Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas, USA.

Texas has three must-see natural wonders, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Big Bend National Park. Being must-see, the aforementioned do not qualify as unusual destinations, but I think a handful of other natural wonders do, Monahans Sandhills State Park included.

Monahans Sandhills State Park is exactly what its name suggests, an area of sandhills which, in places, deceives you into thinking you have been transported to part of the Sahara Desert. By the time of our visit the temperature had risen to over 90 degrees fahrenheit and the sun shone from an almost cloudless sky. A combination of the heat and the light reflecting off the pale yellow sand made for an unforgettable visit, not least because very few other people were around. An excellent interpretation centre explains to visitors about the geology, history, flora and fauna of the area, and how the sandhills are constantly altered as the wind sculpts them. Occasionally, grasses and miniature havard oak trees help to bind some of the sandhills together, but there are also places where absolutely no vegetation exists. A nature trail near the interpretation centre provides an insight into the remarkable plants, wild flowers included, that somehow survive where the sandhills have yet to encroach. We learned that the havard oak and honey mesquite trees might grow only a few feet tall, but their roots can extend 60 feet underground to survive extreme droughts.

As we walked over the sandhills, we saw that a lot of animal tracks and burrows exist, indicating that various creatures live in the inhospitable environment, rattlesnakes included. We also came across a still-operating, large nodding donkey overlooking a picnic area.

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El Paso, Texas, USA.

A mile to two west of El Paso International Airport, things began to get interesting as the streets narrowed, downtown lay not far away and Montana Avenue started to cast its spell. Simply because we had the address for a micro-brewery said to exist there, we aimed for Mesa Street, which leads north and then west from downtown. Although we could not find the micro-brewery, by now we were in an interesting area close to downtown with a few motels to chose from. After some discussion we opted for Mesa Inn, a massive motel dating from the 1950s with two-storey blocks arranged around a swimming pool and some well-maintained patches of grass. The corridors leading to the rooms are a bit beaten-up, but, with the room costing only $36, who could complain? Our car was parked below our second floor window; the electricity and the air conditioning worked; we had en suite facilities; and soap, shampoo and towels were in the bathroom. In the morning there was complimentary coffee no worse than that in far more expensive hotels and motels.

Mesa Inn has seen better days, of course, but I liked it because, in its design, in its layout and even in the presence of its small swimming pool, it so obviously evoked the 1950s when the United States was full of post-war optimism about the future. I suspect that Mesa Inn had been built to provide accommodation for American families who wanted to stay a night or two on their way to or from Mexico, such a safe, inexpensive and, by American standards, exotic place to visit in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Nowadays, however, Mexico is no longer so safe, so inexpensive or so exotic. In fact, people in El Paso advise you not to visit Mexico at all because the city you can see just across the border, Ciudad Juarez, is one of the most volatile and dangerous in the whole country, thanks to turf wars involving gangs employed by the drug barons.

Nowadays, Mesa Inn is dominated by two groups of people. Many rooms are let to individuals, couples or families who have fallen behind with rent or mortgage payments, and most other rooms are let to Mexicans who have crossed the Rio Grande to briefly escape the crime, the violence and the sometimes anarchic conditions that exist in so many settlements south of the border. With its large Hispanic population, and its extensive ethnically mixed blue collar areas, El Paso is not a rich city. However, statistics reveal that it experiences relatively little crime. In the old days, people left El Paso because of the crime. Nowadays, people visit because the city is so safe.

While Hilary rested, I walked around the motel site. About seven or eight families were having a lively time in and around the swimming pool where adults drank beer or iced tea and the children ate ice cream.

I tried to locate the micro-brewery, but could not find it. I called at a large store selling office supplies and was advised to try The Hoppy Monk instead, which, as luck would have it, was only a block from Mesa Inn.

I returned to Mesa Inn and we got ready to go out. Because it was Saturday night we fancied somewhere with plenty of life. A restaurant attached to the motel provides a Mexican buffet for only $5-99 each, but it was almost 8.00pm and only two customers were taking advantage of the incredibly inexpensive offer. The Hoppy Monk it had to be! We sat at the bar where chats with staff and customers are always more easily conducted. Most customers were younger than us, but couples our age sat at two tables not far away. We worked our way through four different beers brewed in Texas and two excellent appetizers. With the tip for the very helpful staff included, the bill came to $43. It was an excellent conclusion to a sublime day.

