Houston Hello

Looking back, it seems Texas is a tale of cities by rivers. This is common all over the US (and world), but in such a dry and vast expanse of land like Texas the fact that people congregate by water sources just punches you in the face when you see a map.

After water in the power structure of Texas comes oil.  And oil wealth gives us the modern megacity of Houston. Just oil money sells Houston short though....it's got a butt-ton of jobs. Every sector is present: health, finance, food, the space industry, etc. 4th largest city in the US.

I arrived into downtown Houston on city bus 102 from the airport on a windy forty degree Friday evening in mid-January:

Downtown Houston

Downtown was a well-lit ghost town. Mostly office towers and few ground floor storefronts. Saw only one other person out walking over my 2 mile trek west to the Fourth Ward area of the city.

Downtown public library

Down West Dallas Street past the oldest cemetery in Houston:

View over Founders Memorial Cemetery

I settled into my Airbnb spot after a warm greeting from my host and slept soundly in the quiet residential area. I woke up to sunny, crisp perfection the next day and bounced out onto the streets to explore:

Perfect clear weather

The Montrose section of Houston is compact and walkable. It's historic and perhaps the coolest neighborhood the city has to offer. Not cheap to get in here though:

Quiet tree-lined streets

Older homes among new condos

Tidy Montrose area

There were runners, dog walkers and weekend home repair warriors out with me on this clear cool morning.

Recently constructed 3-story condo buildings dominate this area, but I was able to spot some interesting older buildings mixed in:

And some interesting notes to those who dare to park cars in the area:

Park if you dare

I emerged from residential streets onto Waugh Drive. The relaxed, cozy vibe I had going for many blocks was swept away by speeding cars and a batch of barking dogs penned up out front of a doggie daycare called "Bed & Biscuits":

Waugh Drive

Doggy day care

The car culture shift came on forcefully. Stop lights were far apart as I walked north towards the Buffalo Bayou. Crosswalks non-existent too, so when I wanted to switch sides of the street I just ran it. The other trick to this stretch of wide open pavement is that cars pulling up on side streets anxious to merge onto Waugh are watching for cars... and not so much bikes or people. So yeah, an elderly woman in a Porsche almost put me on her hood while rolling thru a stop sign to turn right. Thankfully, the brakes were race car quality on that thing so the only danger was in my pants (checked...and I didn't poop!).

Soon I found more 3-story condos going up:

So much new construction

Attempts at making the area seem neighborhoody with things like this "pub." I lived in England for 6 years, so this kind of declaration is just laughable. Pubs are in old buildings with character, not this. Also, who decided to put a migraine relief center over top of a bar?! So much is off here:

Perhaps more convincing  inside

As I walked close to the Buffalo Bayou waterway, along which Houston was first founded in 1836, I came into the shadow of the America Tower:

America Tower 2929 Allen Parkway

The intersection of Waugh Drive with the Buffalo Bayou brings something amazing. The underside of the road bridge here houses the Waugh Drive Bat Colony. An estimated 250,000 Mexican free-tail bats shelter here and launch off at sunset. Check out this video.

Down to the path along the water heading east. Some real swish pedestrian/bike bridges spanning across:

Buffalo Bayou

Note the driftwood against the bridge support, the sand up the banks. Cleanup from Hurricane Harvey flooding in 2017 was still taking place:

Erosion and driftwood from recent flood

It was while strolling slowly along and taking pictures on the trail here that I got a wicked left shin cramp. The cramp was way down low, almost at my ankle. Uncomfortable, but not too concerning of a situation. It's pain in my upper shin that triggers utter panic and despair, ever since a painful bout shin splints halted my attempt to walk across the country in 2013.

The pain eased off, but only after I put myself down for a nap on a bench for 20 minutes. The real unfortunate thing here though is that I had used my knit hat and gloves as a pillow....and I accidentally left both behind. These lost cold weather items factor heavily into events later in the trip!

Shin cramp gone, light a few items and back up to street level:

Allen Parkway

Soon more deluxe condos as I strolled back to my Airbnb:

Cue Miami Vice theme song

My reason for flying into Houston to begin my trip was a family wedding. The ceremony was set for a cathedral downtown. I walked back towards the skyline after changing into my spiffy clothes.

Past more new construction:

West Gray Street

OK into downtown proper and things got weird. You have to cross under Interstate 45 to enter downtown which is always a neighborhood killer. Sure enough, things looked uneven in the blocks closest to the highway:

A former Days Inn

Some new construction though in the area. Behold the towering Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart:

Weddin' venue

After the ceremony it was a few hours until the reception was on. I set out for somewhere to hang for a bit. I ducked back thru the strange blocks around the interstate to find a nice looking bar in Midtown. Across the street from historic Leon's Lounge in a former grocery store and then post office branch is the bar Mongoose Vs Cobra

Really great bar staff. They deftly handled a flock of girls celebrating a 21st birthday before doling out expert sightseeing advice to me. They suggested numerous spots in Houston to see on Sunday and provided an edge of the seat account of the La Belle shipwreck housed at the Bullock Museum in Austin.

