Houston started at the tail of a vicious -Miami-induced- hangover that evolved in almost an entire week homebound, the latter courtesy of my beautiful goddaughter. One could argue we got off on the wrong foot.
Luckily, this took place in yet another fabulous Home Identity haven, in this case a gorgeous townhouse in the heart of the Galleria area of the city. Done floor to ceiling in the trademark HI style, it provided a homely nest to house my Southern adventure and acted as background to many an unforgettable moment.
Houston initially struck me as very clean-cut, in a “Desperate Housewives” kind of way. Neat, tidy, proper, polite, composed all accurately describe my first impression of it. And although this didn’t change, it took a while to take note that the city is also in the heart of the American South, with everything this implies. Once noted, it started to materialize in everything – from the beautiful people to the food, to the activities and all around me, rendering me rather ecstatic.
EATING & DRINKING
Beautiful city of mammoth lunches, early afternoon drinks and prolonged dinners. All of the above happening approx. 3 hours earlier than they do in Europe, but greatly appreciated nonetheless.
Houston has a thriving food & beverage scene – just take your pick; a plethora of restaurants and bars cater for every conceivable taste and style. Clearly I didn’t have the opportunity to test all the options but I tried out enough and have been 100% happy almost everywhere. Top marks go to The Capital Grille, for its refined elegance (in both environment and culinary repertoire) and Uchi for its upbeat atmosphere and delectable neo-Japanese menu. The mandatory Tex Mex experience took place in Cyclone Ananya’s (very good!). La Madeleine is a recommended daytime option offering a yummy selection of French cuisine at friendly prices. Honorary mention: Niko Niko’s for tasty and fun Greek dishes – fun mostly because the concept of “Greek Fast Food” is not actually a thing in Greece.
Likewise, there’s an active bar & nightclub scene to satisfy every need. I paticularly enjoyed an evening at the Tasting Room, complete with suggestive lighting, good wine and a live gig in the background. A bar-hopping evening around the Montrose area proved equally amusing, in a completely different sort of way.
Regarding streetstyle and dresscodes I am not very clear on whether there is a bible to go by. Diversity seems to be the norm, although we did see a substantial amount of people actually dressed like cowboys on a Friday night. And a fair amount of big hair.
I was quite intrigued by the multitude of inconceivable gadgets (especially the low-tech ones) and “specified” this and that for everything you can think of (A towel for drying long hair? Overall, excellent beauty gadgets.). I love the idea of buying ready to use credit cards from the corner store (I assume it is commonplace in the US but it is not a thing where I come from yet, so I declare enthusiastic). As far as standard shopping goes the gap between the US and Europe has disappeared, possibly even shifted in favour of the EU. Also, vexed at being able to find all kinds of things online and almost nothing at the physical outlets of businesses (pharmacies, come on!). Price-wise, with very few exceptions, I was totally non-plussed. In comparison to London (allegedly one of the most expensive cities in the world) I found myself dumbfounded at having to pay $6.99 for what costs £2.99 in the British capital (pound / dollar ratio taken into account, the price is still double). Verdict is that I wasn’t particularly impressed, except in the typical manner of “more is more”.
The requisite inspection of the local art offerings took, of course, place. The menu included The Menil Collection & its full whereabouts – essential vieweing for any self-respecting aficionado, the 4411 Montrose Building, conveniently housing an assembly of contemporary art galleries, and the hidden gem of an art space nestled at the top floor of the Colombe D’ Or hotel, which was my favourite of all. I also had the pleasure to visit a couple of artists’ studios and get private tours of their work. A visit at Be Design, the upscale furniture store that also has a flair for upscale contemporary art, left me pleasantly surprised with the offerings. I will expand on the art crawl on the sequel of this post, covering the more personal aspect of my stay.
Right, I didn’t really research this because I was almost exclusively driven around but my general impression is FORGET ABOUT IT. You cannot go far without a car here. Public transport doesn’t seem comprehensive enough and tickets cannot be paid in cash (or bought for that matter) on the spot. Taxis -much as everything else- are pricey and apparently not too eager to serve if the distance is not substantial enough. As a compromise, I’d recommend Uber.
Also noteworthy: Upon leaving the city, unbelievable irritation at the George Bush airport with alarming security measures, massive (and unnecessary) delays and, incredulously, no cash being accepted anywhere to settle my overweight luggage. A quintessential traveller’s nightmare.
A ride from the airport to the center of the city is around $60 btw, or $40 if you Uber it.
COST OF LIVING
Ouch! I found Houston to be unbelievably expensive in almost every aspect. Each city usually has some things to offer at better value than elsewhere but in this case nothing comes to mind. Forking out weekly $400 supermarket bills is not exactly ok (moreover at Costco), nor are $15 glasses of average wine. There is still hype around the American Dream and how everyone thinks going to the States would immediately solve all their problems but I can safely say that if you decide to come over here without being sorted in advance, you will not survive the first month.
That said, it is a lovely place to go spend if you have it.
– People are super nice and friendly. At times maybe even too friendly (I can only imagine the first-time interaction of the average Brit with the average Houstonian 😀 )
– Do expect to be ambushed with unscheduled social calls
– The city feels ENTIRELY safe to walk in. And it is super airy
– Speaking of airy, did I mention the climate in Houston is AMAZING? Mild and sunny and, absolutely attuned to the season in the best possible way.
– The medical service is all-around stellar
– Everything seems to work properly (major bonus points) and the internet never breaks (major digital nomad points)
Specific complaints aside, my brush with Houston was of the most positive nature. I have the fondest memories and look forward to returning there as soon as possible and explore it further.
Stay tuned for the second part of the Houston review, featuring adventures of more personal nature.