Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Wrapping Up Five Weeks of Weird and Wonderful Austin

"Keep Austin Weird", the slogan you hear, and see, time and time again about this city we've just spent five weeks in seems to get to the heart of how Austinites feel about their city. It's big and bold and bustling. In the center of the city, art, progressive thinking and entrepreneurship seems to be the rule of the day. The average age of its population is approximately 34, one of the youngest in the US.

Austin is also one of the fasted growing cities in the US. The infrastructure, such as roads, have not kept up with the growth and the traffic is horrendous. Housing prices are skyrocketing, making the most desirable city neighborhoods unaffordable for many of the creative folks who make this city "weird"; something we've seen in other big cities (like San Diego and Portland, OR), gentrification tends to squeeze out those who gave the place its original flavor.

The surrounding suburbs are typical of most large cities, full of communities of similar houses, chain stores and restaurants...why does growth have to be so generic? A drive through the suburbs of Austin leaves you wondering what's so weird about this place???

One thing we wanted to accomplish during our stay here was to become Texas residents. Oregon was a good choice for us when we left California and started fulltime RVing, but going forward Texas will work better for us due to no state income tax.

We also discovered this week that the health care plan we'd chosen through the Oregon health exchange did not provide the full nationwide coverage that we thought it did, despite lots of research before purchase. Why are healthcare plans so complicated??? As of April 1st we will be on the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas exchange plan, with participating doctors all over the US, another reason why switching to Texas was good for us.

We've been busy since our last post...

This past week we had the pleasure of seeing our friends Zsuzsa (Z) and Tom, brand new fulltime RVers. We met them in October in Palm Springs where they were hoping to sell their condo and hit the road.

According to Murphy's Law the condo sold in the middle of winter and they had to travel to the midwest where they became South Dakota residents, purchased their truck, then moved on to Ohio where they took delivery of their brand new Bighorn 5th wheel. All that took a couple of months and these warm weather people withstood some pretty frigid weather in order to realize their dream!

It was so fun to see them enjoying their new home! They are currently making their way back to Palm Springs where they will finish outfitting their RV from their storage unit. They stopped in Austin to spend a few days with us and we went on two hikes together and ate a couple of meals together...we were honored to be their first dinner guests!

Z and Tom and their beautiful new home on wheels!

One of our hikes took us back to McKinney Falls State Park...
what's that we see hanging off the tree along Onion Creek?

A water moccasin!

Several Great Blue Herons were nesting along Onion Creek.

First dinner guests in the shiny new Bighorn!

Lately we've stuck close to town taking care of some business so our daily walks have been of the urban kind. Fortunately Austin has numerous creeks running through town with trails along them so it's easy to make a creek/neighborhood loop. We walked the Shoal Creek Greenbelt again, this time making it a loop through the Pemberton Heights neighborhood; it's full of fancy mansions, some dating back to the late 1800's.

A modern castle in Pemberton Heights.

There were many homes with columns in Pemberton Heights, these two seemed especially Southern flavored.

Another day we made a loop out of the Blunn Creek Greenbelt and the historic Travis Heights neighborhood, another wonderful old neighborhood filled with a mix of historic and new architecture and enormous old oak trees.

Blunn Creek.

Another castle!

We then met up with local friends Ashley and Lila to celebrate Ashley's 60th birthday and meet a few of his numerous siblings.

Happy Birthday Ashley!

Austin considers itself a "music city" and the month of March is jam packed full of musical events. The weekend following SXSW offers up the very unique HONK!TX. HONK is a festival of community street bands and was unlike anything we had seen before. Marching bands converge here from all over the country and perform for free for three days in public spaces.

These are not your typical high school or college marching bands, though many of the musicians may have gotten their start there. This is an eclectic mix of music lovers playing everything from klezmer and balkan to New Orleans style brass and reimagined popular music from the last 50 years.

We managed to catch a small part of the festivities and really enjoyed the lively music and the people watching. Many of the attendees don their most colorful and outrageous combinations of clothing, making this a feast of color and joy for the eyes!

The musicians are as colorful as the backdrop.

March Madness put on a fun, high energy show!

This past week we discovered pretty Slaughter Creek Preserve in South West Austin. This is an easy five mile loop hike through meadows and oak and cedar forest. The elevation gain and loss is minimal, dogs are not allowed, bikes do the trail clockwise while horses and hikers go counter clockwise. Even though you do hear some road noise and neighborhood noise, it still feels peaceful, especially on a weekday morning. If you want to hike here during rainy season check their Facebook page before you go to make sure the trail is open.

