Austin is home to a packaging-free grocery store, In.gredients, that I read about on one of the environmental blogs I follow. This was our first stop in the city to stock up on bulk goods in addition to the fresh veggies we picked up in the morning at a great farmers’ market in Bastrop. From there, we parked next to a “pocket park” to eat lunch. This small lot of a park also hosts a bit of a community garden, with a sign welcoming visitors to share a little in the harvest. Sadly, the fig trees did not bear us any ripe fruit, but I took fragrant sprigs off the oregano and rosemary plants. As we ate lunch, several bicyclists rode past. I like this city!
We met up with John’s friend Anna, our host in the city. The three of us cycled to a pedestrian bridge over the Colorado River to join a lantern parade in celebration of winter solstice. In addition to the creative lanterns on display by the parading participants, a few kayaks and stand up paddle boards on the river below were decked out in lights and the paddlers were in costumes. After the parade we stopped at one of the plethora of food trucks the city offers for a quick dinner, than off to game night at an anarchist book store. Anna made a great tour guide; it is so nice to have someone tell you where to go, and not have to rely on strangers’ reviews on Google.
Over the next few days, we cycled all around the university and downtown areas, and spent time in a local coffee shop. Austin has all the qualities that I am looking for in my next hometown, but I don’t think I want to experience a summer here. I would also prefer to be closer to mountains.
On Christmas Eve we left Anna’s and we headed to McKinney Falls State Park (still in Austin) for the holiday. At the entrance to the park we ran into Helen and Ralph again – almost literally. A car horn blasted as John started backing out of a parking space, bringing our attention to a truck behind us. It pulled in next to us; I was so certain the driver was about to berate us for almost hitting her that it took a minute for me to recognize our RVing friends. They generously invited us over to their Airstream on Christmas afternoon.
Christmas morning I rose early to finish John’s surprise stocking. Sneaking around preparing a surprise is hard when we spend every moment together, but I managed it! After baking cookies and presenting the surprise to John, we took a short walk to see the park’s namesake falls, then joined Helen and Ralph in their Airstream. They treated us to tamales, drinks, good music and enjoyable conversation.
We finished exploring the park on Boxing Day. The shore of the river downstream from the falls is an expanse of pockmarked stone that looks like a moonscape, and awesome formations in the limestone were visible under the clear water. At the end of the day we drove to the industrial area of town where the diesel engine service station is located. We parked overnight on the side of the street here so we could be at the service station first thing in the morning.