Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Thermal Experience

We added another day to our stay in Austin as we'd enjoyed the city of 1.75 million so much so far and decided to add to our knowledge by a round the city tour run from the Visitor Centre just up the road.

Most interesting it was too.

The city is built around the Texas Colorado river -- not the Grand Canyon one, but the Texas one.  They are quite different.  Named after Samuel Austin who had arrived in 1821 having asked permission of the then overlords Spain and subsequently Mexico to build an Anglo population into the vast area of Tejas.  The Spanish/Mexicans were keen on this as they had no way of stopping the Indians from raiding at the extremities of their frontier so wanted a buffer between them and the Indians -- namely the new Anglo settlers.  The 300 in fact.

After much trial and tribulation, the Mexicans were booted out and the independent republic of Texas was born with Austin the first president.  Hence the name of the city.

The river has been dammed 6 or 7 times along the way in an attempt to regulate the water coming into the city and at the same time creating a series of ever higher lakes that wind their way through the city and up into the hills to the north. As the city grew, so homes moved out along the river and lakeside.  And as our tour showed, there are some pretty nice homes up in those hills too.

We also did a tour of the Capitol -- and most impressive it is too.  Built in the 1850's from local limestone, granite and marble quarried nearby and which was surplus to their owners' requirements at the time of its building it is the largest state capitol in the US (OK, this is Texas.  Why should anyone be surprised?).  It is also 14 feet taller than the Capitol in Washington DC.  Again why should anyone be surprised?

Davy Crockett was a Tennessee congressman who lost an election and decided to relocate to Texas to seek his fortune. When he arrived someone told him about the revolt against Mexico and asked if he wanted to help out at a place called The Alamo in San Antonio….

… in all Davy Crockett (front and centre in this painting) was in Texas for 6 weeks.  But he is still considered a legend in Texas and his painting hangs in the entry way near the statues of Houston and Austin.  Colonel Travers who commanded the garrison may have been the first person to utter the immortal words: "Houston, we have a problem".

The Texas senate… not currently in session.  They meet every other year for a month.

Sam Houston 
Recently substantially renovated with 4 new subterranean floors added for even more offices, this is one impressive building.

So is the university all around it.  50,000 students and 25,000 faculty make this a city in itself and comfortably bigger than Bermuda.  Its 100,000 seater stadium is bigger than Bermuda!

But boy was it hot!  Cooling off in the thermal waters of Barton Springs seemed a lovely thought so we headed off that way only stopping off to eat lunch at one of the many lunch wagons dotted around the city.

The pool itself is located within Zilker Park, the expanse to the southwest of Lady Bird Lake, Austin's own lake.  It isn't a new structure, rather old in fact and full of weeds and rather nasty looking algae in the shallow parts.  It was packed but we were able to find an empty spot and jumped in.


Compared to the North Sea or even the Thames Estuary around my home town of Southend, 68 degrees is actually quite warm.  But compared to Bermuda and Cayman's pea soup like water temperatures, this came as quite a shock.

But it was very refreshing.

Not sure if I found it that spiritual either (sorry Michael) as the weed was quite clingy and slimy but we did stay quite late as it was so pleasant.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped off at a Whole Foods supermarket.  Called 'Whole Pay Packet' by some, it was packed showing people are prepared to pay for quality.  Austin is their hometown too.  The founders were university drop outs who in the 1970's wanted to eat better than was available at the time so did something about it.  The company has its HQ in Austin still.

The store was huge, 2nd in size apparently to their London branch, and had its own restaurants and wine bar inside which were jammed with people sipping wine and eating dinner.

Great concept.  Expensive food but still packed with happy shoppers.  The company attracts the younger and hipper element so with demographics behind them is here to stay.  Like Apple, they are able to charge premium prices because the quality they deliver is just what people want.

We'd been told about a steak restaurant called Jeffreys -- see website here -- by a couple of people at Perry's and other fooderies so decided to try them out.  Not downtown by any means but only a short cab ride away, it is a fine dining establishment.  But the martini's were terrific and the steaks again lovely.

Two fantastic steak houses in one city is a pretty darn good advertisement for Austin's dining scene.

We shall be back!

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