The morning of the second Saturday we were at the Megabus station waiting for our bus to Austin. I remember it was a dull morning with a hint of a drizzle. The usual let's hurry, the cab is at the door, hold on I need to pick up my tablets had given way to hope we won't be late as the cab picked up speed. Nope we were not late. Only a couple had arrived before us. Slowly the big blue bus entered the station, but it wasn't the Double Decker we had booked. "Sorry mam, that bus is not available. This is your bus" the attender apologized profusely. The view from the top window was supposed to be amazing and I had booked a window seat for each one of us. Sob sob:( Dallas Downtown was deserted save for a couple of bikers as we drove through it. Wasn't Sixth Floor Museum somewhere near Elm street I thought as we crossed it.
This drive was not very green as I saw yellow grass in abundance. But strips of green had yellow flowers like a rash all over it. Suddenly a profusion of bales came into a view. Back in India we stacked hay like a mound but in US they rolled it up in neat rolls. I remembered my surprise the first time I saw them. Wonder who came up with this idea? "What are these?" I Whatsapped my sister as we drove past lots of strange looking vehicles parked together. "Recreation Vehicles people use them when they want to travel with amenities" she replied. Ah! Like the Caravans in Enid Blyton stories. Police sirens screamed as their vehicles sped past us. I sat glued to the window. A black Van with "Sheriff " painted all over it raced past us. Whom were they chasing? Were they checking that vehicle? A RV is also parked on the road? It seemed straight out of NYPD Blue. A little ahead we saw Police entering a house. Perhaps they were two different incidents? We left them behind. Half an hour later we joined the traffic entering Austin and the skies opened. We sat behind a curtain of water as rain splattered over the windows.
Luckily the rains stopped, and we caught our first glimpse of The Capitol. Its pink dome stood out boldly in the skyline. After the first look it looked like we saw it everywhere or was I searching for it in every break in the Skyline? Soon we were heading towards it. We paused for pictures at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial and the Texas Peace Officer’s Memorial. The dome grew bigger and bigger and suddenly we were in its presence. The Capitol rose over well-kept lawns. It was pink with huge columns. I stopped to take it in. The Statue of Liberty stood high above. I took a picture and walked with my head tilted back as I tried to capture it in one frame. The building widened as I stepped back. Finally, my view port was full of it and I captured it. What were those six emblems on top? I peered at them. Not very clear:( Wikipediasays The Capitol is modeled in the Italian-Renaissance revival style architecture. Not much of a crowd I thought looking at the stray visitors. The entrance was actually Grey granite and not Pink. Crowds filled the inside. Why so many Chinese in here? I peeped over the shoulders and cameras of the crowd. Small children were dancing. "Love of China, May Asia Festival” a banner read. Got it. I looked up. The beautiful white dome reached for the sky. Sunlight streamed in. White didn't look colorless, it sparkled in the sunlight. People were watching from all levels. The music changed, and an older set of girls twirled the ribbons in their hands in synchronization and the crowd went wild. Doting parents jostled to the front for a better view, a better picture for FB :) I had wormed my way in. The dances were beautiful, but we had to go on the tour of the Capitol. I walked out. We crossed the corridor paved with Stars and rich wooden doors and joined the crowd waiting for the tour.
Inside the Capitol
Senate - seat of Power
Painting on the Senate Wall
Each member gets his own desk and chair? How quaint and how different from the Indian setting! Wonder how many members make up this Senate? Definitely less than the number of members in KarnatakaLegislative Council. The Speaker's podium was in front of a Pavilion with fancy green curtains. And the walls were covered with Photos of famous men, women and battles from history. The tour guide an elderly lady was talking excitedly of the Battle of the Alamo. She was fired up but seemed to be exerting herself too much. Was the crowd not swayed by her narration? I was in the front row and all ears. American history I knew a bit, but History of Texas didn't know much. I was hearing them for the first time. Did my dumb look at the high points in the narration get to her? Poor lady. I cringed. "The upper house is in session, you cannot go in” the guide said as we walked past a closed door. She pointed out the Medals of Honour, the busts of famous people. Gleaming beautiful floors, rich wooden doors and Stairs. How beautiful the corridors were!
The Dome seen from the basement
Six emblems on the Floor
Lone Star inside the Dome
We were in the basement. In 1993 when a need to extend the building arose they went underground. From a vantage point we looked up to see the Dome through the glass roof. I took a couple of pictures before I found the angle to get it positioned right in the centre. Oh, that glassed enclosure with trees bordering it at the entrance was the roof of this extension? Didn't realize it. Did the guide say Texas Capitol was bigger than the one in Washington DC? A friend nodded yes. Wow! We climbed up the dome and peered down at the Six emblems on the ground. They were separated by the arms of a Star. People were posing for pictures by their favorite emblem. Texas was ruled by Six nations and these are their Coat of Arms my friend explained. Ok, I nodded. We would see them even in the University of Texas. High up in the dome shone a single Star the current emblem, the Lone Star. Were visitors allowed to tour the Vidhana Soudha back home? I had never been on it and here I was on a tour of the Texas Capitol! The outside of Vidhana Soudha was impressive. How did the inside look? The Capitol had been beautiful both inside and outside.
Texas University Tower
Senses sated we went looking for a hotel to satisfy the hunger pangs. And ended up ordering a Hamburger! Oops we were Vegetarian! It had to go back. But I had lost my appetite and ended up eating some Mexican which had fallen out of favor by then. A quick ride and we were at Texas University. All roads led to it! Why? It was Convocation day and crowds thronged the campus. The famous Texas University Tower was all someone wanted to see. But pilgrims like me wanted a tour of the University. We stood in a queue to enter and then toured the campus. Congratulatory gifts were being sold in makeshift tents. Students were posing for pictures everywhere. A sari clad mom stood precariously on the edge of a pond while her daughter posed across the road! I peeped into the pond, small tortoises swam in it. Some were basking in the sun on some stones. We turned a corner and got a full view of the Texas University's iconic tower. It was just like we had seen in the pictures. Wonder what it housed?
