Week 10 of our North America road trip and we’ve driven 16,752kms so far (totalling 1,271kms this week). From Texas through to Louisiana, this week has been all about food and live music – well with a touch of nerdy space center in the middle. The South is probably one of our favourite parts of the road trip so far. Obviously we love food so that’s a big tick, but the culture is so different here. From the bizarre, like Texas’s open carry license where locals can carry handguns in holsters, to the strong French roots of Louisiana.
We started our week with a short drive from San Antonio to our AirBnB in Austin. Anna did a great job of finding us a funky little loft apartment complete with washing machine and drier. I was down to my last pair of underwear so laundry was top priority. We spent the afternoon doing a few loads before we walked into town in search of dinner and entertainment. For dinner, TripAdvisor lead us to a place called Gus’s Fried Chicken and it was the best fried chicken I have ever had. I’m salivating now just thinking about it. The meat was super juicy and tender with the crunchiest fried coating – mmmm. For entertainment, my longtime family friend Joe recommended Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar which he visited last year with some mates. It was a Sunday night so it wasn’t that busy but there was a drunken group from Georgia that were great value. They also saved us a bunch of money because they kept requesting songs and paying the tips. One of the guys even paid $20 for the pianist to play Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. We requested 2 songs but our $2 tips were no match for the big spenders. The pianists were amazing and could play almost any song thrown at them, no matter what era/genre. 6th street is full of live music venues with local bands filling most of the slots. It’s great to see a town that strongly supports the local musicians.
Back in 2008 Melody came to Sydney for a three week vacation. She’s a true Texas girl so I did my best to show her what Sydney was all about. Melody repaid the favour by meeting up with us on Monday and taking us out for the best lunch. In Austin it’s all about food trucks and they’re scattered everywhere. We went for tacos and they were epic, but Melody warned me to only have 2 and save some room for dessert. Next up was the place next door called Gourdough’s Big Fat Donuts. If you think you know donuts have a look at the pics below. I had the Fat Elvis which had grilled bananas and bacon with peanut butter icing and honey. It was seriously so good but very filling. Anna had the Black Out which was a brownie batter doughnut with chocolate and brownie poured all over it. Super rich but so good. Melody also treated us to a list of things to do and places to eat in Austin. It was great to see Melody after such a long time and I hope that she will make it back to Australia for another visit.
With our checklist in hand we got cracking with seeing some sights, but more importantly, eating our way around Austin. We visited the Texas Capitol building and walked around downtown. We went for a walk at Mount Bonnell where there are views of the city and of the mansions that line the river. Lady Bird Lake boardwalk was a good vantage point of the city so we went for a night stroll and took some tripod shots. And now the food… we went to Rudy’s BBQ and had the best BBQ we’ve ever had. Since we were first time visitors they gave us samples of the different meats and their famous creamed corn. The extra-moist brisket was the best thing ever and the creamed corn was delicious. The best part about the restaurants here is that they have a large variety of condiments to perfectly compliment the meal. We were bursting when we left, but very satisfied.
The day we left Austin we needed to make an early start because we were driving straight to the Space Center. We didn’t have time to make breakfast but we did have time to stop for some breakfast tacos on the way out of Austin. I’ve never had my morning coffee with a meal including spicy salsa but it worked. The roads in Houston were the busiest we’ve seen in a while but the carpool lane saved us from getting caught up in the chaos.
I did my best to contain my inner-nerd around Anna at the Space Center. The exhibits were really interesting and they had some great films on the history of space exploration and the next step for NASA – humans on Mars by 2035. We saw a vast collection of tools/vehicles/pods that were used on space missions and we even got to go into a space shuttle mounted on top of a Boeing 747. There were plenty of hands-on exhibits aimed at kids and big kids alike. We went on a tram tour to the astronauts training center where we could see the replica shuttles that they train in as well as prototype testing and robotics. One of my favourites was seeing the Saturn V rocket which was used in the Apollo missions. Since it’s laid down on its side you really get a feel for just how grand these machines are. The thing that blew me away with the Space Center is how many dollars would’ve been spent over the years. Everything looked so expensive. I’m glad Australia doesn’t have a program… we’ll just let the American’s pay for it!
