Austin Getaway

Old Nov 25th, 2010, 07:26 AM
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Austin Getaway

After months of reading posts and looking at places for the Annual Thanksgiving Getaway, I decided to make Austin this year's destination. The huge debate about this city made me curious to decide for myself.

Today is Thanksgiving and I am gratefully posting this at the beautiful Hotel Driskill's computer in Austin Texas. Will do more from home later this week so please stay tuned. In the meantime,

Happy Thanksgiving to All!
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Old Nov 25th, 2010, 07:36 AM
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Happy Thanksgiving!
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Old Nov 25th, 2010, 08:11 AM
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You chose a great place to begin your vacation. Happy Thanksgiving!
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Old Nov 25th, 2010, 05:08 PM
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As the old joke goes, Austin is a great place just too bad it's surrounded by Texas. Have a great time!
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Old Nov 26th, 2010, 11:17 AM
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Welcome to Austin TDudette, I hope you are enjoying our city. Do you plan to see the 37th Street lights I mentioned? I'm hoping to go this weekend too, maybe we can go at the same time.
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Old Dec 1st, 2010, 05:45 AM
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So what's the verdict TDudette?
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Old Dec 1st, 2010, 08:27 PM
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How about that weather on Thanksgiving? I was sitting outside in the afternoon wearing shorts and suddenly there was a blast of cold air and the temperature dropped 20 degrees in just a few minutes! That's Texas weather for you.
I hope you got to see the museums you wanted to see. However, if you missed 37th Street, it was no great loss. We went over on the 29th and there were only 3 houses that were decorated with lights.
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Old Dec 2nd, 2010, 06:36 AM
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Thanks for your welcomes above! Please see below for my TR part 1. longhorn55, I didn't get up there so that worked out. OMG-that was some drop in temperature. Came home to Maryland to the same thing.

Verdict: I really enjoyed Austin! The people were the best part.

It had been on our list of U.S. cities to visit so it made a great choice for my first solo travel in 40 years. Also, on the Fodor's Forum site there was a huge debate about Austin and Texas so I decided to see for myself. Admittedly, I didn't get too far from UT and SoCo (more to come about this) but I really enjoyed myself. First, the people were friendly and helpful always. A spirit of community exists in this city that I found very inviting. Shopping locally and healthfully is also encouraged. Indeed, the first Whole Foods Market springs from Austin. On the down side, I had expected more sidewalk cafés and evening activities in the area of the hotel. That it was winter and a holiday probably had a lot to do with this.

A Thanksgiving Getaway to Austin TX
Tuesday-Saturday 11/23-27, 2010

Parking: Econopark near BWI ($39.75)

Flights: Non-stop BWI to Austin via Southwest Air ($345.50). Computer-issued tickets and no checked baggage made this a snap but not one of their bargain flights.

Hotel: Driskill ($1155.56) Oldest Austin hotel and a splurge but so worth it.

Transportation to/from hotel: Austin Elite Chauffeur Services ($65 each way). Driskill arranged driver. I did everything else on-line.

DH and I have found this holiday a great time to get away. We were spared holiday drama and we had time to really talk while driving. We usually jumped into the car on Thanksgiving Day and drove until we were tired. We generally had a destination in mind but were open to stops along the way. I haven't shared this but DH lost his 3-year battle with cancer earlier in 2010, so this year I was on my own. I wanted a change of venue but to continue this tradition so Austin fit the bill.

Tuesday, 11/23/10

BWI Thurgood Marshall airport is about 1 hour from home. Flight is at noon so I thought being 2 hours early should suffice. DH and I had parked at Econopark one time and liked it so I made an online reservation about 3 weeks in advance. I left home at 8 and was eating breakfast at BWI by 9:30! A little less than an hour to the Econopark lot and 5 minutes to BWI. "Your space is M919 and there is a bus waiting for you now" was my welcome as I entered Econopark. I was given a ticket for paying and one with parking location and phone numbers. How customer-friendly is that?

