Houston, you've got a problem. When people think about the city at all, negative adjectives crop up. Oil and gas. Humidity. Or no image at all. I admit I was one of those people who had no picture of the city in my mind whatsoever.
But after visiting recently to attend a travel writers' conference - during which the tourism people worked hard to fill our minds with positive impressions - I have to say I was amazed to learn how much there is to see and do in the city.
If you like museums you could easily fill up days and days museum hopping. I prefer going to museums alone rather than hanging with someone as I go room to room. I don't like having to keep one eye on a companion and another on the art. Or whatever it is I'm viewing.
As for Houston's offerings, The Museum of Fine Arts is impressive. The Health Museum, on the campus of the Texas Medical Center, is interactive and fun. (Want to see a visual of how your face will age? Yikes!) The Houston Museum of Natural Science had Body Worlds 2, a display of human bodies which I found unsettling but some people are fascinated by.
The biggest surprise for me was Space Center Houston.
I didn't expect to like it. I'm not that into shuttles and space labs and such, other than to applaud safe landings and historic firsts. But I was mucho impressed once there. By the size of the Saturn V rocket on display (it's enormous!).
By footage of astronauts on the moon that I don't recall seeing before (including an astronaut falling on his face in that big, bulky spacesuit and saying something to the effect of, "oops.") At being able to touch a moon rock. At seeing a space capsule that astronauts returned to earth in, its exterior burned up by re-entering the atmosphere.
My only regret was being with a tour group with a time limit and not being able to spend as much time as I would have liked.
Photos: Ellen Perlman. 1. Space capsule. 2. Saturn V rocket.
Photo: By a stranger. Ellen and "astronaut" friend. The kid side of the museum.
(My friend's son Samuel would LOVE the Space Center. A very happy birthday to you, Samuel!)