Segway tours are a unique way for out-of-town visitors to explore downtown Austin. Two companies offer tours here: SegCity and Gliding Revolution. I can recommend Gliding Revolution from personal experience; I have heard good reviews of SegCity too.

My first downtown tour with Gliding Revolution was several years ago (before our Big Move). After a short instructional lesson, I thoroughly enjoyed zipping around on the vehicle.

On my most recent tour, I was very happy to discover that riding a segway is like riding a bike: once you learn, you never forget. Our tour started at the downtown Holiday Inn near I-35. We had two guides: one leading in the front and one at the end to make sure that everyone safely negotiated street crossings. We traveled near Lady Bird Lake, through the Second Street district (our ‘hood!), up around the State Capitol Grounds, and along Sixth Street. We stopped at the Center for Mexican-American Cultural Arts, Texas State Capitol, and Driskill Hotel, finally arriving back at the Holiday Inn over three hours later.

Discounts are currently available on Groupon or on the SegCity and Gliding Revolution.  websites. Remember to bring extra money to tip the tour guides!

Under Construction: 2012

Several construction projects are now underway in downtown Austin…

The new building for Zach Scott Theatre is taking shape on Lamar, just south of Lady Bird Lake. 

Site preparation has begun at the Seaholm Power Plant, “a future urban oasis” which we expect will result in “future traffic congestion” as more stop lights are added and lanes are closed for construction on Cesar Chavez. 

Most of the exterior work is done on the new federal courthouse overlooking Republic Square Park. The building is scheduled to open in November 2012. This is a good example of “current traffic congestion” since a lane has been closed on Fifth Street for months now.

A new apartment complex is going up on East Third. Work on the new Congress Avenue Marriott Marquis will start this summer, replacing the parking lot in this photo. 

Popular restaurant Hickory Street (Congress and 8th) is being remodeled and reopened since the high-rise building planned for this block was delayed. 

Austin Water Bikes

Last week Bill and I finally rode the Austin Water Bikes after many months of watching them floating around on Lady Bird Lake. The bikes are moored at the downtown Hyatt marina, the scene of the recent Christmas Day boat fire. We had anxiously watched that day as the burning riverboat floated right past the water bikes, but they were not damaged.

Austin Water Bikes’ motto is “Never Get Wet.” We can confirm that this is true. The owner went knee-deep into the water to assist us, but we just stepped from the shore directly onto a pontoon to get on the bike. We were seated up high, just like a regular bicycle, and our shoes remained completely dry.

The bikes are very stable and easy to steer and pedal. There are no gears so pure pedal-power determines the speed and workout level. Bill and I went at a reasonable pace, but we still worked up a sweat since the temperature was 78° (in late December!). Although swimming is prohibited, last summer we sometimes saw riders slip off the bikes for a quick dip to cool off. But Bill and I have seen those gigantic carp that live in Lady Bird Lake (see my Fish Story entry). We have also encountered nutrea (river rats) and snakes on the Hike-and-Bike Trail. No way are we ever swimming in that lake.

We rented the bikes for 30 minutes, just enough time to go from the Hyatt dock about a half-mile upstream to the Lamar Street bridge and back again. The owner said that the trip up to the Mopac bridge (four miles round-trip) takes about an hour. We’ll try that next time!

The Envelope Please…

Bill and I have been considering our choices over the past few months: whether to stay downtown or move back to the suburbs. You can read about what we like and don’t like about downtown living in my previous blog entry.

For the past year we’ve been tracking our feelings about downtown living on our little whiteboard in the kitchen (which doubles as our Car Tracking System). Twelve months ago Bill drew a circle there and divided it into four quadrants: Hate, Dislike, Like, and Love.

Bill has consistently been in the “Love – Love – Love” quadrant; he has loved living downtown since our first day here. He is still amazed that I agree to make this move. I have been mostly in the “Like” quadrant; some days I like downtown more than others. But this week I decided that I am officially on the “Like-Love” line.

Bill is thrilled.

So now, here’s our Decision, which probably won’t surprise anyone…

We are going to continue renting in downtown Austin for the coming year!  

Decision Time

Bill and I moved to downtown Austin one year ago this month. We now have a decision to make: should we renew our lease or move back to the suburbs? We compiled the following lists to help us decide…

What We Like about Living in Downtown Austin

Lady Bird Lake / Hike-and-Bike Trail
Bill and I love our view of the lake. We have a front-row view for concerts, festivals, races, fireworks, Presidential visits and protests. We walk or run on the Hike-and-Bike Trail almost every day.

Entertainment Options
We definitely attend more concerts, festivals, races and other events since living downtown. We didn’t realize how much is happening downtown until we moved here. Since we don’t have to worry about driving or parking, we often decide to do something on the spur of the moment. 

Bill and I walk all over downtown. My favorite destinations are Whole Foods, South Congress and the Capitol grounds. Bill likes to walk over the Alamo Ritz or Stubbs. We also walk to games and concerts up at UT. Some days when we don’t drive our cars at all.

We enjoy having friends come downtown to visit! 

Austin Farmers Market (Janis)
Since it’s just a few blocks away, I try to visit the Farmers Market every Saturday morning. Then we enjoy fresh vegetables, quiches and breads for the next week. 

SXSW (Bill)
Bill loved living downtown during South by Southwest in March because he didn’t need to fight traffic or worry about parking. He could go back to the apartment and relax in-between shows…especially nice since SXSW is always during the first round of the NCAA tournament. This is not on my list since I left town that week.

Movies within Walking Distance (Bill)
Bill walks to see movies at Violet Crown, Alamo Ritz, The Paramount and even The Long Center. I sometimes join him but this is not on my list either.