In some ways, my biggest regret about the trip was that we did not spend longer in El Paso. By the time we left the city, El Paso had made a very positive impression. It has all the colour, the vitality and the subdued anarchy that Mexico is said to possess, but without any of the current considerable dangers. The city’s population is ethnically mixed, although Hispanic and white Americans considerably outnumber African Americans and Native Americans. Minorities from south of the Rio Grande are not averse to shedding aspects of individual or group identity to assist their integration into mainstream American society, but they nonetheless remain proudly and emphatically Hispanic. Moreover, most of El Paso’s white Americans seem to acknowledge positive qualities in their Hispanic neighbours. Such qualities include a strong work ethic, a commitment to family values, and a commitment to mainstream religious beliefs and practices (needless to say, loyalty to Roman Catholicism remains strong among a majority of Hispanic Americans, despite the impact of secularism on the one hand and Protestant evangelism on the other). White Americans also acknowledge that most people who originate from south of the Rio Grande feel grateful toward the United States because the United States has provided them with opportunities they would not otherwise enjoy.

After drinking coffee in the lobby of Mesa Inn, we drove east and then south to visit three of the famous churches along the Mission Trail. We visited Ysleta Mission, Socorro Mission and San Elizario Chapel. Although Ysleta Mission was closed, its delightful exterior is still worth seeing. Ysleta Mission is best known for being the oldest continuously operating parish in Texas. Because Socorro Mission was open, we examined its remarkable interior. The wooden ceiling is one of its highlights, but so are the adobe walls covered with stucco painted white. The finely painted and decorated beams are from the original 18th century mission and were re-used when the present church was constructed in 1843. San Elizario Chapel has what resembles a Dutch gable crowning its facade, but, in common with the two missions, it remains overwhelmingly Mexican in character (which therefore means that there are Spanish dimensions to enjoy).

All the churches stand at the heart of thriving little communities, which, in appearance, are not unlike villages or small towns that exist across the border in Mexico. The buildings around Ysleta Mission look more obviously American than those around the two other churches, although external walls are painted in a far more dramatic manner than would normally be the case. The buildings around San Elizario Chapel are the most Mexican in character. Here, extensive use is made of adobe and stucco.

Shops, cafes, restaurants and mobile food stalls were very popular, as were two or three Mexican-style bakeries where cakes and pastries were more in demand than bread. It was also nice to see so many people walking around. As a consequence, the streets assumed a character more European than North American.

We drove toward the city centre and parked the car a block from St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, the massive brick and marble church that looms over a rundown area a short distance from downtown. As its name implies, the cathedral was originally designed to meet the spiritual needs of the local Irish community, but, today, Hispanics make up a majority of the congregation and white Americans constitute the second largest ethnic group. The church, which opened in 1917, has been built in a neo-Byzantine style. Roman columns, elaborate frescoes portraying biblical scenes, bas-relief stations of the cross and an impressive marble altar 75 feet tall dominate the interior.

I walked to nearby Montana Historic District, one of a number of historic districts that exist in El Paso. Most of the buildings along Montana Avenue itself are grand old detached houses built by wealthy members of El Paso’s professional classes. Every house stands on its own plot of land and every building has been conceived in a slightly different style, which means that the views are constantly changing. Today, sadly, most of the houses are offices belonging to lawyers, accountants or financial advisers. At least the houses survive and all of them are in excellent condition.

I some respects, the most interesting parts of the historic district lie a block or two north and south of Montana Avenue. Here, housing of a more modest but quirky nature exists, as do some shops, office blocks and small industrial and commercial buildings. The oldest surviving buildings (a few empty blocks exist where all structures have been demolished) date from about the 1900s. Consequently, many building styles are represented, art deco included. Some spectacular murals cover the walls. Although a few local people have drug, alcohol or mental health problems, I was made to feel welcome and came away with some good photos of brightly coloured landmark structures in perfect early morning visibility. A few of the area’s oldest residents sat on chairs in the sunshine near a building run by a religious organisation associated with the Roman Catholic Church.

We drove the short distance to downtown, where parking the car was not a problem. Although it was Sunday, quite a lot of shops were open and the streets were fairly busy with traffic, especially in the Golden Horseshoe District. Because so many people were in the Golden Horseshoe District and the large square dominated by City Hall and the Convention Center, downtown El Paso was the most lively downtown so far encountered on the trip. The many landmark structures conceived in a remarkable variety of styles, art deco and Spanish colonial included; the old shop signs reminding people of long-gone businesses; and the bold employment of colour made for an exciting urban experience.

