Those that know me are well aware of how much I rave about Austin, Texas, I have visited the city four times in total. This blog is about my second visit on my Road Trip in 2012 and some activities including swimming, music, food, bar hopping, shopping and roller derby.
Austin was boiling hot when I drove in from Houston, it was only 3 hour drive so after I checked into the hostel I headed straight for Barton Springs in Zilker Park. Barton Springs is like an oversized natural swimming pool and is in the Downtown area making it a perfect way to spend a hot Texan Summer day. The pool is approximately 3 acres in size and is a constant 20 celsius because of the underground springs that run up into it all year round. It has a minimal park entry fee and after a swim is a great location to lie on the grassy banks that surround the spring and take a solid nap for the afternoon. It’s no beach but was a fantastic way to spend the hot summer day. I was staying in Austin for five days so had some time to laze about.
I headed back to the hostel and met with some backpackers there. The hostel was located on the outskirts of town on the Colorado River and included a jetty. If you’re not familiar with hostels 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 hostel had a good vibe, and guests included a mix of Americans and global backpackers. I spent my evenings hanging out at the hostel, sitting on the jetty watching some amazing sunsets and having meaningful and meaningless conversations with travellers. I did some cooking in the kitchen and shared “six packs” from the local convenience store.
An event I attended was the “Keep Austin Weird Festival” which was renamed the “Fun Stop 5k & Fest” a few years later. An organised run of 5km isn’t the most arduous and I was not inclined to run but thought it was worth a look. It appeared that most of the festival participants weren’t there for the run either. Rather, they were there for the “Weird” element. Most festival goers were in outrageous dress, this included cross-dressing Mardi gras types, people sporting NFL gear and others in all over body paint with not much else on. There were a lot of food stands, merchandising stalls and bars for the non-participants. Im not sure if anyone actually ran, it was eating, drinking and people watching was what the festival was really about.
I then left the festival and headed for a local sporting event that was being advertised, the TXRD Rollerderby which was going on near the festival. I walked into the Centre, purchased a ticket, bought a beer and took a front-row seat opposite what looked like an elevated skating ring. There was large buzzing crowd of all ages, maybe a few thousand people, some people such as myself from the Austin Weird Festival and others appeared to be supporters dressed in helmets and neon painted clothes tattered. It was the strangest appearing spectator group at a sporting event that I have seen, and it was buzzing. To my right a few hundred metres away I spied a man was around 200cm in height and may be 200kg in weight standing rigid and then slowly topple to the ground in one motion. He had dropped dead. This was quite an alarming but before I could get to my feet and assist the crowd immediately surrounded him. A minute later the police came, then medics. He was surrounded by a curtain briefly then pulled away on a gurney covered over about 15 minutes later. This incident didn’t seem to impact the upcoming sporting event or the crowd’s enthusiasm.
The music became louder, Death Metal was being played live by a band on stage with members of the crowd surrounding the arena banging loudly on bongo drums. The two teams came out on roller skates, the first being the Holy Rollers and the second team being the Hell Raisers. Each woman was being individually announced over the PA and dressed in a team uniform of sorts with what I assume was a piece of individual personal flair. The uniform included crash helmets, knee/elbow guards, and roller skates. The commentators dressed in red blazers sitting behind an elevated sports desk overlooking the Ring (they looked like a pair of Ron Burgundy’s) silenced the crowd. Everyone stood and sang the Star-Spangled Banner game on.
The rules were a little hard to follow, there were 4 quarters of 8 minutes each with the skaters blocking and hitting each whilst attempting to lap the opposition team at top speed on skates. The game appeared very aggressive with the competitors getting hurt and bashed over the outer ring wall. The quarters were broken up by interludes or “jams” of pillow fighting, one-on-one punch ups, a tug of war and arm wrestling with the commentators barking commentary loudly over the PA system. After the match completed the players invited the crowd into the ring for a customary spanking by the winning team and then both teams posed with members of the crowd. It was hard to tell what was real and what was faked, but players did come off in blood with injuries. I thoroughly enjoyed the match and with my “bloodlust” satisfied, I headed back to the hostel. I’d been to my first Weird Festival, attended Roller Derby and witnessed my first-person drop dead. If interested in the result Raisers got up 36 to 26 over the Rollers and there was a movie called “Whip It” made a few years ago that goes into the rules. What a day.
The following day two backpacker buddies Id made in Nashville a week earlier arrived at the hostel and we drove down to San Antonio to look at the Alamo.. 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… the USA lost that one. The Alamo was in the Downtown area; it was a large white wall with a gate; we entered the museum and given the tour. The compound within the walls was made up for a church, barracks and halls. It was interesting and resonates and obviously resonates with Americans, but maybe not so much with Australians and I didn’t find it particularly interesting. After an hour we left and headed to the San Antonio river walk, a beautiful windy river with walkways and boats winding its way through the Downtown area. We went to a restaurant, ate some delicious Texan ribs and then it was back to Austin.
On the way back we stopped at a western goods store. If you’re a hipster type of person, which I considered myself to be, then Texan shopping is heaven. The stores was the size of a football field and appeared to carry thousands of lines of products from jeans, belts, hats, boots and most importantly checkered shirts. It’s a fine line going from hipster and cowboy so I purchased a belt, jeans and checkered shirts but passed on a cowboy hat. We then headed to a few of Austins Vintage stores. These were full of very fashionable seconds t-shirts of which I purchased a few and through them in the vintage suitcase Id bought in Houston in the car’s boot The Vintage stores were almost like museums, selling a variety of antique furniture, clothing and records. They were like museums.
The primary reason I come to Austin is for the food, music and nightlife of which there is plenty of. Austin has nine areas for entertainment, my favourites being Rainey Street which comprises old houses converted into bars with live music in each of these bars. After a few beers to wet my whistle and listening to some bands, I want something louder so I head to Red River which is where the live music scene is most prominent, larger crowds, bigger stages and more people. After a few more beers and dancing about it was then the walk up to Sixth street, the major street drag that closes down for the crowd over the weekend. All the bars here feature live music, are friendly and have a great vibe. The crowd is diverse, college students from the University of Texas up to the road, the music lovers, the alternate types that Austin attracts, the foodies and of course this Aussie backpacker.
After a lot of beers and bar hopping my thoughts would turn to hunger and fortunately 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 of the meat variety. Mexican, Tex Mex, Texan barbeque, Southern and Cajun among others are available. So if you enjoy beef, chicken or pork based products Austin is heaven and from what I understand the food trucks often out-rate local restaurants and all for a most reasonable price. There are food trucks scattered all around the city of Austin, often with a few tables and chairs to sit at. No matter the time of day if after something tasty, conversation, beer and a sit down then an Austin Food Truck is the way to go.
After five nights of live music, pigging out at food trucks, sitting on rooftop bars on Sixth street watching the crowd walk by, Roller Derby and making new friends, it was sadly time to leave. My next destination was Denver with a few pit stops along the way. You maybe be able to tell that I very much love Austin and would recommend it to anyone. It’s one of the few cities in the USA that always pulls me back, if I could get a Green Card, and live there I would. Ill keep my blog short Ill and write about Austin again in a future blog, such as attending the Austin City Limits Festival, the Graffiti Park and the States Capital, but in 2012 I had not discovered that yet so it’s on the road again and heading north…