Nth America

My trip to Austin & Dallas, Texas

It actually wasn’t that long ago I went to Texas. In fact it was only a couple of weeks ago (from Wednesday 28 June to Sun 2 July).

As part of my new job (yes, I will post about that one day) I was sent to Dallas for a couple of nights so I decided to tack on Austin since I was in the ‘neighborhood’.

I was in Dallas for the Wednesday and Thursday night and the highlight apart from running a successful work event was going out to dinner, hosted by our local Texan rep.

On the Wednesday I flew into Dallas from LGA and that night, we went to Hard Eight BBQ. When my colleague told me what he had in mind for dinner I lost it. I love BBQ. Well, I love all food so BBQ is just up there in my top 5.

The set up for Hard Eight is to arrive and wait in line for ‘fresh’ BBQ to be served off the grill – literally – as you can see in the photo. Then as you continue to walk, you grab your extras and sides and dessert.

My tray ended up being covered with food – I tried the ribs, brisket, baked potato with everyone, buttered corn, mac & cheese, and banana pudding.

How was it? OMG it was so good and I was told that this wasn’t even “good” BBQ!!!

On the Thursday my work had the event and it went well. That night, we went to Bob’s Steak & Chop House. It was a great night as I met with some of our clients and ate one of the best racks of lamb in my life. Appetizers and sides were ordered for our table where they were hard eaten.

A seafood platter full of prawns, crab cakes and something else came out first. Then my rack of lamb served with a loaded baked potato. And I will mention again that it was one of THE best racks of lamb I have ever had. Some sides came to the table but I was so full trying to stuff all the lamb in my mouth that I only tried a few handfuls of mac & cheese. And that was delicious.

On Friday, I flew using points from Dallas to Austin. Originally I had planned on taking a 3-4 hour Greyhound bus but got scared in the end and went for a flight (yeah yeah I am a chicken).

I took the 100 bus from outside the baggage claim to the hotel (I stayed at the Hilton because surprisingly it was the cheapest that weekend). I was a bit skeptical about taking the public bus because I had a pretty dodgey experience the time I took the bus from Houston airport into the city but I was pleasantly surprised – firstly, the bus driver seemed like she actually liked her job (!!!), the bus was air con, clean and had plenty of luggage storage, oh – and it was only $1.25.

The ride only took  around 30 minutes and I had the pleasure of having a local at the back of the bus who provided commentary on all the oncoming passengers. The comments were not at all hostile but funny. For example, a lady got on with a huge backpack and was trying to get seated, with the backpack on. He told her to take her backpack off first before sitting down. He then made a comment of why her backpack was so big and said something to the likes of “are you running away from home or something?” Classic.

I arrived at the Hilton and was granted early check in which was great. When I got to my room I was so impressed. It was very spacious and super clean!

The first thing I did was pop to famous Driskell Hotel for my 2pm lunch at the 1886 Café & Bakery. I wasn’t able to stay at The Driskell because the per night rate was significantly higher than the Hilton at the time of booking so I thought this would be the next best thing.

The Driskell lobby was very pretty. The café was nice and clean and had a lot of natural light coming in but nothing I would say too fancy about it. I ordered an Iced Tea and the Honey Glazed Fried Chicken. I was not particularly hungry because the heat causes me to always feel a bit bloated and full, although that doesn’t stop me stuffing my face when the time comes. However, on this day, I asked for a to-go box to take the rest of the chicken and potatoes with me. In the end, I gave the rest of my chicken (the large bit) and potatoes to a homeless lady sitting outside a 7-11.

Despite feeling full and hot, I stopped into Voodoo Doughnut (which I had seen on TV) for what I intended to be one donut… but ended with two. I also intended to eat the donuts for breakfast the next day but as soon as I got into my hotel room, I scoffed them down. I got the Voodoo Doll and Glazed donut. The Voodoo Doll was delicious. The Glazed donut was nowhere as good as a Krispy Kreme.

And if you’re going to start telling me how much trans fat a Krispy Kreme has versus the Voodoo Doughnut your words will fall on deaf ears – honestly – have you not already read the things I have eaten on this trip alone?

After overloading on carbs, I fell asleep for about 3, possibly 4 hours. And when I awoke, I walked down to the Colorado River to catch the famous bats.

Yes, bats.

Look, to be honest, I was not particularly keen on the idea of standing around to see bats especially since having lived in Brisbane, I remember bats weeing over me at dusk in the Botanical Gardens but I was told by friends and all the tourist guide sites to do it as it was an “Austin thing to do”.

Basically, people wait along the Congress Avenue Bridge or along the river to see the bats come out for feeding. I got there at 7:45pm and waited for an hour until I could see anything.  Eventually what I did see….

Photo credit: http://www.austincityguide.com/listings/congress-bridge-bats

Was not the above.

What I did see was a line of bats that flew out and if I blinked, I would have missed it.

