Having been to New York on a few occasions now, we have a pretty solid routine, but we do enjoy adding one or two new experiences on each trip.
We were up early enough on the Saturday to get to the Westfield World Trade Center as it opened – mostly because we wanted to get the classic shot at the entrance that everyone gets for Instagram before it got crowded. This was our first visit – the architecture is incredibly impressive but I think I enjoyed the walk through Tribeca more than the mall. We spent very little time here once we’d got our shots, and quickly scuttled up to SoHo for some shoe shopping.
Of course we took a trip up the High Line – we could see parts of it from our hotel room and it frequently looked packed full of people, so we again took advantage of our jet lag to get there early for a gloriously peaceful walk. We saw some beautiful art on this visit – “Agora is a group exhibition that looks at the role of art in defining, creating, and using public space” – and I particularly loved the light installations like Somos 11 Millones by Andrea Bowers (above) and Marinella Senatore’s Give Your Daughter’s Difficult Names (below). It would have been amazing to see them at night.
We had a quick wander around Central Park, but this was peak Christmas Vacation and the crowds were insane. The relative calm of Greenwich Village and SoHo had lulled us into a false sense of security and we completely underestimated how busy the whole of Midtown would be. After battling through the hoards in Central Park, I had the brilliant idea of going down 5th Ave to see the Saks window display – no chance. It was a scrum.
The crowd briefly parted for me to see a bit of the store front, and that was enough for me so we ducked down towards Rockefeller Center. Even crazier idea, as seemingly everyone in New York was also headed this way to see the tree. The last time we saw the tree, it was deserted so to see it so crowded was a little stressful.
We retreated south and spent the rest of our trip in Chelsea and Greenwich, which included stumbling across an insane Christmas tree display, which I think was something to do with The Standard…
… and saw some slightly more upscale Christmas decorations on Bleecker Street.
I also found my new favourite store on Bleecker – The Mask Bar, which stocks dozens of Korean sheet masks. It was heavenly and the perfect end to our trip.
Staying in Chelsea meant we had some of the best eateries on our doorstop, and on at least one of the nights, we spent a good half an hour weighing up options.
For our first night, we walked over to the next block to the Meatpacking District location of Dos Caminos for some amazing Mexican food. The small guac and chips was huge, which made me glad that I only ordered a small plate (chicken taquitos which were amazing). I hit a wall pretty early that evening after our long flight, so couldn’t manage dessert which I’m very sad about as the Mexican hot fudge sundae looks incredible. We really liked the atmosphere in the restaurant and we were really tempted to visit again on this trip.
Our first full day featured a crazy amount of walking (10 miles) and I can’t remember stopping to eat lunch. I do remember wanting to have some kakigōri (Japanese shaved ice) from Bonsai Kakigori in Canal Street Market. I wanted this so much that I made us do something we would never normally do – wait for the place to open. And how were we rewarded? The freaking store didn’t have any ice. WHY!? I’m still angry about it.
After wandering all over SoHo and Greenwich Village, we popped back to the hotel to drop off our shopping, and for Husband to research some shoes he wanted to buy. After buying said shoes, we stopped by Dough Doughnuts on W 19th Street to pick up a snack for later. Although they were very good doughnuts, they weren’t the best doughnuts of the trip…
Dinner that night was just around the corner from our hotel at Bare Burger 8th Ave. Aside from the fact we were sat at high stools (I hate high stools!), this was a great meal, although we ordered way too much and had to waddle back to our room. So good.
Day two featured even more walking (16 miles!!) and again, we didn’t stop for a ‘proper’ lunch, but we did stop for my favourite doughnuts in New York – Underwest Donuts. We found this tiny little store on our last trip and I was overjoyed to eat the most delicious doughnut in such an un-expected location – a car wash!
This was the day we struggled to make a decision for dinner as is so much choice, but I lobbied hard for the Meatball Shop which turned out to be one of the best restaurant decisions we’ve ever made. These guys do meatballs, and they do them well – different types of ball (even meat-free!) matched with different sauces, supplemented by a great selection of sides. I could eat here every day for the rest of my life and not get bored. The staff were wonderful, and helped out with menu recommendations which was definitely needed as it’s surprisingly hard to decide on a meatball combination!
