Saturday, April 26, 2008

Visit to Houston Downtown

On the way home from airport, "That area is called the 'Downtown'", my friend said pointing to the distant high rise buildings. Not knowing what the word Downtown actually meant I just nodded my head and kept quite. My exposure to the word "Downtown" is limited to the Hollywood movies. The first instance that I can think of is from the the movie Speed, where at the beginning of the movie a hostage situation in "Downtown" high rise is being dealt with. Next instance that I can recall is Spider-Man spinning his web in "Downtown Manhattan". So I turned to the information super highway to help me out, and this is what Wikipedia had to offer. Downtown - is a term primarily used in North America to refer to a city's core, usually in a geographical, commercial, and community sense. So after gaining this information, I decided to go and visit Houston Downtown. After riding on the Information super highway a little more I came to know that Houston Museum of Natural Sciences is just a couple of miles from Downtown.

After gathering all the required route information from Google maps and the local public transport website, me and my friend set out to explore the Museum and Houston downtown. First stop of course the bus stop near our home! We took a bus to Downtown and as per my calculations buses marked Downtown would make a stop at Downtown Transit Centre, it is a big Terminus and also the head office of the local public transport. But all my calculations went haywire as the bus that we took goes to Downtown but doesn’t go to the Transit Centre. We got suspicious when almost all passengers got down and the drivers changed duty. When we enquired about this with the driver, he suggested that we get down and go back a couple of stops and take a train to "Hermann Park", from where we can go to the museum. So we got down and walked back to the train station. The Metro Rail is a local Train service that runs within Houston Downtown. We brought tickets from the automated ticket vending system located at either ends of the platform and were waiting anxiously for the train arrive. To tell the truth I was jumping in joy like a kid gifted with a store full of candies. Since childhood I had a huge fascination for trains, and when I spotted the train at a distant had a big grin on my face!

Six stops later we got down at "Hermann Park/Rice University" station. Two minutes walk from the station and we were at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences.

We managed to reach the museum exactly an hour before the closing time. We booked the tickets for the last show at the Planetarium. When we asked about the entry tickets for the Museum, person at the counter suggested that we wait for 15 more minutes as after 4.30 the entry is free. So we headed to the gift shop to murder those 15 minutes. Here were greeted by a giant skeleton structure of a Dinosaur.

We gazed at the things for sale and came out as soon as the clock struck 4.30. At entrance we had 4 mega skeleton structures of our Dinosaur friends greeting us.

With less than 10 minutes left before the show started, we hurried onto the Energy section, there came face to face with the various Oil Exploration and Production tools and methodologies.

As we ran out of time we headed towards the Planetarium. Planetarium was a mid sized one not too small nor big hall. The show on offer was the "Night of the Titanic". I went to the show with an expectation of seeing something outer space; nevertheless it was a nice show. We came out of the Planetarium and decided that we are going come again soon to cover the rest of the museum, catch another show at the Planetarium and above all watch a show at the IMAX theatre situated inside the museum.

Right at the entrance of the Museum we have a 5000 pounds granite globe suspended on water. Water is pumped from the bottom to keep the massive rock afloat. We can play around with the globe like an balloon and proclaim that you too "Moved the Earth!" and its not just Galileo who did it.

Opposite to the museum is the Hermann Park which has the statue of Sam Houston, A Reflecting pool, Pioneer Memorial and Miniature train. The Pioneer memorial was installed to mark the 100th Anniversary of formation of Houston City on 30th, August 1936.

Heading out of Hermann Park, our next stop was checking out Downtown Houston. We got down at the Downtown transit center station and started our march towards the city streets. Being a Sunday evening we got deserted roads.

We walked around a bit taking photographs of the sky scrapers. Later we decided it’s time to head back home as it was close to 8 in the night and we might have problems getting a bus on our return journey. It was an eventful day, with lot more left to cover so we planned to make a second visit to the Museum shortly.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ice skating

    Ok don’t faint just after reading the title. Trust me I didn’t do any ice skating. The closest that I went to ice skating was going near the arena and watch kids skate like professionals and couple of dads trying to teach their kids a trick or two.

