Where I Would Stay in Downtown Houston

Let's say you're coming to Houston for business, for pleasure or for, well, whatever reason. There are plenty of wonderful hotels in town. Some are well-known chain hotels like the Four Seasons. Others are small and intimate luxury hotels like La Colombe D'Or. If you were to ask me where to stay in downtown Houston, I would probably point you to one of four hotels.

Click for a Larger Shot of Hotel and Restaurant Locations

Hotel Icon - This has been one of the city's hottest hotels since it opened before the 2004 Super Bowl. Having stayed there and seen several of the different rooms, I can attest that the rooms are beautifully appointed, the bathrooms are nice and spacious and the entire hotel has a great sense of style.

Alden Hotel - Formerly the Sam Houston, the Alden Hotel is known as one of the hippest hotels in town. Particularly worthwhile are the hotel's restaurant, 17 and the always popular bar, A+.

Lancaster Hotel - As the web site says, the Lancaster is Houston's original small luxury hotel. It consistently gets great reviews from those who stay there and is perfectly situated in the middle of Houston's theater district.

Magnolia Hotel - Just a few short years ago, The Post Dispatch building was reborn as the Magnolia Hotel, one of four Magnolia hotels located across the country. This is a great historic hotel located a short walk from Main Street and Minute Maid Park.

Now, if you're going to stay downtown, you may as well eat downtown. Without going into detail, here are four options you can try over a long weekend in Houston.
Bossa has always worked well for us as a pre-theater restaurant. Mia Bella is an Italian restaurant with great atmosphere... right on Main Street. Azuma has excellent sushi with a great menu. And the Longhorn Cafe' is a good place for a casual meal, right around the corner from the Lancaster.


So You're Takin' the Baby...

So you're going to take your baby on a trip. I applaud you... we plan to do the same. Of course, it's always helpful to get insight from other people who have done it before. I spotted an entry called Travel Tips and Other Things Learned in Hawaii on a Chron.com blog. Good stuff...

Protesting for Passengers

I can understand people's frustration when stuck on a plane for hours during a flight delay. Earlier this year, we sat on the tarmac for 3 hours in Newark - my wife was pregnant and not feeling very comfortable. However, I'm not sure what this is going to accomplish. I can't see Congressment stopping by this tent and, if anything, it reminds me of the squatter-style tents I would see protesting in Argentina. For the most part, they sit there and accomplish nothing. I would suggest some other form of lobbying for legislation but can't see this doing much. But that's just me...


A Mediterranean Paradise

It might be fair to say that you've never heard of the island of Lampedusa. Located about an 8 hour ferry ride south of Sicily, Lampedusa is technically the southernmost point in Italy. The island is southwest of Malta and is actually closer to Tunisia than the Italian mainland. Still Lampedusa is supposed to be a wonderful island - surrounded by stunning crystalline waters, gorgeous beaches and made up of a rugged landscape.

One of my uncles has a house in Lampedusa - admittedly, I've never been there. I've always thought of it as his secret getaway that he uses in the summertime. One of these days, we'll have to visit. In the meantime, here is a nine minute video I found on YouTube that provides a glimpse into life and culture on this gorgeous island.

Using One Leg of a Roundtrip Ticket

So, I wasn't aware of this until I spotted this today on Hornfans.com... thought you might find it useful.

If for whatever reason you're not going to take the outbound part of a round-trip ticket, CALL THE AIRLINE AND LET THEM KNOW YOU'RE COMING BACK!!!

I had originally booked a round-trip ticket to see my fiancee. My company asked me to go to Boston last minute for training, and I had them book a one-way ticket to Boston, and then to my fiancee's city. I figured I'd use the return part of my R-T ticket to get home.

NO GO!!!

I just got back from the airport, where they told me since I didn't take the outbound flight on my R-T trip, they cancelled it and sold my seat. They rebooked a flight and charged me an extra $300 to go home tomorrow. All this could've been avoided if I had called them to tell them, but who the hell knows these rules until it happens?


Three Tips: Breckenridge, CO

Three Tips
Breckenridge, Colorado

1. Eat and drink at the Breckenridge Brewery. Mmmm, oatmeal stout. For the nicest meal in town, go to the Hearthstone Restaurant.

2. Stay as close to the mountain as you can, but try and stay on the peak 9 side, as most weekenders and locals arrive at peak 8, which gets ridiculously crowded.

From MizzouSnives on Horn Fans
3. Enjoy downtown in the evening. It's a great ski town to walk around. Also, grab a crepe from the crepe stand. They are scrumptious and worth the wait if the line is long.


