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a southern yankee abroad

Month

May 2016

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

This afternoon, I hopped in the back of a pickup truck with a few other friends from my hostel and rode 1.5 hours through the hills outside of Chiang Mai to visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The sanctuary is a camp for elephants who were formerly used in the riding business. Many people aren’t aware that riding elephants actually hurts the elephants over time, as their bodies are structured to carry weight in their lower bodies and not on top. Elephants are also harmed by the equipment used in the riding business, such as straps and hooks. The average lifespan of an elephant used for riding is about 20 years shorter than other elephants.

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The sanctuary, as well as camps and parks with a similar focus, is harnessing the tourism industry to change the way elephants are perceived and treated. Elephants were once used by their owners in the logging industry. When that industry dwindled, elephants were then transitioned into the tourism industry as a riding attraction. The elephants are owned by “mahouts,” or elephant trainers, who train the elephants to do tricks and to be ridden and then lease the elephants to tourism companies. By introducing a sanctuary experience as an “ethical alternative” that consistently attracts consumers, the sanctuary pitches itself to the mahouts as a better (the mahouts don’t want the elephants to suffer either, but they have to find ways to cash in on their investment), more lucrative, and more promising business choice for their lease. The sanctuary then attracts tourists to come and feed, bathe, pet, and rinse the elephants, and uses the money made to pay the mahouts as well as operational costs. Mahouts make money, the elephants are treated well, and tourists can take part in a fun experience.  The sanctuary will also buy riding elephants with its own funds, and these elephants become permanent residents of the camp. All other elephants are on lease from their mahouts.

 
So what did we do with the elephants? First, we had to put on a traditional Karen tribal tunic. The guides told us this is so the elephants would feel comfortable around us (maybe this is true, or maybe it’s something they just tell tourists…who knows!) IMG_7476.JPGThen, we started feeding the elephants bananas. Elephants eat between 200 and 300 kilograms of food per day! The elephants were not shy at all, and actually followed us when they saw we had bananas in our hands! One elephant even almost mistook my iPhone in my hand as a banana…crisis averted! These elephants were very muddy, and it didn’t take long before I was very muddy.

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The elephants are so excited to get bananas from visitors!!

This was very fitting, as we next took the elephants to a mud pool and got in the pool with them to give a mud bath. Yes, I swam in the mud with the elephants! I have never been dirtier in my life, and it was fabulous! My biggest concern was being careful that the elephants didn’t accidentally step on me or one of my friends. We were a few hours from any town, so this would be a bad place to break a foot! After the mud bath, we followed the elephants down to a river and rinsed and scrubbed them. Then, we left the elephants behind and trekked to a beautiful waterfall in the jungle and went for a swim. By this point, I was covered in mud from head to toe, so I took the chance to rinse off in the surprisingly cold water. Afterward, we all had a delicious meal prepared by the camp workers, and then hopped on the back of the pickup to go the 1.5 hours back to Chiang Mai. Given the winding and bumpy road and exhaust fumes from the truck, we were all a little nauseated, but that was a small price to pay for such a beautiful and magical day!

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This elephant is pregnant and you could feel the baby elephant kicking!! Her baby will get to live at the sanctuary with her 🙂

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So It Begins: Memphis to Thailand

I’ve finally arrived to my first overseas destination in Northern Thailand! I will be spending a few days here solo before heading to Bangkok on Sunday to meet up with a group. I arrived after layovers in Chicago, Vancouver, and Shanghai, for a total of 35 hours of travel time. Yes, Memphis → Chicago→ Vancouver→ Shanghai→ Chiang Mai. Crazy, but I did it!  

Surprisingly, the Memphis airport was the busiest I have ever seen it on Tuesday afternoon. It usually takes less than 15 minutes to check in and get through security. It took about 45 minutes on Tuesday. Fortunately, I made it to my gate just fine with about 10 minutes to spare. My dad saw me off at the airport. I am so glad I was able to spend time with him this week, as well as with my mom, other family members, and friends over the last few weeks before the leaving the U.S.–it meant so much to me!

Once I arrived in Vancouver, I realized quickly that the Canadian version of TSA is so strict! Even though all of my shampoos and conditioners were in small bottles, they said I had too many bottles, so I had to throw some away. I didn’t want to be “that girl,” but I really wanted to explain to him how picky I am about my hair products, and I needed to take all of these with me to last for 3 months! However, I kept my mouth shut and sadly threw several away in order to be in compliance. I was annoyed then, but now I realize it’s pretty hilarious I had so many tiny bottles in my backpack. Also, my backpack is a little lighter now!

