For some years now, we have been thinking of visiting Austin . We had heard what a great place it was…. affordable , a salubrious climate so different from the rest of Texas , a cosmopolitan culture befitting a university town , and just the right size. All the conveniences of a city without the headaches . Friends who had moved to Austin ten years ago kept singing its praises and inviting us there. Last week , we finally took them up on it and spent a most enjoyable five days there. Austin turned out to be everything it was cracked up to be.
The surprises started at the airport. In New Jersey, at Newark airport, it had taken us 45 minutes in line to get through security. When we deplaned at Austin , we noticed that there were no lines for embarking passengers at the security gates. None.People walked right up to the scanner and were done in less than two minutes. The airport itself was modern and comfortable, easy to get in and out of unlike the chaos of Newark. In some ways , the layout reminded me of LAX , though it was much , much smaller in scale and without the crowds . Our friends picked us up at the curb and drove us to their house 20 minutes away in South Austin.As we were driving there, I was noticing the houses and the vegetation and thinking how much they reminded me of California .Many of the houses were one- level ranches with Spanish style arches and some had tile roofs. Many scrub oaks , lots of trees with deep pink flowers, and scads and scads of bluebonnets, the Texas State flower, beside the highways. Austin is not as green as the NorthEast but it is not as dry as California either. We were lucky to have visited Austin when the climate was at it’s best. Austin does get hot in summer with temperatures sometimes reaching 105 F but it is a dry heat. In late March, the temperature was in the 80’s during the day, high 50’s at night.
One’s perceptions are strongly influenced by where one stays and so it was with Austin. Our friends’ house was gorgeous, a spacious, well laid out five bedroom three bath Colonial , with a large deck , beautifully maintained. A decent sized front yard and a just- right back yard, a size not too onerous to maintain. On the deck were large pots, one containing a laurel tree and the other a curry leaf bush. What a luxury for a cook to to have fresh bay leaves and curry leaves so close at hand.
Thanks to our friends we explored Austin comprehensively over the next few days. We drove through the University of Texas campus , past the huge football stadium (named after legendary coach, Darrell Royal)and the infamous University clocktower ( where the deranged Charles Whitman barricaded himself and went on a shooting spree in 1966), and visited the massive LBJ Library and Museum ( well worth it) and the enormous and impressive pink granite State Capitol building ( largest in the country).We drove down 6th Street , popular with students for its dozens of bars and clubs and hangouts. Austin has lots of museums and I found time to view the exhibits at the Texas State History Museum but I wish I’d also seen Alice in Wonderland at the IMAX theater there. Having been told that the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center was not worth it, we stayed away from it but visited many of the parks and lakes that make Austin such a gem . During LBJ’s days in power in Washington he was responsible for several beautification projects in Austin. One of them was the damming of the Colorado River ( no, not that one; this is a smaller one ) to create three lakes : Town Lake ( in the center of Austin ), Lake Austin and the largest of them all , Lake Travis. We visited all of them and also several of the parks that keep Austin green. As is only to be expected in a university town, Austin has an eclectic array of restaurants including Cuban , Japanese, Indian , Thai, Creole/ Cajun , Southwestern, French, Italian, and of course BBQ, Tex-Mex and Regional Mexican ( see my next post).
While in Austin , we also made a day trip to San Antonio , 75 minutes away, and a most enjoyable trip it proved to be. We had a memorable boat ride at River Walk ( a man-made waterway in the heart of San Antonio, made by damming the Guadalupe River), thanks to the amusing and informative commentary by our boatman/guide, visited Market Square and ,of course, the Alamo. We had known that there was nothing much to the Alamo but even so we were underwhelmed. Yes, it is a historical place and it means a lot ( espescially to Texans) but there is nothing to see. On the way back , we stopped for some Texas BBQ at The SmokeHouse in New Braunfels and it turned out to be a bad mistake ( see my next post).
Texas as a whole is a Republican state but Austin is an anomaly, a liberal bastion in a sea of red.It was amazing to read the Austin American Statesman and find it lambasting the Republicans. No doubt it’s because Austin is a university town and, morover, one in which there has been a large influx of out-of-staters ; many IT firms have relocated there from California.
Reading what I’ve written, it seems so one-sidedly positive that I should try to balance it by adding something negative about Austin . I’ll try but it is difficult. Hmm, let’s see… I think I’ve got it. Both days of the weekend that we were there we experienced some traffic jams. There are so many concerts , fairs and other events at Zilker Park that everybody in Austin flocks to that the roads get clogged for upto 5-10 minutes at a time . There, that should do it !
Bottom Line : Austin is a great place to visit AND a great place to live. Yes, I’d love to live there. It will be difficult to uproot myself from Edison , a place I’ve lived in for almost forty years but it could happen. It most definitely could happen…