Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Holy bats, Batman!

Call me nuts, but I have a thing for bats. I've visited bat caves in places such as Mexico, the Rocky Mountains of Canada and off the beach in Aruba.

So when I heard that Houston had its very own bat colony, I had to check it out - especially with Halloween coming up.

Because if you're going to go batty, now is the best time to do it. It's great family fun -and it's FREE!


Located at Waugh and Allen Parkway, Houston's bat colony is located under the bridge. While you can't see them during the day, you can hear them squeaking away...and you can smell them. I must admit it does get a little musky under the bridge.

It's hard to imagine, but hidden in the concrete crevices are approximately 250,000 bats. But in the peak season, there could be up to 300,000 of the little guys hanging out there - which makes Houston's colony one of the largest urban bat colonies in Texas.

Believe it or not, bats seem to know their bridges.

"The Congress Bridge in Austin is made out of the same construction and it's the home for what some say are 1.5 million bats (although this number is not confirmed and is under dispute). Whatever the number is, Austin does have the largest urban bat colony in Texas," said Trudi Smith, Director of PR and Events for the Buffalo Bayou Partnership.

But one of the cool things about the Houston colony is that they are there the whole year long. You see, bats who live in cooler climates migrate like birds. This includes the Austin colony. Houston is warm enough for them to stay put.

There is also a new bat colony forming downtown at the Louisiana Bridge.


Unless you're a bat nut like me, you probably didn't think about the bats during the hurricane. But I wasn't the only one concerned about my little squeaking buddies.

Diana Foss was also worried.

Diana is an Urban Wildlife Biologist. She works for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and is the only real-life Bat Girl I know in the area.

"I checked on the colony and it looks like the water came up over the sidewalk on the south side of the bridge and got up to within five feet of the bottom beams. But it didn't get up to the bats," said Diana. "They still had several feet to drop down, fly out and get air."

Diana said the bats may be feeling a little unnerved by the whole hurricane experience.

"I noticed the bats were hanging out really high up in the crevices and all clustered toward the middle of the bridge," said Diana. "Prior to exiting the bridge, they clustered high up against the beams in a flattened out vortex rather than the vertical cone they usually form."

Diana told me that the bats at Waugh were first spotted in 1993, after new construction was completed on the bridge. The population has grown from there.


Watching the bats flyout as in the vortex in an incredible experience. And there are a number of ways you can do it.

The first way is to walk or drive over to the Waugh Bridge about 30 minutes before dusk and wait. As it gets dark, the bats will fly out to chow down on the bugs in the area...and the Buffalo Bayou has plenty of bugs for them to gobble up. Which is a good thing, considering the Waugh bat population can eat an estimated 2 ½ tons of insects each night.

The Houston bats always fly to the east so either stand on the viewing bridge, the grassy part of the landing or on the top the bridge looking down. For more Houston bat colony viewing tips, click here.

But another interesting way to check out the bats is by boat. Starting in March, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership sets up pontoon tours of the area. They are every second Friday of the month and it is a 90 minute tour for $35 for adults and $25 for children 4-12.


1. Bat poop is not poop, but guano and people use it for fertilizer.

2. The bats in the Houston colony are Mexican Free-Tailed Bats.

3. Baby bats are called pups and they hang onto their mothers until they are old enough to fly alone.

4. Each mother bat gives birth to only one pup a year.

5. Some people buy bat houses because they want the little guys to come over to their yard and eat up the mosquitoes.

6. Bats are the only mammal that can really fly (those squirrels you hear about are just gliding).

Oh...and it case my bat-fetish isn't enough. I actually have a favorite bat book that I read years ago. It's Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel. The story is told from the bat's perspective.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Experiencing warp speed at Lamborghini Track Day

What goes from zero to sixty in less than 3.4 seconds? The new Lamborghini LP560-4!

Many of us can only dream of owning one of these luxury cars, but 21-year-old Quincy Liu is one lucky guy. He has not only owned one, but has just bought his second Lamborghini.

"I bought the first one in 2006. It was a grey Lamborghini Roadster. I replaced it with the LP640," said Quincy.

Quincy is the youngest Lamborghini owner in Houston, and was also the first person in Texas to own the LP640. He also owns four other cars including an Aston Martin, which is my dream car. Like I said, he's a lucky guy...with great taste in cars.


