City of the Violet Crown

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I love travel. I yearn for it. I need it and I want it. It is a true passion and joy of mine. And so to ring in my birthday, I wanted to set my feet on new ground. I decided on the growing increasingly popular Austin, Texas; a new destination for me, and a fun place to visit!

My friend Hillary met me in Austin on Friday night and our first stop was dinner at Trudy’s. We went to the original location, which is tucked in a residential area, and a Tex Mex staple since 1977. Before our table was ready, we waited in their outdoor area and drank excellent margaritas. Always an indication of a good Mexican restaurant. Another sign of a good restaurant is to judge their chips and salsa. Trudy’s passed with an A++. So delicious! And I was very happy to find Flautas on their menu, which are my favorite Mexican dish, but not very common. I was having a fabulous birthday dinner! I highly recommend Trudy’s to anyone visiting Austin! http://www.trudys.com/trudys-central.php

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At the original Trudy’s Texas Star location

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Trudy’s has a great bar and ourdoor patio area.

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Enjoying a delicious Margerita! Happy Birthday to me!

We had a lot to fit into 48 hours in Austin, so we were up and at ’em on Saturday. Our first stop of the day was the State Capitol Building in downtown Austin. Standing 14 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol (those Texans gotta do everything bigger!), it is a gorgeous pink granite structure that was completed in 1888. The “sunset red” granite was mined from Marble Falls, Texas, about 45 miles northwest of Austin.  The Texas Capitol is the largest capitol at 360,000 square feet of floor space; though the tallest capitol is Louisiana’s, but our tour guide said they cheated because their capitol is a tower instead of the traditional dome haha. In 1993 the four-story, underground Capitol Extension was completed; since the site is protected as a historical landmark the addition had to be constructed underneath the Capitol. From the ground level you can hardly tell there is double the square footage as the original building lurking underneath.

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The Texas State Capitol

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The Capitol is located in downtown Austin and is the fourth building to house the state government of Texas.

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Originally the building was to be constructed entirely of limestone, but the limestone was found to have a high iron content after it began to discolor. Thus,  granite became the alternative.

It was a busy day at the Capitol as it was one of the very rare Saturdays that the Senate and House of Representatives were in session. We wandered around on our own for a bit and then we hopped on a tour of the capitol building and had a great and funny tour guide. I didn’t know much about Texas’  history and learned a great deal from the tour. Have you heard the phrase, “the six flags over Texas”? I had (common example is the Six Flags amusement parks), but didn’t know what it meant. The six flags refer to the six nations that have governed Texas: Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, United States of America, and Confederate States of America. The seals of the Six Flags Over Texas are depicted in the mosaic on the floor of the rotunda. The flags are also shown on the reverse side of the Seal of Texas.

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In the Capitol rotunda hangs portraits of every person who has served as president of the Republic of Texas or governor of the State of Texas. But there are only 7 spaces left for portraits of the governors, and they are unsure of a solution.

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Also, when a new governor portrait is commissioned, they move every portrait down one space. It’s a four day process.

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The Capitol dome’s interior

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The mosaic in the rotunda’s floor depicting the seals of the six nations that have governed Texas: The “Six Flags Over Texas”.

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A skylight in the underground floors of the Capitol Extension.

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Every hinge in the Capitol is stamped with this label and weighs 8 pounds.

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Also, every door knob in the Capitol has a star.

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The statue atop the Capitol is the Goddess of Liberty. This is an aluminum replica of the white bronze original that now resides in the Texas Memorial Museum.

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Texas is a very proud state. They were their own country for 10 years. Next to every U.S. Flag you will also find a Texas flag. Other than on government buildings I don’t recall seeing the Missouri flag flying anywhere else in Missouri. Though you may find the confederate flag here and there. Though I digress…back to Texas!

After touring the Capitol, we drove directly south into the funky neighborhood of South Congress. With an unobstructed view of the Capitol down Congress Ave, this street is lined with eclectic and unique shops, restaurants, galleries, vintage boutiques, and a semi-permanent strip of food trucks. Beginning in the 1830s Congress Avenue tried to become a prominent thoroughfare and tourism destination. But it wasn’t until the completion of a reliable bridge over the Colorado River from downtown in 1910, and then the addition of  the streetcar down South Congress in 1920, that the area finally grew into its original design as a commercial district filled with restaurants, shops and hotels. South Congress transformed into a cultural mecca during the 1970s when artists and musicians moved into the area and helped create the eclectic and artsy neighborhood it’s famous for today.

