Houston Part 1

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aaand we are home, unpacked and settling into our normal routine again. *phew*

the trip to Houston has been awesome. I am fortunate to have had a somewhat easy time with Ollie on the flight and throughout the trip, making it more enjoyable. Kids are adaptable, said D. And adaptable Ollie was. I watched him grow more and more each day, and I am amazed at his capabilities. *proud mama* Will be writing up about travelling & Houston in the next couple of posts, so bear with me! 

Planning

First of all, why, of all places, Houston? Well..to be honest, even I was a little hesitant about going.  Narrow-minded me was thinking a lot of hilly-billies, slow, country-ish, military-state when Houston was mentioned.Donald had an opportunity to attend a conference there, and I didn’t fancy handling Ollie ALLLL by myself for a week whilst he was away, so we decided that I should tag along. Besides, Donald would need a shopping partner. =D

Given this fantastic opportunity to travel all the the way to the other half of the world, I had plans (albeit all in my mind) that we could visit Ollie’s cousin in Vancouver, and may be even stop by in San Francisco along the way..etc. It got a little overwhelming checking flights and planning that we decided that we should take it easy and just stick to Houston for that extra couple of days. On hindsight, brilliant idea to do that.

We had isolated two flights that we wanted to take to Houston: United Airlines flight that leaves at 7am and arrives at 1.55pm, and the Singapore Airline flight that leaves at 2.30am and arrives at 2.05pm. You would have thought it is a no-brainer right? Shorter travelling time, sure we’ll go with United. But after hearing from friends about United’s reputation..we decided to go with SQ for the following:

1) timing – Ollie gets to sleep more hours on the plane; return flight timing was Ollie’s sleeping time too
2) familiarity – we were more familiar with SQ than United; and
3) reputation – need we say more?

Once we got the flight sorted out, we needed to sort out the itinerary. We were going to be in Houston for 9 days, of which, I will be spending 4 days alone with Ollie. I was a little nervous. I wiki-ed Houston out and words like “crime rate” were blaring out in front of my eyes. Yikes!! What if Ollie and I got kidnapped, or mugged or murdered?? Yes, my imagination tends to run wild a little. Haha. Just had to convince myself that hey, I lived in Australia for 6 years, the USA probably couldn’t be very far off. So let’s take it a day at a time.

We checked out the following websites for our itinerary:

Houston Downtown – things to do in Downtown (Houston CBD)
Visit Houston Texas – things to do in Houston
Family Fun Houston – family friendly places in Houston

Key places on the itinerary for us were the Houston Premium Outlets for cheap clothes, The Houston Museum of Natural Science, the NASA Space Centre, Houston Zoo, and the Children’s Museum of Houston. I’m all for shopping! Donald said that now that we weren’t going to SF and Vancouver, we’d have a bigger budget for shopping. Muhahaha. Helloooo Walmart & Target too! I had a massive shopping list.

Donald also had a couple of hotels in mind. He had a discount off a couple of hotels for attending the conference, namely Hilton Americas (conference centre was just right next to it) and the Hyatt. He did a bit more searching and decided on the Embassy Suites Downtown which was also under the Hilton brand, and also nearby the conference centre.

So. Flights? Check. Accommodation? Check. Itinerary? Check.

Flying

23 hours of flying is a loooong time, especially when you are travelling with a toddler who has an attention span of a gnat. We had TWO diaper bags with us, filled with stuff that we thought might help entertain Ollie. Snacks, toys that could be pulled apart and put together, iPad, swaddle cloths, spare clothes for Ollie and myself (in case he spews on me), pegs (more on that later), medication (mine) and Ollie’s bolster for familiarity sake. At the end of it, we probably only used like half of the items. Then again, better overprepared than under eh?

We left Ollie to decide when he wanted to fall sleep that night. We went to the airport at about 10pm (4.5 hours before flight time), checked in and had a late dinner. My parents & sister came along and he stayed awake being entertained by them. He fell asleep slightly before midnight just after we cleared customs and woke up just as we were about to board the plane.

Ollie fell back asleep just before the plane took off, totally not bothered by the change in air pressure. We were definitely keen on fully utilising the bassinet provided to us. Downside was we had to take him out each time the seat-belt sign came on. Had a couple of turbulences and ended up letting him sleep on me half of the time cos of the hassle of putting him back in and taking him out. We also brought a pre-fold nappy and some pegs so that we could partially cover the bassinet and dim the amount of lights when they turned on the cabin lights. It seemed to work pretty well.

