While I was still in college, a very good friend of mine, Reem and her family moved down to Houston, Texas. I can remember the sadness I felt when she told me a week before she moved. However my family lived 5 hours away from Houston and that consoled me that I would visit her in the near future. I became more aware about Houston whenever it was mentioned in articles or in news feeds due to Reem’s residence there. Some of the great things I have read about Houston are how it “surpasses Los Angeles and New York as the most ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the U.S.” (Gates, 2012), its continuously increase of Latino citizens. In addition, Houston’s economic prosperity hence more jobs (both domestic and international) are available. The state of Texas does not impose income taxes on its residence. It has the 5th largest population of Muslims in the U.S. The only downsides I learned about living in Houston were its swelting summers and insane traffic. Besides the little disadvantages, visiting Houston sounded really exciting.
Two years later, an opportunity came up. My little sister had a school related appointment for 5 days that was located in Houston! I encouraged my sister to let me accompany her as a guide in case she didn’t know her way around the airport or a big city *wink*. It was a win-win situation for both of us. I got to see my friend while she learned new things, took care of business and had fun.
We took a late night flight, and arrived Houston at about 11:00 pm. I was really excited to see Reem after so long. I hugged Reem dearly and introduced her to my little sister. Afterwards we got in her car and were en route to her house. Before we got home, we stopped at Whataburger for a late dinner. Reem had been raving about how amazing and huge their burger was. We had a regular Whataburger with fries and pop. In my opinion it was just o.k (no offense Reem if you are reading this haha). I felt that the burgers at Five Guys were bigger than that of Whataburger. As for the taste, it was good. Immediately when we got to Reem’s house, we went straight to sleep. We had to be at my sister’s appointment by 8:00am. Knowing Houston has a major traffic issue we headed out around 6:00 am the next day. We finally arrived on time and were in line with others for the meeting. We used this opportunity to jot down a couple activities we would go to for the five days we were in Houston. Below is how we spent our five days in Houston.

Day 1
After my sister’s appointment, we headed downtown to check out the JP Morgan Chase office. You are probably wondering what is so special about visiting a bank? Well this bank is also a 75 story skyscraper, allowing one to see nearly the whole of Houston. We weren’t allowed on the 75th floor but we were still amazed from the view on the 63rd floor.

View from the 63rd floor

View from the 63rd floor

Me posing behind the view

Me posing behind the view

After the view at JP Morgan Chase, we walked around a bit to check out Houston’s downtown. It got hotter every minute of our walk. It was 10:00 a.m. and already 84˚F (28˚C). While walking in the swelting heat, we decided that we were hungry. I was craving Asian food, so I suggested a Korean barbeque restaurant downtown. We googled the location and started heading to the place. “You have reached your final destination” google map stated but the Korean barbeque was nowhere in sight. We were famished and confused and started looking around, a kind stranger asked what was wrong and then told us that the place was closed, he then gave us a map for downtown. We eventually settled on going to Niko Niko’s (a Greek restaurant) in Houston’s market square. Niko Niko’s is designed for customers to eat outside. You go up to order in front of the restaurant, you are given a buzzer, once the buzzer rings you pick up your food and eat outside. I ordered pita with gyro and tzaziki sauce, some fries and a cold drink. Our brunch was scrumptious. The gyro, very succulent and pita so soft. Where we sat outside was cool as there was water in the form of mist squirting under the fans below us.

Michael Nassar's photo

The only thing that made me uncomfortable eating, were the pigeons. I made the mistake of feeding one a piece of my pita bread and before I knew it was begging me for more. It also informed its friends and family that I was offering free food. So while we ate there numerous pigeons surrounded us almost pecking our feet for more food. My rating for Niko Niko’s on a scale of 1-10 is:
Design: 9.6    Fullness level: 9    Price: 9   Service: 9   Comfort: 5
After brunch we were hot, full and tired. We considered other activities like biking around the city but that was a whopping $70 I wasn’t willing to pay for. At 1:00 pm, we went back home and took a nap.

I believe we slept for about 6 hours. By the time we woke up it was in the evening and we decided to head to El Bolillo, a Mexican dessert store. Don’t ask me what happened but we ended up leaving the house at 9:00pm an hour left before they closed for the day. We rushed and got there at 9:40pm.
If there were a special place in heaven for dessert lovers, El Bolillo was definitely the place. There were shelves with transparent glasses of many Mexican sweets ranging from tres leches to pan dulces. This was the first time for me to see something like this. I felt like a kid in a candy store. We picked a big round grey tray with a thong to pick as much sweets as we wanted. We had three large bags of Sweets for all under $10! My rating for El Bolillo:
Design: 8   Fullness level: 10   Price: 10  Service: 9  Comfort: 9

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This was how we ended our first day, munching goodies from El Bolillo and me wishing I didn’t eat so much when I went to sleep with pangs in my stomach.

Day 2

This was the day we went to Galveston Island in Texas.