We were glad to have cloud cover the day we hiked, Austin has been warming up quickly!

Austin has been a busy and exciting stopover but now we're ready to slow things down a little. Tomorrow we move on to Fredericksburg where we are looking forward to small town Texas vibe as well as a little more nature in our lives.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Little Nature and Lot of Music!

On a clear day we ventured out to see a couple of Austin sights with local friends Ashley and Lila. First stop: Mount Bonnell, a wonderful spot to view the Colorado River and some very fancy homes on the riverfront. At 780 feet, this is one of the highest points in Austin.

Hans, Lisa, Lila and Ashley atop Mount Bonnell.

Next we drove a short distance to Mayfield Park, a lovely little oasis in the city. There are a couple of miles of trails plus the pretty grounds to explore...and peacocks!

Hans looks up to find a couple of peacocks overhead.
We saw about a dozen male peacocks hanging around in the trees and on the rooftops.

The redbuds are providing brilliant color all over town right now.

This little guy was only about 4 inches long.

So bright they look fake!

As I mentioned in a previous post, SXSW seems to explode across the core of the city for 10 days. Thousands of people are walking the city streets and every block offers up dozens of options for music and food. Some are official SXSW events where a very expensive badge is required for access, some are "unofficial" events and are open to the public and free. Depending on the popularity of the musical acts, there may or may not be a line or a crowd.

One fine day we made our way to the E. 7th St. corridor to see some free live music. We'd learned that staying East of interstate 35 usually meant fewer crowds and you might only have to park a few blocks from your venue of choice. We were headed for Hotel Vegas, a popular venue for live music with a large outdoor patio and stage. Arriving early, around 1pm, we got right in, met up with a friend, and enjoyed several hours of music. By the time we left the venue about 5pm, it was packed and had a long line...timing is everything during SXSW!

We're standing right in front of all girl surf band, La Luz, at Hotel Vegas.
What you can't see in this shot is how very crowded the venue had become...

This is how packed Hotel Vegas can get as the afternoon wears on!

Way back in 1980 in Albuquerque, Hans met Ryan through music...flash forward to the present and Ryan lives in Austin and plays bass in a band, the Barebones Orchestra. One evening they played a benefit gig for The Center for Music Therapy, where we enjoyed both Barebones and other musicians related to the Therapy Center, including the very talented Emily Morris.

Barebones Orchestra.

Another day we parked on the East side of interstate 35 and walked over to the crazy West side to attend two free events at the convention center: the Flat Stock show and the Gear Show. Flat Stock consists of band posters and there was some incredible art on display and for sale. This would be a neat place to buy art if we had a home to put it in!

The Gear Show consists of all the latest goodies for musicians. Walking the aisles we were thrilled to see the Center for Music Therapy's booth. We spent a few minutes chatting with the Center's founder and president, Hope Young, about music therapy. Through music, therapists are able to help people of all ages (infant through geriatric) with cognitive, emotional and physical issues. From our two encounters with the Center's staff we could see how much they love their work and we have a new appreciation for the power of music.

Hope Young, Center for Music Therapy.

Hans had fun trying out various guitar effects.

Guitars made out of oil cans!

Figuring out what to see at SXSW can be overwhelming. There are literally hundreds of bands playing at possibly hundreds of venues, all day, every day! Hans, being the music guy in our house, has spent hours researching what we want to attempt to see. He came across a band we knew of from Los Angeles, The Two Tens, who happened to be playing a couple of gigs during SXSW. We caught them at their "unofficial" gig, an afternoon show at the Lost Well, a dive bar on the East side, where parking was easy and we even got a free beer!

The Two Tens rocking the house.

SXSW is an event unlike any we've seen before. It is enormous and really kind of overwhelming! But if you do your research and go with the flow it can be a lot of fun. We're glad we are staying outside of town and have learned the simplest and least congested ways to get to the heart of the city...we can get in and out of the craziness pretty easily and return to our quiet little cocoon on wheels when we've had enough. We've noticed that the sound systems at every venue are set up to be extremely loud so ear plugs are a must.

We are due for some nature and good long hikes...if the rain ever stops. Yes, it's raining again!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Pristine Waters and BBQ, Quintessential Texas!

I had no idea there were so many springs in Texas. Here's a fun day trip we took from Austin to visit one of those springs...

San Marcos, TX, just a half hour South of Austin, is home to Spring Lake. Over 200 springs bubble up from the aquifer here to create the San Marcos River. This water source has attracted humans for over 12,000 years and is home to several threatened and endangered species, some of which are found nowhere else on earth.