El Paso is a remarkable city and one we would like to visit again. The city spreads north-west and east of downtown for many miles and, in places, is not a pretty sight. Away from downtown the city seems to comprise of lots of well-defined suburbs, perhaps at one time distinct settlements that have now been absorbed into greater El Paso by intervening industrial, commercial and retail development of a very untidy nature. In the uglier but sometimes intriguing intervening areas, car dealerships and vehicle salvage and scrap firms occupy many of the blocks. The well-defined suburbs themselves, some of which are of historical note like the Montana District, have a lot of character, colour and appeal. And who must we thank for this? Above all, the Hispanic people of El Paso. They have created in the city pockets of Mexico and other Central American countries, and done so with commendable conviction, verve and attention to detail.

Before we said farewell to El Paso, we drove along Texas Avenue because, about two miles from downtown, you arrive in one of the lively, colourful and overwhelmingly Hispanic suburbs where many businesses survive, albeit meeting the needs of people with limited financial means. Lots of attractive buildings line Texas Avenue and some of the nearby side streets.

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Mentone and Orla, Texas, USA.

We drove west along Highway 302 and soon arrived in the county of Loving, famous for lacking any incorporated municipalities and being the least populous county in the United States (Loving is also, with the exception of two or three counties in Alaska, the least densely populated county in the United States). Wikipedia insists that, in 2010, Loving’s population was only 82. With such a small number of people in the county, it comes as no surprise that there is only one settlement, that of tiny Mentone (Mentone is named after Mentone on the French Riviera. I have no idea what the two settlements have in common). An article in Time magazine suggests that Mentone’s population is only 15. Inevitably, Mentone has been designated the county seat, which means that it possesses Loving’s courthouse. Predictably, the settlement’s most notable structure is the courthouse itself. It is cuboid in shape and spreads over two storeys. It lacks the domes, towers, flourishes and embellishments associated with many other Texas courthouses.

Mentone’s relatively modest courthouse (however, it benefits internally from marble panelling on the walls) no doubt reflects the fact that, due to its tiny population, the county is not a wealthy one (although, per capita, the residents of Loving County would appear to be among the nation’s richest! Cattle, oil and natural gas account for their economic well-being). Outside the courthouse is a magnificent ocotillo, a plant that is not, strictly speaking, a cactus, but nonetheless looks like one to laypeople such as myself. We were falling quietly in love with the ocotillo because of its long, spindly limbs crowned with masses of bright crimson flowers. The flowers taper at the end furthest from the ground.

We stopped to look around. Most of Mentone’s buildings have an impermanent air because a majority have been constructed from wood or corrugated iron. A small gas station remains open near the courthouse. I chatted with a woman who had pulled up in her large pickup truck to fill the tank. She said she lived a few miles to the north of Mentone, “in a beat-up house along that dirt road.” She pointed down a road along which a large oil tanker kicked up a cloud of dust. Every few minutes an oil tanker passed by, those bound north using one dirt road and those bound south using another.

Other than the courthouse, Mentone comprises of simple frame houses, trailers, shacks, sheds, yards littered with scrap metal, discarded household goods and farm implements, and a tiny wooden church that can shelter about thirty people. The gas station has a sign outside saying that it sells chilled beer. It is possible that a few items of food are displayed in the office. A tiny shack reveals that a barber’s shop once existed, and there was also a cafe called the Boot Track Cafe, but that shut some time ago (a post on the internet suggests that the cafe was forced to close because the landlord refused to make repairs to a building “falling down around the ears of the couple which prepared the food and drink”). If you stick to the highway you drive through Mentone in about fifteen seconds. It takes about ten minutes to walk around because, with so few buildings required by such a small population, the “town” comprises of little more than five or six small and dusty blocks.

Wikipedia reveals that Loving County:

“was the home of the first elected female sheriff in Texas, Edna Reed Clayton Dewees. Dewees was appointed to the job in January 1945, then won an election to continue in the office through 1947. She never carried a firearm and reported only two arrests during her entire term. Later, she returned as a county district clerk, a job she held from 1965 to 1986. After retirement, she lived on a ranch near Mentone. She died in Del Rio on 22nd January 2009.”

