It has been over a year since we were last home in the United States. So much has occurred since our move to Turkey. As the covid-19 pandemic took hold of the world, opportunities to travel abroad were restricted, making it impossible to visit family. Once restrictions were lifted, we booked our flight to Texas.
Texas is the second-biggest state in the United States, occupying approximately 268,000 square miles, almost the same size as the country Turkey. With family spread out across the state, it was necessary to rent a car. Traveling by car is the best way to explore the Lone Star State, giving more flexibility to move about more quickly.
Arriving in Houston late evening, we decided to stay the night at the Embassy Suites Eldridge Park. The accommodations were comfortable, with a full breakfast included in our room.
At sunrise, we packed up the car and headed to my hometown of Victoria, Texas.
Happy to see my grandmother’s smiling face and hear her giggle as she welcomed us into her home. She was looking amazing and beautiful at 94 years old. We quickly began our catching up on smalltown news of Victoria and family affairs.
My Grandmother, Mydra
Our schedule stayed jam-packed visiting family and friends. My parents, grandmother, brothers, and their family gathered at Sky Restaurant for a welcoming party.
Our dear friend Tanya hosted a friendly social at Yamato Sushi where friends welcomed us home, eager to ask us about our experience of living in Turkey.
Abe and Heidi hosted an elaborate picnic dinner at their new home at Coleto Lake.
Tanya and many friends at Yamato Sushi
Abe and Heidi's picnic at lake house
Dinner with Doug.
Coffee with Kim
Lunch with Pat
I loved my time with my dear friends!
Now it was time to hit the interstate to Dallas, a 6-hour drive.
As we made our way to Dallas, we stopped in Waco for a quick bite to eat at Rudy’s BBQ. Ordering our favorite plate of brisket, we were shocked at the prices! Due to the pandemic and a cyber-attack on meat processing plants in the U.S., the cost of meat doubled ($21lb.). Even so, we indulged in a delicious plate of brisket!
Yummy BBQ Brisket
A popular travelers-stop to visit in Texas is called Buc-ee’s. You may ask what the big deal about this Texas-size store is, but until you experience it, you won’t understand. In addition to your typical convenience store items, inside, you will find a complete meat market, restaurant, along with unique gifts and specialty Buc-ee’s items.
Fun roadside stop at Buc-ee's
After miles of road construction, heavy rain, and lots of traffic, we arrived at Farouk’s and Donia’s (home of Omar’s brother) safely. A family favorite restaurant is Culpepper’s Steakhouse, where we had a delightful dinner over conversations about family, politics, and other pandemic-related topics.
Culpepper's Steakhouse with Farouk and Donia
Family get-together at Primo's Tex-Mex Grill
The Harbor in Rockwall (credit:terrelldaily.com)
Evening walk with family.
Great weekend with Ross.
While living in Dallas for a short time, we made many friends. Therefore, throughout the week, we scheduled visits with friends catching up and sharing our experience of living abroad.
Mackie and Allen
Gene and Margaret
Teri and Tom
The next stop was Austin to visit our other children, Sharif, Jennifer, and Nick. Because we had planned to stay for a week in Austin over the July 4th holidays, so we sought an alternative option for accommodations.
We became a member of Trusted House Sitters that offer house/pet sitting in various cities throughout the world. The first sit, located in Steiner Ranch, was fabulous. Kathy and Mark were hospitable and a pleasure to be around them and their two well-mannered two golden retrievers.
Pet sitting in Steiner Ranch
Historical Davis Cemetery
Our second sit in Austin was in Allendale. Heather and Michael, who had two adorable Shih Tzu pups, welcomed us into their home. While sitting over the July 4th weekend, we were able to partake in the neighborhood celebrations. Near the house is the historical Davis Cemetery, which had tombs dating back over 100 years.
We drove up to Bee Cave (west of Austin) to the Hill Country Galleria, attending their July 4th festivities. Vendors lined the streets selling homemade goods, jewelry, artwork and so much more. Throughout the Galleria, artistic bee sculptures lined the walkway.
July 4th Festivities
Enjoying the traditional hotdog on July 4th!
July 4th isn’t complete without a scrumptious savory hotdog! So, we stopped at the Whole Foods booth, ordering up a few hotdogs while enjoying the live music. With temperatures in the high 90s, a drink to quench your thirst was essential. Runaway Luna, a cute coffee/tea shop, offered a refreshing lavender tea with a relaxing place to lounge.
Omar and I having fun!
Bee Sculptures at Hill Country Galleria
Sipping lavender tea at Runaway Luna.
Back to Austin
Jennifer and her boyfriend, Ryan, met us at The Boat Restaurant for a plate of salty oysters. Ryan invited us to his home that evening for a few matches of ping pong (table tennis). The following day Omar met with Sharif and Jennifer, catching up with their life activities.
Eating oysters at The Boat Restaurant
Playing a game of table tennis (ping pong).
Sharif, Omar, and Jennifer
Next, we popped in to see Nick at his apartment. Then we took him to Fonda San Miguel, a beautiful restaurant offering distinctive and authentic Mexican cuisine. The following night, we met up at Bufalina Pizza, offering Neapolitan-style pies along with an impressive variety of wine. After dinner, we walked next door to Licks Honest Ice Cream for pure ingredients artisanal ice cream. A couple of days later, before leaving Austin, Nick joined us at Tumble 22, serving up spicy fried chicken. Time flew by, but it was wonderful to spend time with Nick and listening to him telling us about his new job.
Nick, Omar and I at Fonda San Miguel
Fonda San Miguel
Licks Honest Ice Cream
Tumble 22 Fried Chicken
Tasty lunch at Tumble 22
Bernard and Wondra
Wondra's book, Sonju
Proud of her father’s talent in cooking Lebanese food, Jennifer arranged a dinner party for her friends for a beautiful evening of fellowship and delicious food. Both Ross and Nick were able to attend and celebrate. Omar did a fantastic job, and it was a lovely dinner.
As we returned to Victoria for one last visit, we stopped in the small town of Lockhart to eat lunch at Black’s BBQ. It is one of the oldest family-owned BBQ restaurants in Texas. So if you want some mouthwatering BBQ, this is the place to check out!
With only four days left of our vacation, we had a few more family and friends to see in Houston before flying back to Turkey. We stayed near the Houston Galleria Mall at Sonesta Extended Stay.
Li, a filmmaker from California, was in town working on a documentary and joined us for dinner at Merus Grill to fill us in on the progress of the documentary. Dr. Khail and Doug, long-time soccer friends of Omar’s, met for lunch at Pappa Seafood House. Ray, whom we met at an international meetup, joined us at Barnaby’s Cafe. We think highly of our friends and are happy to have had the time to visit with them.
Evening with Li at Merus Grill
Dr. Khalil and Doug
Enjoying lunch with Ray
Spending time with Chuck, Randi, and Lennon
Our “trailblazing” across the Lone Star State was quite the whirlwind. We circled this route twice, covering over 4,000 miles, but it was a tremendous joy to have spent time with our family and friends.
Our 5-week vacation went by fast, and we want to thank all those that offered their home or took time out of their day to meet with us.
We wish everyone health and happiness! Please read my blogs about other exciting places around the world at Traveling Lens Photography.
Inshallah (God willing!)