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Sunday
Aug142011

Postcard from Houston

Houston's skyline has a special place in my heart.  In 1989 I went there with my grandfather and saw, for the first time and in real life, a typical American Downtown view - which until then, was reserved for TV shows and car-video-games.  I remember buying postcards of night and day scenes of the skyscrapers which decorated my bedroom wall for many months.  My memory of Houston, was of highways and buildings (and lamp-posts).  My favourite building there was, and remains the Bank of America Center.

With more mature eyes, I can see that Houston offers more than that.  The conference I was attending was one of the largest oil-and-gas gatherings worldwide.  When driving around the city on the impressive highways, you get a sense of its size.  In fact I was advised by a friend to take Beltway 8 all the way round - which apparently tells an interesting story.  It goes through the many different communities that make up the city and offers great views of the ranches and oil installations that I and many others associate with Texas.  I hope to be able to do that on another visit.

This time I only had a day free.  I was exhausted from the jet lag, standing at the exhibition all day, and not having a break for six days.  I surprised the hotel staff when they saw me Saturday morning up as early as the other days.  This reminds me another special thing about visiting the US... People here talk to you!  They greet, they comment, and they share!  Almost all the hotel staff knew where I came from, why I was in Houston, how long I'd be staying and what I was doing.  This was by my second day there! I didn't volunteer the information (I reserve that for Twitter and Facebook)... Their picture was built through chatting at the breakfast bar and brief exchanges during elevator rides.  I've always found American cities to be very welcoming.

I drove into town, the weather was beautiful and the sun was out.  I parked my car and decided to spend the day exploring the city on foot.  It got a little too hot around midday, exactly when I discovered the brilliant Houston Tunnel System!  I was walking everywhere, without getting lost, with no traffic and in air conditioned tunnels. 

I wanted to see something different.  When I have overseas guests in Kuwait , I take them to the more traditional parts of town.  We've all seen malls - but not many of my foreign guests have seen an Iranian tannoor producing fresh nan bread, nor the dates shops in Mubarakyia for example.  This is what locals offer: a knowledge of the non-tourist path.  In Houston, I was welcomed in colleagues' homes for evening meals and I joined an old friend to a fund-raising dinner which was really nice.  So on my free day (and theirs), I was a tourist without a local guide.  I headed to the Tourist Information office and asked to see history!  

The recommendation I received could not have been better.  Sam Houston Park is a beautiful space which sits adjacent to the downtown skyscrapers.  There you can see beautiful classical homes (actual ones that have been relocated) and presented in a surprisingly natural setting.  Most are open for viewing through a guided tour that tells you the history of the families associated - most of whom have built today's Houston.

The Museum of Texas History, also in Sam Houston, is managed by the Heritage Society.  It's filled with items of history and wonderful photographs.  My favourite is a replica of a 19th century shop (Duncan General Store if I remember correctly) which was the icing on the cake.  The lady on duty spoke from the heart and presented the whole museum to me answering every question with a fun fact.  She also went out of her way recommending different historic places to visit near Houston.

If you're ever here, I thoroughly recommend a visit to this small but excellent museum.

 

Link: Official Visitors Site for Houston

Reader Comments (3)

Fantastic pictures! Surprisingly my Favorite building in San Francisco is the TransAmerica buidling next to the Bank of America HQ! hehehe!

I know what you mean about loving certain cities and keep on seeing it in different ways!!

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarzouq

I'm heading to Houston for a large meeting in the Fall - now I will have to visit the Sam Houston Park :-) Have you ever visited the Alamo, maybe three hours away, in San Antonio? I am delighted to hear that the Americans are taking good care of you. :-)

September 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIntlxpatr

Not yet, Intlxpatr. I need to if I have a chance next time I'm in Texas. My meetings tend to be in Houston and Corpus Christi - so by the time I leave I usually did my fair share of driving :)

September 4, 2011 | Registered CommenterBuYousef

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