In Vancouver, I boarded a 12 hour flight with China Eastern to Shanghai. Unfortunately, I had looked up China Eastern on Yelp the night before, and was thoroughly freaked out by what I read. It seemed all of the reviews talked about how horrible the airline was, regarding everything from the manners of the crew to leg space to food to safety. One reviewer even talked about how his flight had been in freefall multiple times, and he thought he was going to die as he and the other passengers screamed the whole flight! Needless to say, this made me even more nervous.

However, the flight could not have been smoother. We flew over Alaska, the Bering Strait, and Russia, barely crossing the Pacific (This was important to me, as I get nervous about flying over large bodies of water. If you have to emergency land, where do you go?!) We even flew around the edge of North Korea (!) and landed in Shanghai ahead of schedule. The layover in Shanghai airport was very relaxing, as I accessed the free wifi to text and FaceTime with friends and family and found a Starbucks for a “just like home” coffee fix! The only downside is that I was unable to check both my Gmail and Facebook, as the Chinese government has blocked both. I also wasn’t able to use Google for the same reason. I’ll never take these sites for granted again!

 

Once I finally arrived in Chiang Mai, I hired a tuk-tuk (basically a motorcycle taxi) outside of the airport to take me to my hostel. I was able to bargain with him to reduce the price from 200 baht to 160 baht! He swore he knew where my hostel was, but it was only after 45 minutes of riding around and stopping to ask 6 people that we ultimately found it. I am not complaining though…the ride was fun and I was able to get a good first look around Chiang Mai! The first night in Thailand was a complete whirlwind, mostly due to extreme tiredness and adrenaline. I made friends with a group of Canadians at my hostel, and we went to dinner and then to a “disco” (just a bar really…but it’s fun to call it a disco!) I’m excited to see what the next few days in Chiang Mai hold!!

 

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Tuk-tuk selfie (no shame!) Delirious and excited after 35 hours of travel!
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Asking directions (again). I didn’t think we would ever get there…everyone was extremely nice and tried to be very helpful though!

A Travel Playlist To Get Started

Greetings from Vancouver!

One of the most important items to take on a big trip is a playlist. I think the music we are listening to at a given point of our lives is reflective of where we are in that moment. To celebrate kicking off my overseas travels, I’ve decided to share my playlist for my big trip on the blog.  As my friends often point out, I have a very random and assorted taste in music. I am sure this playlist reflects that. There is really no organizational scheme here–these are all just songs I love and that I’ll be listening to on my flights. Enjoy!

