After Mexico, I headed to Austin. Nick and I split up at the airport in Monterrey and I headed to Houston then Austin. I did not have a long layover in Houston and I was worried about getting through customs and to my next flight in time, but, it worked out OK. When I was going through customs I was mixed in with a soccer team which I later found out was a famous team from Mexico called Club America. The woman next to me in line had me take a picture of her with them.
For my friends reading this, I'll give you an intro of the people in Austin I was visiting: My uncle (my dad's brother) Tom; my aunt (my dad and Tom's sister) Janice; cousins Eric, Wendy, Kevin, Molly and her husband Tyler. All of the cousins are close to my age so this was set up to be a pretty fun visit.
Although all of the fam lives in Austin, none of them live together and with the traffic it still takes quite a while to get to each of their houses even though it's in the same city. I had not decided who I was going to stay with and figured I'd just base it on who was around and what was happening.
Tom picked up me up from the airport and on the way home we stopped at the grocery store for cookout supplies. We got back to his house (which I have never been to) and I unpacked a bit and a little while later everyone came over for a cookout and cards. It was cool to be able to see everyone the first night. We broke into 2 groups and played a couple games of pitch and chatted. Janice has 3 dogs and Wendy has 1 (all labs) and they all came too. While we were playing cards someone walked by the back door and saw Porter (Wendy's dog) had climbed onto a cooker and was standing with one foot ON the grill grate and one foot on the side of the grill, inhaling burgers. Luckily the grill was off and he didn't get burned, but we figure he ate 5 cheeseburgers and 2 veggie burgers! Luckily all of us had already eaten and those were extras.
After cards, Tom and Janice started going through slides (as in, old photographs) that were recovered from my Grandpa's house last year after he passed away. It was fun to look at all of these old photos and I was amazed and how good the quality of the pictures was for a technology from the 50s.
I stayed at Tom's that night and the next day, Tuesday (4th of July) we met Janice, Molly, Tyler, Wendy and her dog at a brewery for lunch. The brewery was called ABGB, Austin Beer Garden Brewery. We sat outside and had beer and pizzas, which was really good. It's probably obvious enough that I don't need to say it, but, it is REALLY hot in Texas in July. Every restaurant that has outdoor seating has lots of sun shades and tents, and fans that blow mist. We were sitting under a tent but it was still quite hot. After lunch we went back to Molly's house and relaxed for a bit then walked to Barton Springs.
Barton Springs is a very Austin-y thing to do. It's a body of water in a park, and the water is fed from underground springs which are about 68 degrees all year. We actually went to a section called "Barking Springs," where you can bring dogs, because Wendy's dog Porter was with us. Since it was the 4th it was understandably PACKED. Dogs and people everywhere in the water. Everyone in Austin wears Chaco sandals which you can easily wear in the water. I didn't have anything like that so I had a pretty hard time walking on the slippery rocks barefoot.
68 degrees is usually what I'd consider to be really cold for swimming but it was no problem in this heat! It felt cold for about 5 seconds then felt great. The current was surprisingly super strong and I found myself grabbing for rocks/people to not get swept away. We sat on the edge of the rocks, half in the water, for a while watching everyone and the dogs. I really liked it there. There were loose dogs swimming everywhere, swimming by with sticks and balls. It was fun.
After swimming we all split up to shower/relax for a bit. This time I went to Janice's house (I've never been to anyone's houses there so it was fun to see where everyone lived). We showered and later met up with Wendy, Molly and Tyler for dinner. My Uncle Tom is really into the Grateful Dead and he was going to a show that night, so he didn't hang out with us. We had dinner at a place called Red's Porch, then all of us went to Wendy's apartment to watch fireworks from her balcony.
I stayed at Janice's house that night. She lives in a development that has a community center with a large outdoor pool, so in the morning I went to the pool to swim laps. It was super nice to swim in a pool outside in the sun. It also felt good to get some exercise since I knew I'd be eating a lot on this trip and I had been in a good workout routine at home and didn't want to be a total slug for a week. I brought running and biking gear with me (not a bike, but clothes/shoes) to Texas but it was way too hot to do those kinds of workouts.
Janice and I met Wendy and Molly for brunch at this great place called Austin Java. I got the "Tree Hugger" which is vegetarian variation of Eggs Benedict and it was delicious. The theme of this trip was great vegetarian food. So much good food in this city and so many vegetarian options! Wendy is also a vegetarian so she had lots of good recommendations for me.
