American Adventures,  Travel

Aussie Expats Update – Austin Adventures!

Well, I’m a little late off the mark (my politics essay hasn’t just been calling my name, it’s been shouting it and cursing to boot), but here is a recap about our amazing trip to Austin last week! We’re incredibly lucky to have family in the US and to have the opportunity to catch up with them while we’re living over here. Bill and Laura live in Austin and took care of James during his second half-ironman in October when I was back in Australia; he was so enamoured with the city he insisted that we had to go down for another visit when I was back… and last week we did!

Our adventure started on Monday afternoon. After a brutal morning training session (James has been destroying me in the gym recently!) and a few hours spent on the various graduation ceremonies for his last class for the year, we finally hit the road for Austin.

Hitting the road!

According to Google Maps, it takes about 5ish hours to get from Lawton to Austin, with good traffic… which we had, for most of the way. Most. Unfortunately, the time at which we’d left in the afternoon put us on the perfect track to collide with Fort Worth’s heavy afternoon track, no doubt significantly amplified by the numerous roadworks going on around the place. Long drives aren’t, in and of themselves, particularly painful—especially if you have some good tunes, maybe some interesting podcasts, possibly some tasty snacks, and you like your co-driver—but roadworks make them the devil. Every single time. So, not surprisingly, we were a little bit tetchy after dealing with it, and beyond relieved to get into Austin! Bill and Laura quickly got us settled in, and then we hit the streets to find some dinner. Laura had made us a reservation at True Food (which I’d heard James raving about for weeks), and I somehow had forgotten while living in Lawton what a beautiful, simple joy it is to walk through a city and enjoy it. The streets of Downtown Austin are lined with fairy-light-clad trees, dotted amongst numerous boutiques and stores; and when you live in Lawton, any exposure to a beautiful city is enough to soothe your soul. And the opportunity to eat delicious food in a good restaurant: incredible! True Food was wonderful–I think we were ready to pack up and move to Austin then and there.

We were treated to Laura’s delicious sweet potato and kale scrambled eggs for breakfast on Tuesday morning before James and I laced on our walking shoes—mine are literally sneakers, and those still give me blisters because I so rarely wear shoes—and made our way down to the state capitol building. We’d previously visited the Kansas State Capitol all the way back in November last year (you can read all about that here, if you’re interested), so we were excited at the chance to check out another one.

We strolled in the front door and were lucky enough to be the only people looking to tour the building, and thus got a personal tour for just the two of us from a lovely woman called Karen (who possessed a rather ridiculous depth of knowledge about that building and Texas state history, I’ve got to say). James and I learned more about Texas that morning than I had ever known. For example, the central floor mosaic depicts the seals of the six nations that have governed Texas throughout its history: Spain (1519–1685; 1690–1821), France (1685–1690), Mexico (1821–1836), the Republic of Texas (1836–1845), the Confederate States of America (1861–1865), and the United States of America (1845–1861; 1865–present). Undoubtedly one of our favourites is shown in this great photo that James took of the national seal of Mexico: it depicts a Mexican golden eagle devouring a rattlesnake from its perch atop on a prickly pear cactus that is growing out of a rock next to flowing water, supposedly cultural indication of a safe place for the tribe to settle down. Those particular conditions seemed incredibly specific from where we were standing!

The state capitol mosaic showing the six seals, with special emphasis         on the national seal of Mexico.

It was also fascinating to learn that the Texas Legislature only convenes every two years for a period of 140 days, which I have to confess, coming from a country where allllll of our politicians are full-time, seems strange and interesting. It was also wonderful to have the chance to view the underground structures—lit by an extended series of large skylights, at the outside ground-level—which were put into place due to the risk of catastrophe in the event of a fire in the building.

The Senate’s rather large and impressive Christmas tree.

