Thursday, March 7, 2013

Thu 7 Mar - Houston, TX

On the road again...

Today, we tried Megabus for the first time, from Austin to Houston. Here we are, on the bus...

We loved it. This is the Megabus "terminal" in Austin which is in a car parking lot that Megabus leases.

Megabus' queuing and waiting system is shown below. Di of course is at the front of the queue. The guys that work for Megabus sit on folding chairs and there only option for shelter, for them, is to erect a camping like awning. Today the weather was nice but a little windy so no shelter.

The Megabus bus and driver were fantastic. Brand new double deck coach, good seats and we had a very smooth trip of 3 hours to Houston. All for a total cost for 2 of us of $14 including all taxes. Unbelievable value. Bargain 1 for today.
Today's other good deal we got was a Priceline hotel "surprise" deal for $90 a night in downtown Houston. You don't know which hotel you'll get until after you have booked it and paid. Just a particular standard and area. We got the Crowne Plaza, 6th floor overlooking southern part of downtown Houston and with buffet breakfast included! Bargain 2 for today.
After checking in, we hit the streets to explore the Town of Houston.
The old building above and wall are near the Houston river called Buffalo Bayou and University of Houston, Downtown. Below are a few more photos around the river area. First looking back at Houston downtown. It's a large commercial centre. Lots of buildings belonging to oil companies and banks.
Looking east towards the suburbs. The bridge to the left is a cum bicycle and pedestrian path.
Houston is the 4th largest USA city with 2.2 million people. Smaller than Melbourne but still big by USA standards. There are lots and lots of US cities with between 500,000 and a million people.
We walked along Main Street downtown, and you can seem some effort is being made to make it pretty. See photos below. Street work is happening in lots of areas.
And yes, there is a metro in Houston, where the metro is being expanded and is taken far more seriously then the metro in Austin. There is a metro coming approximately every 12 minutes according to their timetable.
We will use the tram to get to the Museum District south of Downtown later in our visit.
There are a lot of shiny skyscrapers in Houston so we find it quite amusing to see the Rodeo being advertised along the streets. Seems a mismatch. Hans was a bit disappointed in the lack of enormous cowboy hats on business men (we didn't see any) just suits. But, it seems to be all business here.
We liked some of the buildings around the theatre district. This is Chase bank's quite gothic building.
As you wander you do find hidden gems. This is the inside of the original Houston Public Library, now referred to as Julia Ideson Library. It's still used as a library but more for exhibits and we did a quick gallery visit of Emma Richardson Cherry's work on display. She was Houston's first modern artist and went to France and Italy around 1900 to learn Impressionism and brought it back to Houston. Then later went and studied Cubism and again brought it back. Very interesting. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos inside the gallery itself.

Julia Ideson Library is a lovely building with murals on many of the walls, even this stairway.

There is also a second, newer and modern library called Houston Central Library, but that didn't look very interesting at all, being a modern concrete lump.

After our library visit, we went searching for a Wells Fargo ATM and found their downtown centre on the next corner, with their ATMs and branch underground. Why? We had stumbled onto downtown Houston's 6.5 miles of interlinking pedestrian tunnel system. More people walk past the Wells Fargo branch underground than above. No wonder the streets don't have many pedestrians. Houstonians come to work, park their car and never step onto the streets. The tunnels link buildings and parking underground, even shops, we figure to avoid the summer heat. They even have a map and different colour coded tunnels, see below.

It's fascinating so we just had to find out whether we could walk all the way back to our hotel "inside".

Firstly we did the whole red tunnel loop (just to explore) then we diverted into the yellow Louisiana tunnel. As you can see below there are lots of directional signs and some of the tunnels reminded us of airport or railway pedestrian areas. The difference is that you move between various buildings so the styles of the tunnels change to match the building. For example underneath the Hyatt is nicer than underneath a parking garage. Some areas open up with shops and seating.

Near the end of our route we took a lift and an escalator to get into an above ground pedestrian systems and yes, it ran through level 2 of our hotel and continued. Wow, we had walked more than a mile without roads.

Hans has a bit of a cold so we had a rest for an hour or so before heading south to find a drinks and dinner location. We ended up on Gray street with quite a few restaurants and bars. Nothing had particularly good vibes so we chose a pizza place with a $10 pizza special and Happy Hour beers until 7pm for draft beer. Unfortunately they had run out of about half of their beer stock so Hans started with a Harpoon White before switching to a Live Oak Hefeweizen. Di stuck to Stella Artois (boring but good). The pizza was excellent the Calzone not so much but nice enough for tonight.

Home to bed with tablets from the pharmacy for Hans and more Big Bang Theory on TV.
A side note, the Pharmacist could not sell us anything with pseudoephedrine as we could not be registered as a US, Canadian or Mexican citizen. So we bought a combination of 2 others to try and do the same job. Seemed to work, certainly put him to sleep. Or was that the beer...?
Good night.


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