The drive to Austin was a great one. We are forever amazed at the constantly changing landscape. The vast difference between each state is astounding and so gorgeous. The rocks change colours and sizes, the mountains appear and then disappear just as quickly, the cacti beckons it's spawny head and then is lost in sheer dry rocky land or bushy shrubs. The mountains themselves are forever re-inventing themselves. From tall and full to completely flat at the top, to smooth dirt covered mounds to jaggered, spiny, rock platforms. The camera can not possibly capture the sheer volume and beauty of the land but we tried our best to capture what we could.
On the way to Texas we decided to stop at Canyon Lake State Park for lunch. We made sandwichs, grabbed our books and walked down to the lake. It was a beautiful, perfectly still lake lined by a massive dam. We put our feet in the water but that's as far as we ventured to go as the water was absolutely freezing. Morgan made a friend by the lake in the form of a boxer puppy. He was the most adorable pup. Morgan thought the pup would make a nice companion for the rest of our trip and contemplated, for a moment too long, kidnapping him.
We arrived in Austin, with our new family member little Roxy, and checked in to the rv park. (Totally kidding, we didn’t steal the dog) ;) The lady at the counter asked if we were here for the music festival. Music festival? How’s that for luck, we arrived just in time for the South by South West Music and film festival. It’s one of the biggest music festivals in America and draws in a huge array of local musicians and big name acts. We decided we would have to check this out. The lady then asked us if we were going to the Rodeo today. It was the first day of the Austin Star of Texas Rodeo. Of course no trip to Texas would be complete without a visit to the rodeo. After buying our tickets to the rodeo we caught the bus into Austin City center and went for dinner just a few meters from where the bus dropped us. Totally unprepared, we didn’t bring a map or have any real idea which direction we should head, so we instead just chose the first nice looking restaurant we found. It turned out to be a good choice. We ate at a French restaurant called Annie’s. It was on Congress Avenue which is one of the main strips in Austin.
Across the road from the restaurant we spotted quite a few trendy looking bars and clubs. Quite a few people were heading into one in particular that had a live band playing so we went in and checked it out. The club was called Speakeasy and it was three levels. Right at the top of the building you can go outside on the roof and they have a bar there and seats. It’s a very cool set up but we didn’t make it that far.
We found a great table in front of the band, on the side of the dance floor and that’s were we stayed. Boy oh boy did we party it up there. The drinks were flowing and the band were super cool, jamming out to some great funk/R&B classics! After hours of drinking and lots of dancing we caught a cab back home. Our first night in Austin was awesome!
The next morning Morgan and I were both hung over so we decided to counter the hang over effects with a nice swim and a little but of sunbaking. That night I cooked up some chicken with local spices I bought from a fair at the Rodeo. The spice mixture is called Cajun Rajun and makes such a good marinade.
We headed into the Warehouse District the following day. What a cool part of town. We were just beginning to discover the true essence and flavour of Austin and were loving it. We had a few drinks in the afternoon sun at an Irish bar called Fado before heading over to the Ginger Man Bar, which is famous for the variety of beers they offer. There were at least 3 dozen different beers on tap and probably just as many bottled beer options.
It was here that I tried my first Lindemans Framboise. A raspberry flavoured beer, which was the perfect beer for a girl who isn’t the biggest beer drinker. It went down very easily! Morgan got into the Belgium beer and had a Triple Karmelite which is brewed by the monks in Belgium. There is definitely a beer here to suit everyone’s taste. We sat out in the little beer garden and felt like we were away from the hustle and bustle of the City but could still glance up at a high rise just meters away. The people it attracted were the chilled out, alternative, musician type and this combined with the general atmosphere of the place made it one of the coolest bars I have ever been too.
