Cyn and I decided to take a weekend off and decided to spend it in the vacation spot of Texas: Houston. Not your idea of fun in August? Well, it was a little swampy, but we spent most it it indoors, checking out some of the museums down in the Museum District.
We drove out on Thursday afternoon and checked in at our hotel, the Hotel ZaZa, right across from the Fine Arts Museum and a block away from the Natural Sciences Museum. The hotel was a riot. The place appears from the outside to be a renovated early-twentieth century hotel or apartment building and is decorated in a sort of quirky yet swanky, retro-style, with photos of various celebrities and the occsional animal head.
We were a bit hungry by this point so we had a late afternoon pizza via room service; (foolishly) we went down to an early dinner that evening at the hotel's Monarch Restaurant. We weren't enormously hungry, so we split some appetizers and side dishes (portions are huge). The Salt & Pepper Rock Shrimp and the Deconstructed Tuna were outstanding, as was our "entree" (really, one of the salads, followed by the White Cheddar Truffle Mac and Cheese.
Next morning, we were up early to hit the Natural Sciences Museum. Noteworthy permanent exhibits include a vertebrate paleontology section (including the above T.rex and edmontosaurus), a butterfly garden (a four story tall atrium garden with fountains and waterfalls and countless butterflies swooping all around), and African and Texas wildlife displays.
The highlights of our visit, though, were the Leonardo da Vinci special exhibit and especially the Lucy special exhibit. The da Vinci exhibit included many models of the inventions from his sketchbooks, allowing close up and (sometimes) hand-on views.
The Lucy exhibit started with a fascinating history of Ethiopia section including movies and artifacts. We then moved on to the australopithecus portion of the exhibit which included a video on the discovery of Lucy and then the main event was the display of Lucy herself. The fossil bone fragments are laid out on a slab, with a reconstruction of Lucy standing beside it and a panorama of human evolution behind it. Very well-done and impressive. More images can be found here.
The next day we decided to brave the Houston weather and went over to the Houston Zoo. Highlights included the reptile house, and large mammals, including giraffes and Asian elephants. In most cases, you can get up pretty close to the animals, which is a lot of fun. Also, the zoo seems to have a successful breeding program: we saw baby elephants, giraffes, wild pigs, and many others. (They're also apparently working on an expansion to be completed in 2010, but I couldn't find the info. on the web site). Feeling a bit hot and sticky, we went back to or hotel for lunch and took it easy for the rest of the afternoon, ate, had a glass of wine, and watched news and Olympics.
All in all, a fun weekend - we need to get back there sometime...perhaps in March :-).