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South Congress Avenue leads directly into downtown Austin, ending at the state capitol.

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Some famous stores along S. Congress are Allens Boots, Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, Uncommon Objects, and Friends of Sound.

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The line of food trucks along S. Congress feature tacos, falafel, hot dogs and bratwursts.

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The food trucks are a popular food destination for S. Congress.

Hillary and I bought hand-painted shirts depicting Austin and I also bought a hand-made necklace. We then grabbed lunch at Guero’s Taco Bar which resides in an 1800s feed and seed store. The vibe was rustic and warm, and the food was delicious! We grabbed dessert at the funky and cute Hey Cupcake. Also delicious and a must-stop if you’re in Austin!

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Our lunch destination!

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The front patio area of Guero’s

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Inside Guero’s

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We ordered from the menu, but you can also make your own tacos from their taco bar.

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Ready for lunch!

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Hoping to spot Sandra Bullock or Ryan Gosling while dining here 😉

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Notice how there are potatoes instead of rice…that’s Tex Mex for you! The South meets Mexico. 🙂

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Austin’s famous Amy’s Ice Cream established in 1984.

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Hey Cupcake has been a South Congress staple since 2007.

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I got The Standard (vanilla cake with chocolate buttercream icing) and Hillary ordered the Michael Jackson (chocolate cake with cream cheese icing).

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Yum!

To cool off from the afternoon heat, we headed to Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park. Though Barton Springs Pool is man-made, it sits in the channel of Barton Creek and is filled by water from Main Barton Spring (aka Parthenia), which is the fourth largest spring in Texas. The spring’s flow is located near the diving board, and keeps the pool at a near constant temperate range between 68 and 72 degrees.

Before Barton Springs Pool became the recreational hot spot it is today, the Native Americans used the springs in rituals believing them to be sacred and pure. In the 17th century the Spaniards discovered the springs and erected missions at the site. In the 1830s, William Barton (the spring’s namesake) settled the area and, recognizing the value in the springs, promoted the area as a tourist attraction. And today the swimming hole is still a popular destination for tourists and Austinites!

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Barton Springs is a gorgeous blend of nature and modern convenience.

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After Barton Springs was deeded to Austin in 1918, the city renovated the pool by damming the springs to create a larger swimming area and building sidewalks.

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Mr. Barton named the three separate springs after his three daughters: Parthenia, Eliza, and Zenobia.

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The water was still a little chilly, but it was a hot day, so we braved the cool water and swam.

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Barton Springs Pool is a very popular outdoor destination in Austin.

After enjoying the sun and cool water at Barton Springs, Hillary and I’s next stop on our Austin tour was to see the bats! Yes, I said bats. The bats of Austin are Mexican free-tailed bats and are the largest urban bat colony in North America. They reside under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin which goes over Lady Bird Lake of the Colorado River. The bats moved in when the bridge was renovated in 1980, creating narrow but deep gaps between the concrete structures that provide perfect cave-like accommodations for the bats.

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The Congress Avenue Bridge over Lady Bird Lake, which is a part of Texas’ Colorado River (different from THE Colorado River).

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Me with the “bat bridge” in the background

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We are on our way to see the bats! I had to stop to take in this beautiful view of Austin’s skyline.

Between a range of 750,000 to 1.5 million bats call this bridge home and every night they emerge from underneath the bridge at dusk to spend the night hunting and feeding. The black cloud of bats flying out from the bridge can last about 2 hours, but they all return at various hours through the night. And approximately 1,000 people come to the bridge to watch this nightly emergence. The bats have become an icon of Austin and a huge tourist attraction.

You can watch the bats on the bridge itself or along the river, but the best way is to be under the bridge itself! So Hillary and I booked a boat tour with Lone Star Riverboat, and had prime seats to see the bats emerge! I also would highly recommend taking a boat tour, because we first road down the river along Austin’s skyline and learned about Austin’s history. It was very informative and a great way to enjoy the sun setting over downtown Austin.

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This is our boat, the Lone Star Riverboat.

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We are ready to see the bats!

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There are 8 bridges that span Lady Bird Lake, including two pedestrian-only bridges.

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This is the only building in Austin on the shoreline as it was built before the strict zoning laws that now prohibit buildings along the shore.

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People are gathering on the Congress Avenue Bridge to watch the bats emerge beneath them.

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The bats are migratory, spending their summers in Austin and the winters in Mexico.