What We Don’t Like about Living in Downtown Austin
Traffic: Morning rush hour isn’t bad because driving north on Mopac is against traffic. Evening rush hour is bad in both directions. We try to avoid rush hour but sometimes we just have to deal with traffic.

Space: Our two-bedroom apartment sometimes feels cramped. We still have a small storage unit in northwest Austin. We would love to have a little room for an office in the apartment. 

Noise: We hear bands from Fourth Street on the weekends and some weeknights. At first this really bothered us, but we’ve gotten used to it now and sometimes sing along. 

Other Factors:

Cost: Our rent is high, but our overall costs are still lower than when we lived in a house. We aren’t building equity while renting but we won’t have to worry about selling in the future.

Parking Garage: We have to allow extra time to get to the garage and carrying things  to or from the car can be challenging. It’s really a pain if you forget something. But we never worry about parking for a downtown event now. 

No yard: I like gardening and miss my yard…although perhaps not this year. For the record, this factor is in Bill’s “Like” category.

Restaurants: No problem if I don’t feel like cooking…there are many excellent restaurants within a few blocks of our apartment. But after living here for a few months, we realized that eating out too much is not a good idea for a lot of reasons so I try to cook on week nights. Bill likes being able to run downstairs and get a smoothie or frozen yogurt.

So that’s our analysis. Stay tuned to hear about our Big Decision…

CowParade Austin

CowParade Austin kicked off last week in Austin. Local artists have decorated about 100 large bovines which are now on display throughout Austin. The cows will be auctioned at the end of October to benefit the Dell Children’s Medical Center.

According to their web site, “CowParade exhibits, held in 75 cities in 30 countries on six continents to date, have produced more than 5,000 of the signature cow canvases by local artists.” Austin joins Philadelphia, Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, Porto Alegre (Brazil), Panama City, Nicosia (Cyprus), Verona (Italy) and Shanghai as sites for this year’s CowParade exhibits.

As you might remember, I was pretty obsessed with the Play Me, I’m Yours pianos earlier this year so I wasn’t expecting much from this latest outdoor art event. But I must admit that most are beautiful works of art. Here are some of my favorites:

Musicowly Speaking

Texas Moosicians 

Moo-sy in the Sky with Diamonds


Batsy at Twilight
I Love Moo


Last Saturday afternoon Bill and I started the long walk up to the Erwin Center to see the Davis Cup Quarterfinals. We were complaining about the heat for the millionth time this summer as we walked past the Austin office for car2go. Bill had joined this car-sharing service during a free promotion last fall but we had never actually used it. He checked their mobile app and saw that the nearest available car was only a block away. This seemed like a perfect time for our maiden trip.  

Bill swiped his membership card against the box inside the front windshield to unlock the car doors. After entering his PIN on the in-dash touchscreen, the key was released and off we went.

I think this is a “car fortwo” by Mercedes-Benz. It’s just the right size for two people to travel a short distance. A few grocery bags or a small suitcase would fit in the area behind the two seats. We were impressed how well the air conditioner worked but, of course, there isn’t much space to cool.

Dedicated car2go parking spaces are scattered through downtown Austin. The spots closest to the Erwin Center were full, but Bill knew that the car could be left in any legal space free of charge in the car2go operating area (downtown plus several miles in each direction) so we just looked for an empty on-street spot. 

Here are our trip statistics: 
$4.34 (including tax) 
11 minutes
 2.5 miles

The current rates are $.35 per minute, with maximums per hour and day. We probably spent at least four of our minutes reading the instructions. We would definitely use car2go again, especially for a short one-way trip like this. And next time we’ll try to reduce our time!

Davis Cup Quarterfinals: USA vs. Spain

The Davis Cup Quarterfinals were played at the Frank Erwin Center on the University of Texas campus this weekend. The USA team competed against current first-ranked team, Spain. Davis Cup matches have never been played in Austin before. The event was sold out.

A team needed three wins to advance to the next round. Two singles matches were scheduled for Friday, one doubles on Saturday, and then two more singles matches as needed on Sunday. Each day started at 2 PM with a parade of flags representing all participating countries. Players and coaches were introduced, followed by each country’s national anthem. Local blues musician Ruthie Foster sang the Star Spangled banner on Saturday. 

The first match between American Mardy Fish and Spaniard Feliciano Lopez took 4-1/2 hours to play. Bill had warned me that Davis Cup matches are noisy. Despite chants of “U-S-A” and “Let’s Go Fish,” Mardy Fish lost in five sets: 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-7, 8-6.  

American Andy Roddick played against David Ferrer in the second match. The crowd was even more supportive since he calls Austin home and his wife Brooklyn Decker was in the stands. Roddick also lost: 7-6, 7-5, 6-3. By 10 PM, I had had enough tennis for one day!
USA: 0  SPAIN: 2

On Saturday, twins Bob and Mike Bryan played doubles against Spaniards Fernando Verdasco and Marcel Granollers. Doubles is more exciting to watch…especially since the Bryan boys won: 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. Doubles is faster too. After Friday’s marathon, I was pleased that we walked out of the Erwin Center before 5 PM.

USA: 1  SPAIN: 2

The USA team needed to win two matches on Sunday to advance to the semifinals. Bill was prepared to stay as long as they had a chance; I was getting dangerously close to my too-much-tennis-in-one-weekend limit. Mardy Fish played David Ferrer in the first match of the day…and lost in four sets: 7-5, 7-6, 5-7, 7-5. Since Spain had already won, the second match between Roddick and Lopez was cancelled. And so we left and went home. 

USA: 1  SPAIN: 3