Sunday after many hugs and kisses good-bye to family in Troy, we headed down to Austin for one last hurrah.
We had booked a night at the Austin Motel right on South Congress. I could tell when booking online that it was going to be cute, but how could I have anticipated the perfect vintage charm, the totally walkable neighborhood, the beautiful retro style swimming pool, the warm night breezes and the constant sound of music floating around the street?
The girls were SO EXCITED. They kept saying "our home is so cute!" The beds were perfect for clambering and jumping, obviously.
As much as we loved just chilling in our motel room, we were starving and took a walk to find food. There were plenty of choices, but we wanted something super fast and easy, so we opted for Home Slice Pizza, which was bustling and fun, friendly, and delicious.
We lingered on South Congress for a little while, found an American Apparel having a massive closing-down sale, so that Darin could buy swim trunks since he'd forgotten to pack any. One pair of bright yellow swim trunks for $6, check. We sashayed past the Continental Club to the vibrant twang of Tex-Mex horns, hurrying because we wanted to enjoy the pool while the sun still shone hot!
I bought us a couple beers and busted out my journal and book, but all I could really do was keep helping Darin chase two rambunctious non-swimmers without floaties around, reminding them that the number one pool rule is no running!
Suddenly a huge group of dapper dudes showed up, totally ignoring our wayward sprites getting in their way, setting up photo shoots at the edge of the pool, displaying and photographing a zine of some sort, and taking pictures of each other with really nice camera equipment. Darin finally asked about their project; turns out it was an "insta-meet."
It's always cozy to head back to a motel room after a pool dip, shower, and get comfy.
Darin and the girls shelled pecans we'd brought from Troy, and we got ready to go see BATS!
Just a few blocks down is the South Congress bridge, where thousands of bats exit en masse at dusk for their nightly feeding. We'd been told this would happen around 7:00; it was actually quite a bit later, which means one thing to parents of rowdy kids. Too. much. waiting. We had to move around some, let them run around the grassy area, which meant we lost our prime viewing spot by the river, as the crowds thickened. There was no missing out on the sight, though, once those bats started to fly. You could see them for miles, swirling across the sky in a long, dark, unbroken, twisting funnel of bat-cloud.
We watched them with proper awe, seeing them spiral away in their well regulated stream above the newspaper office, but just for a couple minutes, as the girls were tired and hungry again. We found a HEB (my initials happen to be a popular market chain in Texas) grocery store where we bought hummus, cheese, bread, fruit, water bottles, and beer. Then back to our motel to zone out!
But it turned out we just couldn't stay put; we couldn't ignore the sweet temptation of street music wafting through the warm night and into our open window. We took a nighttime walk to find the source, and the girls danced joyfully to this trumpet player's jolly renditions of "If I Only Had a Brain," and then "Elmo's World." A nice lady took a video of our whole family dancing and tried to text it to me, but for some reason, it never came through. I'll always remember though.
We waited in line at Amy's, across the street from our hotel, for scrumptious homemade ice cream to cap off the night. Blueberry and white chocolate!
After a great night of sleep we woke up ready to play some more.
Right next to our motel was the famous "I love you so much" wall on the side of Jo's Coffee where a crowd had been consistently gathered the night before for photo ops. We ordered their signature iced coffee, a Belgian Bomber, and some great potato-egg-bean breakfast tacos at Jo's, and yes we snapped a photo on this much-quieter Monday morning.
Then we took a leisurely walk up South Congress toward, of course, the used bookstore.
Darin talked books with the proprietress while I snapped pictures of her cute wooden signs.
His playing was so good, and he even played them Puff the Magic Dragon, but the girls wouldn't give James Anthony Johnson the time of day!
I bought the motel's souvenir sunglasses for myself and we said good-bye to room 303.
Checking out at the lobby:
I had read that Zilker Park had a great playground, so we headed there next. Meanwhile, I had been in contact with my Austin friend, Tera of Beatsville, and we were planning to meet up for lunch at 2 p.m. However, once Tera's daughter August caught wind that we were going to the park first, they decided to show up there and surprise us.
I was locking up the car and Darin had run ahead with the girls to start playing. He later told how shocked he was to suddenly hear a child's voice calling out "Lucy! Polly!" as they saw August running toward them!
As I walked down, camera in hand, expecting just to be photographing the girls, it took me just a moment to make the mental leap that I was finally seeing my beautiful friend in person! We hugged instantly; it felt like I'd known her forever. Tera was exactly as I'd expected she'd be, warm and funny and kind, a fountain of stories and knowledge.
