From our Depsters March 10, 2019
Austin for the first timers
I recently was lucky enough to get the opportunity to travel to SxSW this year and it was a fantastic event. Now at this stage, lots has been written about it, such as what were the best talks, exhibits and events. So, I’m choosing not to write about that and instead give you a glimpse into the city itself and showcase why you should visit Austin regardless of SxSW.
I arrived on a sunny but freezing Monday morning, in fact, it was -2º Celsius with a wind chill of hypothermia. I wasn’t expecting it to be that cold but luckily I’d packed a few warm things. The lesson learned here, always be prepared because if it can happen it most likely will. On a side note, on my last day a week later it was 26ºC, now that’s more like it.
Living it up
Stay on 6th Street, I was staying on West 6th Street which, as it turnes out, was quite central to the heart of the action. West 6th Street in chilled hipster/hippieville which I felt had a great vibe. It’s by far the best area as it was super cool with lots of places to eat, drink great coffee, and hang out. If you can get an apartment, it makes you feel like an Austinite. The apartment I stayed in (Guild East 6th) was self-managed and the arrival and registration procedure was all done online, I got an access code to the front door, let myself into the building and then into the apartment via a PIN code. As customer expectation of service change and standards improve over time, this procedure is now the new norm. Uber set the standard for self-serve in this way many years ago and more and more service industries are moving (granted slowly) to a much more fluid user-centric model. I look forward to the day when all hotels include a self-serve entry with robotic staff for assistance.
Several layers of clothing
That’s what I was wearing once I braved the cold. Food was, of course, a top priority and in Austin, this starts with food trucks. The different selection to choose from is impressive and all at very reasonable prices. Unfortunately, the vegetable eaters out there will struggle. It’s no secret that I’m a card carrying carnivore but even I struggled with the sheer volume of meat in its many delicious forms. When the hankering for salad arose I struggled to find something that met my desire. I know vegetarian suitable meals are available but I somehow managed to miss them. On the upside, I can honestly say I had the best BBQ and Sushi I’ve ever tasted.
If it’s BBQ you’re after, there’s so much choice but my money goes to Franklin’s. There’s lots of detail about menu and queue times online, best to google it as it differs seasonally. I arrived at 10:45 and started queuing from the parking lot, yes the parking lot! I’d planned to chill and listen to my audiobook but this was before the guy in front of me (Scott) asked how long I think it would take, I guessed 1.5hrs. This is when the guy behind me (Dan) said 2.5hrs, he had a son living around the corner who often choose to wait in line for this delicious food. We ended up chatting for 2.5hrs that morning. Scott revealed he was driving from New York to California, what a trip! He described his many adventures including sleeping in his pickup during a snowstorm and having a curious bear sniff around the pickup. Having travelled to Yosemite National park before I’ve seen the warnings of bears pulling doors off cars to get to food. I can only imagine the terror I’d have felt. Scott and Dan, on the other hand, seemed to take this in stride. This is why I love travelling to America, the stories are just bigger – like Texas I suppose.
Purchasing recommendations were provided by Dan who knew the menu from memory. A half pound of brisket, a quarter pound of ribs, and a sausage plus sides led to me being 50 bucks lighter. I’d pay it again—besides the fact that it’s regarded as the best BBQ in the USA—It’s an experience I’ll never forget. The food was delicious but the way I see it is the fifty bucks covered the 3hrs of befriending others, exchanging stories, getting an insight into their world, oh and did I already mention THE BEST BBQ food ever.
I did venture up to Whole Foods just to experience what the fuss is about. With Amazon’s purchase of it in 2017 for $13.7 billion (not bad considering it was started with a $45,000 loan in 1978) there’s been a lot of press around this chain and since it’s HQ is in Austin I thought I’d give it a shot. The selection is tremendous, the layout of items very organised, the staff lovely and friendly (without being overbearing) and the wine selection vast which is always a plus. Having said that, I’m not entirely sure what the fuss is about. It seemed like a perfectly nice supermarket. Perhaps my expectations and standards of grocery shopping are just high?
I did appreciate the free wifi. Free wifi is everywhere which is a huge plus for the city as a destination. The obvious one caveat is that it’s insecure so your data is at risk. I had bought a ‘pay as you go’ phone which had none of my accounts linked. This is always an option for the security conscious traveller.
For the Ducks
Swimming holes are a big attraction in Austin. I have to admit, I just looked—I did mention it was -2º—and didn’t dip a toe in. I can imagine that when the city begins to boil in summer these would be a beautiful place to cool down with an evaporating home-brew IPA in an aluminium can. I visited Barton Spring which is an otherworldly deep pool that I believe is resident to swimmers and bathers alike, although on my visit was only inhabited by the ducks.
Tacos for breakfast
This is a custom that I grew to enjoy. Granted It’s not one I’ve brought back with me but while it lasted it was great and I find myself missing it.
It’s totally weird
One of the many mantras of Austin is ‘Keep Austin Weird’ (it’s actually trademarked) and I have to say it suits the city perfectly. There’s so much going on with so much good food and very friendly people that any time of the year, it’s worth a visit.