We decided to skip dessert here again – although their ice cream sandwiches were tempting – because I had my eye on a different prize. Chip NYC were in the Gansevoort market when we visited although I think they’ve now closed that branch to move to a bigger location in the West Village. I have never had a cookie like it, and I doubt I’ll have anything like it again. Crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside and just absolute perfection. We visited just before they closed so they only had a couple left – I had Funfetti and Husband had White Chocolate Macadamia but they bake different cookies on different days.
So of course, we had to go back the following afternoon to try more of their menu. I mentioned earlier that I don’t wait for things to open; well, neither do I queue for food. But for Chip cookies, I would queue for an hour. We actually only queued for 15 minutes and were rewarded with warm, doughy goodness (a hot fudge sundae, and a strawberry cheesecake). We found a ledge at the back of Gansevoort Market to perch and try not to make a terrible mess of ourselves with the gooeyness (we failed).
The cookies were a pre-trip home treat, but we had also treated ourselves to a proper breakfast on our final morning – something that has become a bit of a tradition for our final mornings. We had intended to visit Chelsea Market more over the course of our three day trip, but the whole place was constantly over-crowded. Sunday morning was gloriously quiet however, so we stopped by our favourite brunch location – Friedmans. We were a little too far away from our usual location in Hell’s Kitchen, but fortunately they have a small store in Chelsea Market so I was able to order my favourite – eggs with style.
Now, how can I get Deliveroo or Uber Eats to fly over some of those meatballs?
I wouldn’t normally review a Starbucks – I will happily admit that I visit Starbucks a lot (they have the best mochas) but they’re all essentially the same and mostly indistinct. However, a Roastery opened up in New York a few weeks before we visited which is very different to the average store so I thought I’d get a blog post out of it!
The Roastery in New York is the fourth store to open globally, with two further sites planned. It’s located next to Chelsea Market on 9th Avenue, right opposite our hotel, so I had assumed we’d visit on a couple of occasions. It’s huge, with many websites reporting on the 23,000 square footage, three separate coffee bars, a bakery, a scooping bar, and plenty of merch to buy. All this, plus the roastery of course – where coffee beans are roasted on site in very fancy industrial equipment.
Every time we walked by it, the queue snaked around the block, controlled by bouncers on the doors. I don’t know if it was because it had only been opened a couple of weeks but it was crazy. However, one morning we were up early and we noticed that there was no queue, so we popped in to see what the fuss was about.
As soon as you get through the heavy wooden doors, I was overwhelmed. There is so much going on, but I saw the main bar directly in front of us, so aimed for that as a place to start. The main bar seems to involve a lot of confusing equipment, but this is where you get your standard Starbucks drinks. They serve Princi pastries which all looked delicious, so in addition to our normal drinks – a latte and a mocha – we added a chocolate brioche and blueberry muffin to our order.
I then had a heart attack when the total came to $28. Holy crap, this had better be good.
Things then got very chaotic as we waited for the drinks, and it took about 15 minutes for them to come out. There are an insane amount of staff milling about (with ridiculous, almost patronising uniforms – think Peaky Blinders meets Get Out) and whilst many people would enjoy the buzz that this creates, it was too much for me. In the time we waited, the place had started to fill up, and we realised that despite the size of the building, there really wasn’t very much seating around. I sent Husband off to see if there was additional seating down at the “Experience Bar” (fortunately there was, and it was quieter).
The Experience Bar is where to go if you want something unusual – glass bottles full of coffee heated by complicated lamps, flights of espresso with different flavours. Above this is the third bar called Arriviamo serving cocktails – this was closed when we visited (understandably as we were there early) but looked pretty interesting, if not expensive.
And of course, there’s a lot of merchandise, although I think they need to pare it back a bit. As mentioned, I visit Starbucks a lot so have a few re-useable cups which are light enough to carry in my purse but I couldn’t find anything like that here – there was a lot of high end products, elaborate coffee kit, even things unrelated to Starbucks, and I found it quite frustrating.
So was our breakfast worth $28? Hell no. I found the whole thing quite stressful, too busy, and entirely unnecessary. The Princi pastries were nice and I’d love the regular stores to start selling them, and Husband noted that his latte was delicious, but my mocha was tasteless and really not worth whatever they charge for it. As we sat with our drinks, a member of staff came around offering sparkling water which got topped up, so that was a nice touch. The furniture was beautifully made, and I lusted after the wooden chairs, and it definitely felt like we were in a more luxurious store, but is all this a good reason to visit?
I don’t understand why people would queue for this store, especially not in the depths of a New York Winter – I just don’t get why you need a bigger and way more expensive version of a Starbucks. I can’t see that the staff from the Google offices opposite would visit this every day (or maybe they would, maybe I’m wrong) so I guess they’re relying on tourists like me visiting for the novelty value.
If you are in desperate need for a Starbucks (and there’s no queue) go in and have a look, but be prepared to spend some $$$. If there is a queue, turn around, cross the road, and get your latte from the regular store opposite. Then sit in the window and shake your head with incredulity at the people willing to queue up for the Roastery, as you sip smugly on your significantly cheaper drink.
I love spending time in Greenwich Village and Chelsea, so as we were only going to be in NYC for three days, we treated ourselves to a hotel in the area rather than staying in our usual hotel in Midtown. I can’t remember where I saw it first, but I have fantasised about staying in the Maritime Hotel, pretty much opposite Chelsea Market, for a very long time. The iconic porthole windows, the sophisticated decor – it was my dream NYC location. Once we had booked our flights, I started obsessively scouring the internet to find the best room price, and stumbled across Tablet Hotels who had a great sale on, so my dream was finally being realised.
The first thing that you notice when you get to the hotel is the amazing scent – the lobby area smells beautiful. I don’t know what it was, but every time we walked through, it made me happy. I love a well-scented hotel.
The lobby doesn’t just smell good – it also looks stunning – dark wood, warm lighting, gorgeous furniture. They have a very pleasing aesthetic, very hyggelig. We didn’t get a chance to experience the restaurant just off the lobby during our trip, but it was shortly about to close for renovations so perhaps we should have been visited. The problem is that there is too much choice for where to eat in the area.
We had a standard room (called Superior on the website) which was a pretty average size for New York (by that, I mean small) but that’s just to be expected. Having just experienced exceptional Texan hospitality at The Archer in Austin the month before, my expectations were sky high so the room and service did leave me a little underwhelmed. Perhaps I was judging them too harshly but I just wanted a little more more than what was on offer. I’m hard to please when it comes to hotels.
Those porthole windows though.
I will say that we slept well every night in a very comfortable bed, and I really appreciated the bathroom stocked full of my favourite Co Bigelow toiletries. Every room faces the same way, so you’re guaranteed a good view and we spent ages just watching the world go by. You can see the High Line in the distance which was super helpful when deciding when to visit – Saturday afternoon was rammed, whereas we couldn’t see anyone on it Sunday morning.
I didn’t get any good photos of the room, but they look exactly as they do on the website – that same dark wood and blue colour scheme with really unusual decor on the armchairs. They could easily have gone too kitsch with the theming, but they pitched it just right.
We were on the 10th floor so weren’t bothered by any significant noise. Apparently, on the lower floors you can sometimes hear noise from the club below the hotel but all we heard was classic New York car horns.
It truly is in the best area of Manhattan. More blogs will follow which will cover the rest of our trip, but I loved every second of being in Chelsea. Restaurants, shops, nightlife – whatever you’re into, Chelsea has it with the benefit of being away from most of the tourists (Chelsea Market aside, which I still adore but was constantly busy). When I visited NY for the second time in 2015, spending time in Chelsea made me finally “get” the city. This was where I fell in love with it and is the reason why I keep going back. Just sorting through photos is giving me wanderlust again, and I’ve only been back home for three weeks.
