Tag Archives: Austin

Travel Journal: Austin, TX – Day 4

This is the final day of my travel journal from Austin, TX (See previous: Day 1  –  Day 2  –  Day 3). I’m going to catch you up on how I recently spent 4 days in Austin, TX (okay, 3 days + 1 in San Antonio, and actually… the total trip was really only 72 hours due to flight schedules, so this theoretically could all be done in one very busy 3-day weekend):

Day 4 – Tuesday – Austin, TX

I wake up feeling ready to take full advantage of my last day in Austin, which starts with another breakfast with those delicious waffles in the hostel kitchen!

After I check out of the hostel, the first stop B. and I make is at the LBJ Presidential Library, which is a library and museum. I really don’t know much about Lyndon B. Johnson, except that he was the US President during the Vietnam War and that he started the VISTA program. (President Kennedy had the idea of a national service program to help fight poverty in the USA, and President Johnson made it a reality by creating Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), which later became part of AmeriCorps.)

I see that the front desk cashier has a VISTA pin on her lanyard, so I ask if she’s serving in the program. She says no, then asks if I am. When I say yes, I ask if there’s a discount for current VISTA members. She says no, but then cheerfully points to the pin and says “I got your back though!” which really makes no sense to me at all.

The museum exhibits are located on several floors, so we start at the main floor and work our way up. There’s all the normal exhibits you’d expect from a museum about someone: important life events, background, current national and world events that happened during their lifetime, their hobbies, etc. Then we start getting to the information about his presidency, which includes letters to and from various people, and recorded phone calls (between him and people like constituents, politicians, Former First Lady Mrs. Kennedy, MLK Jr, and others). There’s also an animatronic LBJ statue that moved as it tells you jokes and funny stories that are recordings of stories he actually told.

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Animatronic LBJ – Photo credit: LBJ Foundation via Flickr, used unmodified under CC BY 2.0 license

While I’m watching the statue tell me stories (and trying not to be distracted by a very noisy, robotic sound every time he blinks his eyes), we start hearing a noise like an air raid siren, but B. and I don’t think anything of it, because there’s noise all over the exhibit from the recordings, videos, etc. That is, we don’t think anything of it until a guard walks through clearing the building and asking everyone to leave, in a very firm and urgent voice.

We are directed through the gift shop on the way out, which everyone makes a joke about (even in an emergency they direct you through the gift shop!). It’s totally ridiculous because we pass by the front doors on the way to the gift shop, they’re able to open from the inside in cases of emergency, and they could have allowed a faster exit, but the guard still routes us the other way. Oh well. No one tells us what’s going on, but they do eventually move us all from the area outside the museum to the neighboring building.

After five or ten minutes, a guard comes and tells us we can come back inside. I overhear an employee ask him what happened, and he gives a vague answer about it being a security alarm, and they had thought there was some sort of threat inside the building, but it’s resolved now.

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Some of the “Lady Bird” Johnson area of the museum – Photo credit: LBJ Foundation via Flickr, used unmodified under CC BY 2.0 license

We return to the museum and learn more about LBJ’s presidency and life in the White House, as well as the lives of his family members, like his wife, “Lady Bird” Johnson. There are many things to read, listen to, watch, etc and we start getting tired after a while, so the length of time we spend on each floor gets shorter and shorter, but it’s mostly very interesting and overall a really good museum.

On the way out, we go through the gift shop (since we already know where it is, we might as well check it out, right?) and I buy a few souvenirs. They have the usual replicas of various items important in LBJ’s life, but I’m surprised to find that some of the things they have there are original items, not replicas, like campaign pins, pencils, posters, and other small items. (There are also a few large very expensive originals too, but those are not affordable and would never fit in my carry-on suitcase.)

Before heading to the next stop, I try a food called kolache, which was invented by Czech immigrants to Texas. (B. had purchased a bunch and brought it with him so I could try, since I’ve been telling him I want to eat Austin food.) It’s like a pig in a blanket, with a slightly fluffy pastry wrapped around what tastes like breakfast sausage. I love the pastry, which is a little sweet, airy, and buttery without being too greasy. The kolache makes a good snack, with a mix of savory and salty tastes that isn’t too heavy, but it’s not an amazing-to-die-for food like some people rave about it.

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Our next stop is the Capitol building for the basic 30 min tour. The information is very interesting, and we learn that the building is the largest Capitol building in the USA (by square footage), and while taller than US White House, it’s not tallest capitol in the nation. There are many special features like chandeliers that have the word “TEXAS” surrounding a star, doorknobs that say “Texas” with a star, and certain door hinges that say “Texas Capitol” with a star (are you seeing a theme?). The door hinges are huge (they have to be, they’re on on huge doors), and each hinge weighs 7.5 pounds!

