Friday, March 8, 2013

Fri 8 Mar - Houston, TX

Dawn...the view from our hotel room window, Crowne Plaza, Downtown. Note the giant neon cross on the building in the distance. It really stands out and dominates our view at night time.

We slept really well in the lovely bed at the Crowne Plaza, then took our time over our free buffet breakfast at the hotel. A little bit of luxury is a nice change. We waddled out very full of breakfast around 10am to explore the streets. Our strategy? No lunch required if we stuff ourselves at breakfast. And yes, it worked.

The buildings at our end of town are not all that glamorous although the local YMCA is BIG here... (ha,ha,ha...) Di providing the Y below.

In this half of downtown Houston it seems to be heavy with car parks...not all in good condition. This one looked like it was falling down.

In this view we could see 4 parking stations + the one parking lot just in front, and not counting the 2 parking stations behind us. The Texans love their cars.

Despite the relatively cheap car parking we saw 3 cars in a row parked in a loading zone, which earned them each a parking ticket, with a fine of $250. Ouch. Yes, we asked the guy handing them out. He shook his head too.

Discovery Park is to the east of downtown and is small but quite nice with a pond and some lawn areas. The whole area reminded us of Darling Harbour with festivals and outdoor concerts listed as upcoming events.

Around the corner is Minute Maid Field, home of the Houston Astros baseball team. They have moved these old buildings (we think to become a cultural centre) out the front but they don't seem to fit in.

We thought these baseballs were more fitting for the area, although the bats may have a problem with them...

Local Texas Outhouse, aka portaloo in Australia.

Houston downtown has employed guides to walk the streets and help people with maps and tips of things to see. We had already done our research but could not help chatting to one of these guides, Sergio, who told us everything we needed to know and about 200% more!
We walked to the JP Morgan Chase Tower. The company allows the public to use part of it's 60th floor as an observation area from Monday to Friday during business hours. This is the tower (about 80 floors high).

The view facing south from level 60.

Looking west.

And straight down!
In the distance the large buildings are part of Houston Medical Centre. A very concentrated area of every medical specialization you can think of. They even called the suburb Medical Centre.

Di takes a long look.

Texas has very good roads and they work on them regularly, largely adding more. As a result you get this spaghetti effect. We are happy not to be driving.

This is one of the older buildings in Houston, the Rice Hotel. It was restored about 15 years go and has a hotel and private apartments. Very nice and quite Art Deco.

For a long time, the Rice Hotel was the tallest building in Houston, at 17 floors.

We took a coffee break in Minuti Coffee Shop, from "Medina, Italy"!!??, underneath the awning of Rice Hotel. Nice environment but so so coffee. Hans desperately misses his caffe latte from Utopia in Sydney. The sacrifices we make...

Sergio, the city guide, recommended we visit Market Square Park. It's a lovely small formal park that was just upgraded (in 2010) and they are still doing some work on it. It has a nice Greek restaurant that seemed very popular with the business locals.
Market Square Park contains a 9/11 memorial. See the explanation below. It felt quite moving.

The fountain.

Around Market Square Park were quite a few bars and restaurants so we decided to head home around 2pm and return in a few hours when Happy Hours start!

We caught the free Greenlink bus, and did a loop around Houston donwtown before getting off at our stop half a block from the hotel.

Downtime for a few hours, then off for Happy Hour bar hopping and some live music.
Bar 1 - Sambuca in the Rice building on Texas Ave. We found put a band started at 8pm so decided we would return later. Hans finally gives "Bud" a chance... The verdict? More drinkable than he remembers. Not too bad.
A glass of Rawsons Retreat at the Sambuca bar is $7.50. And it seemed popular too given the amount of bottles in the bar. We can buy a bottle for less than that in Australia...
Looking southish on Travis St, in the historical and bar district in Sam's town; that's Sam Houston...

Our next bar was Heresay in the second oldest building in Houston. Great decorating and reuse of all these old glass and floor boards from the earlier lives of the building. Good cocktail list fo Di.

Some old fun things embedded in the walls. This clock apparently used to have hands and used to point to 12 o'clock. We assumed that it meant that good ol saying of "somewhere in the world it was 12 o'clock" and ok to drink.

After Hearsay bar, we wandered around the corner and onto Commerce St and the Spaghetti Warehouse for an Italian dinner. Interesting and colorful interior and reasonable food for a reasonable price. Not great, but good enough. Great atmosphere.

Spaghetti Warehouse had those mandatory red and white chequered tableclothes that any good Italian joint should have. Di colour matched.

After dinner, we wandered down Main St and back to Sambuca Bar to listen to tonight's band.

Tonight's band, whatever they were called, were not bad at all. The boys played three Eagles songs in their first set and did that very well. In fact, their whole set could have been Eagles and nobody would object, we think. They did Jimi Hendrix "The wind cries Mary", but since they had no black guy in the band, the vocals didn't work. Big plus though for doing ZZ Top's "Blue Jean Blues", the bearded boys in their hometown.
Eventually, we had enough for the night and took the metro from around the corner down Main St to our local stop Downtown Transit Centre and walked back to Crowne Plaza from there, about 5 minutes. All around a very good night.

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