Small Town --> Big City

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I love the blackout curtains they have in hotels. I could sleep all day!

But I don't. Especially not while on vacation.

When we parted those curtains this morning, we were greeted with a beautiful, sunny (but still kind of cold) day. Today was the day for making our way from San Antonio to Austin, so we checked out of our hotel and packed up the car.

Our first plan was to go get a cinnamon roll that we had seen on an episode of Man v. Food, but we quickly decided against that once we got there and realized that all they had was the 3.5-lb. cinnamon rolls. Forget trying to eat one ourselves--even splitting one did not sound appealing. I don't think I can eat 1.75 lbs. of cinnamon roll. No. No sirree. We had been thinking they would surely have smaller varieties, but I guess we should have known--everything is big in Texas!

Instead, we munched on some cheerios we had in the car, and drove to a nearby cathedral that I saw glimpses of yesterday. I just absolutely love old, beautiful churches.

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Come to find out, San Fernando Cathedral it is the oldest standing church in Texas. And it's just gorgeous. It's on the small side--nothing compared to New York City's famous St. Patrick's (which I have to visit every time I'm in New York), and it's actually much smaller than our local cathedral at home. But its size adds to its charm.
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We went inside to look around, said a few prayers, and purchased a couple of candles to light at the altar. Can you believe it has been around since 1731?
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We eventually made our way back outside. I stopped in the little plaza area to take a few more photos...
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...and then we were back in the car to head out of town. But first! First, we had to make a stop at Mi Tierra. Since we had given up our dreams of cinnamon rolls, we decided to quickly stop by the bakery at Mi Tierra and get a pastry instead. After much debate, we decided on another empanada--pumpkin this time. And again, it was just too good. If I lived in San Antonio, Mi Tierra's restaurant and bakery would surely result in massive weight gain on my part.

Off of I-35, about halfway between San Antonio and Austin, is a small town called Gruene (pronounced "Green"). We had been given a few tips to stop here if we had time, and what do you know? We had plenty of time.

When we arrived in town, I couldn't get over it. This quaint, cute little town is like a blast from the past. It just so happened they were having a Christmas festival of sorts, so there were quite a few people packed into tiny Gruene today. We parked in a giant field designated for visiting cars, and started out walking down the street.
IMG_5077rs by heatherdrive.IMG_5080rs by heatherdrive.

We came upon Gruene Hall, which is an old dance hall/saloon. Unfortunately, we somehow managed to not take any photos of the outside of it (I've never missed a photo op before--I don't know what happened!), except for this crappy pic I snapped with my phone.
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I did take this photo of the plaque outside, though. The hall is in near-original condition (built in 1878) and it was so fun to go inside and hang out for a bit. I absolutely loved the floors. All of the floor boards shifted, creaked and moaned as you walked over them. Definitely, definitely old.
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We ordered a beer and settled in to relax and enjoy our surroundings for a little bit.
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Back out on the streets of Gruene, we came across an old general store.
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Aside from Gruene Hall, this had to be my favorite part of the town.
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It was so fun to walk around and look at all of the items inside. We weren't the only ones to appreciate the store's charms--it was packed in there!IMG_5118rs by heatherdrive.
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From there, we walked over to the a small outdoor market. Vendors were set up selling everything from tie-dye t-shirts to antler chandeliers to jewelry. By then, the weather had turned warmer and it was nice just to be out walking around.
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One last shot of the little town. And hey, look! It's Gruene Hall back there. *sigh* (I'm still mad I forgot to take decent pictures!)

Soon, we were back on I-35 to complete the trip to Austin. Once we arrived within the city limits, we had one thing on our minds: Food. We wanted to eat something light so we'd still have room for dinner later, so we stopped off at a Subway to grab a quick bite before checking into our hotel.

As luck would have it, the Subway was a block or two away from the Texas State Capitol Building, so we made sure to walk over there and take a few photos before getting back into the car.
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Picture-perfect sky! I love it.
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Finally, we checked into the hotel and got ourselves settled. We did some research, looking for a good place to eat dinner and watch the big University of Texas (UT) football game. (Hookem!)

