By Uschi, Simon Fraser University, Canada.
The start of semester two went so fast, and very quickly the reading week was upon us and my friends and I were wondering what fun (and affordable) travel opportunities we could make the most of during that week. Obviously there was some uni work that needed to get done during this time, but I did not want to miss out on opportunity to do some more travelling – how often do you find yourself in Canada? My flatmate, Millie, had friends studying in Austin in Texas who were also on their year abroad, so considering that visiting a place where you know people is always a good start, we packed our bags and headed off to Austin for a few days hoping to find some sun!
Millie, Tom and I got the coach to Seattle first where we had a day to explore the city before our flight. Seattle is just across the border into America, and it seemed a pretty cool city with quite a similar vibe to Vancouver. Our whirlwind tour of the city included visiting the infamous ‘gum wall’ and the busy ‘Pike Place Market’ which is right by the waterfront and has lots of seafood and other goodies for sale.
We then flew to Austin, where our moods instantly brightened – leaving the plane and finding that the ground was in fact dry and it wasn’t raining (months of living in wet Vancouver had made us forget about a life before the rain). We stayed in a really quirky Air B & B in a great central location so it was easy to walk everywhere in the city. What was really enjoyable was meeting Millie’s friends who were studying there, and going to a couple of parties at their ‘Co-ops’ where they lived. For those not familiar with what the housing situation is for Uni students in America, co-ops (short for Cooperatives) are purpose built housing units for students that are self-organised and self-run. This means that the students themselves are responsible for the cooking, cleaning and running of the building. Everyone has a certain amount of ‘labour’ they have to do each week, and jobs are often assigned according to your strengths; for example if you’re a good cook, you might be in charge of food buying and menu planning. We had a meal at one of the co-ops which was a bit like being in a school canteen, except the food was cooked by your housemates rather that dinner ladies. The buildings were really cool, with lots of graffiti-esque paintings on the walls by students past and present, and one of the co-ops had their own pool which is pretty ideal considering Austin gets pretty hot! Going to parties where there were bowls of punch and your classic red cups you see in every American film or TV programme made it all the more fun.
Expecting to bask in glorious sunshine, we had packed accordingly, so were somewhat disappointed when the wind was pretty brisk, so the one jumper I bought with me was worn every day. We did still manage to get out about and make the most of exploring the city. Highlights included listening to live music at a local jazz bar, eating my body weight in Mexican food, going to a massive graffiti park, and going for a swim in Barton Springs Pool. This is a huge outdoor swimming pool filled entirely with water from nearby natural springs. It’s a firm favourite of Austinite’s when the weather’s good, but of course the day we went there it was freezing, and quite frankly I didn’t even want to take my coat and hat off, let alone plunge into the icy waters. But we had come all this way, so being the troopers we are we still submerged ourselves into the water, although some members needing more persuasion than others…
Overall a wicked couple of days in Austin, and definitely somewhere I’d be happy to visit again, although next time in the sun!