A quick (and nerdy) trip to Austin, Texas

A good excuse to see a new city, or even a new country, is an event. Be it a concert, visiting a friend or family member, a special occasion, festival or convention. For our trip to Austin, Texas it was the latter.

Rooster Teeth (an internet based company that makes podcasts, videos, movies and more) has been holding RTX in their home-town of Austin since 2011. It is a convention/expo which consists of panels, live shows, premiers, stalls and more. They have since expanded to Sydney and London.

This wasn't our first RTX, we actually went over to Sydney a couple of years ago for the very first RTX Sydney. So this year, while on the great big continent of North America, we wanted to take the chance to go to the original RTX in Austin. We also figured it would be a good excuse to visit a new city.

Video games and nerdy pop culture aren't necessarily the first things that come to mind when you think of Texas, but they definitely have a presence and even add to the dynamic and unique feel of the city of Austin. The city is laid-back, while also proud, and seems to embrace different cultures existing within it, including video game ‘nerds’, anime fans, ‘geeks’ and more.

There were still many of the elements you would expect when visiting the Southern state; country music played in restaurants and shops, hearing “y’all” actually being used, BBQ joints with their glossy array of meat served by weight, and Tex-Mex specialties like breakfast tacos.
However, there was also plenty that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from Texas. As we walked around the downtown area, we saw electric scooters available to rent, art-house cinemas outnumbered mainstream multiplexes, and rather than seeing an endless row of all the usual shops and fast food restaurants, there was a vibrant and unique array of independent restaurants, bars, shops and businesses.

Most of our time was taken up by the Expo, but we did manage to explore Austin a little bit. Here is a collection of things that we did, and also things we noticed about the city. It might help you get an idea of what to do if you’re heading to Austin.

NB: We feel obliged to mention the heat… If you’re not from a city (or country) that is consistently 30-40+ degrees Celsius, then you ARE going to find it hot. There’s no fighting it, you just have to accept it and let the sweat flow. On a positive note, the Texans are as equipped to deal with heat as Canadians are with snow; every building has air-conditioning and we found plenty of places around to fill up our water-bottles. That being said, prepare yourself…dress light, don’t exert yourself and drink plenty of water.


RTX 2018

If you are a fan of Rooster Teeth, we highly recommend visiting one of their expos at some point. Unlike other expos where you often just spend time walking around looking at stalls, RTX has a huge schedule of many different panels and shows, as well as a selection of stalls, signing events, community events, meet and greets and more. You can pick and choose what panels and events you attend according to your interests and timing. We attended all 3 days, and found plenty of things to fill up each day comfortably. Panels covered a wide range of topics such as video games, animation, cosplaying, anime, writing, video editing, vlogging, comedy and plenty more. They also had guests such as Mega 64, Houston Outlaws and Meg Turney.
We found the event to be really well organised, it seemed to run smoothly and getting into the expo was fast and easy with little to no lines.
To make everything fair for all attendees, they only allowed line-ups to begin 1 hour before a panel, and when lines were formed they were organised and orderly.
We found we were able to gets into in all of the events we were interested in, except for some of the super popular ones (e.g. Achievement Hunter, RTPodcast).

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Bats on Congress

From March to November, Congress Bridge in downtown Austin is home to about 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats. Not long after the sun sinks behind the horizon, the bats begin to emerge in a stunning synchronization and fly off into the night for their nocturnal feeding habits. People line the bridge around sunset and wait so they can watch this phenomenon.
We did this on one of our first nights, and ended up returning twice more because we found it so wonderful to watch. It is a truly amazing experience to be on the bridge and see a cloud of bats flying into the twilight, and it is staggering to see just how many bats live under the bridge (this event can last over 45 minutes). They can fly quite close to the side of the bridge, so if that makes you a little nervous, stand back a bit to feel more at ease. On the other hand, if you want to get up close, there are a selection of boat and kayak tours that will take you onto the water of Lady Bird Lake so you can watch the bats emerge from a different perspective.

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There is A LOT of delicious food to choose from in Austin. TIP: It’s best to visit hungry!
Firstly, let’s address the BBQ… Texas is famous for it’s BBQ (particularly beef), and if you are a meat-eater you should definitely try it. It can be a little intimidating to walk into a BBQ restaurant and try to read their ‘Menu’, which usually consists of different types and cuts of meat and the weight in Ounces and Pounds, but the people of Austin are really nice, and will help you if you seem a little confused. It is a little heavy on the digestive system, so keep that in mind when ordering; don’t go if you want a ‘light meal’, share with someone else or with a group to taste more but eat less, and don’t be afraid to take some away in a ‘doggy bag’ if you can’t finish it.
Don’t necessarily skip the sides either (corn, potato salad, mac and cheese etc.), they will help to counter-balance out the mass of meat you’re about to ingest, and they are also really good!