Back in November, I noticed that the prices in the Virgin Atlantic Black Friday sale were good. Crazy good. So good that I found myself unable to say no, so booked a little trip to New York for the bit between Christmas and New Year. We initially wanted to go from the 27th to 30th December, allowing us to be back home in plenty of time to go back to work, but we left booking just a smidge too long so the dates we wanted sold out. Always a good lesson – if you see flights you like, snap them up.
We ended up with 28th to 31st December instead, which meant we’d be flying back home on New Year’s Eve. It also meant that the return flight was with Delta – not ideal, but we were still able to use the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK so it wasn’t all bad. Both planes were A330s.
We flew out on VS3, departing Heathrow at 8.50. We don’t live that far from the airport but I still made Husband get up stupidly early so we could get to the Clubhouse as it opened. I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to get myself a spa appointment this time (like last time where I was left sorely disappointed). I manoeuvred a sleepy Husband through an empty Upper Class security lane (praise the lord!) and we made it to the lounge about 10 minutes after it opened. It was so peaceful and empty – I could only see 8 passengers including us – so that spa appointment was mine. Husband managed to get himself booked in for a haircut as well. I paid for a manicure which actually wasn’t that great because the product they use is appalling but to their credit, they have now refunded me. Still enjoyable even if it did start to chip the following day.
We sauntered down to the gate at about 8am – gate 22 again, which is a pain in the neck to get to as it’s pretty much 15 miles away from everything. I always seem to get gate 22. Upper had just started boarding, so we walked straight onto the plane and got settled in. We had the usual reverse herringbone seats with 1-1-1 configuration, and we had picked 3A and 4A so were facing the back of the middle row. I’ve read a lot about how people hate the reverse herringbone, but I still enjoy the seat. This one seemed fairly well maintained, with all the buttons still shiny and new. I got a purple Herschel amenity kit this time which pleased me greatly (I love purple).
We were served lunch at about 10.30 which felt way too early to be eating a three course meal. I had the soup which was delicious, followed by the chicken but I skipped dessert as I wanted to get some sleep.
The last time I few Upper Class and tried to sleep, I could not get comfortable. This time was much better and I slept for hours, only waking up when we hit a lot of turbulence and just in time for afternoon tea.
I was a little confused as I thought this was supposed to be the big fancy afternoon tea by Eric Lanlard, so was a little underwhelmed when this arrived on my tray. This wasn’t quite what I was expecting, tasty though.
We landed at JFK at little earlier than schedule, but were then stuck on the plane for 30 minutes as they couldn’t get the air bridge to work. The ground crew moved it to the front, moved it to the middle, moved it back to the front repeatedly for about half an hour. The captain asked all the passengers to sit back down as he had no idea how long it would take, and at one stage, they were talking about getting old fashioned steps up to the door. They managed to get it working eventually, and once again having Global Entry got us through immigration quick as a flash.
On the way back, we left Manhattan a little earlier than planned as it had just started raining so we thought we’d head to the Clubhouse rather than find something to do. We checked in at the Delta One check in area with a classic grumpy Delta member of staff (all Delta staff seem grumpy), and she advised us where the Sky Club was. Ha, as if we’d go there when the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse was available to us.
I love the JFK lounge. It’s so quiet, the showers are amazing, and the staff are generally excellent. The ability to have a shower and get changed into clean clothes is my favourite thing about using the lounges. They still have Bumble and Bumble hair products in the showers even though they seem to have got rid of the hair salon from the spa. I had been looking forward to a hair treatment this time round, but had a wonderful 15 minute facial instead. I wish I’d paid for a longer one.
There was one bit of irritation – they’ve put in this god-awful “B8ta” pop-up, and the staff seemed more interested in chatting with the B8ta staff than checking on customers. We weren’t as looked after as we were in London.
