Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fun in Fredericksburg

Nestled in the heart of the Hill Country is one of our favorite Texas towns, Fredericksburg, and that is the location we chose for our first romantic weekend getaway as a married couple. We stayed in the Oak View Room at The Inn on the Creek, a lovely bed and breakfast one block off Main Street. The creek itself was quite beautiful and provided lush greenery to shade the parking area.

The Oak View Room is named for, you guessed it, a beautiful view of an oak tree. This is not just any oak tree, however. This lovely oak is over 400 years old. It’s so old and heavy that the Inn place a large metal pole under the lowest hanging branch for support.

We checked into our room early Friday evening. The first thing I noticed as we entered the front hallway was how good it smelled and how cool it was inside. The room, decorated in a matte green, iron four-poster bed and antiques, was lush with beautifully colored fabrics and satiny linens.

Attention was paid to every detail. The beautiful dark hardwood floors were cool under the feet, and the shower was fitted with a very large showerhead and four side jet sprays. The 12-foot ceilings gave the room a feeling of space, and the antique lamps with their fabric-colored lampshades radiated a warm glow throughout the lovely bedroom.

We dined that evening at Andy’s Steak & Seafood Grill. Although I was certain I wanted steak, the seafood buffet called to me, and I could not resist. We filled our plates high with fried catfish, fried shrimp, fried oysters, boiled shrimp and crab. Megan, our server, was a comedian of sorts, complimenting our choice of the ‘boo-fay”. The food was good and the price was even better. Gene and I waddled out of Andy’s and headed back to the Inn.

Needing to walk off some of our over-abundance, we left the Inn and headed back to Main Street, strolling along, window shopping, until we came upon Berkman Books, specializing in Texas books, antique books and used books. Gene and I love book stores and enjoyed milling about the store, each in our own favorite sections. We made our purchases and headed back to Inn on the Creek for the night.

Awaking to the smell of bacon cooking, we dressed and headed down the hallway to the kitchen. We were greeted by Joyce, the hostess and cook. The breakfast table was set with fashionable red-flowered place settings paired with matching cloth napkins, and once again, attention was paid to the smallest detail, right down to the red-beaded napkin holders. The small crystal-cut stemware was filled with fresh-squeezed orange juice along with larger matching water glasses.

Our breakfast companions included three delightful women, all belonging to a larger book club. The club was staying at various B&Bs and had chosen Fredericksburg as this year’s annual meeting trip. As Debbie, one of the members, explained, each month, a different member of this Houston book club selects a book for the group to read and a restaurant at which to meet and discuss the book. Each August, the book club selects a different city to travel to together as their meeting site. Along with the book club members was a couple, about our age, who were also from Austin. Our conversation was animated and interesting.

The gourmet breakfast kicked off with a fruit medley topped with vanilla yogurt, and included delicious scrambled eggs made with onions and peppers, blueberry pancakes, mini-sweet rolls, and of course, savory bacon. The meal was filling and delighted our taste buds. The company was also entertaining.

Next, it was off to the Fredericksburg Trade Days flea market. Barn buildings housed the vendor booths and their ware. Gene found me a wonderful straw hat to shade me from the hot sun, along with antique door hardware for our 100-year old home in Austin. We walked around, browsing all the antiques and goodies.

From there, we drove over to Cranky Frank’s Barbeque Company on Highway 87. With a name like Cranky Frank’s, we had to try the food. We discovered that Cranky Frank was the 7-year old son of the owners, Dan and Kala Martin. One of the most difficult things at Cranky Frank’s was trying to make a decision about what to eat. I had a brisket platter, while Gene opted for ribs. In both cases, the meat was so tender, it fell apart. The atmosphere was rustic and the service was friendly. Next to the indoor dining room was a large screened room running the length of building, filled with several gigantic smoking pits. A great choice for lunch!

After lunch, we indulged in a short nap to recharge before heading back to the shops on Main Street. First stop was the wine shop, Texas Vineyards & Beyond, to buy a bottle of wine as a gift for a co-worker. Not knowing much about wines, we asked a man behind the counter for his advice. He turned out to be the winemaker, Martin Santamaria, owner of Santa Maria Cellars. We bought my friend a Private Collection, 2008 Limited Edition, Pinot Grigio, and Martin signed the bottle.

