I’ll be honest – Texas has been my low point of travelling so far.
A big part of that was due to homesickness. After 4 weeks on the road I was starting to miss my family so I didn’t really have the best attitude towards exploring and seeing new things. In particular I had a few really low days in Austin & Houston.
That’s not to say we didn’t have some fun – there are a few stand out experiences that I’m so happy we got to do. We met some really lovely people, especially in Dallas & San Antonio, and also got to catch up with a few old friends in Houston. But on the whole Texas is not my favourite place that we’ve travelled to.
So because of that – and also because I’m dying to get onto writing about Mexico instead – this is a pretty condensed version of what we got up to in the Lone Star State.
Dallas surprised us a little – we didn’t expect to like it as much as we did! It see’s much less tourism than the likes of Austin (there isn’t even a hostel) so we felt like we got to experience the “real” city rather than just ticking of attractions.
That being said, there is one tourist must-see when in Dallas. The Sixth Floor Museum is dedicated to the life & death of President John F. Kennedy, and it’s located in the same building where his assassination was carried out in November 1963.
There are no photos allowed in the museum, but believe me when I say that looking out the window from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired those fateful shots more than 50 years ago is still very powerful and moving.
You’re always being watched in Texas….
Dallas was also where we tried Couchsurfing for the first time. Essentially, Couchsurfing is like Airbnb but for free – kind people from all over the world offer to put you up in their home for no cost at all. Usually these people are travellers themselves and just enjoy meeting new like-minded people.
The absolute highlight of our visit was the Monday evening when our amazing host Zeke took us to a few of his favourite spots in the city for live music. We hung out at the legendary Balcony Club jazz bar and watched the amazing open-mike performers, then followed that up with some late-night southern rock’n’roll in The Goat. Described as “your neighbourhood blues bar” this place was everything we wanted from Texas!
Austin has a huge reputation. And I think that was part of my problem with it, it just couldn’t live up to the hype. It’s known for being the “live music capital of the world” and many Austin-ites pride themselves on the city’s coolness. “Keep Austin weird” is a popular slogan meant to celebrate the people and businesses that keep it unique.
For me I didn’t see much that I haven’t experienced elsewhere either in Texas or in the USA. Particularly the much-hyped bars and nightlife scene. And to be honest we saw way more (higher quality) live music in Dallas!
Barton Springs park is famous for swimming and kayaking in the natural pools and river. We visited on a hot day and sadly the swimming pool was closed due to cleaning up after recent flooding! Bad luck.
Another Austin attraction is the large colony of bats the live under South Congress Bridge. Every evening before sunset people gather on or next to the bridge to watch the huge cloud of bats appear, apparently a spectacular phenomenon.
We waiting for almost an hour and no bats appeared – just crisp blue skies. More bad luck. Apparently it’s very rare that they don’t all fly out at dusk!
6th Street – one of the main streets for bars in Austin, and where most hostels will take you for a night out. It’s extremely busy, crowded and frankly pretty awful. Unless you like watching college students and drunk tourists throw-up in bins.
That’s not to say there aren’t some stand-out bars & restaurants in Austin. Our favourite was Freedmen’s – it had a great happy hour, the best waiter we met in all of the USA (thanks Dustin!) and Martin got to have his first real Texas BBQ experience.
Apparently the brisket was amazing, life-changing and all those other good things. But even better was the spicy (and veggie) barbecue sauce, which we left with the recipe to! Can’t wait for it to become a summer barbecue staple when we return home.
Houston (we have a problem)
There was only one thing on my Houston to do list when we arrived…NASA!!
Space Center Houston is the official visitor centre of the Johnson Space Center and sits right next to the main NASA complex. As part of the visit you can take a tram tour around the campus and even take a peek inside the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility in Building 9.
You then visit Rocket Park where you can see the restored Saturn V!
The size and grandeur of the rocket weirdly reminded us both of visiting the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok!
This hall also displays large information panels on each of the Apollo missions – we spent ages reading each one, enjoying learning about the moon landings and the astronauts themselves.
Back inside the main body of the Space Center we spent hours during over different artefacts including moon rocks, spacesuits and the original Apollo 17 command module.
Such an amazing day out and it really made me feel like a big kid. Space is fascinating!
San Antonio was our favourite of all the major Texan cities. Warm, friendly and probably the most diverse that we saw. As a tourist there is loads to see, especially if you have an interest in American / Mexican history (which I definitely do now!).
In the heart of the city lies the famous River Walk which most people know for the stretch of bars and restaurants. While that’s good fun, the River Walk also stretches for miles south and connects to the Mission Trail. We hired bikes one afternoon and set off down the trail to explore, first of all to the beautiful Mission San Jose.
There are 5 Mission churches near San Antonio, each established in the 1700’s by Spanish missionaries in a (successful) attempt to spread the Catholic faith amongst the local native people. The history behind each building is fascinating, and at San Jose there was an informative 30 minute video explaining some of the real life stories of the natives.
We also cycled to Mission Conception – much the same as San Jose.
The following day we visited the most famous of all the Texan mission churches – the Alamo. Site of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836, this building is now a museum of sorts about the Texas Revolution and the Mexican-American War.
The history is vast and complex, but essentially Texas (along with California, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada) was Mexican territory and the Alamo tells the tale of how America claimed this huge piece of land.
Hearing the story of the revolution from an American perspective became especially interesting once we arrived in Monterrey, Mexico and visited their museums. Let’s just say both versions of history are not the same….
After soaking up so much information, we were in need of a little fun. $2 Tuesday at the local minor-league baseball stadium sounded perfect!
Everything was $2 – tickets, beers, even hotdogs. Ideal for travellers on a budget and the actual baseball ended up being more entertaining than we expected too!
Come on San Antonio Missions!!