Thursday, January 31, 2013


Outdoor breakfast Hotel Le Marais

National WWII Museum
Thursday, 17 January 2013 – Well we were close to Bourbon Street alright!  The live music continued outside in the wee hours but fortunately our hotel was reasonably sound-proofed allowing us old-fogies (well me actually) to sleep!  Breakfast was provided in our hotel, so after meeting up with mum and dad, we planned our itineraries for the day.  Mum and dad wanted to go riding airboats on the bayou’s and spot alligators while Justyn was keen to head to the National World War 2 museum.  So after agreeing to meet up for pre-dinner drinks at the end of the day mum and dad pottered off in one direction and Justyn and I walked out into the sunshine of the New Orleans morning and headed up Magazine Street towards the museum.  Justyn thoroughly enjoyed himself at the museum but unfortunately some of the larger exhibits were closed as New Orleans was hosting a little thing called the Super Bowl on February 3 and these areas in the museum were being set up to host media and various functions.  Some may wonder why The National World War II Museum is located in New Orleans, a city known for other tourism sites but which is not usually associated with 20th-century military history.  The museum opened as the D-Day Museum, focusing initially on the amphibious invasion of Normandy, then opening a second gallery exploring the amphibious invasions of the Pacific War.  As the Higgins Boats vital to D-Day operations were designed, built, and tested in New Orleans by Higgins Industries, the city was deemed to be the natural home for such a project.  A highlight of the museum is the ‘Beyond all Boundaries’ film that is shown as a 4D experience.  Justyn’s favourite Tom Hanks narrates the film and the voices of some of Hollywood’s top stars bringing to life the words of actual World War II participants and war correspondents. 

Creole Queen on the Mississippi
Cafe du Monde beignets
Finally I had had enough of trawling the museum and dragged Justyn away and out to see some of the more famous sites of ‘Nawlins.  We found ourselves following the route the mardi-gras will take –evidenced by the street closures and seating being built.  Did you know we missed the start of Mardi-Gras by just one day!  

Setting up for Mardi Gras, NOLA

Next time….  Many of the city’s icon’s were being adapted not only for mardi-gras but also the Super Bowl.  Large decorated footballs popped up in the oddest places representing each year of the Super Bowl and its location.  Our wanderings found us down on the Mississippi where the Creole Queen Riverboat was setting off for a run up the river.  A huge storm had swept through the Gulf region so the river was churning and brown, but the sky was blue and the sun was glowing and it made for a beautiful backdrop for the paddle steamer.  By this time my stomach was demanding a taste of something from the famous cusine of New Orleans, so we found the Café du Monde.  All they serve are café au lait and beignets.  Beignets are fluffy globs of dough deep fried and absolutely smothered in powdered sugar.  I was delighted!  New Orleans are also famous for the po-boy and a well-known deli specialising in all versions of po-boys was not far from Café du Monde – Johnny’s Po-Boy’s.  Along the way we stopped in at a record shop called Peaches which is a local institution specialising in the music of Louisiana – Zydeco, Local New Orleans Rap, Blues and of course Jazz.  Continuing to Johnny’s, Justyn ordered the roast beef po-boy and went with the more traditional fried oyster po-boy.  And both were ‘dressed’.  What a taste sensation!  For those who are asking “but what is a po-boy”, it is a traditional submarine sandwich almost always consisting of meat, usually roast beef, or fried seafood.  
Fried oyster po-boy from Johnny's, NOLA
The meat is served on baguette-like New Orleans French bread, known for its crisp crust and fluffy centre.  A "dressed" po-boy has lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayonnaise; onions are optional.  After our late lunch, we headed back to our hotel to drop of some souvenirs we had collected along the way and set out to explore the area around the hotel known as the French Quarter.  It is a beautiful part of the city, with gorgeous architecture and this afternoon our stroll was accompanied by the music from many bands and buskers set up on most street corners.  Often we found ourselves stalling whilst listening to the various genres being played around us.
Buskers on Bourbon St, NOLA

