Deep in the Heart of Texas

In 2 weeks, after 3 long months, I will be going home. I will only be there for a week, but it is enough. Austin holds a place in my heart that will never be given to anywhere else. Austin is where I was raised, and it is what inspired me to live the life I am now living. Its rich culture and deep diversity are one of the things that inspired me to travel.

One of the (many) things that is so special about Texas is that it has 7 major cities, and each of them extremely unique from the rest. Austin is no exception. It is not only the home of the state’s capitol and governor, it is also home to a vibrant and extremely diverse population. When a city has the slogan “Keep Austin Weird”, you know you’re in for an interesting experience. However, Austin is special to me for another reason: it is my home.  I was not born in Austin, or even Texas, but when asked where I’m from I will always respond, “I am a Texan, specifically and Austinite.” Austin, and Texas, have a way of becoming a part of who you are. I may have dreams of traveling the world and living in many different cities, but I know deep in my heart that ultimately I will end up back in Austin. It’s my home.

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The Austin skyline on New Years Eve, 2013

There so many things that make Austin unique that I could probably write a book on it. However, there are a few things that are very special to me. One of these is Dominican Joe’s, a small coffee shop on South Congress. It’s run by a family friend, but there’s another thing that makes it extremely special to me. Most of the proceeds go to a small school in the Dominican Republic, Makarios, where I have spent the last three spring breaks with classmates. The children I played with and taught for a week in the DR are featured in pictures hung on the walls. Whenever I am missing their smiling faces all I have to do is drive to my favorite coffee shop. Not to mention, the coffee tastes pretty amazing.

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Credit: Preston Glace

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Domincan Joe’s after a very cold 5K

  Austin has some of the best food in the nation. When I left for college, I admit I was more homesick for the trailer park food vendors than I was for home-cooked meals. Weird, but true. Austin is famous for its trailer park eateries. They are scattered in little clusters all over the city, like tiny hidden gems (thanks to the strung up lights they literally sparkle at night)

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I’ve eaten at countless trailers, however there are a few that have a very special place in my heart (or rather stomach). One of the best desserts in life are cupcakes. Cupcakes can make an sad day better, and Austinites are very aware of this, because we have the best cupcakes in the world. Dallas may have one of the world’s first cupcake ATMs, but we have Hey Cupcake. I don’t know a single Austinite who would trade Hey Cupcake for a cupcake ATM. Located in one of Austin’s famous trailer food parks, it’s hard to miss the massive pink cupcake perched atop the silver Airstream trailer. Honestly, on my birthday I would take a box of red velvet cupcakes from Hey Cupcake over a traditional birthday cake any day. They’re just that good.

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There are times I have been talking with my roommate (from Maryland) about home and she get’s a really confused look on her face, and usually the only way to explain is to simply say “It’s a Texas thing.” Well, breakfast tacos are most definitely a Texas thing, and no one does breakfast tacos better than Torchy’s Tacos. While Virginia Tech students have Dunkin Donuts for breakfast, University of Texas students have Torchy’s Tacos for breakfast, and that’s one of the very times I am jealous of a UT student. Their slogan is “Damn good” and I couldn’t agree more. I told my mom when she picks me up from the airport for Thanksgiving break she had better have a Torchy’s Taco with her or I am getting right back on the plane. They are just that good. Also, what’s the best way to know you are in a politically diverse city? The most popular taco shop has tacos named “The Democrat”, “The Republican”, and “The Independent.”

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For those who prefer a more traditional breakfast, look no further than Kerbey Lane Cafe, which makes the best pancakes in the entire world (sorry IHOP). While it’s not sold out of a trailer like most Austin staples, it is still very much a treasured place. I went there after most homecoming and prom dances with my friends, whether it was 2am or 4am. Nothing can compare to the taste of a Kerbey Lane pancake late at night with friends.

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Credit: Preston Glace

While food is a huge part of the Austin experience, it is not the only thing that defines Austin. Another thing is the architecture. One of the reasons I fell in love with Virginia Tech was the architecture of the campus, and I have Austin to thank for my love of architecture. On 6th street you can find bars of all shapes and sizes, some even painted a wide variety of colors. If you venture into the historical district, you can find the gorgeous plantation homes that the south is so famous for. In fact, the majority of UT’s sororities are housed in these plantationesque homes. Then there’s the skyline, which may not be the most striking compared to that of New York City or Los Angeles, but has such a unique array of buildings that it can’t be mistaken for anywhere else. There’s the Frost Tower, which lights up at night to create a stunning display of glasswork. There’s the capitol, which is one the 6 in the nation that is taller than the US capitol, and was recently cleaned and restored to it’s dark brown hue. There’s nothing that instills Texas pride in me more than driving down Congress and seeing the Capitol straight ahead, standing tall.

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Then there is a part of Austin that is undeniably a part of the core of Austin and is even a core part of my life, and that is the University of Texas at Austin. If you live in Austin, there is a 100% chance you have met a UT student or grad. If you live in the state of Texas, there is a 99% chance you have met a UT student or grad. It is a central part of Texas, and definitely of Austin. Whether you have friends that attend the university, or have run in the Texas Relays that take place on UT’s track, or have hired/worked for a UT grad, or have friend’s whose parent’s are alum, chances are if you live in Austin, you have a connection to UT. It is also very hard to miss those burnt orange rooftops, and the UT tower standing tall and proud. Personally, two of my best friends are currently attending the university. In fact, most of the pictures in this post (and the pictures in future posts) have been shot by my friend Preston Glace, a Radio-Television-Film major at UT and extremely talented photographer.

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Credit: Preston Glace

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Credit: Preston Glace

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Credit: Preston Glace

  

Austin is referred to as the “Live music capital of the world,” and with music festivals like SXSW and ACL, along with countless outdoor concert venues, this is hard to dispute. One of my favorite memories of senior year was seeing the 1975 live at Stubbs the night before graduation. Stubbs is the main venue to go see live music in Austin, at least for the smaller shows.

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Credit: Preston Glace

Then there is the winter holiday season in Austin. Christmas and New Years are my absolute favorite holidays, and Austin makes them even easier to love. Congress Avenue lampposts are decorated with decorative snowflakes, store fronts are adorned with christmas lights and decorations, and Zilker Park can probably be seen from space thanks to the Trail of Lights. It’s a family tradition to walk the trail of lights every year on the first weekend of Christmas Break. There is nothing that gets me in the Christmas spirit more than walking down that trail in the freezing cold, hot chocolate in hand, while christmas songs float out of massive speakers. Another family tradition is heading downtown on New Year’s Eve to see the fireworks. There’s live music (obviously, it’s Austin), food trailers, and all sorts of family activities on the shores of Town Lake. Then at 10pm, the skyline is lit up by massive fireworks. It’s an essential Austin experience.

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Trail of Lights 5K 2013

One last thing I love, though not necessarily an Austin thing, are the massive thunderstorms. There is nothing quite like a Texas thunderstorm. They are few and far between, but when they come people will stop what they are doing and simply watch the spectacular lightning displays. My friend Preston was able to capture a stunning image during a recent thunderstorm that really captures the essence and power of a Texas thunderstorm.

1010795_4764777735118_5557592282592882490_nNot only is Austin is a special place full of diverse people, it is also my home. When I get homesick, I think of these things; the thunderstorms, the food, the architecture, the people. All of these things combine to make Austin, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences in Austin for anything.

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