Last year, when I went on vacation in Mazatlãn, Mexico, my group followed the keen advice of a columnist in Arthur Frommer's magazine Budget Travel and rented a century-year-old home in the historic district. I'm planning to stay closer to home this year, but I still check the Budget Travel Web site for deals, and I especially like the blog. Imagine my surprise this week to find my hometown of Austin on the editors' Top 10 Destinations To Watch list for 2009—sharing company with Berlin, Budapest, Cambodia, Hawaii, Mexico, Panama, Reykjavik, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C.(I'm not sure why the editors narrowed some places down to the city, and went for states or even countries in others, but no matter.)
Over coffee at Sweetish Hill on West 6th St in Austin, Architect Hal Box shared his thoughts on the new book he's writing about plazas in Mexico. He and coauthor Logan Wagner (Texas A&M University School of Architecture) have measured 90 plazas and have an extensive collection of drawings and photographs to accompany the drawings.
When we're hungry, but not in the mood for 'cue in our favorite Hill Country town, we find a booth at Stonewall's Pizza, Wings and Things on Llano's courthouse square (101 W. Main). While there this past weekend, our group indulged in the fried-chicken salad (with honey-mustard dressing), cheeseburgers (delicious, doughy buns; served with battered fries), and a sausage-and-pepperoni pizza (wonderful crispy-but-chewy crust). We topped it off with Blue Bell Cotton Candy milkshakes! Yes, there are healthier items on the menu, including a turkey sandwich that my cousin swears by. By the way: On the edge of town on Texas 29, I noticed what must be a new place that sells bottle trees (anyone been there?). The shop was closed when we passed by, but the displays of colorful glass radiating in the late-day sun had me rethinking my backyard landscape on the drive home.
I was recently visiting with a friend who works in the hotel business in Austin, and she and I discussed a trend I'm seeing more of these days: As the national economy feels a squeeze, hotels aren't necessarily lowering their rates, but they are offering more package deals—reserve two nights and get a third for free, a restaurant credit with a night's lodging, wine-and-cheese basket in room—that sort of thing. So when you book a room at your next Texas vacation spot, be sure to ask about similar deals.
And while we're on the subject of a sluggish economy, how has it affected your personal travel plans? Or has it? As for me, I've gotten a lot less shy about packing a cooler and making those on-the-road dinners stretch into lunch the next day. As long as I can find ice, this works even if the place I'm staying doesn't have a fridge.
So: Are you taking shorter trips or staying closer to home? Packing PP&J for breakfast? I'd love it if you'd share your tips for traveling on a budget. And, would you like to read more of this sort of thing in TH?
Visits to the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Christmas Eve have become a holiday tradition for my family. The museum's not very crowded and exhibits are open until 8 p.m. We recently saw Body Worlds 2 & the Brain, and having seen the first Body Worlds exhibit there two years ago, I've gotta say this latest collection of plastinated human bodies is just as jaw-dropping and informative.
I-35 through Fort Worth has been a construction-congested mess for as long as I can remember. So imagine my delight to discover, on a holiday trip through the city, that much of the construction in finally finished. For travelers using the Interstate to get to points north or south, it's a much more pleasant commute. And for those bound for Cowtown proper, it's also simpler to reach Fort Worth's ever-expanding Cultural District, as well as the Stockyards National Historic District and downtown's Sundance Square.
As part of my birthday celebration this past weekend, some girlfriends and I signed up for chef Chaya Rao's afternoon Chai Tea class at the Whole Foods Culinary Institute. The price tag ($20) and short time investment (1.5 hours) fit beautifully with our pre-holiday budget. Chaya is from Bangalore, India, the country's third most populous city; it's the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka and known as both "the Garden City of India" for its abundance of green spaces and "the Silicon Valley of India" for its abundance of high-tech industries. It's also a heavily vegetarian region.
Spent a delightful evening last Friday at the Trail of Lights in Austin's Zilker Park. Our group (which ranged in age from five to 75) wandered mesmerized through the extravaganza of illuminated holiday displays (think canopies of radiating trees, character scenes from Snoopy to SpongeBob, and a gleaming Nativity). The brilliant scene could beam the Bah! Humbug! from old Ebenezer himself.
The wide release of Danny Boyle's film, Slumdog Millionaire, as well as the attention the film attracts, takes me back to the Austin Film Festival (www.austinfilmfestival.com) in October, which honored Boyle this year and screened Slumdog Millionaire.
My husband, Randy, and I spent most of this past Thanksgiving holiday visiting his folks in Plano, a north Dallas suburb that often feels more sterile than interesting, at least on the surface of things—mile after mile of super-sized retail stores and large suburban homes in developments set off by brick gates. However, on this trip I took the time to explore a bit, and I found a surprising and exciting multiculturalism. In recent years, Indian and pan-Asian supermarkets have popped up on major intersections, their patrons perhaps drawn to Plano for such major technology employers as Ericsson, EDS, and Perot Systems. (I could spend hours exploring aisles of garlicky, chile-laden condiments, not to mention the hundreds of different kinds of beans, lentils, and other pretty seeds.)
The December issue's Top Tables article on old-school Tex-Mex restaurants—"Candy or Sherbet?"—makes my taste buds crave that extra cheesy enchilada dinner with carne sauce (double rice, no beans, please) every time I read it.