We made pretty good time in the state capitol and had no other firm plans for the day, but Laura had suggested we drive the hour or so south to San Antonio and check out the Alamo while we were in town. Always ready for adventure, we saddled up and headed off. Luckily the traffic was relatively friendly (despite some brief issues with roadworks that left us a tad tetchy!), and we sallied into San Antonio to become better acquainted with the history of the Alamo! Yet again, this was something about which I knew absolutely nothing: I mean literally nothing. I was familiar with the word, and that was about it.

So, as per the rest of our time in the US, I got some serious learning in! (Seriously, I know so much more about the US now than I did eighteen months ago—which I suppose is to be expected). The Alamo was the site of a highly significant 1836 battle in the Texan war for independence from Mexico. The 13-day siege ended in the brutal massacre of all Texan defenders—including famed individuals such as Davy Crockett and James Bowie (and look, I’m sorry, but I really can’t get on board with the pronunciation of Bowie as ‘boo-ey’)—and the savageness of President General Santa Anna inspired desire for vengeance throughout the remainder of Texas. The influx of supporters for the cause meant that the Texans triumphed and achieved independence a little over a month later on 21 April 1836 at the Battle of San Jacinto. I mean, I had no clue why Davy Crockett was famous or that he’d died at the Alamo… I don’t think I even knew about the Texas Revolution, so I guess that says a lot about just what I didn’t (and still don’t) know about a lot of things.

We also discovered that both James and I look damn good in bonnets. This isn’t super surprising—history has shown us that I have a distinct head for hats (I assume that this is some kind of recompense for the funny shape of my skull and the fact that, if I ever go bald, I will look like a terrifying alien)—but we’d never had a go at bonnets before, so it’s nice to have it confirmed that we can wear those with panache.

What can I say? I love hats. And hats love me

Afterwards, we managed to source ourselves a truly average lunch at a restaurant called Yardhouse, which Bill and Laura later told us is a chain, something we usually try and avoid! A bit disappointed and cranky about our sub-par meals, we headed back, deciding to swing through a sporting goods store called Cabela’s on the way, to check its purportedly incredibly display of taxidermy (another great suggestion of Laura’s)… and wow, we were not disappointed. There are a truly ridiculous number of stuffed animals in there: from white-tailed deer (we learnt the difference between ‘typical’ and ‘non-typical’ antlers: non-typical refers to an antler point that grows downwards or sidewards, or anything other than straight up), to a variety of lions, moose, zebra, water buffalo… the list goes on.

The central taxidermy display at Cabela’s.
Be the moose, beeeeeee the moose.

I also decided to mix it up a little and pose with a moose instead of a bear: but fear not, friends and loyal blog followers! I remain a bear at heart and committed to future photos with my ursine brethren.

James and I hit the gym in the evening while waiting for Bill to get home from work, then the four of us headed down the road for dinner. Laura had made us reservations at a gorgeous Italian restaurant called Red Ash, which I’m pretty sure is now my soul-home for food, and the place that I dream about almost every night since we went. If you are ever travelling to Austin, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you book in for dinner at Red Ash. It blew our minds. And as you can see from the photo below, we may have gone a little overboard in our ordering…

I’m drooling just thinking about this. This ^ was probably the best pasta  dish I’ve ever had. EVER.
We accidentally coordinated our shirts… Don’t judge us.

We over-ate, probably by about two plates or so each, but everything we had was absolutely delicious: from the ‘Bruschetta’ with wood roasted dry aged steak trimmings, to the octopus, to my pork and veal ravioli with butter, truffles, and roasted veal jus, to the finale of the night, my incredibly rich hot chocolate gianduja cake. It was so good. I wish I could give everyone reading this just a tiny hint of the deliciousness, because then everyone would move to Austin just to eat at Red Ash every now and then. And maybe if that was the case, we would have been able to control ourselves a little more… Or maybe not.

