Austin, Rediscovered

 Jo's famous "I love you so much" wall graffiti

Jo's famous "I love you so much" wall graffiti

I just returned from a long weekend in Austin, Texas.  As I mentioned in my last blog, I've been to Austin in the past, but when Travel Texas asked if I'd like to take another look, I didn't hesitate to say yes!  In just four short years, I can't believe how much the city has grown and yet, the feelings I have will always remain the same.  Austin has become the hub for many up and coming companies and several established companies have migrated to Austin.  Because of this, as well as general city growth, it seems to have doubled in size.  With people comes progress, but what I love most about Austin is that no matter how large it gets, the heart and soul of the city will never change. 

I ventured  on this trip solo and decided to make up my agenda as I went along,.  Each time I would get a recommendation, I would ask for another at the recommended place.  I arrived at the Austin Motel, (which was my home base for the next few days) and asked the staff where I should go to eat.  Immediately, he looked at me with wide eyes and told me to go to Veracruz and Dee Dee.  Being that I was hungry, I decided to take a trip to both.  So far, this trip is off to a good start. I know I will be eating way too much but isn't that the point of experiencing a city?  Yeah, I thought so, too.

Being that we're on the subject of food, this takes me to one of the handful of reasons of why I love Austin so much... the food.  Sure, you can eat well in a lot of major cities, but there is just something special here.  I'm a casual dining person so most of the places I went to weren't "wear a dress or tie" fancy, but I think they all deserve a mention here.  

My top 10 favorite restaurants/eating establishments from my Texas adventure weekend :

These establishments were just what I uncovered over the weekend, but I'm sure I would have discovered more hidden gems as time went on.  I have to say that I can highly recommend each one on this short list.  Just a tip for some, if not all, of these places... there is a wait.  With all good things, patience is key. 

Moving along... another favorite activity to do in and around Austin is swim. Even if you're not a swimmer, take note because each of these places is a sight to see and explore.  I wouldn't hesitate in a heartbeat to go back.

My top 3 swimming holes in and around Austin:

 A couple jump into Jacob's Well

A couple jump into Jacob's Well

 A swimmer jumping into Jacob's well.  Be sure to jump in the right spot!

A swimmer jumping into Jacob's well.  Be sure to jump in the right spot!

3) My hotel pool at the Austin Motel

Once I was done swimming for the day, I knew immediately where I was headed next.  The best place to spend dusk is either on or below the Congress Avenue bridge to watch the bats come out for the evening. Believe it or not, Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world.  Once you see it for yourself, it will be easy to believe.  With millions of bats living under the bridge, it's no wonder that hundreds of people come out each night to see it for themselves.  I spent one evening on a boat tour that I would highly recommend.  For $10 on Capital Cruises, you will get an evening cruise on Ladybird Lake with a guide that will give you as much history and facts about Austin as you want to know.  It was worth every penny.  Of course, the highlight of the evening is the bats.  I even went back the following evening to watch them from the bridge.  Both viewpoints are amazing. 

 Congress Street bats from the bridge

Congress Street bats from the bridge

 View from Congress Bridge

View from Congress Bridge

When I get the chance to watch TV, I have to admit that I'm a big fan of the show, "fixer upper" on HGTV.  I don't know when it happened, but I just loved the design style and chemistry between Jo and Chip.  I'm not much of a reality show watcher or even a watcher of TV, but it was the one thing I wanted to watch, when I got the chance. The show is over but that didn't stop me from seeing first hand the empire they have made for themselves in Waco. I took a day trip from Austin and my plan was to have breakfast at their restaurant, Magnolia Table and then spend the afternoon at the Silos.  After doing some research, I was warned that both places are extremely popular and the common tip was to get there early.  I did and yes, there was a wait just as expected.  Like most people there, I decided to stick it out until I was able to get a seat to eat and enjoy the atmosphere. They say that good things come to those who wait and I have to say that yes indeed, good things came my way. I was truly impressed with the friendly staff and delicious food.  Not able to decide on one thing, I ordered the kind breakfast and avocado toast...both delicious. After lunch, I then headed over to the silos a short drive away to experience the shopping, see the garden, and try a blended watermelon from one of the food trucks scattered throughout the grounds.  The shared tables at the silos and at Magnolia Table was just the thing to get people talking,  Even as a solo traveler, you won't be lonely or bored here... I had some enjoyable conversations and laughs with strangers, just by sitting next to them.


Sadly, all good things come to an end. On my last day in Austin, I revisited some local shops on Congress Avenue and took a short drive to the Austin Art garage to see some work from local artists.  I also took a walk through neighborhoods and admired the architecture throughout the city.  As usual, a few days is still not enough time to do everything I wanted to do.  However, the time I spent in Austin and surrounding towns was something I'll never forget.  It's easy to get caught up in visiting far away places, but there really are hidden gems in our backyard.  I have to say that I still have a crush on Austin and the city will always hold a special place in my heart. 