Too soon it the sun was setting and the winter chill was moving in signalling time to head back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.  We had booked into Emeril Lagasse’s flagship restaurant for another exceptional New Orleans dining experience.  Justyn and I became familiar with Emeril through various cooking shows such as Top Chef that we regularly watch.  Emeril initially gained fame in the culinary world as executive chef of Commander’s Palace which is a famous New Orleans restaurant.  After leaving Commander’s he opened his first restaurant, Emeril’s, with an emphasis on Creole and Cajun cooking styles.  And the dining experience more than lived up to expectations.  We had three people waiting on us (plus a sommelier) and they were all engaging, professional and very knowledgeable; we felt like VIP’s!  For appetisers, mum, dad and Justyn all went with the gumbo and I had the special of the day which was Sweet and Sour pigs tail.  We all went in different directions for our entrees (main course) with Justyn enjoying the "Mac N’ Cheese" which was sautéed gulf shrimp with artisanal pasta, vermouth cream, guanciale and brioche crumbs, mum decided on the Sweet Barbecue Glazed Salmon with andouille potato hash, crispy onions and house made Worcestershire, dad hit the gamier side with the veal special and I had one of items that have been on Emeril’s menu since opening the restaurant in 1990, the Andouille Crusted Drum (a local fish) with grilled vegetables, shoestring potatoes, glazed pecans and creole meunière sauce.  There wasn’t much talking at the table while we were all in our own little rapturous worlds.  And then there was dessert.  With not much room to fit it in, we managed to share two of his well-known desserts - Emeril’s Banana Cream Pie with a graham cracker crust, caramel sauce, chocolate shavings and his Key Lime Ice Box Pie with torched cinnamon meringue and tequila gingersnap crust – heavenly bites of deliciousness each one!

We were all very full from our fantastic meal so we decided to amble back to our hotel.  Emeril’s was in the Warehouse District so it wasn’t far to wander.  Before long we came across Harrah’s Casino and instead of going around, we headed in to put a few pennies through the slot machines.  Justyn was the only one to come out the other side a winner.  We knew when we were getting close to our hotel as Bourbon Street became louder and louder.  Another Nawlins institution we felt we needed to experience, we dodged the hordes stumbling around the street clutching their hurricane cocktails in fish bowls, the spruikers toting ‘It’s go-time for ho-time’ strip clubs and the bachelor/bachelorette groups covered in beads and swinging from the lamp posts.  All quite entertaining through my slightly tipsy eyes (well I had had a couple of cocktails and glasses of wine with dinner!)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


