Category Archives: Travel

Brazos Bend State Park

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Houston made Time magazine’s list of 46 places to go in 2013, and made number 7 no less. Which reminds me that I really should get out and explore this city even more. I’ve done the Weistheimer area of downtown, and Galveston, checked out the Orange Show and visited the zoo and Hermann Memorial Park, but that paltry list is it.

Now we have visited Brazos Bend Park. Just 30 minutes away from our home it was a beautiful wetlands area, filled with wildlife. There were several flat and easy walks, many of which were interconnected. We would have done many of them had 1.5 miles into our first walk (a nature trail) I had not withdrawn my hands from around Sam in the sling and gone ‘Oh God… they are wet… and don’t smell good’. A quick dash back to the car and an exploded diaper later, we discovered we didn’t have spare trousers for Sam – so home it was.

Brazos Bend was so beautiful we will definitely go back. In the meantime: enjoy my pictures.

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Spot the little man..

Spot the little man..

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Lumberjack shirt, perfect for 'hiking'.

Lumberjack shirt, perfect for ‘hiking’.

And please share any Houston tips…

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Two weekends of hometown touristin’ (pic spam time)

Sunrise over Houston

After really enjoying looking a little around my new hometown of Houston a few weeks back, I gave it another go for two weekends… but for different reasons.

Reunited… if only for a weekend

2 weeks ago my bestie Clio came all the way to Houston to see the bump (and me, I hope). We spent a lot of time discussing the serious issue of what R-Patz was going to do now, and whether K-Stew had done it for publicity and what the heck was going to go down with TomKat (you know, the important stuff). We also shopped until we dropped (hello Nars Orgasm, OPI blue me away and some cunning black tie-up wedges), visited the Cheesecake Factory and watched an appalling amount of trash: basically, did everything I have been missing since moving here and getting me back on track to feeling human.

However, I did feel that Clio should not be held captive and forced to give me the social interaction I have been craving. So we took a quick jaunt down to our local seaside town of Galveston and its ‘pleasure pier’. It was fun, although honestly? British peeps should think an over priced Brighton without all the yummy food stops or the impressive shopping lanes… yeah, a little limiting. As if to prove my point, the weather was also terrible British-esque, which led to a disastrous hat decision by me. Anyway, looking quite a lot like our honeymoon Brighton photos (but with the tremendous addition of young Clio) this is our Galveston pic-spam:

Clio declined joining in on one of these pics… wonder why?

I don’t know WHY I put this hat on

It was fun… and when we got home poor Walter got to be ridiculous and have a much hated bath:

Very unflattering whale-like photo of me… but Walter looks cute

All over now with a consolatory cuddle

This weekend, hmmm… well I don’t know if I was scammed. I signed up to a cake pop class on Groupon. The company *looks* legit on their website… and when I emailed them, they were responsive and booked me in for this weekend. Now, weirdly, the website does not have an address, but the Groupon coupon did. So along I went this Saturday morning. The address listed: 907 Franklin Street was an abandoned (and locked) office. But at 909 (an apartment complex) the concierge told me that Tastee Tees was 2 doors down – 917, next to a restaurant. Indeed, 917 was next to a restaurant. But, it was locked and I could only see a hallway with lots of doors coming off. So I called Tastee Tees… no answer (but I did get a professional sounding answer phone). I didn’t find this that odd, as I didn’t expect them to be answering if the business does not open on a Saturday, but they were teaching a class. Left a message… nothing… left another… nothing. Rang incessantly (thinking that if I uninterrupted the class enough they might answer). Eventually a woman answered with just as single “Hello”. “Hi,” I said, “Is this Tia [the owner of Tastee Tees]?”. “Yes”. “Hi, I am trying to find my way to your cake pop class and was wondering if you could tell me where it was, please?” *cue lots background noise…* “Hello… hello? Hello?”. Nothing. No call back. And they didn’t answer when I, and subsequently Wes, phoned back several times.

