Austin is one of those cities that you instantly fall in love with. It has a laid-back vibe that makes you feel at ease and at home. During our four day adventure, we got to visit many of the tourist sites, venture into some off-the-beaten path locations, and interact with several locals.
One thing I really like about Austin is the abundance of public art. Many building have beautiful murals painted on walls and there are several sculpture gardens around town. In addition, there art several artists selling their wares along the street. My wife, KayEm, and daughter, Nee, bought some lovely rings from a local jewelry maker.
Since Austin is the music capitol of the Southwest, you can always encounter several talented street musicians. I stopped to listen to guitarist as he sang his versions of popular classic rock and country songs. I enjoyed his music so much that I tossed some cash into his jar and sat down to listen for a while.
While he was singing a Willie Nelson song, he noticed to women walking by. He stopped in the middle of the song and yelled, “Hey, how’d you two get out of dreams. Get back in there.”
His lame pickup line made me want to retrieve my money.
South Congress Street (SoCo)
Later on Saturday, we ventured out to South Congress Street. This area of town is lined with quirky shops, food trucks, street musicians and more hipsters than you can shake a stick at.
We stopped at one shop that sold gag gifts, vintage posters, jewelry, and other strange items. Two of my favorites were Bacon-flavored toothpaste and the Emergency Underpants dispenser. Any mention of the word “underpants” elicits giggles from my two boys. When they saw this product, they couldn’t stop laughing. I actually found myself giggling like an 8-year-old. My wife and daughter pretended as if they didn’t know us.
Next we found a record store around the corner in an alley. This shop was packed with old LPs and 45s. Although my kids had seen albums before, they had never seen a 45 record. I pulled one of out the sleeve and explained how artists released their singles on 45s.
“How do you play it?” asked my 7-year old son, N.
“You place and adaptor in the middle of the record, place it on the record player, and set the needle in the grooves,” I said.
“That sounds like too much trouble,” he said. “Can we go now?”
Since the kids had grown weary of my musical history lesson, we decided to grab some lunch. If we hadn’t already planned to meet KayEm’s college roommate at Home Slice Pizza, I would have loved to have eaten at one of the food trucks especially Coat & Thai.
Congress Bridge Bats
Later that day, we ventured over to the Congress Street Bridge to watch the bats. Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America. Each evening around sunset 500,000-1,500,000 bats emerge from the crevices of the Congress Street Bridge in search of food. It is an amazing spectacle to see. At first, the kids were nervous about seeing so many bats, but I assured them that there was nothing to worry about.
We found a nice spot on the lawn beneath the bridge and waited for the sun to go down. I could tell that N was still a little nervous so I asked him what was wrong.
“Are they vampire bats?” asked my son.
“No, they are Mexican bats?” I said.
“How many are there?” he asked.
“Close to a million.” I said.
“Really,” he said incredulously.
“Really,” I replied.
“Will they try to attack us?” he asked.
“No, they will not attack us.” I said.
He sat quietly for a moment and then turned to me.
“Are you sure?”
When the bats finally emerged, the kids were mesmerized (click here to watch the video I shot). Nee pulled out her camera to take pictures and the boys kept pointing and saying “wow.” We watched the bats until the black cloud they created disappeared into the night.
“Bats are awesome, Daddy,” said my 3-year-old son, X.
Texas Capitol Building
On Sunday, we visited the capitol building. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Rick Perry’s hair, but I was not successful in that quest.
As we walked through the capitol building, KayEm and I explained the branches of government to the kids and told them about the differences between State and National governments. Their eyes were glazed over by the time we finished the tour. I think they’ve learned all they’ve ever wanted to know about Texas.
While in the Senate chamber, a strange thing occurred. An elderly couple approached KayEm and told her that our kids were adorable. She could tell they were foreign by their broken English. KayEm thanked them and moved on. They stopped her again and asked if they could take a picture with the kids. KayEm was puzzled, but allowed to the kids to take a photo with the couple.
Afterwards, the gentleman gave me a firm handshake and thanked me.
“They didn’t really want to take a picture with all of us, “said Nee. “They only wanted to take a picture with X because he’s young and cute. Nobody cares about older kids.”
A Return to Zilker Park
As we piled into the van, I informed the kids that we were going back to Zilker Park. Looks of horror consumed their faces as they screamed in unison, “Nooooooooooooooo!”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “There is no chance of rain today.”
“I’m not taking any chances,” said Nee. “I’m bringing an umbrella this time.”
I went back to the park because I wanted to at least dip our feet into the water at Barton Springs.
The Barton Springs pool is fenced off and you have to pay an admission fee. However, many people choose to swim in an unfenced area along one of the walking trails. There are several signs that read “No Swimming” and “No Alcoholic Beverages.” Judging by all of the people drinking alcohol and swimming, I think those signs are just for show. It was a crazy mix of people, dogs, and canoes vying for some space in the water. We found an open spot by the shoreline and KayEm, Nee, and N removed their shoes and splashed around in the icy water. I sat on a rock with X because he refused to venture into the chaos.
We spent the rest of the evening strolling through the park and enjoying the outdoors.
For the rest of the trip we lounged around the hotel pool and played board games. It was a nice vacation. I’m looking forward to visiting Austin again.
P.S. – If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.