French Press French Toast & Breakfast Sandwich

Wednesday, 16 January 2013 – First up, here are some fun facts about Lafayette!
  • Lafayette is the center of Cajun culture in Louisiana and the United States (this is different to Creole which is mainly found in New Orleans).
  • Cajun food is rural, more seasoned, sometimes spicy, and tends to be heartier - game food is the basis rabbit, hog, duck etc
  • Lafayette is said to have more restaurants per capita than any other American city
It was still damp outside but we had slept well and very comfortably in our Loft 7. During his Lafayette wander the day before, Justyn had discovered a great little café for our breakfast, so after rugging up against the 3oC weather outside we walked a few blocks to the French Press Bakery. We were warmly welcomed inside and had our very first decent cup of restaurant tea (our first decent cup was with Kay & Dave!). My selection was very easy – the French Press French Toast which was cream cheese and banana stuffed french toast with berry-champagne compote for me please! Justyn went with the Breakfast Sandwich which had eggs, avocado, bacon, tomato, spicy chipotle aioli and choice of cheddar, swiss, or goat cheese in a spinach wrap and served with cheddar grits – also delicious! Wandering back to the loft, we passed a ‘chain gang’ which was a group of prisoners cleaning up the streets of Lafayette wearing bright orange jumpsuits with black and white striped pants accompanied by the tiniest female guard – one of those sights you just never see in Sydney!! Our destination today was New Orleans and while it was only about 2 hours away, we wanted to stop in Baton Rouge and at an outlet mall along the way. But first a Lafayette magnet! Perhaps the Lafayette Visitor Centre would have them? Nooooooooo – and no souvenirs there at all but if we were interested in duck hunting then they could assist us with the appropriate licence…. Thanks but not this trip!
Across the road was a Walmat – with an odd fascination of this conglomerate, we detoured into the Walmat – perhaps they might have a magnet?? No magnets but it was a bit of an eye-opening visit as it turned out to be in not a great part of town… We did get a Louisiana 2013 calendar though! Spinning the wheels on the White Kitty, we jumped on the I 10 WB again and headed for Baton Rouge. This part of the journey took us into the Atchafalaya area and onto the Basin Bridge which is a pair of parallel bridges with a total length of 29.290 kilometres or 18.2 miles, it is the fourteenth longest bridge in the world by total length!
Atchafalaya Basin Bridge (aka Long Ass Bridge)
The Atchafalaya Basin Bridge is apparently also known as the ‘Long Ass Bridge’ which was very apparent when we came across an accident on the other bridge (going EB) not long after starting on it where a truck cabin was burnt out and the traffic backed up behind it went for about 15 miles! With no place to turn around and stuck with trucks, cars, pickups and trailers, it was a very looooong wait for those people heading eastbound and we were very lucky that it wasn’t on our bridge side! Baton Rouge was upon us not long after the Basin Bridge but the weather and time wasn’t on our side so we decided to continue on the I 10 WB to the Tanger Outlet Mall in Gonzales. It wasn’t busy so we gave ourselves 2 hours to shop and dine before we had to have the White Kitty back at the hire car at the New Orleans airport. And shop we did! Woo hoo – gotta love an outlet mall – and gotta love an outlet mall with a Cracker Barrel! If you read my last blog of our trip to the US in 2010 (Life Begins at 40 Rollercoasters) you will know of my fascination with the Cracker Barrel. Where else can you have breakfast at 3pm in the afternoon! And not just any breakfast…. Try the Sunrise Sampler (which I did) – two eggs cooked to order with grits, sawmill gravy and homemade buttermilk biscuits along with real butter and the best preserves, jam n' apple butter, served with fried apples, hashbrown casserole and a sampling of smoked sausage, country ham and thick-sliced bacon. And the bottomless soda of course! Justyn kept it simple and went for the Homemade Beef Stew and coleslaw with corn muffins. But no magnet!
Cracker Barrel feast!
We now had an hour to return the White Kitty to the NOLA airport and roadworks and Simon did their very best to challenge that timing and our stress levels! We finally made it, jumped into the shuttle to the airport then to another shuttle to take us to our hotel in New Orleans. Phew! Mum and dad were also arriving in New Orleans today and we found that they had already checked into their room at the Le Marais in the French Quarter. After dropping our bags off in the room, we met them for a couple of cocktails and beers in the hotel bar and a catch up of each other’s travels prior to meeting in NOLA.
We left the dinner decision up to Justyn who took us to SoBou (which stands for South of Bourbon Street). What a great restaurant – they describe themselves as “A Spirited Restaurant”– it was like a creole tapas so we could order lots of small plates and share. And share we did – pork crackling, a divine apple & pear salad with green apples, poached asian pears, autumn greens, camembert cheese & salted pecan tuile, with muscadine wine vinaigrette, crispy oyster tacos, duck debris & butternut beignets, crispy fried chicken, creole mac ‘n cheese and a foie gras burger. All great dishes – no duds!
Chocolate Coma Bar, SoBou NOLA
Creole Mac 'n Cheese & Fried Chicken
For dessert we indulged in a chocolate coma bar which was a flourless dark chocolate torte with white chocolate mousse, candied pecans & sea salt caramel covered in milk chocolate and served with a shot of chicory coffee shake, the ‘dark and stormy banana rum cake’ and the sweet caprese which was sugarcane soaked navel oranges, citrus vanilla bean panna cotta, fresh mint with Steen’s cane syrup and balsamic reduction – mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Wandering back to our hotel, we headed up to bed but Justyn went for a wander to the infamous Bourbon Street and to find his NOLA bearings – he wasn’t gone for long as even though it was a week night, Bourbon Street was apparently living up to its reputation!!


