Thursday, January 04, 2007

Deep In The Heart of Big Ol Texas

Texas is so big you don’t realize HOW big it is until you drive it! If you drive the width of it from East to West, you seriously think you’ll never EVER get out of Texas, especially by the time you get into West Texas. When you finally cross the state border to New Mexico, you feel exhausted and at the same time exhilarated. If you travel North to South from the Oklahoma border down to say Padre Island on the Gulf of Mexico, same thing. Dang! Texas takes up a lot of space!

(To illustrate this large quality, I have gone over the border of this blog for fun!)

Having explored Texas somewhat in my life, I would need at least three more lifetimes to say I’ve seen most of Texas. It’s best to take Texas in bite-size chunks, small trips where you concentrate on one neighborhood to explore so you don’t overwhelm yourself with the vastness.

My most recent trip to Texas I did just that: Central Texas or what is called “Deep In The Heart of Texas!” This meant not covering too much territory: only Austin and San Antonio. This area is often called the “Hill Country” because it’s characterized by the Edwards Plateau and the Balcones Escarpment. Basically what this means is that this part of Texas isn’t as flat as other parts of Texas. The main roads running through this neck of the woods are Interstates 10 and 35.

My partner and I began our adventure in Austin, the state capital, which straddles the Colorado River. We stayed nearby Town Lake in the heart of the downtown area, or at least close-by. There was a great running-walking recreation trail by this lake which goes for about 10 miles, and this is the lake where we went out on a bat-watching boat to watch the famous free-tailed bats come out from under a bridge at duskand darken the twilight sky with their thousands and thousands of bat bodies. Apparently, this is a big deal to observe this bat-emergence, and we looked up from our boat to see many people lined up on the “bat bridge” above-- a not-uncommon site—locals and toursist alike who wait to see the bats come out to feed every night on insects. These winged creatures make their home in Austin and are one of the largest bat populations in North America. This was a really cool experience as we watched teams sculling by us in the tranquility of the early evening. I wonder if Batman has a penthouse nearby too?

We had come to Texas primarily for a football game because my partner is what is commonly known as a Bucknut which is a crazed Ohio State University football fan, and he had a ticket for the game. We arrived a couple of days before the game to explore Austin—several days in a hotel at first and several days as the guests of friends, a wonderful couple who were incredibly gracious hosts. This was my partner’s first time to Austin, and I hadn’t been in Austin for a long, long time, so we enjoyed playing tourist.

Even though it was September, the weather was hot! We discovered this fact after we began our walking expedition around Austin where we walked everywhere because my partner wanted to see everything up-close. After one exceedingly hot day of walking all over the sprawling University of Texas Campus and up and done Sixth Street, Congress and other streets called SOCO. This area contains shops, galleries, restaurants, pubs and LOTS of clubs. Even though we had access to a car, he insisted on walking. I finally convinced him the second day to jump on the free trolley from the campus which took us back not too far from our hotel. Whew!

One of our BIG adventures in Austin was trying to find internet cafes, and surprisingly for a city the size of Austin, these internet cafes are few and far between. We finally located one at Shotzky’s deli where they were available for free. We asked people why there were so few of these internet cafes available, and the response we got was that Austin was a college town and practically every student opened a laptop and used the Wifi. And my response to this is what about the tourists?! There were only two computers available at our hotel for ridiculous prices for usage. So if you go to Austin, take your laptop or Blackberry if you want to stay connected.

Of course, the highlight of the trip for my partner was seeing the stadium and attending the OSU-Texas game. His team (OSU) won, and the partying around the city was quite something afterwards as we drove around with our hosts with whom we were staying at this time. I went with our hosts to a party at the home of a famous television newscaster while my partner attended the game, and the vibe of the evening with these fellow Texans rooting for their team changed a lot in the television room as it became apparent that Texas was NOT the winner. I observed all this football folly as I always do with a quiet reserve as football doesn’t do it for me.