We drove south-west until connecting with Highway 285, which took us north to a dot on the map called Orla in Reeves County. If anything, Orla is more of a ghost “town” than even Mentone. In Mentone the courthouse, the garage and a few homes manifest obvious signs of life, but in Orla life is confined to a small gas station and a cafe that opens at odd hours. Wikipedia has the following entry about the tiny settlement:

“Orla is a ghost town in Reeves County, Texas. It lies about 38 miles north of Pecos. It is believed to have two residents and has its own post office located on Highway 285. The post office was established on 26th December 1906 with Joshua D. McAdams as first postmaster. Orla was founded in 1890 and served as a section house for the newly built Pecos Valley Railroad, incorporated by John J. Hagerman, an American industrialist, to link Eddy, New Mexico (now Carlsbad) with Pecos, Texas. The population remained small until world war two when the town finally grew and the number of businesses increased to two to serve a total of nearly 60 residents. The population reached a high of around 250 people when oil, gas, and sulphur activity brought more workers to the region in the 1960s.”

We parked the car to walk around the old wooden buildings that congregate at the intersection of highways 285 and 652. A single-storey house has a veranda along the front. Nearby is what was obviously a gas station because in front of the single-storey structure is the skeleton of a flat roof under which the pumps once stood. A short walk from the old gas station is the Red Top Cafe and Bar, which, according to a sign beside Highway 652, opens Monday to Friday from 11.30am until …” The ambiguity about closing time suggested to us that it shuts once the last customer has gone. The cafe and bar offers “ice, food, cold beer and cold sodas.” Across the road is the open gas station. Oil storage tanks stand beside the road about 50 yards away. Back at the intersection, near a single-storey building that was once a tiny grocery store (a pitched roof extends over the front of the building, no doubt to shelter customers who used to drive up in their cars or pickup trucks), are two or three more small structures. The small structures may have been houses. Litter, scrap metal, old tyres, discarded items of furniture and cast-offs from the oil industry lie on what had once been dusty gardens or fenced-off work areas. Such debris increases the sense of neglect, dereliction and abandonment.

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Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, United Kingdom.

When we said we were going to Barrow-in-Furness, people could not understand why. When we said we were going because Owen Hatherley has written about the town with remarkable insight, people were even more puzzled. After all, isn’t Barrow-in-Furness the epitome of the land that time forgot? You had better read on. Here IS an unusual destination, but a destination with considerable rewards for those with an open mind. We are already plotting a return, sooner rather than later.

Barrow-in-Furness is a revelation. Although Walney Island, Barrow Island and the streets leading off Abbey Road and Duke Street have many interesting structures, you cannot ignore, simply because it is so large and centrally located, the vast modern shed (Devonshire Dock Hall) in which the Trident submarines are built. Barrow-in-Furness is a town famous for making munitions, and BAE Systems is the largest employer for miles around. The vast sheds owned by BAE Systems (Devonshire Dock Hall is merely the most obvious such shed) overlook Walney Channel where small vessels, old and new, add to the visual interest (as do the concrete pillboxes). Walney Island has beaches facing west, but, in some respects, far more interesting are Vickerstown (where, to the south of the settlement, houses and other buildings have arts and crafts embellishments. In places, Vickerstown feels like a garden suburb), and the birds, the sand and the grass of South Walney Nature Reserve. About a mile south of Vickerstown is Biggar, a small settlement that has existed for hundreds of years. At its most southerly and northerly extremities, Walney Island is so low-lying that it merges imperceptibly with the sea that surrounds it. At the south end of Walney Channel is Piel Island with its castle dating from 1327.

An interesting bridge connects Walney Island with Barrow Island (the centre of the bridge lifts like Tower Bridge in London to allow large ships to sail upstream or downstream), but an even more impressive bridge, the High Level Bridge along Michaelson Road (note the views up and down the waterway), connects Barrow Island with the town centre. Barrow Island should be examined in great detail, for the views from the island, for the port and its related industrial facilities, and for its remarkable Victorian and early 20th century architecture. At first, the large sandstone factories, warehouses and tenement blocks dominate your attention (your first impression of Barrow Island is that you have somehow strayed into a Glasgow that barely still exists, or a Hanseatic city that still does exist, thankfully, beside or close to the Baltic Sea), but you then notice the unmodernised, family-run shops, an old school and, perhaps most interesting of all, a white stuccoed concrete church, St. John’s CE, built by Seeley and Paget in 1935. St. John’s Church comprises of bold geometric forms with curves, straight lines and sharp angles that cannot do other than impress.

