Houston’s charm may come from its tall buildings, clean streets and action-packed racing arenas, but its soul lies in space research, the memorials and the galore of museums scattered around the city.
Houston, we have a problem!” This has to be – by a mile – the most-used statement by astronauts in Hollywood sci-fi movies. Do you remember that scene in ‘Gravity’ wherein George Clooney frantically shouts back to Earth those very lines? There’s even an investigative documentary that goes by the very name. This makes Houston the most negatively publicised American city till date.
But, golly, Houston is nothing like it has been portrayed in the movies – it’s one of the coolest (yes, coolest) cities I have ever been to in the United States. I was star-struck as the city unleashed the inner geek in me.
The city beholds some of the most renowned American marvels such as the Space Centre Houston, the Museum of Fine Arts, the USS Texas and even the Holocaust Museum (!) – I doubt there’s any other city in the world that nestles such historically significant buildings under one roof.
But then again, this also makes Houston the most populous city in Texas – I guess it’s home to several physicists, experimental scientists and conspiracy theorists (in that very order). Walking on the streets of Houston reminded me – in some way – of the bustling roads of Jumeirah in Dubai. There’s also a tram line that runs the length of the city. This is effective, considering seven million tourists visit the already tenanted city every year!
The glitz and glamour may not be as much as, say, Los Angeles, but there’s enough to have you enthralled. After you’re done touring the space centre and the several museums, you should head straight to the Sam Houston Race Park – a horse racing track that is home to several gamblers. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the horse you bet on win.
But that said, Houston’s allure is in its past; the several achievements that have been attained over the years, and the dreams of young kids that it helped construct. A survey conducted in 2011 revealed that Houston had the most number of working professionals in the medical and space research, technology, and even the media industry. Who says New York is the concrete jungle where dreams are made of?
My favourite place: Ah! Without a doubt, that would be the Space Centre Houston. I spent hours loitering along there with a visitor’s pass. Of course, you’ll be presented with a headset describing all the live exhibits so that you know what you’re looking at. Walking past the Lunar Module replica; Mercury 9 capsule, which was flown by Gordon Cooper; Apollo 17 Command Module; the Lunar Rover and the Apollo-Soyuz test project was nothing short of breathtaking – it’s like looking at the wondrous machines that left the Earth but have retired from their game. Another great place to kill some time is the ArtCar museum where cars are turned into fashionable pieces of art.
Highlights: It’s very hard to ignore the importance of space research in a city that has been nicknamed the “Space City”. Let’s just put it this way: If the Jetsons were real, they’d reside in Houston. But, as an onlooker, you cannot ignore the impact of culture of this city on the history of the US; a majority of the country’s cultural artefacts are placed in the several museums that are scattered around Houston. Heck, you can also visit the World War II navy vessel USS Texas for some sightseeing. The weather in Houston is subtropical but is prone to “supercell” thunderstorms. During the summer, the temperatures usually hover around the 32°C range, making it an easy location for us to adapt. Sometime in 1980, Houston was also touted as the “most air-conditioned place on earth”.
Lowlights: The crowds. As I had stated earlier, Houston is the most populated city in Texas with over 2.3 million residents. But this, in addition to the seven million tourists visiting the city every year, makes it incredibly overpopulated.
Souvenirs: What’s there to think about? Get your loved ones some sci-fi-themed gifts. There are several souvenir shops littered around the city and even more in the museums. Do keep in mind that the prices in these museums can be excruciatingly high.
Getting there: Both of Middle East’s greatest airlines – Emirates and Qatar Airways – fly to Houston via their hubs. A round trip should cost you roughly RO587 (in economy class). Else, you can also fly to any airport in the US and catch a bus to Houston – the country’s well connected.
Where to stay: Surprisingly, it’s quite nominal if you book a hotel in Houston. The Embassy Suites by Hilton should set you back RO62 (per night), which is cheaper than that of hotels in the UAE. There are also several other hotels peppered around the vicinity.