Ollie sleeping in the bassinet

One thing about flying at that timing is that..supper/dinner gets served shortly after the plane takes off. Ollie gets a meal on this flight. We had requested for a Post-Weaning meal for him prior to flying. But because he was sleeping, Donald and I ended up eating his meal. It was finely chopped up veggies and a “cake” of chicken. It came with a pack of milk, and some crackers. The food was really quite tasty and can imagine Ollie would have enjoyed it.

Ollie's dinner/supper

Ollie’s dinner/supper

Ollie's breakfast

Ollie’s breakfast

Was pretty bummed out about the food choices for Ollie from Moscow to Houston. The flight stewardess had mentioned that the food provided were from the caterers in Moscow. Ollie’s post-weaning meal were jars of food that could be warmed up. Hah. Fat chance of Ollie having that. Ollie ended up having some of our food, buns and half a banana (coming from the toddler who doesn’t like bananas!). Meh. This is the part where I had to learn how to let go and let Ollie decide what he wanted to fill his stomach with.

He was fairly entertained most of the flight when he was awake, the remote being the biggest entertainer. He would walk around the plane, play with the 16mo toddler next to us by copying him. I managed to squeeze in a couple of movies (Les Miserables is awesome!), some sleep and some reading. Sweet.

Arrival

Sleep for Ollie went haywire despite my attempts at trying to keep track of his nap timings according to SG time. Between turbulences, disembarking in Moscow and boarding, and landing during the day in Houston, all of that went to shot. Arriving in Houston during the day seemed to help Ollie’s transition to sleeping according to Houston time better. By the time we managed to check in and freshen up, it was already 5pm. We checked out Discovery Green, which was a little disappointing cos I did think it was a lot bigger based on the internet description. Ollie had a quick run around exploring before we had dinner.

You probably read that I was worrying about Ollie’s food in the USA. Well…he was pretty happy with fries with loads of ketchup. He had some of my food and chicken tenders. It was so hard to not worry about whether he had enough to it. But I figured if he was hungry, he would let me know. And let me know he did. He woke up at 12mdn and then again at 4am asking for food. Poor fella had Cheerios with milk and then oatmeal for his second meal. I reckon his body was still a little confused about the meal times. Thankfully Ollie could recognise that it was dark and it was to be sleepy time, and promptly went back to sleep after those two snacks. Phew.

Review: Embassy Suites Downtown

We had read mixed reviews about the Embassy Suites, about how there is only wifi in public areas, the decor was a little gaudy, to boring breakfast. We were going to stay at this place for 8 nights. We had to pick the right hotel. And this one somewhat reeked of being a motel rather than being a hotel. Still…most of the reviews were positive and we could get a 10% discount using a Singapore credit card. How could we not book it eh? 

It far exceeded my expectations. The hotel (yes, it is a hotel haha) is fairly new, being only about 2 years old. The rooms have a bedroom and a living room, complete with a sofa, table and a second tv. The bedroom comes with a king-sized bed, a tv and a small desk. We requested for a crib for Ollie. I was pretty skeptical about the crib because when we were staying at the Holiday Inn in Melaka, the crib was a playpen. To my surprise, the crib was really a crib. It still looked fairly new and it was clean. It didn’t serve its purpose as a crib (Ollie co-slept with us) but it sure did as a play pen for putting Ollie in when I couldn’t watch him. Wifi was complimentary and we could use it in-room. There is also a LAN option. 

Breakfast was pretty standard every morning, grits, bacon, scrambled eggs, sausages & cubes of hash brown. The only variation was the kind of omelettes and pancakes you can have. There was 4 kinds of cereal, some bagels and sliced bread, some pastries. Ollie would have Cheerios with milk, half a pancake, yoghurt & some toast. Pretty hearty breakky for him! 

Other facilities & services include valet parking (USD$28/night, leave before 12noon), laundry room with commercial washing machines & dryers accessible only by your room key card (USD$1.50 per wash), per piece laundry & dry cleaning services, and swimming pool.

The hotel is located to shops and transport. Diagonally to the hotel is a bus stop for the free shuttle around town, the Green Link, which was really convenient for us to get around. There is also a grocery store and a small mall a street away. 

My only complaint about the room was that there wasn’t a kettle for boiling water and if you needed hot water, you would have to order it through room service. There are complimentary satchets of coffee and tea in the room. However, they are only suitable for the mini coffee machine provided. We had to resort to taking hot water provided for the complimentary drinks in the lobby area when we passed the area, or taking it during breakfast. Room service has a USD$5 delivery charge..so I wouldn’t want to find out if I have to pay that for hot water! 

Overall, it is a pretty great place to stay in, and we did thoroughly enjoy our stay for those 8 nights. 

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