Barrow-in-Furness as a whole, but Barrow Island in particular, has an other-worldly look and feel, a look and feel partly dependent on its location at the end of the longest cul-de-sac in England. But its other-worldliness is also due to the fact that the town still makes things, and that its people are overwhelmingly white and working class. In summary, it feels as if you have travelled back in time to the 1980s. Resilient but friendly people seem to live in the town (visit one or two of the pubs, most of which remain unmodernised. The beer and the spirits remain cheap to ensure customers still call in, and food is largely confined to crisps, nuts and other bagged snacks full of salt and artificial flavouring. In one pub, the juke box has an outstanding selection of popular music. When we called in to escape from a very heavy shower, two or three people were singing to the best tunes from the 1960s and the 1970s), but today money is in short supply. The lack of money is very obvious when you walk through the modern covered market, where, by about 3.30pm on a Saturday, business is so slow that some shops and stalls are packing up. The main shopping area along and near Dalton Road manifests all the signs that the UK remains in deep recession. There are empty premises, charity shops, a few betting shops and stores where most items are heavily discounted. But along Abbey Road and Duke Street, and on Barrow Island itself, you feel as if you have strayed into a large city with a proud industrial and commercial heritage (believe it or not, Barrow-in-Furness was once compared to Chicago, and without a hint of irony). Note the Duke of Edinburgh Hotel (1875), for example, or the Town Hall (1887), or the old office blocks on Barrow Island that were once the nerve centres for the manufacturing and the shipping companies, or the many other landmark buildings such as the large, stone-built Public Library (1874), the elegant brick and terracotta building on Abbey Road now used by the Salvation Army, or the Devonshire Public House (1874). Note also the Sloop Street Tenements (1884), the Steamer Street Tenements (1884), the Ship Street Tenements (1884), Nan Tait Centre (1903), Oxford Chambers (1875), Ramsden Hall (1872), Alfred Barrow School (1888), Victoria Hall (1888), Trinity Church (1875) and St. Mary the Virgin CE Church in Vickerstown (1908).

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Archer City and Albany, Texas, USA.

We arrived in Archer City. It was just after midday and hot in the bright sunshine. The sky was devoid of cloud. As we parked the car, colour drained slowly from everything around us.

We left the car in the town’s main square. In front of us was the large stone courthouse in the middle of an ocean of grass, and behind was the facade of the Royal Theater, the cinema that features so often in scenes in “The Last Picture Show”. No one was walking around and only six or seven motor vehicles were parked in front of businesses that looked bereft of customers. Vehicles rolled along the east to west highway, but only as often as they did in “The Last Picture Show”, the movie which, today, is Archer City’s main claim to fame.

Once you ignore that the film was shot in stunning black and white, Archer City still looks a lot like the fictional Anarene in “The Last Picture Show”, despite the passage of time (the film is over forty years old). The few streets and blocks which constitute downtown have a worn-out, rundown and spartan appearance, and the wide streets, the low buildings and the flat surrounding countryside are the perfect environment for the strong winds that feature so often in the film itself. Shacks, sheds, silos and small storage facilities, most of which are made with wood or corrugated iron, occupy plots among the houses, but, because private land lies around such structures, a sense of space and spaciousness prevails. Often, however, the private land is cluttered with junk, scrap or discarded household items. To the west of downtown is a residential area that looks just like the area where the high school football coach and his bored and unappreciated wife might have lived. The untidy gardens behind the wire fences speak of inertia and a lack of ambition. One place resonates with aspiration, however, a small but attractive boutique hotel in the centre of town. But the hotel opens only by prior arrangement.

We called at one of the few places in town serving food and drink, The Wildcat Cafe. Two men aged about sixty-five sat at separate but nearby tables. They were dressed in levis, checked shirts, leather boots and cowboy hats. They sat passively most of the time, then one man would lift to his lips a mug full of hot coffee and the other a large glass of iced tea. Every so often one of the men spoke to the other, about an incident on his ranch, about the lack of rain (the waitress who served us said that Archer City had had only 40% of its normal rain for two years), or about a horse that had gone lame and would have to be put down. The other man listened and made a sound in his throat to confirm that the information had been understood. Both men spoke slowly, with a drawl we heard very often during the days ahead. But when the men spoke they did not look at one another. A waitress topped up their drinks, the drinks of two old timers who had probably been coming to the same place at the same time day-in-day-out for years.

Other customers were few in number; there were eight altogether. A group of four customers, two women with a boy and a girl aged about nine and thirteen respectively, tucked into burgers, French fries and onion rings with lots of ketchup. The adults drank iced tea, the children cola. They were locals. The remaining customers were passing through, just like us.