Later on in the evening we walked up to Stubbs BBQ via 6th Street. This was definitely the party street of Austin. There was lots of people, bars, restaurants, shops and a general buzz and character about the street. We planned to re-visit this street on another occasion. Stubbs BBQ was recommended in the Lonley Planet guide as the place to go if you want to try a Texan BBQ. Texas is known for it’s BBQ’s and great meat. When we arrived we saw a little, old country western looking place, with a flimsy wooden verandah and wondered briefly if we were in the right place. However as we got closer we saw the line of people out side and could here all the hustle and bustle inside. There was a girl casually standing outside the restaurant door taking reservation and advising us of the wait time. A 20 min wait later and a game of pool in the downstairs bar and we were seated. Suffice to say, the food didn't disappoint. It was simply good quality food barbecued to perfection and served with some great American side dishes. What more could you ask for?
The bad weather has been continuously stalking Morgan and I since our arrival in America. Having since purchased a lonely jumper, I am still holding out hope that the sunshine will arrive in all its abundance and I don't have to give in to this cold, crappy weather. We are on holidays for god’s sake! Needless to say, the weather followed us to Austin for a few days and graced us with its downfall. It was a great excuse to stay inside and eat homemade pizza!
Unfortunately we had already purchased tickets to the Star of Texas Rodeo on one of these miserable, dreary days but it didn't curb our enthusiasm. We rugged up and hit the Rodeo at lunchtime filling up on Funnel cakes and Tatters. The funnel cakes are, for lack of a better word, scrumptious! The Tatters are good ole' potatoes put through a hand machine which produces one long potato spiral and is then deep fried. Can you say Naughty?
The Rodeo was set up much like the Easter show in Sydney but not quite as big. The ProRodeo itself was held inside a big arena and the outdoor areas were filled with BBQ cook offs, youth centers, carnivals with rides, food stands, markets stalls, animal holding pens and horse & show arenas. Worth a mention was Whiplash the World Famous Cowboy Monkey that rode a cattle dog around like it was a horse. The monkey was dressed in a vest, cowboy hat and preceded to round up the sheep on the back of the dog with his lasso in hand. Another notable mention would have to the Swine Sprints. The racing piglets proved to be a great source of amusement and entertainment to Morgan and I.
The Pro Rodeo kicked off at 7pm but not after the MC, a 40 something Texan cowboy, asked the whole stadium to join him in prayer. I’m guessing the cowboys backstage were keen to join in before getting on the bucking broncos and antsy bulls. Insane and courageous, albeit a little mad, would be the only words I could describe these Cowboys with. The Rodeo events included bareback bronc riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding. All the events were fast and furious and so professionally conducted. No one got hurt at all despite the bucking broncos! There was a close call at one stage with one of the cowboys completing his ride but getting stuck on the bull. In the coolest thing I have seen, one of the other competitors threw himself from behind the protective railings onto the bull to help pull the trapped cowboy off. What a man! That was one hell of an angry bull. Now the strength and stamina these men must have is incredible. Morgan and I were happy to see both a French and Australian rodeo cowboys there! For all the bronco and bull riding events they had two, obviously highly trained men on horses, who as soon as the siren had rung, would swoop in and get on either side of the bronco/bull and lift the cowboy off and take him into a safe area. Then they would round the bull/bronco back into the pen. It was very impressive. The other sport I enjoyed watching was the Tie-down wrestling, where the Cowboy would come out of the enclosure on horse back, lasso the running calf and throw himself onto it and pin it to the floor. It was whoever captured the calf and pinned him down in the quickest time that won.
The calves were all fine by the way; they got up and trotted off. The cutest event of the night was the Mutton Bustin’. This was for kids between the ages of 5-7, aspiring cowboys, to ride sheep for 6 seconds and each gets judged on the ride like the proper cowboys. The kids come out on the backs of the sheep with their little arms and legs wrapped around them as hard as they can and the sheep takes off with the kid holding on for dear life. It was very amusing and so cute and gave everyone a good giggle after the serious events. The kids all got trophies at the end and were so proud of them selves. One little fella was holding on so tight that even as he twisted around to the bottom side of the sheep he was still holding on. Adorable!