Tuesday, 15 January 2013 – Today it was time to head across the state line and into Louisiana. The weather was atrocious for any real sightseeing in Houston, so even though checkout time was midday, we were in the White Kitty and on our way by 10am. Our driving plan was to head to Lake Charles in Louisiana for a lunch stop before making our way to Lafayette for our overnight stop. We jumped on the I 10 WB, put the foot down and tootled our way along the interstate for a couple of hours before reaching Lake Charles.
Pronia's Deli & Bakery

The state line was marked on a bridge with absolutely nowhere to stop, but Justyn still managed to check us in on FB as we flashed by! We did notice the change in landscape as we left Texas and entered Louisiana – we were surrounded by ‘casino’s’ which means that if you have a slot machine in your foyer, you are designated a casino, and the many bridges we travelled over. Texas is very flat and Louisiana seems to be very ‘bridgy’! Arriving in Lake Charles (with a detour of the city provided by Simon…), we stopped for lunch in the rain at a diner popular with university students, Pronia’s Deli and Bakery. As usual, eyes were bigger than stomachs and we sample fried cheese sticks, a muffaletta, tamales, meatball sub and the bottomless soda. I attempted to find a magnet but they didn’t have any so we decided to find the Lake Charles visitors centre – they always have souvenirs don’t they?? Well no they don’t… But they could sign us up for duck hunting if we were interested. Thanks but no, a magnet was all we wanted! And it was darn cold in Lake Charles!! We had a lovely chat with a couple of retirees who saw us trying to take a ‘selfie’ and jumped out of their motor home to offer their photography services. After telling us they were a long way from their home near Chicago and heading to Florida for the rest of the winter; they asked where we were from and just about fell over when we told them Australia – they’d never met any Australians before so we turned on the ‘strine, had a chat then both went on our ways. Time was ticking on and we wanted to get to Lafayette before the sun set so back onto the I 10 WB we went and set of in the White Kitty.
Justyn had decided on our accommodations for our night in Lafayette and so he went with a loft style over a hotel. The rain was pouring down and the light was fading as we arrive at Buchanan Lofts. With car parking across the street and no lift, poor Justyn was on luggage duty once we arrived (well I did do all the driving!) It was a very unusual place – gorgeous but with no one on duty to check us in! We called the cell number, received a code to enter once they confirmed our booking and went up the stairs.
Buchanan Lofts, Lafayette
Most of the lofts had their doors open and we encountered another lady who was checking out the lofts and picking which one she wanted to stay in! Obviously you couldn’t get into the lofts where people were staying but she was definitely eyeing Loft Number 7 which we had already selected!! As the weather was miserable, Justyn went for a wander before meeting the loft lady to get our key and I stayed indoors, showered and caught up on the blog. Dinner was really great Japanese from around the corner at Tsunami Sushi and an early night in front of the telly with a load of washing on!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Monday, 14th January 2013 – We were spending the whole day in Houston and the weather decided that it would finally snap and actually spend some time as winter… I think the top was 4 or 5oC. Our first destination for the day was the Johnson Space Centre where NASA maintains the control room for all space missions.
The cool thing for me about the visit was the update on the Curiosity Rover on Mars and what it was doing up there. Apparently it has a friend rover on Mars – the poor little Spirit arrived on Mars in 2004 but unfortunately froze to death in 2010 during the Martian winter when he got stuck on a rock and was unable to move his solar panels around to collect enough sun to power him and ‘died’. But the rover Opportunity is still grooving around on Mars and actually helped the Curiosity mission team pick the best spot for his landing. It was all really fascinating actually! You can follow Curiosity’s progress at - I will be! Inside the Johnson Space Centre, there are lots of experiments you can do and many of them incorporate the Angry Birds Space game as it was developed in conjunction with NASA!
According to the blurb, game developers incorporated concepts of human space exploration into the game. From the weightlessness of space to the gravity wells of nearby planets, players use physics as they explore the various levels of the game set both on planets and in microgravity. Angry Birds is educational!! We also took the tram ride to Building 30 which were NASA still manages many space missions including monitoring the current astronauts up in the International Space Station.
NASA Mission Control
They allow you into the refurbished mission control that was used up until the end of the Space Shuttles but was set up to look like it did when they were managing the Apollo 11 landing on the moon in July 1969. The next stop on the tram tour was the Rocket Field with actual rockets used to fire into space with the absolutely humongous Saturn 5 rocket built in the 60’s housed in a hangar.

