Friday, March 18, 2011

Houston Travelogue X 2, Unenthusiastically X 1

Chad and I went to Houston last May to get away from our everyday responsibilities and chores for a weekend. We stayed at the lovely and comfortable Magnolia Hotel. Magnolia Hotel offers a free breakfast buffet with hot and cold items each morning, a happy hour each evening with discounted soft drinks and libations, and complimentary cookies with milk every evening from 8:00 - 10:00 PM. Our hotel room was cozy, quiet and well-appointed. A coffeemaker with complimentary coffee and hot tea were provided in each guest room.

During this 2010 visit to Houston, we watched the wacky annual Art Car Parade from along the route within walking distance of the hotel. We had great seats for a Houston Astros game, which was within just a few blocks' walk from the Magnolia Hotel. Overall, the weekend was fun, comfortable and relaxing.

Fast forward ten months: Chad and I hoped to stay at The Crossings - a lovely, serene spa resort on the edge of Austin in the hill country for a much-needed getaway. Unfortunately, when I went to The Crossings website to book our stay, a message appeared that The Crossings was closed, and that only previously booked reservations would be honored. No information on the website as to future plans for the now defunct spa. Google searches yielded no more information either. Ugh.

Lacking other ideas, and having no desire to endure air-travel, we settled for another trip to Houston last weekend for our getaway. This time we stayed at the posh Hotel Zaza in the museum district. Our pool-view villa was huge and wonderfully decorated, but our hotel villa door faced out towards a noisy road rather than in towards the hotel hallway as the vast majority of the hotel's guest rooms do. All night and all day we listened to the metro rail make frequent stops three floors down from our room. Our do-not-disturb doortag blew away several times as a result of the winds whipping at our hotel room door. Saturday night a loud dance party with a professional DJ boomed noisily from a ballroom up through our floor until midnight. Apparently the DJ favors Usher and The Black Eyed Peas. The hotel lobby and restaurant displayed signs warning that proper stylish attire was required. Room service breakfast the first morning of our stay was incredibly expensive for what we thought would be a healthy egg white omelet with fresh basil and tomatoes, but which ended up being an egg white omelet drenched in oily pesto with a few tomatoes and lots of mozzarella cheese. Access to the butler's pantry, touted as a feature, was nothing more than help-yourself coffee and hot tea set out near the elevators each day from 6:00 AM - 10:00 AM only - no coffee or tea provided in the guest room. Twelve ounce sodas from the mini-bar were $4.00 each. Want an evening treat? A cupcake from room service costs $8.00 plus a 21% service charge plus a $3.00 delivery fee, tip not included. While the decor of the Hotel Zaza was gorgeous, stylish and modern, the actual welcoming and comfort of guests seems to be an expensive afterthought.

If we return to Houston in the future, we'll be staying at the much more gracious, less noisy and slightly more modest Magnolia Hotel.

Last weekend, our ventures outside the hotel included a quick lap through the Museum of Fine Art Houston, where we saw the Impressionist special exhibit. We experienced our first Blue Man Group show, which was delightfully silly and fun. The best meal we had all weekend was the Sunday brunch buffet at the super-charming Baba Yega restaurant.

While it was nice to get away from our daily obligations and routines, and have time together, I so much wanted to get away to a quiet place in a natural setting rather than another busy, loud city. Days after returning home to Austin during its annual SXSW madness, I received an email promotion for Travaasa - a brand new spa resort in Austin set among rolling hills on the former site of The Crossings. Um, this would have been incredibly helpful information to have before we unenthusiastically went to Houston again. Had we known that a new spa resort would open within a month at the former site of The Crossings, we would have been among the very first bookings. Maybe this summer...