The Travel Channel is currently holding a sweepstakes right now that will take you and a friend to Austin, Dallas or Houston for free!  Just click HERE for the details!  

Going Back To Austin

 Relaxing with Max in Austin

As a frequent traveller, I’m often asked where my favorite place is.  As you can imagine, it’s difficult to list just one place, and over time, my favorite place can change.  However, there are just a few destinations in my mind that have been a favorite over time.  Austin, Texas is one of those places.  When Travel Texas asked if I wanted to take a trip to Austin to explore and uncover some hidden gems, I didn’t hesitate to say yes!  My trip is just a few weeks away and I would love your help to find some interesting places you found to be unforgettable. 

 Wall at Jo's

Wall at Jo's

 

I traveled to Austin for the first time in 2009 for only 24 hours.  It was one of the few places that left a lasting impression on me.  With just that small amount of time in the city, I witnessed the bats flying out from under congress bridge, ate tacos out of a food trailer, walked around Zilker park, took Max to a local dog park, and strolled around the shops on South Congress street.  To a local or even a visitor, this isn’t much of a city tour.  A day is certainly not enough time to get a feel for a city, immerse yourself in the culture, and experience it properly.

 

I am so excited to go back and take a closer look.  Both times I’ve been to Austin have been in the Fall months.  This is my first Spring visit so I am looking forward to perhaps taking a dip at the barton spring pool, or maybe soak in a secret swimming hole?  

 Austin Street Art

Austin Street Art

 

What I love best about not really having an agenda is being open to suggestions and recommendations from the locals.  Even though I am creating a loose list of places to see and restaurants to try, I’ve found that it’s best to let the locals build on my itinerary.  Perhaps you have a tip of a place you stumbled upon that was unforgettable.  If that’s the case, I want to hear about it!

Max (my dog & sidekick) came along with me the last two visits, but this time I will be flying solo.  Perhaps I am biased since I travel so often by myself, but I strongly feel that it’s the best way to travel if you want to see everything you can, while giving yourself room to roam and time to wander into those unexpected places.  When I think back at my most memorable experiences in travel, it happened because I asked a local, or just turned down an unknown street on a whim.  As you might have gathered by now, I’m not one to plan every moment since I like to see how things unfold.  Being open to the unexpected and taking the time to explore and unplug is something I think we should do more often in our lives. 

 Snuggling Maxie in East Austin

Snuggling Maxie in East Austin

There have only been a handful of cities that I’ve felt a sense of belonging.  Austin is one of those rare places.  From the artists to the trailers, and the surrounding nature, it has always felt like a home away from home.  What is your favorite thing to do in Austin?

IMG_5776.JPG
 Hamilton Pool

Hamilton Pool

 Downtown Austin

Downtown Austin

 Couple enjoying the view at Hamilton Pool   

Couple enjoying the view at Hamilton Pool

 

 With Campy and Max at Top Notch in Austin

With Campy and Max at Top Notch in Austin

New Year, New Adventures

What an emotional year this was.

For 2017, I wish you discomfort.

As this crazy year comes to a close, I enjoy looking back at the year and remember the good things. What sticks out in my mind are the adventures I went on and the countries I visited.  I am planning new adventures for 2017 and I hope you do the same.  Nothing inspires me more than traveling and being in nature. It's a nice way to jump start a year by getting uncomfortable. 

I get asked a lot about where my favorite place is.  This year, it was Iceland.   I've never experienced anything like it.  In my travels, I rarely visit the same place twice... However, I just couldn't get it out of my mind and even though I am not a fan of being cold, that is not even close to being a valid reason for not doing something.  That being said, I'm planning on chasing the Northern Lights this winter.

I would encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and do something different.  You don't have to travel to another country to experience new things.  You can look up a local hiking trail, take a class, or go camping alone.  Always remember that the perfect time doesn't exist.  Don't wait for someone else's schedule to clear up to do what you've always wanted to do.  You can do it alone.  With that being said,  I wish you plenty of discomfort in the new year.   

 

 

Two Days In Chattanooga

When I was invited to visit Chattanooga for a few days by the tourism board, I gladly accepted the offer to visit a city I’ve never been to.  

My itinerary was completely up to me.  I wasn’t given any suggestions of attractions to visit, where to stay, or restaurants to go to, which is exactly how I prefer to travel.  I usually don’t plan anything when I head out on an adventure and this trip wasn’t much different.  I did some research before hand as many would do on the internet, looking for the best sights and places not to miss.  With a short handwritten list, I headed out on my adventure.

