Texas Traveler: Antiquing and Christmas Lights in Galveston

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By the time you read this, Texas Traveler will be well on our way to deep West Texas for the first time, on a road trip that will culminate in Big Bend on New Year's Eve. We've been planning this trip for a while now, and because of that we've tended to stick close to home for the last few Texas Traveler trips.

Which is why we decided a day on the island would make the perfect getaway from the stress of the holidays here in the big city. The plan was this: hit up a couple of junk stores, eat some raw oysters, then head over to Moody Gardens to see the Festival of Lights and a few other exhibits currently hosted by the behemoth entertainment facility.
Can you believe Texas Traveler has never been to Moody Gardens?

Cold weather and a light sprinkle weren't enough to stop us from heading south (though we did make a pit stop at Baybrook Mall to try on some hiking boots). We got to Galveston just around 2 p.m. and headed to one of the few junk stores on the central part of the island that don't trade exclusively in faux Victorian shabby chic.

Texas Traveler loves our nice, quiet beach community -- we just don't get down there enough lately. Sadly, business on the island, at least businesses away from the Strand, are still struggling from the effects of Ike coupled with the lagging economy. Half the junk shops on our Google map were no longer open, though we did find a few gems. Collector's Gallery is a co-op with a lot of cool stuff, including hard-to-find vintage Christmas decorations, but prices that were kind of high. Nautical Antiques & Decor, though very specialized, also has a lot of cool stuff (enough oars to man a Viking ship, fish floats, tiki carvings, figureheads). Their new location just off the Strand, a much larger and less-cluttered warehouse than their old building near Broadway, still doesn't have electricity, but they're open anyway.

We were also kicked out of two places that decided to close early, including the huge Salvation Army thrift shop on Broadway. Fine. You decide to close early, we'll decide to take our money elsewhere. But the owner of a nice little shop called Island Relics, around the corner from the Salvation Army, offered us maple candy and played Andrews Sisters records while we shopped.

At Collector's Gallery we got a few recommendations for places to get raw oysters, and ended up at Fisherman's Wharf, probably not the best food (and certainly overpriced at $1 an oyster) but it allowed us to sit in the bar and sip St. Arnold's Elissas in the shadow of the beer's namesake tall ship. Texas Traveler often has an argument with our traveling companion about whether to eat at the bar in restaurants. We like to sit there for a few reasons -- if you're traveling, it's a good way to socialize with locals, and in general, service is better at the bar since your server is a captive audience.

That's how we found out about the Festival of Lights in Dickinson. Our bartender told us her sister, also an islander, had been to Dickinson and came back reporting the small town's Christmas lights festival was much better than Moody Gardens'.

"They even give you glasses that, when you look at the lights, make the lights look like the shapes of snowmen. And it's free!"

The f-word was all Texas Traveler needed to hear. Entrance to Moody Gardens is, after all, a whopping $35.95. Plus, Dickinson was on the way home, so why not give the underdog a shot?

We [paid our tab, our server conferred with her boss to get us directions, and soon we were shooting back up 45 on our way to FM 517. And then the rain started. And it was raining hard. The Dickinson Festival of Lights is a walking tour, but we were resigned to checking it out anyway. What's a little rain.

Turns out the City of Dickinson doesn't feel the same. We found the park easily, right around the corner from the 517 exit, but were shooed away by cops who told us the exhibit was closing early. Three hours early.

One can't argue with getting kicked out of three different places in one day because the workers want to go home early. So Texas Traveler went home early too. Luckily, it's still possible to extend that holiday feeling, all the way through next weekend, because both Moody Gardens' and Dickenson's festivals of lights are open through Saturday. Moody Gardens is open until 10 p.m. Dickinson's festival is open until 9:30 p.m., pending weather, apparently.

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