And since we were in Houston, there was much quoting of Apollo 13 “Houston we have a problem”! Despite freezing our little butts off, the visit to the Johnson Space Centre was ‘out of this world’!
The Houston Galleria Skating Rink
Skirting the outer parts of Houston (which recently overtook Chicago as America’s third largest city), we drove to the Galleria which, continuing the theme of ‘it’s bigger in Texas’, is one of the country’s largest shopping malls. So large that there are numerous hotels including the Westin and Sheraton connecting directly into it… It is open until 9pm every night so we resisted the urge to throw on some ice skates and partake in some ‘freestyling’ on the blades and contented ourselves with shopping! As it is winter here, there were some amaaaaaazing sales on winter clothes to make way for their summer styles. Shopping Part 1 completed, it was home to the hotel for an early night, pack and get ready for our drive across the border to Louisiana. We didn’t get to see much of Houston except for loop roads and freeways on this trip – guess it means we will have to come back!!
And of course, here are some fun facts about Houston:
  • Houston was the first word spoken from the moon - The Apollo 11 mission established a place in history for the city when astronaut Neil Armstrong spoke the now-famous line, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” 
  • Strange but true: It is illegal to sell Limburger cheese on Sundays in Houston.  
  • At 634 square miles, the City of Houston could contain the cities of New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis and Miami.
  • The first successful human heart transplant was performed in Houston by Dr. Denton Cooley (1968). 


Sunday, 13 January 2013 – We were very lucky today as not only did the Westin where we were staying give us free wifi, as it was Sunday we also received a 3pm checkout!! No strings attached! That gave us plenty of time to get out and see more of the beautiful city of San Antonio. Our first stop was the River Walk Center to grab some breakfast and it was there that I encountered my first Cinnabon of the trip. Absolutely sensational with a cup of Starbucks Awake (read “British Breakfast”) tea!
The cinnabon!
Fuelled up, we walked across to the Alamo. A quick history lesson for those who are not aware of the legend of The Alamo: The Alamo as it appears today represents nearly three hundred years of human activity. The Spanish started building the Alamo in 1724. For most of the 1700s the Alamo was a Spanish mission. They stopped using it as a mission in 1793. In the early 1800s, the Spanish stationed soldiers at the old mission and after Mexico's independence from Spain, Mexican soldiers occupied the Alamo. Back in those days, Texas was a part of Mexico. Due to changes in the Mexican government, Texans wanted to be independent from Mexico. Also in those days, Anglo-Americans in Texas were called "Texians" and Hispanic-Americans were called "Tejanos". In December 1835, a group of Texan volunteer soldiers fought against the Mexican soldiers in San Antonio and won. The Texans then occupied the Alamo. This "independent-mindedness" didn't sit well with the Mexican government so on February 23, 1836, Mexican General Santa Anna arrived outside San Antonio with about 6000 men to suppress the rebellion. Even though there were only around 200 of them, the Texans inside the Alamo decided to stick together and defend their position. Some of the defenders included famous people, like Jim Bowie (who created the Bowie knife) and Davy Crockett.
Despite the overwhelming odds, the Texan defenders held out for 13 days against Santa Anna's army. The Mexicans' final assault on the Alamo started around 5.30 am on March 6, 1836. They attacked the walls of the Alamo on four fronts. The defenders fought back bravely, but eventually they were overwhelmed. An hour later it was all over and Mexico had won the Battle of the Alamo. About 6 weeks after the battle of the Alamo, on April 21, Sam Houston's army defeated Santa Anna's army at the Battle of San Jacinto. So according to legend, the brave men of the Alamo had not died in vain. From their sacrifice emerged Sam Houston's battle-cry, "Remember The Alamo!" that led to Texas liberty.
Remember the Alamo!
Before coming on holiday to Texas, Justyn pulled the movie ‘The Alamo’ with Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton out of the collection. While I realise that it was a ‘Hollywoodification’ of the battle, I am glad that I had watched it to give me a greater appreciation of the reverence that The Alamo is held. After the obligatory purchases, and photograph with Davey Crockett hat, in the Alamo gift shop, we decided to stroll around the River Walk area for an hour or so to get a different viewpoint in daylight. Apparently the river is drained for cleaning and maintenance the first week in January except for 2013 so we were very lucky! San Antonio would not have been as beautiful with a dry creek in the middle of town! Finally it was time to leave San Antonio – but not without some fun facts!
  • San Antonio is the 3rd largest city in Texas with over 1.1 million peeps and the 11th largest in the US 
  • San Antonio was named in honour of St Anthony of Padua the patron saint of children 
  • Chili was ‘invented’ in San Antonio in the 18th Century. It officially was "introduced" to the nation at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. • 
  • Arguably the most famous San Antonio resident is Tommy Lee Jones.

