Don't Mess With Texas

Trip Start Oct 13, 2010
Trip End Feb 22, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Sunday, February 5, 2012

Couchsurfing, free hugs, dueling pianos, shooting guns and a bit of NASA thrown in ... a great last week in Texas! I said goodbye to my friend Dulce and left Fort Worth, boarding the Amtrak train down to Austin. Before I left, Dulce and I did a wild west photoshoot and had a laugh dressing up as ladies of the night complete with feathers and guns :)

The train was great - when I bought my ticket the man told me he loved my accent (I get this all the time, at least 3 times a day - they love me here!!) he said apologetically 'the trains are not like the ones in England, you'll see'. Well it left on time and a conductor personally came around to greet us and made sure everyone got their own double seat as he had space, the seats are HUGE (built for fat people - to the extent that I physically could not reach the tray table it's that far in front) and there is a cute diner car with a woman announcing over the loud speaker 'come get your beer here, eat, drink and be merry people! come now! once I'm closed I'm closed forever!' - too right it's not like the trains in England!! People said it was 'dangerous' but when I dropped my phone the guys in my carriage (who might have looked a bit gangster if you were the kind of person to judge on appearances) went out of their way to help me find it. Everybody is very friendly here in the South.

So I arrived in Austin and continuing to blag accommodation I went to crash at my friend Mark's house. I met Mark at a jungle hut in the depths of Borneo last May ... we were both staying at Osman's house, the animal tracker and all round jungle guy, and spent a few days searching for orangutans on canoes, as you do :) I remember that Osman's wife didn't really have room for me so I got put on a mattress in the corner of their living room separated by a piece of hardwood, although Mark says they kicked their daughter out of 'her room' and put her outside to make space for me - I really hope this was not true! So he said if I was ever in Austin to stop by ... and here I am!! :)

Austin is a really 'cool' city. It's slogan is 'Keep Austin Weird'. This was backed up by Mark and his roommate (USA speak for flatmate) Davey taking me to a street corner to hold up signs reading Free Hugs and proceeding to hug strangers just for the hell of it. They also have a really cool dog, Nico who I fell in love with. I was introduced to the over the top service at restaurants - the waiters attend classes on customer service to earn their 20% tip. It's so in-your-face that I was ready to hand over a tip just to make them go away. We enter the restaurant and sit down and the waitress starts with the hard sell of the appetizers - 'you'll want a side of nachos with that?'. No thank you. We're sitting eating and at least 10 times she comes over to ask 'can I get you anything?' and faffs around topping up the water when its already full. We were still eating when she came over and said n'Can I get that out of your way?. Er no, I'm still eating it! 'Can I get you the check? Or can I just get you a little more time?' ... Can you get me a little more time??? Just go away and leave me alone to eat my food!! In my opinion the tipping culture is out of control - I spoke to lots of bartenders and at least $1-2 tip per drink they are earning twice as much as I used to in a 9-5 job.

There's plenty of nature to be had around Austin, with lots of hiking and bike trails. Complete with stupid signs to make sure you don’t, shock horror, dip your toes into unprocessed water!!! And there is drive-through everything, from drive-through ATM to drive-through pharmacy to drive-through liquor store. Who needs to walk?! We went to see some blue grass music which was interesting! There is live music everywhere here, and loads of trailer parks with great food stalls. At last some cheap(er) food!! Mark convinced me to get signed up to I met lots of cool couchsurfer people at a party so I'm convinced and ready to go! I also went to the State Capital building, where they make all the important decisions for Texas ...

At the weekend I met up with another friend I made travelling - Patricia from Houston. We met back in March travelling Vietnam and went kayaking on Halong Bay together. Good times! Patricia took me to a place called Pete's Dueling Piano Bar. I thought it was going to be two classical pianists. Instead it was two comedian/pianists on stage in a great rowdy Texan bar, belting out classics and getting the audience to participate. Great until Patricia secretly put my name forward ... suddenly I hear 'Marianne from England come on up!!' and next thing I'm up on the stage doing the Hokey Pokey dance with three other victims. When I failed to shake my ass enough the audience started shouting and the pianist sung 'Marianne from England is a bit shy, come on!!!' .... another Texan experience!!! The next day I clocked up another one -
Patricia took me shooting! I wanted to fire a gun in Texas so we went to a range in Houston, my next stop. Everyone here has guns. We just walked on in with her two handguns. When the man at the desk asked when we last came, she told them 'I was here a month ago and she's never held a gun in her life' - the man wasn't fazed, just asked me what type of target I wanted. I have to say it was great fun and I could get into shooting!! At first I was a little concerned that a crazy person might come in and shoot us all but as Patricia said who is gonna go crazy in a gun range when everyone is armed and a crack shot?!

Whilst in Houston I experience my first American hostel and went to the Johnson Space Center with some new friends that I made. It seems that hostels in the States are in residential areas. There wasn’t much to do in Houston downtown but it has an incredible skyline at night. We took a bus to the Space Center which is well worth it. Once you’ve paid your entrance all the activities are included and run on a pretty serious schedule – we barely had time to eat! The tram ride takes you into the real space center where NASA people are currently working with the International Space Station.  They have plenty of rockets and the Saturn V display, absolutely massive - - and a Lunar Rover. It's pretty cool to walk around all of this stuff and see just how tiny the earlier shuttles were and how huge the new ones are.

So that concludes my time in Texas. I've had a great time here - meeting cowboys, shooting guns, country music, old friends and the great southern hospitality. Just remember everyone has a gun, and as their slogan says, Don't Mess With Texas!!
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