Have Fun Enjoying the History and Waterfront Activities of Galveston.
I have visited Galveston many times, though admittedly most often because we were on our way to Galveston State Park or Moody Gardens. When we did occasionally find our way downtown, we would stroll up and down The Strand, look in a few stores and maybe stop for an ice cream before heading home.
A few weeks ago, Tim suggested we celebrate his birthday during a weekend stay in Galveston. Since it only takes 1.5 hours to drive there, it’s the perfect location for a short stay. He actually chose the destination based on an ad he had seen for the Tremont House, a Wyndham hotel. I had to look it up, of course, and immediately understood what had appealed to him.
Whenever we travel, we spend very little time in the hotel. The goal for us is always to see and learn as much as possible during our visit, which means we normally spend the whole day out and about. The hotel is secondary up until we return, normally in an energy depleted state and in search of some soft furnishings and pleasant surroundings. We may not spend much time in it, but the hotel is always a big part of every trip and I’ve noticed that I remember it as easily as I do everything else we experienced.
The Tremont House was a real find. The building it occupies was constructed in 1879 and was known as the Leon & H. Blum Building, headquarters of a large company focused on the import and wholesale of dry goods. The company went under in 1896, after which the building hosted a number of tenants, including the 50 year stay of the Galveston Tribune. George and Cynthia Woods Mitchell, well known Galveston preservationists, bought it in 1981 with the aim of turning it into a hotel. The Tremont House opened in 1985.
The hotel isn’t as large as it might look from the outside. The reception area is quite small, as is the small cafe which serves as the hotel’s only eating area. What is spectacular about the hotel though is the design. The large central lobby area, featuring a bar that is especially inviting after a walk around town on a cold evening, is spectacular. It opens up to a glass ceiling four floors up, which also offers light to the rooms in the interior portion of the hotel. The color scheme is striking. Definitely a space with flair!
Another area of the hotel that requires a visit is the roof top bar. Since it was such a cold day, and we were afraid they might close it, we went straight there after checking in. The heating lamps were being turned on as we arrived, which was fortunate because the cold wind certainly made itself felt. We stayed long enough to enjoy a drink and take in the views of Galveston.
Next up was a pleasant stroll along The Strand with a meal to be enjoyed at the end. It turned out that Galveston was very nearly devoid of people, presumably due to the weather. As I don’t particularly enjoy crowds, that was fine with me and I happily set about taking pictures. Tim was, I think, shivering a bit more than me and became very interested in locating a place to eat. To be fair, the cold air was starting to get to me as well.
We decided on a little restaurant, set back from the street, that looked bright and inviting. Shrimp N Stuff offered an extensive list of menu items and we were very satisfied with our shrimp linguine and fried catfish. Our attentive waitress turned out to be Russian so Tim seized the chance to use what he could remember from his high school Russian language class.
Back at the hotel, the bar beckoned and we found a place to sit for a while, listening to some relaxing jazz played by Trio du Jour. They apparently play on a regular basis and are very popular - as attested by a fully occupied lobby. The next morning, we chose to have breakfast in the Tremont cafe. Judging by their menu, we could probably have eaten dinner there the night before and had a perfectly enjoyable meal.
First on our list of activities for the day was a visit to the Galveston Seaport Museum. The main attraction for us was the 1877 tall ship Elissa. Built in Aberdeen, Scotland, she roamed the world’s oceans for 90 years serving as a cargo ship. During those years, she made two visits to Galveston, a fact that would one day save her from the salvage yard. When we arrived, a group of highly committed Elissa volunteers were being trained on board the ship and we chose to see the museum first, so we wouldn’t interrupt the work.
The museum itself was maybe a little bit of a disappointment. It doesn’t have many items on display, although I would expect the collection probably grows a little every year. They did have a portrait on display of one of the ship captains who served on the Elissa when she sailed under a Norwegian flag.
The captain was born in Tonsberg and Elissa was based out of Larvik, both towns located only a few miles away from my own home town in Norway. Knowing this made it a little extra special when we stepped onto Elissa’s deck. What makes the museum itself a necessary stop is the 20 minute movie they show about her history. It’s essential that you see it if you want a truly meaningful experience. What a beautiful story this ship has. See the movie! Elissa herself was beautiful, especially with all the sails out. I would love to have a chance to be on board one day when she does a trip around the harbor.
The museum does offer daily one-hour harbor tours on a smaller motorized boat. Due to the aforementioned weather, Tim wasn’t so sure we would enjoy the tour, but because they usually come across dolphins, I really didn’t want to miss the opportunity. As it turned out, we caught a few glimpses of dolphin fins, but that was about it. I was perfectly fine with that because we had an opportunity to see so many other amazing things instead.
First up was a little side trip to visit a small fishing fleet harbor. This seemed a hugely popular area for both brown and white pelicans. It seems the brown pelicans are year long residents while the white ones migrate down from their breeding grounds up north. I don’t know much about pelicans, but it was interesting to note that the brown variety seemed very comfortable around people, while the white variety kept a distance.
After this we passed by a variety of different ships, including a coast guard ship, tug boats, and the Bolivar ferries coming in to dock. There’s non-stop activity in the harbor so you could easily be entertained by pulling into a parking lot to watch all the comings and goings. Once we reached the ship channel, we started seeing the enormous container ships and oil tankers lining up to enter and exit.
The most amazing experience was the discovery that there is a concrete ship, sunk intentionally in 1922, on the side of the channel! When our ship’s captain announced that we were coming up to a concrete ship, I initially assumed he was joking. He had kept us all entertained with a constant stream of funny statements so I thought he was just testing us for gullibility. Once I saw the rusting rebar lining the sides of the ship, I started wondering if it had just been made right there as some form of amusement. Researching it when we arrived home that evening, I found that the SS Selma and 11 other concrete ships were built in Mobile, Alabama in 1919. Click on this link for some amazing drone footage of the SS Selma.
Before returning to the hotel, we decided to spend a little time exploring The Strand in daylight. There are some absolutely beautiful buildings in downtown Galveston! So while Tim wandered along the street pondering the lack of stores that appeal to males, I was busy aiming my camera up at the decorative details of the buildings.
After picking up our car at the hotel, we drove over to the Historic Galveston Pleasure Pier. I have no love of stomach churning rides, least of all anything that turns you upside down, but I do enjoy anything that results in some fun photos. Especially if they’re colorful photos.
I had entertained an idea that we might get on one of the kid friendly rides - my version of being daring - but that didn’t seem to conform with any of Tim’s ideas about fun activities. Instead, we went for a walk on the beach and enjoyed the beautiful view.