Texas State University is the current steward of the property and they offer glass bottom boat tours of the lake, which our local friends Ashley and Lila, treated us to. Our boat captain/tour guide Mark gave a wonderfully informative and fun talk during the half hour long boat ride.

Today the lake and its surroundings have been returned to as much of a natural space as possible and includes a boardwalk over a shallow portion of the lake. Lila, being a Texas native, remembers visiting the park as a child when they used to have an underwater viewing area where you could see "mermaids" and a swimming pig in these pristine waters!

Spring Lake, headwaters of the San Marcos River.
Those white spots in the lake are some of the bubbling springs.

Ashley, Lila and Hans on the wetlands boardwalk.

Oh yes, there were turtles!

We saw lots of other wildlife in the water but the turtles were the most photogenic!

Mark gave a lively and informative glass bottom boat tour.

Lila and Ashley entranced by the view and amused by Mark's commentary.


Lisa and Hans showing this grand old tree some love!

On our drive back to Austin we stopped at Black's BBQ in Lockhart, TX for some tasty smoked meats. Afterwards we took a digestive walk through the cute town.

Open 8 days a week!

Black's BBQ...Yum!

Downtown Lockhart, TX.

Lockhart, TX court house.

A perfect day with good friends!

Monday, March 16, 2015

More Austin!

A long walk on pavement was in order the day after Austin received two inches of rain. Shoal Creek Trail took us through a pretty greenbelt in the middle of the city, and we made the walk into a nine mile loop by adding a stroll through the University of Texas campus and the historic Hyde Park neighborhood.

Though we could hear the nearby city streets, our surroundings were pleasing to the eye...
except for the excessive trash in the creek.
We've noticed a LOT of trash in the waterways in Austin (and San Antonio).
I really hope it's due to winter runoff and there are trash pick up events in the spring.

At one point we had to walk city streets to reach the next section of trail and enjoyed unique homes backing up to the creek.

Dropping back to the creek we entered a gorgeous limestone "canyon".

Shoal Creek.

The University of Texas at Austin is a pretty modern looking campus.

A surprise on our walk was finding the Elisabet Ney Museum in the Hyde Park neighborhood. We were fortunate the museum's curator happened to be standing outside the museum, which was closed on this day, and he offered to show us the exhibits. What a serendipitous meeting!

Inside we learned all about this fascinating woman and her amazing life. Elisabet Ney (born 1833, died 1907) was far ahead of her time; being outspoken on traditional women's roles of the era, wearing pants, keeping her own name in marriage, meanwhile sculpting famous persons all over the world. Her sculptures of Sam Houston and Stephen Austin are on display at the state capitol.

Formosa, the Austin studio of sculptor Elisabet Ney.

Hans climbs the narrow, circular staircase to the tower, a writing retreat for Elisabet's husband,
scientist and philosopher Edmund Montgomery.
Sit at Edmund's typewriter and leave your thoughts for others to ponder...

Continuing on our walk we saw this mosaic wall in Hyde Park.

A beautiful entrance to a private Hyde Park garden.

Another Austin themed mural as we traversed a business district back to our truck.

We played another disc golf course in Austin: Circle C Metro Park at Slaughter Creek. Located in South West Austin, this was a fantastic course! Well laid out along Slaughter Creek, the course meanders through juniper forest and lovely oak shaded grassy areas.

One of the more unique holes, here you throw your disc up a tree lined,
limestone strewn path to the basket at the top of the hill.

Pretty Slaughter Creek near the 18th hole.

South by South West has started. It's a 10 day city-wide extravaganza celebrating all things cutting edge in the interactive, film, and music disciplines. Beyond the official event, the city comes alive with hundreds of free peripheral events taking advantage of the crowds of people attending SXSW.

For us, that means free music in the middle of the day! Since Hans keeps tabs on the surf music scene he knew that one of our favorite bands to see live would be in town (Daikaiju), as part of a day of surf music called Surf by Surf East.

What a great day we had! The venue featured dozens of local handmade artists selling their wares, seven great surf bands in seven hours, tasty cold beverages and a delicious Italian food truck on the premises. Daikaiju's music is best enjoyed on CD, their live show is seen for the spectacle!

Daikaiju hamming it up for the crowd.

During the show both drummers moved their drum kits out into the audience
and then one proceeded to light the others cymbals on fire while he played!

This was an over-the-top, crazy interactive show!

The drummer had the crowd hold up part of his kit as well as himself on a chair while he played a song!

So begins SXSW...