Dropping Cash in London Town

Yum... the food in London is delish!? Yet, that great food keeps getting more and more expensive. The exchange rate in London is a killer and you'll definitely notice the hit when you go out for a bite. I've mentioned in a previous entry that there are ways to get around this so you don't break the bank when visiting London.

Now, if money is not an object, one great place to eat delicious Indian food in London is La Porte Des Indes. We ate a scrumptious New Year's Eve meal at La Porte Des Indes on our past holiday trip to London (above). The total bill was pricey... yes, but the prix fixe menu stuffed us to the gills. Prix fixe menus are not limited to holidays as a Menu Maison or a Royal Vegetarian Menu is available regularly from 32 to 38 pounds per person plus 12,5% VAT.

The opulent restaurant is located around the corner from Hyde Park and the U.S. embassy. Reservations are highly recommended. For those who can't visit the restaurant, a cookbook of the same name with the restaurant's French-influenced meals is available online.


Stay ZaZa in Houston

It can never hurt to play tourist in your own backyard... this past weekend, we did just that, staying at Hotel ZaZa in the museum district.

We had visited the ZaZa before... not as hotel guests but as guests for the Tribeza Magazine launch party. Our first impression was immediate... this isn't your grandmother's Warwick Hotel, anymore. The ZaZa was unveiled as an elegant, sultry and somewhat naughty hotel with a dark but alluring side. From the glamorous lobby to the whimsical yet head-scratching water display behind the elevators, the ZaZa is never short on surprises.

Our Balcony Room

Our room was a balcony room on the 3rd floor - nice and spacious with great decor, a fantastic wall-mounted LCD TV and a balcony overlooking... well, not much other than parking garages and the light rail line. See if you can swing a view overlooking the museums and the Mecom Fountains. If anything, at least the sliding patio doors kept most of the noise out of the room.

Turndown with a twist

Some nice touches in the room - little pillows with whimsical sayings, a humorous turndown service, Bulgari toiletries and, since it was our anniversary, a complimentary bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne. Nice indeed. If you're so inclined, ordering breakfast in bed is actually reasonable - more reasonable than our recent stay at the Hyatt Regency on Town Lake in Austin... and while I like the Hyatt, I'd pick the ZaZa anyday. Service was very prompt and attentive although we stayed on a Sunday night -a slow night. Not sure what it would be like during a busy night. From what we've seen at parties, they would be scrambling to keep up.

The pool is a great spot to blow an afternoon

Other amenities in the hotel - be sure to spend some time at the pool... a great area with plenty of nice, big loungers and a little over half-a-dozen private cabanas that overlook the pool area and the Meacom Fountains. Adjacent to the pool is a well-equipped fitness center with about a dozen machines, very nice treadmills and ellipticals, some freeweights, etc. By the entrance to the pool area is a small cafe' and ZaSpa... we cut through the Spa but did not use any services.

ZaZa, as seen from Hermann Park

Now... the area. One of the best reasons to stay at a hotel like ZaZa is the surrounding area... more museums than you can handle in one weekend and Hermann Park. We really enjoyed going out to Hermann Park and taking a nice, leisurely stroll around the reflecting pond. Very peaceful. For dinner, we drive five minutes to the west on Bissonnet to the always charming Raven Grill. Today's lunch was at Niko Niko's... good but not quite up to the hype. We tried to hit Dolce Vita but, alas, Monday was the wrong day (same with the museums, of course).

A stroll in Hermann Park

Anyway, you can't go wrong at ZaZa - a sultry hotel for a glamorous little weekend getaway tucked one of cultural centers of Houston.


Dealing with "Nature" at UT games

This is going to be a pretty "targeted" post as it only applies to some 85,000 or so folks who find themselves on The University of Texas campus on certain Saturdays in the fall.

Let's say you drove up to Austin for a college football game. Kick-off is at 6:00 and you're making your way across campus at 2:00. Or, you just might be hanging east of DKR, tailgating with some friends and enjoying a cold Shiner. A funny grumble in your stomach signals that not all is well "below". Your closest option is a stinky port-a-potty with a slow moving line. Maybe you're right in the middle of campus and don't know which way to turn. You could "fake it 'til you make it" and wait until you get into the stadium (and take your chances with a stadium bathroom). Are there better options on campus?

Nine years as season ticket holders and plenty of additional game experience has led us to some of the better bathroom options on the UT campus. These bathrooms usually tend to be cleaner and uncrowded. In no particular order...

