After a delicious cinnamon roll breakfast with family, we were off to Austin. We got a nice early start and headed straight to the Texas State Capitol, where we had our own private, free tour. We learned all about the building – like the fact that it is made of Sunset Red Texas Granite, has been expanded underground, and is 14 feet taller than the US Capitol building in Washington, DC! (Yes, everything *is* bigger in Texas.) We learned about important figures in Texas history such as Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin. Between the San Antonio Missions, the Alamo and the Capitol tour, my brain started overflowing with information. Wow, so much history. But what did I expect from the only state in the US that was once its own country? I was interested to learn that the Six Flags chain of amusement parks started in Texas, and was named for the six different entities that governed Texas throughout its history – Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, the United States of America – all of which are represented in the decorations of the Capitol.
After touring the Capitol we headed down to 6th Street, a street famous in Austin for its music, drinking venues and general nightlife. Although we were there during the afternoon, we got the idea pretty quickly. If you need some live music, a drink or a tattoo, this is the place to be. We finished up at the Austin Visitor Center where we got a map and tons more information on what to see and do from Patsy, an older, yet amazingly hip woman who was born and raised here in Austin. Who would know better? We signed up for one walking tour and took some brochures for some self-guided tours. Then it was off to guide ourselves around the Bremond Block, an entire block of houses belonging to members of a single extended family. We always enjoy gawking at architecture and especially the mansions built by wealthy families. Before we completed the tour, we had picked out a house for ourselves.
One of Elliott’s favorite stores on 6th Street was called “Wild About Music,” and so we returned to spend a little more time there. They don’t sell music or instruments, but they sell all kinds of cool, music-related art and collectibles. Everything from oil paintings of Jim Morrison as a Dia de Los Muertos skeleton, to Kiss T-shirts to toilet seat lids shaped like guitars.
That night we settled in and caught up with friends we haven’t seen in years. The next morning we hiked the trail along Lady Bird Lake for over four hours. Though the weather was too cool for most of the water activities Austinites are famous for, it was perfect for hiking. We enjoyed the views of the lake, the statue of Autin’s own Stevie Ray Vaughan, some fountains and a funky gazebo. The Congress Avenue Bridge, famous for the colony of bats that inhabit it in the summer, was completely empty underneath. But wait – I heard one squeak, and then another, and then several squeaks – and we knew some bats were still hangin’ around, no pun intended!
That afternoon we shopped at the unique stores along South Congress Avenue (aka SoCo), and in the evening our wonderful friends treated us to dinner at the famous Salt Lick. Salt Lick has been featured numerous times on TV programs on the Food Network and the Travel Channel. Out in the rural town of Driftwood, over a half hour from downtown Austin, one would never guess the size of the dirt parking lot complete with hitching posts, nor the kinds of crowds this place draws. It opened in 1967 and has expanded over the years, and can now accommodate weddings and corporate functions. There is often an hour to two hour wait in the summer! We ordered a pound of ribs, a pound of brisket, and a half pound of sausage for the four of us. To say Elliott was in heaven was an understatement.
On our last day in Austin we started with an architectural walking tour of Congress Avenue with Patsy, the Austinite who had helped us at the Visitor enter just a few short days before. We were joined by a nice young man who has lived in Boston for a year now, but is originally from Beijing. Talk about inspiring. This guy has been using MegaBus and Couch Surfing to travel around to more places in the US than we have. He seemed to absorb history like a sponge, even when it was the history of a country that is not his own! I was suitably impressed as he spouted out dates and facts that even our guide wasn’t always sure of.
Patsy was full of knowledge and interesting tidbits about what life has been like in Austin over many years, and much of her knowledge is firsthand. Like the fact that the price of a movie at the Paramount Theater has suffered inflation by 100x – not 100% – as it has risen from 10 cents to $10.00 over the past 50 years. And her descriptions of attending high school dances in ballrooms at the opulent Driskill Hotel could take anyone back to wonderful memories of a simpler time in one’s life.
Back at the Capitol Visitor Center, we watched an interesting movie on Capitol Lands and the XIT Ranch. Apparently although Texas has always been big it hasn’t always been well off financially, and we learned that the government’s solution was to start selling land – three million acres, to be exact – in the northwest corner of Texas for 50 cents an acre in order to raise money to build the Capitol. Investors started the XIT Ranch in order to try and make some money off of their new lands, despite their lack of knowledge in cattle ranching. They erected over 6000 miles of barbed wire fence – that’s Pennsylvania to California, back again, and then some – to herd in the cattle!
We also did a second self-guided walking tour, but this time it was of a cemetery. Morbid? Maybe. But I really enjoy learning about the people who came before us, and it’s nice to remember, respect, and carry on the lives and memories of those who have moved on from this earth. The Texas State cemetery holds the remains of heroes, hotheads, leaders, and generally notable people who made the state of Texas what it is today.
Before wrapping up our day and our time in Austin we stopped in at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, where we admired the work of many Austin artists. Luckily the Austin Visitor Center had given us some free tickets and we’d managed to find some free street parking on our own – otherwise we would have been privileged enough to pay a $7 parking fee plus a $5 admission to go in and… shop?!! Only in AmericaJ Anyway, there were some cool items for sale and we got to hear some live music as a local band was winding down their set. Yay for Austin music!