 Our next destination was Houston which is nearly 200 miles (or a three hour drive) east of San Antonio. So we loaded up the White Kitty and purred down the I10 EB at the speed limit of 75 mph (125kph woo hooo!!) towards Downtown Houston. Our accommodations for the next two nights was at the Embassy Suites Downtown so we could do some washing!
A grackle
Grackles galore surrounded all the buildings in this area but as it was a Sunday night the traffic and people were light on the ground. We valet parked and checked in before heading off to eat at Hearsay Gastro Lounge a very popular dining destination (and historically important building designed by Eugene T. Heiner) for the locals and fortunately for us open on Sundays!!
Hearsay Gastro Lounge
Dessert - Chocolate gateau
While the dude who sat us was a touch testy as his team the Houston Texans were in the process of losing to the New England Patriots in the NFL finals series being held in Boston, Justyn enjoyed the beef brisket sandwich and four-cheese mac n cheese and I went for the stuffed chicken breast washed down with a Gin Gin Mule and a Karbach Hopadillo. After dinner we tackled the washing and then it was bed time!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Saturday, 12 January 2013 – a lazy start to the weekend for us at Dave & Kay’s. Their daughter Katie and her husband Luke and their three kids Sawyer, Jimmy and Betty were coming over for a home –made breakfast and a wander through the local park. The weather continued to favour us with a warm day despite being overcast – locals were wandering around in t-shirts and shorts! For brekkie, Kay whipped up her secret family pecan cinnamon buns with goof; we are lucky enough to be included in the family so we now have the recipe!! Apparently ‘goof’ makes you goofy so to help run the crazy out of everyone, we all went for a walk around their local park, climbing trees and squirrel spotting! We then spent a quiet afternoon nursing Chloe and stalking 3-Car (the house cats) and catching up some more with Kay and Dave before they took us to their favourite Mexican restaurant Povelos for a late lunch of fajitas, enchiladas and burritos.
Mexican lunch @ Polvos, Austin TX
They also apparently make a mean margherita but as I was driving down to San Antonio shortly, I wasn’t able to put that claim to the test! Dave and Justyn enjoyed a couple of Mexican beers though… the winner there a beer called Victoria! After lunch, we farewelled Kay and Dave who had been the most generous hosts and they dropped us at the airport where we picked up our car for the driving portion of our holiday. I thought I’d booked a Dodge Avenger but the lady at the care hire place was having a bad day and we had quite a bit of trouble getting a car – I really didn’t want to drive a Toyota Corolla or a Ford Focus! I wanted a car with some American heritage! In the end after she tried to upsell us to a BMW 5 and a Lexus, we settled on a Chrysler Cruze (yes, I know its just the Holden Cruze rebadged…) Oh well, we were on our way! San Antonio was a little over 80 miles to the south of Austin which equated to about a 90 minute drive. We loaded up the White Kitty (the name of our car), programmed Simon (our GPS) and headed out onto the Interstate. It was a pretty uneventful drive until we neared San Antonio when we drove into the middle of the start of two major happenings and people trying to get to them– Monster Truck Jam at the Alamodrome and a Justin Beiber concert at the AT&T Center… It took us over an hour to travel what Simon predicted should have taken 6 minutes! I was caught in the wrong lane a couple of times and pushed my way in hoping the truck I was nosing ahead of was a Beiber-loving fan and not off to the Monster Trucks toting their guns on their gun racks! My stereotyping was completely unfounded as the San Antonian’s were very lenient in letting people in! We finally made it to the Westin Riverwalk, left the car with the valet and after checking in, set off to explore the famous Riverwalk area of San Antonio. The night was still quite warm, although a change was expected and the Riverwalk was just beautiful.
San Antonia Riverwalk at night
The San Antonio River Walk (also known as Paseo del Río) is a network of walkways along the banks of the San Antonio River, one story beneath the streets of Downtown underneath the level where cars drive. It is lined by bars, shops and restaurants with trees, gardens and waterfalls giving it an ethereal, almost otherworldly feel. Strolling along the paths, you have no idea of the city bustle going on above you. It is spectacular. As we had eaten lunch late, we decided to jump on the last river cruise and take a tour of the waterways. Our gondolier Dave ferried us around the 5 miles of waterways pointing out the sights and history for 40 minutes. After the rivercruise, we felt like a little bite so headed to the Hard Rock Café for a burger and mac ‘n cheese before wandering back to the hotel for a well deserved sleep.