So… really weird. I was seriously excited to go cake pop making (I actually woke up on Friday with the words “Do you know what tomorrow is? Cake Pop Day!!”), so was seriously disappointed, and I will be seriously ticked off if I was scammed. What do you think? Is it a scam? Is that plausible? I’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, not to have the whole day ruined, I explored the ‘Historic’ ‘Theater’ and ‘Skyline’ districts of downtown Houston. It was awesome: very different to the rest of Houston (and much more Southern looking). Beautiful parks, and quite a bit going on:

When I got back, this time, Robert was being ridiculous:

Tourist-time in Houston and New York

I have been being a tourist. First up, in my new hometown of Houston. Last Saturday I was at somewhat of a loose end, so decided to explore my local ‘hood a little. Houston is huge and so I quite cherry picked a few smaller things to do. First up, antique shopping in Midtown. Midtown has a toad with a lot of antique shops along, each with quite a different flavour and I had fun perusing all the nik-naks. I photogrpahed this for Wes who loves antique highchairs, but as I am not a fan per se, he decided not to get it.

Then I went onto ‘The Orange Show’; quite a unique little place. And very hard to describe: just a $1 to see, it is basically an old, but very very small, theatre build by an eccentric who after writing a book on health and longevity wanted to encourage people to eat oranges. Throughout his life, he collected lots of ‘scrap’: pipes, wheels, seats and so on, and build a tiny theatre / maze in bright colours for people to watch his show. The show is no longer running, but the theatre is restored and you can wander around and just ‘play’. It’s kooky, fun and quite engaging.

Next up: Hermann Park and its Museum of Natural History, including their incredible butterly garden. The onto B&N for a coffee, a cookie, and a curl up with a new book on their big sofas 🙂 I had forgotten how much I like just going out and exploring.

The next day I flew to NYC for a training conference. I go to the hotel at 3, and knew I only had one afternoon to ‘see’ New York so I forwent the usual tourist options (which I would love to see sometime) for a 4-mile stroll (trying to get the exercise in). I walked from my hotel in Harlem (Harlem in itself is quite a fascinating site) down to Central Park, and was shocked at how beautiful and large Central Park was. It was nice to see so many people out and about being active, and how diverse the groups of people were: in their ages, their dress, their race, their activities.

I explored the park for a while and was ejected out – oh how convenient, on 5th Avenue. I meandered the shops, and admired the architecture

Learned there is a place called ‘Trump Tower’ the contents of which intrigued me, but turned out to be quite predictable:

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I went to the Lindt store… But really, where I wanted to go was:

[caption id="attachment_1333" align="aligncenter" width="535"] Tiffany & Co

Yes, with my new brown hair I totally put on large sunglasses and pretended to be Audrey Hepburn.

I am not the most conventional person in many ways, and rarely ‘fit in’, but I can also be very conventional in others, and sometimes… it is nice to be a cliche. I love Audrey Hepburn, I love her style, and by proxy, I love Tiffany. My parents (rightly) did not shower me with the 17th birthday VW Polo, and the endless parade of Ralph Lauren and Kickers shoes many of my peers got (I was not deprived in any way… I went on up to 4 holidays a year for freaks sake.. they just didn’t see the point or value in filling my life with those sorts of luxuries). But, on my 16th birthday: ta dah! A Tiffany necklace. Someone once said to me, “I don’t know why you wanted the necklace EVERYONE had”, but that was why I wanted it! It was sort of like a rite of passage (it wasn’t even an expensive one, just the Elsa Perretti small open heart in silver) and I got to do it, and got the magic blue box with the white ribbon (yes, I am a sucker for advertising). I loved it! And since then… I loved Tiffany & Co jewellery. Sure much of it is very affordable now – and T&Co made a decision to make it so – but heck, I can still choose to feel like a Princess. I think the jewellery is pretty, and extremely well made, and why not decide it is special? I am easily pleased 🙂 So, I went and wondered around THE 5th Avenue store and enjoyed it.

After that all sorts of pregnancy aches and pains were kicking in, and I was limping, so I got a cab back to the hotel, and ate take out pizza with netflix, surrounded by my goodies. Who says the life of an academic is hard?