Texas Capitol

Details on a hinge on the door of the House of Representatives chamber – Photo and caption credit: Phil Roeder via Flickr, used unmodified under CC BY 2.0 license

**Good to know: The Texas Capitol also has free specialty themed tours that seem really interesting, but these are only offered during certain times of the year and at certain times of day, so if you’re interested, definitely plan ahead. In addition to the regular tour, today the specialty tours include Women in Texas History and the Heroes of the Texas Revolution. Other specialty tours throughout the year include the Rest in Peace tour (haunted ghost stories, in October), The Bravest of the Brave: Celebrating Texas Veterans tour (Texas veteran contributions from Texas Revolution to Iraq, in November), and a holiday tour (architecture that inspired holiday decorations of the Capitol, plus learn about holiday traditions of cultural groups in Texas, in December). There’s also an art tour available on request. You can find more information about available times and current themed tours on the Texas Capitol website.

Before we leave the Capitol grounds, we look around at some of the statues we couldn’t see in the dark on the first night, and then head to H-E-B (local grocery store) for gifts. This is definitely my recommendation for Texas souvenirs at affordable prices if you’re looking for food gifts that are really “Texas.” The company started over 100 years ago in Texas, and is now the largest privately owned company in the state (they have over 76,000 employees and more than 340 stores in Texas and Mexico).

For lunch (and my last stop in Austin before the airport) we go to Javi’s Best of Tex Mex, and B. asks the waitress what makes a food Tex-Mex vs. Mexican. She tells us it’s “the type of food, like tacos, burritos, and things like that, more than Mexican dishes like mole.” B. gets nachos and I get fish tacos which comes in flour tortillas. The food tastes good, but it still seems like B. wonders why I’ve been so insistent on eating Tex-Mex this whole trip (Tex-Mex! as in Texas! I know it’s not generally thought of as great food, but it’s fun to eat something Texan while in Texas).

Amy's Ice Cream

Amy’s Ice Creams menu – Photo credit: Wayne Truong via Flickr, used unmodified under CC BY 2.0 license

Over the past four days, I’ve received multiple recommendations to try Amy’s Ice Creams, so I want to stop there before leaving, but we’re too full to go right after lunch. As it turns out, there’s a location in the airport, so after B. drops me off, I wait in the security  line, find my gate, and I finally feel ready for dessert. I tell the the person at the counter it’s my first time trying this ice cream shop and ask what she likes best. She replies that the Mexican Vanilla ice cream is “what we’re known for,” and describes it as a “more intense vanilla.” Because I don’t feel like plain vanilla ice cream, no matter how intense it’s supposed to be, I order the smallest scoop of Oreo flavor (made of Mexican Vanilla as the base, with Oreos crumbled into it). It’s very rich and thick, but the flavor is more cake batter than vanilla, so I’m a little disappointed.

Still, I’ve made the most of my time in Austin, even using my airport time to continue the experience. It’s been a busy (but fun!) trip and I’m definitely ready for some rest at home!

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Travel Journal: San Antonio – Day 3

This is a continuation of my travel journal from Austin and San Antonio, TX (See Day 1 and Day 2). I’m going to catch you up on how I recently spent 4 days in Austin, TX (okay, 3 days + 1 in San Antonio, and actually… the total trip was really only 72 hours due to flight schedules, so this theoretically could all be done in one very busy 3-day weekend):

Day 3 – Monday – San Antonio, TX

Vegemite - courtesy of Pixabay

Tried Vegemite! I think it’s an acquired taste

Today I try a new food at breakfast – Vegemite! I eat breakfast with a group of Aussie travelers visiting the US on their Australia Day holiday. They show me the “correct way” to eat Vegemite (with butter on toast), and wait with great anticipation for my decision about whether I like it (I don’t, and they all say, “What?!” and look really disappointed). There’s nothing to compare it to because the flavor is unique, but I can say that it’s a combination of salty and savory (pungent) tastes. It’s not so offensive that I wouldn’t be able to eat it if it was served to me, or if I decided that I wanted to learn to like it (definitely seems like an acquired taste). I decide it’s an “everyday adventure” and put it on the retrospective bucket list.

After breakfast, B. and I begin the 2 hour drive to San Antonio. On the way, we listen to the audio book of Frank Delaney’s Ireland: A Novel (I get commissions for purchases made through that link*), which is fun to hear read aloud, since it’s about an oral storyteller and the tone of the book is perfect for listening to.

The driving time passes really quickly, and before I know it, we’re stopping at a gift shop for my first taste of San Antonio. We wander through the town, looking at historical buildings (almost every building has a historical landmark sign) and stepping inside several to learn more.