The Delta flight itself was pretty much the same as our Atlanta experience. The seats were a little old but still comfortable, the staff were welcoming, and I got hammered on two cocktails (I really should know my limits). It did get incredibly and uncomfortably hot in the middle of the trip, but other than that, fairly uneventful. Well, after the fun of take-off
This was our New Year’s Eve flight and we were greeted by flight attendants wearing 2019 glasses. I thought that might be the limit of their celebrations – we were leaving at 7pm EST so I couldn’t figure out when our midnight would be. One of the staff explained that they shift to London time as soon as the flight starts, so we would be leaving New York directly at midnight GMT. We started taxiing at about 6.55, and five minutes later, the flight attendants ran through the aisles with party blowers screaming “Happy New Year!” before running back to their seat for take-off. It was actually wonderful – I had a tear in my eye. That might have been down to the cocktails however.
We landed in Heathrow earlier than scheduled, managed to get through immigration really quickly, and our bags were the first off the plane so we decided to visit the Virgin Atlantic Revivals Lounge for the first time. It’s a small lounge but there was plenty of free seats when we got there, with a spa and showers. If I was going directly to work, this would have been a godsend. As it was, we were only half an hour from home so we just had a bit of breakfast which was served in no time at all – we only spent about 45 minutes in the lounge in total but it was just what I needed as I hadn’t had any breakfast on the plane. The spa was tempting, but my bed was calling.
The last stop on our mini-Texas tour was Dallas-Fort Worth, which is technically two cities (or one “metroplex“). We were visiting friends who live about halfway between the two cities, and they’d very kindly offered to show us some of the highlights. We only had a day in the area so we definitely only scratched the surface of both locations.
First up, we drove into Fort Worth for some brunch. I’d seen some good reviews for Yolk in Sundance Square, and whilst it was good, I don’t think it was worth the hour way. We did get to explore Sundance Square whilst we waited which was very relaxed and peaceful on that Sunday morning. It was also freakishly cold (again!) so we were pleased to finally get into the warmth of the restaurant.
I loved the neon signs around the area, and there were some very pretty old buildings.
Continuing the old theme, we then drove to the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. I have such little knowledge of American history that I don’t think I understood the significance of the Stockyards, but there once was a lot of cows here. There still are some cows here who get herded down the street twice a day (we weren’t in time for that), but there’s also cowboys, shops, bars, and a rodeo in the district. It was fun to wander around and see the wild west – a little cheesy, but fun!
We jumped back in the car and drove the 45 minutes over to the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. When we were asked what we wanted to see, we hadn’t wanted to spend a significant amount of time in Dallas city centre – we figured that it was similar enough to other big American cities that we’d been to, and as we had such a short amount of time, we wanted to do something different. The Arboretum looked beautiful, and we were lucky enough to visit when they had both their Fall and Christmas displays out.
It was a grey day, but that didn’t stop us spending an hour and a half here, enjoying their wonderful displays. I can imagine it’d be stunning in the spring.
We then drove around Dallas for a bit, seeing the big skyscrapers and going passed the infamous grassy knoll. For dinner, we’d asked for something authentically Texan so were taken to the Truck Yard. This place was amazing – they have different food trucks every day and if I lived in the area, I’d be here all the time. Husband had some kind of huge chicken sandwich, I had a hot dog, and we sat people-watching as the sun went down.
I really wish I’d taken a photo of the front entrance as it was covered in lights.
On the way home, we stopped at a Dairy Queen (or DQ as it’s called now) for some ice cream – I have always wanted to try DQ ice cream – it’s one of those places that I saw referenced in TV shows as a teen – and it feels quintessentially American to pick up dessert on the way home.
We were so grateful to our wonderful hosts for showing us so much of their cities. We only experienced a small slice of this huge state, but loved everything. Maybe next time we go, it’ll actually be warm (yes, I’m still grumbling about this, two months later. I’m not over it).
As much as I would have loved to spend more time in Austin, we had places to go and people to see, so we checked out of the glorious Archer hotel, jumped into our rental car and found our way to the interstate. We were headed north to a little town just outside of Fort Worth which was about three hours away and fortunately, we were to have an uneventful journey. Built-up Austin gave way to huge endless roads and we were able to take it easy and enjoy the scenery.