The Southwest terminal was first stop and there were 3 people ahead of me in the security line. I went through the regular scanner and no one offered to pat me down. The process was so easy, I was extremely concerned about the rest of the trip! There were at least 5 restos in the area. I watch gluten so had McDonald's big breakfast and only ate the scrambled eggs and the sausage. I also brought along some bananas.

Great flight (about 4 hours) and Edgar was waiting for me with my name on a sign and a limo. I know that there is a special shuttle bus to airport but I wanted to be pampered. Edgar is one of the owners and has Italian grandparents so we had lots to talk about. When he found out that it was my first trip to Austin, he asked if I wanted him to do a quick drive around so I could see where I'd be living and walking. When we arrived at the Driskill, he walked me in to introduce me to Concierge Emily but she had left for the day.

About the Driskill. It is absolutely beautiful. Imagine 30-foot ceilings supported by clean columns, stained glass sky light and cupola. See "acres" of groupings of leather chairs or tables and chairs. Listen to classical music as everyone says "Hello" as you reach the dark paneled check-in area. My room is as beautiful in person as it was online (believe me, we've stayed in places where that was not true!). More to come as I get settled in and explore a little.
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Old Dec 2nd, 2010, 07:01 AM
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TDudette, we were on the same Southwest flight to Austin! I couldn't believe how easy everything went that day--from the fast drive to BWI from Arlington (I've never made that trip so quickly!) to the non-existent lines at security to the flight that was only about 3/4 full. Like you, I kept waiting all day for the other shoe to drop but it didn't.
I'm glad to hear that you found the Austinites so friendly. My spouse and his family are Austinites so I know how great Austinites are. (I'm from another part of Texas and I think we're ALL friendly.) I look forward to reading about what you saw and did during your visit.
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Old Dec 2nd, 2010, 02:09 PM
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longhorn55: We should start asking "any fodorites on this flight?"! I was sitting up front with one of the wheel chair bound. She was pretty spry when she needed to go to the john but not so able to let me out! LOL

More TR:

To get to my single room, a walk up a few stairs and through a long lounge area was required. Book shelves line both sides of the room with leather and cowhide couch groupings to the room elevators at one point and the bar area if you continue on your way. A large sculpture of 2 broncs with a cowboy getting dragged, "Widow Maker", divides the area under a beautiful stained glass cupola. The bar area is large enough for a grand piano and more groupings of small tables. The hotel resto is at the end and there is a door to the outside. Walls are lined with art. Driskill-related huge oils in the reception areas, American and western in the bar areas and varied works in the halls to bedrooms. A lounge area is outside the elevators with more books and ice machine.

A wall of built-ins faces the door in my single "Curio" room and houses closet with ironing board on one side and TV and drawers on the other. Desk area in between with upholstered chair. A smaller club chair and table sit by a mini bar on one side of the room. Another bureau with drawers doubles as one of the end tables by a big bed (queen?). Everything has a "D" on it-even the tp! Radio is playing some white noise like water sounds.

Please look online for good shots of this amazing old hotel. After unpacking, I walk around the hotel and then outside and spot a small market so get toiletries not furnished by the hotel: hair mousse and mouthwash were the only things missing. This market sold wine so I bought a bottle of Ruffino. Why I would spend so much money on a limo but be 'tight' about the mini-bar, I can't say. There wasn't much going on in the area so I went back to the hotel grill. Had a really good pecan crusted trout and green beans ($14) for dinner with a glass of shiraz ($9). Crashed in the room.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Temps to be in high 70s/low 80s!

Wore the Driskill-provided robe after a great shower and pretended I was rich while I ate one of my bananas and took my time getting ready for the day. Back to the grill for breakfast. Forgot to say that there is a nice bakery there. An old-fashioned car is outside with Driskill Bakery painted on it. Very charming.

Emily was at the concierge desk this a.m. and I got a map from her. She showed me the area south of Congress (SoCo) and suggested I check it out for shopping later. She then offered to drive me to the Ransom Center in the Driskill courtesy car. Since DH and I almost always took a cab to the most distant point on our itinerary, this sounded like a great plan.

