fun facts, and then check out the Visitors Center to read up on the company’s history and see artifacts. The self-guided tours conclude with $1 scoops from the parlor. In addition to regular favorites, the creamery also serves special flavors like Cookies ’n Cream and Pecan Pralines ’n Cream and the newest flavor to temp your taste buds, Fudge Brownie Decadence.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg

In the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg maintains a small-town feel while having lots of things to see and do. With its unique German heritage, thriving wineries, and shopping, it’s the perfect getaway. The historic buildings along Main Street are home to over 100 shops. Influenced by the town’s heritage, German and German-inspired food options abound. Fredericksburg and the surrounding regions are at the heart of Central Texas wine country. This area is particularly beautiful in the springtime, with gorgeous wildflowers erupting from the otherwise green landscape.

Fayette County Court House, La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Grange

This might just be the “Best Little Day Trip in Texas.” I’m sure Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton would agree as it was the events of La Grange’s famous “Chicken Ranch” that inspired the classic musical “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” While the brothel is no longer around there’s still plenty to do in this town.

Weikel’s Bakery kolaches, La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, “Czech” out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. This museum gives visitors a feel for the culture and early days of Fayette County when thousands of Czech immigrants populated the area. Another must-see stop is the Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Site. The settlers also introduced a town favorite treat—the kolache! One of the best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blanco

Blanco calls itself the “Lavender Capital of Texas” as home of Hill Country Lavender farm and the annual Lavender Festival in June, complete with tours of lavender crops, growing tips, and music. If swimming or fishing’s your thing, head to Blanco State Park. A river runs through this 104-acre green oasis making Blanco State Park a perfect destination for a relaxing afternoon of kayaking. Calm waters and an easily accessible watercraft launch site (complete with handrails) mean that even first-timers can easily rent a single or double kayak and take in the lush greenery that borders the mile-long stretch of the Blanco River. If desired, bring along your tackle box to enjoy some fishing as well. 

Bottom line

While the tiny towns of Texas may not be very large, everything else is generally bigger from the distances you’ll be driving to the sheer amount of open sky you’ll see on the road. This shortlist of destinations in Central Texas is far from an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Czech Please: We Gotcha Kolache!

This tasty Czech pastry is now a Texan tradition

Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

Czechoslovakia is probably not the first country that comes to mind when people set out to identify the ethnic influences on Texas food. However, any Central Texan who has ever sunk their teeth into the soft, yeasty cloud of a fruit kolache knows that Czechs bring a delicious contribution to the Texas culinary table.

Czech immigrants began arriving in Texas during the mid-to late nineteenth century entering through the busy port of Galveston and spreading out though the central part of the state. At one point that area had over 200 Czech-dominant communities.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They settled in rural areas and became farmers and craftsmen whose society revolved mostly around family life and the Catholic Church. The Czechs rich cuisine was based on roasted meats with noodles and dumplings; homemade sausages, potatoes, and sauerkraut; and baked goods such as fruit strudels and kolaches.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kolaches came to the Lone Star State with 19th-century immigrants from Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia and continued making their native pastries over wood stoves when they settled in Central Texas. The kolache is the most prominent edible symbol of Texas Czech culture.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kolaches are made with sweetened yeast dough formed into rolls and filled with fruit or cheese before baking. Classic Czech fillings are prune, apricot, poppyseed, and cottage cheese though other fruit fillings such as cherry, peach, and apple have become popular as well.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just as the Czech koláč became “ko-lah-chee” on the tongues of Texans, kolache fillings evolved over time. As the pastry grew in popularity bakers developed new flavors from cream cheese and lemon to Philly cheese steak and the distinctly Texan sausage known as Klobasnikies (Pigs-in-a-Blanket) even though no kolache would contain meat in Eastern Europe. It is a taut-skinned, rugged-textured kielbasa sausage fully encased in a tube of tender-crumb bread that is finer than any hot dog bun we’ve ever eaten.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No true Czech wedding feast would be complete without a bountiful supply of kolaches on the dessert table and the homemade varieties are always a fixture at Czech church functions and heritage society gatherings. Now that kolaches are also available in local bakeries, they can be a delightful everyday treat.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just north of Waco the small town of West (known for clarity’s sake as “West Comma Texas”) is the state’s kolache capital where descendants of Czech immigrants make these little square pastries that hold a dollop of fruit rimmed by a puffy pillow of supple dough.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Koláče are sold warm from the oven,” assures the sign above the counter at the Village Bakery, a shop with three small tables and one circular ten-seat table that hosts a community coffee klatch most mornings. Apricot and prune are the flavors favored by old-timers along with poppy seeds and cottage cheese. Tourists tend to like fruitier versions—apple, strawberry, blueberry—as well as those made with cream cheese.

