Austin Revisited: Of Bats & Grocers

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Due to an odd mix of a Wholefoods loving Aussie (btw, there are no Wholefoods in Australia, but Barbi is meaning to remedy that, lol) and a good friend of a friend, we were treated to a corporate tour of Wholefoods headquarters and flagship store. 

I was actually really impressed. I know what Wholefoods is in a grocery sense, but I had no idea of the culture they embrace (really focused on employee happiness, transparency, and way of life) or how much they actually do worldwide to help hunger and poverty. Read a bit about their mission and values, you'll be impressed too!

Tour of the Wholefoods marketplace.

Tour of the corporate offices upstairs.

And... did you know that a lot of wholefoods stores have full on bars inside? I live in MD and grocery stores can't sell beer or alcohol, so I was totally wowed. Anyway, we were treated to a drink at the bar after the tour. Thanks Wholefoods!

Finishing off our week in Austin, we made a point of seeing the South Congress Bridge bats. Every night during the summer (and late spring and early fall) literally millions of bats house themselves under the bridge to nest and emerge nightly in great clouds.

We were waiting patiently on the bridge just before twilight, not knowing exactly what to expect. By the way they explain it in all the touristy sites you think you'll be practically engulfed in bats once twilight hits. In actuality, while it is cool to see the stream of bats fly out from the bridge, it's not a life-changing event, it's just a dark wispy cloud of what looks like large mosquitos flying off into the night. I'm told in late August, when the babies are flying and numbers are at their greatest, there are actually a lot more bats to be seen, but what we saw was one stream of bats - taking off from the freaking opposite end of the bridge, lol. Still, it is cool and quite remarkable to think that allllll those bats are hanging out under the bridge you're standing on (or under). --I had actually wanted to take one of the bat viewing boat tours but we didn't get to (just not able to plan that far ahead). Maybe that would've been more impressive... or at least more fun... if they served beer. ;)

Initial emergence. Lots of people watching from the water, wish I had been one of them.

Full force bat stream. Kinda mesmerizing, like a long, ever-changing ribbon of bats.

Under the South Congress Bridge. See those lines running along the bridge? That's where the bats live, inside the tiny crevices in the structure of the bridge. See those dark blotches along the crevices? ...yup, bat poo. :)

All-in-all, I really do like Austin, and again wouldn't mind living there except for the fact that I'd have to say that I live in Texas. A lot of people don't realize that Austin isn't really Texas... it's a alternate reality Texas... a little spot of blue in a sea of red. ;)

Austin Revisited: A Day in San Antonio

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A view of the gardens within the Alamo grounds.

Ok, so this is San Antonio, not Austin, but we decided to take a day trip there because it's so close... and really, we were running out of other things to do and shopping was not on Barbi or I's Austin Bucket List. 

San Antonio is just over an hour from Austin, so an easy drive and I thought it'd totally be worth it. Well... I'm not sure if I can say that it was. It was nice to see the Alamo, to say that I've seen it, but it's not much really. A large portion of the space is the gift shop! The mission was cool, but you couldn't shoot photos or do anything inside, you couldn't even touch the walls - wth? Not sure what the issue was, but, well, there you are. ;)

The grounds were pretty and they have posters up explaining the history, but after you did that there was nothing left. It sits smack in the middle of downtown San Antonio, which itself isn't much to speak about. I feel kinda bad saying this, but San Antonio is a pretty ugly town. It feels much dryer (not so green) as Austin, definitely not as pretty or clean, and much older (run-down). Sad. 

On a good note though, they've built up a Riverfront area in another section of the city that is actually very nice. Sort of Disney-esque, but nicely done. It's really just a canal that runs a couple of miles
through the city and it is lined with restaurants and shops and condos and full of cute walking bridges, fountains, river taxis, and ducks. I honestly wish this riverfront area was in Austin, it feels like it should be in Austin instead of San Antonio!

The mission at the Alamo.

The Riverwalk.

Another shot of the Riverwalk. We ate lunch in one of the restaurants along the way; ok food, great ambiance!

Austin Revisited: Around Downtown

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Gorgeous, no?!

The next couple of days were lazy days (the luxury of getting to stay for a week). We hung out around town, shopped a bit, and enjoyed the local neighborhoods. We did manage a couple of cool things, 1 was a visit to Barton Springs Natural Pool. Unfortunately we didn't have our swimsuits with us, but it was a really beautiful swimming area that is half natural, half built up and fed from the local spring (which, btw, means it's pretty darn chilly water, not sure if I'd have gone swimming in 70 degree water even if I'd had my suit!) It'd be a great place for a picnic and a day swimming for the kids though and did seem to be a hot spot for locals.