After standing around for about an hour, near a river, in summer, I came away with a wee bit of disappointment and about 20 mozzie bites around all around my legs. I am still itching away at them.

Also, to my slight delight, I realized the website for the Bat Conservation International site is batcon.org. Bat Con. I would probably say that best describes how I felt.

I walked back to the hotel and popped into the Austin Taco Project – a restaurant part of the Hilton. I don’t usually eat at hotel restaurants unless I absolutely do but this came recommended so I tried it out.

I ordered the Dubai and Wilbur ‘n’ Huevos tacos, followed by the Trio of Stuffed Churros, alongside a (Virgin) Mango Margarita.

The Dubai was so dry that it was only after I was told by the waitress it was supposed to be that way that I didn’t officially complain. I have no idea why anyone would think a bone dry chicken taco would be acceptable. Anyway, the Wilbur ‘n’ Huevos was delicious and the churros were pretty great.

After I ate I went back to my room and passed out. I guess (Virgin) Mango Margarita do that to some people.

On Saturday I went to the Round Rock Outlets to do some retail therapy and for something to do. I know, I know – San Marcos is ‘the’ outlet to go to when in Austin but the cost of getting to and from there was going to be close to $80-100. I mean, to get to and from Round Rock cost me $60 return! Outrageous.

I bought a couple of dresses from Banana Republic but all in all, I came out a little empty handed and disappointed.

I returned back in Austin in time for The Real Austin Tour I had booked online a week before I left for Texas. I was kind of excited about this tour but it turned out to be somewhat disappointing.

Firstly, I must add the tour guide was fine. He was energetic and engaging despite it being super-hot and having to deal with a bus full of tourists.

Basically the tour coach took us from the Visitors Center down to

  • 6th Street (where we didn’t stop, we just drove down it)
  • up Congress Avenue (where we didn’t stop, we just drove down it)
  • to the Texas Capitol Building where we did stop and did a kind of boring tour through it (without much time to take photos)
  • past The University of Texas (where we didn’t stop, we just drove past it)
  • to the HOPE Outdoor Gallery where we did stop and got to take photos but were not allowed to go past the first level of art
  • to a food truck stop where our guide got out to get us a ‘sweet treat, included in the tour’ which was a cake pop (nothing special) and we were told we could not get out of the vehicle to go to the other food trucks due to limited time
  • down South Congress Avenue (where we didn’t stop, we just drove down it)
  • past the Austin postcard mural (where we didn’t stop, we just drove past it)
  • past the famous Whole Foods flagship office/store (where we didn’t stop, we just drove past it), and back to the Visitors Centre.

Would I recommend this tour to someone I liked? No.

For $35 I think it should have been a 3 hour tour and where we would have stopped a lot more locations (especially on South Congress Ave, Food Trucks, Postcard Mural since it’s the image in the tour post). The tour was rushed and I didn’t really enjoy it.

I certainly think the last line of the tour should be changed to “Finally experience Austin through a window!” – I think that would have summed up how I felt about this tour.

Here’s some photos from the Capitol:

Here’s some photos from HOPE to brighten things up:

When we got back to the Visitors Center, I headed to Moonshine Grill for lunch and ordered an Iced Tea, the Hill Country BBQ Baby Back Ribs and Signature Skillet Apple Pie. I ate about a quarter of each and took the rest to-go.

The food was good but not amazing. The Iced Tea tasted funny.

I dropped off the food to my hotel and decided to walk it off instead of sleep it off like I did the previous day. I caught a Lyft down to Austin Pets Alive. I told the receptionist I was not adopting but wanting to just look at the animals.

I did this because the center was close to the river trail which I planned to do on the way back.

Austin Pets Alive was a large shelter and it housed so many beautiful dogs, kittens and cats. I was blown away with how many they had and especially the different ‘houses’ for the felines. I absolutely take my hat off to the organization and if you want to support them, feel free to donate here.

After I was done at the shelter, I did what a solo, female traveler should never ever do – which is to walk alone down a dodgey looking footpath under a bridge/through a tunnel to a destination they are not certain of in an area that is new to them. I live to tell the tale.

Oh, nothing bad happened. It was just one of those ‘eh, I shouldn’t have done that’ situations upon reflection.

I ate the rest of the Moonshine Grill lunch for dinner and went to bed…

…before being woke up at 1:30am by some people playing “Despacito” (the one with Justin Bieber) in a car park next to the hotel so loudly that despite being on the 23rd floor, the glass was not sound resistant enough (despite the recent renovations) and it sounded like the music was coming within my room! Now for the people that know me, I sleep with heavy duty ear plugs and even they didn’t work!

On Sunday I left for New York from Austin and was able to try Salt Lick BBQ at the airport before leaving. I got the breakfast biscuit with beef brisket. It was OK.

That is pretty much the wrap I had on Texas.

I know it sounded like Austin was pretty crappy but I actually had a good time. I just made some poor choices but I cannot hold that against the city!

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