After the Rodeo Jordon Sparks came out on the back of a ute and onto a temporary stage set up in the middle of the arena. She was a great little singer and still seemed very humble!
Austin it seems has an endless array of things to do and of a total different variety. We took advantage of the sudden change in weather and headed to Zilker Park, to spend the day in the outdoors in the glorious sunlight. We booked a canoe for a few hours and took a paddle down Lady Bird Lake, which to our absolute delight, flows down into Austin City. We were floored
when we paddled gently out of a turtle inhabited narrow lake and were feed into a huge lake with gorgeous views of Austin City. You are completely surrounded by green grass, big parks and calm sparkly water and ahead of you as you cross under a few overhead bridges, you get closer and closer to the actual City itself. It was such an amazing site. We paddled to the middle of the lake and ate our packed
sandwiches in the boat and then chilled out, taking in the glorious views of Austin. It was the perfect thing to do on a sunny day followed only by a BBQ, which is what we did after returning the canoes. We found a great spot in the park and cooked
up a BBQ and washed it all down with a bottle of red. There were heaps of other people in the park doing the same thing as us, with large groups of family and friends. I miss BBQ’s in the park with friends and fam, you cant really beat it.
I mentioned 6th Street in Austin City earlier and said we had plans to re-visit this happening part of town, and that exactly what we did. We parked in Zilker Park which is free parking all day and just minutes from the City and we caught a bus into town. We
had the best Mexican lunch at an open rooftop restaurant called Iron Cactus. Funnily enough I have had the best Mexican food whilst in Texas then I have had in Mexico. The rooftop was all open up to the elements and it was a beautiful day so we sat in the sun drinking cocktails and enjoying the most delicious burrito I have ever had. EVER!
The restaurant was in the middle of 6th street, which was alive with music and people because it was the South by Southwest Music Festival time.
After lunch we wandered along 6th Street and stopped to listen to the thousands of bands, musicians and artists that lined the street. At one stage I was standing in the entrance of one bar listening to a grooving punk band and Morgan was two steps away at the bar next door listening to a heavy metal band. The bands were set up at the entrance of the venues and you could easily see and listen to them from the street. Most of the bands and artist were selling their albums and singles.
Walking down the street further we encountered a cool alternative/metal band composed of a violinist, cello and drummer playing on plastic boxes. The sounds they produced were awesome. It was to continue like this all down the street, there were so many artists in so many venues and on the street. It was un real, I have never seen anything like it.
All the streets were blocked off and the atmosphere was just incredible. We made our way to Red River Street where the partying continue and paid $3 entry for all you can drink beer at Club De Ville.
The bar was mostly outdoor with three different beer gardens. There was a live band playing and lots of give aways, including water pistols, which Morgan thoroughly enjoyed. At one stage I found him hiding around a corner and spraying the water pistol over the fence at random people! These poor Texans had no idea where the water was coming from. Bloody Frenchman! Luckily it was a steaming hot day so they probably appreciated it more then they were bothered by it. On our way out of the bar we conveniently ran into a guy handing out free Haagen-Dazs ice cream so we grabbed some for the road and headed back to the van.
After a quick change of clothes we headed to Shores Auditorium which is a outdoor park with a gorgeous Austin city backdrop and watched one of many free concerts that was offered over the SXSW period. We were lucky enough to see Ozomatli that night. This was the first time I had seen them and they were just amazing, real crowd pleasers and great performers and musicians.
At the end of their set they picked up their instruments and took the show into the audience, walking through the hordes of people scrambling to get near them, all the time still singing and playing their mellow beats. It was super cool.
As with New Orleans it took an unfavorable event to get us to finally move on from Austin, so when we woke up to an overcast day we decided it was time to say goodbye to Austin and Texas! The ballot is still out on my favourite place in the States thus far but Austin has certainly come in as an ultra strong competitor! What a wicked place!