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Until 2001 no building could be taller than the State Capitol Building. So Austin’s skyline is still pretty young and mostly residential.

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The emergence of the bats normally occurs around 8 to 8:30 pm.

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A downside of seeing the bats is the smell. I mean, it is home to a million bats so it’s going to smell. But we got really lucky because it was windy the night we went, so we didn’t have to endure the stench.

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Such an amazing sunset!

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An old nickname for Austin is “City of the Violet Crown”, which is derived from the violet hue that adorns the city at sunset and sunrise.

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Since Austin’s human population is about 750,000, there are more bats than people in Austin during summer.

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The bridge bats have become an integral part of Austin’s cultural identity.

Unfortunately I could not capture the bats’ emergence on my camera, but you can see them on some video I took! 

After the bats, we grabbed dinner downtown and headed to 6th Street to enjoy the Austin nightlife. 6th Street is the heart of Austin’s entertainment scene and a popular nightly destination for Austinites and tourists. 6th Street, previously known as Pecan Street, is lined with historical buildings and homes dating back to the 1800s. These historic structures now house bars, live music venues, restaurants, art galleries, shops and cafes. Since the 1970s this area has been a major entertainment district, and the street is generally blocked off from cars due to the large amount of pedestrian traffic to the area. 6th Street gave off a Bourbon Street/Venice, CA type of vibe to me. It’s a great place to bar crawl and enjoy live music.

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The entertainment center of 6th Street is 7 blocks long from Congress to IH 35.

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6th Street is a popular event and festival destination including SXSW (South by Southwest), Pecan Street Festival, Austin Mardi Gras celebration and The Republic of Texas Bikers Rally.

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6th Street is the heart of Austin’s live entertainment scene.

On Sunday, we attempted to eat at Austin’s famous Stubb’s for BBQ but the line was incredibly long (poor planning on our part since we arrived at the height of the lunch crowd), and our tummies were grumbling too much to wait. So we hit the road and started the drive to Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. We grabbed lunch at Whataburger along the way, and although it is fast food, if you are ever in Texas you HAVE to eat a Whataburger hamburger. So good! The first time I ate one was on a spring break trip to Galveston, TX in college, and I hadn’t had once since then! I was long overdue for Whataburger.

We arrived at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in the early afternoon and it was a beautiful day to spend outdoors. The Wildflower Center  is a public botanical garden that was established in 1982 by Former first lady Lady Bird Johnson and actress Helen Hayes. Lady Bird’s goal in creating this wildflower center was to protect and preserve North America’s native plants and natural landscape. The gardens feature native plants of the Central Texas Hill Country, South and West Texas, and there are several mild walking trails that display the conservation of these plants and the landscape of Texas. http://www.wildflower.org/

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Entrance to Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

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In 2006, the Center became an Organized Research Unit of the University of Texas at Austin.

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This is the Display Gardens that feature 23 separate theme beds plants native to the Texas Hill Country.

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The state flower of Texas is the Texas Bluebonnet.

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Me no gusta! And yes, a fear a butterflies is a real phobia! It’s called Lepidopterophobia.

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There are several mild trails to choose that showcase the flowers and landscape of Texas.

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Part of the Savannah Trail

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We spotted a red cardinal in the trees.

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The Wildflower Center also features exhibit centers and research facilities devoted to conserving rare and endangered flora.

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Some wildflowers on the Savannah Trail

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Indian Blanket wildflowers

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Entering the Texas Arboretum

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This is the Hall of Texas Heroes where (one day) historically significant trees will form a circle to signify Texas history.

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More wildflowers 🙂

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Posing with the wildflowers 🙂

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There’s a beautiful shaded area with swings from trees for visitors to enjoy. I fully embraced my inner child!

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Enjoying some down time at the swings before heading to the airport.

Sunday night I hopped a flight back to LA and I was sad to leave Austin. It was a whirlwind of a weekend and jam-packed with visiting as many Austin sights as possible, and I loved every minute of it. Austin is a fast-growing city, but it still holds the charm of Texas and hospitality of the South. I can’t wait to go back and enjoy a more relaxed vacation in Austin, and hopefully attend one of their famous festivals such as SWSW or Austin City Limits. Keep Austin Weird!

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Me with the statue of a famous Texan: Willie Nelson

6 Comments on “City of the Violet Crown

    • Kayla that was very interesting. I have never been to Austin but you know I would love to see the bats!!!
      Aunt Dana

      • Thanks Aunt Dana! We will have to visit Austin together and see the bats! 🙂

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