But owning the car is the just the beginning for these drivers. There's also the racing aspect.

You can't blame them for wanting to go fast. Because, let's face it...if you owned a car that was built for speed and people told you it could from zero to sixty mph in 3.4 seconds, wouldn't you want to try it out?

That's exactly what Quincy and his 19-year-old brother Brian were going to during Lamborghini Track Day at Motorsport Ranch Houston, but they were going to be smart about it. They were going to take a racing lesson on the track first.

But surprisingly, even though it was the annual event for owners to show off their cars, Quincy and Brian didn't bring the new yellow Lamborghini. Instead they brought the BMW M3.

"We didn't want to bring the Lamborghini just in case something goes wrong on the track," said Quincy. "Today will be our first time."
"Yeah, with the BMW, we can really go for it, but in the other car, we would be more careful," said Brian.

All of the Lamborghini owners at the track were just as passionate about speed and performance as the Lui brothers, including John and Melinda Novak. The Novaks got hooked on racing last year at this same event.

"I bought a Lamborghini and was invited to Track Day. I got hooked that day and bought a second Lamborghini. Today we purchased a garage at the track. That's how addictive it is," said Melinda.

Both John and Melinda took their racing lesson last year, and now the husband and wife team speed around the track together.
"Melinda races the Gallardo Spyder and I race my Porche 911 Twin Turbo," said John.

The couple said they come out to Motorsport Ranch a couple of times a month.

"But now that we own the garage, it will be more often," said Melinda.


But what really impressed me about Melinda and John is that they don't bring along a mechanic or a pit crew. They do their own work and replace their own tires. They said you learn as you go because you love the cars so much.

"It just comes with it. You feel your car slipping on the track so you get on the internet and learn. Or you talk to other drivers at the track or talk to the Lamborghini dealership," said John.

"With the garage, we'll be able to store some of the supplies like spare tires," said Melinda.

Quincy and Brian are the same. Ask them anything about cars, and they'll have the answer for you.

"We're car freaks," said Quincy. "We watch every car show and read everything on the internet. This is our passion."

So what do guys like this look for when buying an exotic car?

"We look at the appearance, horsepower and the performance. If it has all three of these, then you talk about the money," said Brian. "You don't look at price first with this type of car."


If you've been following my blog, you probably already figured out that I'm a bit of an adrenaline junkie, however I've never raced on a track (except for go-carting).

Gary Seale, the Owner and GM of Lamborghini Houston said I could take my Honda out for spin, but I didn't want to do that. What I did want to do is go for a ride in the new Lamborghini... and I wanted it to go fast. Maybe not the full 202 mph, but pretty close.

For some reason, Gary didn't trust me behind the wheel, but he did take me out himself so I could experience what it feels like to be in one of the fastest accelerating cars of 2009.

Let me just tell you that going from zero to sixty was a complete rush.

Ever watch Star Trek when they go to warp speed? That's exactly how it feels (or how I imagine warp speed to feel like). One minute you're enjoying the comfy leather seats, and three seconds later, you're thrown back into them from the speed.

I now know why Quincy and Brian are addicted to fast cars. It's not the lifestyle; it's the thrill of living in the moment.

Friday, October 24, 2008

On the wings of a B-25 War Bird

Frank Stokes is my hero of the day. A retired Air Force Colonel, he's been volunteering for the Ron Carter Wings Over Houston show for the last 8 years, and knows Ellington Field like it's his own backyard.

He's also a gentleman, and came to my rescue today when I was lost and had no idea where the Southwest Service entrance was.

In a second, he had me on the back of his golf cart and whipped me across the field to my destination.

When I asked him, what brings him back to the airshow year-after-year, he said it was the planes.

"I love all of them. This is one show where I can see the planes I grew up with," said Stokes.


He's not the only who fell in love with the planes.

Friday, the pilots put on a "barrier-free" show for children and adults with special needs, and all 4,600 Houston-area spectators were in awe of the aerial maneuvers that were happening above them.
And you can't blame them.

The father and son team of Sean and Eric William Drake Tucker were incredible. Flying in two red planes, the twosome performed a synchronized formation that was flawless.

As they spinned and turned, you couldn't help but hold your breath. Yes, they are professionals and Sean Tucker is an award winning pilot, but still you have to wonder how the plane can handle the tight corkscrew spins.

