Visiting Bryan/College Station: Trendy with a Texas Twang

Photo Bryan Coll Sta

I’m feeling a bit confused today. I’m still not sure how I went from wishing for a place the four of us (Mr. Wiz*, Big A*, JC*and I) could go over the July 4th holiday that was not in the $500 – $700 per night price range and landing at The Stella Hotel, a five star, Preferred Hotel with Frette sheets for a little over $100 a night. I think it was a combination of my positive thinking and JC’s suggestion that we take the lead from a recent Austin Monthly article and visit Bryan/College Station.

The home of Texas A&M University, over 66,000 students swell the city’s population during the school year. We wondered why these two neighboring cities were all of a sudden exploding with all types of development; why now? Apparently, social media had opened the doors to all of the campus sporting events and the general public accepted its invitation. Lucky for us, we were visiting off-season.

The Stella Hotel just opened in April and still smells new. The décor has that wow factor. The mixed use of materials, the textures and the interesting touches (saddle bags and iron I-beams mounted on the walls) all send out a sophisticated, yet edgy vibe. We were greeted by the sports jacket and jean clad staff who all had names like Parker and Morgan (no need to apply here if your name is Joe or Sue), who worked from their iPads, rather than standing behind the usual counter; very cool.

Outside was a man-made lake, two swimming pools, a golf course and a series of paths that led to a residential development of mega homes. The sprawling lawn was so welcoming, set up with assorted games, a fire pit, chairs and tables. Complimentary bicycles and paddle boards awaited our use at the front entrance.

JC acted as the official judge, as we filled our afternoons with pool races and seeing who could do the best hand stand in the water (some things never change). In preparation for the Scrabble championship (with a money prize to make it more interesting) and paddle board competition that I had planned, I tried to psych out Big A by boasting that I had trained on a paddle board while reading a dictionary. It didn’t work; he was the big winner of both contests.

In between, we visited the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and the Messina Hof Winery. Though the Campfire Restaurant at the hotel was in the running, we all agreed that our favorite dinner was at Christopher’s World Grille. The renovated historic home was rated one of the top 100 romantic restaurants in the U. S. by Trip Advisor. As the fans and misters kept us cool, we listened to live music on the porch of the Hullabaloo Diner, a transplanted 1940’s New York diner, as we waited for our table and agreed that this was what Sundays were made for.

I’m not sure what Texas’ secret is; it could be the warm weather or everyone’s laid back style, but it has a way of reminding you to slow down. It gave our little family the chance to enjoy each other’s company and regroup.  We all left feeling relaxed and pampered. I felt a bit more hip and happy to have another family adventure to tuck into my memory belt.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

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Porto, Portugal: Oct. 22-25, 2016

 

Photo Porto 2

The Pilgrims do not seem to want to go home. Most are leaving Santiago and heading out in all directions. We are going to Porto by bus to meet up with JC* and Big A* and are anxious for our reunion.

Porto is one the oldest cities in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s location on the Douro River and its hilly streets (more days of inclines and descents!) make it an interesting city to explore.

We travel well together. Big A and I are armed with all the research we’ve done. I especially like the New York Times 36 hour city guide that Big A has provided. Oh, and he surprises us by being able to speak just enough Portuguese to get by (says it’s very similar to Spanish, so he brushed up using the free Duo Lingo app.). Mr. Wiz* is in charge of getting us where we want to go and JC provides the spunk and enthusiasm (she is first one up and ready each day).

You can always count on the NH Hotels for a trendy vibe and the NH Collection Porto Batalha delivers. I particularly like the ancient stone arches that grace the modern lobby and the old postage stamp theme in the elevators and on the carpeting. On arrival, we are given coupons for a port wine tasting in the bar. This will be the start of a wonderful relationship between us, the bar and the port, every night after dinner.

Those inclines and descents really help us work up an appetite and we foodies can’t decide what we like the best: bacalhau (salted codfish), grilled pulpo (octopus), cabrito (baby kid), suckling pig or Portuguese sausages. One of the more interesting meals was lunch at Pastel De Bacalhau. There was only one item on the menu: a large, egg shaped codfish fritter stuffed with cheese served in a plastic holder inset into what looked like an artist’s palette with room for your glass of white port and your thumb, so you could carry it all with one hand.

We stroll the narrow cobblestone streets of the Ribeira District, the old quarter on the Duoro riverbanks, the beautiful gardens at the Palacio de Cristal and the Avenida dos Aliado, a lively avenue. We visit the Livaria Lello & Irmao Library, named the most beautiful bookstore in the world and rumored to be the inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. At the Do Porto Cathedral, we delight in the story that a local resident painted the altar to hide its silver, so that when Napoleon and his troops entered the city to pillage it, they left it behind never realizing it was there.

The Pilgrims do not seem to want to go home. Most are leaving Santiago and heading out in all directions. We are going to Porto by bus to meet up with JC* and Big A* and are anxious for our reunion.

Porto is one the oldest cities in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s location on the Douro River and its hilly streets (more days of inclines and descents!) make it an interesting city to explore.

We travel well together. Big A and I are armed with all the research we’ve done. I especially like the New York Times 36 hour city guide that Big A has provided. He surprises us by being able to speak just enough Portuguese to get by (says it’s very similar to Spanish, so he brushed up using the free Duo Lingo app.). Mr. Wiz* is in charge of getting us where we want to go and JC provides the spunk and enthusiasm (she is first one up and ready each day).

You can always count on the NH Hotels for a trendy vibe and the NH Collection Porto Batalha delivers. I particularly like the ancient stone arches that grace the modern lobby and the old postage stamp theme in the elevators and on the carpeting. On arrival, we are given coupons for a port wine tasting in the bar. This will be the start of a wonderful relationship between us, the bar and the port, every night after dinner.