What a haul 🙂

Best hike Ever?

Canyonlands. Not the best hike ever. But pretty cool.

Writing about hiking is hard… you take an amazing trip, are blown away by a place and want to tell people when you get home. You spend every step composing poetic, and probably circumlocutory prose to bring your friends right there into your experience. The you get home and you are, of course, woefully inadequate. You resort to clichés, and erase them, and then are left with nothing, so return to them, with your tail between your legs to avoid a blank page. So I will write very little, and just say

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Hidden Valley. Possibly the best hike in the world.

My friend recently ran the Maob ½ marathon in Canyonlands. I was all signed up, but unable to compete at the last minute. This was OK, we had an awesome hiking trip planned after. So I went to kill 3 hours at the closest trail to Moab I could find: Hidden Valley. Best. Single. Hike. Ever.

Hidden Valley Trail

I started with a 45 min steep hike up deep red rock.

Up, up, up

That was impressive enough, but as I got over the crest of the climb before me everything changed completely: a mile of the most intense blues and greys I have ever seen.

It seriously was like one of those Gladiator-type scenes where someone almost dies and a glimpse of their loved one in heaven sends them back. I am serious. The whole thing blew my mind. After a mile, there was another beautiful descent, but alas, I had to return to collect my friend at the finish line. I am resolved to return and complete the full trail.

*This* was the candidate for best hike ever. But we also explored:

Canyonlands

We didn’t venture into the main park of the park, but did explore a cool little trail to a bridge. I liked this trail because it was very different to the rest of the Moab landscape – verdant and marshy in the midst of red rock and desert. No best hike ever, but, pretty cool.

Actually, Canyonlands was better than I give it credit for

Arches National Park

Eh, famous for its, well, arches, but perhaps it was pregnancy nausea, or the inclement weather, or my too high expectations,  I was not blown away (metaphorically… in a climb to see one of the biggest arches on an exposed ledge, I was). But this park has several short trails where you can indeed see lots of arches, but often (although not always) from a distance.

The rest of the road trip, was just that: more road than trail. We hit 4-corners: a neat place where you can stand in 4 states at once,

One of the four states: do you know the other three?

and eat Fried bread (A Navajo classic)

before journeying onto Flagstaff,

Flagstaff

a very cool college town with some amazing and highly recommended gourmet food my friend treated me to.

It was a wonderful road trip: the kind Brits are not lucky enough to take in their homeland. And one of my only proper i.e. multi-day road trips. But… I should have written this post earlier, before the memory faded and I was left with just my ‘phone pictures, some awesome memories (did I mention Hidden Valley Trail?), five new pins in my map… and the newly dawning realization I still owe my friend $160 for the accommodation.

baa shíni’

More Cloudland


This time we did 11 miles: The same 5-mile loop as last time, followed by a 2 mile waterfall trail and a 4 mile loop. The waterfall trail was stairs, stairs, stairs, but the last 4 mile loop was very easy – more like a stroll in the woods. If you can: go. If it wasn’t for the limited trail options, it would be my favourite place to hike.

If you are not on facebook (you’re not??) then checkout my Picasa album.

And get yourself there 🙂

Cloudland Canyon, Georgia and zip lining

View from Cloudland Canyon, Rising Fawn, Georgia

Last week I tried, for the first time, an American thing called ‘zip lining’. How to explain it to my British friends? Well, in the words of  Wikipedia, it is “a Pulley suspended on a Wire rope mounted on an incline”. In my words “sheer madness”. Basically you descend several flights of stairs to a wire stretching across some cavernous gulley, or alligator-infested river to an anchor wire considerably lower that your current point. You don a harness, some gloves and a helmet

It doesn't get much sexier than this... no really, I don't....

and attach yourself to said wire… and well, let gravity do the rest, turning upside down and dangling your hands if you dare can

Just like that. Genius.

. It is, apparently, a common American activity. It is, definitely, also enormous fun.

We rocked up deep into the Tennessee countryside (where no one can hear you scream) and climbed aboard a bus that poured out more smoke than Lydon B Johnson’s iron lung.

