The tagline adopted by the capital city of Texas is a curious one. Found on T-shirts, posters and marketers, "Keep Austin Weird" and we can definitely confirm that in between the downtown skyscrapers and government buildings, a vibrant and bohemian community thrives.
We spent around 3 days in the Texan capital, more than enough to shake off our jetlag and sneak in a few mini-adventures before we flew to New Orleans to begin the roadtrip properly. We have a couple of regrets - not being around to see the 1.5 million bats come out at sunset from the infamous 'bat bridge' (though see Emma Inks' Video here to give you an idea) and not being able to visit Jacob's Well or San Antonio - we simply ran out of time thanks to a couple of late nights in 6 Street - but truth be told we would do everything again just the same with an extra day.
We stopped by Hal's, a genuine blue-plate special diner from the 60's strewn with football memorabilia, sipped raspberry white chocolate mochas in modern cafes with 'no guns allowed inside' beautifully transferred onto gleaming glass walls, made friends with a few locals, finally caught up with a Texan friend who has a British addiction almost as as deep as mine, learnt the difference between US and UK lemonade in bars where live blues played, admired the deep porches of the Southern style homes and marvelled at the fantastic accents around us. But, there were a few favourite memories we made as we explored.
1. Made ourselves at home in quirky accommodation.
Not really wanting to stay in the central business district in gleaming skyscrapers that are found in every decently sized city, we wanted to make our temporary home somewhere with a little more local flavour. Falling in love with an AirBNB cabin full of character (much like Jennifer the sweet, sweet owner) we loved our compact little home. Stocked with everything you could possibly need, we were in the middle of a residential neighborhood, just one with Cactuses (Cacti?) marking out the corners of intersections. Our first night we wandered to a local pub to watch the Baseball World Series and were adopted by a local social club who wouldn't stop offering to buy us drinks (which we politely declined and then felt awkward about before succumbing to jetlag) and a fantastic, properly authentic Mexican restaurant which we made our our base for breakfast tacos. Yup. Breakfast tacos.
Our immediate neighbours were Milly and Shia, goats who hung out and acted as security whilst we wandered around downtown Austin (one afternoon even getting caught in a rainstorm to the confusion of the locals who often suffer droughts, one of the reason cowboys need their stetsons - as a water receptacle). This is also the place where I discovered that my husband apparently can speak conversant Pygmy Goat. Colour me surprised!
2. Grooved to the music pouring from 6th Street bars.
This is simply mandatory. Lynyrd Skynyrd is played as often as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Monday nights are busier that Piccadilly Circus on a Friday - wandering along on a Sunday night feels like a rave and ginormous pizza slices are nibbled by everyone. We wandered into bars drawn to the amazing music and stayed for the chatty bar staff.
3. Ate all the Bar-B-Q.
We were told by every friend, guidebook and article that Texan Barbeque isn't to be beaten, and they were absolutely 100% correct. We tried a few places, but found ourselves with two favorites - one of which was indisputably the quirkiest. Rudy's is a small chain of restaurants that are only found attached to gas stations and each store proudly states that Rudy's is (wildly inaccurately) the worst Bar-B-Q in Texas. It is certainly a local favourite and we were lucky enough to be taken there by the lovely Tammy. Served in plastic (lined) crates and eaten with your hands, it really was fingerlicking good - I still dream of the tender meat (sold hot and by the pound) slathered with Bar-B-Q sauce and creamed sweetcorn served with thick white bread slices and .
We didn't make it to the infamous Fredericks where the queues are legendary (and the only man allowed to skip to the front was President Obama - when two excited fans offered Kanye their spot, he was then kicked to the back of the line by the owner) but we did take the advice of our cab driver and visited Stubbs. Found a stone's throw away from the music of West 6th Street and a music venue within it's own right, Stubbs Bar-B-Q was AMAZING. The iced tea style cocktails were banging, the juicy pork ribs simply melted off the bone and finishing the Serrano cheese spinach side almost caused us to divorce.
4. Snuggle with local kitty residents.
I swear to the powers that be, I didn't realise how close our cabin was to the Austin Blue Cat Cafe, but for the duration of our stay we were using the adoption centre as a point of navigation. Looking after up to 20 cats at a time, all but one are available for adopting by families who come into the cafe for an experience far cuter than usual. We popped in just after opening one morning and have never met such friendly little felines. Crawling in our laps, butting our chins with their purring and winding around our legs, they didn't leave Mr Kiwi and I alone. We popped back in another time with Tammy and had less attention due to the cafe being much busier but it was still adorable.
"I never get this much cat attention at home. Ooooooh, look another one up there!"
5. Visiting the State Capitol Building.
We rocked up for one of the fascinating free tours that cover the history of the State and the building, happening to catch a special ceremony where Texan families who had held land for more than 3 generations were celebrated. They came in out of the rain - gents dressed in Stetsons, skinny ties and cowboy boots, ladies in print dresses - and I lost my heart to their hospitable behaviour, one such gentleman taking off and cradling his hat to greet the wife of a long-unseen friend #swoon. The State Capitol Building is a magnificent edifice with more proudly brandished references to the five-pointed star than we could imagine.
Led by Pancake, the Governor's Mansion Golden Retriever (and his qualified co-guide, this specific one who was a volunteer who loathed questions much to our amusement) we explored the beautiful ground floor of this historic home. Built in 1854 (designed by prominent architect Abner Cook) it has been the home of every governor since 1856 - including former President George W. Bush and his family. It is a beautiful home (recently refurbished due to fire damage) with long Greek columns and beautiful furniture in each of the rooms including a fascinating case of memoir items from each incumbent left as they finish their term in office over the road at the State Capitol.
7. Enjoyed a little avant-garde fun.
Blessed with a bohemian vibe, one night we found ourselves seated in a theatre, watching Sh*tfaced Shakespeare as actors (one of whom was drunk) performed a capsule version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, an afternoon eating voodoo doll shaped donuts (complete with pretzel stick 'needle' sticking in the doll), watched as people dressed in Sailor Moon costumes won a pub crawl, tested as many locally brewed beers as possible and searched out the feline owner of a music store - a languid black cat called Jeffrey.
8. Explored Cabela's.
Cabela's isn't just some store, it's more of an institution with serious shades of Disney. Truly Texas-sized (read: ginormous) it is a specialty retailer of hunting, fishing, boating, camping, shooting, and related outdoor stuff. But wait, that's not all - the stores (variously) feature enormous displays of taxidermy animals both domestic and international, aquariums full of live creatures, laser shooting ranges and firearm ranges that will make the hair stand up on the back of your arms.
9. Visit the unique Cathedral of Junk.
The day that we met Tammy, not only was she kind enough to extend us some of that famous Southern hospitality (and share a Rudy's feast with us), but with a quick google after our visit to Cabela's we discovered the Cathedral of Junk in a suburban neighborhood. Dubbed a "yardist" by the local art community, the owner and creator Vince Hannemann started his backyard creation in 1988 assembling all kinds of cast-offs into a Cathedral to quirkiness.
We loved our time in Austin - it was both a fitting start and end to our crazy Southern America roadtrip (and British Airways have just started to fly there direct from London!)
Have you ever thought to visit the live music capital of the world? How about now?
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