  1. Traveller – Chris Stapleton. What better song to kick off the playlist than a song about traveling? “Every turn reveals some other road.”
  2. My Church – Maren Morris. 
  3. Flying Over Water – Jason Isbell. “Been in the sky so long, seems like the long way home.”
  4. The Life You Chose – Jason Isbell. “Are you living the life you chose, are you living the life that chose you?”
  5. Really anything written or performed by Jason Isbell.
  6. New York City – Among Savages. “You spent your life earning the keys to set you free when you were free all along.”
  7. Squares Out Your Circle – Rocko. Future preach! “Keep them squares up out your circle.”
  8. I Took a Pill in Ibiza – Mike Posner. I probably heard this song about 100 times before I actually listened to it, and it’s fantastic. I love the original (in the link!) 
  9. Good Life – OneRepublic. “To my friends in New York, I say hello.”
  10. I Love It – Icona Pop. 
  11. On to Something Good – Ashley Monroe. “I’ll ride this train till it runs out of track.”
  12. Bathroom Sink – Miranda Lambert. “I’m looking forward to the girl I wanna be.”
  13. Tennessee Song – Margo Price. 
  14. Tupelo Honey – Van Morrison.
  15. Everyday People – Sly & the Family Stone. “The butcher, the banker, the drummer and then, makes no difference what group I’m in.”
  16. Love Train – The O’Jays. 
  17. The entire Lemonade album – Beyonce. I didn’t think any other song on this album could be as amazing as “Formation,” but every song on this album is just as amazing, if not even better. Beyonce’s sound on Lemonade is different from anything she’s ever done before, and her raw emotion is unprecedented in her work. She even dabbles in (and totally crushes!) country on the song “Daddy Lessons” (which I was sure to learn on my guitar before I put it in storage for the summer! Here is a Dixie Chicks cover, but I think Beyonce still does it better.) Also, who is Becky with the good hair?! The world may never know the whole truth…. TexasBama!  
  18. We Didn’t Start the Fire – Billy Joel. Every history nerd’s favorite classic. “We didn’t start the fire, no we didn’t light it but we tried to fight it.”
  19. When I Paint My Masterpiece – The Band. “On a plane ride so bumpy that I almost cried.”
  20. King Kunta – Kendrick Lamar. “I got a bone to pick!”
  21. Good Ol’ Boys Club – Kacey Musgraves. “Another gear in a big machine don’t sound like fun to me.”
  22. Southern Comfort Zone – Brad Paisley. (This one’s for you, Alex!) This song is so cheesy, but it really says so much, and I kind of love it. So, it’s going on the playlist! 🙂
  23. Chop My Money – PSquare.  I was introduced to this rapper’s music in Africa…great memories.  
  24. Walk On the Wild Side – Lou Reed. 
  25. This Must Be the Place – Talking Heads. “Home is where I want to be, but I guess I’m already there.”
  26. Heart Like Mine – Miranda Lambert. “He could calm the storm and heal the blind, I bet he’d understand a heart like mine.”
  27. Greatest Hits – Dixie Chicks. I am so sad I will be missing them at Madison Square Garden on my birthday this year!! But, I will be in beautiful Peru, so I really can’t complain. Who doesn’t love Wide Open Spaces, Not Ready to Make Nice, Goodbye Earl, Sin Wagon, and Traveling Soldier? I can’t pick just one, so it’s all going on my list!
  28. Romeo and Juliet – Dire Straits. One of my favorites since I was 13…sigh. 🙂
  29. Home – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. “Home is wherever I’m with you.”
  30. The General – Dispatch. “I have discovered this fight is not worth fighting.”
  31. Africa – Toto. 
  32. Lullabye – Ben Folds.
  33. Soulshine – Allman Brothers Band. “Soul shine, it’s better than sunshine, better than moonshine, better than the rain.”
  34. Dime Store Cowgirl – Kacey Musgraves. “It don’t matter where I’m going, I still call my hometown home.”

 

Always Packing: 3 Months in a Backpack

In the last month, I’ve discovered just how complicated packing a backpack can be. My 55 liter Osprey will have to fit all the belongings I need for the next 3 months. To make things even more complicated, I will be traveling to the hot and sticky climate of Southeast Asia, then to the cold and dry high altitudes of the South American Andes, and then to the hot and sticky (although considerably less hot and sticky than SEA) climate of Europe this summer. I will be doing very different activities in each place–everything from snorkeling and hiking to visiting museums and restaurants that run the gamut from casual to dressy. How do I fit enough outfits to cover my very different activities on 3 very different continents this summer? What can I absolutely not live without for the next 3 months? How do I fit it all into “Oscar” (my name for my backpack…silly I know)?!

After several iterations of folding, rolling, packing, unpacking, removing, refolding, rerolling, and repacking, I have found what I finally believe to be the perfect equilibrium of clothing and supplies for my trip. The very last packing revision happened when I was leaving my apartment to head over to stay at my friends’ place the night before I moved out of my apartment. As I put the backpack on, I very much felt like Reese Witherspoon’s portrayal of Cheryl Strayed in Wild–I almost fell over from the weight of the pack!

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Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed in the movie Wild. She gets how hard packing a backpack can be!

Fortunately, my short trek from Hell’s Kitchen to Park Avenue left me with enough flexibility to remove a few last minute items from the pack and put them into my NYC storage unit. I’ve included a comprehensive and notated list of final items that made the cut below!

Luggage:

-1 55 liter Osprey backpack (Oscar) – As alluded to above, Oscar and I really bonded in Africa last December. He is super reliable and even has a detachable day-pack that is very handy for hiking and squeezing into tight overhead compartments on airplanes! 

-1 carry-on crossbody purse – I have read a lot online about the PacSafe for traveling. Apparently, it is slash-proof and RFID protected. However, once I googled this magic travel bag, I immediately thought it was super ugly. I don’t care how “safe” it is, I did not want to pay $80 for what I consider to be an ugly bag. So, I found a bag for $30 at TJ Maxx that I think will work just fine! I will not be heartbroken if it gets lost, destroyed, or stolen, and it’s a lot cuter than the PacSafe.

