Houston, we have a problem...
Trip Start Sep 01, 2008
44Trip End Nov 19, 2008
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Where I stayed
The trouble started as we left New Orleans on Laura's birthday, heading west to the wetlands in the hopes of joining a tour to hunt for alligators and other creatures of the swamp. First we managed to spend a good hour just trying to find the road that we wanted out of the city. Then, this road proved to be slightly less scenic than we had hoped - in fact it was, similarly to many other roads in this area, lined with more chemical plants and oil refineries. Never mind, we knew where we were heading: the Atchafalaya basin where a number of different swamp tour operators, recommended in our guidebook, were located
Suppressing our disappointment, we decided to go up the road a little way to Lafayette where we could at least enjoy the other half of Laura's birthday plans: a nice, long trip to the cinema. We had already found the address of a cinema at a big, out-of-town mall online and headed straight there - we decided to check the film times before finding nearby lodging. Again, we were met with disaster. The cinema had gone out of business and, according to one of the mall's security guards, was currently being torn down! In order to regroup and to avoid the day being a complete loss, we decided to eat Laura's birthday cake (a tasty chocolate one bought earlier that day from Walmart) in the parking lot and think about what to do next
3 hours later, just as the sun was setting, we came to Houston's outer ring-road. The traffic got heavier, the roads wider and everywhere was concrete. The stars were coming out by the time we had navigated our way to the South-Eastern corner of the city where we hoped to check into a motel/hotel near to the space center. It was gone 8pm but the traffic showed no sign of letting up. But that didn't matter, because we had found a road with the whole selection of motel and hotel chains on it, so we were convinced that our long journey was nearly over. We pulled into the first one but there was a hand-written note on the door that said 'no more vacancies'. Around the corner, we tried another, but this motel seemed to be closed entirely. Slowly, it was dawning on us that hurricane Ike which swept through the city 2 weeks ago may be messing with our plans. We tried a third hotel and the security guard on watch told us that they were also full. From the cars, vans and pick-up trucks in the parking lot it was clear that rennovation crews were using the motels as a base while working to repair the damage left by the hurricane on this side of the city
Joking that we may have to prepare ourselves for a night in our car or for the drive on to San Antonio to find a place to stay, we decided that we should have a break and a proper meal and a new re-think. We selected, for irony's sake as much as anything else, TGI Friday's (it was Friday, but we were not much in the god-thanking mood) and collapsed into a booth. We were tired and hungry, but mainly just burning with embarassment at our own stupidity. On the basis of the reports of hurricane Ike's damage, we were clever enough to scrap our plans to stay in scenic, coastal Galveston, since this had taken the brunt of the storm and most of it had been completely levelled. And we had checked to see if the Space Center had re-opened. But that was where the thinking had stopped. We never considered that these newly-homeless people might need to temporarily stay in nearby hotels and motels or that the reconstruction crews would need somewhere to sleep. And here we were, two mindless tourists from Europe, hoping to find a room that would give us convenient access to the Space Center. We laughed and laughed and laughed at our own ignorance; and as we ate, we gathered strength for the task of finding somewhere to stay. We headed off around the massive ring road (usually a toll road, but tolls were still suspended until the following day - something which could also have been a clue, had we been looking, as to the impact of Ike)
And so ended Laura's official birthday - it was almost 11.00pm and we had been on the road since 9.30am. Exhausted, we crept into bed, laughed out loud one more time for good measure, and fell asleep.
The next morning we made another attempt at doing something special for Laura's birthday: we headed for the Space Center. We didn't even complain that it was an hour drive, back the way we had come the night before - we were just glad that we hadn't had to go any further to find a hotel
And once we had had our fill of space, we drove to the cinema we had spotted the night before and relaxed into the comfy chairs in the dark (and freezing!) room, to enjoy "Ghost Town". Hilarious and recommendable by the way. Laura's birthday, part 2, a rousing success!