As I did in Pittsburgh (http://bit.ly/2tLpfy0) and Chicago (http://bit.ly/2v94EDO) I took a city tour in Austin. Due to the heat Texas is known for I opted out of all walking tours. I am sure there may have been some on the water but I also skipped those. I did not envision myself touring this city on a bus in the shape of a duck so that left me with the last and best choice; The Real Austin Tour.
The Real Austin Tour is one of the numerous tours offered by Austin Detours and thanks to their kindness I was one of the twelve people shuttled around town in an air conditioned Mercedes Benz van with the amazing Sunny Fairly as our guide. Sunny and I got on swimmingly and I couldn't have loved his humor or helpful information any more. He and Austin Detours are certainly treasures of this fair city.
I choice this tour specifically because it offered a bit of everything. It was a two hour tour that included many interesting parts of Austin that seem to also be the most popular whenever this city’s name is mentioned.
The tour group promptly met at Austin’s Visitor Center and soon we were on our way. If you need any help or information the center is a great resource to find places you didn't even know you were looking for. It is also a great spot to pick up some of the city's cutest souvenirs.
The first stop on the tour was the Texas State Capitol building. This beautiful building has been home to the legislative branch since 1888.
“It is the largest state capitol building in the country, covering three acres, and is second in size only to the U.S. Capitol—but still, in typical Texas style, measuring seven feet taller. The cornerstone alone weighs 12,000 pounds, and the total length of the wooden wainscoting runs approximately seven miles.”
My favorite part of this building is directly under the rotunda. As you look all the way up you see the star on the inner side of the rotunda. There are also three floors of portraits of all of the previous governors of Texas. On the ground floor you will find my favorite former governor and overall human being (from this state), Ann Richards. My partiality to Ann Richards is largely due to Holland Taylor’s magnificent portrayal and play I saw in 2013 (http://bit.ly/2v9rriM). It was a true tour de force.
You can take self guided tours during regular operating hours and guided tours are given every forty-five minutes or so.
From here my tour group headed to another classic Austin location: Graffiti Park. Graffiti Park is the unused area directly below a former castle. It may seem like an oddity, it certainly did to me. Where I come graffiti is frowned upon as it is anyplace else in Austin. But here it is a protected place for art. I saw marriage proposals, cartoon characters, but I think the image of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance from The Shining stole the show.
Next up was another prime spot for a photo op; the Austin postcard mural. Murals are a big deal in Austin. In fact I feel like Austin should be known as The Mural City. There are several infamous ones located all around town and those who hit them all up feel like they have won a prize. I did not get so lucky but I was happy enough to have hit up this one. I feel like it is the perfect picture to frame and one that truly captured my trip.
As we drove around we passed by the University of Texas. We stopped for a moment so that everyone could take a few photos which is when Sunny reminded us of that horrific shooting that occurred up in that tower in 1966. I had long learned about that story but had forgotten about it. All of a sudden it was hard to look at that peaceful spot and not image how tragic those events were. Despite that long ago sadness the campus itself is glorious and I am sure the views from that tower do not disappoint. Tours are given of both so check them out.
On a lighter note the University of Texas has a connection to the building that is said to look like an owl in the city’s skyline. The architect was from a rival school and when we won the account it is said he shaped the building to look like his former mascot to annoy all those die hard University fans who come out in droves to support their team.
The final stop was the Trailer Park Eatery. This parking lot is essentially a place where you can taste a lot of local delicacies without having to look around for another parking spot. Truck stops like this can be found all over Austin and are among the best places to eat.
Here we were all treated to complimentary cake pops which were the perfect ending to a great afternoon.
While Austin has no formal nickname, it can be called the Live Music Capital of the World, Capital City, or even Bat City. Why Bat City you may ask? Well, that is because bats are the official animal of Austin and have governmental protection. The bats are all female and come up from Mexico each year to birth their babies. There are millions of them and when they come out at night to eat it seems as though a giant black swarm is flying directly at you. My visit was a little early in the season so I did not get to witness this first hand, but Sunny did drive us over the bridge where they love to nest.
This is just one more story that explains why “Keep Austin Weird” is Austin’s official motto.
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