June 21, 2009
Have a ball in Houston
For a holiday truly out of this world, Houston in Texas offers the gamut - from space tours to baseball to art galleries
By Frankie Chee
SINGAPOREAN ABROAD IN HOUSTON WITH...
Occupation: Forex trader
Length of stay: Eight months
Houston, we have lift-off - those are the words that immortalised the space industry in the Texan city of Houston. But this city in the south of the United States is more than just the launchpad for the space journeys of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa). It is rich in oil, of course, but it also boasts top-notch arts and food.
It is also home to more Fortune 500 companies than most other cities in the country, except for New York.
That should keep forex trader Carol Goh, 41, very busy. The singleton has been living in Houston for eight months and is delighted by how pet-friendly the city is.
The best way to explore the city is...
By the MetroRail, which offers convenient service within the heart of the city and between downtown Houston and Reliant Park, including the Museum District and Texas Medical Center - the largest medical complex in the world.
Houston has one of the best highway systems in the country. It is easy to get around even for a newcomer.
The best time to visit is...
In spring with the warm, breezy weather and colourful flowers in bloom. This is the perfect season to walk my dog at Hermann Park, located in the heart of the city. Houston's most popular public park is home to a wide variety of palm trees.
Which places in the city excite you?
The cosmopolitan city has a spectacular skyline, is rich in art and has excellent education and health services.
The city also hosts a variety of museums, many located in Houston's Museum District with fine choices such as the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Natural Science, the Health Museum and the National Museum of Funeral History. Houston ballet is also a must-see at Wortham Theater Center (501 Texas Ave, www.worthamcenter.org ) in downtown Houston.
The best breakfast is at...
IHOP restaurant (12725 Southwest Free way, tel: +1-281-2403 500) is best known for its award-winning buttermilk pancakes - original fluffy buttermilk pancakes with an authentic country flavour. Even better yet, go with a friend so you can try out the mouth-watering selection of pancakes, omelettes and other breakfast specialities there. IHOP also offers a lighter fare menu for health-conscious customers.
Your favourite eating place is at...
Pappas Grill Steakhouse (12000 Southwest Freeway, tel: +1-281-2779 292). It offers an excellent selection of steaks and you can choose your own fresh cut of meat. Do try their signature prime rib beef. The restaurant has a wonderful display of African artefacts, which enhances its cosy ambience.
Another favourite haunt is the Cracker Barrel Country Store and Restaurant (14765 North Freeway, tel: +1-281-8720 809) which offers a traditional southern culinary experience. Decorated with antiques that lend the eatery a rustic atmosphere, you can browse the shop for exclusive dinnerware and food products while waiting for your meal.
In most districts, you can also find traditional Texan barbecue, chicken-fried steak and all-you-can-eat buffets.
Make time to savour the wide range of tantalising foods available in Tex Mex, Asian, Mexican, Italian or Indian restaurants - this is a food lover's dream city.
The coolest place to chill out is...
Rattan Bistro (1396 Eldridge Parkway, tel: +1-281-5569 888), a contemporary design and trendy wine bar with excellent fusion cuisine and service. This restaurant has a nice outdoor patio which is a great place to relax in and have a drink.
What do you think Singaporeans will like most about your city?
Experiencing space at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Johnson Space Centre (1601 NASA Parkway, tel: +1-281-2442 100).
It is the only place in the world where visitors can see astronauts train for missions, touch a real moon rock, land a space shuttle and take a behind-the-scenes tour of Nasa. It is the most visited site here.
What is the biggest difference between Singapore and Houston?
Houston has the ultimate state-of-the-art pet boarding, day-care, grooming and spa facilities with passionate pet staff.
You can enjoy your own time away while your pet is having a vacation of its own at Pet Paradise (7511 Monroe Rd, tel: +1-713-9413 647). Besides, its in-store adoption programme places animals in loving homes.
It is evident that the majority of Americans are great dog lovers. I see this whenever I walk my four-year-old golden retriever.
Where is the best place to go on a shopping spree?
I love shopping at Galleria (5075 Westheimer Road, tel: +1-713-6220 663). With more than 400 stores, the Galleria is the largest upscale shopping mall located in the uptown district. You will find all major designer brands and a good collection of casual brands too.
For the women who wish to pamper themselves with fine apparel, Victoria's Secret (5085 Westheimer Road) is a must-visit outlet. It is touted as the world's most glamorous lingerie store with excellent quality and a wide selection.
THINGS TO DO
What do you do on weekends there?
I drive down to nearby Galveston, a major cruise ship destination with many beaches. It is about 45 minutes away from Houston.
Explore marine life at Moody Gardens (One Hope Boulevard, www.moodygardens.org), which has one of the world's largest aquariums, and the Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark (2026 Lockheed Street, www.schlitterbahn.com ).
Sometimes, I catch the exciting atmosphere of an American football match at Fox Sports Grill Bar (5175 Westheimer Road, tel : +1-713-4391 369), while enjoying American cuisine and an ice-cold beer.
Are there any notable festivals that travellers should look out for?
There is the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the most popular event of the year, that takes place between March 3 and 22.
It is marked with parades and musical entertainment and is consistently ranked as the world's largest rodeo event.
There is also Mardi Gras, the traditional festival of feasting and merry-making, on Galveston island. The celebrations take place over two wintry weekends in mid-January and are marked with parades and masked balls.
Dickens On The Strand, held on Dec 1 and 2, transforms the Strand Historic Landmark District on Galveston Island into Victorian London with costumed street vendors and entertainers.
Based on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, all visitors are encouraged to dress in Victorian costumes to support the event's theme.
Get more details at www.houston.com/festivals.