Monday, March 2, 2015

A Week of Exploring Central Austin On Foot

We've spent the past week in the middle of Austin, TX at Pecan Grove RV Park; just a block from the Colorado River and enormous Zilker Metropolitan Park, and a short walk to downtown and several interesting neighborhoods.

Pecan Grove RV Park is old and funky. Just a few sites (maybe a dozen) are for short term stays, the rest (maybe 50 sites) are permanent residents. Tall RV's need assistance getting into their site due to low power lines. You maneuver in slowly as the park manager raises the power lines over anything sticking up on your roof with a long pole!

This RV park has been here for decades and the city has evolved around it. On one side is a new restaurant (coming soon, under noisy construction during our stay) and on the other side is a fancy new apartment building. The real draw for this park is its location, walking distance to the throbbing center of Austin, plus several bars, restaurants and food trucks in the surrounding neighborhood.

The weather this week has been unsettled, we had several days that never made it above 35 degrees, mixed up a couple of days that included some sun and temps in the low 60's. On the cold days we just bundled up in many layers and walked a lot. In fact, walking was really preferable to driving because traffic is awful in Austin!

Back in San Antonio when we met up with Eric and Brittany of RV Wanderlust fame, we learned they were also the founders of The Austinot, a hyperlocal blog about things to do in Austin...the perfect starting point for our explorations. Be sure to check it out if you're looking for things to do in this city.

Austin has many faces: music city, hipster haunt, food focused, edgy artists, active outdoorsy. I'll let the photos of our week of exploring the center of this bustling metropolis tell the story.

Texas State Capitol...on a bitterly cold, gray day.

Capitol dome.

A one-time Austin resident, blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan is immortalized along the Colorado River.

From our RV park we could make a nice loop walk that included the pretty Zilker neighborhood and Zilker Park. Giant oaks are everywhere and many of the buildings on our walks use Texas limestone on their facade.

I loved the variety of limestone on this cute older home.

Another classic Texas limestone facade.

We walked several happening neighborhoods including Rainey Historical, 6th Street, South Congress (SoCo), South First. Dozens of interesting eating and drinking establishments enticed us; Austinites must really like to eat out!

Container building!

Bright murals can be found all over the place.

Enormous Zilker Park is just two blocks from the RV park. We practically had the place to ourselves on the coldest days, but once the sun showed its face mobs of people were out walking and running, paddling and swimming (at Barton Springs). I happen to be fascinated by turtles, and there were dozens!

Turtles with reflection, I.

Turtles with reflection, II.

Oh my that sun feels good!

Let's take a closer look...

Zilker Park backed by downtown skyline.

Continue upstream from Zilker Park along Barton Creek and it soon feels like wilderness right smack dab in the middle of the city.

Pretty, clear Barton Creek flows through a limestone canyon.

The crystal clear water flows over and around giant limestone boulders.
These must be wonderful swimming holes in the middle of summer.

If you like to eat out you will LOVE Austin! We don't eat out very often, but the sheer volume of inviting looking eateries tempted us several times this past week. Here are the places we tried:

Casa de Luz: We met a longtime friend of Hans, Darien, at this organic, vegan, macrobiotic dining and community center. Lunch is $12 and includes all you can eat soup, salad and beverage, plus a plate of whatever is being served that day. The food was healthy and tasty, though we thought it was a little pricey.

Bouldin Creek Cafe: Our RVing buddies, Amy and Rod of Go Pet Friendly fame, stay at Pecan Grove RV park for a couple of months every winter and recommended Bouldin Creek Cafe, saying they'd never had a bad meal there...we'll second that recommendation! Delicious vegetarian creations, breakfast served all day, decent prices, inviting, eclectic decor.

Lucy's Fried Chicken: Fried chicken seems to be a "thing" in Austin (and who am I to turn down a good plate of fried chicken?), and an article on the Austinot blog helped me narrow down my choices. I really liked the chicken, Hans thought it was just okay, he would have preferred a big fat meaty breast but the basket only had small pieces in it. Good cole slaw and flavorful mashed potatoes, though the potatoes were a bit too salty.