Then there's the Flash Fire Jet Truck. This is a must see for everyone, just because it's cool. Basically it's a Chevy truck with a jet engine on the back. It goes over 300 mph and has a power to weight ratio of 4 to 1.

What makes it cool is the flames. Sure they are rocket-sized and give off a large burst of heat, but it's the powerful sound of the engine that got to me. When the flames ignite, you can feel the sound waves vibrate through your body.

And of course, I can't forget Captain Julie Clark. She's been flying for more than 38 years and was one of the first women to fly for a major airline. Her plane is a Chevron Mentor T-34 from the 1950s. She bought it in 1976. She picked it up in Alaska and flew it home to California.


But the highlight of the day was my ride in a B-25 Mitchell Bomber.

Before I get to my incredible flight, let me tell you about the legend behind the plane. Apparently, back in 1942 Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle led 16 B-25s on a daring mission as part of America's first response to Pearl Harbor. This plane serves a flying tribute to the 80 brave men who flew in that mission, but it also serves as a reminder to veterans, which is why the Department of Veterans Affairs (DAV) brought it along to the airshow.

"People have no idea of the kinds of services that we do for veterans. Whether it's help with benefits, transportation or fighting to get them what they deserve, we are here for them," said Lynn May, Event Coordinator for DAV Aviation Outreach Program.

If you go to the show, you won't be able to miss it. It's the big green plane with Doolittle Raiders written on the side and will probably be located by the DAV display trailer.

And if you get to go up in it, take the chance as it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

First of all, it's not like any other plane you will have gone in if you've only flown commercially. Secondly, it's not made for luxury, but for protection, so it's full of steel.

"I've been flying for 45 years," said Dan Blanchard, one of the pilots of the craft. "I love flying all planes."

Blanchard spent his flying career, flying civilian planes. One of his favorites is the Spitfire. The B-25 isn't a light plane like that one; it's heavy. It's also loud.

Before the flight, Blanchard gave us the short, but effective safety speech.

"Don't pull on anything red," said Blanchard. "If you do, the door or something else will fall off."

He also pointed out the emergency exits, which basically are the glass domes over the pilot spot a couple of small windows on the side.

But the most interesting part for me was the nose area. You have to crawl under the pilot's seat to get there, but then you're in the windowed nose of the plane where some of the deadliest action took place.

Of course, the guns have been removed, so it's now the perfect place to watch the aerial scenery below.

On my way out, I ran into my buddy Frank Stokes again. He wanted to know if I saw anything interesting. I quickly filled him in on my experience.

"For me...if it doesn't have a propeller and loud motor, it's not a plane," said Colonel Stokes.

And after riding in the B-25, I have to agree.


Ron Carter Wings Over Houston Airshow takes place on October 25 and 26.

Gates open at 8 a.m. at Ellington Field and the show starts at 10 a.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $5 for children 6-11. It's free for children under 5.

Parking at the field is limited. They recommend riding METRO and taking shuttles from Bay Area Park and Ride and Fuqua Park and Ride.

For more information, visit: http://www.wingsoverhouston.com/.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New Braunfels: The tubing part of Texas

There are a couple of things you need to know about Texas. First of all, it's big. And secondly, the land changes depending on which direction you drive.

One of the areas, Texans will tell you about is the Hill Country. They'll tell about the hunting, the fishing, and the beauty. But most of all, they will tell you that you HAVE to go tubing on the Guadalupe River.

I know you're saying: "It's the end of October. Nobody goes to Guadalupe in October."

Guess what. You're right.

But I didn't know that, and neither did my friend who came with me -- of course, she moved here from Memphis, so she is just as naïve as I am.

The good news is we had the entire river to ourselves, so there was nobody there to witness our embarrassing moments like when we slipped on the rocks in the rapids while trying to push our raft out.

However, here's some stuff you may not know. The river in October is not freezing. In fact, the guy at Rockin' R River Rafts said it's the exact same temperature that it is in the summer, which is 65 degrees. The Comal River is also the same temperature --a balmy 72.

The river also does not close down. While the peak season (and the best time to go) is between Memorial Day and Labor Day, many of the rafting rental places are open all year long. What does change is the temperature outside...and the water level.

So how was it?

