Christmas and New Year's in Austin, Texas:
Image: Tragically ironic, Austin's Graffiti Park tagged with the words, "Bye 2017 Hi 2018," was voted to be demolished in 2018.
Austin is the capital of Texas, right? It's something we all may have learned in the fourth grade but have you ever been to Texas and visited the capital? You won't find cowboy boots or hats pretty much anywhere, except in high-end shops where tourists pour in to buy something that feels authentic from a visit to Texas' capital. In fact, you will be hard pressed to find anyone who has the stereotypical southern drawl. What makes Austin so great isn't necessarily what makes Texas so great. You're in for a big surprise when visiting Austin; but don't worry, this one is pleasant!
When I followed my girlfriend, Heather, to Austin for the holiday season, she warned me that it wouldn't feel "very Texas," at all. She explained that it was a small city with big city feel and mostly populated by young professionals in the booming tech and science industries. She lived in Austin for the last three years and fell in love with its culture. Having grown up in Upstate New York her entire life where "winter is coming," means 4-5 months in an ice-age and towns have populations of a few thousand with small "cities" often hours away, Austin was something wonderfully different.
Her favorite things about Austin were the dog-friendly culture of bring your dog anywhere and the human-friendly feeling of many things to do and people to meet. In contrast to New York, where perhaps the frigid wasteland chills the heart, Austin is a city of friends waiting to be met. This may also have a lot to do with the fact that hundreds of new people are moving into Austin every day, making the city a land of young professionals seeking new things to do and people to meet.
I certainly felt this way too when spending the coldest week in Austin, still warm in contrast to New York, meeting all of Heather's friends and strangers each day too. The city felt very new and modern and the people all seemed genuinely happy to be there. Despite being one of the coldest weeks in Austin (and it snowed...yes, snowed on New Year's Eve!), there was still plenty of things to do. More on my adventures to follow.
Featured in the photo above was Graffiti Park, a cement wall haven for aspiring and established artists alike to legally paint (usually spray-paint) their masterpieces for public view. It is a busy place year-round with tourists adding their marks to the walls alongside many artists who display and sell their art there daily. Tragically, in recent news it has been announced that this park will be demolished. If you have the chance before its scheduled demo, I highly recommend visiting it a few times as the art changes every day (even every second). Make sure to wear clothes you aren't afraid to get paint on and some good shoes as the environment and terrain is unsurprisingly wet with paint and surprisingly steep/difficult to navigate in areas.
And there's so much more. We visited several microbreweries, local shops and more food than you could ever imagine. The food trucks, BBQ, tacos (breakfast tacos especially) and queso were some of the best in the country, of that I am sure. There was also Mount Bonnell which had great views of the city and overlooked what the locals call the "Lake Austin" section of the Colorado River, lined with beautiful, multi-million dollar homes as far as the eye can see. Zilker Park, Barton Springs, and Hamilton Pool are hot spots for when it's nicer out attracting humans and dogs alike for their beauty and natural pools (but they were still amazing to visit during the colder months). Then there is the Capitol building, LBJ Presidential Library, the Texas Military Forces Museum and many more historic and interesting places to visit for free. There is a lot to do both indoors and out, so plan ahead.
Lastly (though this is hardly the last thing notable about Austin), did you know that Austin is called the "Live Music Capital of the World?" No? Me either. Austin has more live music venues per capita than anywhere else in the world and it hosts some of the biggest music festivals including South by Southwest. And if it doesn't go without saying, the music is not all country music. In fact, none of the music I heard was country (though I'm sure you will find that in the country bars). I was lucky to get a taste of this as Austin's "Free Music Week" began New Year's Day, my last day in Austin. I was able to go downtown and hop from bar to bar within a few blocks and hear several amazing bands for free. I wish I could have stayed all week and taken advantage of this awesome week, but alas, I had to return to Winterfell.
So, if you plan on visiting Austin, plan ahead. There is so much to see and do. Don't go expecting to see Texas but rather, go excited to experience Austin as the two are worlds apart today.