In my humble opinion, an essential part of any road trip is stopping along the way, so I planned one “quick” stop pretty much halfway – Waco, Texas. Admittedly, the only thing I knew about Waco was its infamy, but when Googling for places to eat, one place was recommended over and over again, so we had to visit to find out exactly what it was.
Waco itself appeared to be a quiet town – as we drove in, we couldn’t really see much going on, and there really weren’t that many people on the roads. We found some street parking next to an (abandoned?) railway line and walked towards two huge grain silos. Husband was incredibly confused – I had promised him grilled cheese for lunch, and now I was taking him to some rusty old silos?
The Magnolia Market at the Silos is quite an abstract concept for people who aren’t familiar with the programme Fixer Upper ie both me and Husband. I had never heard of it before, so honestly much of the visit to the silos was lost on me but for fans of this show, this is like Disneyland. There’s a shop where you can buy merch, food trucks, a lawn area to sit and play on, some more food trucks, a garden store, bakery, and yet more food trucks.
The food trucks were what we were here for and I naively thought we’d just grab a couple of grilled cheeses, take a few minutes to eat them, then be back on the road in next to no time. You know how I said that Waco appeared to be a quiet town? That’s because EVERYONE IN WACO WAS AT THE SILOS. It was crazy, and despite there being about a dozen trucks, the queue for each one was about 20 minutes long.
The Cheddar Box was our chosen truck. Husband changed his mind in the queue and went for one of the Mac Daddies pots – a cup filled with gouda mac and cheese and bacon whereas I stuck with my original plan of a bacon and gouda grilled cheese. And they were definitely worth the wait. After a quick wander around the perimeter, and about 15 minutes of standing about, we had our hot lunch in our greedy little hands.
It still wasn’t particularly nice weather so I was so surprised that the place was as busy as it was. There were so many people on the lawn, and there was no way we were getting into either the store or the bakery as they were rammed. Good for Chip and Joanna Gaines though – they’ve taken two old silos and made them into the place to be in central Texas. People come from miles around to visit this area that used to be… well, nothing!
Unbelievably, we ended up spending an hour and a half in Waco (which really threw off our schedule) without seeing very much of the actual city but I would have regretted not experiencing the incredible grilled cheese so I’m pleased we did stop. I had given serious consideration to visiting the Dr Pepper Museum and really wanted to walk around the centre of the town as well, but we just ran out of time. I’d scoffed at the Waco travel guides that recommend more than a day in the city, but you really do need more time to explore. Especially if you’re going to spend a day solely going to each of the delicious food trucks of the Magnolia Market – what a life goal.
After spending our first day exploring downtown Austin, we drove south of the river and parked up at Zilker Park, very close to Barton Springs Pool. There was zero chance of relaxing by the pool today as the temperature had dropped further, but there were some brave souls taking a dip in the natural spring water. I can imagine how beautiful it would be to spend time here in the summer.
We walked along the creek, crossed a footbridge, and continued parallel to Ladybird Lake. There were a few people out on the hiking trail, but we had much of it to ourselves – the wind was quite harsh coming off the water which I suspect kept people indoors. As we passed under Congress Avenue Bridge, we could hear (and smell) the hundreds of thousands of bats that live there – tiny little squeaks! At sunset, people watch them fly out from underneath the bridge – there are some amazing photos to be found online of this phenomenon.
We continued our walk down South Congress Avenue, stepping over the Bird scooters that had been liberally abandoned all over the place (I didn’t even know they were a thing). The road was a little trafficy, but it was a lovely to spend the morning checking out the unique shops and restaurants with their glorious signs.
We thought about going into Allen’s boot store but a) it was really busy and b) I knew I end up spending a lot of money on boots I’d never wear, so I settled for just photographing their sign. We then peered in more store windows before stopping for lunch at Jo’s Coffee, warming our hands around our hot cups because it had turned bitterly cold (I know – I keep complaining about the weather, but it was just so unexpected!). I spent way too much money on a Jo’s tote bag – in my defence, it’s an amazing tote bag – and headed back to Zilker Park to find the car.