Gorgeous and peaceful, just like everyone said. But nobody told us there would be so many turtles. Man...there were turtles sunning themselves everywhere. And not just a couple...I'm telling you there were so many, it was like being at a turtle convention.

But while the turtles were busy relaxing, we were doing the complete opposite. We were working.

This might have been because the water was at least a foot lower than during the peak period, so we had to paddle. There were also four or five parts where there were mini rapids, and three of the times we got stuck. Really stuck.

I admit, I haven't exactly mastered using an oar, but my poor paddling had nothing to do with our situation. It all had to do with the rocks and how our rubber raft was caught on top of them. We actually had to get out of the boat and push ourselves off. So, yes, I can personally tell you that the water was not freezing, because I was in it -- a lot.

It took us about two hours to leisurely make our way down the river, and when we reached the docking area, we didn't want the fun to end.

So I'll be back. But next time I go, I'm going tubing -- and I'm going between May and September just like the locals.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Walking the blue carpet: Opening night at House of Blues

What can I say? I'm a soul woman.

Dan Akroyd and Jim Belushi may be in their fifties, but up on the stage at Houston's House of Blues, they still had the moves that made the Blues Brothers famous.

I don't know where they get their energy, but whatever they are using, I need to get some of it. That's because Saturday night's energetic concert was their second one of the day. They did their first one around 4:00 in the afternoon after the Rock Ride.


What do you get when you combine the Blues Brothers with a thousand Harley Davidsons? Well, you get one loud rumble of engines, but you also get the Blues Brothers Rock Ride.

On Saturday afternoon, Jim and Dan led a thousand bikers into downtown Houston for a chance to check out the House of Blues concert hall.

But that's not all. The bikers also had the chance to watch the sound check, eat some of the fantastic food the restaurant has to offer, and then, they got to watch a concert with Jake and Elwood Blues, also known as the Blues Brothers.


I left Dan and Jim, along with the Harley Davidson team around 5:00 p.m. as I had to get back before the evening newscast. But I wasn't gone for long. By 7:30, my photographer - the amazing Christine DiStadio, and I were back at the venue checking out the people on the 'blue' carpet.

Let me just say that the House of Blues pulled out all of the bells and whistles.

Located at the corner of Dallas and Caroline, they closed down the street and lit up the building with search lights. The blue carpet was filled with VIPs ranging from the Houston Texans, to local celebrities such as Uchenna Agu (the winner of The Amazing Race) and Erica Rose from the Bachelor.

Live Nation, who owns the venue, even had an entertainment reporter interviewing people as they walked down the carpet as if they were at the Oscars.

But the people I loved the most were the ones that decked themselves in honor of the event with Blues Brothers hats, sunglasses and dark suits. They knew this would be a night to remember and if it wasn't...well, they would make it happen.


The Blues Brothers concert was an invitation only event. Only 2,400 were invited to attend and believe, me...all of them showed up. The place was crowded and rocking the whole night. A part of this was because they had bands set up in all the rooms, but another part had to do with the food and alcohol. It was free and unlimited until 10:30 p.m.

Throughout the night, I spoke to House of Blues Foundation Room members from Chicago, New Orleans, and Vegas. All of them said that Houston's venue was the best they had ever been to. The place was first class entertainment all the way.

But no matter what came before the concert, nothing could compare to the concert itself. At 10:30 the Blues Brothers came on stage, decked out in their traditional suits and hats. It was then the party really began.

Dan and Jim shimmied and shaked on the stage. Jim even showed off a little (or a lot) of belly. The guys played off each other, adding a little bit of humor to the songs as only Jake and Elwood Blues could. They even pulled fans up onto the stage.

The concert was full or energy and full of fun, and even though my feet were killing me from standing all day, I couldn't help but dance through the whole thing. It was the concert experience of a lifetime and I was going to take it all in.

After the concert, the party continued into the night. I have no idea when it ended as I slipped out like Cinderella just after midnight.

But one House of Blues bartender told me that the Dan and Jim were planning to go all night long - and that he should be prepared to serve drinks until 5 a.m.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Behind the scenes at the House of Blues

Style, class and a little bit of swank - Houston's House of Blues has it all.

Cowboy Mouth kicked off the concert house's opening week celebrations with what I've been told was a rocking party. This was followed by other great bands like Ghostland Observatory. I didn't have a chance to check out any of them, but what I did get to check out is the venue - and I mean all of it.

