Monday, 30 August 2010
Austin is hot and humid but cooler than Bahrain so we've spent the weekend lapping up the sunshine and on Saturday the miles by driving through the Hill Country (rolling hills with oak and mesquite trees) to Fredericksberg. The idea had been to have lunch at the Brewery but having had one too many sherberts the night before whilst enjoying the music scene on 6th Street we were a little late having breakfast at Annie's before setting off. Annie's is a cavernous place that serves Texas style breakfasts like tacos stuffed with spicy omelette mixture with lashings of coffee and toast. A full English comes with a bowl of fresh fruit like strawberries but no beans, tomatoes or black pudding!
We drove west along the highway to Fredericksberg stopping occasionally including purchasing $6 worth of fresh peaches from one of the many roadside stalls (a huge brown paper bag full that will keep us in peaches all week). If you have never tasted a freshly picked peach you will have no idea how wonderful they are; sweet, juicy but firm and flavoursome, no comparison with the often soggy or unripe imports we islanders find in the supermarkets. The town itself is picture postcard "cute", mostly limestone buildings on the main street leading into and out of a huge open area, we Brits would call a park but the German founders of this town referred to as the Market Square. The street is lined with shops selling touristy things, hunting shooting & fishing gear, food and the brewery. It was crowded with tourists mostly Americans with a few Japanese but still a pleasant place to while away an hour or so.
Sunday morning Kevin wanted to buy some books on Networks so we headed to a large Borders store (yes the chain is a live and well still in the USA) out of town at The Domain. This is a brand new outdoor mall built around a number winding tree-lined streets, more British in style than anything else I've encountered in the USA. Several large department stores are dotted at the ends of each street whilst a mix of local and high street chains fill the streets. At the various intersections small tree filled plaza's are surrounded by restuarants and coffee shops. If you've ever visited Walton on Thames' Heart shopping centre the architecture is similar with several floors of apartments over the shops and further blocks of apartments and hotels nearby, just on a much bigger scale as the whole would match Kingston's town centre. We tried to get a light lunch but realised we'd failed yet again when the waitress asked what sides we wanted with our sandwich. Kevin had a meatball sandwich (3 balls in a scoped out crusty roll filled with a tomato sauce) served with roast potatoes and I had a chicken roll (two chicken breasts with melted cheese and spinach), a cauliflower salad on the side. We shared the sides and the efficient staff automatically refilled our soft drinks as soon as the glasses reached a third full. Two stuffed people rolled out of the door an hour or so later!
Just a little further up the creek is the Barton Springs pool, an idyllic swimming hole created a by a small dam across the creek. This is a legendary local oasis. The waterside has been concreted, the banks cleared of trees and grassed over and at the top there are changing facilities. However apart from that and the diving board this is fairly as nature created it complete with rough rock bottom and a certain amount of weed, right in the middle of the city. The spring feed pool was very chilly after the heat of the sun but extremely refreshing and you soon adjusted. I enjoyed a lazy swim to the lower reaches of the couple of hundred yards long pool and back. It was late afternoon and when the clouds came over it was pleasant just to join the locals sitting on the side dangling feet in the cool water chatting and drying off. They made more recommendations about places to eat, swim or simply enjoy the nightlife so I'll let you know when we've explored some more.
Following on from the squirrel and the turtles some more quirky views of Austin can be found here
Wednesday, 25 August 2010
Now I am used to two petrol station methods:
- UK: drive in, get out and place noozle in car, wait a few seconds whilst they take a picture of your registration plate, fill up then go into the shop and pay seventy plus pounds sterling for forty litres or so of fuel
- Bahrain: drive in, open window say fill up please, scruffy middle aged man fills the car and you hand over a couple of Bahraini dinars for your forty or so litres of fuel and you might even get a few Fils change.
Once I'd got the unfamiliar car on the right side of a pump I got out, opened the filler cap and inserted the noozle. Nothing. Peering at the pump I noticed two things, firstly a sun-faded notice stating that as drive offs were common I needed to pre-pay and secondly that there was a credit card payment slot on the pump (and yes I have used these in the UK). I returned the noozle to its holder and rummaged for my card. Inserting it and removing it quickly as instructed produced no result. After a couple of tries I gave up and went in to speak to the garage attendant.
He spoke... I said pardon... he repeated his low growl slightly slower and more clearly; "10 bucks, 20 bucks or 30 bucks ma'am?" Uh? Fuzzy, slightly hung over, still sleepy brain panicked as it realised it had to do some maths (or is that math). Average small white car takes 30 or 40 litres, not quite empty so say the former. "How much is petrol?" I ask brightly. Blank look from man behind counter. "Look ma'am I'm trying to help you " and he repeats his initial litany of amounts.
"How much a litre?" I ask innocently. The man looks very disconcerted
"No ma'am 'Gallons'.... 2.55, no" he paused "2.51 per gallon, I changed it this morning"
Brain vaguely in gear...2.5 litres per gallon, 2.5 bucks a gallon so 30 bucks would possibly give me 30 litres of fuel? Not certain I could trust my maths this early in the morning but I decided to go for it. "30 please".
I was not out of the woods yet. Card swipped and receipt signed (chip and pin doesn't seem to have reached Austin) I headed back to the pump. Noozle in car, press leaver. Nothing. Try again still nothing. I looked round as the attendant knocked on his window and made jerky movements upwards with hand. I peered at the pump again. Beside the other two noozles were small labels stating pump on and pump off but not by the noozle I was using. Finally I realised that you need to lift up the noozle rest in order to turn the pump on. Machinery whirred, fuel flowed and 30 bucks worth just squeezed into the tank. At least I could still do maths in this strange land. Next time Kevin can fill up.
Monday, 2 August 2010
Later it was Barclays Bank Trophy day - handicap dinghy racing for a cup donated around 10 years ago by said bank. I took part on (rather than in) a Topper. For those uninitiated in sailing the Topper is a slim plastic bathtub-sized, indestructable dinghy. The red deck and once white hull are instantly recognisable as is the multi-coloured single sail that needs lots of wind to make this boat skim over the water. The Topper is really designed for teenagers but still can be fun for a middle aged adult. For once, despite the light winds I managed to complete all 3 races which is something of a personal best but the lack of wind meant even with the massive handicap the Topper has I couldn't get a placing much above last but one! However I don't do it for the prizes but for the peace and enjoyment of a bit of constructuve drifting round the River Thames on a sunny Sunday afternoon sitting on the leeward side of the boat. For relaxation there is nothing better but for the next few days my neck, legs and arms will remind me that there is no gain without pain.