Around 6:00, we decided to make our way to the restaurant before the game started at 7:00. Well, the first sports bar we tried, 3rd Base, was just not going to work out. It was crowded, they had a "seat yourself" thing going (which meant we were NEVER going to get a table), and so we essentially walked in and walked back out.

We had anticipated that crowds would potentially be a problem, so we had a back-up restaurant just in case. We drove to downtown Austin and ended up at a place called Champions. It wasn't exactly the "local joint" type place we were hoping for, but it ended up working out pretty perfectly. We didn't have to wait long for a table, there were TVs (as well as enthusiastic and fun Longhorn fans!) everywhere, and the food was really good.

Perusing the menu, an appetizer called "Frito Pie" caught my eye. We had never heard of it before, but--with corn chips, chili, cheese, and jalapenos?--it sure sounded good. We decided to get that to start, and it was as tasty as you might imagine. And come to find out, it's actually a regional thing (supposedly popular in Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, among various other places). So it was fitting that we ended up ordering something so "Texan" at a place that didn't seem all that special to Texas. And after devouring that, we didn't have room for much else! We stayed at the restaurant for quite a while and watched the game, and we ultimately decided to split an entree. When we left, I was stuffed!

Now, we are back at the hotel, ready to hit the ground running in Austin tomorrow. We just have to decide what we're going to do... choices, choices.

7 comments:

Christy December 9, 2009 at 4:09 PM  

It's kind of fun to read about Austin from a visitor's perspective! :)

You are lucky to have gotten any seats at all for that Texas game - people around here are *obsessed* with their Longhorns (well, ok, I am too) and places get packed super early. Hopefully you stayed until the exciting end of the game!

Heather December 9, 2009 at 4:12 PM  

Hi Christy!

We didn't stay until the end, but we did watch the rest of the game back at our hotel. Craziness! Your kicker was made into an instant hero!

linwvr December 9, 2009 at 4:40 PM  

I cannot believe you've never heard of frito pie! I had no idea it was a regional thing. It's one of my go-to cheap meals :o) LOVE it!

You guys have for sure have done some of the best things there are to do (except watching that dumb UT game :o) I went to the rival school) I'm so glad you guys stopped in Gruene! It never even crossed my mind. Towns like that are the reason I LOVE Texas.

Amanda December 9, 2009 at 6:30 PM  

I'm going to second the read above me about the texas game....Gig'em Ags...anyway I think I spotted your husband drinking Shiner? That's my favorite, and I was ecstatic to see they sold it over here in Md. when I moved this past September! I also had no idea that Frito Pie was regional! I've been eating and loving that treat since I was a kid! It's even better if you just use the bag as a bowl, then you have easy clean-up. Have a good time! If you can, swing by the pizza place on Congress and check out the graffiti in the back of the restaurant. Don't forget to try some Texan wine (Texas Hills (they're in Johnson City, not too far away from Austin- esp. Kick Butt Cab, and I'm not just saying that because I know the owners of the vineyard, Llano, etc.)

Heather December 9, 2009 at 8:19 PM  

Lin--We loved the frito pie! Perhaps I will have to make it at home and share the recipe for all those who are unfamiliar to try and enjoy. :)

Amanda--You're correct, my husband was drinking Shiner! He ended up having it quite a few times while we were down there. And thanks for your suggestions, but unfortunately you're a little too late! We are home already! I am just back-dating my posts from the weekend because I like to have "record" of everything for us to look back on.

Mrs B. December 9, 2009 at 8:45 PM  

Here in Cincinnati, at festivals and such, we have a thing we call the "Walking Taco", a snack sized bag of Fritos, chili and cheese. And I've never gotten it with jalapenos, but I'm sure you can if you want. I've never heard it called "Frito Pie" before! :)

Chelsey December 10, 2009 at 1:03 PM  

Aw, I love Greune, so cute! Our next vacation will have to be to SA. Jason has never been and I have been wanting to take him for the longest time! I think we'll go in the Summer, it's so fun to float the river.

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