Day 1

The first thing I did was head to Rock City to see the view from lookout mountain.  This attraction has a lot of great reviews online and there is no shortage of promotion of this destination.  Once I arrived, I knew it was going to be a place to remember.  They give you a map of the grounds and send you on your way for a self guided tour.  As you casually make your way through gardens and squeeze between boulders on the path, the star of the show is the view from lover’s leap.  On a clear day, you can see all seven states right from this viewpoint.  After a few hours of touring around, it was time to move along for lunch.

 Walking on the suspension bridge in Rock City.

Walking on the suspension bridge in Rock City.

 View from Lover's Leap

View from Lover's Leap

At the top of my small restaurant list was the Bluegrass Grill.  This charming and cozy diner on the South side was very casual and it felt like you were dining at a friends house.  Everyone I’ve met in Chattanooga so far has been so warm and friendly to me.  I asked the waitress where I should go next.  It was a hot day so she suggested a few local swimming holes just outside of town.  She sat with me for about 20 minutes telling me everything I should see, from a local perspective. As she was sitting next to me, writing down things to do on a guest check, I couldn’t recall a time where I received that kind of focused attention at a restaurant...ever.

From that moment on, I decided that the locals were going to decide my itinerary for the next day and a half.  I went to three restaurants and asked my server to write down 3 or 4 things I should do when I am in town and I decided that I would do a few from each list for the remainder of my stay.

I thanked my sweet waitress for the suggestions and headed out to find the blue hole (Well, AFTER I took a pit stop at Milk and Honey for an ice cream). I had a general idea on where to go, so I headed out.  Once I found the correct road and started seeing cars parked alongside that road, I knew I was in the right place.  From her description, I had a long hike in front of me so I asked a few locals there which direction to head and I began my hike towards their outstretched pointed finger.  About 45 minutes in, I started hearing people jumping into a swim hole and once I approached it, it was time to jump in! 

 I love swimming holes and dogs so swimming with a dog at a swimming hole is the best! 

I love swimming holes and dogs so swimming with a dog at a swimming hole is the best! 

One of the best feelings in the world is taking a dip in a natural swimming hole.  I submerged myself in the warm water, found a shady spot, and starting watching the kids and dogs climb up and jump off boulders into the water.   I could stay and float in the water all night but I needed to hike back to the parking lot and leave before the 7pm gate closure.  

Dinner was at The Public House.  I was happy to find a place serving dinner late when I arrived.  The ambiance was romantic and friendly.  As with the Bluegrass Cafe’, my waitress was extremely friendly and was happy to write a list of local must do’s.  When I told her that I went to the blue hole a few hours earlier, her immediate response was, “how did you hear about that and how did you find it?”  From a local, of course. 

Day 2

Even though I took in the view from Rock City yesterday, I had to see it from Sunset Rock, which was another suggestion from a local.  However, there wasn’t any mention on the best place to park to get to the rock so after some website searching, I read that there was a trail from the Nature Center at the bottom of the mountain so I decided to take that trail.  To my surprise, I had the trail parking lot all to myself.  I headed up on the “Kiddie” trail that led into the “Gum” trail that lead to the final trail to Sunset Rock.  It was a little under two miles of ALL UPHILL trails.  This hike was very challenging especially when it’s hot and humid.  The most rewarding view of all is when you spend a great deal of time hiking to find it.  The cool breeze and forever views was the sweetest reward.  

 This view was my reward after the uphill hike to get to Sunset Rock

This view was my reward after the uphill hike to get to Sunset Rock

After basking in the view for a few minutes, it was time to take the downhill hike back to the parking lot.  Next stop was the Hunter Museum of American Art.  Before I took a tour of the museum, I went for lunch at Rembrant’s in the Bluff View Arts District and for the last time I asked my server what to do.  Since I was downtown, I toured the museum, walked along the glass bridge and then the pedestrian bridge across to the northshore side of town.  That is where I had to stop and have a scoop of ice cream at clumpies.  This was a much welcomed treat after the long hike.  From local suggestions, I decided to take another quick trip to see another swimming hole, but this time with a waterfall.  

 Underneath Foster Falls

Underneath Foster Falls

I arrived at Foster Falls that afternoon and what a treat that was!  I was so thrilled to jump in another local swimming spot and swim under the falls.  Just like the other hike and everywhere else I went, the locals were friendly and always saying hello with a smile.  I also noticed that everywhere I went was dog friendly.  I missed Max on my quick trip but it was nice to swim around with my new dog friends. 

That evening, I headed back to the Southside and had dinner at The Flying Squirrel.  I found myself gravitating more to the Southside of the city and enjoying all of the eclectic shops and historic architecture.  The open air restaurant/bar was the perfect setting for my last meal in Chattanooga.  

I didn’t know much about this city when I ventured out but after only a few days, I settled right in with the locals.  I am so glad that I was able to experience this amazing place, if only for a few days. If you want to see a city like the locals, be sure to ask your server where he/she goes for fun.  It turned out to be the best way to uncover Chattanooga.