Been in Austin for ten days. Using Google Maps and Google Earth, had planned to go to some places in town, especially coffee and beer places.Currently sitting on the patio at Spider House, sipping a rather nice weizen from Live Oak Brewing. Coming in after spending time at Flipnotics, another patio-worthy café. Not that it’s so warm (13°C/55°F) but it’s fun to be on a patio in late December. Been updating my map of “Places of interest in Austin.” Added a few things, changed the color of markers for places I’ve visited. Google Maps Some quick observations.
- Still can’t help but compare with other places. Keep getting “flashes” from many different places. That’s probably what you get when you move 21 times in almost exactly seven years.
- The city was quite empty, the last few days. Typical of a college town. Things seem much better today.
- Good potential for a real coffee scene but, so far, the only two places where coffee was good were JP’s Java and Caffè Medici. These were the top two recommended places in Austin for coffee and espresso, on CoffeeGeek. Not disappointed with either place.
- The beer scene is interesting, overall. Texas has very restrictive beer laws but Texas micros and brewpubs are doing interesting things. Will finally meet some members of the Zealots brewclub tonight. Should be fun to talk about beer. Some of my favorites so far, Real Ale Roggenbier, Uncle Billy’s Bitchin’ Camaro, and this here Live Oak Hefeweisse.
- Maybe I just prefer pulled pork over beef brisket but, so far, I’ve had some really nice pulled pork and the beef brisket has been relatively uninteresting. Can’t wait until I start barbecuing on my own.
- Someone said Austin was a slacker town. Not hard to believe. And it can be fun to be in a place where slacking is ok. For one thing, servers aren’t constantly harassing me to order drinks.
- There seems to be something of a “town and gown” issue, here. Maybe not as much as in Bloomington. But still. It seems like students control part of the town (the cafés/bars) and “normal people” are found elsewhere. One big difference with Bloomington is that people of different ages do seem to mingle, to a certain extent.
- Though we’re luckily located in an ideal part of town for public transportation, Austin really is a car-city. The MidWest is already pretty intense in terms of car-emphasis, Austin is more car-oriented than I expected. For instance, car drivers pay no attention to pedestrians even when turning left while the “walking” light is on. And it might have more to do with the weather than anything else but there seems to be more SUVs and less bicycles than I’d see in the MidWest.
- Public transportation is cheap and rather useful downtown. It seems not to work so well for anyone living at any distance from downtown. There are some free routes, a bus connects the airport with both UT and downtown, and the monthly pass is nice (10$ for 31 days, starting at any point).
- Because the city is spread out, it does seem difficult to do things without a car. Haven’t really felt the need for a car yet and we’ve been lucky enough to get help from a car-owning friend last weekend. Yet a pedestrian lifestyle seems a bit difficult to sustain in Austin. At the same time, the downtown area is relatively small and weather is less of a problem at this point than it could be in Montreal. People keep telling us that the heat of the summer will surely force us to get a car with air conditioning. We’ll see.
- Grocery stores are a bit difficult to get to but they seem rather interesting. By decreasing order of preference, so far: Central Market, H-E-B, Whole Foods. Whole Foods has a good selection for certain products, but it’s quite expensive. Central Market seems to have as good a selection for most things yet its prices are rather decent. At H-E-B, we were able to buy some things (produce especially) for much cheaper than what we might pay in Montreal (where food is very inexpensive). Even though it makes a lot of sense in terms of regional differences, it’s still funny to see that tomatoes or cranberries are much more expensive here than in Montreal while oranges and avocados are significantly cheaper. Overall, we’ll be finding ways not to spend too much on grocery.
- On average, restaurants cost about the same thing as they would in small U.S. cities: less expensive than in Boston but more expensive than in Montreal. Unsurprisingly, Mexican and barbecue restaurants seem to offer the best “bang for the buck.” And there are some places for inexpensive all you can eat pizza. While it’s not the type of food the typical foodie would brag about, it’s nice to have the option.
- Won’t say much about people’s attitudes because it easily gets me to go into “ethnographic fieldwork mode,” which isn’t what I want to do tonight. Let’s just say that it’s part of the adaptation. Not “culture shock.” Just, getting to learn how to behave in a new city.
- Despite the lack of snow and the scattered palm trees, it doesn’t so much feel like a Southern city. Maybe because most Austinites come from other parts of the country. Similarly, it doesn’t really feel like Texas. Maybe the town and gown division has something to do with this.
- There are some nice things to look at but the overall visual aspect of the city isn’t necessarily made to impress. Maybe just my own biases but, to me, Austin looks more like South Bend, Moncton, or Springfield than like New Orleans, Boston, or Chicago.
Overall, an interesting experience so far. Can’t say I really got the pulse of the city, though.