Emily is from New Orleans and had gotten this job through the hotel group where she worked in that city. She loves Austin. She dropped me off at the door of Harry Ransom Center. I chose this venue because of my interest in photography and the first photo in captivity is here. Another draw is a Gutenburg (sp?) Bible-there are only a few of them in the world. I have been lucky enough to see the one in the British Museum and the Library of Congress. To see them all might be worthy of a bucket list?

Anyhow, the oldest photo is almost black from exposure to the light. You can find an edited version online. One can barely discern the scene from Niepce's 1826 or 27 work. The artist's method pre-dated Daguerre's. Many of the photos in this part of the exhibit are behind curtains. The entire exhibit is from the collection of the Gernsheims. According to the brochure, they wrote over 30 books and 200 articles. I follow the photos as they move to the more modern methods and show works of Stiegliz, Steichen and Man Ray. Various cameras were also displayed. There was also a hidden camera from 1886. It was worn under the shirt and the lens popped out of a button hole.

As a digital photographer, I was amused to read that the early photographers were inking over the skies on their negatives so the finished product would be brighter. How they would have loved digital!

I stayed longer than I would have with DH because I was so interested. Although, I missed being able to share this with him, I thought how nice it was to be able to set my own agenda and not worry if he was bored. Is this something women do?

Walked over to the UT bell tower and strolled around the big quad area. It is a gorgeous day. Balmy and warm. Only a few students and tourists about. There is a beautiful fountain at the base of the quad. I pass 2 lovely sorority houses as I strolled toward Congress St. working my way toward the Capitol. It looks just like the U.S. Capitol but is made of a red granite that gives it an entirely different look that I can't describe. Note to tourists: The south entry was way busier than the north of the Capitol this day.

The building is so huge that I figured I'd use the shortest distance between 2 points and just walk through. A tour is on my list for Friday and I'm getting hungry. Don't know what time it is and realize that is another advantage of traveling alone. I do get a good shot of the dome inside-lots of tourists-and continue on my way back toward hotel and nearby Arte Mexico museum. My continued stroll down Congress reveals a combo of older, smaller early American/Spanish architecture and modern towers. As I reach 6th St., there seem to be pockets of shabby places and cleared lots. Emily says there is a homeless shelter in the area. There are many men seated at bus stops and in doorways. The men I saw were neat and didn't intrude. Since DH and I always made an effort to look poor when we traveled, that I was ignored wasn't a surprise. A Segway tour group passed and we chatted as one of their group got stopped. Maybe I'll try that for Friday bat watching.

It was a big surprise to not see outdoor cafés. I stopped in Murphy's Deli and had chicken salad and tea then continued on. Well, the derned museum is closed. So I drop off my bags of brochures in the room and grab a coffee at the grille's bar. Bartender said he takes bus to and from work and showed me where to catch the one for SoCo. So I took myself down there. The bus crosses the Colorado River and the point where thousands of bats come out of their caves for nocturnal bug hunting. I hope to be there in time.

It is now getting hot. My take on SoCo is not so complimentary. The description is "lots of neat funky shops" and that is true but it all looked shabby not chic. To be fair, I am used to Annapolis. It too has some shabby but is more atmospheric. I stopped first at the Turquoise Turtle and bought a couple of Diego Rivera cards. The shop was filled with colorful items including much Day of the Dead stuff. I continued on to Uncommon Objects (antique/used stuff) and Allen's Boots. Both shops were filled with browsers. At Allen's, I found a nifty pair of boots but they didn't carry them in wide. $345 is probably a good price for good boots but I could hear DH turning over at the thought!

I am starting to get tired and just a little wheezy so cross over to the next bus stop I see and wait. I am standing by a resto that looks like a trailer with picnic tables outside. No shade and it's about an hour too early for the bats. Maybe I'll come back on Friday and look again as I have just missed a glass shop.

I can see the Four Seasons right on the water and am so bummed that my Thanksgiving Day reservations were in the early afternoon instead of bat-watching time. Another note for tourists! The Austin skyline is pretty nifty from the bus. Capitol in view up Congress St. and a pretty new skyscraper that someone tells me looks like an owl when it's lit at night on the right.

Back to the room to sort what I've collected, writes some notes and have a glass of wine. I also bought a bag of corn chips (gluten-free) so had a few of those. Watched the local news and the forecast is for a big temperature drop for the big UT/TX A&M game. Had dinner at the hotel grill again and it was a prime rib the way they used to be. Just delicious. I couldn't finish it so waiter, Tony, boxed it so I could put it in my mini-bar and promised to heat it up when I come back again.

By now it's only around 8 but I'm tired. A trio is setting up in the bar area but I'm too pooped to even sit a while there. Not giving my all to Austin.

Tomorrow the turkey, temp and tourist drop.
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Old Dec 2nd, 2010, 05:43 PM
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"It was a big surprise to not see outdoor cafés."

On Congress per se, there are not many outdoor cafes as there is not enough sidewalk space. 6th Street West of say Lavaca is where a row of cafes with outdoor areas along the street is. Also, second street has a string of outdoor cafes near the Children's Museum.

My favorite place for outdoor cafes is along Barton Creek Road west from Lamar to near Barton Springs. There are several interesting restaurants along that area.

That was one thing that I had to get used to when I moved here. I was expecting the typical sidewalk cafes that cities like New York or New Orleans has. We have TONS of outdoor cafes, they are just not in the traditional Parisian outdoor cafe way.

Anyway, just wanted to point that out.

I've enjoyed your story so far. Too bad you didn't get to eat at the trailor restaurant, those places are great. Next time your here, try Torchy's Tacos on S. 1st Street. You go up to the trailer, order your taco (many with political themes) and then sit on a bench or hammock and eat it up. It's a truly Austin experience like no other city.

When I first saw SoCo, my impression was the same as yours, but it grows on you. Part of the charm of Austin is that it is funky and unique and people aren't trying to make the city look like New York or San Francisco or any place like that. They are establishing a place with its own identity.

Anyway, I'm glad you liked it here and could you believe how warm it was on Wednesday? I was driving up to Dallas and my car thermometer read 91 degrees at one point, although I think the official high was 86 degrees.

This Saturday will be 76 and I'll be downtown enjoying it!
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Old Dec 3rd, 2010, 07:28 AM
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Great report so far! I too was really surprised about your lack of outdoor cafes comment, but then I realized you were looking for the ones like in Paris and NYC that spill out onto the sidewalk. We have tons of outdoor cafes here but the outdoor areas are usually on a rooftop or out back.

Looking forward to the rest of your report!

Also, so sorry about your husband. You honor him well by carrying on tradition.
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Old Dec 3rd, 2010, 08:16 AM
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"We have tons of outdoor cafes here but the outdoor areas are usually on a rooftop or out back."

or over the water, in the manner of Hula Hut...

If I would have known the OP was looking for outdoor cafes, I could have provided a list so she wouldn't have had to set foot inside at all to eat a meal!
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Old Dec 3rd, 2010, 12:51 PM
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Thursday, November 25, 2010
Happy Thanksgiving!

Up early and hungry. Had eggs benedict and a Poinsettia (champagne and cranberry juice). I walked around the hotel and took more pictures, checked email and watched some of the Macy's parade. At the appointed time, I started my walk toward the restaurant, Trio, which is in Four Season's hotel. I hadn't realized that until they called me to confirm my lunch time before I left Maryland. My DH is really rolling over now!

As I walked I took shots of buildings 6th St. Passed 2 guys who offered to pose for money. "Who pays who?" I asked. It was so humid I suddenly felt terrible. My chest started to hurt and I got short of breath. That hasn't happened for several years. Found a place to sit, used my inhaler and rested for a few minutes. Walked slowly and felt better as soon as I hit the AC in the hotel. The hotel is part of a complex with 2 towers of residences. A brochure later seen says pricing starts at $400K. But the hotel is beautifully decorated for the holidays and I am seated right away but at a table for 4!

The buffet was huge and the food extra good but the desserts were little works of art. Will post picture of the 3 that looked the least "wheaty". Why did I eat that breakfast? After eating, I walked outside where a table for about 20 was set up on the lawn-it looked like an ad. It is still terribly "close" and I start to wheeze again so go in and ask for a cab. Traffic is slow because of remants of parade and turkey trot.

Back to hotel and got a coffee to go and went back to room to dig into my arsenal of asthma meds and went to sleep. Awoke around 6 and was hungry again! Took last night's leftover steak to the grill and Tony cheerfully had it warmed up and added some veggies at no extra charge. I ate at the bar with him. He said they had about 700 for turkey today. Every table in use. Back to the room and turned in early.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Last day in Austin. I'm feeling better but ask Emily if she'd mind driving me to the Blanton Museum. She is delighted and I will leave her a good tip. It is much cooler today but no humidity. The signature exhibit at Blanton is "Turner to Monet" and I decide to go to it first and see if I have enough steam to see the rest of the museum. Guess what? The works are from the Walters in Baltimore which we have visited often. I had to giggle and wish DH could have shared this. We saw a Monet exhibit at the Walters some years ago then found it again at its home in Paris. We visited the Picasso Museum in Paris when the "blue period" pieces were in DC. Fortunately, I didn't remember most of the pieces so it was a great treat.

There is a super timeline on one wall. The Driskill was built in the same year that France gave U.S. the Statue of Liberty. Did I mention there is a small S of L on the north side of the Austin Capitol? I didn't know that Rembrandt Peale's son opened a museum in Baltimore in 1814. Also of interest to artists is 1840 when metal tubes are invented and plein air painting is made more convenient.

Took elevator to main collection and was impressed with the Blanton's wide range of art. Many Italian paintings and I see the names Reubens, Monet, Delacroix and Ingres on various pieces and prints. Also of interest is a room of Greek amphorae, one of Western art (a Remington) and one of plaster casts. The casts were collected by a professor Dr. Battle. Venus was there!

Modern American art include Max Weber and Thomas Hart Benton. Pieces donated by James Michenor and a work by Rothko caught my eye. A really cool touch were student poems inspired by various pieces. The installation art was amazing. I tend to prefer representational work but this stuff was neat. I did get a couple of photos of these and will post.

I stayed for almost 2 hours. Moving slowly felt the best but I wasn't wheezing. Went to Blanton's café for coffee and a look-see into the gift shop. This was another of those times DH worried. It wasn't just spending the money, he was going to have to pack my purchases! Found good puzzle and had it shipped.

Out the door and across the street to Bullock's Texas Museum. It also has an Imax theatre with the latest Harry Potter (sold out for the day). I stuck my head in the gift shop but nothing called out. OK, I'm being snobby-the art museum had prettier stuff. Decided to return to Arte Mexico as it is supposed to be open today. I don't think I'm going to be able to make the walk so take the 7 bus back "home".

Well, the museum is still closed but the gift shop is open and I find several colorful little bowls for cat-sitter and other friends. Take them back to the hotel then look for the cross-town bus to visit the first Whole Foods and another art gallery. Waited very long and when a bus not mine comes along, I ask the homeless guys if it goes near Whole Foods and they say yes. Someone on the bus signals my stop. I have lunch there. I must welcome you all to the one in Parole (near Annapolis). It is newer and possibly bigger. However, no one ever approached me in Parole and asked if I needed help as they did in Austin. Before I was finished, the clerk was running around looking for gluten-free stuff for me to sample. How nice is that?

Dropped down to 5th street for the return bus but didn't see anything attractive. A couple of taco stands but I'd eaten and was starting to get tired again. The homeless guys were on the bus back and reminded me that I could get a day pass for $2. Back to hotel for another to go coffee and a rest before dinner.