Designs under the eaves
Yachts snared in a net
A little ahead was a memorial to the Vietnam war. Next Mustangs stopped us in our tracks. I went up to read the inscription under them. They were being honored for their contribution in the Battle of the Alamo. This Alamo seemed very significant. What was it? I would get the answer the next day at San Antonio. And now we knew why Mustangs had been installed in SMU. A friend wanted a picture with the young Graduate posing in front of it. And she was happy to pose with us. And did she say "Thank you mum" when I congratulated? How nice! What was that near the eaves? I stared at the designs on Sutton Hall. They looked pretty. And who are those athletes carrying the Olympic torch? No name anywhere? That art installation is oh Yachts caught in a net. We stood gawking at it. But it was beautiful! "Chemistry Dept" someone said excitedly. A rush of memories about our college surfaced and we quickened our pace. "Heating and Powerstation" was next. "Watt, Edison, Zeuner, Carnot, Joule.." this must be the Physics dept. We would have done a jig, we were so excited. If the visit to SMU was a Pilgrim's dream this was a walk down memory lane. But we had seen only from the outside because of the Convocation. In SMU we had gotten a more intimate tour thanks to a student friend. I turned back with one last look at the tower. I had dreamt of seeing one American university but had seen two in this visit. La la la.
Heating and Powerstation
Watt, Edison, Zeuner, Carnot, Joule..
Buildings mirrored in each other
Half opened Flower at the top
Where can we get some water? We looked up and down the street. Tall glass and steel buildings lined it. Like lovers gazing in each other's eyes the buildings mirrored each other. We were in Texas downtown and parched. A mobile Pub crawler with a cask at one end and people seated around a table crawled in front of us. We felt more thirsty. A friend arrived with water bottles and we settled down on the benches in the company of Bank of America, Silicon Labs etc. A huge building seemed to have mimicked a half-opened flower at the top. The building was glistening in the Sun. The flower would be all lit up at night. Thirst quenched, we walked to the Lady Bird Lake entrance on Congress Avenue. We had arrived early. The famous Bats would put in an appearance a couple of hours later. We walked down the River walk. Brightly colored Kayaks were stacked at one place. People were picking up a Kayak, were given a few instructions and walked into the water an oar in hand. Courage failed me. I did not know how to handle the oar! Neither I did I know swimming. Except for a couple of friends none of us were sure and we dampened the spirits of the others.
A bridge over Lady Bird Lake
So, with nothing to do we walked to the Bridge and joined the small crowd peering down at the Lake. Young couples and families slowly joined us. The toddlers ran around on unsteady feet. A few minutes later a boat with a party on the deck floated down the lake. The newlywed couple stood waving at us. Perhaps there was Music playing but the traffic noise behind us was too loud to hear it. The board read Speed limit was 30 but the vehicles were racing! A boat like a Swan floated lazily. A man slept on his back while a woman rowed. This was the twenty first century! Should we have tried the Kayak? Didn't look very difficult I mused. The reflections in the buildings lengthened. A girl lying on her back on a Kayak tried to slowly lift another girl on her feet. The second girl fell into the Lake. She climbed back in. Another Kayak joined them. The second time both fell into the Lake. By now they had the crowd for audience. The four of them kept trying the whole time we were there. Perhaps they were practicing for some competition. The Sun painted the lake red as it set right opposite us. The buildings lit up. And a good hour later the Bats streamed from under the bridge. What started as ones and twos suddenly became a flood. People bent double over the Bridge trying to catch it. I setup night mode and got a blanket of dark shapes for a picture. They were all over the place. I should have changed the mode and turned on the flash. Duh! Friends who had stayed back near the Yachts would later confirm seeing thick clouds streaming out from under the bridges. All I saw was hazy black shapes :( .
Bats streaming out
Cars whizzed by as we made our way to Sixth street. The buildings were festive with lights all over. I fell in love with Austin downtown. It was beautiful compared to Dallas. A man was playing keyboards at the entrance of the street. Cycles for pickup were parked on one side. A little ahead Cycle rickshaw drivers were calling out for customers. Did we need a ride? Nah we wanted to walk. The whole road was free of traffic. People walked right in the middle of the road. Some danced, some played games on the road. On either side open air pubs were crowded with people. We could see live bands performing. Singers sang lustily while people danced. People were living it up in Pubs on open terraces. A friend decided she would love to eat Pizza. The Pizza was the size of a barrel lid! I gaped. Mounted police stood at one end of the street. A woman dressed to the pins, squatted on the sidewalk beside a Pub eating, stilettos and all. Gobbling rather than eating. Was that a Cigar in one hand? Nobody gave her a second look. Strange. I did a double take :)
Bikes waiting for riders
Man playing a keyboard
Why don't we check out a pub? The doorman would not believe a colleague was in her late twenties, was a mother and had a kid. He wanted an Id proof. And she had none. Her mailbox refused to yield the coveted proof and we turned away dejected. The whole road was one big party every night. Nightlife spilled out. We walked down the road soaking in the festive mood. Finally tired we called for a cab and meandered to the start of the road. My feet were killing me. I just collapsed on a bench. The woman who was sitting and eating sidled up and asked, "Can you spare some change?" OMG I thought she was harmless! Shocked I stood up on my poor feet. The Cab arrived, and we drove to La Quinta for the night.
Pizza - how big can you get ?
What a day it had been! We had been at the seat of power, we had become Academic, communed with Nature and partied!
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