    Morning my friend and I decided to visit the shopping mall close to our home. This was my second attempt at this mall as the last time I reached the mall at closing time. This is one of the largest shopping centers in Houston and it’s called “The Galleria”. It has been built in three stages, Galleria I, II and III. All three have basement parking and 3 floors of unadulterated shopping space. The size of these shopping malls are so enormous that me and my friend kept roaming all day and could manage to cover only the ground floor of all three sections! It will take another couple of trips before we can declare it as “Complete” in our list of places to visit. For window shoppers this is heaven. Here one can find all possible brands for any item you take. For example for men’s clothing I found all the brands that I ever knew plus a lot more I knew ever existed, call it whatever you want it to. Same is the case with perfumes, watches so on and so forth.

    Photography inside the mall is prohibited and the only section where it is allowed is at the Ice Skating arena. Initially we thought of watching it from the top. But the shutterbug won’t let me stand. So I asked a security officer if I am allowed to take pictures. I got a go ahead from him. So I went downstairs to the food court cum Ice skating arena. Entry fee $3, and hiring skating gears $7, proudly announced the display board at the entrance of the arena. I went and double checked with the Ice skating guys if I can cure the shutter bugs bite. The guy at the counter gave a go ahead so I happily entered the arena for free because it was not stepping onto the Ice.

    I was stunned by the ease with which kids were performing on the ice. The energy in the atmosphere is very infectious, it lures you into trying out, and Oh yes forgot to tell coaching classes are also conducted for new comers like me. One visit to the ice skating arena is good enough to refresh you after a long tiring shopping spree.

    With no more energy left in us to explore more we decided to return home and take some rest after our long (window) shopping spree which had lasted for about 3-4 hours.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The American Dream

Leaving the shores of your mother land for the every first time is always a bundle of mixed feelings. Firstly you are happy that you are going to a whole new place and followed by this happiness is the lingering memory of leaving your near and dear ones back. After landing in US the first week went in settling into the new environment, getting used to new culture, new terminology, etc.

My first ever weekend was a very quite one. Went out to see the Wal-Mart! It was bigger than I had ever imagined. My exposure to Wal-Mart was limited to books and documentaries. The only analogy that came to my mind was its big as a stadium. I had read and heard about America being the inventor of the “Car Culture”. I understood what it exactly meant. The parking space was bigger than actual store itself. Since we didn’t have a car, so my friend and I took the help of the Public Transport, yes you read it right, Public Transport! It’s not dependable but we had no other choice. My first brush with the American public transport was not that bad as I was warned about. It was a pleasant one there was no waiting time both ways! We didn’t have a four wheeler so what, Wal-Mart was kind enough to give us the second most used four wheeler in the whole wide world, The Shopping Cart! Armed with the dollar power and the shopping cart both of us entered the arena like brave warriors entering the ancient Roman Colosseum. Our mission was to exit the Wal-Mart without getting lost in the countless number of aisles and the product range at display. You think of anything and you had it. If you are tired shopping, visit the Starbucks coffee outlet right inside Wal-Mart, serving coffee of your desired flavor. After one and half an hour of roaming round the never ending store finally we were at the billing counter waiting for our term. The happiness of roaming around with a four wheeler also to comes to an end as we exited the store.

My next stop after returning from the Wal-Mart was another shopping mall close by at walking distance. The joy was short lived as it was closing time when I entered the mall. I thought I must have been really late, so I checkout my watch and was surprised, it was just 7pm. Having used to seeing Malls open till 11 this came as a shock to me. But I did manage to sneak into an electronics store and have a look at the gadgets on display. Since all the other shops were shutting down I didn’t want waste their time in window shopping so I gracefully made an exit before being kicked out.

Second week went by in no time and second weekend was staring right at us. This weekend friends had planned to rent a car and roam around. So we planned to go for a movie. The movie watching experience was totally different from what I known and expected. The multiplex was a 45 minutes drive. When we started, one thought struck me, “I am finally living the American dream the American way”! Though it was not the actual American way still remotely American. Reaching the movie multiplex, we were greeted by an almost empty parking lot and the whole premises looked deserted. An occasional gust of wind swept across while we walked towards the multiplex. The scene looked similar to that of “Once upon a time in little Mexico” where Antonio Banderas and his buddies carrying weapons assemble for the final assault. Lady at the ticket counter greeted us asking for the number of tickets, I heaved a sigh of relief assured that this place was not deserted after all. It was about the starting time of the movie, so we entered the hall. And another surprise, we were the only once to go inside the hall. Just before the movie started another batch of 3 people entered the hall. The show started with just 8 people sitting. The movie ended at around seven in the evening and we were greeted by a bright sunshine as if it was 4-5 in the evening. After some chitchatting we decided to call it a day and head home, so did the small stint at the American dream come to an end. I look forward for the week ahead…