Whole Foods Store on Lamar: I've boycotted Whole Foods for ages, I cringed at their prices and pretty much refused to step in their stores for years. But when Amy told us what a unique store this particular Whole Foods was we just had to check it out. It's a flagship store, taking up a whopping 80,000 square feet. There are numerous places to relax and buy a bite to eat within the store: sushi, cookies, bistro, baked goods, a bar...and on and on. It really is an experience and I found some reasonably priced groceries to boot! This store changed my mind about Whole Foods.

Uncle Billy's Brew & Que: Uncle Billy's couldn't be located any better - it's right next door to the RV park. We met Rod and Amy there for a drink one evening and Hans and I stayed for dinner. Tasty brews and smoked chicken, yum!

Hans, Lisa, Amy and Rod at Uncle Billy's.

Moving on...
Today we have a short drive to another RV park on the Eastern edge of Austin where we'll settle in to a calmer environment for a month, continue our explorations of this city and wish fervently for a little sun to warm our bones!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Wrapping Up a Week in San Antonio

While most of our time in San Antonio, TX has been spent exploring various sections of the San Antonio River Walk, we did manage to check out a few of the local natural areas. San Antonio lies at the Southern edge of the Texas Hill Country and the Northern edge of the plains region so there are a couple of different ecosystems to explore.

One day we drove to the North end of the city hoping to hike in Government Canyon State Natural Area...unfortunately I missed the fact that they are closed Tuesday through Thursday so that didn't work out for us. But, just a few miles East are Crownridge Canyon Natural Area and Friedrich Wilderness Park.

Both of these parks are in Hill Country, and the landscape consists of rolling brush covered hills atop a bed of limestone, Texas Live Oaks provide welcome shade. Both parks have a few miles of paved trails and a few miles of natural trails. Friedrich Wilderness Park had one especially challenging trail, the Vista Loop, which traversed rough, exposed limestone shelves that provided a great workout.

The brush was so thick on these trails that photos were pretty much impossible!
Here,the trail is the limestone shelf upon the hillside.

Another day we headed South of town to the Medina River Natural Area. Again, there were several miles of paved trail and a few miles of natural trail. The vegetation was very thick (though still winter brown) and river view points were very few.

Typical view along the Medina River Trail, this would be a great place to ride your bike.

In my last post I described several days worth of exploring we did on the San Antonio River Walk, but we weren't done yet! Only a couple of miles from our RV park (Travelers World) is the lovely King William Historic District. Several blocks of elaborate homes built in the late 1800's are a treat for the eyes and interesting shops and restaurants are nearby on South Alamo Street and just across the river in the Blue Star Arts District.

Historic buildings along River Walk.

These beautiful old homes back up to the river.

Many of the old homes were built using local limestone like the one on the left.

A few fun eateries and art shops are in this complex.

The King William District was so convenient to our RV park and so inviting to stroll we returned there late one day to walk in the cool of the evening and enjoy the waning light of the day.

In search of a public restroom we continued our walk into downtown...the busy part of River Walk.
Saturday evening crowds were out in full force, every restaurant was packed and we were thankful we'd already eaten!

We enjoyed several meals with Travel Bug Susan and Bob, and had a great time getting to know them and their adopted city. On our dark and dreary last full day in town we went to Random Beer Garden, a unique venue in Boerne, TX with 80 craft beers on tap, several food trucks on any day you visit, indoor and outdoor seating, an in-ground jumpy thing for the kiddos, games (like corn hole) for the adults, live music on Friday and Saturday nights...a really neat place to hang out.

Getting goofy with Susan and Bob.

We've had a terrific time in San Antonio and found the weather to be very interesting! The city sits on the Southern edge of the Northern (cold) jet stream and the Northern edge of the tropical (warm) jet daytime temperatures went from quite cold to very warm more than once during our stay. So while Saturday was 80 degrees and humid, our travel day Monday is forecast to be in the 40's and rainy.