-1 small crossbody purse – This is for going out; squished and packed in Oscar.

-1 wallet – I am just taking my regular, everyday wallet.

-4 packing cubes – 1 large for clothing, 1 large for accessories and outerwear, 1 small for underthings, 1 small for dirty clothes; a set of 2 are $30 at REI

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Packing cubes are keeping me organized.

Shoes:

-1 pair North Face hiking “boots” – they look more like sneakers, but have added support and Goretex (which makes it waterproof and breathable) for hiking

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These shoes have a lot of miles to go this summer!! 🙂

-1 pair Haviana flip flops – to wear in the shower or casually out. I chose a pair that look a little dressier than standard flip flops but are made out of the same material for only $15 at the Bloomingdale’s outlet in the UWS.

-1 pair dressier sandals – I made sure they were comfortable for walking.

*3 pairs of shoes…yes, that’s all!! Will I make it? We will see in August…

Clothing:

-1 pair jeans, 1 pair yoga pants, 1 pair leggings, 1 pair cut-off jean shorts, 1 pair green shorts, 2 pair running shorts

-4 tank tops, 1 dressy blouse, 1 t-shirt (Vandy, of course!), 1 long sleeve t-shirt, 1 sweater

-1 romper, 2 sundresses

Outerwear:

-1 zip-up sweatshirt/cardigan

-1 Ultra Light Down Jacket from Uniqlo- I am very excited about this purchase! This jacket squishes down into a small ball and weighs less than a pound, and is also super warm and water-resistant. I will be wearing this a lot in South America, but it is also easy to carry/pack in a purse for a chilly evening in Europe as well.

-1 rainjacket

-2 scarves

-1 straw brim hat – Another exciting purchase! This hat is also “squishable” and can be crushed into a bag without ultimately losing its shape. It also offers SPF 50 protection. 

-1 baseball cap (Alabama, of course!)

-1 Buff – you can read about how much I love the Buff here.

Underthings:

-4 bras – 1 sport, 1 strapless, 2 regular

-A week’s worth of undies

-5 pairs of socks

-2 swimsuits

Accessories:

-eyeglasses and case

-small bag of assorted, non-valuable necklaces, earrings, and bracelets

-sunglasses

-hair ties and hair clip

Toiletries/Medicines:

-2 mini-bottles shampoo, 4 mini-bottles conditioner, 1 mini-bottle facewash (I am pretty particular about my shampoo, conditioner and facewash, so I filled some empty travel size bottles to last me as long as possible before I need to buy refills on the road.)

-2 razors, toothbrush and toothpaste, dry shampoo, baby powder, deodorant , retainer (lol!), contact case and solution, extra contacts

stomach sickness medicines, vitamins, malaria tablets, Melatonin (to combat jetlag and to help with getting some rest on long flights)

-cosmetics (bronzer, mascara, lipstick, chapstick, travel-size brush, tweezers, nail file), small hairbrush, small perfume

Travel Supplies:

-flashlight

-headlamp flashlight – this proved to be so useful in Africa! I literally did not go anywhere at night without it. I may not use it as frequently this summer, but I know it will come in handy at some point.

-DEET mosquito spray – Mosquitoes don’t play, and I don’t have time to get a tropical disease!

-reusable water bottle, reusable plastic chopsticks

quick-dry travel towel – this towel has a strange texture, but can hold 2x its weight in water and dries overnight. Needless to say it is also very compact!

travel laundry detergent – I anticipate I will be doing a lot of handwashing of clothes on the road. This travel detergent looks like a packet of Listerine strips, yet each “strip” becomes detergent for 1 load of laundry! The packet contains 50 strips/loads.

-guidebooks for Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, “This Please!” pointbook, 1 book for pleasure reading (I could have packed my Kindle, but decided against it for the simple reason that I want to use the hostel book exchanges. I think the idea of trading real books with paper pages with other traveling strangers is romantic and old-fashioned in the best of ways, and I want to count this as part of my adventure!) 