On Thursday we celebrated our second Thanksgiving Day this year. We had Canadian Thanksgiving a month and a half ago, and then this week we celebrated the real Thanksgiving ;-). We were staying in Lafayette and it was a ghost town. The downtown area was all closed up and only some chain restaurants were open. We decided to go to Walmart to buy some groceries and cook dinner using the kitchenette in our hotel room. We saw the start of the Black Friday sale at Walmart which was very entertaining. Customers were excited for a bargain and the local police were there to control the crowd. Apparently last year there was a huge fight between customers as they scrambled to secure sale items. With only a frypan, a microwave and a sink we weren’t able to prepare the traditional roast turkey feast, however we managed to find shaved roast turkey and stuffed it into grilled cheese sandwiches. We had a pre-made salad on the side and a beer to celebrate. Then as a special treat we had microwave popcorn for dessert while we watched a movie. It was a very enjoyable day.
On our way to New Orleans we went on a swamp boat tour to see some alligators and other swamp animals. The captain took us down the Old Pearl River and some streams leading off in search of wildlife. All up we saw three alligators but that means we probably passed ten. They’re very good at blending into their surroundings and hiding in the shallows. As the weather is cooling off they’re starting to commence their hibernation so we didn’t see any huge alligators but it was fun regardless. We also saw wild pigs, racoons, herons and turtles. The pigs were the funniest because the captain lured them over with some feed and they were climbing over each other trying to get to the food.
My first impression of New Orleans was road maintenance required! The roads are in terrible shape but I guess that’s probably taken a backseat to the slow process of fixing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. We stayed in a guesthouse which was a short stroll from the Jazz clubs on Frenchmen St. The accommodation was no-frills but it was clean and the location was central with free parking. New Orleans is known for being a little rough so we wanted a place where it would be safe to walk home at night. The nightlife area flows from Frenchmen into the French Quarter district so we were able to explore without concern.
The architecture of New Orleans, and in particular the French Quarter, was a pleasant change. You wouldn’t say that it reminded you of Europe, but you could definitely feel the French influence on the area first settled with the grid formation of tiny blocks and narrow roads. New Orleans is known for its laid-back party atmosphere and this was in full swing over the Thanksgiving long weekend (although Anna said it was far busier when she went to Mardi Gras with her family).
Everywhere you go in New Orleans there’s live music. From street performers to music clubs to bands playing in restaurants to bands practicing in the park, and I loved it. We roamed from place to place and stopped to listen to various performers. Jazz is definitely a key sound for the area but younger musicians use it as inspiration with more modern genres. We went to The Spotted Cat Music Club which is an institution but tiny club that gets packed for local acts. Other places we chose using our ears.
Food! There are so many dishes that are unique to the south and I wanted to try them all. We had gumbo, creole, fried chicken, jambalaya, po’ boys, Vietnamese style po’ boys, beignets (french doughnuts)… You may have gathered that we didn’t do any cooking and just ate out each meal. The cajun peppers were my favourite part and I’ll be stocking up on some when I get home. The food was typically spicy but not as spicy as we expected, although there was always a bottle of hot sauce on the table to liven things up.
Over the next week we’ll head into Florida and to Orlando for some theme park action (my choice… I’m a big child).
Fail of the Week
We’ve been pretty cautious about not getting pick-pocketed or scammed on our trip but I let my guard down in New Orleans. A local started talking to me as we were walking along the water’s edge and kept telling me that he could guess where and when I got my shoes. Considering I bought them a few weeks earlier in Las Vegas I thought it would be good to let him have a guess. Well he told me he needed to touch them for his psychic abilities to work, but what he did was put shoe shining polish on each shoe and then told me that he’d now shine my shoes for a small fee. He was very smooth with consistent chatter and even pointed out his four year old daughter who was waiting for him. He explained that he shines shoes to make a living and does it to avoid a life of crime. The end result… my 2 week old Nike sneakers that cost me $40 were treated to a $20 shoe shine!
Oh and his guess about when and where I got my shoes… right now on the bottom of your feet. Dan the shoe shining man won that round.
Food of the Week
I can’t narrow it down to one meal so I’ll say all of the Austin food. It really took us by surprise how many options there were at real affordable prices.