One of Austin’s slogans is ‘Keep Austin weird’. It’s known as a hip, liberal, arty enclave in conservative Texas. It was certainly a fun place to visit, and in a couple days we managed find indie restaurants, pleasant shopping streets and live music. We discovered K’s favourite cinema ever (the Drafthouse chain feeds you at your seats, vg) and an absolutely excellent place to swim, so if it wasn’t for the visa issues, the heat and the fact we have a life in Europe, I think we’d be happy to live here.
Barton Springs (first things first!) is an absolutely gorgeous swimming hole. A natural spring has been shaped and molded to create a 200+m long swimming space, most of which is 5 feet deep or less (I know I’m mixing my measurements, but this is how the lifeguard gave the info out!).
Interestingly, people use it like the did the hotpots in Iceland. Most people seemed to be in a group of friends, and loads of people came down just to stand about in the water and chat. No food, alcohol or pets are allowed in the Barton Springs bit, so the water just downstream is where all the people with those things congregate. It’s a bit of a party.
I love swimming and being in or by the water, so we actually went twice! It was free the first day ($5 for parking) and the parking was free the second day ($8 for two entries) so a bit of a bargain, I think.
Driving meant that we saw more individual things, and could eat at restaurants that were recommended, but it was harder to get a feel for the city. We had to park the car, make sure it wasn’t going to get towed or scraped or what have you, and then get back to it before the meter ran out. It’s daft, but that was quite a bit of hassle. That said, the places we went were miles apart, so I don’t know what the alternative would have been as we didn’t see many buses.
The other awesome thing we saw in Austin was the flying of the bats. Austin’s Congress Bridge is home to the world’s largest urban bat colony. There are around 1.5 million bats living in the bridge, and they all fly out at dusk to go and hunt bugs. It’s absolutely amazing. Unsurprisingly, there were a few other people there to watch:
It took over half an hour for the stream of bats to die down. It was astonishing, and I’m so glad to have seen it. As the sky was dark, the swarm was subtle. When it started, people began to move towards the river, trying to make out the bats in the darkness. The flood picked up and went on and on, thousands of bats just streaming out, doing their own thing.
This crappy picture is the best I have. Sorry!
Natural wonders aside, Austin is home to some pretty cool, slightly weird, stuff. The University of Texas has is apparently one of the richest in the world, thanks to oil. As a result, its collection of documents is large and varied. On permanent display at the Harry Ransom Center are the world’s first photograph (very cool) and a Gutenberg Bible (also very cool). We also ambled round a WWI exhibition which was good (lots of primary sources) but disjointed (no real narrative). I would have preferred either a local focus (since I’ve seen similar displays in about 5 countries now) or some other tighter theme (graphic design, nurses, war literature, letters home…) that would have tied it all together.
Austin is the Texas State Capital, and it’s capitol building is, yep, slightly weird. It’s in the classic vein (columns, cupola, stone, statues…) but it’s pink. This is not a sunset effect. It’s just pink.
We stayed with Airbnb hosts in Austin, who turned out to be a lovely local family. They recommended a couple of great places to eat, and we found others using the TripAdvisor app (free!). They also suggested running routes, fed us breakfast and were generally great all round. So far, Airbnb has worked out really well for us, we’re loving it.
My face and a Gutenberg Bible are included in K’s blog post about Austin.