Friday, May 5
Mom and I arrived in Houston without any issues around 8pm on a direct flight from Calgary. This month is crazy busy with flights, so it is best if they are all issue-free as possible from the beginning.
Mom had a shuttle booked to drive us from the airport all the way downtown to our hotel, which was a good thing as it is really far. What was impressive was that downtown was a ghost town when we arrived. We could not believe how quiet the centre of the city was at 9 at night on a Friday, in what we Calgarians would consider to be really warm weather! There was an important basketball game happening, so our driver said that is why it was so quiet…but if there was a Hockey game in Calgary I know it wouldn’t have been as quiet as it was here!
The bonus was that we had no issues checking in at our Hampton Inn and walking down past the Discovery Park area to find a restaurant called Grotto. They had heated outdoor dining, which is pretty much mandatory for us on holidays (the being outside, not the heated part!). Apart from having amazing food choices, they had the most amazing Belinis I have ever had. They were amazing.
Definitely a great way to end the evening and the work week!
Saturday, May 6
We were able to “sleep in” until around 7 am this morning and enjoyed the waffles at the included hotel breakfast while reviewing options of things to do over the next three days. Unfortunately, it looked like we were on the wrong weekend for the downtown market and between seasons for all of the theatre productions at the numerous arts venues downtown.
Instead, I pulled out my map and we walked through the large legal district to get to the Buffalo Bayou and Allen’s Landing Park where there was a dragon boat festival happening today. There was a small market of sorts, so we looked at the booths of wood furniture and clothes before walking over to the bayou to see the teams of boaters prepping for their races. There were also a few cultural dances from the Korean groups present. It was a fun walking goal from the hotel and a fun local thing to take part in.
We decided then to follow the beginning of the 52 mile path that follows the bayou to see what else was happening in the centre of the 4th biggest city in the U.S. Apparently, not much. It is a really, really, quiet downtown. Not just on the weekends, but seemingly all the time. It was odd. We walked through the lobbies of a few of the theatre venues as they were all hosting grads and dance recitals. We tried to look for the mysterious red button on the path behind the theatre district and we went down to the underground tunnel system. We saw hardly anyone. It was lovely for this reason, but also a bit creepy.
There are several systems of underground tunnels, but because it was not a work day, none of the restaurants or shops were open. We did find a free health monitor machine and played on that calculating all of our health stats for a while. But it was sure quiet.
We were on our way back to the hotel when we discovered a mall! We were so excited….until we realized that nothing in the mall was open. And regardless, there were really only two stores in the mall anyway – RadioShack and Dress Barn. We did kill some time hanging out in these stores, but decided on waiting to make any purchases until later in the weekend. We were starving by this point, but when we walked up to Subway (the only fast food place that was open), they told us that actually, they were closed. Thankfully, the gentleman there told us to go down to the main level as there was a great grocery store across the street.
Baffled at the lack of resources available for all of the busy hotels, sporting venues, and conference centres, we crossed the street and discovered an awesome, local grocery store called Phoenicia Speciality Foods with great food! There was everything from wine to hummus to cakes to sandwiches and salad bar. It was amazing. It was also way over-air conditioned, so we hurriedly looked around, picked out some pitas and hummus for our pool picknic lunch and decided to come back later when we had more layers on.
We hit the pool for a couple of hours enjoying the great people watching and awesome heat that lacks in Calgary during the winter. Finally, we decided we should check out the Discovery Green and figure out what that is all about before finding a restaurant for dinner. We loved the park!! It is huge with lots of families settling in to watch movies outdoors, or playing in the spray park, or rolling down the grassy hills, or eating picknics on the ground. It seemed to be such a happy, family place. So much so that we decided we should explore Phoenicia more and find some food to take back to the park for a picknic for dinner. And I am so glad we did. It was wonderful. The prices of made-in-house wraps was fantastic and we had more food than we could handle and it was lovely to be part of such a positive atmosphere in the downtown park.
Sunday, May 7
We decided we should go see an expo called Rain in the afternoon as well as rent bikes through the Houston B Cycle today and both activities exceeded our expectations!
We signed up for the B Cycle on-line for a monthly pass so that we could have unlimited rides of up to 60 minutes for free (well, for $9 each as the registration fee). The bikes were a bit heavy, but there were many places to replace the bikes along the downtown cycle path and along the bayou path. We had a bit of trouble renting the first bike, but apparently that was because some of the bikes get stuck in the dispenser-lock thing and then the card gets rejected. But after we solved that, it was all good. We headed out back towards the park and cycled along the bayou path for about an hour until we reached the Lost Lake and the Dunlavy restaurant. We parked the bikes an walked around, enjoying the heat and the wildflowers and the bridge where all the bats come out at night. (We could only hear them right now as they were all stuck up between the concrete crevices of the bridge)
The amount of greenery was stunning. It isn’t something I would expect to see in downtown Houston. It was warm and beautiful and very tropical. I guess I am too used to going to Arizona!
We searched again for the mysterious red button and finally found it. We found it on top of the bridge instead of along the cycle path. And we pushed it and “Burped the Bayou”. It was funny. Gotta love adult scavenger hunting for no reason. 🙂
After another couple of hours at the pool, we got all ready for dinner and for the art display. I managed to not get us too lost walking from the hotel over to the other side of the bayou to find the Buffalo Bayou Park cistern. The cistern in Houston covers more than 87,500 square feet of space and has over 200 columns. It had been used for water storage and purification back in the day and was repurposed for an art and public centre in 2016.
The art expo called Rain was an audio and image display created by Venezuelan artist, Magdalena Fernández. It is a video-projection piece that is displayed on the columns and is reflected on the small amount of water remaining on the cistern floor. The acoustics are impressive as the sounds echoes throughout the enclosed, dark space. The audio was actually created by a Slovenian choir where children snapped their fingers, clapped their hands and stomped their feet to emulate the rain and the audio track was then edited by Magdalena Fernández in order for it to fit her 2 minute visual display.
The whole time we were in the dark cistern was approximately 20 Minutes as the 2 minute track was replayed about 10 times or so as we walked along the upper pedestrian walkway. It was so peaceful and intriguing as the images and sounds seemed to change depending on where we were located in the cistern. It was a really cool experience and a unique way to preserve an old site.
We headed back to the downtown area and went to Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen – which was crazy busy, but we did finally find a place to sit outside to enjoy the end of our day.
Monday, May 8th
I start work later today, so we didn’t want to do anything too crazy today. We got all packed and organized, checked out of this hotel and checked into the other hotel before heading out for the day. We had some clothes on hold at Dress Barn, so went to quickly pick those up…and it ended up taking about 3 hours by the time we did more damage in Radio Shack and trying things on! We were planning on going to the Galleria, which is the best shopping mall in Houston with a cool waterfall and everything, but it just didn’t make sense to get all stressed about it. And, besides, we had both already done too much shopping for our little carry-ons!
We borrowed the B cycles again and cycled a bit on the other side of the bayou for a change. I am so impressed with all of the cycling and walking paths in this city. Definitely exceeded expectations.
Before work started we headed back to our great restaurant from our first night, Grotto in order to have a couple of happy hour belinis to get me started!
It was a great warm and relaxing weekend!!
Until next time!