Those inclines and descents really help us work up an appetite and we foodies can’t decide what we like the best: bacalhau (salted codfish), grilled pulpo (octopus), cabrito (baby kid), suckling pig or Portuguese sausages. One of the more interesting meals was lunch at Pastel De Bacalhau. There was only one item on the menu: a large, egg shaped codfish fritter stuffed with cheese served in a plastic holder inset into what looked like an artist’s palette with room for your glass of white port and your thumb, so you could carry it all with one hand.

We stroll the narrow cobblestone streets of the Ribeira District, the old quarter on the Duoro riverbanks, the beautiful gardens at the Palacio de Cristal and the Avenida dos Aliado, a lively avenue. We visit the Livaria Lello & Irmao Library, named the most beautiful bookstore in the world and rumored to be the inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. At the Do Porto Cathedral, we delight in the story that a local resident painted the altar to hide its silver, so that when Napoleon and his troops entered the city to pillage it, they left it behind never realizing it was there.

Before we know it, it’s time to head to Lisbon by train.

 

Pictured: view from the Duoro riverbank

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Porto, Portugal: Oct. 22-25, 2016

 

 

The Pilgrims do not seem to want to go home. Most are leaving Santiago and heading out in all directions. We are going to Porto by bus to meet up with JC* and Big A* and are anxious for our reunion.

 

Porto is one the oldest cities in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s location on the Douro River and its hilly streets (more days of inclines and descents!) make it an interesting city to explore.

 

We travel well together. Big A and I are armed with all the research we’ve done. I especially like the New York Times 36 hour city guide that Big A has provided. Oh, and he surprises us by being able to speak just enough Portuguese to get by (says it’s very similar to Spanish, so he brushed up using the free Duo Lingo app.). Mr. Wiz* is in charge of getting us where we want to go and JC provides the spunk and enthusiasm (she is first one up and ready each day).

 

You can always count on the NH Hotels for a trendy vibe and the NH Collection Porto Batalha delivers. I particularly like the ancient stone arches that grace the modern lobby and the old postage stamp theme in the elevators and on the carpeting. On arrival, we are given coupons for a port wine tasting in the bar. This will be the start of a wonderful relationship between us, the bar and the port, every night after dinner.

 

Those inclines and descents really help us work up an appetite and we foodies can’t decide what we like the best: bacalhau (salted codfish), grilled pulpo (octopus), cabrito (baby kid), suckling pig or Portuguese sausages. One of the more interesting meals was lunch at Pastel De Bacalhau. There was only one item on the menu: a large, egg shaped codfish fritter stuffed with cheese served in a plastic holder inset into what looked like an artist’s palette with room for your glass of white port and your thumb, so you could carry it all with one hand.

 

We stroll the narrow cobblestone streets of the Ribeira District, the old quarter on the Duoro riverbanks, the beautiful gardens at the Palacio de Cristal and the Avenida dos Aliado, a lively avenue. We visit the Livaria Lello & Irmao Library, named the most beautiful bookstore in the world and rumored to be the inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. At the Do Porto Cathedral, we delight in the story that a local resident painted the altar to hide its silver, so that when Napoleon and his troops entered the city to pillage it, they left it behind never realizing it was there.

 

Before we know it, it’s time to head to Lisbon by train.

 

Pictured: view from the Duoro riverbank

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Porto, Portugal: Oct. 22-25, 2016

 

 

The Pilgrims do not seem to want to go home. Most are leaving Santiago and heading out in all directions. We are going to Porto by bus to meet up with JC* and Big A* and are anxious for our reunion.

 

Porto is one the oldest cities in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s location on the Douro River and its hilly streets (more days of inclines and descents!) make it an interesting city to explore.

 

We travel well together. Big A and I are armed with all the research we’ve done. I especially like the New York Times 36 hour city guide that Big A has provided. Oh, and he surprises us by being able to speak just enough Portuguese to get by (says it’s very similar to Spanish, so he brushed up using the free Duo Lingo app.). Mr. Wiz* is in charge of getting us where we want to go and JC provides the spunk and enthusiasm (she is first one up and ready each day).

 

You can always count on the NH Hotels for a trendy vibe and the NH Collection Porto Batalha delivers. I particularly like the ancient stone arches that grace the modern lobby and the old postage stamp theme in the elevators and on the carpeting. On arrival, we are given coupons for a port wine tasting in the bar. This will be the start of a wonderful relationship between us, the bar and the port, every night after dinner.

 

Those inclines and descents really help us work up an appetite and we foodies can’t decide what we like the best: bacalhau (salted codfish), grilled pulpo (octopus), cabrito (baby kid), suckling pig or Portuguese sausages. One of the more interesting meals was lunch at Pastel De Bacalhau. There was only one item on the menu: a large, egg shaped codfish fritter stuffed with cheese served in a plastic holder inset into what looked like an artist’s palette with room for your glass of white port and your thumb, so you could carry it all with one hand.

 

We stroll the narrow cobblestone streets of the Ribeira District, the old quarter on the Duoro riverbanks, the beautiful gardens at the Palacio de Cristal and the Avenida dos Aliado, a lively avenue. We visit the Livaria Lello & Irmao Library, named the most beautiful bookstore in the world and rumored to be the inspiration for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. At the Do Porto Cathedral, we delight in the story that a local resident painted the altar to hide its silver, so that when Napoleon and his troops entered the city to pillage it, they left it behind never realizing it was there.

 

Before we know it, it’s time to head to Lisbon by train.

 

Pictured: view from the Duoro riverbank

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.