Over the Fourth of July holiday, my family and I embarked upon an adventure to Austin, TX. We were one of ten families, a.k.a. the Twizzlers Traveling Families, that embarked on the ultimate family road trip this summer to celebrate the Twizzlers Landmark Summer promotion.
We chose Austin because we are true Texans (except my wife KayEm, but Texas wants her anyway). I was born and raised in Houston, but I’ve always had a deep affection for Austin. Their motto, “Keep Austin Weird,” appeals to my creative side. Not only is Austin the capitol of Texas, but it is also the music capital of the Southwest. Many great bands have paid their dues on Austin’s fames 6th Street strip. But most of all, we were eager to visit a laid-back city that was family-friendly and had many opportunities for outdoor activities.
One of the problems that we often encounter when traveling is finding suitable hotel accommodations for our family of five. Thankfully, we found Homewood Suites that had a two-bedroom suite available. With that out of the way, we were able to start our trip.
We left Houston on Thursday night and traveled 2-1/2 hours down highway 290. When you’re driving down the highway in a bright red Twizzlers van, you’re bound to draw some attention. People kept honking their horns, waving at use, and taking photos and videos. We felt like minor celebrities.
Along the way, we marveled at the beauty of the Texas hill country and encountered several small towns that played important roles in the state’s history. One of the towns was Washington on the Brazos, the birthplace of Texas. My daughter, Nee, learned about Texas history in school and was pleased to see some of her studies come to life.
We arrived in Austin around 10pm and settled in so we could be well-rested for our upcoming adventures.
University of Texas
We started our adventure on Friday morning with a trip to the University of Texas. I’ve always had a soft spot for U.T. because they offered me a full scholarship when I graduated from college (I went to Howard University instead). And I will always remember Vince Young’s performance in the2005 NCAA Football National Championship game when Texas beat USC.
As we strolled through the massive campus, I pointed out historical landmarks such as the U.T. Tower, The Littlefield House, and the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum (We were going to tour the library, but decided that it probably wasn’t the best activity for our three year old).
After a several minutes of walking in 100 degree heat, we needed some relief. We found a street vendor who was selling fresh strawberry lemonade and bought a few cups. The drinks were refreshing, but they weren’t strong enough to defeat the heat. We decided to visit the exhibits at the Ransom Center.
I was interested in the center’s “Becoming Tennessee Williams” exhibition because I’m a student of American literature. I learned several things about the author’s life and writings that I didn’t know about. Thankfully, many of the exhibits were interactive and able to hold the kids’ attention.
Although we liked the Williams exhibits, we were most interested in viewing the Gutenberg Bible. It is one of forty-eight surviving copies and one of twenty-one complete copies in the world. My son, N, was excited because we learned about the Gutenberg printing press a few months ago during a Cub Scout field trip to the Museum of Printing History; My three year old son was able to flip through the pages of an electronic version of the bible that was on display; And my daughter, Nee, tried to decipher the words on the printed pages.
When we finished our tour of the Ransom Center, I showed the kids some college classrooms and let them sit in the desks. One of the reasons why I visited the campus was to expose my kids (ages 10, 7, and 3) to college life. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college and I wanted to make sure that my kids understand the importance of earning a college degree.
“Why does everything look so old,” asked my daughter Nee.
“Because it is old,” I said.
“I thought college would look better than this,” she replied.
I explained to her the historical significance of the buildings, but she wasn’t swayed. They all seemed like musty, outdated classrooms to her. We walked through a few more buildings until Nee stopped and stared at her mom and me as if she were having an epiphany.
“Wait a minute,” Nee said with her hands on her hips. “Are you trying to make me go to U.T.?”
“We’re not trying to make you go anywhere?” KayEm said. “We just want to expose you to college life.”
“What if I don’t want to go here?” Nee asked. All of her friends already have their hearts set on attending Texas A&M University. I think Nee may have been leaning that way herself.
“We’ll make that decision when the time comes,” KayEm said.
Nee looked at her mother, folded her arms and walked ahead of us. I didn’t have the heart to let her know that I had already planned purchased her a souvenir University of Texas t-shirt.
After lunch, we headed over to Zilker Park, a sprawling greenspace where Austinites like to hike, bike, and watch outdoor shows. It is also home to Barton Springs a popular swim destination. Although we would have loved to take a dip in that 68 degree water to escape the blaring heat, we forgot to bring our swimwear. Instead, we played on the playground with the kids and had snow-cones. Later we decided to take a ride on the train that circles the park. My sons love trains were excited about the journey.
As we piled into the train we felt a few light raindrops. All of the passengers felt a sense of relief as the cool raindrops danced on our skin. The clouds rolled in and the temperature immediately dropped several degrees. We all looked forward to a pleasant 20 minute ride around the park. Unfortunately, we only got a pleasant 5-minute ride because the skies opened up and we were pelted by monster rain drops and strong winds for the remainder of the ride.
My three year old son, X, was terrified and started screaming. I stood up to try and shield him from the weather but to no avail. The older kids covered their heads with their arms and tried to remain brave. KayEm and I looked at each other and prayed that the rain would stop.
By the end of the ride, we were drenched from head to toe. A picked up X and ran to the van while KayEm dragged the other two kids along. The kids were shivering as we loaded them in the van so we turned on the heater. A few minutes after we left the park, the clouds rolled away and the blazing hot sun returned and forced us to turn off the heat. The drive back to the hotel was quite uncomfortable, but we managed to make it without anymore tears being shed.
Back at the hotel, we removed our wet clothing, showered and prepared to have dinner with my parents who were staying a few miles away in a town called Elgin.
The seats in the van were still soggy so we covered them with towels so our clothes wouldn’t get wet again.
“Today will definitely go down as one of our most memorable vacation moments,” KayEm said as we drove off.
“It’s one I’d like to forget,” Nee said.
Come back tomorrow for Part II of our Austin Adventure.