Another notable stop was a visit to Fredericksburg Jewelers. As Gene spoke to the owner about a turquoise-and-gold ring he’d nearly bought many years ago in Scottsdale, Arizona at Gilbert Ortega’s, a very famous purveyor of Native American Indian jewelry, the young man became very animated. It turns out that the late Gilbert Ortega was his uncle. The young owner, Joe Aysheh, reminisced with Gene about the history of his family’s jewelry business. Although Joe didn’t have a ring like Gene was searching for, he did have lots of beautiful pieces I was interested in. Imagine that! I found a lovely pendant with a deep maroon garnet stone set in brushed sterling silver with 18-karat gold accents that seemed to call me by name. My generous husband bought the piece for me and to our delight, Joe gave us a great discount.

One place we always stop while in Fredericksburg is Fredericksburg Fudge – a must for chocolate fudge lovers!

After stuffing ourselves so full at breakfast and lunch, we simply had no room for dinner, so we stayed in Saturday evening, viewed all our great buys, nibbled at fruit and chocolate and lounged. It felt very indulgent, very relaxing.

Once again, the next morning, the aroma of bacon tickled our nostrils, beckoning for us to seek out its source. Joyce and the book club gals greeted us as we entered the dining room. We sat down to our first course of an apple cinnamon coffee cake served in a long-stemmed fruit cup. The eggs were cooked in the shape of a biscuit and contained potato, onions and peppers covered in a creamy sauce. With the eggs were two biscuits, fresh melon, and bacon.

The night before, I read in a room journal, made by previous guests, a suggestion to ask Joyce to tell the story of why you should never go to sleep in a car. As we ate, I asked Joyce to share her story with us.

Joyce and her husband, who lived in Los Angeles at the time, went on a cross-country trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico with their little poodle. It was dark, about 8:00 p.m., and the couple stopped for gas at a station in Barstow, California. Joyce had already told her husband she was going to lay down for a nap, and she got in the back seat. Her husband went inside the station and while he was there, Joyce realized she hadn’t walked the dog to relieve himself. She got out with the dog and walked to a grassy area.

Meanwhile, Joyce’s husband got back into the car, and not wanting to disturb his wife, said nothing, just continued down the road. Joyce walked back to the gas pump and was shocked their car was no longer there. Her purse was in the car, along with all her money, so there was no way to call ahead to Albuquerque or back home to L.A.

Nearby was an all-night diner that allowed Joyce to come inside with her little dog. That night, Joyce waited and waited with the dog on her lap. Realizing what must’ve happened, Joyce knew her husband wouldn’t find her until he stopped for the night, so she asked to use the diner’s phone to call the Highway Patrol. Overhearing the conversation, the waitresses whispered about her, sure that her husband had left her on purpose. On the phone, Joyce could hear the sheriff say to the dispatcher, “He probably meant to do that.” Apparently, a woman getting dumped in Barstow by her boyfriend or husband was a somewhat common occurrence.

Meanwhile, Joyce’s husband stopped in Flagstaff, Arizona, nearly five hours away from Barstow and opened the back door of the car, only find an empty seat. He was as alarmed as Joyce had been, and since it was before the days of cell phones, he first called home. Joyce had already called and finally gotten one of her teenaged children around 1:00 a.m., after they’d gotten back home from drinking with their friends (partying it up since Mom and Dad were out of town). Joyce told her children what happened and asked them to come get her. Being too drunk to drive, it was close to 8:00 a.m. before one of them showed up at the diner.

Joyce’s husband had already talked with the kids and knew the situation. When he called back after Joyce returned home, she told him to drive on to Albuquerque, and she would take a flight from L.A. to meet him. This time, she left the dog with her kids, borrowed money from a good friend and neighbor, and flew to Albuquerque. When she arrived, her husband wasn’t there. She could not believe it! In fact, she was getting angry. Her husband, who hadn’t changed his watch to the new time zone, showed up an hour late to the gate to pick her up.

Joyce says he’s still making it up to her all these years later, as she waved her hand glittering with pretty diamond rings.

We said our goodbyes to Joyce and the book club ladies, wishing one another a good life. After loading the car, we dropped off our keys at the main office and drove around the residential neighborhoods of Fredericksburg, where we came upon an old milling compound. There were interesting old houses, a water mill and a windmill with a sign that read, “The Old Mill”, yet there were no cars or signs. We stopped an asked an elderly lady walking her dog what type of facility this was. She told us it was an old mill acquired by the owners of SAS Shoes, a national shoe chain, who had fixed the place up and opened it to public. After years of mistreatment from the public, the owners shut the mill down and opened it up only to the use of SAS employees.

We drove back into town, hoping to tour the art galleries, but it appeared none were open, at least not within a reasonable timeframe for us to wait. So, we headed home, veering off our route for a side trip to Blanco, Texas to browse a few more antique stores. From there, we drove through the lovely Hill Country roads back to our home sweet home in Austin.

Dorothy was right – There’s no place like home!

Road Trip, Y’all!!

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