Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Men's Final Four ~ Houston, TX ~ April 1-5, 2011

Our mini vacation started off great. Stephen took Thursday off and I took a half day. Of course, if I had known this I would have planned a better flight, but following many years of vacation planning with my husband, I have learned I can never assume a day off :) Once through security, I received a call from my brother Sean who was returning from a business trip in the Northeast. Within a few seconds, he was at our gate and we were all enjoying a seasonal Sam Adams. This was a sign of great things to come!

About a week before leaving for Houston, Steve had made contact with his cousin who offered their guest apartment to us during our stay. Despite them not seeing each other in about 17 years (I’m serious), we happily accepted. Unfortunately for Jeremy, we had a terrible flight route (sometimes frequent flyer miles can be a pain…) and we didn’t arrive at their house until 3 am CST (4 am EST). We slept well that night and we were looking forward to the day ahead!

The weather in Houston was amazing. It was snowing at home shortly before we left Cleveland, so I was super excited to feel warmer temperatures. I had forgotten how much I love the sun…just kidding, I‘ll never forget! I had been watching the weather forecast for weeks and when it was finally time for us to leave, this is what I had to look forward to.

Friday afternoon had us walking around downtown Houston, getting some lunch and visiting Bracket Town. We first stopped at the Flying Saucer for lunch. As you can see, they have countless beers on tap.

Although Bracket Town is typically geared toward kids, we always partake in their activities. Here are a few pictures from the day…

I can't believe I'm posting such a horrible picture, but I guess it's just THAT bad!

You can see Steve on the left. He's really tall.

We returned back to Jeremy and Caroline’s and sat by the pool to soak up a few rays of sun. It may have been only a few minutes a day, but we used every chance we had to sit outside.

On Friday night we went to dinner with Jeremy and Caroline at Pesce where we enjoyed some great wine, sushi, gumbo, seafood and conversation. It was a really good time and I had a chance to get to know the people who were letting us stay in their house!

Saturday was GAME DAY! Jeremy and Caroline live in the River Oaks area of Houston, which is possibly the most convenient area to downtown, midtown and Reliant Stadium. We were lucky guests! For lunch we stopped at Cyclone Anaya’s in Midtown where we shared a few tacos along with a Bloody Mary and one of their famous margaritas. It was quite delicious.

Next, we stopped at the Front Porch Pub (Butler fan bar) for a few buckets of beer and then hitched a taxi to Reliant Stadium with some Butler students.

The Butler vs. VSU game started at 5:09 pm and we watched the first half from the nosebleeds.

During halftime, Steve wandered (and I followed because I really had no idea what his plan was) until he found the club section where we watched the 2nd half as well as the Kentucky vs. Connecticut game.

Although we weren’t anywhere near courtside, we could see the action pretty well. We were happy to see Butler beat VCU 70-62 and were ecstatic to see UCONN pull-out the 56-55 victory vs. Kentucky. It was a real nail biter!

On Friday morning we drove 45 minutes southeast to Galveston, TX.

Before we left, I had booked a room at the Hotel Galvez; a 100 year old hotel that has been restored most recently after Hurricane Ike in 2008.

I chose this particular hotel because they have the most famous brunch on the island. If I know one thing about my husband, I know he loves a good brunch!

As if the food display wasn’t enough to sell me, the bottomless champagne sure did!

Brunch went from 11-2 and we proudly outlasted everyone. We have the brunch system down pretty well so we scope out the options and then prioritize all the way down to our final plate of dessert. The dessert display was pretty spectacular and even included a candy bar!

Ok, maybe the gummi worms weren’t essential, but the waffle ice cream sundae definitely was :)

 Following brunch, we went into a bit of a food coma at the pool.

That evening, we did our best attempt at a bar crawl along the Galveston Seawall. Hurricane Ike had done a tremendous amount of damage to the Gulf Coast of Texas, particularly in Galveston. Some hotels and restaurants seem to have recovered entirely, while others not at all. We decided to spread our love and visit a few of each!