Why did I get on this ?!?

Wesley was full of excitement, me – I was a bundle of nerves. My nerves were not especially disquieted when a boy, who looked no old than 12 announced through his mohawk and acne,  that my safety was in his hands. Good-oh. Actually, he was extremely sweet (very kind when he said I seemed ‘kinda nervous’ and I announced this to be the greatest understatement since Churchill said ‘that Hitler bloke – not very nice, is he?’), and extremely competent and actually fairly attractive. Or maybe that was just a form of Stockholm Syndrome, as he held my captive life in his hands at several points. Either way, I returned safe and happy and wanting to do it again.

Here are some videos of me zip lining:

(yes, upside down and hands free thank-you-very-much), and landing almost perfectly:

– of course.

After that, we went white water rafting (like you do). It was fun too, and not at all scary. Our guide, Jody, was a sweet heart and it was safe and very picturesque. Both were done through Ocoee Outdoors and I would highly recommend them. We will have some more pics when we develop the underwater camera pics.

We also went for a hike at Cloudland Canyon in Rising Fawn, Georgia. It was 2 1/2 hours from Birmingham but the beauty of the place was absolutely worth it. There are 2 5 mile loops, and a 2 mile waterfall trail. We did one of the loops, skirting the canyon and seeing dells and glens and huge vistas of The Smokeys.

The hike was of moderate difficulty – the terrain was fairly easy, but it was steep at times and could be tiring. We didn’t do the second loop as we had to get to our motel, but we did do the 2 mile walk to the waterfalls. A lot of stairs (in fact nearly all stairs) but very beautiful. If you can get to Cloudland – go. Worth the travel (from Alabama) for sure. In fact I am off again this weekend, with Stella, Lizzie and Yann. Bring it on!!

Normal operation resumed, spontaneity returns

Ah, and breathe a sigh of relief. After the perfect wedding – well, the perfect wedding to us, the necessity to fill days with crafts, budgeting, alcohol tasting and web surfing is over. I’m not saying the desire is gone, nor that those actions have entirely ground to a halt (the third one especially), but we have other options now. And, I can go back to exploring America, and satisfying my ADHD-related novelty seeking urges. With the benefit of a loving husband at home. In the words of Charlie Sheen: “Winning”. First up: my first ever baseball game.

So, my friend and fellow blogger and America-explorer Dom is in my office on Friday, mentioning that he was planning a trip to see the Braves, and trying to get people on board. ‘Err… well… if there’s space, you know.. and tickets… and er….’ I stutter. Dom looks in disbelief ‘you’re up for it?’ of which I believe the direct translation is “so, the girl who needs 3 months notice to go for an after work drink is dropping everything at 36 hours notice to jaunt to Georgia at 36 hours notice at grant time?” Like I said, I’m back.

So off we went. We had my first experience of tailgating, which was awesome.

We also sadly had not my first ‘you can’t buy alcohol on a Sunday’ experience (WTF? Didn’t Jesus create wine from water? Shouldn’t water be banned and alcohol mandatory?). But other tailgaters were more than happy to share their Bud with the boys, while I quietly consumed my bottle of Chardonnay. Which, in 100 degree heat with no breakfast, may have been a mistake. But hey, we live and we learn.

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Onto the stadium, in my newly borrow wife-beater: it was huge! And had so many shops and restaurants and lit up signs. It was like a mini city. We went in the pitching tent (I was rubbish, but want another go) and bought Braves swag (me: a cute vest top to please left-behind hubby; Matthew: a hat), bought more alcohol (of course) and sat in the blazing heat to watch the game.

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It was fun, and I started to get the rules. But the alcohol didn’t help (I would definitely either eat more food and drink more water, or just drink less wine next time). And 2-hours later it was time to get back for Father’s day. A drunken sob in the back, a long sleep, a few moment of incoherent chatter and I was delivered back home, sunburned, hungry and very sleepy. Want to go again!

Thank you Matthew and Dom for an awesome day, and another American experience ticked off (Matthew was also responsible for my first ever football game – which was even more awesome).