Electronics:

Chromebook  and charger- I had originally decided to bring my regular laptop along on the trip. However, I realized that even though it was designed to be light and sleek, it was still a little too big. I purchased a Chromebook for a reasonable price that weighs 2.5 pounds and is a perfect size for travel. Plus, if it gets lost, stolen, or damaged, I won’t be devastated. 

-phone and charger

-portable battery charger – This item is a lifesaver, and I already keep it in my purse for long days in NYC when my phone battery gets drained.

-headphones

-power outlet adapter – I made sure to buy a 1-piece adapter that works on all 3 continents.

-camera – I’m bringing a simple point-and-click Nikon digital camera.

-extra batteries for camera and flashlights, extra camera memory card

-memory card USB reader

Necessities:

-passport

-yellow fever certificate

-credit and debit cards, cash, and currencies

-small moleskine notebook and pen 

-printed copies of reservations for flights, hostels, transportation, etc; photocopies of passport and yellow fever certificate
Did I leave anything important out? Am I packing too much? I guess I will find out once I leave the U.S. tomorrow! 

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Country Roads, Take Me Home: The Deep South (the good and the bad)

There really is no place like home. During the first leg of my summer travels, I am spending 11 days at “home,” which, to me, is a collection of places in Alabama and Mississippi where I have spent a good portion of my life living or visiting family. While living in NYC the last 3 years, the opportunities to spend time at home have been few and far between, so this week is a real treat for me. There is nothing better than spending time with family, and unwinding at the slower pace of the South.

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This is how I’ve spent most of my time since coming home!

After just a few days here, I am already more well-rested and re-centered than I’ve been in the last 3 years! Visiting home is good for the heart and soul. Below, I’ve listed my highlights of “home” for you, including what I love dearly about each place as well as ways I think my home can become an even better, more equitable place.

Demopolis, Alabama. Demopolis, otherwise known as “Demop,” will always be my hometown. Demopolis is just like those small, sleepy southern towns you see in movies like Forrest Gump and Sweet Home Alabama, except even better! The downtown square is still thriving with small locally-owned businesses, and the confluence of the Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers provides a beautiful natural backdrop for the city. Demopolis is located in the Alabama Black Belt and is home to several wonderfully preserved antebellum homes such as Gaineswood, Bluff Hall, and Lyon Hall. In fact, Gaineswood is known as “Alabama’s Monticello” because of its unique architecture and artistry. Each year, the city hosts the “Christmas on the River” festival in the first week of December, which concludes with a parade of lighted holiday floats gliding down the river on boats. If you’re going to visit, I recommend coming that weekend! If you visit at any other point, check with the local Chamber of Commerce for a free walking tour of the historic downtown. Be sure to eat at The Red Barn, which is a barn that has been converted into an amazing steakhouse (although my favorite dish here is the crawfish étouffée!) Also, be sure to see the hay art on Highway 43 just north of town. These hay sculptures have been around my whole life, and are truly a unique site on the drive to and from Tuscaloosa!

 

 Montgomery, Alabama. As the state capital, Montgomery has a lot to offer in terms of history and culture. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of attending the outdoor symphonies held in front of the state archives building and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival with my mom. The ASF is one of the largest Shakespeare festivals in the world (yes, this is in Alabama!), and features high quality off-Broadway productions throughout the year. The city has also done a good job of renovating the downtown area, including Riverwalk Stadium, home of the AAA team the Montgomery Biscuits! There are several good bars and restaurants in this area that are worth a visit, like Central and Alley Bar.

Selma, AL to Montgomery, AL. Selma is located about halfway between Demopolis and Montgomery, and is an hour’s drive from each. Selma is home to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of the tragic Bloody Sunday attack on peaceful civil rights protesters marching with Dr. Martin Luther King in 1965. Dr. King eventually led the successful march from Selma to the capitol steps in Montgomery along US Highway 80 through Lowndes County, where I lived for a time as a child. Even as I rode to and from school in Selma each day along the very path of this historic march, the significance of this has become even more evident to me in my adult life.Screenshot 2016-05-04 at 3.52.05 PM

Tupelo and Oxford, Mississippi. My family recently moved to Tupelo, yet I’ve spent my entire life visiting family already living throughout north Mississippi. Tupelo is a great town, and I’ve enjoyed the few times I’ve been able to visit. Of course, one of the key sites to visit is the birthplace of Elvis Presley! Tupelo also has a beautiful downtown with several locally-owned restaurants and shops, and a fantastic daily newspaper, The Daily Journal (shameless plug for my dad’s newspaper!) 🙂

