A Holiday in Austin

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I was looking forward to a return to Austin. A long Memorial Day weekend and sweet friends meeting up with me there made the prospect of visiting even better.

I decided to take a train there and then fly home in case the train experience proved less than exemplary. I don’t often have foresight, but this time I did (somehow… who knows, but i did).

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I made the best of a delay by – what else? – taking photos of my bag.

My Amtrak experience began on a less than propitious note when the train was delayed for over two hours. As it was a 4 hour ride, this didn’t bode well for my plans on getting into Austin early.

I was apprehensive about the train to begin with and the delay didn’t help, but once I got settled into my upper seat and the tops of trees and buildings began rolling past my window, I was able to prop open my book and relax a little while the scenery raced by.

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Rain approaching. Little did I know that this would be a sign of weather events to come…

After what felt like an eternity, we finally got into Austin. It wasn’t the worst experience, but I doubt that I’ll be riding the Texas Eagle again. If Amtrak is interested in gaining more customers, here are some suggestions from a first-time passenger:

1) Clean the passenger cars out as often as possible. After passengers disembark, clean & disinfect the area that they just left.

2) Clean the bathrooms (heck, updating them would be nice as well).

3) Be on time.

4) Provide wifi.

My Austin friend picked me up and we headed to meet up with another friend (who had arrived already from North Carolina) and get Thai food for dinner. We settled on Titaya’s Thai and on arriving the restaurant was so crowded that the only chance for a table was when the kitchen would be closing. Obviously that wasn’t going to work. The restaurant did allow us to order take out, so we ordered a few things to try. The beef pad thai was basic, but the curry was good, if mild. In all a satisfying meal, but that could have been because I was starving.

The next morning was Saturday, and yet another friend had arrived by the time we were ready for breakfast. We decided on a whim to try Hotel San Jose’s brunch.

Perhaps it was the outdoor dining, where we sat beneath leafy boughs that speckled sun beams on us while chirping birds fluttered unseen and swimmers splashing in the pool behind the shrubbery, but in any event, we were all enchanted. The food was tastefully prepared with just enough to feel as though we had variety without a burdensome amount of choice. There were sweets, breads, fruit, vegetables, egg cups, quiche, and latkes. Nothing missed and we spoiled ourselves with indulgent lingering over our plates.

When we were finally able to pull ourselves away, we walked up and down South Congress, taking in the shops before the rain began. At an outdoor market I spotted the most adorable dress hanging from a vendor’s tent. I tried it on then and there, and then spied yet another darling white dress. The abundant detail on both were incredible. After much agonizing, I finally bought both. Because when you can’t decide, you just buy them all. Once I figure out how to wear them without revealing, er, too much (the dresses are completely sheer), I will be pairing them with sandals for the ultimate hot weather outfit.

It’s exhausting to shop, so we revived ourselves with iced coffees and teas at Jo’s Coffee.

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Oh, and photo ops by their iconic wall.

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My sweet friend and I were caught in a candid. Love!

The weather had turned rainy while we were on our way to the Museum of The Weird. On entering and finding out what this really was (not a museum, but a sideshow), we opted out and decided to visit the Capitol instead.

We were surprised at how busy it was, with men in suits rushing around, carrying briefcases and on their phones. Not exactly a Saturday afternoon scene, but after wandering around for awhile we happened into the visitor’s gallery and an active House session.

Every good Texan feels no small sentiment of pride when visiting the state capitol.

After an early dinner at Chuy’s, we split up and I went shopping at the Domain with my Austin friend while the others went back to their hotel. The outdoor mall was charming, with a nice variety of luxury and affordable stores. The weather started to turn stormy, so we headed to Crema Bakery & Cafe, as I was on a mission to try as many coffee shops as possible while in Austin. However, I had mixed up this place with another, Cafe Creme, which was what I had originally intended to visit. (Dear cafes with similar names, please change yours so that it’s not confusing to poor tourists. Thank you.). Crema Bakery & Cafe was a disappointment, and my friend and I left our cookies & cream cupcake and brownie cup unfinished, as we felt these treats lacking in good, fresh flavor. While there we began getting tornado and flash flood warnings, and made it back to the apartment before the worst of the weather hit.

Shoefie at the Domain. I loved the outdoor design of this shopping mall.

Part 2 will cover our second day in Austin, including more coffee and restaurant reviews.

Until then… xo

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Boston’s Bookstores

When in Beantown (I like to think this name refers to coffeebeans, but of course it really doesn’t), the bookstores I make a point to visit are the ones where I can be assured of a perfect book experience: an immersion in volumes that are stacked and piled and squeezed to fit onto the shelves, the hard-to-find book suddenly appearing or an elusive author being discovered. The sensorical aspect is also not to be overlooked, therefore the dusty book smell and the act of turning over pages is part of what constitutes my idea of a bookstore experience.

Here are the bookstores where I can be assured of such, and so visit (if at all possible) on each and every foray to Boston.