Let’s backtrack a bit here: I grew up in football territory: Oklahoma and Texas. I graduated college in Texas. I dated football players-- even some that went on to become famous football stars. I cheered at football games for many years. One day I woke up, and I realized I could care less about football—the football players were still hunky and alluring, but football—eh! Football suddenly seemed barbaric, preposterous, over-the-top, and totally boring. I have remained being a non-interested-in-football- person, though my partner’s a fanatic fan. He accepts this state of affairs, and so do I. Whatcha gonna do?

Austin has the reputation of being a party town, the hip city. It’s famous for its music scene, clubs and bills itself as “the live music capital of the world”. Leafing through their papers, I realized this MUST be true because of all the clubs, concerts, and music advertising. However, we missed out on all that, and we didn’t see one group perform live because….

It was time to move on to San Antonio and the next leg of our journey. San Antonio has the feel of a much of a much bigger city. I read it was the 9th largest city in America, and the flavor is definitely Spanish. Neither of us had ever been to San Antonio before, and thus it was an adventure in finding our way around via freeways and weird side roads that ran alongside the major highways.

We had heard from others how beautiful the 2.5 mile Riverwalk or Paseo del Rio is, and we were eager to experience this for ourselves. Supposedly this famous Riverwalk symbolizes the beauty and romance of the city. We decided to stay outside of San Antonio because I had read so many complaints about the noise on the Trip Adviser website. Thus, we stayed on the perimeter of San Antonio close to Sea World at a beautiful, peaceful resort and drove into the city.

The day we arrived in San Antonio, it was pouring cats and dogs. So at the Alamo gift shop, we purchased two bright yellow ponchos (could we look any more as tourists?!) as we didn’t have an umbrella with us. The highlight of our adventure at the Alamo was when I cut my hand trying to pull down a horse mobile I wished to purchase. The tin of the horse cut my hand which began bleeding profusely, and so I was directed to the infirmary where I could get a bandage and some ointment. It was there that a kindly old man with a badge and a gun (a Texas Ranger?) dabbed my bleeding hand with an antiseptic ointment and gently placed a bandage on me. It was a very sweet moment to watch this Marlboro-type man perform this nurturing act. I felt like a little girl again. I couldn’t help but notice the blood-letting as a weird omen.

Did you know the famous Davy Crockett died at the Alamo? I looked at the old manuscript (under glass) of those that had died in the great battle which took place here. The Alamo feels quite ghostly and old-world enchanting at the same time.

The Riverwalk didn’t measure up to my expectations for the water seemed rather stagnant. Maybe it’s because we were there on a rainy day, and beauty is perceived less beautiful on a dismal day. I also sensed there was not as much prosperity around this area in (maybe) former years, even though some grand and expensive hotels have located themselves right on the Riverwalk.

Once again, we walked all over the place as we followed our nose(s) and explored. With the humidity of the day and wearing the hot yellow poncho, I was about ready to pass out and felt eager to get out of the city to the peace and quiet of the countryside. We dined at a delicious Italian restaurant situated facing the Riverwalk, and we marveled at how inexpensive the food was in Texas as compared to Hawaii.

I had gone to Texas hoping to see the stars because like the song goes: “the stars are big and bright deep in the heart of Texas.” Never saw those. Too many lights everywhere we went and stayed.

What we saw were people very PROUD of being Texans. We ate at delicious restaurants with inexpensive food. I took along two stuffed mermaids (one which was a teddy bear mermaid) and posing these stuffed toys in all sorts of weird places, such as the canon on the lawn of the state capitol. I got this idea from the movie “Amelie” with the Gnome showing up all over the place and in the most ridiculous places. We experienced history. It was all good. Texas has been and continues to be a ‘hoot’ for me!

If you’d like to read more, here’s the link to my travel blog which I kept on this journey.

Posted by kuanyin333 at 3:50 PM 1 comments