My tour started in the restaurant, and considering the place had only been open for a few days, it was packed with a lunchtime crowd. Some of them were there because they were craving the restaurant's sweet potato fries and fried catfish nuggets, but most of them were like me: They were there to get a good look at the place.


If you've been to the House of Blues in some other city, let me just tell you that you haven't been to this one. First of all, it's big. And secondly, the design team worked with local artists and planners to come up with a look that is distinctly Houston.

"Everything you see here was designed specifically to reflect the local community. Even the art on the walls is original," said Brian Distefano, House of Blues Marketing Manager. "House of Blues owns one of the largest collections of folk art in the world."

The colorful art sets the tone for the restaurant, which is casual and comfortable. In the evening, local bands will play on the small stage at the front of the restaurant. The prices are reasonable, and on the menu, you'll find Southern classics ranging from pulled pork sandwiches to blackened catfish.

"Even the menu has been tweaked for the Houston customer. A jambalaya in Chicago is different from what a Houston customer expects in a jambalaya," said Distefano.


But I wasn't there for the food. I wanted to see what else was in the building, and I was about to get the five star tour.

Next stop was the infamous House of Blues Music Hall where bands like BB King, Willie Nelson and the Blue Brothers will play. When I got there, they were setting up for Jay Z's concert for that night.

"The team started this morning, but they'll be done in a few hours," said Distefano.

The concert area almost looks like a theater. The setup was created for intimacy and there is not a bad seat in the house. In other words, you'll actually be seeing the band and not watching it on a big television screen with 20,000 fans. Instead, there are only 500 seats in the balcony area.

But if you want to be even closer, you can go downstairs to the stage level and watch it from the floors.

"There's room for a 1000 people to stand in the stage area, and we have three bars down there," said Distefano.

Of course, there is also a VIP room right beside the stage where the artist's friends can watch the band.


"Now I'm going to show you the good stuff," said Distefano.

What? There's more? I don't know about you, but I just thought the House of Blues was a concert hall and a restaurant. That's it.

But when Distefano took me to the third floor of the building, I was overwhelmed.

"This is our member's only Foundation Room," said Distefano.

All I can say is WOW!

The Foundation Room is for VIP entertaining and those who are members of the House of Blues. I'm not sure how much membership costs, but I was tempted to get one just for the chance to sit here.

It was like being in an Indian palace combined with an elegant southern-style parlor. There was a crackling fireplace, plush velvet sofas and chairs, and chandeliers. The attention to detail is apparent in everything from the dark wood moldings around the doors to the walls, which were covered with fabric.

"The wall are covered with pieces of embroidered Indian wedding dresses that were quilted together," said Distefano.

But the Foundation Room is not just a room. It's got a little bit of everything. There's the five-star dining area with a special menu that has been created Executive Chef Brett Sparman. There's a lounge area for hanging out before and after concerts or dinners. And then there's the prayer rooms.

"If someone wants even more privacy, they can rent one of these rooms," said Distefano.

The rooms are decorated in the same lavish style as the rest of the Foundation Room and can fit 6 to 8 people. Guests can lounge, eat or even watch the concert from a flat screen TV.

Like I said, WOW!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Girl About Town masters the Texas Longhorns symbol

This weekend the Longhorns took on the Sooners and WON!!

Everyone at the station was cheering and talking about the win all Saturday night, especially after the Texans have been sucking big time this season. But don't worry, I still love the Texans. I'm convinced the only reason they are losing is because I haven't got around to attending a game yet to help personally cheer them on.

But back to the Longhorns. Did you know that doing the Texas Longhorns hand symbol is harder than it looks? Really...it is. And it's not just me who thinks so. I met a couple of other Texas newbies at Rice University and they said that it took them a while to master it - and make it look natural.

Here's what not to do:

1) Do not cross the thumb over your fingers, but place it on the tips your bent index and ring fingers -- like you're making a little bull nose. If you do it wrong and cross the thumb over the fingers, you just end up doing the "party-on" sign that rockers do at concerts.

2) Do not stick your thumb out to the side or make the fingers that represent the "horns" go out at an angle. This will make it look like you are doing the "hang loose" surfer dude gesture - which is very wrong when cheering the Longhorns to victory.

