Friday and Saturday were fairly busy days, especially since I worked for pretty much all of Saturday.
But that meant I was free on Sunday, so to make up for a boring day, we had a road trip. Everyone had recommended Austin as a good place to go to, so we headed for there. Unfortunately, it’s a 200 mile trip, but we got up early, and headed off.
Unlike some of the previous driving expeditions, it was a nice straightforward route, on Interstate 35 pretty much all the way, so there weren’t any arguments with Mrs Satnav for a change.
The first exciting event on the way was when we found Willie’s Place.
There’s not much can compare with the surprise of suddenly seeing a billboard with an enormous picture of Willie Nelson by the roadside. It turns out Willie runs a truckstop with a general store, a theatre for his country and western mates to play at, and a filling station specialising in biodiesel. They also run a radio station out of there, which we listened to, but only very briefly…
Then off we went, through the Texas countryside. Once you’re out into the country a bit, it becomes a little less repetitive than the cycle of clusters of fast food, petrol stations and hotels on either side of the road. We saw stereotypical American farmhouses, with white fences, and interesting looking local restaurants. We passed through the Czech town of West, where all the names have a lot of “k”s and “z”s in them, and the speciality is kolaches (the strawberry and cream cheese one I had wasn’t bad at all). We saw the interesting skyline of Waco, but I have to admit we didn’t stop to admire it.
Austin itself wasn’t what I had expected it to be. We went to the state capitol building, which was very impressive. They have some excellent paintings of the big events in their history, like the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto. They’ve got a lovely dome, with a great mosiac beneath. And some excellent staircases. They also have pictures of all their past governors, like George W. Bush.
We then had some lunch, where we had the worst service I’ve had since I’ve been here, and walked along the river. My colleague, who is used to the Ganges, was a little surprised that the Colorado wasn’t bigger (after all this is Texas). It turns out that it’s not actually the same Colorado river that fuels the Hoover Dam, and carved out the Grand Canyon, but a different one with the same name (those Americans and their re-use of names – honestly!!).
One of the more unusual attractions of Austin is the colony of Bats that live in the expansion joints in the bottom of the Congress Street bridge. At sunset, the bats get restless, and then fly out from under the bridge to go and eat insects all night. We got ourselves a standing spot by the bridge, and sure enough at about half seven, the bats started to come out to play. And there were loads of them! Thousands and thousands! It was very cool, but didn’t photograph well, since they waited until it was dark.
We then headed for the 6th Street area, which is meant to be where the action is. Unfortunately, Sunday afternoon isn’t the most hip hop and happening part of the week, so it was pretty quiet. We did hear some live music, but not a lot. This wasn’t helped by the fact that we had to leave fairly early to get back to Dallas.
But the journey home turned out to be the most exciting part of the day. As we drove, we could see lightning in the distance, to our left. We kept driving, but we kept seeing it – we weren’t leaving it behind. Then we were driving straight towards it. It was proper big Texas lightning – lots of forks, that completely lit up the sky. And then the rain started – big Texas rain, absolutely hammering down, with the wipers on high speed just to see the cats eyes on the road and keep us in our lane. We slowed down to try and stay on the road, but the trucks had no intention of taking it easy, and when they passed us the wake and spray made it impossible to see anything. It was really scary.
Worse still, it’s very sore on the eyes to drive like that for any length of time, and it had been a long day, so I was getting pretty tired by the time I got back to the hotel, and it was a struggle to keep my eyes open. In retrospect, it was a good day, but at the time I was just relieved to get home safely.