Every now and then, we all need a break from the rigors of the everyday grind, because, let’s face it, the gears sure do grind you. My wife, Rachel, and I recently took an extended-weekend vacation to help escape that reality, if only for a brief moment. As I type this, we’re four days removed from the trip, proving just how busy I am to even sit down and collect my thoughts sometimes.
We could have gone almost anywhere for this getaway, and there certainly were plenty of choices on our list. With only four days to work with — three, if you exclude the return day which almost always eats into time and enjoyment — we ultimately decided to go with somewhere warm and beachy, and chose Galveston, Texas, for our destination.
Galveston is a city of more than 47,000 people, located on a small island off the southeast coast of Texas that borders the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a little more than an hour drive southeast of Houston, which is where our plane landed early Friday morning. Rachel’s sister, Brooke, and her husband, Shane, picked us up from the airport and we all drove together to Galveston.
Our hotel was beautiful. A broad, wide building overlooking the Gulf’s shoreline, it was across the street from the beach and down the road from some of the “hotspots” in the area. The pool scene was nice, complete with a modest water slide, a swim-up bar, and a friendly staff seemingly eager to help and grateful for gratuity.
When we had arrived and checked in, we took a walk around the premises and had lunch at the Rainforest Cafe next door. Ignoring the loud waterfall behind us and the swinging apes overhead, it was a good place to grab some grub. We strolled along the beach afterward, took a quick dip in the pool, and then crashed on the lounge chairs for a while. By nightfall, we drove a short distance up the coast to a small town called Kemah, and we visited their boardwalk for some fun.
We walked in and out of some shops and I bought a pair of sunglasses because I left mine at home — smooth move, Ace. Who doesn’t bring sunglasses on a sunny vacation? We played the water-shooting target game that you will find at most carnivals — Rachel won; I think she cheated. We also ate ice cream, watched some fireworks, and — my personal favorite — we sat in an open-air restaurant overlooking a channel off Clear Lake, sipping Margaritas and catching up on life.
On Saturday, after sleeping in for some ever-so-needed rest, we headed back north toward Houston to visit the Johnson Space Center to experience a bit of NASA. We walked around looking at different exhibits, reading placards and seeing artifacts from space missions of the past. My NASA knowledge has always been limited to three space flights: Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded shortly after takeoff in 1986, Apollo 11, which was the flight that landed Neil Armstrong on the moon, and Apollo 13, which was intended to land on the moon but could not due to numerous ship failures. Apollo 13, of course, was popularized by the 1995 Tom Hanks film. But after visiting the Johnson Space Center, I was able to learn just a little bit more about the space program.
In addition to walking around, we also sat down for an interesting half-hour show where we were given insight into how an astronaut eats, sleeps, and goes to the bathroom — among other things — while in space. We also learned that due to limited water supply, astronauts will drink recycled urine…
Let me give you a moment to let that sink in…
The woman giving the presentation noted that it’s actually cleaner and more purified than regular drinking water, but … I think I’ll stick to being a web developer here on earth.
My favorite part of our day in Houston was the tram tour we took around the base. We started off visiting Building 30 — also known as the Christopher C. Kraft building — where the Mission Control Center is. We had the option of going to the new mission control or the historic one before we departed and we went with the latter. I have nothing against what NASA is currently doing, but there’s something special and nostalgic about history.
We got to sit in the viewing room overlooking the mission controls room where all the action took place. As I mentioned previously, two of the spaceflights I was most familiar with were Apollo 11 and 13. Neil Armstrong actually spoke to the men in this room from the surface of the moon. And while Apollo 13’s crew was fighting for survival in space, there were frantic men scrambling about in this room trying to save them — as depicted by Hanks’ movie. Apparently, the film wasn’t shot in the actual mission control room. As Wikipedia states: “NASA offered the use of the control room for filming but [director Ron] Howard declined, opting instead to make his own replica from scratch.” It would have been neat if it had been filmed there, but the real event is even more special.
After the missions control, the tram took us to see the Saturn V rocket, the vehicle which launched the Apollo ships into space. The rocket is 363 feet tall, and when it’s on its side — which is how we saw it — it is almost exactly the length of a football field from the back of one end zone to the other. One yard longer than a football field, to be exact.
Saturday night after the trip to Houston, we had a nice dinner in an Italian restaurant inside the hotel before calling it a night.
After the go-go-go of Friday and Saturday, we used Sunday for rest and relaxation, spending hours on end soaking up the sun while sitting poolside. The Texas heat was so strong that we actually started dripping sweat immediately and uncontrollably within minutes of being in the sun. We had to take several dips in the pool to cool off, which was refreshing but didn’t exactly “cool” our body temperature, considering the water was lukewarm as if we were sitting in a bathtub.
We ate dinner Sunday night at a bar and grill down the street from our hotel, and we watched Bridget Jones’s Diary late at night before going to bed — this wasn’t a choice, it was a lack of options, I assure you. We had to be awake at two in the morning, so it was kind of odd to be watching the movie — well, that, and it is an odd movie to begin with — but we eventually passed out for a short couple of hours before getting up and heading back to the airport.
The only good thing about waking up in the wee hours of the morning for a flight is that you get home with enough time to enjoy the rest of the day, which is exactly what Rachel and I did when we arrived at our house around noon on Monday.
The trip was brief, as it was to be expected, but I’m thankful that we got the opportunity to get away for a while. We had a great time with Brooke and Shane, got a little R&R, recouped some of the tan we lost from our honeymoon nearly two months ago, and, yes, even learned a little bit as well.