We're off to Austin tomorrow where we'll meet up once again with some RVing friends and some longtime friends of Hans.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The San Antonio River Walk

We've settled in to Travelers World RV Resort in San Antonio, TX for a week. We've got a spacious pull through site and the added benefit of a fellow blogger who lives here at the park: Travel Bug Susan. I've enjoyed reading Susan's stories of things to do around San Antonio for years so it's great to be able to spend some time with her in her "backyard".

One of the key activities here for both tourists and locals is to get out and explore the San Antonio River Walk. This 15 mile long path system has a lot to offer including a vibrant downtown scene with many shopping, eating and drinking opportunities, access to museums and art, gardens and the zoo, quiet sections of river walking for birding and exercise, plus access to several historical missions. In the four days we've been here every day has been spent exploring a different section of the River Walk.

The San Antonio River has been manipulated and abused for decades. In 1929 developers first began to consider cleaning it up and making it a park-like oasis through the city. The latest beautification efforts commenced in 1998 and continue today. San Antonio can be proud of its river now. Even though it will never flow as nature intended, it now provides a beautiful ribbon of park through the center of town and a man-made nature preserve through the edges of town.

The day we arrived, Sunday of Presidents Weekend, we braved the downtown crowds so we could go to the visitor center...which happened to be across the street from The Alamo and close to the bustling downtown portion of the River Walk.

It was impossible to get a shot of the Alamo without lots of people in it!

I didn't even bother to take a photo of the busy part of the River Walk...we hustled right through it because it was so crowded!
As soon as we walked North of the downtown hub, the River Walk turned into a calm oasis in the middle of the city.

This charming area has seating tiers on one side of the river and a stage on the other side.
What a neat venue for music!

On our second day in San Antonio we walked a portion of the River Walk right from our campground to the Mission Concepcion, about five miles round trip.

You can see a couple of RV's from our park on the left, backing up to the River Walk.

We spotted new-to-us birds,including this Egyptian Goose.
It's a non native bird that does not compete with native birds.

Turtles enjoy random rays of sunlight on a cold day.

Mission Concepcion was built in the early 1700's and is still used for church services.

Though the river no longer flows a natural course due to man's decades of intervention, the most recent rejuvenation projects include riffles and weirs and other efforts to bring back a natural environment for wildlife...and it's working!

On another very cold morning we joined Travel Bug Susan and her friend Susan on the River Walk from Mission San Jose to Mission San Juan and back.

At Mission San Juan there is a section of the San Antonio River that has never been manipulated by man
(it's so small in its natural state!) you can see it behind Susan, Hans and Travel Bug Susan.

Mission San Juan

Ibis and Egret along the river.

Mission San Jose was beautifully preserved.

The Indian converts were housed in small rooms built in to the Mission compound walls. 

Mission San Jose chapel.

Another day we strolled through Brackenridge Park at the North end of the River Walk and when the connecting trail to the Pearl District turned out to be under construction, we drove to Pearl and resumed our walk along the Museum Reach section of River Walk.

Brackenridge Park is a huge multipurpose park that includes picnic areas, sports fields, the San Antonio Zoo, museums, a Japanese Tea Garden, and an outdoor theater.

Trail art.

Sun bathers.

Bridge art.

The Japanese Tea Garden was a hidden gem!
In 1917 this former rock quarry was turned into a park and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Here is a close up of the pagoda.

Moving on to the Pearl and Museum Reach portions of the River Walk we enjoyed some art along the trail. The Pearl District is currently in the midst of several massive construction projects. It was easy to see that this neighborhood was well on its way to being the hip, happening spot for urban living. We enjoyed a tasty, healthy lunch at Green Vegetarian Cuisine.

Love the fish hanging under the bridge! They light up at night!

You can find tiny art pieces all along the trail...this is only a few inches tall.

We've been fortunate to land in San Antonio at the same time as Eric and Brittany of RV Wanderlust...though for them it's a repair stop for their beloved motorhome, Meriwether. We met up with these two over Maars Pizza, including pizza with brisket (we are in Texas, you know!). It was great fun getting to know them and we just might meet up again as we both head to Austin.