I almost didn’t make it to Austin. Having almost passed out on the train to the airport, I arrived just in time to empty my guts into the nearest toilet, before shuffling through security and onto the plane in an ugly state. Thankfully, the woman assigned to the seat next to me quickly fled in self-preservation, and I was left alone to occupy the row in a foetal position. But this only increased my happiness at seeing Josh and Anna’s faces again when my cab pulled up by our Airbnb home that night. Who’d have thought we’d be reuniting in the capital of Texas?
Mock if you will, but my favourite part of Austin was the Texas Legislature, which is admirably open and welcoming to the public. We strolled into the gallery above the House of Representatives first, who were debating an amendment to allow texting in a car which had come to a complete stop. “The data show that this rule costs lives” one Representative began, before being interrupted by another demanding a source. An assistant duly scurried in with a piece of paper, although not before the first guy clarified meekly that he was still in support of the rule change, despite the higher death rate. It passed by a landslide.
Other highlights included the state’s history museum and the LBJ Presidential Library, at either ends of the University of Texas campus. In between, a pro-Palestine demonstration was loudly and successfully gathering attention away from an Israeli block party, which says something about the liberal Austin vibe. We drove out of the city one morning so we could go swim in the Pedernales River, waited under the Congress Avenue bridge for the famous flight of the city’s bats at dusk, and spun about a thousand bat puns out of the days which followed.
Austin was a great city, but New Orleans was the more special and memorable of the two. We drove – by which I mean, Anna drove us – through Texas and Louisiana in a day, stopping at a farewell-to-Texas steakhouse (where our servers danced and tried out their British accents) and at Louisiana’s welcome centre, where they hand out free coffee and tell you to beware of alligators. New Orleans, though, is clearly a place unto itself. It’s almost impossible to capture properly in photographs, because the most wonderful thing is all of the free music which pours out of every bar and street corner. We wandered from bar to bar each night, drinking Purple Haze and soaking up the atmosphere of blues and jazz.
As you can see, we also went on a swamp tour – not to be missed – and ate all of the right foods. Crawfish etouffee, fried alligator, beignets, snowballs: distinctive cuisine is the other reason to visit NOLA, and it did not disappoint. I should clarify, too, that the creepy display of Confederate flags above was an aberration, and outside the city. The worst thing we saw in New Orleans itself was the trashier end of Bourbon Street, where police led a man out of a strip club while very bored looking strippers looked on. That said, we didn’t wander too far from the historic French Quarter, except to catch the streetcar to and from our house in the Irish part of town. There were plenty of references to Hurricane Katrina, but how much the city is still recovering was left mostly to our imaginations.
More than most American cities, though, New Orleans just feels old and enduring: layers of French and Spanish history pile up in refreshingly narrow, built-before-the-car-came streets. Whenever you make it to visit – and you will want to visit sometime – it’ll be here, ready with music and life.
So: my first trip to the South is complete, and two more states can be scratched off the map. (That’s not a metaphor, it’s an actual scratch map.) More American exploration on the way!
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