Stepping off the plane in Dallas, Texas, I was greeted with the greatest feeling in 4 months. It was over 20 degrees! But I didn’t have time to enjoy the weather just yet because I was heading to Austin on a massive journey using just about every transport possible from Washington; walk>Uber>train>flight>train>walk>bus>Uber. When I finally did get to Austin I barely finished eating dinner before I passed out face first in my pillow.
Waking the next morning I felt like a new man and the weather was completely on my side, now pushing the mid 20’s in the middle of winter. Everyone from Texas will probably tell you that Austin is their favourite place to visit and after taking a look for myself I can agree. It’s a really fun place. Texas is basically its own country inside a country and its capital has a unique vibe of its own. A good portion of the city centre is taken up by the university and the younger, liberal, more accepting culture of the locals in reflected in shops selling ‘keep Austin weird’ products. This combined with a southern relaxedness and Mexican influence makes the place great to explore during the day and party at night.
While I was there I was lucky enough to catch the Superbowl and a Mardi Gras fat Tuesday celebration. Not wanting to stop the fun on the main nightlife area 6th street, the whole area is closed to traffic and the party spills out of the local bars and keeps going into the morning. You don’t see that in many places.
Next stop on the tour was Houston. Back in Europe I’d met a guy named Dustin while sailing around Croatia’s islands and he’d invited me to come and visit if I was ever in the area. The feedback from other travellers is pretty mixed when it comes to Houston, some love it and some think it’s a kinda boring place. I think this is more due to the fact that all of the things worth seeing in town aren’t obvious or in-your-face like the other cities that have a lot of tourism. Luckily because I was staying with Dustin and his mates I was shown all of the best local spots and had a pretty great time.
Arriving in the city centre the first thing you will probably notice is that the place seems deserted and for a city of 5 million people this is a bit strange. Never fear. A little known fact for outsiders is that the city has a labyrinth of tunnels connecting most of the buildings, these tunnels are also where most of the food and other shops are hidden. The other reason is best seen from the observation deck in Chase Tower. On the horizon surrounding the city centre are several satellite CBD’s, most with their own specialty like the energy corridor or the medical precinct near Rice University. So all of this makes the center less busy.
Things worth putting on the to-do list are:
- A visit to the Museum district. From here you can see all of the cities museums and, if you want to, have a wander around Rice University and the city zoo.
- Buffalo Bayou. Recently renovated this river walk is the best place to get a view of the city and see the other big cultural trend in the city, working out. It was definitely the most active city I’ve been to so far. The high 20’s temperatures in winter probably help with this.
- The space centre. Pretty self-explanatory and the biggest tourist attraction for the city.
- The nightlife areas most locals go to are on Washington Ave. You can find a whole lot of Texan themed bars and places to eat Texan grill.
- Breweries. There are so many of them.
Of course my biggest suggestion is to find some locals to hang with. Dustin and his friends were all warm, welcoming and full of ideas. Something that’s really common everywhere in Texas.
Lastly I had a couple of days to check out the Dallas Forth-Worth area. Bigger than Houston this place is sprawling like you wouldn’t believe. Even more confusing is that there is only one hostel in the whole city and it’s out in the suburbs in a converted house. That one hostel is probably the strangest/most chilled out one I have ever stayed in. There’s no reception, I didn’t see anyone who worked there until the second day and you just turn up and hope that there is somebody else there to let you in. It was more like I was just crashing at a friend’s house than paid accommodation.
That aside, I had the chance to catch up with one of my besties, Liza, who lives there. Because I was short on time she suggested that I go out to Fort-Worth and take a look at the stockyards. Liza is always full of cool ideas so the next day I headed out there with a couple of other fellas from the hostel to see how the Wild West used to be. The stockyards used to be to original stock route/sale yards for all of Texas but now it’s more like a theme park to celebrate country western culture. There’s a massive rodeo arena, some of the original stockyards, the biggest honkey tonk in the world, the original main street which looks like every western movie I’ve ever seen and a few horses to go and swoon over.
Texas really does feel like its own country with a different culture, climate and easy going attitude which make it a rewarding place to travel through. It’s a shame that it’s not really on the tourist trail because it should be.