We also hit up some great eating spots. Austin actually has a lot of great eating spots! Almost all of which focus on organic, local grown foods, which sent my clean food loving Aussie friend into spasms of joy. ;) Even the food trucks and dive-iest of joints had great food. Oh, and Austin is the self-proclaimed capital of the food truck. They have something like 700 food trucks in the city, all with their own brand of quirk and crazy, amazing food. One we decided we had to hit was Gourdoughs. Huge fresh made donuts covered with all types of crazy toppings. I had the bacon and maple glaze and Barbie had the Canadian bacon, cream cheese, and maple syrup. Wow! Yummy, but I could feel my arteries closing up with every bite. ;) Still, an Austin experience not to be missed.

There is a donut under all that bacon and maple glaze!

All the food trucks are unique, some are practically art installations on wheels.
A few other restaurants I'd definitely go to again.
--Oh, I forgot a noodle place called Lucky Robot (in SoCo) that has great Japanese noodles.
This is a great spot. It's in SoCo and it's super retro (actually a lot of Austin has a retro feel to it) and it's one of my favorites. It's called, just, The Snack Bar, and it has a great patio that has a firepit in the winter and a fountain in the summer, live music, and really good food.

Another retro-esque diner that doesn't look like much on the outside (excuse the bad photo) but has great food.
Then there's Taco Xpress, one of the quirkiest of quirky restaurants I've seen. This is just the back of the restaurant, in the front there's a giant (really... it's gigantic) statue of a lady with arms spread wide and a old pick up truck on the balcony seating that's been retrofitted as a dining table. Pretty darn good tacos too!
This restaurant, Hopdoddy Burger Bar, always has a line around the corner (and another wait in line once you're inside the place)! We managed to get in early and so had half the wait. The burgers are amazing though (I'm not sure about an hour long wait amazing, but I guess it depends on how much you love burgers!) and you get to order drinks as soon as you get in and carry your mega-sized beer along with you as you wait to place your burger order.

A Hopdoddy burger! I had the El Diablo... it was reallllly good. :) Here's a link to see all their other slightly odd, but crazy-good burgers.

A self-serve frozen yogurt shop named Berry Austin. ;)

Another local Austin thing to do is to take a walk along the river boardwalk. It's not what you typically think of when you hear the term boardwalk though. It's really just a walkway built out onto the Colorado River along the south side, just east of the South Congress Bridge. It's a great walk though; a gorgeous mix of city-scape and nature. You get turtles and ducks and beautiful white egrets, canoes, lots of bikes, and an awesome view of downtown Austin. I walked all up one side and crossed over and walked back down the north side of the river. It was a long, hot walk, but totally worth it.

This is the dirt path that runs along most of the river through Austin. Pretty. 
This is out on the boardwalk, overlooking downtown Austin. More than just pretty! ;)

Joe's Crab Shack. I really wanted to give this place a try, but didn't get around to it. Great riverside location.

This is the other side of the river looking over at the boardwalk (that I'd just walked up earlier) and a house that must have the most amazing views. 

... is this really downtown Austin? I was practically back to the hotel when I took this shot of this egret. You'd think I was in the swamps in Louisiana or something! Super cool.

I thankfully found a cafe just at the end of my walk. I needed it, it was very humid that morning and I'd walked about 2 hours. A sparkling water and umbrella were just what I needed.

Austin Revisited: Beyond SoCo and 6th Street

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Getting the lay of the land...

This was my second visit to Austin and I got to stay for a whole week. This time I wanted to see something beyond the expected.

I wasn't quite sure what to do, so a little research was warranted (Hello Google). There is actually a lot to do in Austin; choosing what to do became more about deciding what would have the least crowds and wouldn't require being in the sweltering heat for too long (August in Texas = Hot).

