There are many ways of getting around a city, including rental car, trolley, bus, subway, etc., but for me, my favorite way has to be the battery operated 2-wheeler known as a Segway. I didn’t realize that my flirtation last year in a remote region of Salamanca, Spain with such a vehicle would foreshadow my chance to actually experience a 12 mile journey around the city of Galveston, Texas via Segway Tours.
My first time using this battery powered vehicle that can survive 26 miles without a charge and reach top speeds of 12.5 miles an hour was only as far as going about a 100 feet. Yet to see and appreciate to the fullest this Texas Gulf Coast city in a less tiring way while covering lots of ground over the course of about 1 hour and 45 minutes, a Segway was truly needed!
Learning To Be One With The Segway
I got lessons from the city’s friendly and down to earth Segway proprietor named Daryl Fectau. He’s had blood relatives who lived in Galveston as far back as the 1850’s and is very proud of his family tradition, as they helped build much of the city and have been also involved in education and medical professions, too. Taking a Segway tour with Daryl isn’t some dry fact-laden hodge podge of “this is building is this, and the next building is that”, for you see, Fectau is able to breathe life into the places we visited because a great part of his and his family’s lives took place at the venues I was about to encounter by 2-wheeler.
Just like the first time using the Segway in Spain, I had trouble learning the turning motions after stepping on the 90 pound vehicle. I had initial trouble keeping balanced, but the great thing about this machine is that even someone like me can master it in just a few minutes, thanks to the instructions given by Daryl. I did think I was trying his patience initially though because of my dexterity problems, but he took it in stride.
What’s so cool about the Segway is that once the easy steps of getting on, turning around, and moving forward and backward as well as stopping are mastered, the machine felt as if it were a part of my body!
Now while the streets of Galveston may not be as dangerously crowded with automobiles like some really big metropolis such as New York or Los Angeles, one still has to exercise caution when riding on the streets, especially in yielding to oncoming cars, whose drivers gave us some funny looks as we shared the hard pavement with them for much of our 12 miles of touring. The ride felt for the most part very smooth, and when approaching bumps, just going slower really helped lessen the impact by leaning a bit backwards, while leaning forward sped up the Segway.
Galveston Is Recovering Well
We covered many historic businesses and homes in the areas of downtown, the East End, The Strand, as well as both waterfronts of Galveston. The waterfront part of our tour included Seawall Blvd. that runs parallel to the Gulf of Mexico. As we toured this very long street, Daryl talked about the effects of last September’s Hurricane Ike on this part of the city. Much of the debris has been cleaned up and most of the businesses looked pretty normal (other than some exterior damage) and were open, but remnants of the great storm still lingered. Luckily for Galveston’s most historic hotel, The Hotel Galvez, it basically only suffered roof damage even though it directly faces the Gulf. Not far from that hotel was another hotel that juts out into the ocean: it wasn’t so lucky and was still waiting to pick itself up again. Nonetheless, I could feel the vibrancy and comeback spirit of Galveston as I toured those 12 miles. The residents here have a resilience about them to come back after a disaster, just like they did after the 1900 Hurricane caused some 8,000 deaths (Katrina claimed roughly 1,800 in comparison) and destroyed over 3,600 homes.
We toured around the inner harbor of the Intracoastal Waterway where such attractions as the Tall Ship Elissa (more about that below) and the city’s fish markets like Katie’s exist that supply restaurants with some of the best seafood I’ve ever tasted!
As for stray dogs, they have been known to chase Segway riders, but Daryl had already scouted some of our route earlier in the day checking to see if a certain mean-looking dog was chained up, which it was as it was barking ferociously as we glided past it. We looked like a small Segway platoon navigating the streets, driving them confidently as if they were some big bad Texas pick up trucks, which seem to be the most dominant form of the state’s transportation! While Segways are great to get around Galveston, I’d strongly advise wearing a warm jacket on cool days when the wind is coming off strong from the Gulf of Mexico because there’s no interior to shield riders from the elements.
Three Transportation-Themed Galveston Venues Not To Miss
After Hurricane Ike hit the Galveston area, one of the biggest questions that was asked afterwards regarded a sailing vessel: “How did Elissa make out?” Sailing enthusiasts were relieved to hear that just only one sail needed to be replaced and the top railing and steering box needed worked on. The Elissa is the 1877 Official Tall Ship of Texas (also a National Historic Landmark) which carried commercial goods all over the world for over 90 years before being retired and eventually was brought back to the States for several years’ worth of restoration, beginning around the early 1970’s. What I found most interesting about touring this boat is that it’s part of the Texas Seaport Museum when it’s not being actively sailed for various events.
The Elissa can be toured. Visitors will come across many sailing artifacts, pictures, and displays as well as a short film detailing its history and restoration. I learned the origin of some commonly used terminology like “over a barrel”, which originates from the sailing world as drowning victims were resuscitated by being put over a barrel that was rolled continuously. In times past, women were once considered bad luck for boats even though they’re named after women! The quarters for the non-ranking crew members of the Elissa were in the bow, and slept 8 in rather tarry, smoky, and musty surroundings while the ship’s captain had much more space around the stern side of the boat.
The rest of the museum is on land. It was heavily flooded on the first floor due to Hurricane Ike. It’s scheduled to partially reopen during this summer to show off some of its historic sailing-themed artifacts. Sometime, the once comprehensive electronic database focusing on immigrants to Galveston will be up and running again.
The Lone Star Flight Museum is another of the must see transportation themed attractions in Galveston, Texas. It’s also open for business despite its 100,000 square foot complex being left under 8 feet of water after Hurricane Ike. Aircraft enthusiasts like me had/have the chance to see around 30 restored and replica aircraft dating back to pre-World War II days through the early 1950’s like a Continental Airlines DC-3, a P-47 Thunderboat, a B-17 Bomber, and an AT-11 that’s got Cuban livery. Rides over Galveston Island in four of their World War II era aircraft (B-17, B-25, T-6, and the PT-17 Stearman) are offered. Contact them in advance to book a flight because weather and mechanical issues can affect availability, two of the inconvenient realities about flying!
Seawolf Park is located on Pelican Island, once one of the most trafficked immigration stations in the country but now known for its fishing and great views of Galveston Bay. I noticed a scavenged World War 1 era cement cargo ship out there (ships were once made out of cement). On land, two very historic World War 2 era vessels proudly reside there and can be toured. First, the 306 foot long World War 2 Destroyer Escort called the USS Stewart is only one of the two remaining in America. Additionally, the USS Cavalla is docked there and has the distinction of sinking the 30,000 ton Japanese aircraft carrier called the Shokaku (which was involved in Pearl Harbor) on her debut patrol in June of 1944. It’s also 306 feet in length. I didn’t realize that submarines were about as long as football fields!
Roy’s first two articles about Galveston can be found here:
Roy A. Barnes writes from southeastern Wyoming when he’s not traveling, and who knows, maybe one day he’ll be “Segway-ing” from there, too!