Oxford is just an hour down the road from Tupelo, and is home to the University of Mississippi (otherwise known as Ole Miss). A vast majority of my family on both sides have attended Ole Miss, so I of course grew up with strong loyalties here! Some of my favorite childhood and college memories are attending football games in Oxford. There is truly nothing like it! The Grove (as well as the Circle) is where most of the world-class tailgating goes down. Apart from Ole Miss, Oxford is one of my favorites towns in the U.S. If you visit, be sure to stop by William Faulkner’s home Rowan Oak (check out the wall where he outlined one of his novels!) and the downtown square, which is home to several great boutiques, restaurants, bars, and my favorite bookstore on earth, Square Books.

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Scenes from an Ole Miss football game

A New South. Like most people I know who were raised in the Deep South, I recognize what is so inherently special yet tragically flawed about the place I call home. Southern hospitality is a real thing, and the South is home to some of the kindest, most genuine people you will ever meet. However, the repercussions of an all too recent history still influence the region, and there is a lot of work left to be done. Below, I have listed just a handful of issues that have been on my mind.  

  1. Educational equity. Although the legally sanctioned segregation of schools ended with a series of Supreme Court decisions during the Civil Rights era, many public schools throughout Alabama and Mississippi remain extremely segregated along racial lines. While a number of public schools in Alabama and Mississippi are integrated and meeting and exceeding national standards for achievement, several counties in both states have public schools that are segregated, underfunded, understaffed, and failing to meet academic achievement standards. This article details the current situation in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, declaring, “In Tuscaloosa today, nearly one in three black students attends a school that looks as if Brown v. Board of Education never happened.” Too many students are falling victim to the achievement gap that is very much affecting the future and security of our nation. While I taught with Teach For America (TFA) in Memphis, TFA is also doing good work to address this in the Mississippi Delta and Alabama regions. It’s not sufficient in itself to solve this injustice, but it is a step in the right direction.
  2. Extreme poverty and environmental issues. Alabama and Mississippi are home to some of the poorest zip codes in the country, and there is no evidence of this more jarring than the plight of the citizens of Lowndes County and Perry County. In Lowndes County, a majority of citizens have inadequate sewage systems as a result of the high cost of installing above-ground septic tanks as required by the high clay content in the area’s soil. I still remember neighbors from my childhood here who had no running water or septic system. The Equal Justice Initiative is working to directly address the lack of closed septic systems throughout the county. You can read about their work here. In Perry County, just a few miles from my hometown of Demopolis, instances of respiratory disease and cancer have spiked since 3 million tons of toxic coal ash waste were literally transported from a white, middle-class town in Tennessee and dumped in this predominantly African American county in 2008. This waste was deemed too hazardous for Kingston, TN, and was refused by government officials in Pennsylvania, yet has been deemed “safe enough” for the second poorest county in Alabama. You can get involved in this issue here and read more about this issue here
  3. LGBT discrimination. Mississippi recently passed HB 1523, which legalizes discrimination against LGBT individuals under the guise of religious freedom.The law is so incendiary that foreign governments (such as the UK) have issued travel advisories for their LGBT citizens warning against travel to Mississippi. In addition to the horrible reality of legalized discrimination, this law also casts Mississippi back into a negative light where social progress is doubted, and forces those who have connections to the state to both apologize for this law and defend what is good about the state. While this legislation is extremely disappointing, I am encouraged by the conversations I have had with friends from the South who are speaking out in support of change, tolerance, and the protection of human rights.
  4. The Confederate flag as part of Mississippi’s state flag. The Confederate flag, which serves as a symbol of oppression and has been adopted by hate groups, is still officially recognized as part of Mississippi’s state flag. It is time for Mississippi to have a flag that represents all its people.The debate to redesign the state flag is ongoing, and you can read more about the issue here.