After brunch I got dropped off downtown by myself to wander around while others did work and ran errands. I went to Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop and spent a lot of time there looking at stuff. I knew I was going here and had planned to buy a bunch of stuff, but I actually didn't really see anything I liked. When I was there in 2011 they had a lot more tshirts and things that were just about biking, not specifically their brand...but now almost everything just said Mellow Johnny's (this is Lance Armstrong's bike shop/brand, FYI). I only ended up buying 2 pairs of bike socks.
It was super hot out but I figured if I walked leisurely I could tolerate walking to other stores. Uh, wrong. I walked to REI which was only a half mile away and I was dripping sweat when I got there. I tried to casually wipe my face off as I was walking through the store, soaking up the air conditioning. I realize that most people that live there just don't go outside this time of year - they just stay in the AC. It's like our winter in NY. Summer is when everyone gains weight and stays inside and isn't as active...but then they can be outside in 65 degree sun in January.
I walked through REI for quite a while then to a local bookstore. Janice picked me up and we drove to Rainey Street, an area that has tons of bars and restaurants. Her and I went to Craft Pride and got sour beers and had a nice talk. Molly and Tyler joined us a little while later and we bar hopped down the street. The next place we went had 106 beers on tap, and they are expanding to add 100 more. How do you choose what you want!?! That place was called Banger's. Kevin and Wendy also joined us here. Next we went to another bar that had cornhole, ping pong, and giant Connect 4 outside. It's pretty cool that almost all of the bars and restaurants let you bring your dogs if you stay outside. They all have doggy bowls there you can use with coolers of cold water. Some places even have containers with free milk bones.
Janice left after this as she was going out of town for a wedding the next morning, so that was the last I saw of her on this trip. Wendy took her dog home and Kevin, Molly, Tyler and I went out to dinner at a new restaurant called True Food Kitchen. It was really good! We split a bottle of wine and I got the ancient grains bowl with tofu - super tasty. The restaurant was set up so you could see into the kitchen which was kind of neat.
That night, I stayed at Tyler and Molly's house. The next morning Molly and I went out to get breakfast tacos at a place called Tacodeli. Apparently breakfast tacos are also a popular thing. I can see why...there's quite a variety and they are really good. Molly and Tyler are selling their house (actually it's a condo) and are building a new house, so while we were at breakfast there was someone at their condo with a realtor. We had to kill more time before going back so we went to this sculpture garden that is near her place. The sculptures are by Charles Umlauf. There was also a big Farrah Fawcett exhibit there -- apparently she was one of his students. Umlauf did a lot of sculptures of her, and she actually did a lot of self-portraits and artwork that was also on display.
Later in the day Molly and I went to the YMCA and I got another swim in. We met up with Wendy later and went to a food truck area (another thing about Austin - food trucks everywhere) and got acai bowls. So. Good. I have never known how to pronounce "acai" so I always just avoid saying it. Molly said acai bowls are big in California. I can't wait til they become a thing in NY! The acai berries are blended with things like banana, honey, orange juice, etc and all the ingredients are really cold, so it makes something similar to ice cream. Then it's topped with granola and a bunch of fresh fruit like strawberries, bananas, kiwis, blueberries, etc. It was so refreshing and delicious. After the acai bowls Molly left to go out of town so I said goodbye to her and Wendy and I drove to another downtown area to go to some more shops.
There are tons of unique shops in Austin (I guess there are in any big city). We wandered around for a few hours browsing and later Tom picked us up to go to dinner. He let us choose the place and we ended up at an all vegan comfort food restaurant called Counter Culture. Poor Tom, haha. He seemed to enjoy it though. Wendy and I both got tempeh ruebens which were very good. I probably look more like Wendy than anyone else in my family. Interestingly, Wendy has a twin, Jill (who lives in Oklahoma) but Wendy and I look WAY more alike than Wendy and Jill do!
After dinner we split off from Wendy, and Tom and I stopped at a record store then Amy's Ice Cream, another Austin staple I'm told. It was kind of like Cold Stone, where they mix your ice cream with whatever add-ins you want. The guy scooping ice cream was mixing it to the beat of the music and would throw the scoops of ice cream around his back or under his leg and then catch them in the cup. It was pretty impressive.
I stayed at Tom's house that night. He has two cars so he left his key for me to take one the next day. I went to a souvenir tshirt store to get another "Keep Austin Weird" shirt, then I met up with Wendy to go kayaking. I layered on the sunscreen knowing that we'd be on the water, but I still got burnt. She found a groupon deal so we each got our own kayak for 2 hours for only $15 each! It was really, really hot. We paddled down to the Barton Springs area and went for a swim. The water felt so refreshing. We got back in and continued kayaking towards downtown but it was getting so hot it was pretty tiring. We had to stop again to get in the water and cool off. We didn't end up going for our full 2 hours because we were both super hot. After kayaking we went back to the acai bowl food truck since they were so refreshing!
