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Friday, March 11, 2011

A Road Map Through Austin

I started to feel sorry for my friend as I headed to the Texas state capital last weekend to visit her. I'm a busy body and every minute of my visit is tied to a tight itinerary starting at 7:30 a.m. the following morning. I'm not very good at lounging around the house on the weekends, and besides, exploring new territory keeps things interesting. Not a minute will be wasted!
My friend lives in the Travis Heights area of Austin, which is a neighborhood just off South Lamar. The typical Austin hood is as perfectly disheveled as the hippies and blended pups that sit on their porch and frequent the local dog park. In fact, the dog park was our first stop. I've never been and I don’t have pets, so this was a new experience.

The Dog Park
I noticed the proud owners of the gregarious and diverting dogs acted differently than people in most other social situations. They introduced their dogs to Grace and vice versa, but not themselves. They swapped stories about their dogs’ personalities and redeeming qualities. It was a curious to me that they seemed less interested in us than our convivial companions. It wasn’t like, “so what do you do for a living?” It was more like, “so what does your dog do for a living? What breed? It’s character and personality?” There was no exchanging of names with the other people, but we knew every dog's name in the park within 15 minutes.
They behave as parents at a playground do: bragging about their pup’s good manners, what they achieved at training camp, how social they are. One pair of dogs got in a vicious fight, and just like every other delusional parent, everyone was pointing fingers. “It couldn’t possibly be little Scout's fault!” The two owners snarled at each other cussing under their breath. 
And the dogs’ personalities were as colorful as the purple, green and blue houses that lined the park. One overweight old Saint Bernard sat fat and happy next to the water fountain until a pack of trim younger lady dogs ran past. He thumped heavily behind them until he literally couldn’t move. His non-attentive owner was doing some sort of Tai Chi motions with the occasional drop to push ups. “He’s just stretching,” Grace said. “No he’s not,” I thought to myself.
Another cunning dog, a black Australian shepherd mix, kept bringing the ball to Grace that his male owner threw for him to retrieve. If you don’t know Grace she’s often compared to Sharon Stone, so to sum it up she’s gorgeous. This dog knew what he was doing.

Friday Night Lights ... dance on the water.
Hula Hut
After I was introduced to the dog park, Grace and I headed to Hula Hut for some margaritas and queso on Town Lake (it seems more like a river but whatever). It was a perfectly cool spring evening in Texas and the Mexican Martinis we ordered helped the long drive go down easier as the sun set over the lake. The menu was large, but we each ordered an item and had a bite of each other's food. The coconut shrimp were huge, sweet and crunchy. Casey ordered one cheese enchilada that looked like the size of two burritos. Excellent. I think the atmosphere and being on the water was what made the experience at Hula Hut. We didn’t accept the after-dinner invite to hear live music because we had an 8:30 a.m. appointment at my favorite breakfast place in Austin.

Breakfast and More ... food
Kerbey Lane always has a line at the door no matter how hard you try to beat the breakfast crowd. It’s that good. We met some of Grace’s Austin friends for breakfast and it turned out to be an awesome foursome. Don’t laugh, but I daydreamed I was in the show Sex in the City. I do that from time to time.
We all bonded over a shared appetizer of green chile, Gruyere and mozzarella macaroni and cheese dish perfected with penne pasta. For breakfast I ordered the traditional scrambled eggs and bacon with two pancakes. The bacon was a little puny but tasted amazing … none of that fatty business. And I know it’s a safe order, but trust me, it can be screwed up. Twelve cups later I think everyone was pleased with the strong, rich coffee as well as the cozy atmosphere. The restaurant is nestled in a small wooden house on … what’s the name of that street? Oh, Kerbey Lane. The only complaint was that our bearded waiter took a while to bring my coffee, but he was great with everything else. Although it may have been another waiter taking care of us because they were all bearded. Keep Austin weird.
Kerbey Lane
I don’t know about you but when I travel I love to be outside as much as I like to eat (weather permitting). So Grace and I picked up her two pups — Sasha and Cooper — and headed to Town Lake for a long stroll and good people watching. A bitter cold front blew through the night, but the rain and clouds later opened up to a luminous mid-morning. It was so bright it seemed as if glitter danced on top of the water. Austin is made beautiful by its green rolling hills and bodies of water. The city has great walking, biking and hiking trails, so it's good advice to take advantage if you have time. We walked and talked until we were hungry for more … food that is.
Next stop: Sandy’s Hamburgers on Barton Springs. Sandy’s is a maude-colored walk up/drive through burger joint with combo special that totaled $3.89. A line of cars piled up at the drive through. The burger was OK, but fitting for the price. The meat was thin and not very hot, but that's how some like it. We sat outside on picnic bench behind the restaurant and the dogs curled up under the table. We needed to eat all we could for our next adventure — kayaking!

