According to my Ethiopian taxi driver, who claimed to know where NZ is though he provided no proof, Houston is the fourth-largest city in the US and about to overtake Chicago as #3. It wears its size lightly, by which I mean it’s deceptively small, by which I mean it certainly doesn’t feel that big.
It’s flat, there’s a cluster of admittedly impressive skyscrapers in the centre, but most of it presumably is spread-out suburbs. It certainly took a while to get into the centre from George Bush Intercontinental (where the arrival procedures are typically unwelcoming and tedious but mercifully a bit quicker than the hell of LAX). I’d read that getting around on foot isn’t a Houston thing – no doubt the oppressive (33 today) heat has something to do with that - and yes, the streets seemed quiet; but those who were out there seemed pleasant and friendly, from the polite panhandlers soliciting change to the cheerful young men wishing me good day to the chatty girl in tight Lycra rolling up her yoga mat at Discovery Green.
Dana, my server at the otherwise unremarkable Guadalajara restaurant (I followed a group of locals in there but as a recommendation technique it wasn’t a huge success) was particularly nice. She put me onto Saint Arnold Amber beer, made just down the road, which was excellent, and then sent me afterwards to both Discovery Green and Phoenicia.
Phoenicia, in Auckland terms, is Farro on steroids: a deli-cum-grocery story that sells all the food. It’s amazing, and beautifully presented, and fascinating, and full of temptations. Green almonds in the artistic fruit and veg section, that’s a first for me. Also, upstairs, cigars and magic teas in a glass cupboard. They were resistible, but not the cakes and pastries, which could have come from any French patisserie. They also stock NZ wine (I checked, of course).
Discovery Green was full of children playing, big fish in the pond, bowling-green perfect lawns, a stage, neat plantings, trees, birds and dog walkers – really nice, surrounded by tall glass buildings, and it felt safe for wandering. A friendly mounted policeman helped with that – always good to see – but mainly it was the general laid-back feeling of the place. No crowds, no hurry, no big-city vibe. That’s the considered verdict, based on a whole twenty-four hours’ experience: how wrong could it be?