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Published: June 18th 2008
Our next stop: Austin, the "Live Music Capital of the World."
After two hours on the highway, we rolled into the Austin Greyhound station and took a bus toward our hostel. The local bus took us on a mini city tour through the University of Texas (saw the huge stadium under renovation) and down Congress Avenue.
We were staying at the Hostelling International hostel on South Lakeshore Blvd, right next to the lake! The hostel had a large bright living room with couches and tables, a well-equipped kitchen, a full bookshelf of resources and stories, and free internet! The women's dormitory that we were in had 16 beds and lockers -- always remember to carry your own lock! It comes in handy! "The Republic of Texas"
Heading back downtown, we hopped on a free trolley - the "Dillo" - to the Texas State Capitol. The Capitol building, built in 1888, is actually 15 feet taller than the National Capitol in Washington, DC! The security was much more lax than in DC, and we were able to walk right in and catch a free tour of the state capitol building (free tours every 15 minutes!). Our tour guide
Meatloaf + Mac&Cheese + Collard Greens
took us to both the House of Representatives and Senate legislative chambers. The chairs and desks were the originals, and I admired the use of natural lighting through the ceiling and large side windows. The center atrium featured the portraits of past state governors (George Bush's was the most recent) which spiralled up four floors. One of the most interesting parts of the capitol was the underground extension in the northern part of the building, completed in 1993. It was designed underground so as to not disturb the above-ground asthetics, and was so large that it doubled the square footage of the building. The state legislature only meets once every two years, so the building was quite quiet with very few people in suits running around frantically. (There were many more school groups on tour, much to the annoyance of our guide!)
The Museum of Modern Art had special $1 Tuesdays! We viewed the creative modern art pieces, but spent the most time in the interactive family corner, where we put colored stickers on the wall and colored in our traced artwork. SoCo
The neighborhood south of the river along South Congress Avenue, a.k.a. SoCo, had a
variety of small interesting stores. We browsed the many thrift stores with "recycled clothes" - 80s dresses, Girl Scout patches, silk scarves... My favorite was a soda store that was a sugar heaven - every kind of candy lined the walls of the store, and we spent 30 minutes choosing our self-imposed limited of two items. They had every flavor of Now&Then!
Our first choice for dinner was Luna y Sol in SoCo, but it was closed that night! So we headed down to Threadgill's, a well-known homestyle cooking diner. I had a great meatloaf with macaroni and cheese and collared greens, and the complimentary corn bread was also delicious! Bats on Congress Bridge
Congress Bridge is home to 1.5 million bats - the largest urban colony of bats in North America. The bats come out every night at dusk - which was sometime after 8:30pm (the sun sets late!!). We were originally planning to watch the nightly migration from the bridge, but as we were walking along the stretch, the smell reminded us that we were unarmed with an umbrella or raincoat, so we settled on a grassy hill on the northern end of the bridge.
Finally we saw a faint stream of black dots rising out from the far end of the bridge - it was the bats! It was amazing to see so many bats fly out from the bridge in swarms that rose up and down like a wave. We could see individual bats that came out near our side of the bridge - they flew in unpredictable zig zag patterns that made several women scream and kids squeal. The whole outing process took about 30 mins - an amazing sight to see! Whole Foods
Did you know Austin is the birthplace and headquarters of Whole Foods Market?? I never would have guessed! (I thought it would be somewhere in California...) We made a pilgrimmage to the largest Whole Foods I've been in - and spent almost 2 hours browsing the shop and sampling... we were amazed by the selection of everything - cute cupcakes, delicious desserts, baked breads, fresh fruits, bountiful buffets, etc... sighhh.... Barton Springs
A friend recommended Barton Springs - a natural spring that is 68*F year round! We walked down to Zilkner Park in the 100*F+ heat and came to the cool oasis. We opted
out of the $3 entrance fee to the "pool" area and I jumped into the cool waters downstream - there were dozens of dogs cooling off with their owners in the relaxing springs, and it was just the relief I needed from the heat. Go Longhorns!
Next we explored the neighborhood along Guadalupe Road next to the University of Texas. Under the shadow of the UT tower, we popped into the campus store which was huge and boasted so many UT-labeled products - everything from pizza cutters to pool tables to prom dresses and an assortment of flip flops and accessories.
We ventured father north to a Wednesday afternoon farmers market at The Triangle. There was a live band and delicious food - we had the Nepalese momos and samosas. It was a great family atmosphere.
We strolled down 6th Street - famous for its bars - in search of live music, but I guess weekday summer nights were quite slow...so there wasn't much to see.
***Best Public Transportation of the Trip!
I was amazed by Austin's public transportation system - $1 bought us 24 hours of unlimited rides on buses (no subway system),
and there were free Dillo trolleys that ran throughout the downtown area every 10 minutes. The price was amazingly cheap - for a 31 day month pass, it was only $10; and even better, for students it's only $5 to ride unlimited on the bus system for an entire month! That's cheaper than 3 rides on the subway in New York City! And the buses came fairly frequently, and were very punctual according to the posted schedule.
Austin also had a variety of great maps, some with little detailed cartoons of the stores and restaurants that showed off their "weird"/unique character. It gave us a good sense of what places we wanted to check out, and the different neighborhoods. The transportation system map was also very detailed... No wonder Austin was selected as the No. 1 Best Big City in "Best Places to Live" (Money magazine 2006), and the "Greenest City in America" (MSN)!
Tot: 0.372s; Tpl: 0.049s; cc: 14; qc: 54; dbt: 0.0311s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb