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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Austin, TX, USA – Feb. 19-21, 2012

Texans will be the first to tell you that Austin is different than the rest of Texas.  So let me be the second; Austin is different than the rest of Texas.  It is a healthy lifestyle mecca for people who love themselves as much as they love the freedom promised (and fulfilled) in Texas. 

If you can imagine the active people of Colorado decked out in the freestyle clothes and hair preferred in Seattle but spending money like they do in Orange County (I have not seen so many Cayennes in one place since leaving Laguna) then you will have a good idea of the Austin folks.  Of course, all this comes with the friendly hospitality only found in Texas.    

So how did we come to spend three nights in Austin?  On the journey to get The Noses paperwork completed for the crossing, we needed the final documents to be stamped and signed by the USDA’s APHIS department certifying the dogs as being ok to export.  Don’t get me started on this incredibly ridiculous requirement particularly when it all needs to happen ten days before your flight and most states only have one local office.  (Oh no, I got started!) This means you have to visit your vet ten days before the flight, get the documents typed up, send them express to the APHIS office, they work on them for 24-48 hours before express mailing it back to you hopefully in time for your flight. As you can see, ten days goes very, very quickly.  (For more information on traveling with your pets overseas, please see my previous posting US2UK – Transporting The Noses.)  In any event, being only three hours from Austin and hunting for something to take our mind off the masses of luggage we are trying to pack, we opted to take the papers to the APHIS office ourselves.

With Salt & Pepper queued up for loading onto the freighter in Galveston, we really had no choice but to spend our three nights at the Four Seasons, Austin.  Although the building is old and the rooms are much closer to Manhattan size than Texas size, the property is gorgeous with lush grass leading down to Lady Bird Lake and the miles of walking/running/biking trails at hand.  To top it off, a friend of ours mentioned the off-leash area; just a quarter of a mile down the path and across one bridge starts what Rosco and River named Dog Heaven—miles of off-leash trails along the water. 

Upon arriving in town, two new to me (but not Alan) friends treated us to dinner at Eddie V’s where, despite the tempting steaks listed on the menu, we all enjoyed a variety of delicious seafood.  From baked salmon and sole to raw- and baked oysters and a delicious crab salad our table was a seafood sampler.  It was a lovely evening and such a pleasure to meet Jay and Oksana, who I have to thank for introducing my body to P90X.  All I can say is, “Superman Banana.”

Monday being a federal holiday we could not turn in our dog papers so we set about exercising our memories of how to spend money.  We were quite successful at Lululemon and St.Bernard Sports stopping just long enough to enjoy a delicious lunch at Lambert’s BBQ.   Although the menu boasted such lovely items as cold smoked trout, I opted for the house made charcuterie (featuring duck prosciutto) and cheese plate while Alan tucked into some BBQ brisket.  He just can’t get enough of this Texas BBQ.

We didn’t think we would be hungry again, but 7:00 found us out at The Clay Pit, for some tasty Indian food.   If you dine here, I’d recommend using their take-out option.  The restaurant is poorly lit (too bright) and noisy. 

Finally Tuesday arrived and we drove up to the APHIS office.  Summoning all my charm, I went to turn in the papers and beg for a 24-hour turn-around.  Did I mention this was a federal office?  I came out of the office in a charm deficit with no assurance that the papers would be ready any sooner than the 48-hours they promise.  Nothing more we could do with that so we stopped for a coffee and then set about finding some new athletic shoes for Alan.  After a nondescript lunch at Taco Cabana we let The Noses run free in the park for a bit before returning to the room for a quick nap and some long yoga. 

The time had come for our romantic dinner out; in over five months we had never once worn our “fancy clothes”.  We had each packed one really nice outfit but they had never made it out of the Thule compartment on the Pepper.  So we decked out as well as we could (both of us have lost more weight so the clothes were quite baggy—particularly mine so this outfit will need to be replaced in Paris, but really, what won’t?) and headed to the lobby bar for a martini before setting out for Congress.

Incidentally, for those of you following more of The Noses than The Bryants, in order to enjoy a cocktail in the lobby bar (where dogs are not allowed) we had the valet pull up Snowball, our white rental Escalade, and we stored the dogs in there, parked just outside the front door, while we imbibed.

Dinner at Congress is an experience.  The exterior promises an edgy contemporary environment that is not fulfilled by the off-white chairs and booths of the interior.  However, the seating is warm and comfortable with only a dozen or so tables.  The wine list is extensive but the restaurant lacks a sommelier.  Left to our own devices, we opted for a wonderful Margaux.  The food, however, was unbelievable.  French in size and sauce, American and Asian in ingredients with a presentation worthy of Michelangelo, it was a real treat.  Sadly, I was too full to try the egg cream dessert—the one item that drew me to the restaurant in the beginning.

But back to work!  Having not heard from the APHIS office by 9:00 on Wednesday morning, we thought we might have to spend another night in Austin.  As Wednesday dawned warm and getting warmer, the thought of lazing by the pool all day sounded quite nice.  So I only half-heartedly walked up to the APHIS office to check on the progress of our papers.  Turns out, the papers would be ready by noon so I returned to the room in time for our P90X workout and a quick shower before being pulled away from the peaceful Four Seasons.

We are now only days away from The Crossing.  All the papers are in, flights are booked, even Salt & Pepper are loaded on the freighter. 

Really?  Isn’t anyone going to stop us?