We woke up slowly on Wednesday morning, still full from the night before, and possibly a little the worse for wear. Laura took us down to the awesome nearby facilities at Pure Austin where James and I had a lot of fun doing some cartwheels (having a lot of gym floor is always an exciting novelty for us!) before ploughing into training and definitively having my life—and my dinner from the night before—flash threateningly before my eyes. It took me some time to recover afterwards, and also for me to find forgiveness in my heart for James, who had really kicked my ass. But by the time we’d dragged our sorry butts home (with me wobbling down the stairs on the way), we were pretty hungry and ready for lunch: luckily the downtown Austin branch of Flower Child was newly opened and we were more than happy to follow Laura’s suggestion—and our noses—down the road and feasted on some fresh and delicious dishes.

Laura also suggested that while we were in town, we take the chance to investigate another of her recommendations, a fitness brand called Outdoor Voices which originated in Austin in 2013. Well… I think I may have actually found something (leggings-wise, unsure about everything else) to rival Lululemon, and after having done a few sessions in my gorgeous new leggings I can confirm that they are stunning and incredible. And really warm and very comfortable: I may have to mortgage our future to buy a whole wardrobe. Oops, sorry James.

The fun, kitschy outdoor look of G’raj Mahal.

Bill and Laura had their final class for the Austin CPA (Citizen Police Academy) that evening/night and James and I were left to fend for ourselves, with rather excellent results! We strolled along Austin’s beautiful riverwalk in the twilight—lamenting that there are no rowing options in Lawton, and generally admiring the scenery—down to G’raj Mahal for dinner. Laura and Bill had taken James there for dinner during his previous visit and, having no Indian restaurant in Lawton, I was thrilled to join him in rediscovering it. We feasted on various naans, lamb korma, paneer rogan josh and finished off our night with cardamom-dusted beignets which we filled with the accompanying ice-cream. Amazing. Afterwards, we got some more kms on our feet and strolled to Book People to browse… Which in our case is always pretty dangerous, and of course we walked out with some new additions. I’m 95% sure we have a disease. But it is a gorgeous local bookstore with a great variety from every possible genre, a beautiful layout, and frequent author events—and since Lawton also doesn’t have a bookstore (impossible, I hear you say! No, I tell you, it’s real, this is the life we live), we found it rather hard to pry ourselves away!

We slept in the following morning before gorging ourselves on piles of sourdough toast and Sqirl jams which Laura and Bill have a yearly subscription to, and I can’t honestly blame them. With flavours like Elephant Heart Plum, Blood Orange Marmalade, and Blueberry and Rhubarb, I’m about ready to sign us up for some deliveries! Bill and Laura had an appointment to hurry off to and (perhaps foolishly) left us with the sourdough and jams for a few hours, which we promptly worked to polish off as much as possible. We were pretty full, but we roused ourselves upon Laura’s return—and her reminder to us that breakfast tacos are an Austin speciality—to be whisked off to Tacodeli. We might have missed the breakfast menu, but the tacos were absolutely delicious regardless, so of course we followed them up with a flying visit to the culinary delights of Nuha’s food truck for a warm cookie and ice cream. We took the chance while we were in the neighbourhood to visit one of Bill’s favourite triathlon shops, but managed to walk away without any new purchases: a surprise to all involved!

For our last afternoon in Austin, James and I took a leisurely stroll down the road to check out the new Austin Central Library. It is humungous, featuring fascinating modern design with numerous criss-crossing floating staircases, an upper level outdoor garden, and chairs shaped like lips: needless to say, I was ready to move in then and there. Even better, it gave me some interesting visual ideas for the library in my novel (which I really need to do some work on but whatever).


Laura and Bill—looking very snazzy, I might add—headed out for their CPA graduation, and James and I had a leisurely evening of reading before Laura’s return and trip across the road to Numero 28 for a late dinner of pizza (four-cheese and proscuitto, if you please) to round out our Austin Adventures. We were up early on Friday to farewell Bill—before heading back to bed for a bit longer, so don’t feel sorry for us!—and had a delicious (and huge!) breakfast at Annie’s Cafe to see us through the long drive home. Now safely ensconced back in Lawton, we’re already looking forward to finding another excuse to head Austin-side again.

Have a great week everyone!

–Ana.

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