Blown away by the friendly nature of its people, and the sheer size of the city, the four days I spent in Houston both confirmed stereotypes as well as contradicting my preconceptions. With blocks of skyscrapers and smaller, eccentric suburbs framed by huge motorways, I found it hard to get my bearings of this southern metropolis. What I did find was incredible food, extremely good natured residents and a subtle cowboy influence creating it's own authentic American modernity.
Compared to what I've grown accustomed to visiting East Coast cities and towns, Texas was an entirely different experience. Freeways lined with fast food restaurants I had never heard of, bill boards advertising medicines and radio stations dedicated to playing christian country music shaped my first impressions of the state. I quickly learned that Houston boasted many more exciting happenings than unlimited sides of grits and Pitbull headlining the Rodeo.
With some advice from a friendly Instagram follower, the trusty Foursquare app, and my friend Gareth bravely driving on the (wrong) side of the road, we squeezed in just enough attractions to keep us satisfied, while also scheduling some much needed pool time at the hotel. In Houston, I rediscovered the delight in manners and being greeted by strangers on the street and I finally found appreciation for the chicken and waffles breakfast combo.
Despite our country-music lovin' setting, Gareth and I found we shared a particular affection for DNCE's 'Cake by the Ocean', which was our soundtrack for the weekend, blasting on repeat from Charlie's speakers. Charlie was our beloved ZipCar - a necessary addition to trip - as Houston requires a car to get ANYWHERE. And although I'm known for them, that's not an exaggeration.
The following is a list of my highlights and tips, but is not the definitive 'Eleanor's Houston Itinerary'... for that you'll have to pay me the big bucks.
THE MENIL COLLECTION
The Menil Collection is situated in a leafy suburban-esque area of Houston, a surprising setting for this incredible space. The main corridor of the building is lit by streaming, natural light, and the collection hosts artists like Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Mark Rothko, and Pablo Picasso. We enjoyed an insightful Surrealism exhibit and admired this superbly curated modern collection, juxtaposed with ancient artifacts and medieval work. Best of all, entry is free!
TOP TIP: DRIVE
... Or, if you, like me, have failed in acquiring the skills to operate a motor vehicle go traveling with someone who will drive for you. I know I'm repeating myself here but honestly, public transportation in Houston seem's pretty poor, only serving central downtown areas! Be warned: there are not many areas in the city where you can walk easily, so do make the most of places like Montrose and wander the pedestrian friendly streets.
NASA SPACE CENTRE
My inner nerd was inappropriately excited for our visit to Nasa'a Space Centre. With just enough interaction to keep even the most angsty children happy, this is so much more than a Space Museum. I almost teared up at a video montage of all Nasa's explorations in a celebration of astronauts' work. (I said, almost, OK?) As terrifying as Space is to me, learning about man's interaction with everything out-of-this-world was truly awe inspiring.
GOODE COMPANY BARBECUE
In our search for the perfect Texas Barbecue we got distracted by Mexican joints, all-day breakfasts and the most amazing melt-in-your-mouth New York style Pizza (at Brother's Pizzeria, FYI). On our last day we realised our mistake and before heading to the airport we stopped off at Goode Company Barbecue, for ribs, jambalaya and an amazing smoked chicken sandwich. Sitting outside on wooden tables with truck drivers and men wearing Stetson's unironically, I felt like I was in a twenty-first century western. With really, really, good food.
An avid fan of vintage stores - the more topsy-turvy the better - I'm often hard to please. Research led us to The Heights' 19th street, where the art deco theatre, antique and vintage stores and modern diner style restaurants made me feel like our Zip Car was actually Marty McFly's DeLorean. Retropolis' expansive two floors were full of well-priced vintage clothes, and also served as home to a shop cat, including a sign on the door telling patrons not to let him out. I could have happily tried on clothes here for hours, if the pull of the surrounding stores hadn't been just as strong.
THE BREAKFAST KLUB
Since arriving in the U.S., I have been dubious of the sweet and savoury combo that is Chicken and Waffles. After queuing for table at The Breakfast Klub, I decided to give it a go and I must admit, I came away wholly and completely won over. Not only was the chicken probably the best fried food I've had since arriving in America, the perfect pairing was complimented by the fun and casual atmosphere of what is apparently one of the best breakfast spots in the nation. If you're in Houston, do not miss out on this. Seriously.
The Rothko Chapel for it's tranquility and design.
Fat Cat Creamery and their guilt-free(ish) treats.
Manready Mercantile with superb southern merchandising creating a retail dream.
Lucille's for the croissant french toast and wings, a fancier take on a brunch classic.
Taking in the WaterWall beside the Galleria after a hard day's shopping.
MISSED, BUT MAYBE NEXT TIME...
Cy Twombly Gallery
The Rodeo (yes, really.)
Byzantine Fresco Chapel