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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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Touched Down in the Land of the Delta Blues: My Memphis Highlights

Memphis is second to none when it comes to boasting a rich tradition in music, culture, and history. The city, immortalized by Marc Cohn’s classic song “Walking in Memphis” (yes, I love this song and I’m not ashamed!), is probably most famous in pop culture for being the home base for musicians such as B.B. King, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Justin Timberlake. I love Memphis because it never pretends to be something it’s not—it’s a city as authentic as the sounds that come from it. Although I moved away a few years ago, Memphis still feels like home to me, and the two years I spent there teaching high school were life-changing. One plus of my family’s recent move from Alabama to Tupelo, MS, is that I can visit Memphis even more frequently (Tupelo is an hour from Memphis!). Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite Memphis highlights.426709_10200402062906670_1149355756_n

  1. 398936_3509378325686_890617298_nVisit the Orange Mound neighborhood. Located south of Southern Avenue and east of Lamar Avenue, Orange Mound is the oldest community in the south founded by African Americans, and the second largest in US history (behind Harlem in NYC).
    While the neighborhood has had its challenges with poverty and crime, the tradition and strength of community is tremendously strong. As a teacher at Melrose (Orange Mound’s only high school) for two years, I was honored to get to know and work with so many of the teachers and community members who make Melrose and Orange Mound so special. Melrose has produced a number of famed athletes, such as Olympian Rochelle Stevens and basketball legend Larry Finch, as well as entrepreneurs such as the Neely family and academics such as Alvin Crawford, an internationally recognized expert in childhood bone disease and Lawrence Madlock, medical director at the UT Medical Center. I recommend a visit to the old Melrose High School, which is designated as a historic landmark. If you are around on a Friday night, nothing beats a Melrose Golden Wildcats home football game! A great documentary about Orange Mound came out a few years ago, and you can watch it here.
  2. Go for a run through Tom Lee Park along the Mississippi River. The views of the city and the river are stunning. In particular, the view going downhill from Riverside Drive at the south of the park is my favorite! You will be treated to this view if you run in the St. Jude marathon or half-marathon, as it’s included in the route. Apart from this hill, the route is relatively flat, so it’s good for your knees! Be sure to notice the statue that honors Tom Lee, the river worker who saved 32 passengers when their steamboat sunk in the river in 1925.

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    I was so excited to round this corner while running the St. Jude’s marathon last December–the view is much better in person!
  3. Spend a night on Beale Street. Whatever your taste in music is, Beale Street has it and does it well. That being said, the blues rule here. My favorite blues spot on Beale Street is the Rum Boogie Café’s Blues Hall. If clubbing is more your style, Club 152 offers the closest thing to a “club” on Beale, and it’s a lot of fun! Visit Silky O’Sullivan’s for dueling pianos, a “beer drinking goat,” and an outdoor band, and visit one of a few karaoke bars along Beale if you’re inspired to start performing on your own. Drinks are cheap, and you’re allowed to carry your drink in a plastic container outside along the street (visit Wet Willie’s if you want a to-go slushie with a punch!)
  4. 577219_3423660262788_1045711115_nCheer on the Grizzlies at FedEx Forum. I really think the Grizzlies are a microcosm of the city itself. The mottos “Memphis v. Errbody” and “Grit and Grind” personify both the Grizzlies and the city of Memphis—both are often considered underdogs, yet both win, even if the process of winning is not always pretty. The Memphis community really gets behind the Grizzlies, and this is beyond evident when you attend a game at the Forum. The atmosphere at a Memphis Grizzlies game is electric! No offense to the NY Knicks or Nets, but those game atmospheres do not hold a candle to the atmosphere at a Grizzlies game! In fact, whenever I’ve attended a Grizzlies game since moving to NYC, it is always easy to spot the other Grizzlies fans, as we are always the most excited, cheering the loudest, and decked out in Grizzlies blue! The Grizzlies have been crushing it recently, and have made the playoffs each year for the past 5 years. Here’s hoping that the trend continues.
  5. Visit the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum is located at the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The museum has preserved his room exactly as it was that day, which was the day after his prophetic “Mountaintop” speech. It is incredibly moving to not only view this room as he lived in it during his last few minutes on Earth, but to learn about the long history of the American Civil Rights movement, as well as the ongoing struggle (you can read here about how Memphis educators are succeeding in closing the achievement gap). The museum has a special focus on the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, which brought Dr. King to the city in 1968. I have visited the museum twice, but not since it was renovated in 2013. The museum is a must-visit for any first-time visit to Memphis.
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    Raiford’s will turn anyone into a disco queen!

    Get into the music. Memphis is a music lover’s mecca. Of course, there’s Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. Several of his wild outfits, cars, and guitars are on display, as well as his platinum and gold records. My favorite is the jungle room—you just have to see it to believe it! I also highly recommend the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, which has a replica of the dance floor used on Soul Train! You can also visit Sun Studio, where B.B. King, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley all recorded hits. To actually live the music of Memphis for yourself outside of a museum, you have to go to Paula & Raiford’s disco on Second Street (just off Beale). The club is a true disco, where you can dance the night away on a light-up dance floor, relax on red leather sofas, or even play on a drum set. Mr. Raiford will be in a sequined cloak spinning all of the best 80’s and 90’s songs!31919_4870696197782_1000994998_n

  7. Visit the Peabody ducks. An esteemed Memphis tradition, the feathered residents of the swank Peabody Hotel march to and from their day job (swimming in the lobby fountain) each day at 11am and 5pm, respectively. The march is always closely monitored by the honorable Duckmaster. If you happen to miss the ducks’ march, you can visit their sweet penthouse home on the roof. I also recommend having a cocktail in the lobby and enjoying the people (and duck!) watching.

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    The ducks are preparing for their 5pm exit in front of the crowd!

8. Eat some BBQ! It probably goes without even mentioning, but Memphis has the best BBQ there is. Period. My personal favorites are Central BBQ (both on Central Ave and downtown), the BBQ Shop on Madison, and Interstate BBQ. If you’re flying through the Memphis airport, you have to stop by the Interstate BBQ shop in Terminal B, even if it’s not lunch or dinnertime (they serve amazing Southern-style breakfast biscuits and delicious coffee!)  If you’re vegetarian, please disregard…but I guarantee you will find some delicious meat-free “fixins” to indulge in at any of these places!

This is just a short list of the things I find most special about Memphis. There really is so much more that makes this city so amazing. Do you have any other recommendations?

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