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like any baked pastry the fresher the kolache the better it is. Philip Weikel, of Weikel’s Bakery in La Grange once had a customer pay $80 for overnight air shipping of $5 worth of kolaches. But ground service works too—Weikel’s dough defies the laws of staleness. It stays light, moist, and soft for four or five days something he attributes to the way it is made and handled. “That’s the secret that separates us from bakeries that buy kolache mix in fifty-pound bags: tenderness,” he says. “Tenderness now and tenderness tomorrow.”

Kolaches at the Original Kountry Bakery in Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Czech-Americans throughout Texas have given Weikel’s kolaches the thumbs-up.

There are no kolaches anywhere more beguiling than Weikel’s little apricot rectangles in which the fruit’s sunny sour taste accentuates the sweetness of the pastry around it.

Original Kountry Bakery in Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A word of warning: Weikel’s bears little resemblance to the charming old-world kolache shops in West and elsewhere in Texas. You could walk in for a Coke and a beef stick and not notice that there is something extraordinary at the back of the store where the bakery does business. The place looks like a gas station, which is what it is.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weikel’s Bakery prides itself in making authentic, from scratch, Czech pastries. Weikel’s second location in Brenham features a full-scale baking operation, indoor seating for 16, and a menu of an extensive assortment of kolaches, klobasniky (pigs-in-a-blanket), sweet rolls, pies, bread, muffins, cookies, and cakes as well as a coffee, tea, and soft drinks beverage counter.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering… Eat dessert first. Life is uncertain.

—Ernestine Ulmer

4 Small Texas Towns to Visit

Across the Lone Star State, these small towns brim with new energy and welcome retreat from the city

There was a time when most Texans lived over yonder. But over the past century, the percentage of Texans living in rural areas versus urban areas flipped. Today, 85 percent live in cities while only 15 percent live in the country according to the Texas Demographic Center. It’s an understandable trend. With booming job markets, diverse cultural offerings, and fast-paced living, Texas’ major cities project a magnetism that leads to ever-expanding urbanization.

Here we chronicle four such towns that are thriving—places to visit now for both escape and discovery.

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rockport-Fulton

Pop. 10,759

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The quaint fishing village of Rockport-Fulton has been a favorite coastal hideaway and Winter Texan roost for years. The town’s recovery since Hurricane Harvey two years ago counts among the great feel-good stories in Texas history. Rebounding in stunning ways, this little art colony beloved by visitors since the 1950s for its fishing, bay setting, and festivals feels fresh again.

Fulton Mansion Historic State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Envision the life of an affluent Victorian family while exploring Fulton Mansion, built in 1877 with comforts not easily found: gas lights, central heat, and running water. At Goose Island State Park you’ll find the wintering grounds for whooping cranes and other migratory birds. It’s also home to the 1,000-year-old Big Tree, one of Texas’ largest live oak.

La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Grange

Pop. 4,673

Fayette County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This might just be the “Best Little Day Trip in Texas.” I’m sure Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton would agree as it was the events of La Grange’s famous “Chicken Ranch” that inspired the classic musical “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” While the brothel is no longer around there’s still plenty to do in this town.

Kaloches at Weikel’s Bakery…um, delicious!! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, “Czech” out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. This museum gives visitors a feel for the culture and early days of Fayette County when thousands of Czech immigrants populated the area. Another must-see stop is the Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Site. The settlers also introduced a town favorite treat—the kolache! One of the best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery.

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Davis

Pop. 1,201

Fort Davis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Davis started as a military post on the turbulent Texas frontier, but nowadays you’ll find a decidedly laid-back town. Some streets remain unpaved, cell phones tend to fall silent, and folks still wave to each other on the street.

McDonald Observatory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s a quiet little town that doesn’t have a lot of tourist infrastructure. It has the essentials, though, and attractions such as the recently made-over Indian Lodge and the nearby McDonald Observatory, which last year overhauled the Hobby-Eberly Telescope and George T. Abell Gallery. Be sure to visit Fort Davis National Historic Site.