August is almost exactly the same age as Tootie; she's wildly imaginative, engaged and curious, stylish, an animated little storyteller, vibrant with life and action. She and the girls hit it off splendidly.
It was hot and we were all rosy and glowing. Tera showed us where we could walk down to Barton Creek and dip our toes in to refresh. (Of course, my girls were ready to get naked and get all the way in immediately, crying because it wasn't in the cards.)
This dude who had been swimming across the way at the large flat rock had heard Lucy crying and called out, do you need to get across? Haha, of course I answered, no, we are fine! She's ok! But a few minutes later he clambered up with this offering: a turtle he had found to show the girls.
The guy was gently poking the turtle's head with a stick. He told the girls it could bite their finger clean off. I added, the poor sweet thing is not going to bite anyone; it's just scared. I was kind of worried about the gorgeous creature and made him promise to treat it gently and release it promptly after he joked around that "I could sell this thing!"
We headed back to South Congress where I'd seen a taqueria that looked fun: Gueros. I really loved their oak garden outdoor seating area, which looked like something out of Swiss Family Robinson, and I'd thought we could order inside, then eat out there. But it turns out that area only opens for live shows. It was okay though, as the inside was equally appealing, with giant palm fronds and green plants everywhere, tall open ceilings and lots of light, and a fish pond with a little fountain and huge goldfish. (And very patient host and servers who didn't mind little girls running back and forth between our table and the fountain.)
No shortage of good food in Austin!
After we ate our tacos and beans and tamales, it was just too hard to say good-bye. We were posing together for a photo by the oak garden when August realized it was over and started crying that she hadn't got to have a "drawing break" with Lucy and Polly. We had some crayons and markers and paper in Polly's backpack, so we just plopped down right there next to the street kids and made some art and continued our chatting.
These travelers had a sweet young cat and pup and were very friendly about petting and conversation; the girls were addicted.
Our whole fun group. We had so much fun talking about any and every old thing that it felt like old neighbors chatting in the front yard. It was really hard to say good-bye. Tera carried August, who kept peeking back over her shoulder trying to hold back tears. It was the sweetest thing. My girls acted more nonchalant; I think after all the excitement of traveling it was hard to wrap their minds around the fact that we were really going home soon. But later they would bring up August, asking a question or mentioning her upcoming birthday, with this underlying expectation that they'd see her again very soon. It was hard to explain that it might be a long while!
We got lots of interesting Austin scoops from Tera about how the city has changed since she first moved here in 1989. She even bought Daniel Dale Johnston art around the streets back when he was first selling his little comics.
Our last stop in Austin was to drive up through the university area and check out DDJ's mural, which Darin and I posed in front of years ago, in 2002, when this was still a record store. Why can't the good record stores last forever? It's now the wall of a restaurant called Thai How Are You. (*cringe*) After reading the shaky history, I'm glad that at least this mural is still here and well cared for.
Polly had fallen asleep in the car so we took turns walking over to see this landmark that we love. Meanwhile, several cop cars and an ambulance, sirens blaring, were congregating directly in front of where we had parked, to assist an apparently mentally unstable fellow. We gave them some space and headed out.
We felt rushed, stuck in traffic, heading toward the Austin airport and needing to clear all our stuff out and return the rental car. Luckily, it all went smoothly and we ended up with a little time to wait at the airport and share one more Amy's ice cream at the terminal.
Funny little travelers.
Lucy snapped this photo of me on the plane, requesting that i wear my new shades, and then we were off! They were so good on the flight, although the grump in front of Polly turned around and ordered me to make her stop playing with her pony on the tray. Granted, I'm sure that could be annoying, but couldn't he have been just a little more polite in his demeanor? I think grumpy people who hate kids forget that they were once children too. I wish more air travelers were as kind as the older gent across the aisle who thought the girls were seasoned travelers and commended their behavior.
After a crazy transfer in LA with a rickety shuttle ride straight down the tarmac (the girls were thrilled) to our tiny transfer gate, we flew into Sacramento on a very crowded, small plane and arrived just before midnight. The girls were fast asleep and we tried to carry them and juggle all our luggage to no avail. They woke up CRANKY! It didn't take long for us to meet up with Pops, find the van, and head home.
The whole trip was unforgettable. If you've read my detailed and utterly long winded log here, I thank you for coming along.