Sunday, 24 September 2017
It was my first ever trip to Austin, Texas. I’ve been to the USA in 2014, but that was just in New York. For this trip, we took a 10 hour flight from London on BA191 and landed in Austin at 4:20PM. There were some confusion at the exit (as they thought I had a Blue Card), but that sorted out rather quickly.
Our driver waited for us at the exit. The vehicle was an impressive looking Cadillac Escalade. It was big and spacious. The driver, Frank, was a friendly guy. He can’t stop talking. He said he was from a different city and came to Austin for work.
I made a few interesting observations from the airport to the city. The highways were really wide (5-6 lanes per side), and the buildings and housing areas that we passed by had wide spaces between them. I know that America is a huge country, but you have to see it for yourself to really understand it.
We arrived at the hotel around 30 minutes later. We stayed at The Westin Downtown. The hotel is located right in the middle of the city, next to the famous 6th Street, where all the pubs and live music are located.
After checking-in, we went to 6th Street. Turns out there is a Sunday market going on.
We had dinner at Eureka Restaurant on 6th Street. Food was just OK. Later when paying the bill, I realised the need to tip. We had to do some calculations before tipping the waiter.
As we were walking around the area, we noticed there is a lot of homeless people. Some of them approached us asking for money, some even followed us a few blocks. I know that we look like Asian tourists and hence an easy target for beggars, but all this adds up to our impression that the city isn’t safe.
Monday, 25 September 2017
I was surprised to find our hotel, The Westin, didn’t serve a breakfast buffet. Instead, we had to order from the menu. I was told this is common for hotels in USA. Anyway, I ordered some eggs and beef sausages, and it was good!
Today is the first day of the International Association of Transportation Regulators (IATR) Annual Conference. It was held at Sheraton Hotel, about 10 minutes taxi from our hotel.
It’s great to be able to meet regulators from other cities. We met the regulator from London, Canada, and various other US cities. One thing for sure, US regulators seem to have deep hatred towards Uber. They don’t mince their words when giving their opinions on the ridesharing company.
Later in the afternoon, after we were done with the conference, we went back to the hotel to get some rest. I had some time before the official dinner starts so I went to explore the city along Congress Avenue (the main street in the city).
I went to visit the Texas State Capitol. I also noticed the Terry’s Texas Rangers monument in front of the building. Many people at the conference earlier keep telling me that, despite being the capital of Texas, Austin is somewhat “different”. They hinted that Austin is a bit more liberal compared to other cities in the state.
On my way back to the hotel, I was harassed by a number of homeless people. One of them even followed me into Starbucks and asked for my balance as I paid at the cashier. If this is the situation when US economic indicators are “healthy”, I wonder how it was like during the financial crisis! That aside, as a foreigner, I don’t feel safe walking on the streets. Honestly I just couldn’t wait to leave this city.