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A bonus: 5,050 feet of elevation makes Fort Davis the highest town in Texas and, on summer nights, one of the coolest.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blanco

Pop. 2,012

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blanco calls itself the “Lavender Capital of Texas” as home of Hill Country Lavender farm and the annual Lavender Festival in June, complete with tours of lavender crops, growing tips, and music. If swimming or fishing’s your thing, head to Blanco State Park, where you can hook up your RV or pitch a tent and stretch your legs along the Blanco River.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Real Ale Brewing Company sip an unfiltered beer and toss washers. Each spring the brewery hosts the popular Real Ale Ride with Hill Country routes ranging from 15 to 80 miles and beer at the finish line.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

Absolutely Best Road Trips from Houston

Texas lends itself well to adventure

America’s fourth-largest city is a cosmopolitan destination filled with world-class dining, arts, entertainment, shopping, and outdoor recreation. Take a stroll through the historic Heights, spend the day exploring the Museum District, or head down to Space Center Houston.

Kemah Boardwalk south of Houston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We love Houston even for its bonkers weather. But that doesn’t mean we don’t like to get away from it all. With that in mind, we’ve put together a little road trip bucket list with mini itineraries for a variety of interest. Best of all, you won’t even need to be on the road that long: we’re talking six-hour drives, tops, which in Texas terms is basically a trip around the corner.

Best Outdoor Getaway: Guadalupe River State Park, Texas

Distance from Houston: 206 miles

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With Big Bend roughly 640 miles and 5 billion worlds away (qualifying it for more than just a short road trip), Guadalupe River State Park is a great spot for a scenic adventure in the Great Outdoors. Many folks come here to swim but the park is more than a great swimming hole with beautiful scenery and colorful history.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the river, you can swim, fish, tube, and canoe. In the dog days of summer, you’ll want to beat the heat and kayak or canoe the Guadalupe River which boasts the 5 mile Guadalupe River State Park Paddling Trail.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While on land, you can camp, hike, ride mountain bikes or horses, picnic, geocache, and bird watch. Explore 13 miles of hike and bike trails. Trails range from the 2.86-mile Painted Bunting Trail to the .26-mile Barred Owl Trail, which leads you to a scenic overlook of the river. Camping is the way to go, here with 85 campsites offering amenities like picnic tables, outdoor grills, fire pits, and water, and electricity.

Best Barbecue Getaway: Lockhart, Texas

Distance from Houston: 156 miles

Black’s Barbecue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short trip to this flavor-packed smoke town should be on any food lover’s bucket list. Dubbed the “BBQ Capital of Texas,” Lockhart is easily one of the most legendary barbecue destinations in the world. While you could make it a daytrip you’ll need several days or more to eat your way through it. Don’t forget to pack a cooler, though, because you’ll want to bring some meat home.

Smitty’s Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your Day One itinerary includes the bulk of your eating, as you tackle at least two of the Big Three: Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (est. 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948). You need to consume a lot of meat today, so be sure to stop for breaks. Proceed in any order you please. 

Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Black’s, third generation pitmaster Kent Black is slow smoking his barbecue with a simple rub and local Post Oak wood. Choose the behemoth beef rib, packing a 9-inch long bone with around 2 inches of fatty, marbled beef cocooning it; and don’t forget the hand-stuffed and -tied homemade sausage (original, garlic, or jalapeno-cheddar), made from an 80-year-old recipe that has stood the test of time.

Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The black soot covering Smitty’s foyer and pit room is a good sign—it means the place is alive and kickin’ after all these years. Go for the Texas trinity of brisket, pork ribs, and sausage, fresh from the pit, and throw on a pork chop if you’re feeling wild. This is the kind of spot where asking for sauce is welcome and it’s a tasty sauce indeed. 

Lockhart State State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart has one more stop in store for you before the drive home: Chisholm Trail Barbecue (opened by a Black’s alum in 1978). There’s a drive-through and BBQ sandwiches if you so please, but you can also head inside for a full plate lunch packed with smoked turkey, sausage links, and moist brisket with sides like mac and cheese, hash browns, and broccoli salad… because you should probably get some greens in.

Best Getaway to Czech Out: La Grange

Distance from Houston: 100 miles

Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Etched in the eroded headstones in the city cemetery and the cemeteries at the nearby “painted churches”—quaint little chapels with exquisite, spangled interiors—are the names of German and Czech immigrants who flocked to the town starting in the 1840s. With its rich heritage, it’s no surprise that La Grange is the hub for celebrating the Czech culture in Texas. Over 80 percent of the Czech Moravian families that settled in Texas at some time lived in Fayette County before they spread out across the state.

Fayette County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, Czech out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. Vitáme Vás is the Czech equivalent of “howdy”, and you’ll certainly feel welcome.

La Grande from Monument Hill State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Hill State Park is 40-acres of land on a bluff overlooking La Grange. The state park is home to the site of Monument Hill, the grounds on which the war to keep Texas free was fought. Also housed in the park are the ruins of Kreische Brewery, one of Texas’ first commercial breweries.