This walk around South Congress had made me realise that I needed more suitable clothes – the t-shirts I’d packed were not remotely appropriate – so on the drive back to the hotel, we stopped at a few retail parks. We just visited some standard shops including Ulta and Skechers. Nothing special, but I really appreciated having the car so we could go and buy an emergency coat from an outlet store!
Back at The Domain, we went on a little wander for some more shopping. The Domain is a lot bigger than I expected, and we seem to have ended up walking about two miles and even then I don’t think we saw everything it had to offer. Once we’d had our fill of window shopping, I stopped by the Sprinkles cupcake ATM (conveniently opposite our hotel), Husband stopped by the Apple store (conveniently next to our hotel) and we went back to the room for a little nap.
We didn’t end up going out for dinner in the end as the Archer’s excellent room service tempted us. We spent the evening planning for the next day – a nervous drive north to see more of Texas.
I think we managed to see a lot of Austin over our two days in the city. If we had more time, we perhaps would have spent some time exploring east and west of downtown, maybe been a bit more courageous with our driving, or visited Lake Travis. There’s always next time
With two days in Austin, we wanted to tick off as many sights as possible. We decided to split the city into two – north of the river, and south – day one being our northern adventure.
Before we flew out, the weather looked really promising – beautiful sunshine and a not-too-hot 25ºC. We packed t-shirts, sunglasses, and plenty of SPF for me.
What a waste of time that was, because the temperature dropped to 8ºC and we were FREEZING. I had to buy a coat as we were completely unprepared – it’s Texas for goodness sake, it’s supposed to be hot! The consequence of this was that some of our walks were not particularly pleasant, and the rain got a little tiresome, but I suppose at least we weren’t walking around in the sweltering heat!
Although we’d hired a car, we decided to get an Uber from The Domain down to the city centre as Husband didn’t feel like trying to find a parking space. It was a good decision as the traffic was crazy, so we just sat back to enjoy the half-an-hour ride.
Our Uber driver was very confused by our first stop and checked with us a couple of times to make sure this was where we wanted to be. Oh yes, this was exactly where I wanted to be. The Co-Op on Guadalupe Street is three floors of merchandise from the University of Texas – we’re talking flags, bumper stickers, sweaters, children’s clothes, even Christmas decorations. I bought a bauble. A BAUBLE! I am not ashamed to admit that this was my favourite store in the whole of Austin and we spent 45 minutes filling a basket full of Texas Longhorns goodies. I should have bought more.
After my spending spree, we walked south towards the Capitol Building, stopping to take photos of Jeremiah the Innocent – an iconic mural by Daniel Johnston of a frog saying Hi How Are You. This was one of my Austin must-sees, but I can’t remember where I saw it first – I’m sure it’s appeared in the titles for a TV show I watched years ago, but no idea what that was. I’m pleased I’ve seen it in person now.
We wandered around the outside of the Texas State Capitol building for a while, taking photos from every angle. We were in Austin just days after the divisive mid-term elections which had initially worried us as we thought there might be some unrest, but there was no drama whilst we were there. The Capitol building and the grounds were very peaceful, quite impressive and imposing and we considered going on a tour – maybe if we had more time.
As we sat in the grounds and watched the visitors (and squirrels), we scoured Google Maps for somewhere to get brunch. It was only 11am but we were a little peckish after skipping breakfast so we took a little detour to Walton’s Fancy and Staple on 6th Street. This was a deli/restaurant/florist and I fell in love with it. We got there when there was plenty of seating, but by the time we left it was packed – I’m so glad we got there early, as we would have missed out on their delicious sandwiches.
After having the first of many debates with myself over whether to get a tote bag (a recurring theme pretty much everywhere we went), we continued our walk and ended up at the 6th Street Historic District. We were here to pick up some legendary Voodoo Doughnuts, and spent a good 5-6 minutes just deciding on what to get – their flavour combinations are phenomenal. The restaurant is cash only (I made sure I had plenty of $$$) and is open 24/7 – I hadn’t realised this prior to our visit and had spent the morning being worried that they’d sell out. After a really great chat with the guy behind the counter who seemed genuinely excited that we were from the UK, our choices were boxed up and we continued our adventure.
