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Still cherishing the memory that it was from 1836 to 1845 an
independent nation in its own right, TEXAS stands apart from
the rest of the United States. While its sheer size - eight
hundred miles from east to west and nearly a thousand from top
to bottom - gives it a great geographical diversity, is firmly
bound together by a shared history, culture and ideology. Independence
is key to the Texan mentality, from the overriding distrust
of government - any government - to the absence of unionized
labor. As the old anti-litter campaign put it, "Don't mess
Preconceived ideas about what exactly is "Texan"
are soon shattered. It's actually one of the most eclectic and
cosmopolitan states in the Union and each of the major tourist
destinations has its own distinct character. Hispanic San Antonio
, for example, with its Mexican population and historic importance,
has a laid-back feel absent from the big-city neurosis of Houston
or Dallas , while trendy Austin revels in a lively music scene
and intellectualism found nowhere else in the state.
Regional differences are vast. The swampy, forested east is
more like Louisiana than the pretty Hill Country or the agricultural
plains of the Panhandle , and the tropical Gulf Coast has little
in common with the mountainous deserts of the west. Changes
in climate are equally dramatic: snow is common on the Panhandle,
whereas the humidity of Houston, in particular, is only made
bearable by nonstop high-power air conditioning.
One thing shared by the whole of Texas is the constant boasting
- everything has to be bigger and better than anywhere else.
Such chauvinism is tempered both by a delight in self-parody
and by the state's melting pot of cultures. The much-cited Texan
friendliness is not imaginary; to be unwelcoming would simply
be unpatriotic. Texas is, after all, named for a Native American
word meaning friend, tejas , and a visit here, especially to
the Panhandle or the Hill Country, is not for those who want
to be alone.
Texan distances are best negotiated by car ; in fact, in the
larger cities like Dallas or Houston driving is all but essential.
Greyhound routes are concentrated between the major cities of
the east and the central region, though buses also serve the
Gulf Coast, the Rio Grande Valley, West Texas and, to a lesser
extent, the Panhandle. Two Amtrak trains pass through Texas:
The Texas Eagle travels between Chicago and San Antonio, stopping
in Dallas and Austin; while the Sunset Limited stops in Houston,
Alpine and El Paso on its way between Orlando and Los Angeles.
An Amtrak Thruway bus links San Antonio with Laredo. Flying
saves time and can be very cheap; look out for price wars between
airlines such as Southwest and smaller local carriers.
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