Ruins of Kreische Brewery at Monument Hill State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Czech immigrants incorporated different aspects of their culture into the town, perhaps the most apparent being the architecture of the buildings standing in the town square. In the center of the Square sits the current Fayette County Courthouse, the fourth structure to house county business since 1838.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The settlers also introduced a town favorite treat—the kolache! The best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery. Don’t worry—you don’t have to squeeze every flavor into one trip… Weikel’s will ship these goodies anywhere in the country!

Best Island Getaway: Galveston Island, Texas

Distance from Houston: 50 miles

Bishop’s Palace, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge at Galveston Island State Park. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!

Galveston State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas coast is on an hourglass-shaped migratory path called the Central Flyway that extends from Alaska to South America. This makes Galveston Island State Park a must-see birding spot, especially with its combination of beach, prairie, and marsh.

The Strand, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Love it or hate it, Galveston is the closest beach to Houston (and we do love it). Here’s how you can love it, too: If it’s not a beach day, you’re spending the rest of the day exploring. Hit the historic Strand District, a 70-block jewel where you’ll find gorgeous Victorian buildings housing museums, boutiques, theaters, shops, and La King’s Confectionary, an old-timey sweets shop where you’ll be picking up some ice cream, dipped chocolates, and taffy. 

1877 Tall Ship Elissa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before you make the short trip back to H-town, get in some extra island time by hitting the 32-miles of sands, having some old school fun at the Pleasure Pier amusement park, checking out historically and architecturally significant spots like the 1877 Tall Ship Elissa and 1892 Bishop’s Palace, or at the very least, getting a beer at Galveston Island Brewing Company. 

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Well it’s lonesome in this old town
Everybody puts me down
I’m a face without a name
Just walking in the rain
Goin’ back to Houston, Houston, Houston 

—lyrics by Lee Hazelwood, recorded by Dean Martin (1965)

Czech Out La Grange

We headed to Central Texas to Czech out the town of La Grande and discovered a fanciful cache of history and culture

Etched in the eroded headstones in the city cemetery and the cemeteries at the nearby “painted churches” — quaint little chapels with exquisite, spangled interiors—are the surnames of German and Czech immigrants who flocked to the town starting in the 1840s. The town began in 1826 as Moore’s Fort; it became the county seat of Fayette County in the Republic of Texas in 1837.

Fayette County Court House in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its rich heritage, it’s no surprise that La Grange is the hub for celebrating the Czech culture in Texas. Over 80 percent of the Czech Moravian families that settled in Texas at some time lived in Fayette County before they spread out across the state. The Czech immigration to the Lone Star State began in 1853 and was largely over by 1912. The estimate is that there are roughly a million Texans who trace their roots back to Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and Slovkia.

Texas Heroes Museum at Old Fayette County Jail in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, we Czeched out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center on Fairgrounds Road. Vitáme Vás is the Czech equivalent of “howdy”, and we certainly felt welcome. The Center serves both as a meeting place for organizations as well as a museum showcasing traditional wedding dresses, passenger lists, genealogies, and immigrants’ belongings. The Center gave us a feel for the culture and early days of Fayette County when thousands of Czech immigrants populated the area.

Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As wars were brewing in Europe, men were waging war in Texas — drawing us next to Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Site. The park sits on a high sandstone bluff above the Colorado River. The expansive view from the bluff overlooks the town, dense forests, and the winding waters of the Colorado River. The two sites are connected by a scenic nature trail with each telling their own unique story.

Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our first stop was Monument Hill, towering memorial saluting the men who died in battles against Mexico in the 1840s. A tomb holds the remains of 52 Texas heroes who died in the Dawson Massacre and the Texan Santa Fe and Mier expeditions.

Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Park in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first of the battles took place in 1842, when Capt. Nicholas Dawson led 53 volunteers from La Grange against 500 Mexican troops in the fight for San Antonio; 36 Texans were killed. Their remains are entombed in a granite crypt with their names etched in stone.

Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Park in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the second incident, a year later, 176 Texans made a valiant escape during a prisoners’ march to Mexico City but were recaptured by Col. Domingo Huerta. As punishment, each drew a bean from an earthen jar; one out of every 10 was a black bean. Those unlucky enough to draw the condemning black frijoles were executed at dusk. Their remains are entombed in today’s monument.

Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Park in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short hike from the tomb led us to the ruins of the Kreische Brewery where German immigrant Heinrich Ludwig Kreische founded one of the first commercial breweries in Texas. The Kreische Brewery site consists of the Kreische house, outbuildings, which were built in 1855-1857, and the Kreische Brewery (which looks more like a medieval castle than a brewery), built in the 1860s.

Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Park in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kreische came to Texas in 1846 from Saxony, Germany, purchased 172 acres of land on the bluff in 1849 and began a successful career as a stonemason, brew master, and businessman. His was a story of early Texas family life, blue-collar work ethic, enterprising spirit, and business acumen that tells of German immigration into Texas. He built a three-story house and, in 1860, began building a brewery. By 1879, it was the third largest brewing operation in Texas.

Texas Quilt Museum in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a tour of the brewery ruins, we saw ample evidence of his ingenuity, including an aqueduct system he designed to channel water downhill from a spring to the brewing room. After the brewery tour, we admired the beautiful three-story stone house that Kreische built for his family—at a time when most settlers were still living in log cabins.

Historic La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state of the mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck

3 Underappreciated Cities That Do What They Do Best

Plan a trip to an off the grid city where crowds won’t be a problem and you’ll have the time of your life

The process of choosing the places I’m most excited about this coming year, narrowing down the field was easier said than done.

I considered scenic landscapes, historic significance, outdoor activities, food scenes, and my bucket list.

Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In this pursuit I kept coming back to cities that made surprisingly compelling cases for a visit in an RV. A handful of cities have been flying under the radar, quietly upping their games, making 2019 a great year to visit.

Makers Mark near Bardstown

While food scenes will flourish and breweries will boom, it’s all the more impressive when a city manages to stick to its roots and do whatever it does best—be it natural resources or bourbon or cattle or history and culture.

Texas Quilt Museum, La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

So by all means, head to a mountain retreat or your favorite theme park if the spirit moves you. If not, here are three underappreciated cities that offer the RV traveler just as many unique opportunities as well known and crowded locations with a more relaxed atmosphere.

Greenville, South Carolina

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Great weather, a business-friendly environment, and exciting events are putting Greenville on the map.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

It doesn’t have the hipster buzz of towns like Asheville and Charleston, but Greenville, South Carolina is on the up-and-up. To make it “the most livable and beautiful city in America,” Greenville’s multi-term mayor has pushed through incredible civic initiatives, creating low-rent artist studios along the Reedy River and trading a highway in favor of a pedestrian bridge overlooking Falls Park.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Miles and miles of hiking and biking trails call for exploration and 300 days of great weather invite exciting food and music festivals to take over the city. Signature fests include Euphoria, a four-day food-and-wine fest in September (19-20, in 2019), and Artisphere, a mid-May (May 10-12, in 2019) blowout when dozens of art and food vendors descend on the main drag.

Bardstown, Kentucky

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This “Bourbon Capital of the World” is home to six notable distilleries. Kentucky’s “Official Outdoor Drama,” one of the country’s most highly regarded Civil War museums, and one of the most recognized structures in America at Federal Hill, better known as My Old Kentucky Home.

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

You can visit the distilleries of your choice for tours and tastings, including Barton 1792 and Willett. Begin or end your Kentucky Bourbon Trail journey here.

Willett Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

After sampling America’s native spirit, you’ll be wowed by professional outdoor theater at “The Stephen Foster Story”. And you’ll be wooed by the romance of rail travel with an elegant four-course meal aboard the vintage My Old Kentucky Dinner Train as it rolls through Bourbon Country.

Old Talbott Tavern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

You’ll be charmed by themed railroad excursions, including train robberies and Thomas the Tank Engine, at Kentucky Railway Museum. And at the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History you’ll be amused by such curiosities as a whiskey container shaped like King Tut, a whiskey bottle with combination lock to keep servants from swigging on the sly, and whiskey advertisements like one noting it “blots out all your troubles.”

La Grange, Texas

Fayette County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

We discovered a fanciful cache of history and culture in the Central Texas community of La Grange, a town steeped in German and Czech culture. Much of the town history is encased in rich foundations and dignified old architecture laid in the late 1800s. The three-story Fayette County Courthouse is masonry and stone Romanesque Revival structure with a clock tower over the main entrance.

Texas Quilt Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Though many of the original buildings in La Grange are more than a century old, a number of them have been renovated and serve as creative outlets, blending history and modern-day function. The Texas Quilt Museum opened November 2011 in a two historic 1890s buildings, which provide a stunning showcase for both antique and contemporary quilt art with their high ceilings, brick walls, and original hardwood floors.

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

“My favorite thing is to go where I have never been,” wrote photographer Diane Arbus, and so it is with us.