San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, TX - Oldest cathedral in Texas

San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, TX – Oldest cathedral in Texas

San Fernando Cathedral is the oldest Catholic church in Texas, the oldest continuously functioning religious community in Texas, and one of oldest cathedrals in the entire nation. The building is gorgeous, inside and out. It is also the site where Santa Ana raised the flag of “no quarter” during the battle for the Alamo, and some of the defenders of the Alamo are buried at the church (I notice that people buried at a church doesn’t seem weird to me, but I don’t understand the desire to display pieces of saint’s bones or clothing as they do in the cathedral, which seems a little creepy – it’s definitely a cross-cultural experience).

We also visit St Mary’s Catholic Church, the second oldest Catholic church in San Antonio (after San Fernando). The exterior doesn’t stand out (walking along the street it just looks like another old brick building), but the interior of this building is super beautifully decorated (probably even prettier than San Fernando). However, the truly eye-catching thing for me is the statue outside titled “Homeless Jesus,” with the quote, “In Truth I tell you in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (from Matthew 25:40). I find this convicting and inspiring, especially coming from Seattle, which has a large population of people experiencing homelessness, and visiting San Antonio, which seems to have the same.

The Alamo

The Alamo – Photo credit: Stuart Seeger via Flickr / Used unmodified under CC BY 2.0 license

Of course we go to see the Alamo (which was the place I was most excited to see), but it ends up being kind of a disappointing experience. It sits in the middle of the city, and most of it is gone, but you can see where the walls used to be and go inside the remaining buildings. I like watching the video and looking through the museum, and I get my National Parks Passport book stamped, even though they aren’t a National Park (they’re managed by the Daughters of the Republic of the Alamo under the Texas General Land Office).

Part of my disappointment is also that I don’t connect to the site emotionally like I thought I would. Intellectually, this is so sad (it’s always sad when people die), but I just don’t have the heart connection to the events at the Alamo. I expected the same level of sadness I felt when we went to Little Big Horn (site of Custer’s last stand) or the personal connection and interest  I felt at the Aztec National Monument. I feel weird because when I read the names of the people who died at the Alamo, I feel like I should be sad because so many people died here. But I don’t, and although I try to make myself sad about it, I can’t. Have you experienced this? Are there sites you emotionally connect with more than others?

**By the way: If you’re planning a visit, you might want to know that the Alamo is considered a sacred site, so inside the Alamo church building there are rules meant to show respect. Men are required to remove hats, everyone is asked to talk quietly, and no photographs are allowed inside.**

San Antonio River Tour Boat

San Antonio River Tour Boat – Photo credit: David~O via Flickr / Used unmodified under CC BY 2.0 license

After the Alamo, we wander along the River Walk. It’s beautiful (although very touristy), and the weather’s perfect for it – not too hot or cold. When we get hungry, we decide to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe. I know, we’re on the River Walk, with so many unique restaurants, and we choose the lamest one out of convenience/fueled by hunger. I have a big choice in this decision, and I kind of regret the choice. But, while we eat, we sit outside on the river and watch the water taxis, tours, and the birds, which is all very pleasant. And near the end of our meal, across the river, we see a restaurant with a bunch of people with bags on their heads. We look it up and find out… it’s an insult restaurant(Would you want to go to this?)

The Alamo isn’t the only historical mission in the area. After lunch, we decide to visit Mission San José and the Visitor Center museum, both of which are way more interesting than the Alamo, and closer to what I expected from the sites.

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We can see the rooms where people lived in the wall, which is intact, and look at the different rooms and buildings of the mission compound. One building has a small collection of signs to teach visitors about the space and history of the site. Outside the walls of the mission, there’s lots of park-like space, similar to other national park sites. I get my National Parks Passport stamped again, this time with the stamps from all the missions (even the others that we won’t see today) – the ranger at the desk assures me this isn’t “cheating.” 🙂

**Good to Know: The church at Mission San José is an active site of worship (as are churches at the other nearby missions), so visitors are asked to be considerate of any services and people attending.**

Mission San Jose

Mission San José – Photo Credit: Brittany Michelle via Flickr / Used unmodified under CC BY-ND 2.0 license

On the way back to Austin, we make our last major stop at Buc-ee’s (pronounced Bucky’s) for souvenirs, and to see what my friend calls “a Texas-sized gas station.” Inside, the convenience store is the size of a large grocery store (but with fewer fresh foods, mainly processed and a few fruits and vegetables). It also has a full-sized gift shop. More impressive is the outside – they have 60 gas pumps! This means 120 cars could fill up with gas at the same time (there are two covered sections with two rows of 15 pumps each, and each pump serves two cars). Want to see for yourself? Check out the street view on Google Maps). It’s impressive, but really, why do they need this many!?!

