First Impressions of Austin, Texas

Look at that salad...

Look at that salad…

When I mentioned to my Hungarian friend, Szabi, that I was moving to Austin for a month, he replied, “Julie, I know that place. Dallas, right? JR Ewing.” And really, how could I blame him? I share his image of Texas; big hats and big hair, oil and excess. Texas never attracted me, although everyone assured me, “Austin is not Texas. Austin is different.”

With only a month here, we immediately started to plan our time. Our second day, we bought one month bus passes – fighting the transition back to the American mode of driving everywhere – and a travel book describing Austin, San Antonio and the Hill Country.

Walking back from buying our passes, we stumbled upon a man selling foil-wrapped Mexican breakfast foods piled into industrial sized wash pans stacked in the back of his beat up station wagon. He described the various items in accented English, then handed me a stick of spicy cheese wrapped in a tortilla. “Try this.” I pointed to one of the unwrapped items in a stack of a hundred or more (because, honestly, I didn’t understand any of it, and I could at least see these), and handed over two bucks. Pat said, “Julie, it’s 9:15. We just ate breakfast.” “Yeah, I get that Pat, but taste this.”

Street food became an Austin focus – local, authentic, cheap, and everywhere. I aspire never to pass a food truck without stopping to sample.

That afternoon, I flipped through the travel book and reserved a room in Fredericksburg, in the heart of Texas Hill Country, plus a rental car for three days. I read about wine vineyards that could be mistaken for Napa Valley, deep seated German traditions including schnitzel and polka parties, references to a local Amish population and promises of rolling hills blanketed with spring wildflowers. German? Amish? I have a lot of research to do before next weekend.

The following weekend, after Hill Country, we booked a hotel in San Antonio and Megabus tickets to get there. The remainder of this month, we will explore Austin: The Lady Bird Johnson Wild Flower Center, The University of Texas and The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, and the largest flock of migrating bats in North America which pour from beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge almost every evening at dusk.

Yesterday, we ventured downtown, mastering the 40 minute bus ride from our hotel – always a bit stressful that first time. Austin is every bit the eclectic, funky city people describe. Glass and steel towers loom over hamburger joints housed in century old bungalows. Hipsters hang out with cowboys. A drunk heckles my hot pink running shoes.

The original Whole Foods is downtown, a mammoth homage to foodie perfection. “Oh my gosh, Pat. Get a picture of that kale.” Vegetables line up like super models at a fashion show – and to me, even more alluring.Franklin Barbecue Austin

We decided to try Texas barbecue and took the bus cross town to the mecca of Austin brisket, Franklin Barbecue. “Look, there’s a line. Oh my, it winds around the building. Yikes, and it stretches back around the parking lot.” We raced to nab a spot before it got any worse. It was 10:45. Franklin would open in 15 minutes.

While we debated whether to stay or leave, a young man walked down the line with a notebook and pencil noting what each person planned to order. He told the couple in front of us, “We’re sold out of pulled pork and ribs. We have brisket and sausage, and as it stands now, you can expect to eat around 3 o’clock.”

Neither Pat nor I wanted to wait four hours for a hunk of grilled meat and a side of coleslaw. We asked if there was a better day to return. Maybe a weekday? “Well, it’s usually not this bad on most days, but there is always a line. Today, the first people showed up at 6 AM. And it’s really, really good!”

One industrious man rented lawn chairs, and the more savvy sat around playing cards and pulling another can out of their cooler of beer. “Perhaps if we were better prepared, we could do this.” The last time I waited in a line this long, I was 19 and Bruce Springsteen was playing the Michigan State ice arena.

“Maybe we’ll come back,” I assured the young man, “One last question, do you recommend anyplace nearby to eat?” We tried his suggestion of a French sandwich place down the street. Had I not begun to obsess about barbecue good enough to attract a 6 AM queue, I might have thought lunch was excellent. But while I ate my open-faced, chicken sandwich, I plotted a return to Franklin. “What if I take a day off, and we get in line around 9:30? I bet we might eat shortly after noon.”

During our time here, I am reading books about the Alamo and the stories of David Crockett, James Bowie and William Travis – the three most famous people to perish during the battle – and how their paths led them to Texas. I hope to learn something in each place we live.

In two weeks, when we visit San Antonio, we will bike to the string of Spanish missions south of the city which are all part of a National Historic Monument. The most famous of these is, of course, the Mission of San Antonio de Valero, aka “The Alamo”. I am trying to remember Willa Cather’s book, “Death Comes to the Archbishop” and imagine a time when the west was an unexplored backwater where the Spanish Catholic church sent priests to convert the heathens.

We arrived in Texas a bit luke-warm about spending a month here. The more I research this region, the more excited I am to explore it. I will be writing about all this and finishing off a series of our remaining memories from travels in Hungary during the next weeks.

World’s best barbecue. Ubiquitous food trucks. Packed music venues. Crazy people of all types living and working next to a bat filled bridge. Can’t wait.



Categories: The United States

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14 replies

  1. I hope the flowers will be in bloom in Hill Country. http://www.highlandlakes.com/wildflowers/flowers.htm Y’all have a good time, ya hear?

  2. I cannot wait to read about your Texas adventures. ENJOY!!

  3. Franklin BBQ is on our list as well, but the wait really puts us off. If you go, please let us know if it’s worth 4-5 hour wait.
    Sounds like you are doing well, and yes, the bluebonnets should start blooming soon!

  4. Austin is nice. We spent a lovely weekend there. We did not have BBQ at this place, never heard of it, but no way would l wait in line that long for anything..years ago for Rick Springfield and Billy Idol and Liz and Dick :-). We had some BBQ pulled pork sandwich at some little place,and my husband still talks about it. It was that good, wish l could remember the name. I look forward to your impressions of San Antonio, l liked that too. Houston, where we lived was kind of meh to me.

  5. Julie. I suggest you try this http://www.saltlickbbq.com/ (Driftwood location) while you have the rental. Its not a bus stop. Frankin’s is good, but not worth 6 hours. The salt lick is BYOB and waiting there is downright pleasant with tables under live oaks, your own beverages and the smell of BBQ all around.

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