TEXAS Travel Review
by Roger Crow
“Can you tell me how to get to the Theatre District?” The bus driver looks at me like I’m from Mars rather than Yorkshire.
It’s a scorching afternoon in Houston, Texas and having walked miles around the city’s art gallery and zoo, my wife and I are desperate to get back to The Lancaster hotel, four miles away. Trouble is, having arrived at the tram stop, none of the signs tell us a thing about getting to said district.
The driver stares at me like I’m insane. I finally get an answer from an elusive transport employee and we are soon on the right tram, heading back to our hotel.
The reason for the 4,700 mile trip from Yorkshire to Houston is David Cook. The winner of American Idol in 2008, he caught my interest the following year when I reported on the opening of Disney’s American Idol attraction in Orlando. Through some quirk, this incredible singer/songwriter never made a dent on the UK music scene. My better half is besotted with Cook, so, as he doesn’t play Europe, and due to timing and work commitments (we keep missing his gigs in Florida), we go to him.
Texas: “Echoes of the moment that changed the world resonate”
After a trek from East Yorkshire to Manchester, and a delayed flight to London, we endure a last minute dash across Heathrow; suffer delayed luggage, and the busiest US customs line I’ve ever seen before things get a lot better.
Fast forward a few hours and we’re staying near the sublimely pretty town of Grapevine with a friend’s family on stage one of our adventure. Our pals have flown 1,000 miles from Florida for the holiday weekend to see us; we are both overjoyed and humbled. Texas hospitality is everything you’d heard about, and a lot more.
In a whirlwind few days, we sample the highs and lows of Fort Worth (great lunchtime cattle drive, handmade leather goods shops and margaritas), and Dallas. The latter is equally astonishing, from the working Southfork Ranch of TV fame (a surreal experience for an old school JR fan) to the inevitably solemn area where JFK was assassinated. Echoes of the moment that changed the world resonate more than half a century later. It’s incredibly moving.
Following a night at the Adolphus hotel in Dallas (great gym and rooftop pool), we catch a Megabus to Austin. The 200-mile trip costs a mere $38 (£31) each, and after an epic walk, we spend a night at the Van Zandt hotel. It looks elegant, but we feel it’s over-priced. Dark room, and no in-room coffee maker, like many up market US hotels, though there’s plenty for breakfast in the lobby. The service in the hotel eatery is so slow we give up and opt for the elegant coffee shop instead.
Texas: “We get great value for money, and then some”
Austin’s a beautiful place, and watching thousands of bats emerge from under the Rainey Street bridge at twilight is a great attraction. We enjoy a long walk and drinks in one of the rustic local bars before retiring. As a big college town, there’s a general feeling of ’too cool for school’, but it’s worth a day’s exploration.
By morning, a Greyhound bus takes us to Houston 165 miles away… for $15 (£12.32) each. Travel is so cheap, it’s obvious we’re at the fuel epicentre of the US.
We don’t know what to expect from family run residence The Lancaster, but it’s a welcome surprise: the best hotel I’ve stayed at in recent years. A complimentary bottle of quality wine and snacks in our room makes us feel like we’re VIPs. We get great value for money, and then some. Russell, the concierge, is so entertaining, we could chat to him all day.
Posh coffee maker and good Wi-fi, not to mention a sublimely comfy bed, ensure we’re reluctant to leave. The complimentary breakfast is also a treat, and as a video games nut, I can’t resist playing Pac Man on their arcade machine in-between coffee and waffles.
Texas: “Our final day proves out of this world”
We enjoy a film at the nearby Sundance cinema, and a calorific dinner at the Hard Rock cafe just around the corner. The Lancaster’s complimentary shuttle takes us to the art gallery and museum three miles away. We soak up an hour of culture (free on Thursdays) before walking a mile to the zoo (in scorching heat). Then we’re at the tram station, and this is where you came in.
The shuttle proves invaluable, also taking us to and from the gig we came all this way for. David Cook and many of his fans are amazed by our odyssey, perhaps wondering a) what state Yorkshire is in, and b) why we would make the epic journey, but the show is worth the trip. They say never meet your idols, American or otherwise. For once ’they’ are wrong. Cook is very amiable at the meet-and-greet, and a knockout on stage; his tracks ‘Come Back to Me’ and ‘Criminals’ remain my favourite songs of recent years.
He thanks us for making the trip as he leaves the stage at the end of the night; my other half is so happy she may as well be levitating.
Our final day proves out of this world. Anyone who spent their youth building space shuttle models and saving clippings of those early launches is drawn moth/flame like to NASA. Getting from our hotel to one of the world’s most famous space centres (26 miles away) takes around 60-90 minutes depending on traffic. It costs a mere $2 (£1.64) each way on the bus, which picks up and drops off just round the corner from the Lancaster.
Texas: “Locals have hearts as big as the area”
NASA is remarkable, not least because of the space shuttle on top of a 747 in their back yard. Seeing the control room that put men on the moon, and labs working on Mars missions with robot aides is compelling. It aims at a young audience in places, but there’s enough attractions to keep the grown-ups happy too.
Alas, our tour is cut short due to lightning, so no idea what the final stage is like, but the cafe food is great, even if the coffee takes an age to arrive. By the evening, we have just enough time to freshen up before enjoying Garbage at the local Revention Centre. Shirley Manson and the band bring the house down.
They don’t get a lot of Yorkshire folk in Houston. Or many Brits at all come to that. But despite the odd transport/luggage problem, it’s a holiday we’ll never forget. Texas might be a home to tycoons, but you can enjoy it without spending a fortune as we found out. In fact compared to UK prices, you can get more for your buck in various parts of the Lone Star state.
The locals have hearts as big as the area; the food is to die for, and though some might have trouble understanding our dialect, there’s no doubt we would return in a heartbeat.
Top image: Dallas, Texas at Night by Matt Pasant