Texas is also the birth place of Tex-Mex (Texas-Mexican food), but the main food item you should try in Austin is breakfast tacos. They can be found in a few places around the city, and there are plenty of varieties and flavours to choose from. Much like BBQ, they are not something you’d want to be eating every day, but still a delicious thing to try when visiting the city.
Look out for the Migas taco, which is an Austin specialty with scrambled eggs, tortilla chips and toppings.

Other great food options to look out for are sandwiches (get as a meal with the potato chips!), fried chicken, hot dogs, burgers and pizzas…basically all the American foods you know and love.

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Austin has a legendary bar scene, in particular the infamous area of 6th street, which is located in Downtown. The street is dotted with many bars, clubs and restaurants and closes to traffic in the evenings and weekends.
Don’t just stay around 6th street though, as there are plenty more worthy places not far from it (often less crowded, more classy ones).

We went to CU29 for some delicious, elegant cocktails and the bartender there gave us a great run down of the bar scene and some ideas of where to go. Another place worth a mention is Red Headed Stepchild Bar, AKA Floppy Disc Repair company - a speakeasy style bar that requires a secret code to enter.

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With everything else going on in Austin, we were expecting much more of a specialty coffee scene there. However, we didn’t find a lot of good coffee spots, particularly in the Downtown area where we mostly spent our time.

We ended up going to Houndstooth Coffee most days, the only good coffee shop we could find near Austin Convention Centre. They had different beans to choose from for Espresso or Drip coffee, and the drinks tasted pretty good - not too sour or bitter, with a little sweetness. They also had a small range of light breakfast/snack options to choose from e.g. banana bread, breakfast tacos, nut bars, cereal.

On our last day we ventured a few blocks out to a place called Better Half Coffee & Cocktails - we don’t remember how we found the actual taste of the coffee, but we do remember finding the drinks a little lukewarm. They had a good food menu though, and quite a large space with seating options inside and outside.

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An interesting observation we made while in Austin, is that the city seems to have more small, independent Cinemas than large multiplex chains. They are serious about their boutique cinema scene, some even having strict ‘No Disturbance’ policies, where you will be asked to leave for talking or using your phone.

Independent cinemas often mean smaller, stylish theaters and a unique range of films to choose from and support. They often also have a menu of great food and drink options to enjoy while watching a movie.

We managed to fit in a visit to the Violet Crown (pictured above) to see Eight Grade and we really enjoyed both the movie and the experience of the cinema itself. We would love to explore more of the cinema scene in Austin next time.

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Some other things to note/check out:

Texas State Capitol
Hard to miss, in the Downtown area, cool building to look at, though some of the statues/memorials around the outside are uncomfortably pro-Confederacy

This is a cool and fun-looking option for getting around the city. You just need to download an App onto your phone and scan the QR code of the scooter, and you’re away. They are electric, so don’t require too much effort, and they look super fun!
You do, however, need to be able to use Mobile data for the App (so we couldn’t try it).
Just be careful and mindful of pedestrians and cars - the rules for riding these scooters are the same as riding bikes.

Festivals/Special Events
There are plenty of events that happen each year in Austin (e.g. Austin City Limits, South by Southwest) and it can get very busy when they are on, so just bear this in mind when planning to travel to the city. It might give you a reason to visit Austin, or it might give you a reason to move your trip dates slightly to avoid the crowds.

We really enjoyed our time in Austin and at RTX, but definitely feel like we only touched upon the surface of this effortlessly cool and unique city. We would absolutely return to explore it more (and just brace ourselves for the heat)!

Food and Drink Adventures in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia lies on the East Coast of Canada, and makes up what is known as the "Maritimes", also including New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. It's main city, Halifax, has a long and vibrant history, resulting in a varied selection of good food and good drink options to be found. The Maritimes are probably most well-known for the seafood, however we found there to be so much more on offer than just seafood. 

We had just over 2 days in Halifax, so were time limited. However, we still managed to squeeze in a taste of the local flavours. 

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1. Chain Yard

Urban Cidery

We found Chain Yard Cidery after a quick Google search of places to eat within walking distance from where we were staying. It peaked our interest on-line, and in person, it did not disappoint.