As a side note, can I just say that Austin is a really beautiful city! A lot of it is so new that it literally sparkles, although that may be helped by the fact that it is a sparkling clean city. And green, there's green everywhere. It's in an in-between zone in Texas; not really East (swampy) but not quite West (desert) either, which kinda makes it perfect (but still sweltering hot, lol). It completely embraces the Keep Austin Weird concept, so everywhere you go (ok, there are some very typical suburban spots in the north of the city) you get to see all things crazy, funky, odd, quirky, and yes... weird. Most restaurants & businesses (and even some houses) have a look or theme or some general kookiness going on. I LOVE it. :)

Anyhoo... we decided first to hit a "Ghost Town" just outside of the city (it's completely manufactured, but still quite fun, especially if you've never actually been to a ghost town before, like my friend Barbi from Australia who was also visiting Austin!) It was typical wooden shanty buildings; jailhouse, general store, coroner, etc. that you see in any old western movie; great for photo ops and a giggle, but no actual ghosts to be seen. ;)

The coolest thing about this ghost town, though, was that it was more of a theme bar. It was "open" all the time to visit, but things only started happening -bars staffed, food served, live music, etc- on weekends. Unfortunately we didn't make it back over on the weekend, but I realllly wanted to. How awesome would that be! Eating, drinking, live music, and dancing in a ghost town... very awesome! -Oh, you can even rent the place for private events, ha! An awesome company party or wedding for those with a sense of humor! :)

It was a fun visit anyway and we did have the place to ourselves (getting the real feel of a ghost town, lol) for all but the last few minutes of the visit where we had the fortune of catching the owners on their way out. We were treated to stories about the ghost town and about the owner's father who was at D-Day at Normandy Beach (really! we got a souvenir photo!) and we were gifted with what Texans call a Koozie (which is just a neoprene can cooler). Nice people! --Did I mention that I really wanted to go back on the weekend for some drinks and music? Mannnn.... next time for sure!

Here are a few photos from the morning.

--Oh, what I didn't get a photo of was their maze (or is it a labyrinth) which is sort of an odd thing in a ghost town, but would be an awesome addition for a Halloween event. It was actually quite a good one, not the "just follow the path to the end" sort, but a long one with twists and turns and false paths. It actually took us a while (and the mean skills of a 13yo) to get out. :D

We started off with a great game of horseshoes! I grew up with horseshoes, but Téo and Barbie had never played before. Throwing horseshoes is a talent for sure, lol, Téo had those shoes flying all over the place! ;)

Barbi played a little barmaid. You can't see it here, but Téo is off the the side playing some mean western piano tunes!

Was it the bad piano playing that landed him here?


It's not a ghost town without a cactus or two (even if you gotta plant them yourself!)

Check out more photos on their website. Austin Ghost Town

Austin, TX - Keepin' it Weird

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I recently learned that Austin's (Texas) unofficial motto is "Keep Austin Weird" which completely intrigued me since, for me, the weirder the better. So when we visited my parents over the holidays in Eastern Texas, we decided to make the drive to Austin to see all the Texan weirdness. :)

(also, Tiago's company is doing business with a company in Austin, so we thought is was a great time for a "business trip")

Austin is actually a great city with a beautiful downtown spreading out from the Colorado River that runs through town. I don't find it weird at all though. I think the only people who think Austin is weird are other Texans, lol. For me, it almost makes the "I'd live there" list. If only it had better public transportation and, well, wasn't in Texas... ;)

After the 4 hour drive from Tyler, Texas we did a quick driving tour through the downtown area. We circled the Capital building (Austin is the capital of Texas, by the way, not Dallas or Houston, but you may have already known this) which is gorgeous, and then headed directly to the neighborhood of SoCo (South Congress... because it's runs down South Congress Avenue and is south of the Capital) which is the quirky, offbeat part of town and therefore the most interesting. ;)

We got there early enough that parking wasn't an issue, in fact we didn't even think about it being an issue until later that afternoon when there were hundreds of people cruising the sidewalks, shops, and cafes... and not an open parking space in site! It's a popular area. Full of crazy shops, stuffed to the gills with antiques, knick knacks, alternative clothing and accessories, and souvenirs. Quirky cafes and funky food trucks also fill the street.

*I keep using the word quirky, because it just perfectly describes the area. It's not so much odd-ball or weird or unusual as just... not totally normal in a cool way. :)

Anyway, we had a blast, ate some really good food on a cafe patio next to a firepit (it was quite chilly) and managed to escape without purchasing that crazy chandelier made of deer antlers. Here are a few photos of the day.

Inside just one of the many crazy shops in SOCO.

The cafe where we ate lunch. Love the 50s vibe. Actually a lot of the area had a vintage feel.

Rows of cafes and restaurants of all sorts.
We ate at the Lucky Robot Japanese Kitchen our second day. Yummy noodle bowls & sushi!

Jo's... not sure, lol, but quite popular.

Food trucks... lots and lots of crazy food trucks serving everything from thai crepes to bratwurst. 

Downtown skyline from SOCO.

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