Those that know me personally are well aware of how much I rave about Austin Texas, I have visited the city four times in total. This particular blog is about the second time I visited and Ive detailed some of the activities I got into, swimming, music, food, bar hopping, shopping and roller derby.
Austin was boiling hot when I arrived, I checked into the hostel I was staying at and immediately headed to Barton Springs located in Zilker park. Located in the downtown area and is quite popular during the Texan summer, Barton is like an oversized natural swimming pool, only more fun. The pool is approximately 3 acres in size and is a constant 20 celsius due to the underground springs that run up into it all year round. It has a minimal cost park entry fee and after a swim is a great location to lay on the grassy banks that surround the spring and take a solid nap for the afternoon. its not a bad way to spend the day in the Texan summer heat, especially with no beach alternative.
I headed back to the hostel and met with some of the backpackers there. The HI Hostel I was at was on the outskirts of town located on the Colorado River and included a jetty. If you’re not familiar with hostel travelling Id highly recommend hostels over hotels, it’s a much more sociable especially if you’re a solo traveller (which I am) and don’t mind sharing a room with strangers. The USA does not have as a comprehensive hostel network options say like Europe or Australia but the HI network is the closest to this I have found and I tend to use it when there is an opportunity to do so. The hostel had a pretty good vibe guest including a mix of Americans and global travellers Hanging out the hostel included sitting on the jetty watching sunsets, meaningful and meaningless conversations about everything over cheap “six packs” from the local convenience store.
An event I attended was the “Keep Austin Weird Festival” which is today known as “Fun Stop 5k & Fest”. As you guessed then run itself is 5km, not exactly an arduous run and whilst I have infrequently participated in half marathons, now was not the time. Attendance does not a requirement to actually run so the “Weird” element is its actually a festival with an outrageous dress theme so a lot of festival goers were dressed in gear from cross-dressing Mardi Gras types to sporting NFL gear to all over body paint, very weird. There were a lot of food stands, merchandising stalls and of course, alcohol for I assume the non-participants which I think were many including myself, it was a fun afternoon and definitely weird.
The day became stranger when I wandered off to a local sporting event, the TXRD Rollerderby at the Palmer Event Centre which happened to be on next door the festival. I walked into the centre, purchased a ticket and took my seat at the front of the arena, there was quite a large buzzing crowd of all ages, some remnants of the Austin Weird Festival and other enthusiasts, quite a diverse set of spectators and it was buzzing. There was so much excitement that to my right a few hundred metres away I spied a man that was around 200cm in height and roughly the same in weight standing still and then collapse in a single motion to the ground, he had dropped dead. This was quite an alarming event to witness but before I could get to my feet he was immediately surround by the crowd, then police, then medics and then removed, this however did not influence the event that was about to commence.
Music which I think was death metal was being played by a band and blaring out of speakers, two crowds sitting in two stands on each side of the circular arena, Id estimate the crowd at a few thousand with some members banging on bongo drums. The two teams came out first the Holy Rollers and then the Hell Raisers, each woman being individually announced and dressed in a team uniform with which I assume personal flair design also included crash helmets, knee/elbow guards and roller skates. Prior to the start of the “bout” the commentators dressed in red blazers (like Ron Burgundy) silenced the crowd, everyone stood and sang the Star Spangled Banner, game on.
The rules were a little hard to follow, essentially there are 4 quarters of 8 minutes each with the skaters blocking and hitting each whilst attempting to lap the opposition team whilst high speed skating around the ring. The game was very aggressive with the competitors getting hurt or bashed over the outer ring wall. The quarters were broken up by interludes or “jams” of pillow fighting, one on one fights, a tug of war and arm wrestling with the commentators barking out loudly over the PA system. After the match completed the crowd was invited into the ring for a customary spanking by the winning team and the teams posing with the crowd. It was hard to tell what was real and what was not but it certainly did not appear staged with some of the players coming off with blood injuries. I thorougly enjoyed the match and with my “bloodlust” satisified I headed to bed. Ps the Raisers got up 36 to 26 over the Rollers.
The following day I drove down to the Alamo in San Antonio, about an hour away, with two backpackers Id met in Nashville. The battle of the Alamo was during the Texan war of Independence from Mexico in 1836 where approximately 200 Americans attempted to hold out during a siege from the Mexican army numbering thousands… well, America lost but won their independence later that year. The museum tour describes the history of the Alamo war and the compound made up for a church, barracks and halls, it was quite interesting and resonates with Americans, but maybe not so much with Australians. After that, we headed down to the San Antonio river walk, popped into a restaurant, ate some very tasty Texan ribs and then it was back to Austin.
On the way back we stopped at a western goods store, Sheplers. If you’re a hipster type which I consider myself to be then Shelplers shopping is heaven, it’s a large football field sized store that carries thousands of lines of products, jeans, belts, hats, boots and most importantly checkered shirts. It’s a fine line going from hipster to cowboy so I purchased a belt, jeans and checkered shirts but passed on getting a cowboy hat. Shopping in Austin also involves heading to vintage stores of which there are many to grab some unique fashion items. I purchased some very fashionable seconds t-shirts (this is debatable), put them into the boot of the car and headed back to the hostel.
I believe the food, music and nightlife are what tourists come to Austin, it’s my primary reason anyway. Austin has nine areas for entertainment, my favourites being Rainey Street which is made up of old houses converted into bars with live music, Red River which is where the live music scene is most prominent and Sixth street, the main street drag that closes down for the crowd over the weekend. All the bars feature live music, are very friendly and have a great vibe. There is something for everyone from college students from the University of Texas up to the road, to musical lovers, foodies and Aussie backpackers.
There are a wide variety of food trucks scattered around the downtown area, most of these are caravans that have been converted into mini kitchens that sell a wide variety of food, particularly meat. Mexican, Tex Mex, Texan barbeque, Southern and Cajun among others are available. Its doubtful that the food for sale would qualify as a vegan delight but if you enjoy beef, chicken or pork based products Austin is heaven and I believe the food trucks often out rate some of the local restaurants and all for a most reasonable price.
After five nights of music, pigging out at food trucks and sitting on rooftop bars on Sixth street watching the crowd walk by below I decided it was time to move onto my next destination, Denver with a few pit stops on the way. As you can tell I love Austin and would recommend it to anyone, but to keep my blog short Ill talk about other events such as the Austin City Limits Festival, the Grafitti Park and other impressions in a future blog but for now its back on the road roaming north…