Monday, January 14, 2013


Friday, 11 January 2013 – Another beautiful day dawned in Austin (although we weren’t awake to see it) so after packing our bags and departing our great stay at the Intercontinental, we headed to the Hideaway Theatre Café for a tea and breakfast burrito which seems to be the standard brekkie choice. No celebrity sightings this time for Justyn! After some souvenir hunting, we joined the highly recommended Austin Overtures Tour which takes in Austin and the surrounding Hill Country in 90 minutes. Maggie was our wonderful guide who was very entertaining and informative and we saw a lot of the surrounding areas including the Historic Downtown, Texas Capitol Complex, the University of Texas, Old East Austin, and the Texas Hill Country in West Austin – areas we just would not see otherwise.
Texas University - Longhorns College NFL stadium
Here are a few of the best fun and interesting facts we learned about Austin, Texas!:
  • The Austin, Texas state capitol building is the largest state capitol building in the U.S. and is made from Texas pink granite. 
  • Austin is home to one of the largest college universities in the nation. The current enrolment is over 50,000 students and 24,000 faculty and support. Famous UT Alumni include: Walter Cronkite, Matthew McConaughey, Renee Zellweger, and Farrah Fawcett. • 
  • Austin was originally called Waterloo, has an average of 300 days sunshine per year and is the 13th largest city in the US! 
 After enjoying our tour with Maggie, we were going to stay with really good family friends of Justyn’s who live in Austin. Living not far from SoCo, Kay picked us up in her zoomy Prius (lots of Prius’ in Austin!) and we settled in for an afternoon of catching up before her husband Dave came home with the fixings for his World Famous Margheritas and a variety of Fat Yak and Shiner Bock local Texan beers. We were pretty keen for some Texan BBQ so Kay and Dave took us to their favourite bbq place Salt Lick BBQ at Driftwood, just outside Austin.
(l-r) Carolyn, Kay, Justyn & Dave at Salt Lick BBQ
The food!
The most awesomest BBQ menu!
We ordered the ‘family style’ serving which included all you can eat (YES!!!) brisket, sausage and pork ribs (AWESOME!!!), warm potato salad, coleslaw and the best bread EVER! Finger licking deliciawesomezingous!!! After we had eaten our fill, I just had to find some room for a bowl of peach and blackberry cobbler! Returning to Kay and Dave’s, there was time and room for one of Dave’s World Famous Martini’s!!


