Tour the World in Texas

Visit Palestine, Egypt, and Florence all without leaving the Lone Star State

By Michael Corcoran
Illustrations by Nick Lu

Texas is perhaps the most self-contained state in the union, with the mindset of an island continent: Anything you need, you can get right here. That includes the itinerary of a world traveler. To visit Paris, London, Palestine, Athens, and Dublin, your gas card is the only passport needed. Borders crossed: zero.

Oh, you’ll rack up more miles than Willie Nelson’s bus driver in this ironic sojourn. The French and British cities of Paris and London, respectively, are actually closer together than their Lone Star counterparts. But Earth, just north of Lubbock, is only 470 miles from Mars, in Van Zandt County. Planet Earth is about 34 million miles from the Red Planet on the other hand­—and not a Buc-ees along the route.

Sometimes the Texas towns were named by homesick immigrants. Berlin was a German settlement, for instance, while Praha (Prague) continues to show its Czech influence. The Ector County seat of Odessa was named after the city in the Ukraine, which also has a short-grass prairie landscape. The biggest difference is our Odessa puts goal posts on some rectangles of grass and uses an inordinate amount of electricity lighting up Friday nights.

It’s tough finding fresh names in such a huge state, but some of our ancestors maybe just got a little lazy. Internationally named Texas burgs often use alternate pronunciations to give it their own twist, so Italy is “It-lee” and Palestine is “Pal-es-TEEN” and Moscow is “Mos-COE” and Oxford is “Ox-erd.”

The Paris in Texas presents a replica of the Eiffel Tower sporting a cowboy hat, and our Dublin is best known for producing an iconic beverage the color of Ireland’s Guinness Stout, but many of our Euro-named townships don’t reflect the originals. There’s not a single four-piece rock band with killer harmonies in Liverpool, Texas, and nobody plays hockey in the Panhandle town of Canadian, where “eh” is how you pronounce the first letter of the alphabet, not something to tack onto every other sentence, eh?

With just under 100 residents, Geneva, in Sabine County, isn’t big enough to host any convention. Meanwhile, check out pizza’s second billing at Good Time Video and Pizza in Naples, Texas. The cries of “Mamma Mia!” can be heard all the way from the three-syllable Italy.

Other Texas towns that share names with countries include China, Scotland, Ireland, Egypt, and Turkey. But Bob Wills’ hometown is named after the bird, so “Turkish” food there comes with stuffing and cranberry sauce.

Let’s take a closer look at some of our internationally named towns. They may not have world-famous attractions, but they each have their charms.

EDINBURG

Named in 1911 after a prominent local businessman who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, this sports-crazed town’s castle is an arena built for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, its NBA developmental league team. Downtown Edinburg, the seat of Hidalgo County, is well-served by the McIntyre Streetscape Project, which transformed a city street into a walking trail. Terrific birdwatching, too, can be found at the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands

ATHENS

While the Greek capital is the cradle of Western civilization and the wellspring of philosophy, the Athens in Texas claims to be the birthplace of the hamburger sandwich (circa 1900), so we’ll call it even. Ole West Bean & Burger is probably the best place today to revisit the culinary history that started in a small café downtown. And with last year’s revitalization of the Texan Theater as a live music venue, the outpost has its own mini-Parthenon.

FLORENCE

While Florence, Italy, is known for its Renaissance masterpieces, this small town is focused on the art of meat processing. Florence High School offers a Meat Science program that has students running their own meat market. Unless you’re Michelangelo’s David, you gotta eat! (And wear clothes!) If you’d rather have the cooking done for ya, the Florence Diner downtown is known for its breakfast menu and serves a fantastic cheeseburger.

LONDON

One of the most famous Texas anthems, which some think is titled “I Wanna Go Home with the Armadillo,” is actually named “London Homesick Blues.” Gary P. Nunn wrote the lyrics when he was a down-on-his luck cowboy across the pond, but it gets lyrically confusing when bands play it at London Hall, the town’s 1900 dance hall. It ain’t Royal Albert Hall, but London Hall is one of the greatest of the original Texas dance halls still in operation.

PALESTINE

The Middle East is big on museums, but it’s hard to imagine being more entertained than at the Museum for East Texas Culture. Every aspect of life in the Piney Woods is on display, including black history. The top floor is devoted to late District Judge Bascom Bentley III’s impressive sports collection, which includes a football helmet from every high school team in Texas. There’s also memorabilia from NFL running back Adrian Peterson, a Palestine native.

EGYPT

An hour southwest of Houston, this town—still in recovery from the ravages of Harvey—has barely enough residents to make a human pyramid, but the Egypt Plantation, which predates the Civil War, is still operational and open for group tours (25 people minimum). The slave quarters, built in the 1850s, reveal a chilling part of its history.

The Strangest Towns You’ve Never Heard Of

Texas contains 254 counties and thousands of cities and towns, so it’s not easy coming up with a name that hasn’t already been claimed. In several cases, Texans have named their towns like hippies do kids or rednecks their dogs. Welcome to Oatmeal, Texas! Did you drive all the way from Ding Dong or did you take the laid-back, scenic route through Cool?

Let’s play a game. We’ll give you 18 names and you tell us the one that’s not an actual Texas town: Salty, Happy, Cut and Shoot, Hoop and Holler, Bigfoot, Noodle, Smiley, Whataburger’s Overrated, Eureka, Utopia, Jot-Em-Down, Tarzan, Gun Barrel City, Nimrod, Hogeye, Nameless, Fairy, and Dime Box. Some of these are even beautiful places where Texans live and prosper!

The Texas road map is funnier than most humor books. Looking closely will also possibly give you a million-dollar idea. Would Harold Jenkins have been as big a star if he didn’t see “Twitty” on a Texas map and—pairing it with a town from his native Arkansas—change his name to Conway Twitty? Wonder how close he came to calling himself Conway Muleshoe?

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From the August 2019 issue

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