After a jam-packed four days in San Francisco, I was on my way to the East Coast with a two night stop-over in Austin, Texas. I had always wanted to see the middle of America although I have been apprehensive. The reality is that you hear so much about rednecks and guns; while I am enough of a seasoned traveler to know not to stereotype, I was nervous about how they would react to my olive skin and love of all things Mexican. So I chose Austin because I had heard it was the antithesis of all of that and was instead America’s capital of live music, barbecue, home to the first Whole Foods, had a great Tex-Mex scene…and lots of cowboy boots! Someone told me in San Francisco that Austin was the hippest place in America – and coming from a San Franciscan, that got me excited.
By the time I landed, checked into another airbnb and had a coffee to adjust to a new time zone, it was already late afternoon. I headed out to get my bearings. I was staying a few blocks from 6th Street in Downtown Austin, which is where it is all happening in terms of nightlife, bars, restaurants and a lot of live music. That part is true; even in the afternoon, I walked past bar after bar where live music was being played and it was cool to see that love of music in Austin straight away. Perhaps I am getting old but I didn’t love 6th Street and my friend did say afterwards that locals call it Dirty Sixth. It felt to me like somewhere the “Spring Breakers” or University students would hang out but it was interesting to see nonetheless.
I walked over to the State Capitol Building which is right at the end of Congress Avenue, the main street in the centre of Austin. I wanted to see this as Austin is the capital of Texas and I had heard that this building was taller than the White House. It was very easy to find and a beautiful building set in lovely grounds. It was free to get into as well so I wandered in and walked around to see the inside of the building’s big dome which had a star in the centre – representative of Texas being the lone star state. The star refers to the single star on the flag of the Republic of Texas also signifying its independence from Mexico. If I had more time, I would have liked to have taken a guided tour to learn more but this was a flying visit to Austin and I had lots more to cram in.
My next stop was to the South Congress Bridge overlooking Lady Bird Lake. This area is supposed to be the heart of outdoor activity with lots of kayaks and canoes on the water but is also surrounded by trails for walking and running. I was here for a specific purpose – to see around one million Mexican bats. Yes, you read that right. Every year over a million bats that have migrated from Mexico in the summer live under the South Congress Bridge and emerge at dusk to eat. I thought this would make for an amazing photograph so I took my position on the bridge and waited. And waited. And waited…for nearly two hours. Nothing happened for the majority of the time, lots of people gave up and went and just as I was about to give up, the bats emerged! But nowhere near a million – more like around 100 – this was the end of the bat season so even that was 99 more bats than I have ever seen. It was a little disappointing to be honest but the views around the lake were great and it was a really beautiful sunset.
That night I met up with my friend but I didn’t want to go to 6th street. I wandered over to an area I had read about instead (I think it was the Red River district but I have no idea to be honest as I got very lost) with lots of warehouses and it was supposed to have a more relaxed vibe to it than 6th Street (although it did feel a little edgy). We went for Tex-Mex out of a food truck which was great for me as I had heard a lot about the food trucks in Austin, the equivalent of the street food scene which has taken over London for the last few years (and which I love). The next day when I was walking about, I noticed these food trucks everywhere in lots of different areas where they could park a few next to each other and put some outdoor seating. Texas definitely has the weather to make this a great and cheap option.