I would not like to live in Archer City, but was very glad we had seen the place. You can tell why it was chosen for location shots, even after all the years since “The Last Picture Show” was made. I liked the few landmark buildings that remain in the small downtown (the landmark buildings include a gas station where highways 79 and 25 intersect), and the wooden and the corrugated iron structures that stand elsewhere, not least in the vicinity of the tall water tower. Behind the cinema facade is a large hall, the Texasville Opry, which is used for the occasional concert or theatrical production. Two or three times a year, Archer City bustles with life when people descend on the settlement to enjoy something cultural.

Not far from the courthouse is a large secondhand bookstore. I hope the bookstore does some business when the region’s city slickers arrive for events at the Texasville Opry. The bookstore was shut when we visited, but, when I peered through the windows, it was obvious that tempting treasure lay on every shelf. On the square in front of the courthouse is a war memorial of recent pedigree reminding everyone that the United States has engaged in many conflicts since the end of world war two.

We drove to Abilene via Olney (where a sign read, “Join the NRA now”), Throckmorton, Fort Griffin, Albany and Hamby. It was a pretty run all the way, an enormous wind farm between Archer City and Olney notwithstanding, with every settlement having something of interest (for example, Throckmorton has an imposing courthouse). However, it was in Albany, the prettiest settlement of the lot, where we stopped the longest, partly because an excellent drugstore along Main Street serves glasses of very cold and refreshing lemonade at its soda fountain. The lemonade was just what we needed because the temperature had risen to almost 90 degrees fahrenheit.

Albany is the administrative centre for Shackelford County. It therefore has a large and, in this case, very attractive, courthouse in the middle of a substantial square; many landmark buildings along Main Street, most of which provide accommodation for businesses that seem to be economically buoyant (although, to be economically bouyant, most businesses depend on visitors who come from much larger cities for breaks in the countryside); and, on the south-east edge of town, Old Jail Art Centre. But, because of the lack of rain, the flowers and the shrubs around the square had not been watered. These were worrying times in central, north and west Texas.

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Paris, Texas, USA.

Texas is not, in itself, an unusual destination – how can it be with such well-known cities as Austin, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio? – but there are countless relatively small settlements that people from outside the United States are unlikely to visit. One such settlement is Paris, which does not even feature in the usually very dependable Moon Handbooks (the Moon Handbooks are the USA’s answer to Lonely Planet or Rough Guide). As I hope the following makes clear, Paris made a very positive impression when we visited in April 2013.

Downtown Paris has many landmark buildings, especially in the area where Grand Avenue and Main Street intersect. A few town centre churches, the old Sears Building, the Sam Bell Maxey House, the Scott Roden Home and Paris Union Station Railroad Depot are all worth tracking down, as is the Eiffel Tower located in the south-east corner of the city next to a well-designed war memorial. The Eiffel Tower stands 65 feet tall and was constructed utilising materials, plant space and employee time by the Babcock and Wilcox Company. The tower was “Texanised” in 1998 with the addition of a cowboy’s hat set jauntily on its highest point.

Of the town centre churches, two should not be missed. One of the churches is a Baptist church and the other a Methodist church. The Methodist church is conceived on a much grander scale than most such churches in the UK.

Although Paris has a more thriving downtown than, say, Texarkana (which, as its name implies, straddles the border with Arkansas), we were keen to eat barbecue, which meant driving to one of the suburbs. We had been advised that Paris’s best smokehouse is Scholl Brothers at 1528 Lamar Avenue, so we drove there as the shadows were lengthening toward nightfall. Hilary ordered ribs with two sides and I had a super sampler of four meats with three sides. In total, my meat weighed a pound. Alcohol is not served, but the iced tea went down a treat. Moreover, the house sauce tastes excellent. The meats themselves were, up to that point at least, the best we had ever had in an American barbecue. In the car park after eating, we chatted with three regular customers. One customer said that Scholl Brothers is always voted one of the ten best barbecue restaurants in Texas. We could understand why.

The shack-like corrugated iron exterior of the smokehouse, and the cluttered interior of the dining area, suggest that the business has been running for a few years. However, staff were polite and patient as we placed our order, and someone came to our table twice to ensure we had everything we wanted and were satisfied with the food. Everywhere was spotlessly clean. And the bill with the tip? $30. Even with the dire exchange rate at the time, this was about only £20. The meal was outstanding value.

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