I was high on life when I headed back out to make it over to the reception:

Bike highway

I needed to cross over Buffalo Bayou to reach the venue. Revisiting Allen Parkway at sunset:

Ample sidewalk

Sweet lighting on a footbridge over the water:

Bayou crossing

I had gotten lost in conversation at the bar a tick too long, so I was running late. Also quickly losing daylight. Once to the north side of Buffalo Bayou, my walking route got real dark and twisty. I missed a few turns and adding to the drama a dog started following me! After talking the happy pup into turning around, I came into a dark landscape of train tracks and warehouses.

Right when I thought Google Maps had completely cocked things up, I spotted a parking lot attendant and a lavish building with the lights on. Made it. Very well attended event and after a few hours it was time for me to quietly slip out. I went walking back alone to my Airbnb with the echoes of night trains keeping me company.

Again slept like a rock. Awoke hungry and fearful of falling behind what is surely a fierce brunch crowd in a city as large as Houston. I was not wrong. Closest breakfast spot was heaving with humans:

And then as I walked on, a jarring reminder of how privileged it is to be able to even stand and wait at a restaurant. This gentleman was breathing, so I left him to nap in the warm sun:

I tried another place only to find a line out the door. I circled back to a coffee shop I had passed and settled in to throw down some calories. Looking at me over my right shoulder was some...art:

Javelina, 2012

Out on the streets of the Montrose area again finding stately tree-lined blocks. Texas is home to some amazing trees (very entertaining article) such as these live oaks:

The condo complexes began to grow in size and add amenities:

Then I started to hear a faint whooshing noise in the distance. The noise got deeper and louder as I approached a bridge. Down in a trench below was Interstate 69:

I-69 thru Houston

If you paused on the bridge and closed your eyes it sounded like the ocean.

Carrying on south, more condos with even more security. I'd already encountered loads of ADT home security warning signs in Houston, but this was the first sign advertising the actual police officer assigned to the area:

Safe street

More gorgeous trees canopying over the roads:

I emerged from residential streets into the Museum District. First I breezed through the elegant lobby of Hotel ZaZa on the recommendation of my bartender friends. Nice art and it smelled of fancy French candles.

Next a peak at the Sam Houston monument:

Sam on a horse

Then a wander into McGovern Centennial Gardens. So much going on in there. Delighted children surged up and down the spiraling path around the grass mound called The Mount. At the base of The Mount, I came upon a photo shoot for what must have been a girl in her fabulous quinceanera dress:

Everybody loved the mound

Families on Centennial Green

Smartphone meetup

Cherie Flores Garden Pavilion

I came onto yet another canopy of trees after the idyllic stroll in McGovern Gardens:

Hermann Park

Heading out of the park area more new and secure housing:

Suddenly, the condo quality dropped off. I was nearing yet another highway divide:

Unfinished construction near Almeda Road

Down Almeda Rd there were a few abandoned businesses. Highway 288 is just a few blocks away so it's no surprise that a local business suffered here:

No more chicken

Then as I headed under the highway a typical economic drop off took hold:

I was in this section of town to find a yoga class. Yoga House Houston was up Almeda in a historic building. I took a class from the very kind and welcoming owner Jill Minard. The studio was heated (which I dread), but we moved slowly which is not typical of hot yoga so I really enjoyed the class. The style of yoga Jill taught was Kemetic which traces its origin back to Egypt rather than India.

Yoga House

Historic architectural style

Simply magical light in the studio space:

Yoga buddy

As I am apt to do, I walked under the highway just behind Yoga House when I departed. The overpass was serving as shelter for homeless people. Tents were evenly spaced down the highway corridor as far as my eyes could see:

Highway doubling as shelter

I walked on into a more affluent area as darkness fell. Well kept historic bungalows abound:

Front porch perfection

And then back into new condo land in Montrose:

One last great sleep at the Airbnb (no signs of what warranted all the home security systems in the area it was dead quiet every night). I woke up to another crisp sunny day which made for a pretty walk back towards downtown to catch a bus to Austin.

Heading back downtown

Of course more condos were under construction along the way:

Dog included?

Then came a series of shall I say "luxury touch" businesses as I came thru Midtown. Luxurious things for your car, your mouth and your taste buds:

Thought car bras had died out

Smile perfection complex

Still room for more luxury development

Fancy juice

Grittier street scenes as I closed in on downtown and the Greyhound station:

Downtown Houston

Fairly standard Greyhound waiting area in Houston. Metal mesh seating, tile floor, not too much daylight, sparsely staffed. Very few information screens/displays like you find at airports. Gotta just mingle in with people in line and ask where they are headed:

Greyhound Houston

The bus followed a maze of ramps and overpasses to the north of the city before aiming us at Austin. I had been blessed with sunny calm weather every day in Houston:

Glad to not be driving

Having accommodation right in the middle of Houston in Montrose had set me up for pleasant, easy walking adventures. Numerous highways encircling the area negatively impact miles of city blocks.  It was great to see my family at the wedding and the yoga community I found at Yoga House was really solid. Houston in January was a good play:)