Fish Tales…Touristy and part of the Landry’s restaurant group.

Float Pool & Patio Bar…A very different (that's me being nice) bar with a pool in the back.

 The Poop Deck…Another strange (me being nice again?) bar where they only sold beer in cans.

The Spot…4 bars in 1, which is pretty awesome and makes for an easy crawl in one space.

We visited Squeeze first where we watched an exciting Texas A&M vs. Stanford game while enjoying a margarita. Next we stopped at The Spot for some Shrimp Kisses (cheese-injected shrimp wrapped in bacon and then deep fried...YUM!) & Tiki Bar where we met some fellow Connecticut fans, who actually had the nerve to question Steve's UCONN allegiance. You might think I'm joking, but I’m serious. They questioned him about where he was from, where he went to high school, quizzed him about several past players, etc. Really? You're going to quiz Steve Schur about Connecticut basketball? Although highly offended, he passed with flying colors. It wasn’t until they realized he was about 10 years older than they thought that he might actually be a legit UCONN basketball fan. It was with them that we also were disappointed to see the UCONN women fall to Notre Dame. After the game we walked upstairs to Drip and had one final cocktail before calling it a night.

 We had a lazy Monday morning at the hotel before heading to Gaido’s for lunch. Jeremy recommended their gumbo, so we popped in for a bowl along with a fabulous piece of pecan pie.

It was GAME DAY again and we were excited!

We drove back to Houston just in time to head to Sushi Raku in Midtown. Although, it was intended to be one of the host bars for Connecticut fans, there was only a handful to be seen. Although we didn’t have a crowd around us, they had fantastic happy hour specials so we decided to stay and enjoy lots of sushi and sake!

The supply and demand for tickets had changed a lot since the semi-finals. Kentucky fans are known to travel well and they showed up in droves. Since their loss, most of their fans were reselling their tickets. Combine that with an already drowning market of scalpers and you have a lot of tickets being sold for less than face value. We jumped at the opportunity and upgraded our seats to section 140 (from section 641) and sold our old seats just before entering the stadium. We were really happy with our decision.

The championship game was a little bazaar, considering Butler couldn’t hit a basket. They shot 18.8% (12-64) for the game, including only 3 FGM inside the three-point line, which is the lowest FG% ever in a NCAA Championship game. Had we not been rooting for UCONN, it would have been a hard game to watch.

To tell you the truth, I’m not really sure Steve could have handled anything more stressful. He was a total wreck until the clock expired and he saw UCONN’s 53-41 victory on the scoreboard.

I can promise you he didn’t care whether it was a good game or not…UCONN won their third NCAA Championship and he was there to witness it. It was a priceless opportunity and we happily celebrated with the rest of the Connecticut crowd.


After the game, we stopped at a bar near Caroline & Jeremy for a celebratory cocktail. Although it was already really late, I just didn’t think it felt right to go home and straight to bed. Stephen happily agreed.

Tuesday was our last day in Houston. Once again, we relished the opportunity to soak up the sun and sat by the pool. We followed it up with lunch at Taco Milagro with Jeremy where we sat on the outdoor patio.

As usual, Stephen and I are terrible at getting pictures, so during the last few hours of our trip I forced he and Jeremy to pose. Note: Jeremy is not actually drinking a margarita since he was on his way to work...He borrowed mine for the pose.

Our flight home was fairly painless, except for when we walked off the plane and felt the frigid Cleveland temperatures. Our flight didn’t get in until after 11 pm so we were relieved that Rich offered to pick us up. Surprisingly, we were happy to be home.

The Final Four in Houston was another great trip. The generosity of Jeremy and Caroline was overwhelming and they truly made us feel like family, despite the 17 year hiatus! A UCONN championship was the icing on the cake and truly a dream come true for Steve.

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