Thursday, 10 January 2013 – A sleep in for me – 12 hours sleep actually – while Justyn went wandering the streets for good cup of tea. Austin is a bit of hipster-ville so we expected to be able to get decent tea! While at the Hideout Theatre Café, Justyn saw a guy who he thought looked like Beck (we saw Beck in concert at the State Theatre in Sydney only a couple of months ago) so he went up to him and said just that! So while they waited for their drinks, they briefly chatted together and Justyn was so excited he forgot what they spoke about – “nonsensical” I think he described it as! A slow start to the day, we finally ventured out to see the sights of Austin. Keep Austin Weird” seems to be the catch-phrase around town, so we were on the lookout for any ‘weirdness’! It was a stunning day with gorgeous blues skies, perfect for ambling! Our wanderings were based on locations of telephone shops so we could grab a US data SIM to use on the go so we headed off towards the first shopping centre. We passed the Willie Nelson statue as he is a local, but were unable to get a photo of it today as there was a television crew filming it and they made it difficult to get near – we’ll try again tomorrow!
Stevie Ray Vaughan statue
This was also the first of the shopping districts recommended by the hotel concierge and a few blockies did not reveal a mobile phone outlet so we headed across the lake to see the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue which overlooks the Lady Bird Lake which was on Justyn’s ‘must-do’ list – he is a famous guitarist – before heading to SoCo (South Congress Street district). Top of my ‘must-do’ list was the purchase of my first pair of cowboy boots. Friends had recommended Allens Boots in Austin and a check on the internet also showed that this was the place to get the coveted boots. And Allens just happened to be in SoCo! And it was another shopping area for us to find a data SIM card! Meandering from the park towards SoCo, we passed the Performing Arts Centre the infamous bat bridge where between April and October thousands of bats nest during the day and then fly out en masse at sunset – it is supposed to be spectacular and a major tourist draw card but unfortunately we are not visiting at the right time of the year! Another feature of Austin is the food trucks. Just about any food type is represented by a food truck and our favourite is Ms P’s Electric Cock Fried Chicken! Many eateries line each side of South Congress and it made our lunch decision very difficult. So in our true style, we (I) put that decision off as Allens Boots loomed large on the hill top. I drew a deep breath, opened the door and the world of cowboy boots materialised right in front of my eyes. Where to start???? The first aisle seemed like a good choice so I headed up the first row feeling a little overwhelmed by the variety and realised that each row represented a size – keep in mind that each aisle was approximately 40 metres long and they had girls boots and boy boots – huge! I found my aisle and started looking again but realised that this was a momentous purchase for me and that some assistance would be required. Rebecca came to the rescue and after a few try-ons, we managed to workout style of boots and fit; all I needed to do was pick a design. Still having trouble and aimlessly wandering my size aisle, Rebecca came back, grabbed a pair of the shelf and handed them to me – these were the ones. And when I tried them on, they were the pair that fit the best too. I let out squeal of glee (which unfortunately Rebecca heard and commented on) and took the purchase plunge.
My boot purchase from Allens Boots, Austin TX
I am now officially a rootin’ tootin’ cowgirl! Our tummies were telling us that lunch was now urgently required so we headed back to a taco eatery called Güero’s Taco Bar. Drink and food – check. Since this second shopping borough did not yield a mobile store either, out next stop for our weary feets was the hotel to drop our purchases off before heading off for the third attempt at a phone card. All our meanderings through Austin didn’t reveal any ‘weirdness’ but it did highlight the social vibe of the city with bars and restaurants for blocks upon blocks catering for all tastes. A lot of outdoor venues and almost all with music, both live and recorded, and rooftops galore which showcased the awesome weather that Austin has – 22oC in the middle of winter! Our third shopping area did throw up an AT&T store where we attempted to get a US sim (somewhat successfully), and it also had a Whole Foods Market which those of you who watch Top Chef will instantly know. It was supermarket nirvana!
Pretty Potatoes at Whole Foods, Austin TX

The freshest food, with baristas, bartenders, pre-made food stalls dotted throughout the store – just an amazing amazing place! The mosey to this area did give us our second celebrity sighting of the trip (pretty good considering the people who live in Austin including Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Lance Armstrong, Robert Plant – just to name a few…) Paul Giamatti was walking straight towards us! He had a hat on, his head down and at the last minute gave us eye contact! I detected a slight smile and head incline but Justyn said I was clutching at straws... Dinner tonight was Justyn’s choice and we went to Second Bar and Restaurant on Congress for the burger which was voted one of the twelve best in the state. It was a great venue and the pomme frittes with truffle aioli was out of this world. Justyn had the Congress Burger and I went with the short rib with grits. Dessert was pretty spectacular, pumpkin cheesecake in a jar with roasted pineapple and graham crackers – sublime!!! And as for the Austin ‘weirdness’; if encountering men with beards and pony-tails is weird, then Justyn fits right in!