Queso, Patios, and Margarita's: Helloooo Austin, Texas

Woah, guys. Austin is amazing.

From the cheesiest queso dips to the sprawling outdoor patios and endless tacos, Austin is a haven for a great time.

I just got back from a quick weekend trip and as my boyfriend and I were in the airport about to fly back (and snacking on our last taco), we declared that we must return. And soon.

We stayed in an Airbnb, near South Congress Ave. which is a great area for strolling through boutique stores and finding a tasty place to eat.

The first day, I wanted to stop at Jo’s Coffee to take the quintessential Austin picture near the “I Love You So Much” graffiti that is sprawled on the side of their building. So we swung by and stood in line next to other couples and a group of eagerly awaiting teenagers girls - much to the chagrin of my boyfriend.

Afterward, we wanted to grab a few coffees and decided upon their specialty “Iced Turbo” drink, which consisted of whole milk, half and half, sweetened condensed milk, coffee, espresso, chocolate and hazelnut...with that much sugar and cream, you can imagine just how delicious it was.

Throughout the trip we made a stop here almost every morning, sometimes accompanied by their hangover curing bean and cheese breakfast tacos.

For lunch, we headed to Torchy Taco’s, filled up on their queso and brisket, fried chicken and pulled pork tacos. Afterward, we decided to walk (/rolled) it all off along the “River Walk”. We really wanted to try this Hula Hut bar we heard about, so we walked a little over 3 miles to get there - but it was along the beautiful river and by the time we got there, we were more than ready for a few margaritas near the water.

At night, we hit up Rainey Street, which was a ton of fun. It used to be a row of houses that is now converted into bars with an array of live music, food trucks and dancing. A few of our favorite spots were Container Bar, which was made out of huge shipping containers, Parlor Bar which had a live band and a giant Jenga set and Bangers, a german-style indoor/outdoor bar with live music as well. Throughout the night, we made a few stops at the food trucks to fuel our debauchery.

The next day, we started off with an Iced Turbo and breakfast tacos and then decided to take advantage of the sunny day (and try to rid ourselves of a hangover) at Barton Springs. This is an amazing huge outdoor pool, filled entirely by nearby natural springs. It stays at about 70 degrees year round, which was a bit cold for early March, but made for a refreshing float.

We were in town for a wedding which was later that night and held at a beautiful outdoor venue, so we danced the night away and filled up on...more tacos.

The last two days were a blur of food, drinks and dancing. Some of the highlights include The White Horse bar on 6th Street, devouring BBQ at Cooper Old Time BBQ, having dinner at Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill, the one and only Yeti cooler store (which also has a great little bar in it) and Spiderhouse Ballroom - an odd name, but a great outdoor patio bar/coffee shop/food truck spot near the University.

I also had to make a stop at Lucy’s Fried Chicken (as we share the same name) and we had a basket of some crispy fried chicken, fried okra and deliciously crumbly mac-and-cheese. The chicken was so good, we brought home an extra order for late night cravings.

Most of the places we visited were great though and the people were very friendly albeit a bit odd, but hey “Keep Austin Weird”.

I might need a break from tacos for a month or so, but I’ll definitely be returning soon. We left with a list of other places we want to visit when we do and I’m especially looking forward to trying the Electric Jellyfish beer at Pinthouse Pizza.

Until next time, Austin!

- The Captain

 




 

Thanksgiving in Amsterdam

This past Thanksgiving, my boyfriend and I decided against the normal family weekend and took an impromptu trip to Amsterdam. One day we found ourselves over a tasty cheese & charcuterie plate and a glass of wine at one of our favorite wine bars in the city. As that glass turned to a bottle and we started dreaming of our next travel destination, we thought we might as well take a peek at Skyscanner. We had been planning to go to Chicago over that Thanksgiving weekend to visit his parents, but we saw $500 round-trip flights to Amsterdam with WowAir. This was almost half the price it was going to be if we went to Chicago, which was too good of a deal to pass up. We giddily purchased our tickets that night and crossed out our “travel to another country” bullet on our list of things to do before the 2016 year was up.