Just realized that I've been calling the hotel café the grille. The grille is the main 5-star (that's what they say) resto on the premises. They have Tuesday tasting menus for people wanting to learn about wine. I ask the maitre d' if there was room for me tonight and he took me right in and asked if I wanted a newspaper. Had a glass of Shiraz that I nursed through dinner which was their crispy duck with fois gras. I asked for medium well but was given rare. The way it was presented masked the redness. I ate what wasn't raw and it is delicious. The fois gras did not measure up to one I had in Lyon. Waitperson offered to take it back but that trick never works and I'm not that hungry. She kindly comped my wine. A nearby group was going to a concert and the staff was working hard to recommend foods that would be faster. A nice place.

By now it's 8 and the live music in the bar is starting. I didn't write down the name of the group but the place was filled and I was sorry to not feel well enough to stay and listen. Please don't tell DH that I ate fois gras instead of barbeque at Stubb's! Back to room to pack and rest.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gosh I didn't do as much exploring as I had anticipated. Didn't get back to Capitol for a tour, LBJ library or the area around the water. There will have to be a next time to rectify this. While I was waiting another parade came down Congress St. just for me. I was ready to go about an hour before Edgar is due but I wanted to get through security then not move for as long as possible. They called him and he said if I didn't mind his baseball cap, he'd come right away. And he did! We talked and he said I'd just missed outdoor dining.

There were very few cars in front of the airport. About 15 people ahead of me in security line. TSA lady heard my wheezing and said Texas had whatever allergins a person could want "all part of the service!"-what nice people. Amazingly, the plane was on time, there weren't any bumps and the Econopark bus was sitting right outside the door.

Austin, you have my admiration for your people and your culture. I hope to return to learn more. Am going back to read the Austin thread again! Thanks Fodorites!
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Old Dec 4th, 2010, 07:06 AM
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TDudette,

Thanks for your trip report. Sorry your asthma was acting up. It could have been the humidity, or it could have been the other allergens in the air as this is one of the allergy capitals of the world, unfortunately. Winter is the worst time of year for allergens in Austin because of the Cedar. Oddly enough, because it's so dry here in the summer, the grass dies and that's when I usually have no allergies whatsoever.

Personally, I have problems when it is cold, dry, and windy, as the wind kicks up the allergens and cold and dry air affects my lungs, especially if I'm exercising. We're all unique in our allergies, huh?
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Old Dec 4th, 2010, 07:07 AM
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Actually, I'm beginning to think you probably are allergic to Cedar and that's why you were wheezing.
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Old Dec 4th, 2010, 10:02 AM
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Thanks to All! Wish I'd strayed a few blocks further away from the hotel to take advantage of more places. But I'm glad to have seen the big 3 on my list and to do a solo trip to a new place.

Since a winter home is kinda what I'm looking for, the allergy thing will be a deal buster! There is a cedar closet in our cottage-maybe I should spend the night and see what happens (LOL).

If you Austin folks ever get to Annapolis area, please let me know so we can GTG.
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Old Dec 4th, 2010, 04:39 PM
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TDudette:

What a wonderful journal - loved it. Write more! My son and I are headed to Austin for Christmas 12-22 to 12-25. I travel alone quite often and have learned to love it for the most part.

It's such an adventure.

Where's your next trip.

You could just write about your day and we would enjoy it.

PWhite in Oklahoma
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Old Dec 4th, 2010, 06:56 PM
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Sorry for the loss of your DH. Glad you are continuing to explore with thoughts of him.

Austin is the Allergy Capitol of the World and yes, worse in winter. Esp. after the front came in. It was crazy weather t-giving. Hot then huge temp drop as the day wore on.

If yuo visit again - and for you P White - try the 2nd street district near the City Hall for cafes. Austin does have them in various places. Austin has changed SO much over the past 10 years it is amazing.

Also, not many bats to see this time of year. June - Aug is best.

P White if you have time check out the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. It's on till the 24th. Beautiful gifts, music.
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Old Dec 5th, 2010, 05:33 AM
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Thanks for your kind words PWhite: Savannah and St. Augustine. Looking for either winter month getaways or new place to live. Where are you staying in Austin?

Austin: Thanks for DH words-think I'm still in shock even though it wasn't sudden. Next time by the water "fer sure".
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