After a particularly cold November in the UK I decided that it would be nice to spend Christmas and the new years celebrations somewhere warm and sunny. Thankfully I have some great and generous friends who welcomed me to their homes in the sunny south of the United States. Here’s a very brief photographic review of my last trip stateside in 2007.

It’s hard to remember it’s Christmas when you’re walking around in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. Christmas feels more like Christmas when you have to wrap a scarf around your neck and you can see your breath in the winter air. Having said that though, the warm weather that greeted me in Houston was not unwelcome at all.

If it weren’t for the people I think I would have decided that I’d seen enough of Houston a while back. It’s a quite ugly city, a concrete maze of never ending mirrored glass towers, parking lots, malls and apartment complexes. It’s a city that feels like it sold its soul to the highest bidder a long time ago.

Residents of ‘H town’ might protest and tell me of the areas that redeem the sprawling metropolis. ‘The Heights’ feels like one such area, those streets have soul but I always feel like we should speak quietly when we’re there so that the merciless developers won’t notice this last remaining bit of Americatown and move in to cover it all in concrete and sprinkler fed patches of grass.

I’m being harsh I suppose. But I regret the fact that Houston isn’t a walking town. I like to walk around a city to get to know it. In Houston, while you can walk a little, at some point you’re going to need to get into a tin box and join a highway to get somewhere.

I did do some walking of course. Mainly from the parking lots to the stores packed to bursting point with seasonal shoppers. But on occasion I went for a wander with Rachel and along the way took a couple of reflection pictures (above).

Thanks to Trish I got to see a little Texas greenery. Along with Rachel, her Mom and her Grandmother, the five of us headed out to the country to see what Trish termed as ‘her’ horses. In truth the horses don’t belong to Trish, but she often drives out to see them, escaping the city to perhaps feel like she lives on a ranch somewhere and who could blame her.

I bought what I called a ‘six minute cowboy hat’ at a gas station along the way. I figured I wouldn’t wear it for more than about six minutes and I wasn’t wrong. But it was fun for the pictures. I also bought some beef jerky. We don’t have jerky in the UK and from the moment I put the stuff in my mouth I understood why – it tasted like the remains of a blown out truck tire found of the side of a highway!

We stopped off at a little town called Brenham and had a bite to eat at a place called the BT Long Horn Saloon which looked like it could have had an interesting history and if it didn’t then I’m happy to believe the illusion.

I didn’t get to meet up with everyone I would have liked to have seen while in ‘H town’, but you know how these trips go, time just flies! Highlights included seeing a 3D film (Deep Sea 3D) at The Houston Museum of Natural Science, learning to play ‘Mafia‘ with Rachel’s family, eating dinner beside a 50,000 gallon aquarium at The Aquarium restaurant at Kemah (see the picture of Rachel eating there above). As ever my Texas visit was great!

New Orleans & beyond

After Christmas I headed east to New Orleans where I met up with Susan. Being an Englishman I obsess over the weather and New Orleans didn’t disappoint me; It was gloriously hot and sunny.

The French Quarter is a visual feast exploding with color, life and character. I’ve really grown to love this city which positively oozes soul! This is probably one of America’s best ‘walking towns.’ You can easily kill several hours just wandering the streets looking at the various homes, courtyards, balconies and exploring the numerous stores, galleries and bars.

As usual we ate well, getting oysters from the Acme Oyster House then dinner at NOLA before wandering down Bourbon Street and stopping in at a bar where a band played Cajun music and some guy entertainingly played the washboard.

We stayed Royal Sonesta Hotel and had a suite with balcony that overlooked Bourbon Street which was great as the night headed into the early hours of the morning because I stood on the balcony sipping Macallen Amber whisky liqueur, smoking coconut cigars, and and people watching.

The next morning we had brunch at Brennans which boasts that is has some of the most famous and imaginative dishes in the world. I had New Orleans turtle soup and their renowned Bananas Foster which was a spectacular indulgence!

To see in the New Year we headed to Gulf Shores, Alabama. Susan’s friend Mary-kay had invited us to join her family at a beach house where we ate shrimp, oysters, drank beer and let off fireworks. I hadn’t realised the Florida was so close so we made an unscheduled visit to Pensacola Beach in the afternoon of New Years Eve. All in all it was a pretty fab way to bring the year to a close.

And finally, after being upgraded to business class for my homebound flight, it had seemed like my luck with United Airlines had at last changed. The airline had never once failed to lose my luggage in all the times I’ve flown with them. However after successfully managing to have my luggage meet me as planned on the trip they managed to lose it on the way home! It arrived three days later.

Room at the Royal Sonesta Hotel
A man plays a washboard in a Bourbon Street bar