The day finally came and we packed our bags up with puffy jackets, raincoats and walking boots and readied ourselves for the winter chill of Amsterdam.

Finally arriving in Amsterdam after a somewhat painful WowAir experience, we immediately fell in love with our Airbnb and neighborhood in between the Haarlemmerbuurt and the Jordaan districts. It was a four-level skinny (and steep) little apartment. It was the perfect spot to plan out our adventures over the next nine days.

There are too many things to go into everything in detail, but if I had to pick my favorite part of Amsterdam, it would have to be the canals. At that time of the year, all the trees lining the canals were full of golden yellow leaves that would fall to the surface of the water, creating a beautiful impressionist like scene from a painting. The architecture itself is also incredible...

One day we decided to check out the Van Gogh Museum, which I would definitely recommend, and when we came out we were met with the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. It was vibrant red-almost purple streaks painted across the sky with slashes of orange and yellow. Besides the breathtaking scenery, many parks and architecture, we had some amazing meals, took a boat cruise through the canals, experienced coffee shops, wandered around the different districts and found some incredibly old bars and hip new hangout spots.

Much to my happiness, we also ran into a few different cats around the city. It is definitely more of a cat vs. dog city, which makes sense with its tiny houses. The first bar we went to we saw a woman with her cat just curled up next to her. Another night we had a friendly, big, orange cat (we nicknamed him Nacho) follow us home hoping for more pets and treats. Throughout our trip we’d stop by restaurants that had their token cat hanging out under the windowsill, basking in the sun.

We also found the BEST apple pie I’ve ever had at Winkel 43. No exaggeration. After my first slice of the perfect mixture of thick slices of spiced apple and a melt in your mouth crumbly crust, I was tempted to immediately order another one. Pat wisely deterred me, but we definitely came back for round two on another day. We also got excellent mint tea, which was just a huge mint bunch soaking in hot water - straight from the source. 

One our second to last day, we celebrated Thanksgiving by cooking up a feast at home and stopping by the necessary coffee shop beforehand, which became an adventure in its own.

All in all, Amsterdam was a great city. I loved that you could walk everywhere, sit along the canals or stop by local bars to people watch. We unfortunately didn’t get a chance to bike, but next time it’s a must! My friend is just about to move to Amsterdam (sadly for me!) but I’m excited to have the chance to revisit Amsterdam again soon!

Below are a few notable places we loved on our trip:

  • Harlem - Bar/restaurant we went to a few different times. It has surprisingly great nachos and it’s where we discovered an amazing dutch IPA beer called Thai Thai from Oedipus Brewing
  • Vesper Bar - Tasty cocktails near our Airbnb
  • Cafe de Oranjerie - Great local bar + pub food, friendly bartenders that we played Jenga with and I repeatedly lost at.
  • Temple Doeloe - Awesome Indonesian restaurant where we got rijsttafel - 36 tiny portions of foods with varying spice temperature
  • De Blauwe Druif - Great bar, great Bitterballen
  • PIQNIQ - Great spot to grab lunch and walk around the Joordan neighborhood
  • Il Pacioccone - tiny Italian family-run restaurant, amazing pasta and Caponata
  • Brouwerij 't IJ - Awesome brewery in a windmill, they only have one english tour a day, so we missed it but great beer and tasty cheese + grilled sausages
  • G’s - Somewhat hidden breakfast place, the menus were on record players and they had amazing drinks and brunch-like options (think chicken & waffles and benedicts)
  • ‘T Blaauwhooft - first spot we visited, great local pub w/ good food

Escape to Calpine Fire Lookout

Spontaneous trips are sometimes just what you need.

I recently found out that you can stay overnight in old fire lookouts and immediately went to find one close to San Francisco. I stumbled upon Calpine Fire Lookout and luckily enough there was a mid-week last minute cancellation for Wednesday and Thursday night. 

Luckily, my boyfriend and I are able to work from home on a whim, so we decided to snatch up the reservations that were otherwise all booked through next February. Let me just start off by saying how INCREDIBLY happy I am that we did! It was serene, peaceful, adventurous and at times a bit eery - with all the creaks and noises in the dark of night we usually don't hear in the city.

