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History and photos

By Bob Nesoff

I'm sure we've all heard it many times: “You can't go back.” I tried to return to the town I grew up in and was sorely disappointed. It had been a great summer community and the year-round residents knew each other at least casually.

Visiting other resorts after being away for several years often had the same result. Things change and are no longer what we remember. But that was not true of an island many years after a visit.

Galveston!

Despite its place in the modern world, Fort Worth holds on to its past as a cattle town. In the historic Stockyards district, you can witness a daily cattle drive. Shop at a western clothing store frequented by real cowboys. And for those feeling a little more adventurous, stay at the Stockyards Hotel and ask for the suite once occupied by Bonnie and Clyde.

Nearby Dallas is even more sophisticated today than it was years ago. No personality. No coziness. Just glass and concrete. But Galveston? That's a pure business town. It's a completely different Texas.

If you fly to Texas to visit Galveston, you will land at either Hobby Airport or George Bush Airport. Both are just over an hour's drive from Galveston.

Perhaps it is because of its location off the coast of Texas and in the Gulf of Mexico that the island has maintained a sense of independence. However, this location has been a double-edged sword. In 1900, the island was hit by a devastating hurricane that destroyed much of the island and its infrastructure. The island has been rebuilt and is now a very thriving community with something for everyone.

There are countless hotels, motels and places to stay, but one of the most enticing is Moody Gardens, a very modern but inviting resort hotel. When you wake up in the morning, you might think you've accidentally been transported to Cairo, Egypt overnight. If you look out the window, you'll see three enormous pyramids. But these structures aren't made of huge blocks of stone that were somehow moved into place by slaves. Rather, they're made of glass. And there's a reason for that.

One of the pyramids is home to an amazing tropical rainforest, which is home to virtually every plant and creature you would find in a real rainforest. This is a must-see. Wooden ramps take you on an easy hike through the forest. Take your time and breathe it all in. The birds and animals roam freely, but are separated from visitors. One big caveat: wear light clothing, as the humidity in this pyramid is truly comparable to that in a real rainforest.

Another of the three is an aquarium with a variety of creatures, starting with a spoonbill-stork-like bird with long, thin legs and a beak shaped like a spoon, which makes it easier to pick up its meal.

You will also see a rare and endangered Komodo dragon, which was an unusual but coveted dish for rich Japanese. You don't want to pet these guys as they could make you a rare meal.

Some of the birds and small mammals are free to roam the promenade with you. But please do not touch them.

A small seal likes to get ready for the visitors. It stretches out on the artificial rocks and appears to be sunbathing. Then it swims away again and returns a moment later. The sea creatures in the aquarium are probably healthier and better fed than their counterparts in the open sea. And they have a lot of freedom of movement.

The smaller of the three areas is aimed at the younger generation, offering interactive exhibits and countless activities that the kids will enjoy if you can tear them away from the rainforest and aquarium.

But there is much more to see and do in Galveston. Restaurants offer food to suit a variety of tastes, prepared by chefs who would be at home in any Michelin-starred restaurant.

Bars and microbreweries offer excellent beer and other drinks. One has a secret backyard for invited guests.

Galveston is steeped in history. In earlier times, there were many pirates here, as the proximity to the open sea offered a quick escape. Jean LaFitte, the Jewish pirate famous for defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans, had his headquarters here for a time. Unfortunately, there are no rumors of any treasure he might have hidden.

Galveston is also famous for a modern day holiday. Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The slaves in Galveston never learned of this because the Civil War was still raging. After Robert E. Lee's surrender, when things returned to normal in 1865, the slaves in Galveston learned that they should have been declared free men and women two years earlier.

The date of its realization, June 19, or “Juneteenth,” as the freed slaves locally called it, was declared National Independence Day and is now a federal holiday.

No single article can do Galveston justice. The island hosts a carnival in The Strand section. There is a fabulous arts center that often hosts talented local artists. The Galveston Symphony Orchestra, which consists of both professional and amateur musicians, is known for its performances.

One of the largest water parks in the country, Schlitterbahn, is located across from the Moody Gardens Hotel.

For an island with only about 53,000 permanent residents, it is truly a destination to look forward to.

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