3) Do not bend your "horn" fingers. While you might think that you are making a charging symbol, it's really just lame. A true Longhorns fan keeps their fingers straight and proud.

4) Do not do the hand gesture upside down because then you'll just be cheering for Oklahoma. Very bad.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Let's meet for 'Ritas' in Houston

You can tell Houstonians really love their drinks when they have a pet name that all the locals know - and that name is Rita.

Yup...I'm beginning to think that the Margarita has replaced Texas beer in some areas of the city. In fact, every time I meet up with friends, it always seems we are meeting up with "Rita", too. And it seems that everyone has their own preference of how it's made.

There's the traditional Margarita on the rocks with salt along the rim (my favorite). Then, there's the frozen fruity flavors that range from watermelon, to strawberry, to lime.

And then, there's the people that really make it their own.


One of my friends adds her own twist to the Margarita by getting the frozen strawberry version, but with sugar on the rim instead of salt to make it almost a dessert drink.

But I have one other friend who takes her Margarita to the extreme. In fact, she gathers an audience with her Margarita twist.

Here's why -- she likes the traditional ones on the rocks, but then she likes to order a dollop of whipped cream and a bowl of salt on the side. Sounds strange? Believe me, she does raise the eyebrows of the servers. But it's what comes next that really makes them stare.

You see, she dumps the whipped cream on top of her drink and then squishes it around the ice cubes with her straw. But she's not done yet. She then sprinkles the salt on top.

She swears this is the best way to drink a Rita, but I must admit, I haven't had the courage to try it.

But here are the ones I have tried:

El Tiempo Cantina at 3130 Richmond Ave , Houston , TX , 77098
El Tiempo is my current favorite place to meet for 'Ritas'. They make their drinks strong, but good. However, their happy hour isn't the best deal in town. You basically only save $0.75 per drink, but their drinks are so good, it's worth it.

Café Adobe
This place claims to have the best Margaritas in the city, but I wasn't overly impressed. They were good, but the ones at El Tiempo were much better.

Terlinqua Texas Border Cafe at 920 Studemont and 3801 Bellaire
These guys have a daily happy hour which makes them a local favorite.

Below are the ones I haven't gone to yet, but heard were fabulous:

Ninfa's on Navigation
2704 Navigation Blvd , Houston , TX , 77003

El Patio Mexican Restaurant
6444 Westheimer Rd , Houston , TX , 77057

Taco Milagro Willowbrook
7877 Willow Chase Dr , Houston , TX , 77070-5934

Monday, October 6, 2008

Checking out Moody Gardens after the hurricane

Moody Gardens reopened on Friday after the staff spent the last two weeks cleaning up after Ike. Surprisingly, some of the staff never left the popular Galveston animal attraction - even when the rest of the island was shut down.

"Emergency staff was here the whole time," said Kuriko Hasegawa, Moody Gardens Public Relations Coordinator.

Not that I expected them to leave the animals to fend for themselves. I mean, it's obvious when you're there that the staff loves the fish and creatures that make Moody Gardens their home. But when the rest of the island is forced to evacuate, you have to wonder.

Turns out, we didn't have to worry. Greg Whittake, the Animal Husbandry Manager for Moody Gardens, practically lived there during the storm. In fact, he was there checking on the animals even as the eye of the storm passed over the island.

Quick thinking kept them alive

Kuriko took me on a quick tour of the Aquarium to show me how the animals fared. While walking around, she told me that staff was already there the morning after the storm to make sure things were okay. She also let me in on some of the secret stuff they did in order to keep the animals alive.

"We had to dump bags of ice into some of the tanks to keep the cold-water fish cool enough," said Kuriko.

But while the reef fish were okay with the warmer temperature - even after the emergency generator shut down when it got contaminated by seawater - it was the oxygen levels that had staff worried. For this, they used oxygen tanks and air rocks.

All their hard work paid off. They only lost one sickly shark who couldn't handle the stress and a couple dozen fish. Not too shabby, considering the thousands of fish and creatures that live there.

But what about the penguins?

Sure penguins can walk through blizzards in Antarctic and somehow find their way around in the snow, but can they survive a hurricane in Houston?

"They all made it," said Kuriko. "We didn't lose any."

I know some of you are breathing a sigh of relief. I did, too.