1. Main Building - Entering by the UGL, you can walk to the center of the building and find clean and usually quiet bathrooms. Particularly nice if your morning breakfast is going to require a longer visit.
2. Perry Castaneda Library - Options on each floor. The first floor is usually fine but more frequented. Another option is the Undergraduate Library.
3. The Union - The Union is pretty barren on gamedays so there are never any lines. Bathrooms are on the second floor when entering from the west mall.
4. Harry Ransom Center - Museums normally have clean and well-mainted bathrooms... the HRC is no different.
5. Art Building and Museum - The closest option to the north side of the stadium and typically barren. Walk into the main entrance and turn left. Where else can you ponder the glory of the Gutenberg Bible while taking care of business?
6. School of Social Work Building - This one is favored by those tailgating in the higher dollar Longhorn Foundation tailgating spots. Usually someone will have wedged open a door so you can get it. Gets busier as the day goes on and the beer disappears.

Not recommended...? I would pass on the Texas Exes Center - Tons of people and very cramped quarters. Yeah, they "renovated" the bathrooms but I wouldn't sit down and take my time in there. Only a good option for a quick pit stop when in the Exes Center.


I like Doors, I like Windows

I like doors, I like windows, I like doors and windows and people standing in front of doors, leaning out their windows, hanging out in the street by a door or the bicycle they used to get to that door. If it's a door, or a window or an interesting part of a door or window, it's a target for my camera.

An elegant knocker in Paris, France

The charm of Plaza Dorrego in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Detail of a lock in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

Ice Cream Shop in San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico

Lottery Ticket Vendor in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

18th Century Restaurant in Vieux Montreal, Canada

A watery front door in Venice, Italy

A Victorian Door Latch in Cardinal, Ontario

Scene from the old Jewish Ghetto in Rome, Italy

A colorful window off of Portobello Road in London, England

The decaying walls of Villa Torlonia in Rome, Italy

A San Telmo delivery made in Buenos Aires, Argentina

The late afternoon sun in Rome, Italy


First Football Game of the Year in Austin

We headed to Austin this past weekend to watch our beloved Horns take on the typically beatable Arkansas State Indians. While I can say that the game was ugly and downright not that enjoyable, at least we won. The team better get to work before TCU comes to town.

Anyway, we had originally planned on staying only on Saturday night but we changed our mind at the last second and included Friday night in our plans. This made for some interesting shuffling around since we booked our lodging with Priceline. That left us with good news, bad news and good news. The good news was that Priceline booked us for both nights without a hitch. The bad news, since we booked about two weeks apart, was that we would stay in two different hotels. The good news was landing the Hyatt and the Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental for $100 each.

We've stayed at both hotels and either is a great Austin option. My bids on Priceline were $100 for a four-star hotel in downtown Austin (in case you wanted to know how much we bid to get accepted.) Could we have gone for less? Probably but time was of the essence.

The Stephen F. Austin is located on the corner of Congress and 7th - within easy walking distance to 6th street, the warehouse district and even the 2nd street district. We got a good-sized room with a queen bed. It was bigger than the standard room you might land when making a regular reservation as it had a little seating area with a sofa/coffee table and a desk. We were on the third floor which made the rest of the hotel accessible but we could hear the Congress street terrace late at night (even though we crashed at 1:00). For dinner, we went to Roaring Fork - excellent food, as always, even if the service was somewhat spotty.

Looking across Town Lake to the Hyatt Regency

The next night, we stayed at the Hyatt Regency on Town Lake. Another great location... just a two minute drive from South Congress, walking distance to the Congress Street bridge (if bats are your thing) with great views of downtown. The Hyatt refurbished their rooms a couple of years ago and they're much nicer. The standard Texana theme has been replaced with a sleek and modern theme including Samsung LCD TVs, dark woods and nice modern touches all around.

On Sunday we ate breakfast at the 2nd street location of Jo's Coffee (a spin-off from the original South Congress location). Sitting outside has a very European feel - mid-rise residential housing on top of retail with a good vibe and buzz on the street. It's very relaxing and you just feel like hanging around outdoors with nothing to do but drink coffee and peoplewatch. Within reaching distance are restaurants like Taverna, CRU Wine Bar and the always delicious Paciugo. You've got to hit Paciugo for great gelato. Two of the best home stores in the area are The Home Retreat (where we found a great clock for our refurbished study) and Mercury Design Studio. Both places that make it easy to drop some cash. There are probably a dozen boutiques and much more. Call it a mini-version of Houston's midtown.

Oh yeah... and course, you know we didn't hit the Austin area without checking out the outlets in San Marcos. We made a quick run on Saturday morning before heading to campus for the game.

All in all, a good trip... some pretty ugly football but a nice long Labor Day weekend.