The South is a place of contradictions–great natural beauty yet heart-wrenching injustice, a deep and rich history yet excruciatingly painful and persistent modern consequences, and people who epitomize warmth and hospitality yet laws that codify horrifying discrimination in both the past and present. I will always love my home, and for this reason I continue to hope the region can become a place where hospitality is manifested as equality in its schools, its laws, and its symbols.IMG_7196

Everything’s Bigger (and Weirder) in Texas: 48 Hours in Austin

Last weekend, a good friend of mine got married in Austin, which meant I finally had a good reason to visit this amazing city! Given what I already knew about Austin, I had a feeling I would love this place, and this prediction absolutely proved to be true. What was supposed to be 72 hours in Austin actually turned out to be 48 hours (I may have slept through my alarm and missed my flight)…oops! Fortunately, United was very accommodating and understanding, and helped me re-book for the very next morning for a small fee (thanks United!). Once I arrived in Austin, the rest of the weekend could not have been more fun. Below is a breakdown of how I spent my weekend in Austin.

Day 1

Lunch at Torchy’s Tacos

This place is an Austin establishment (so I’m told). After settling into my Airbnb on arrival, my friend/native Texan tour guide Chris introduced me to this delicious food truck in South Austin off 1st Street. All of the tacos were reasonably priced and huge (especially compared to the tacos you get in NYC…I guess this is what they mean when they say everything is bigger here!) I ordered the Green Chile Pork and the Independent taco (as in real life, the Democrat was too expensive and the Republican was made up of sketchy ingredients, so I went with the Independent).

 

Visit the TX State Capitol

The State Capitol building and grounds are free and open to the public. A fun place to explore and get your history fix!

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Hang Out on Rainey Street

Rainey Street features a row of laid-back, bungalow-style bars with a large variety of local brews on tap. We found ourselves at Bangers, which featured a beer garden-style outdoor seating area complete with cornhole games. Food trucks are conveniently scattered throughout the street!

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This is why I love Austin…!

Dinner at Lambert’s BBQ

Another Austin establishment, so I’m told. I was still full from my Torchy’s but I did try some of Beth’s brisket and the mac and cheese, which was made with Tabasco and goat cheese. It definitely ranks as one of the top 3 best mac and cheese dishes I’ve ever tried…I highly recommend!  

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Watch the Bats

Strangely enough, hundreds of thousands of bats fly out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin each night at dusk to attend to their nightly feeding. We were advised to arrive about 30 minutes before sunset to watch this happen. We posted up on the bridge at around 7:30, and hundreds of people had already staked out their viewing spot. Hundreds more people joined us before the bats finally flew out around 8:30pm. The sight was truly eerie to watch–to me, it looked like someone turned on a water spigot and bats instead of water started pouring out from an opening in a bridge. A cloud of bats could also be seen flying miles away down the river. This is truly one of the main things that makes Austin “weird”!

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It’s impossible to tell, but those specks of light in the lower left corner are little tiny bats.

Visit Sixth Street

Sixth Street is the center of the nightlife in Austin, and it has your standard mix of live music venues and college-type bars. This street reminds me a lot of Broadway in Nashville… it’s a good time and worth stopping by!

Day 2

Rent Bikes and Ride Along the Colorado River

The Colorado River is absolutely beautiful, and the trail along the south end of the river offers beautiful views of the city. Beth and I rented bikes from Barton Springs Bike Rentals and took off for a three hour self-guided ride along the river and through South Austin!  

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Lunch at Torchy’s Tacos (again…I know!)

As Beth had not tried Torchy’s yet, I broke down and ate lunch here a second day in a row (just kidding…I willingly ate here again! I loved this place from the first minute!) This time, I ordered the Baja Shrimp and the Trailer Park (non-trashy style…meaning without queso!)

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Enjoy the Murals and Artwork

Our bike ride and walking the day before took us past a lot of great murals and artwork unique to Austin.

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Grab a juice at Juiceland.

Located next to the bike rental shop, this quirky little spot provided the perfect post-biking refreshment. I got the “Gingerade,” which is like a spicy fresh squeezed lemonade drink with cayenne pepper. I was very excited to learn they’ve opened their first location outside of TX in Brooklyn, so I am looking forward to visiting them there!

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Visit The Driskill

My friend’s wedding reception was at The Driskill, but it is definitely worth visiting in its own right. This place is iconic Texas! While the reception was fantastic, I can only imagine the food and cocktails normally served at the restaurant and bar in the Driskill are just as good. The Driskill is also located on Sixth Street, so it’s very easy to go out nearby!

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I loved Austin’s vibe. It is not surprising to me that 100 people are moving there each day! Hopefully, the city can maintain its “small-town” charm and quirkiness and low cost of living despite these changes. I know, at least last weekend, the sun seems to shine a little brighter in Austin!

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