Austin, Texas welcomed us with torrential rain, spaghetti junctions confusing enough to stress out the most confident driver let alone me, and a problem causing motel reservation.
We arrived late at night, weary from a full day of travel and so when the downtown motels we enquired in were all booked out, we didn’t have much choice but to stay a few miles from downtown, despite the issues that particular motel chain had just caused us.
We were spending two nights in Austin, giving us a much needed break from driving and a full day in one place to explore – excellent.
In the morning we ventured downtown in search for some coffee.
We headed straight to 6th street as research had told us that was the heart of downtown. After walking for some time without passing a cafe we asked some local policeman where we could find decent coffee. They hesitated for some time before suggesting a few places to us, none of which were on the main road.
Feeling less groggy after having had a delicious coffee we decided to venture south of the city to check out Congress Bridge and Lady Bug Park. Congress Bridge is a known attraction at dusk when around 1.5 million bats who had been sleeping under the bridge during the day make a mass exodus in search of their dinner for the evening. 10,00-20,000 pounds of insects are consumed by the mass every night. This was a site we didn’t want to miss and so vowed to come back that evening to witness the spectacle but alas didn’t make it as we were succumbed by the lure of live dueling pianos.
While standing in Lady Bug Park and thinking quietly to myself that it was decidedly like every other park in the world, it started to rain. And by rain I mean torrential downpour.
We decided that it was time to find a restaurant for lunch and under the cover of our sleeves checked our iPhone for the nearest Japanese restaurant. We arrived at Bar Chi Sushi dripping wet from head to toe and I quickly used their napkins to soak up the excess water on my skin.
The place was large and cold, but looked decent. Oscar ordered the chefs sushi special at $12 and I ordered the fillet mignon bento box at $15 which came with a starter salad, steamed rice, stir fried vegetables, 3 small pieces of rolled crab sushi, one piece of prawn nigiri sushi, 1 spring roll, one fried pork puff, fillet mignon cooked to perfection with a rich teriyaki sauce, and half a cut orange with a glazed cherry on top. I could only eat half of my massive bento box, but we both agreed that our meals were very enjoyable.
On 6th street we had spotted the Museum of Weird, and decided to go back and check it out after lunch.
Many of the shops sell T-shirts and dolls with the slogan ‘Keep Austin Weird’. We hadn’t been able to work out why Austin was touted as ‘weird’ but figured the answer may at least partially lie inside the Museum of Weird.
A university town, Austin was cool with lots of bars, street art, live music, restaurants and cafés. But it wasn’t dissimilar to lots of other cities, parts of Auckland and Melbourne for example. I guess it was certainly weird in the fact that we were in Texas but it didn’t feel like Texas at all.
The signs outside the Weird Museum invited the viewer in to see a real 3000 year old mummy, shrunken heads, a mermaid, cyclops, and other weird and wonderful things. Upon entering you find yourself in a gift shop where you can purchase tickets to the museum, buy all sorts of weird paraphernalia and then make your way to the back of the shop to enter into the museum. We stopped and put two quarters into a fortune telling jukebox for fun, and the fake Indian swami looking man told our fortune in the way of something vague and unmemorable.
On entering the museum you learn that the majority of items were part of Frank Hansen’s collector items. Hansen owned a traveling circus in the Mid 20th century and exhibited sideshow items around the country. He was also a creator of weird and wacky counterfeits which people from all over the country purchased, which makes it hard to tell what is real and what is counterfeit in this crazy museum. Some things are clearly labelled as being either real or fake, but many are not and even the things claiming to be real – how could you really know?
We passed an exhibit about the Texas Bigfoot, then on to small deformed mermaid looking things, a dried stingray looking skeleton with a devilish servant tail, shrunken heads the size of an orange, a 3000 year old mummy from Egypt, taxidermic two headed chickens, calves, pigs as well as a baby cyclops pig preserved in a jar.
We were then invited to watch a 15 minute doco on the Minnesota Iceman before being escorted to see the real original iceman (not a hoax one). We were told how lucky we were to view the iceman because it was only there temporarily on loan before being sent to an Iceman exhibition in Germany where they were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the ‘real’ iceman as they were currently displaying a fake version. There is a lot of mystery around the Minnesota Iceman and I will leave you to do your own research on it but when we saw it, it was almost completely covered in ice and therefore very hard to see properly but we did see part of it’s face and arm. I would have desperately liked to have seen it less covered in ice as well as the results of a DNA test. When asked if a DNA test had taken place I was told it had not, but with no explanation. Suspicious stuff.
The man that showed us the iceman is also a sword swallower and gave us a cringe-worthy demonstration. The swords he used went past his heart and between his lungs, and he even juggled for us whilst the sword was inside his throat. On exiting we were told that the building had been home to many uses, and that Johnny Depp had lived there whilst filming ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’.
In the evening, Oscar was desperate to visit a Texan BBQ restaurant so he did his homework and we chose to go to ‘Stubbs’ which was number 3 on the top 10 list and because Oscar had owned a bottle of ‘Stubbs’ hot sauce back in NZ.
Walking into Stubbs was just like walking into a modern day saloon. We definitely felt a little overdressed with me in a bright blue dress and red lippy and Oscar in a blue print dress shirt.
On the menu you could order one, two, or three meats with your choice of two sides. Knowing how ridiculously large the meals would be I stuck to one meat, with Oscar ordering two meats and we decided to share it all which is great as it meant we could try three meats and four sides. We went with Beef Brisket, Pork Ribs, Chicken, Mac n cheese, onion rings, sweet potato mash, and a side salad.
Ordering just one meat did nothing to challenge the food quantity issue as I ended up with about half a chicken on my plate – more meat than Oscar got served with his two types! Luckily Oscar loves his BBQ so I knew I had a good sharing buddy to help me eat it and not waste food.
I thought the food was good but not amazing. Oscar absolutely loved the brisket which I thought was beautifully tender but lacking in seasoning. The Mac and cheese was just like one of those pasta snacks you would make from a packet at home which I’m a bit of a fiend for despite how processed it tastes and the sweet potato mash was uneatable due to it’s sweetness as I’m assuming they added sugar which I’m unsure why they would when the sweet potato is sweet enough as it is. It tasted like it should have been on the desert menu instead. The meals both came with a thick slice of fresh white bread which was good for wiping up the sauces left on the plate.
With full tummies we asked the waiter to recommend any live blues bars in the area and he kindly wrote down three on a piece of paper for us. We went to the closest one ‘Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar’ and were surprised by how many people were there on a Tuesday night. There were three men and one woman that took turns playing the pianos and singing, always two at a time and people would put their requests on top of the pianos, sometimes with tips to get their song to the front of the queue. This made for an entertaining evening as the crowd got a little rowdy and started requesting songs from the likes of Meatloaf to Snoop Dogg to Backstreet Boys and when someone requested one of the pianists to play their favorite song he played ‘On a Boat’ which was a funny end to our night.
With the threat of a tornado and flash flood warnings we decided to call it an early night and head back to the motel.
All in all a ‘weird’ and enjoyable time in Austin was had.