Our 3 Weeks in Austin. Fun Yes, but Weird... Not So Much
Austin as a destination had been on the calendar since before our travels began. Going to the Formula 1 Grand Prix was a priority for us. In the end, we have stayed for over 3 weeks getting to know the city a lot better than our last visit.
We arrived a little earlier than originally planned to catch up with our friends we met in New Mexico. As we have said before, developing a sense of community and friendship on the road is a challenge. So it was great to see everyone and hang out for a few days. From the Balloon Fiesta we reunited with Tim and Amanda, Lauri and Jase and Eric. We also met Sam for the first time and his adorable "muppet" dog Frank. My nephew is interning in Austin so we got to we catch up with him. Also, my sister came out from the UK to spend the F1 race weekend with us, Wow - what a social few weeks we have had.
For most of the time, except when we were at the Circuit of the Americas for race weekend, we camped at McKinney Falls State Park. The Texas State Park system is great, with well equipped parks and inexpensive hook-up sites. The sites here are huge, some of the biggest we have been in. It was like living in a huge apartment.
During our first weekend in town, we headed out to Jester King Brewery at Eric's recommendation. The beer at the brewery is a little experimental, with lots of sours on the their list. The neighboring pizza place, Stanley's Farmhouse Pizza, had an array of other local beers on tap that were more to our taste. What a cool spot. It was a wonderful warm night and the atmosphere there was fantastic. Life doesn't get much better than this; hanging out on a balmy night, drinking tasty beer and laughing with new friends. The next day we went to Barton Springs which is quite the Austin scene, with people enjoying the sunshine, swimming in the cool water, performing circus skills and breaking out into spontaneous music.
We enjoyed eating and drinking at lots of other spots in Austin during our time there. As well as the obligatory visit to Torchy's Tacos, we visited the Picnic food truck court, Mother's cafe with lots of tasty vegetarian food, multiple hole in the wall Mexican food establishments and a fabulous Indian food truck called Chaat Shop. It almost erased my mediocre Indian food memory in Salt Lake City. We also saw a movie at the legendary Alamo Drafthouse, That is how going to the movie theater should be.
One of my favorite places in Austin is Whole Foods. I know it sounds strange that this corporate supermarket chain should be a destination, but the location in downtown Austin is a flagship store located under their headquarters. It is like Disneyland for foodies - there's a vast array of places to eat and drink including a Sushi bar, a trattoria, a pub, a Texas BBQ, a seafood cafe and more. I could wander around this vast space all day. We both celebrated our birthdays in Austin and when Iain asked what I wanted to do on my birthday I said - go to Whole Foods. My fantasy is to be locked in there overnight, so I could taste one of everything. You would find me in a heap the next morning like Mr Creosote. "Just one more wafer-thin mint!"
As well as celebrating my birthday, Iain celebrated a big one (with a zero) the day after....... We had a fun day playing mini-golf - as you do! After a wander in downtown Austin, we had a birthday dinner and then headed to the impressive Long Center for the Performing Arts. Lucky for us one of our favorite writers David Sedaris, was in town. We had seen him once before, and if you think he is funny in his books, when he reads his essays it is hilarious. He didn't disappoint. He told one story with a moral that really resonated with us. It was an odd tale; he recently had a physical exam and the doctor found a small lipoma, that, while totally harmless, should be removed. He was dismayed that the doctor wouldn't agree to give him the lump after it was removed, so he declined the surgery. After telling the story while on stage in El Paso a clinician in the audience offered to take care of it at her home that night. He described the interesting experience meeting her family at 3am in the morning while getting it removed, and that she mailed it back to him on dry ice. What he said about his experience struck a chord. "It's amazing what interesting things happen when you open yourself up to saying "Yes". Amen to that!
As I have mentioned in an earlier post I have visited Texas before, and we came to Austin for the F1 race 2 years ago. Last time I left a little underwhelmed by the city. Partly because everyone one I met raved about the city and my expectations were high. The few days spent there were just OK. I really didn't get what all the fuss was about.
This time around was a much longer visit. We saw the city in more normal state. Last time we were here only when the F1 circus was in town; not really representative of what a place is like. So what's the verdict after spending several weeks here? Well it is definitely a cool city. There are lots of things to do and we saw some interesting neighborhoods that looked very livable. We found lots of places we could easily spend more time. The people seem relentlessly friendly and that counts for a lot. The downsides are traffic, which was horrendous most of the time, and a lack of any meaningful scenery. It's just not the prettiest place.
Overall I like it here, I don't love it, but I like it. I think we could spend much more time here and enjoy it. But we can say that about a lot of places. I guess I just don't think it is as unique or special as people here believe. Lots of places have food trucks (albeit maybe not as many), breweries, cool bars and coffee shops. Maybe it is the fact that Austin is an island in the sea of conservative Texas that people feel it is so different. For sure Austin doesn't seem to be like the rest of Texas, but it's not that different to other places we have visited in the country. People here seem to be making a little too much effort to be "weird". A little bit like a needy friend who constantly seeks validation that they are cool. We went into a coffee shop and were surrounded by 40 hipsters with their facial hair, graphic tees or plaid shirts, wearing tatty Chucks and all on their MacBook Airs. It brought to mind Apple's tag line "Think Different". The irony that these 40 people were clones of each other was not lost on us.
Generally, I left with a much better impression of Austin this time around. In fact, we have added it to our list for a return visit. Now it's time to head back to the Southwest for winter, traveling back across west Texas, Southern New Mexico and Arizona returning to California. We have enjoyed spending significant time in Texas and
loved seeing friends and family over the last few weeks. It will seem mighty quiet with just the two of us for the next few weeks. But, before we know it, we'll be back in San Diego and get the chance to catch up with all our good friends there. Go West!