The hostel is noisy when I return, because it’s Australia Day and there’s a non-stop party going on downstairs, but my dorm room is quiet, because all my roommates went home or to the next stop in their travels. It’s nice because I have the room to myself to pack up and get good sleep to be ready for tomorrow. I’ll need to be rested, because it will be my last day in Texas and I plan to make it count!

Click here to read Day 4.

*Affiliate link = Amazon pays me a small portion of the sale price, at no extra cost to you. I only recommend things that I think are worth buying.

Travel Journal: Austin, TX – Day 2

This is a continuation of my travel journal from Austin, TX (See Day 1). I’m going to catch you up on how I recently spent 4 days in Austin, TX (okay, 3 days + 1 in San Antonio, and actually… the total trip was really only 72 hours due to flight schedules, so this theoretically could all be done in one very busy 3-day weekend):

Day 2 – Sunday – Austin, TX

I sleep in a bit to make up for going to bed way too late last night. After waking up, one of the first things I do is apologize to my dormmates for any noise I made when trying to get my stuff unpacked while they were trying to sleep! They are all so gracious and forgiving. Two of them were actually getting in the same time I did last night, and the others say they didn’t even hear us. We all introduce ourselves, and once again, I’m impressed with the friendliness of the people here in this hostel (Drifter Jack’s) compared with the one I stayed at in Boston. 🙂

For breakfast I eat with my dormmates in the hostel kitchen, which has a waffle maker and the perfect batter – they come out deliciously tasty and crispy on the outside but soft inside! There’s also fruit and a bunch of teas to choose from.

Next, I go to a college friend’s Jewish blessing ceremony (very cool, I’ve never participated in one of those before today), and then in the tradition the rabbi shared with us, we “follow good things with good food” and go grab food at Wholly Cow Burgers.

While we wait for the food, we sit on the bench painted to look like a cow, which matches the rest of the decorations in the small space. The restaurant is tucked into the side of a market that features craft beer and wine and fresh produce in a farmers market area.

We take the burgers to my friend’s apartment, enjoying the local Texas beef and hanging out. The burgers are delicious and the company is great, so it’s definitely a trip highlight!

As we’re getting ready to leave, I ask J. (the friend of my friend) how to get to Zilker Park. I know we’re nearby, and it’s in all the tourist information as a very beautiful place, so I figure I might as well see it. J. and I end up walking through the park, and we become quick friends when we find out we have so much in common. The park itself is pretty and it’s sunny, but it seems to be a park for forward-moving trail purposes only (running, taking the dog out, biking, walking, etc). Although I saw one lawn area, I think it’s for off-leash dogs more than people. Other than that lawn and a few benches placed here and there, I don’t see places to go to hang out, play frisbee, etc, which is what I think of when I think of a park.

Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin

Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin – Photo credit: Heather Cowper / HeatherOnHerTravels.com / via Flickr – Used unmodified under CC BY 2.0 license

(Many people also recommended this park to me because you can see the bats fly out from under the bridge at dusk. I’ve seen bats spiraling out of their cave at Carlsbad Caverns National Park and it was very interesting, and if I was coming in the right time of year or staying longer, I’d probably like to see them in Austin too, but they’re less likely to show up in January, and I have such a limited time in Austin that I’m not planning on taking my chances.)

We also go to check out the new Trader Joe’s store (and go into each of the single stall bathrooms because our friend told us that the artwork on each is “a Trader Joe’s take on Austin landmarks.” We attract lots of stares as we wait in line for each bathroom to become available so we can see the walls, then go out and stand in line again. If it was a bathroom we’d already seen, we let other people go in front of us, which produces more looks from them and giggles from us.

(Have you done anything goofy like this while being a tourist?)

In the evening, B. and I go to a puzzle room called The Escape Game – SO MUCH FUN!!!! 😀 The idea is that you’re locked in a room and you have to solve a series of puzzles to collect clues, solve the mystery, and escape in under one hour. Our team escapes with 3 minutes left! I really enjoy it and it’s definitely something that I would have put on the list had I known it would be this much fun.

We follow that with dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant called Pappasito’s Cantina that has fresh tortillas. The tortillas are made by hand with the help of a tortilla machine that rolls dough, spins in circles, and is really interesting to watch.

When I return to the hostel, I meet a bunch of the other hostellers, and find out many are actually moving to Austin and staying in the hostel until their lease starts. I tell a few of them and some of my roommates that I’m going to San Antonio tomorrow and they’re all very excited for me and say it’s very nice there, because they went earlier, so I’m definitely looking forward to the day trip tomorrow! 🙂

Click here to read Day 3.