Calpine Lookout is about a 4-hour drive from San Francisco and about a 30-minute drive from Truckee. After checking in at the ranger station, we winded our way past cows, horses and sheep grazing in large open pastures as we peered up at the towering green mountains that surrounded us. It was refreshing to have a break from the city and be encompassed by nature. 

We find our turn off and make our last 15 minute drive up a rough dirt road that felt like a roller coaster - pleased that we had a rental - and came upon our home for the next two nights.

The outside of the lookout was a weathered white and gray with paint chipping off here and there. Our room was on the observation level that had a wrap around deck and windows on all sides so we had 360-degree views. Inside it had a small propane stove, a desk, two twin beds, an old fire lookout compass and a dry sink - it was glamping at its finest.

As our first adventure, we decided to do a hike to another fire lookout - Sierra Buttes Lookout - which ended up being a 6.5 mile hike (because of our slight unbeknownst detour) that was all uphill. With the altitude and us climbing up to 8,587 elevation, let's just say we were definitely winded after the hike up. At the top of the ridge, we then had to climb 200 metal stairs to reach the actual lookout perched high over a cliff. As we climbed up the stairs, we could look down at the emptiness and tumbling mountain below us. We finally made it to the top and had a celebratory beer to calm the nerves and help us catch our breath as we took in the scenery - and it was well worth it.

Around us, there were a few patches of snow still clinging onto the last chill as summer heated the mountain side. Below us we could see a few different alpine lakes and a dense forest that surrounded them. Further down we could see yellow fields that had been carved out by glaciers and surrounded by jagged mountains. Taking this all in, feeling accomplished after the hike up and refreshed from our still cold beers, was one of those moments in life, you know you'll look back on.

When we got back to our lookout, we uncorked a bottle of wine and took chairs out to sit on the deck. We chatted, read and soaked up the nature around us. When the sun started to lower, orange streaks splashed across the sky as the mountains turned blue and the trees a dark green - it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen.

After our dinner of bacon-wrapped tenderloin cooked with pineapples and brussels sprouts, we watched the stars slowing peak out from the veil of the night as we continued to chat and drink more wine.

The first night we hardly slept, the night was so silent, the crickets were so loud and we'd hear noises that made us think that some animal was climbing up our stairs. But when the moon went down and the stars were all out, it became peaceful as I could just turn over and see the night sky. I could perfectly see my favorite constellation, Pleiades or the Seven Sisters right from my bed. On the second night, we were lucky enough to have a meteor shower and so we got up at 1am and sat under the stars watching them shoot across the sky one after the other. In the early morning, the sky was painted yellow, orange and red as the sun rose and we lay snuggled in our sleeping bags, watching the sun come up as the birds begin to chirp.

On our last day, we decided to do another hike that passed by six different Alpine lakes - starting with Round Lake. We packed sandwiches of leftover pork loin, tomatoes, and spinach and made our way through the trail, pausing at each lake. Near the halfway mark, we found a big rock along a lake to take a break and watched dragonflies hover around and lake trout splash up for a mid-day snack. 

After our hike, we went to the Gold Lake Lodge for an ice cold beer and wash off from the dusty trails. An ice cold beer after a good long hike, I believe is the perfect combo. We decided for the rest of the day that we would go to a clothing optional hot springs, it was $15 for 3 hours and at that point, I'd pay $15 just for a shower. It was definitely a weird but fun experience. They had a few different pools - one for meditation, one with an alarmingly hot soak tub and a cold plunge bath, they even had random bathtubs placed along the side of the trail walking up to the main pool where people were just lounging naked in. All in all, it was a great experience, but after an hour or two, we were definitely ready for wine and the cozy solitude of our hut...and less...old naked hippies.

When we got back, we cooked a Tri-Tip steak for dinner, drank more wine and watched another sunset that never ceased to amaze me, followed by shooting stars, constellations and a faint dusting of the Milky Way.

Would I come back? 100% yes. I'd even go soak with old hippies again for the sake of a shower and relaxation after a few days of hiking.

- The Captain