By Linda Smith
A & E Editor
I am a Texas native, but I visited Austin for the first time this November. When fellow Texans and others heard that I had not been to the iconic city, they felt as though I had disregarded a critical Texan duty for over 21 years. Even with all I had heard about this city, I still did not know fully what to expect.
The drive from Dallas was uneventful at best, speckled with random small suburbs and fields that reminded me of my small East Texas town, Troup, TX, that has a population of about 5,000.
As we kept going, the city kept getting weirder. Little dives covered in artful graffiti and the classy establishments near the capitol all fit together seamlessly, modern urbanism mingling with the large expanse that was this interesting city.
I went for the Fun Fun Fun Fest, but other than that, I did not really do the “typical” things that visitors of Austin do. I did not try to take pictures at every piece of famous Austin graffiti. I did not watch for the bats off of the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. I did not spend all night, any night amongst the many establishments of Sixth Street. I did not eat zany variations of tacos at any meal and I did not make my way to UT Austin or the Alamo Drafthouse.
However, I did frequent Auditorium Shores, a large public park along Lady Bird Lake, and walked across the Congress Avenue Bridge with other pedestrians leaving the festival grounds. I went to several of the hundreds of live music venues all with such different but appealing characters, such as the ethereal yet grounded Belmont, grungy yet bright Mohawk and plush yet inviting Parish. I went to Turntable Records, a place so packed with records, crates, T-shirts and CDs that I barely found the Tom Petty shirt and Simon & Garfunkel CD I now own. I mixed and mingled with festival folks, and at the end of the night, slept gloriously at HI-Austin hostel.
This trip was wonderful for two big reasons. First, Austin was reminiscent of some of my smaller European excursions from my Rome semester. The city is divided by a beautiful lake, and reminded me of the beauty of rivers all over Europe, including the Tiber in Rome, the Thames in London, the Seine in Paris and, my personal favorite, the Danube in Budapest. I stayed in a hostel, a small place that was just the right size to fit all of us festival goers and general travelers. It was diverse; I met at least two British people in town for the British-based Judas Priest show at the festival, and a few Australian women there to see Courtney Barnett.
The second reason that convinced me that my Austin excursion was the best, though, was that I was able to enjoy the city my way. While Austin boasts a beautiful dichotomy that unites varying groups of people and is marked by its famous landmarks, I believe approaching a city with so much hype without bias or expectations also allows for the optimal experience. By doing this, you can find out for yourself that breakfast nachos are the best thing to have graced this planet, that the small bar you go to at night can change your whole perspective on a familiar band, and that every city has its hidden greatness that is not featured on a touristy webpage.