At Sea
Grace and I were so excited to try kayaking in Austin. It's something you always see people doing there and wonder if it is as fun as it looks. We found a spot that rented us a “couples” boat for $15 an hour. We giggled like little girls as we tucked ourselves into slender, bean-like craft. Trying not to let the chilly 40 mph wind gusts deter us from this new adventure, Grace and I started rowing. We tried to row in unison to make the ride as efficient as possible, but instead floated sideways up the river splashing each other silly. Grace is an extravert (that may be an understatement), so she made friends all over the choppy pond. She challenged everyone to a race, which seemed funny considering we moved an inch per hour (iph). A few kayakers passed us on their way home holding up their paddles in victory.
Grace's Victory
After a new blister and two sets of burning arms we stopped. But that was when the real beauty of the day happened. We floated back to base in the silence of the whipping wind, rattling tree limbs and bustling leaves. The water sparkled under the cloudless, baby blue sky. I think we can both agree by the looks on our faces that we felt like little kids again. We remembered the feeling of joy after our new adventure.This is always the goal when I travel. Doing something new and adventurous gives people a sense of wonder that children embrace with ease but adults tend to forget. The key to happiness is to not lose that wonder of the world, which can be found in small things like a weekend trip or in even our own backyard.

P.S. The day ended at Enoteca on South Congress with Grace’s fabulous boyfriend. I think the company is as important as the food, because food can be spoiled by bad company. That was the best pizza and pasta I’ve ever had, except for when I lived in Rome. There was a sfizzi in a tiny place called Due Santi (Two Saints) about 10 miles outside of Rome. They had fresh mozzarella di Bufala from the region and mushrooms from their garden that they put on their pizza. Nothing has ever compared until this place. Everything from the mozzarella to the pasta is made fresh at the restaurant. The atmosphere was warm, inviting and trendy. The wait was more than an hour, but if you’re willing to sit at the bar and grab glass of red and a salad, you’re set.

Introduction to This Blog

So I decided to get back into blogging, but with a focus. Just like I decided to get back into my life … but with a focus.

There are four things I love to do — eat, travel, jog and WRITE. They say when you travel you should do things that you love to do at home, so all of these things go together as necessary parts of my body do. I wouldn’t function properly if I were missing any of the parts.

With a Masters in Journalism and undergraduate degree in philosophy, I spend most of my time over-thinking, digesting everything around me (figuratively and literally) and inquiring. I’m that annoying toddler that is always asking “Why? Why? Why?” except I’m in my late 20s. After two glasses of wine I once politely asked a man why he was missing half of his face. I’m lucky to still be alive.

I used to be a full-time newspaper writer and currently teach an intro to mass communications course as well as a media writing course at the local community college. This keeps the devil from working on my idle hands, which keeps my husband happy. Now that I'm happily married and hanging on to a journalism job with dear life, there is only one thing missing from my life since I quit the newspaper — writing. It's what keeps my joints lubricated and the blood moving through my veins. So here I am writing about things I love to do. If nobody is reading, that’s OK. At least I’m writing again. Here it goes!

Big Bend Fall 2010
P.S. I also believe it is possible to travel in your hometown by doing things that are out of your routine. It keeps the mystery and adventure in your life. I was born and raised in Fort Worth, and am finding awesome and new things to do every weekend. So this blog will be about my adventures in and away from Fort Worth and places I love to eat along the way. Most of my trips are weekend getaways in Texas because my husband doesn't take much vacation time from work. Most of you are probably in the same boat (as most working people are), but this doesn't stop us from hitting the road and having the time of our lives at home! Follow me and I’ll give you ideas along the way.