Map to Galveston Island

Map to Galveston Island

It took us 1h and 30 minutes to get there. The Island was simply gorgeous. Once we got on the Island, I immediately saw a masjid (mosque) there which made me feel so relaxed. I could pray before we head back to Houston. Driving through the island, there were a lot of activities going on. From where we drove there was an amusement park by the gulf on the left. Also on the left a sand beach stretch across. On the right consisted of many restaurants, bicycle/surrey and souvenir shops.

Image from Holiday Inn

Surreys at Galveston

We parked, applied sunscreen and then headed out to the beach. On the Galveston beach there were rocks leading towards the Gulf of Mexico where folks could watch the waves hit the rocks. We got on the rocks and stared into the gulf like philosophers. I posed on the rocks, trying to capture the waves while doing so.

I didn't catch the wave splash.

I didn’t catch the wave splash.

After our time on the rock we headed back through the scorching beach sand for our next activity.

The next activity on our list was to go on a boat ride to check out the dolphins. It was a fun ride. Reem, my sister and I sat on the exterior of the boat where would could see the view of the gorgeous Gulf without the any hindrance. The sailor rode around the gulf in search of dolphins. We saw a group of dolphins pop out of the water once in a while for air . We did this for an hour before we headed back to deck. Of course after this Reem, my sister and I were hungry. We drove to Mosquito Cafe for a meal. I thought the name Mosquito Cafe was hilarious “as why were mosquitoes equated to something tantalizing? Or were there mosquitoes coming out to bite us while we eat” all these thoughts swarm through my head as we got into the restaurant. I ordered their day’s special; quesadilla with cold spaghetti and vegetable. 20150728_145200It was very delicious. I had a great experience at Mosquito Cafe. The only mosquitoes I saw were the artificial décor hanging down the fans of the restaurant. My ratings for Mosquito Cafe are as follows:

Design: 7    Fullness level: 6    Price: 8   Service: 8   Comfort: 8

After Mosquito Cafe we headed to a souvenir store then to the mosque after which we headed back home. My experience at Galveston was phenomenal.

Day 3

On the third day, we decided to stay in. Although we had other plans to go to NASA, Indoor Skydiving, Zoo and so on. It was just too hot to venture out again for another adventure. We used our time at home to make an Egyptian special dessert called Basbousa. We felt like chefs after making the sweet. Our Basbousa looked good and tasted great. In case you don’t know what Basbousa looks like here is an image:

Day 4

We decided to be lazy bums again and stayed in. All we did was watch our favorite childhood movies. Mine was Anastasia. Day 4 was a Thursday so I guess I could say it was throwback Thursday for us. In the early afternoon, we had delicious home cooked meal made by Reem’s mum. Later on we rode Reem family’s bicycles around their neighborhood. The best part was riding through the sprinklers during the scorching summer afternoon. Afterwards we got frozen custard and got back home again.

Day 5

This was our last day in Houston. We were to leave at 5pm. We spent our morning in the Galleria mall. It was a huge mall with the typical stores in American malls namely: Zara, H&M, Forever 21, Banana Republic, Chanel etc. I am not usually the kind of person that enjoys walking aimlessly at the mall. If I want to buy something at the mall, I would have looked up the item online then go straight to the store of my destination and inquire for that particular item. When I occasionally walk around the mall it is to accompany a friend this day was one of those occasions. Since we couldn’t think of any other activity to do for the morning we decided to walk around the mall.

Walking through the stores at the galleria was interesting as I could see all of Houston’s diverse residents from Latinos to Asians to Middle Easterners to Africans you name it, almost every nationality was there. When we got into a store I would hear at least one Hispanic person speak Spanish and to my surprise I understood what they were saying. I felt like I had a new power of some sort.

One funny experience we had at the galleria mall was when we decided to walk into Chanel. My little sister is an aspiring fashion designer. She wanted to check out the clothing style and the store décor in search of ideas for her future career. Mind you, we wore regular clothes or clothes without an expensive brand. It was awkward walking into Chanel. We looked like the odd ones out. The employees dressed very fancy and other fellow customers looked like their outfit costed a fortune. Once we walked in, some of the employees smiled and welcomed us while others gave us the weird look of “what are you doing here?”. We continued in, pretending like we were any other experienced customer ignoring any odd look. I picked a shirt that looked nice and considered looking at the price tag. The shirt costed a whopping $2000.  “Yup there is no way I am buying a shirt this price anytime soon” I thought to myself. My sister jotted down ideas she saw and then we left Chanel.

We walked around the Galleria a bit more before heading out to the masjid for Jumaah (Friday prayer). After Jumaah, we picked up the Cheese Fatayeh that Reem’s mum made for our departure. We then headed to the airport, bid Reem farewell and got into our gate.

Our time at Houston was amazing. I was drawn towards the diversity, lots of activities, how Spanish was written and spoken everywhere and how there were many Islamic centers. I could see myself visiting this place again. The major hindrance in Houston was the heat, so we couldn’t go out as much as we wanted. My advice to anyone visiting is to do so during winter.