In all of the travel guides about Austin, people raved about 6th Street. We were there during the day, so we didn’t see it in all it’s neon glory, but honestly we didn’t want to hang around for too long. It felt kind of… sketchy, and this is coming from someone who has hung out in some very sketchy places. Neither of us felt particularly comfortable, so we quickly took some photos and wandered further towards the river.
We didn’t want to cross the river today as that was scheduled in for day two, so instead we walked west down the hiking trail. It started to rain ever so lightly and the wind was picking up a little, so after a quick Google, we decided to find a place to get some snacks and head back to the hotel. We cut up West Avenue and found the most amazing building – the Turbine Generator Building of the Seaholm Power Plant.
The whole area has been turned from a decommissioned power station into a new neighbourhood full of residences, shops, and restaurants, and is just a delight to walk around. I really liked the energy and the atmosphere here, and whilst a few of the retail units are still empty, it definitely has promise.
We popped into the nearby Whole Foods which was very exciting (for boring people like me) because it’s the original one, dating back to late 1970s. If you like Whole Foods, I highly recommend a visit, but I admit that it’s not going to be top of many people’s list.
We picked up some water and other fun snacks, then Uber’ed back to our hotel room (with a driver who was not happy about going to The Domain). Back in the hotel room, we feasted on our Voodoo Doughnuts before having a quick wander around the rest of The Domain. We did consider going back downtown for dinner that evening, but having walked almost 20,000 steps, we decided to stay local for the night.
We had two days in Austin on our Texas mini-break and knowing we were going to hire a car gave us a bit more freedom than we normally do when picking a hotel – we didn’t have to rely on finding something super central. I am so pleased that we had this option as we were able to choose one of the best (if not the best) hotels in Austin – the Archer Hotel.
The Archer is located at The Domain shopping and restaurant district in North Austin which isn’t everyone’s idea of what Austin should be, but I loved it. It was very easy to walk around and we felt very safe even exploring the area at night. It has everything we need in a holiday base. Well, almost everything – we missed having a CVS/Walgreen type store, particularly when I urgently (yes, urgently) needed nail polish remover and couldn’t find anywhere that stocked it.
The hotel itself is beautiful. We booked a King Suite which was very generously sized with a separate seating area and the most insanely comfortable bed. There was a wonderful waterfall shower in the bathroom which was stocked full of Malin and Goetz toiletries (my favourite!), topped off by a comfy dressing gown and Archer branded slippers. The decor was perfect, everything was so clean and tidy – we really couldn’t have asked for anything more.
We had a great view over The Domain from our huge window where I could see my favourite stores (Sephora and Sprinkles cupcakes), and there were fantastic restaurants just steps away. We ate at Velvet Taco on our first night and had amazing chicken tacos – I would happily have eaten there again but we were too exhausted after our walk around South Austin so we ordered perfect room service from Second Bar + Kitchen in the hotel.
I’ve already mentioned the amazing service that the Archer offers, but it really is second to none. When we arrived, there were caramel sweets waiting for us in the room, and the turndown service came with delicious snacks – we had shortbread one night and a moorish caramel brownie the second night. I wish we were there for longer.
As we checked out, we had a great conversation with Nate on the front desk – he gave us valuable advice for our drive up to Fort Worth, we chatted about his visit to the UK a few years ago, and he talked passionately about the hotel brand which has genuinely made me want to stay at the other Archers. He told us all about the ‘souvenir’ cabinet in the lobby – instead of generic, tired tourist rubbish, each Archer has its own curated range of gifts made by local artists. The display was almost like a mini gallery, which complimented the rest of the beautiful art displayed around the whole hotel.
We were throughly impressed by our stay at the Archer and should we find ourselves in Austin again, we wouldn’t hesitate to go back. Not only because we didn’t get to experience their outdoor space like their pool and patio (it was so freakishly cold – more on that in later posts) but also because I really want to see what other turndown treats they offer!