 Brattle Book Shop

I can’t begin to count the treasures I have encountered here. My last trip alone turned up an A.A. Milne that I had never before seen and a vintage UK Penguin copy of a novel by Lady Tweedsmuir, who was the wife of John Buchan (I didn’t even know that John Buchan had an authoress wife until finding this book!). I have never visited this book shop without finding something worth purchasing and stuffing into my carry-on for the trip home.

Harvard Bookstore

The ground level has a lovely, curated selection of new books while below ground, one can meet used books and publishers remainders. The fact that this store sits in Cambridge, near Harvard, and is always humming with people makes it a great place for people-watching and conversation eavesdropping while book browsing. Visit Crema Cafe when done for a latte and a chance to watch busy Harvard Square while admiring your purchases.

Grolier Poetry

Around the corner from the Harvard bookstore is this tiny bookshop devoted to volumes of poetry. The staff is friendly and the atmosphere a peaceful respite from city noise and bustle.

Brookline Booksmith

Perhaps Boston’s most bustling bookstore, this place gives the impression that bookstores are always crowded stores in which one can bump into a neighbor while book browsing as easily as if you were in the local coffeeshop together. This bookstore has the most charming and energetic atmosphere of all the Boston bookshops, and the fact that you have not one, not two, but three! coffee options next door and across the street for post-book shopping lattes makes it a must-visit.

Commonwealth Books

While I haven’t encountered as many treasures here as other used bookstores in Boston, this place is worth making time for. The fact that it’s an easy walk from Brattle makes it an obvious choice for additional book hunting.

My Mom

“The love of a mother is the veil of a softer light between the heart and the heavenly Father.”
-Samuel Taylor Coleridge
At some point expressions of gratitude can begin to sound like worn out cliches, especially at certain times of the year when everyone is saying essentially the same thing. However, that does not make such expressions any less true just because they are often repeated.
And so I feel compelled to add mine to the millions of Mother’s Day tributes when I say that indeed, I am very thankful for my mom. She raised me, loved me, taught me, and inspired me. Now that I’m an adult, we share so much in common (what daughter doesn’t with her mom as she grows older?!), and our deep conversations and book discussions and shopping trips now comprise some of my favorite activities. 
IMG_7317Yes, I am thankful for my mom.
Enjoy celebrating your own mother this weekend!
Until next time…

 

A Booked Up Town

Since it’s Independent Bookstore Day I thought that I would share one of my favorite bookstore memories with you all. Remember to support your local bookstore! And discover how wonderful it is to create stories of your own in the process…

Once upon a time there was a book club consisting of a small group of ladies who not only loved to read, but also loved books just because they were books. They visited book stores everywhere and collected treasured volumes on their individual travels.

Over the years, they heard rumors of a most magical book store in a most a most unlikely place; one in which the owner, a best-selling author, had started a store to house his vast collection. The store grew and grew, until one day the owner decided that his little hobby was too great to manage any longer. He named a date upon which all of his great book expanse would be auctioned, and following that his store would be closed.

The book club decided that if they were ever going to visit this book paradise, they would have to do it quickly.

And so they did.

Piling into an SUV that would be perfect to tackle the dusty Texas roads, they took off in search of Archer City and Larry McMurtry’s store.

Leaving the busy city behind, it wasn’t long before the endless Texas land began to stretch out on each side of the road; behind, before, and wherever the eye rested were ranches and farms and wide open spaces, all peppered with cattle, horses, goats – and yes, vultures.

It took a few hours, but they made it. Archer City was all its name promised it would be: a quaint town straight out of a 1960’s spaghetti Western and comprised of a few low buildings, a library, and a hotel. There was a courthouse on a square in the middle of the town, and a main road that seemed lonely in its length. No wonder Mr. McMurtry was able to churn out Western novels. This place must have been pure fodder for his imagination.

The book club thought that the book store would be in one building, but they found out rather quickly that the buildings in the town mostly belonged to the book store. As book lovers do, they split up in search of treasure, all happily scanning shelves, pulling down books, gently thumbing pages and examining the condition of more books than you could ever shake a stick at.

They went into building after building, walking from one to the next in the dry heat, the wind blowing dust and tumbleweeds up and down the sidewalks. Every now and then they’d bump into each other, sharing their treasures before continuing on their mission. At last the visit culminated in the main building; an air-conditioned place where Mr. McMurtry’s rare books were housed and where the rooms continued on and the shelves had run out of space so that the books were piled upon the floor. It was such a pile of books that caught my eye, and I discovered the one book that went home with me: a Monica Dickens novel (a difficult author to find anywhere).

We inquired at the library for a place to eat, and we learned that there were two options: the hotel and the Dairy Queen. Of course we went to the DQ, where we rubbed elbows with ranch hands and ate greasy fries with the locals and slurped down big sodas like everyone else was doing on that blistering day, doing our best to be locals for a day. But we didn’t fool anyone, for we were the only group who didn’t know everyone else in that Dairy Queen and the only ones not in Western wear and not talking with a twang. We couldn’t have stood out more if we had been elephants in Antarctica.

The book club had to head home, and we did so with hearts saddened by the knowledge that the bookstore would close, but glad that we had made it before it did.

It was almost a surreal experience, this little town on the Texas plains that was full of books. How I wish there were more of them…