Austin (Part I)

How do you plan for a brief four day visit over the holiday weekend? Apparently searching through as many food articles and blogs as possible, trying to find the ideal and affordable spots to help get you through the 96+ degree heat. I ended up taking less photos than I thought I would because I said to myself I will return another time. My dearest friend, Lizz, who makes her home there now, invited me back in November when the temperatures will be lower and not as overwhelming as they are now. And I do sincerely want to return, because this city is as hospitable and as ‘weird’ as advertised.

I usually plan my visits thus: go to the museums first; have a handy list of places to eat and drink; and sight-see the surroundings as much as possible. Since my brother’s convention didn’t start until Friday, we had one day to wander around and visit museums that are free of charge. On Thursdays, the Blanton Museum of Art is free and the Harry Ransom Center is free anyway. Both are within the University of Texas campus and fairly close to one another with their own unique collections.

Day 1

I woke up at 4:30 AM to make a 7:00 AM flight. I had oatmeal with fruit for breakfast, around four hours of sleep. When we flew into Austin, we had lunch around 1:00 PM at what became our spot, Easy Tiger. The half a sandwich lunch special with drink and side add-on for $9 was great, but combine the heat, lack of sleep, to me being even hungrier amounted to me being close to heat exhaustion at the Capitol building in the mid-afternoon after two museum trips. Did I mention the temperature was over 96?

All that aside, this is your best bet: ask your hotel reception desk if you’re not sure how long it might take to travel somewhere; whether public transport is best (not in our case); or whether you should opt elsewhere. As faithful New Yorkers, we walked our way up a mile and back to the museums; had a good look at the UT campus (stunning); and returned to our room. We took a much needed rest at the Capitol (free, with security check) before returning back. A tour bus driver stopped so I can get a nice photo (this one included in the set below).

The museums are quite small. Didn’t get a chance to go to the Bullock Texas State History museum, but the galleries at the Blanton were fantastic (Goya, Peruvian modern photography, etc). The Harry Ransom center included the Gutenberg Bible, the first photograph, a Frida Kahlo self-portrait, and more.

The rest of the day was spent recovering on my part. My brother, however, ventured across the bridge to South Congress to meet up with friends at Torchy’s. The weather is nicer at night :).

Day 2

Breakfast: Blenders and Bowls, if only because it was close and I didn’t want to venture several more blocks to find an omelet and hash combo. Is there a B&B equivalent in NYC? Why hasn’t it opened up near me? I stopped by twice here, the other time Sunday morning before leaving. Their blends and fresh fruit toppings (opt for the large, it’s well worth it) gave me energy and made me feel full ’til lunchtime.

At noon, I met up with my dearest Lizz to go to Torchy’s in South Congress. On the way, we stopped by far too many cute and unique boutiques, including a boots shop with hats perfect for the summer (I had to purchase one for my big head). This brief shopping experience showed me just how hospitable and nice the locals are. Compliments and well wishes, along with greetings–it made me feel relaxed and happy to be there. Torchy’s was alright: I opted for the guac and chips along with the Democrat. Jo’s coffee was on the way with a very touching tribute to Orlando (see below). Of course, after Torchy’s, we found the famous Greetings from Austin mural where we also met women from New York and Chicago (like us!) eager to photograph it.

Afterward, we took a car through Fare back (the bus would have been too long of a wait; Uber and Lyft were no longer operating) to the Hilton, dropped off our things and walked down to Alta’s Cafe, which overlooks the river and is next to a rowing studio. We ordered a cheese and charcuterie board; peach and apricot iced teas; prosecco; and one giant cookie for my brother. This was a necessary and proper break and the cafe was the ideal spot for it.

Finally, dinner for the evening was at a spot on my list: Italic. I immediately went for the Penne rigate alla Bolognese, which was incredible. Our server came over to hand me a spoon and extra plate to share it with Lizz and my brother. I shared it with pleasure, it was so good.

Other observations:

  • Austin is the live music capital of the world. There is live music on what seems to be every other block. On one corner, away from Sixth Street, was a half naked man playing home made drums. On another block, a gentleman sat on the corner strumming a guitar.
  • You must stay hydrated and well fed to deal with the hot temperatures. Also important to wear hats, because once that mid-afternoon sun hits, it’s blazing and brutal.
  • There are markers (signs) that give descriptions to some of the buildings along the street, not just the well-known landmarks.
  • One of the churches near the UT campus had a banner outside that read, in bold letters: “HONOR GOD–SAY NO TO ANTI-MUSLIM BIGOTRY.” I also saw Pride flags at the airport and along certain streets.
  • Sixth Street is charming, even in the daytime. There’s even a Cubs bar!
  • If you’re a walker, you’re in luck. If you’re not, that’s fine as well. Everything you need is close to Downtown.

That’s it for Part I of my Austin series. Part II will be up later this week!