The day before when I was driving with someone else I saw a sign for a Tesla "dealership" (in quotes because you have to buy cars online, they don't have dealerships) and I wanted to go look at their cars in person so I looked it up on the map and headed there. I pulled into the service center (by myself, Wendy had gone home) and there were probably 8 Teslas in the parking lot. I saw there was a big showroom but the door to get in was blocked. I went into the service center and asked if I could go in the showroom and they said "oh, no...we don't do that anymore." Ugh. They were strictly a service center. She gave me the address for the new showroom, which was 20 minutes away, but....we don't have those where I live and I really wanted to see it so I drove there.
I expected it to be a parking lot or something with cars in it, or a big building...but the address was taking me to this swanky shopping center with all these fancy stores like Burberry and Lululemon. Finally I saw the Tesla sign -- it looked just like another retail store! Inside it was fairly small - they had one Model S and one Model X, and that's it. You can't buy anything there. You have to order the cars online (Texas law) so they really exist just so people can look at the cars. This was my first time seeing inside a Tesla in person. I sat in the Model S and the woman working there took my picture and chatted with me for a while. Most of you reading this probably know, but I have a reservation for a Model 3, which is why I was so excited to get inside a Tesla.
Afterwards I walked through a few of the Swanky shops but didn't really feel like I fit in since I was still in my bathing suit and kayak clothes. I went back to Tom's to shower and after he got home from work we went to get a quick dinner. We got pizza at this place by his house and it was the biggest slice I've ever seen in my whole life. Comically huge slices.
After pizza we went downtown to meet up with Wendy to see the BATS!! Austin is famous for this one bridge that 1.5 million bats live underneath. The construction of this bridge just happens to make a perfect home for bats. Every night at dusk, all of the bats fly out together and go out and eat insects, so every night at dusk this bridge is packed with people to watch it. We found a spot on the bridge over the water. There were lots of people in kayaks and on tour boats below us, and people on the ground under the bridge watching. Eventually we saw a few bats fly out then suddenly there was a constant stream of them. They fly quite a ways away in a big pack, so they don't fly out from the bridge and immediately scatter. They were coming out of the bridge in 3 different areas then funneling down into one stream and flying away. It was really cool to watch. I tried taking photos and videos but it's hard to capture it in a photo. Far in the distance you could see what looked like black clouds changing shapes, but it was actually packs of bats. It was really cool. It has cooled off as well and the temperature was perfect, the sun was setting, and it was just really nice.
We went back to Wendy's apartment for a little bit and Eric came over so i caught up with him, then Kevin and his girlfriend stopped by but Tom and I headed home as I had to leave the next day. On Saturday, my last day, we met Wendy, Eric and his girlfriend, and Kevin and his girlfriend for breakfast. The place had a couple different kinds of unique pancakes, like lemon poppyseed. I got 2 different kinds of pancakes. When the waitress brought our food she couldn't tell which ones were my pancakes and she was trying to tell what flavors the pancakes were, and she ended up picking up the top pancake with her fingers to see which was underneath....uhhhhhh don't touch my pancake!! She wasn't even trying to hide it. She put it on the table in front of me and lifted up the top pancake with her fingers again to show me that it was two different kinds of pancakes. So weird!!
I said my final goodbyes to everyone and Tom and I headed to the airport. I flew United on the way home and they kind of suck. The planes were old and dirty and it took forever to check my bag. I flew to Newark and had to take 2 different buses to make it to my next plane which was an old, very small propeller plane. I don't like those. I ended up sitting next to this super tall guy from Sweden who talked to me the entire flight. He was friendly, but the plane was super loud so we had to kind of talk loudly to hear each other (and he had an accent) so I'm pretty sure the entire plane could hear our conversation. At one point he asked me what I thought about Trump and all I could think was "uhhhh we are trapped on this small plane with people who can hear everything we are saying and I do not want to talk about this" so I was kind of general in my statements then quickly changed the subject. It was nice to have something to distract from the small shaky plane though.
I haven't taken a week off of work in a long time and it felt great. It felt more like a month off! I thought I'd feel super out of shape after not doing much activity, but I went for a bike ride the morning after I got back and felt pretty good. Maybe the heat down there made it seem not so hot here now...
It was so nice to visit with everyone and Austin is a super fun city.