Monday, May 28, 2012

RT12 Day 6: Austin Part 1

Day 6, the halfway point in the 12-day trip. Hard to believe it's halfway over! Staying in Austin for a few days is proving to be a nice break, a way to regroup before undertaking the rest of the drive home to Ohio. Dad arrived last night, and we've spent the day exploring campus and driving around town, familiarizing ourselves with different parts of the city.

Walking around UT's campus this morning, I immediately felt comfortable there, in part because it reminds me a lot of Ohio State. As an OSU alum, I'm used to huge state schools, huge both in campus size and in student population. So I found myself playing a little involuntary game of compare and contrast. Not in a better-or-worse way, just in a same-or-different way. Because, really, I love Ohio State's campus, and I suspect I'll love UT's as well.

Here's Guadalupe street, which borders campus on the west, and is the Austin analogue of Columbus's High street. The requisite Chipotle, coffee shops, and fro-yo. Oh, and don't forget the Church of Scientology.

In roaming campus without a particular agenda, we stumbled upon the football stadium. It's impressive, to say the least, with a capacity of over 100,000 and a building cost well over $3 million in today's dollars. (But Ohio Stadium again beats it out on both counts, seating 102,000 and a coming in at a cool $18.6 mill.) The architecture of the Longhorns' stadium reminds me not so much of the 'Shoe but of the Schott:

Texas squirrels are much more similar to Ohio squirrels than to their California counterparts, in terms of determination, fearlessness, and narcissism. This one even posed for a picture after dumpster diving to score some lunch:

The most widely recognizable symbol of the university is the Tower. (Its real name, apparently, is the Main Building... blame them for calling it the Tower?) Of course, this is much more reminiscent of Cal's campanile than any building at OSU. I suppose the postcard picture of OSU would feature an aerial shot of the oval and the newly-renovated main library? Who needs a tower when you've got... a big field of grass? 

Would you believe that this next building houses biology and chemistry classes? To think that for my two years as a chemistry graduate student, I was stuck working in a dingy basement, in a 90+ year old building. And that was at the top-ranked chemistry program in the nation! Hmph. 

This campus has no shortage of statues, most involving livestock of some sort. The kid is holding a lamb. I like sheep too much to imagine what happens next. Thank God they don't look like they're going anywhere anytime soon.

So we had some statue fun:

Dad was patient enough to indulge me:

I was surprised how much green there was on campus. There is no equivalent of OSU's Mirror Lake, but there are quiet little creeks like the ones I loved at UCB:

And a turtle pond! A whole pond just for turtles! Definitely an edge over OSU. Although I'm skeptical about the quality of their living conditions. I mean, I probably wouldn't be happy if I had moss growing on my back. I wonder if they even know...

Around noon, we'd had enough of the heat and humidity and hopped in the car to explore Austin and grab some food. Because it's Memorial Day, many of the bridges crossing the river were closed, so we took a detour down Congress Ave, which turned out to be great! South Congress is a vibrant neighborhood with lots of great restaurants and shops, and happy people wearing sunglasses. We got lunch at a Mexican place, Guero's Taco Bar. These Texas-sized vegan chalupas were delicious:

We spent most of the afternoon in the car. After an abortive attempt to hike at Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve (good job, Katie, for checking if it's open on holidays), we decided to drive around and get a feel for some of the neighborhoods, like Hyde Park and East Austin. Then we ended up downtown. If I had a quarter for every time someone has told me over the past few months "You'll love Austin" or "You'll have a great time there"... (I'd buy you an exotic pet, like a llama, or an emu. 5 points if you know.) Walking around downtown, I started to realize what all the hype is about. So many great restaurants, so much to do, but still a comfortable, friendly, neighborhood feel -- a huge plus over Berkeley, in my (probably minority) opinion. And it's walking distance from campus, a big plus over Columbus. 

After recharging our batteries, both figurative and literal, in the air-conditioned hotel room, we walked back downtown for dinner at Cru Wine Bar -- goat cheese beignets with honey, lavender, and cracked pepper, wild mushroom pizza with fontina and white truffle oil for the herbivore, and ahi tuna for the omnivore. Key lime cheesecake for dessert. Perfect end to a good day. Austin, I'm impressed!

And, look, we found a swing! (I'm almost 25, I promise.)

Tomorrow,  I get to meet with professors from the Middle Eastern Studies department. I guess I better act my age...

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