After the storm, the Moody Gardens staff had to struggle to keep the penguin water below the 58 degree threshold, but they did it.

I checked out the little guys from all angles just to make sure - from the rocks, in the water, and from below. Aside from the water still being a little cloudy from days with they had no power, they all looked happy and content, as if the storm and the warm water were just a bad dream.

I wasn't the only one making sure they survived. Joseph Shepherd's wife came to Moody Gardens just to see them.

"My wife always wanted to see the penguins. We came mainly because she wanted to see them," said Joseph.

Shepherd and his family were visiting from Horizon City which is by El Paso, and they weren't the only ones there on opening day. Douglas and Maureen Biggs from Kentwood were also visiting the exhibit after checking to see if their Galveston beach house survived the storm.

"We heard it was open and thought it might be a good time to support the Galveston economy," said Douglas Biggs.

The Biggs said they were lucky. After seeing the destruction on television, they were worried about what they would see when they got to the island.

"Our beach home is still standing. We just lost a few shingles," said Douglas.

So what's open and what's not?

Sadly, not all of Moody Gardens fared as well as the Aquarium. The Rainforest Pyramid was badly damaged during the storm and parts of it flooded.

Kuriko told me that it could be months before they will be able to reopen that portion again. But don't worry...she said the animals are doing fine and are currently vacationing at other zoos.

"Some are at the Houston Zoo, but some are at other zoos across the nation," said Kuriko.

The IMAX and 4D Theater are also closed until further notice.

But what is opening on October 10 is a new exhibit called Bones: An Exhibit Inside You inside.

In this exhibit, you'll learn about health issues. But of course, it's much more exciting than that. There are humans transformed into skeletons, hands-on activity areas and other cool stuff.

Reduced rates for a limited time

Because not everything is open, Moody Gardens is offering special rates for a limited time.

Pyramid Aquarium:


Ride Film Theater:


Paddlewheel Boat:


Bones Exhibit:


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Gravitating to Gravitas

I must admit even though people have been talking about Gravitas Restaurant in Houston for months, I ended up there on Friday night by complete chance.

I was actually planning on checking out Table 7 in downtown Houston. But when I couldn't find parking and then discovered Allen Parkway was closed due to the Komen Race for the Cure, I ended up taking a mixed up way home that brought me to the front door of the little restaurant on Taft Road.

The first good thing I can say about Gravitas is that you don't have to worry about parking. That's because they have valet - and it's "pay what you want" so you don't have to dish out a ridiculous amount of money unless you really want to.

Secondly, it's really nice inside.

Chef Jason Gould describes the cuisine as rustic American. The same can be said about the interior. With its exposed red brick walls, polished concrete floors and warm wood tones, the restaurant is stylish -- but in a way that's casual and comfortable.

But enough about the décor. Let's talk food.

For me, if the restaurant cheaps-out on the bread basket or has stale bread, it's a sign that they are probably lacking quality in other areas that may not be as obvious.

But Gravitas didn't have to worry. They passed my bread test as soon as they brought out the heaping basket of crusty chunks that were perfect for dipping.

And dip you will.

Along with the bread comes a bowl of olive oil and crushed smoked nuts. I'm assuming you dip the bread into the oil and then into the nuts because that's what I did and it was incredible -- especially when paired up with one of their wines.

The menu is an eclectic mix of southern classics like Chicken Fried Steak to modern favorites such as Roasted Duck legs with beets. The sea scallops with cauliflower and pancetta will make you drool, and if you're a goat cheese lover, you've got to try the goat cheese tart with red onion jam.

But don't bother with the soup. Both the shrimp bisque and the soup of the day (carrot/ginger) were disappointing.

Great friends and great company

The one thing you won't find disappointing is the people. What I've been learning in Houston is that great restaurants attract great people, and Gravitas is no exception.
After comparing wine selections with the party at the table next to me, I ended up joining them for the course of the meal.

The night went on from there with animated discussions ranging from the political debate, to whether it was okay to litter train a dog, to if that was really Hunter Pence from the Astros sitting at the table behind us (yes, it really was him).

Gravitas is the type of place where food-loving friends gather and hang. The cuisine may not be the best in the city (I have been told that Hugos and Catalan is better), but the atmosphere makes it a worthy night out without the drama.