By Steve Lansdale
When the Texas Longhorns and Arkansas Razorbacks square off Dec. 29 in the 2014 Advocare V100 Texas Bowl, the matchup will represent a trip down memory lane for the fans who remember the old Southwest Conference rivalry.
Since the break up of the SWC (nearly 20 years ago), the teams have split four games since then, with Texas winning the last two, including a 52-10 thumping in Austin in 2008.
For many fans, seeing these two teams play one anther will be a first-time experience. For others, this will be their first time visiting the city of Houston — the home of the Texas Bowl game.
So outside of the game-time action, what should fans check out in Houston?
One of the important things about visiting someplace for the first time is finding a reasonable way to get around. Even in Texas, winters can get cold. Thankfully Houston has a way to get around without resorting to heavy coats and hats — or perhaps even long sleeves (although the tunnels are air-conditioned to battle the heat and humidity normally associated with the city). Houston boasts a series of tunnels (www.houston-tunnels.com) that allows foot traffic below the city streets, and the maze is not just for getting from Point A to Point B — the system includes a collection of underground vendors hocking just about everything, including restaurants offering food and drinks. The tunnels also feature tours, a series of maps and a directory of subterranean businesses.
Twilight Epiphany Skyspace
Check out a concert or take a tour of the Twilight Epiphany Skyspace (http://skyspace.rice.edu) near the Shepherd School of Music on the campus of Rice University. The two-level structure can accommodate up to 120 visitors at a time, and is acoustically engineered to host musical performances and serve as an evening laboratory for Rice music students. The structure boasts an impressive display of LED lights, set up to complement the natural light of sunset. The Skyspace has limited hours over the holiday (closed Dec. 23-25 and Dec. 30-Jan. 1), but will be open for four days in between, including game day.
Market Square Park
A fixture of Houston culture, Market Square Park (http://www.marketsquarepark.com) is a popular hangout for visitors and locals alike for numerous reasons, including the live entertainment, on-site eateries, an array of mosaic fountains and benches, an outdoor photo collection, and even a dog park sure to entertain puppies and their people. Visitors are welcome to bring food and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as blankets and lawn chairs. (Alcohol can not be brought into the park, although it is sold at Niko Niko’s.)
Houston Museum District
If you can find a place to park, you can find a world of options in the Houston Museum District (http://houstonmuseumdistrict.org), which offers a stunning collection of 19 venues for its visitors’ enjoyment. Among the must-see choices: the Children’s Museum of Houston (check out The Grinch’s Holiday Workshop with the kids); the visual, performing and literary art of Diverse Works; the Health Museum, an interactive science center and member-institution of the Texas Medical Center that offers an up-close look at the human body and how it works; the Holocaust Museum Houston, a powerful exhibition that “teaches the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy”; the Houston Center for Photography, an educational center that studies photography and other related media through education, exhibitions, public programs and community collaboration; and the Houston Zoo, which aims to help increase visitors’ knowledge and appreciation for the natural world through a series of exhibits of its more than 6,000 permanent animal residents.
NASA / Space Center Houston
There’s a reason Houston is known as the Space City. The home of the NBA’s Rockets and Major League Baseball’s Astros, Houston is no longer the site of launches into space, but remains the home of countless artifacts and exhibits at the Space Center Houston (http://spacecenter.org). Visitors can meet and even have lunch with an astronaut; check out a replica of the Space Shuttle and even the International Space Station. NASA and Space Center Houston are considered the pride of Houston; everyone who visits Houston should see it at least once.