The decor is urban, rustic, and chilled out. Dimmed lights and a glowing red neon sign gave the place a night time glow well-paired with good food and alcohol. We were seated and served extremely well by the waiter; the service was excellent. 

Our experience:

Food - We chose a few small plates to share and it was all REALLY good. The kitchen was pretty small, so it was impressive with how quickly the food came out and at a high quality. 
The dessert was amazing!

The plates we chose were: Scallop Arancini + Southern Fried Chicken + Apple cinnamon crumble with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce

Drinks - We chose 2 flights: one had four Chain Yard ciders, and the other had four local "guest" ciders. The presentation was unique, and the names were written under each small glass, which was great, because we knew what we were drinking and didn't have to try memorise what the server told us. There was a good variety of flavours in each flight, and it was customisable, so you could choose the ciders that interested you to try. 

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2. Good Robot

Brewing Company

We had researched this brewery back in B.C before embarking on our trip, and it was on our list of places to try while in Halifax. It also happened to be not far from where we were staying (I guess everything was..? Halifax isn't huge).

They specialise in beverages, but they have paired up with local food places who will come and cook in the corner of the bar to offer things to eat as well. We just had beer this time, but the food and menu looked good.
As it was Winter, inside was humming, but we managed to find seating. We can imagine some evenings getting pretty busy, but in warmer months, they have a great outdoor area, which would spread people out a bit. 

They also had a shop on-site where you could buy Drinks and Merchandise to take home.

The decor was cool, and we're always interested to see different and unique ways to display flights; here they came in a muffin tray which was pretty inventive and deserved a mention. 

What we tried:

"All you can Eat" Coconut IPA - we really liked it, and it wasn't all just talk; it actually had a coconut flavour. Delicious.

Flight of 4: El Espinazo del Diablo, We're not Bitter, Dave and Morley 4.0, But Wait there's More
As with Chainyard, you can mix and match your flight, and there's lots of interesting options to choose from. The four we chose were all very good, but our favourites had to be these two:

El Espinazo del Diablo - with Lime and Jalapeno; some zest and heat. Like the coconut IPA, it really did taste like it said it might and the flavours were well-balanced. Recommendation: try this last if in a flight, as the warmth from the Jalapeno can linger and affect your taste of the others!

Dave and Morley 4.0 - this was a coffee brown, and of course we will try almost anything with coffee in it. The taste was deep and dark, and the rich coffee flavour came through well. It was almost like drinking a cold brew. 

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3. Studio East

Food + Drink

After trying out the some local beer at Good Robot, we wandered to our next spot. We were ready for some food, and possibly a few more beverages, as it was Wednesday Tiki Night at Studio East. 

The place was cosy, and decorated accordingly. We were seated quickly, and right next to the Tiki bar, which allowed us a Front row seat to watch the bar tender at work.  

We ordered some unique cocktails, and after perusing the menu, chose some food to share.
The staff were charismatic and friendly. The kitchen and bar wasn't huge, but they really worked their space and it seemed to be running like a well-oiled machine. 

What we tried:

Drinks - For Tiki Wednesday, the bartenders create 3 feature cocktails. The 2 we chose were the "Cinnamon Girl" and the "Sleeping Giant". Now, we don't have a good recollection of what exactly was in them, but we do remember that they tasted amazing! They were fresh, full-of-flavour and the display and garnishes were excellent. 

Food - Calamari Pakora + Dumpwing + Ricebowl with Pork Belly. The food was excellent. Particularly the Ricebowl, which had extremely tender pork belly, and some amazing house-made kimchi.    

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On our way out of Halifax, we stopped in Dartmouth to check out a coffee shop (more about that here). While there, we stumbled across our last foodie stop before heading to our next destination.

Yeahyeahs offers New York style Pizza sold by the slice, and by the pie. A few choices of flavour kept it nice and simple. The decor was also simple, but stylish. 

What we tried:

A slice of cheese and mushroom + a slice of pepperoni. 

Both flavours tasted really good, and there was a good ratio of toppings, cheese and base. They weren't too greasy, and we liked that the flavours were kept simple, but they still had ample flavour and taste.

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Overall, we enjoyed getting a brief taste of Nova Scotia. As we travelled in Winter, there were a few places and areas closed for the season, so although it was good to go when there weren't too many tourists around and the hotel prices were a little lower, it would be good to go back to sample more in the warmer seasons. 

As for seafood, we didn't end up having a lot of it in Nova Scotia, but later on in our Maritime travels we did eventually get to taste some. You can read more about that soon. 

Any other local food places in Nova Scotia that you think are worth a visit? Let us know