23 Fun Facts About Austin, Texas

by Janis on September 27, 2017

You may know that the city of Austin, Texas likes to “Keep Things Weird.” The city’s unofficial slogan originated in 2000 when Red Wassenich, a local librarian, used the phrase when he called in to a local radio show.

View of downtown Austin, Texas. Photo by Daveydickler.

View of downtown Austin, Texas. Photo by Daveydickler.

Here are 23 other interesting tidbits about Texas’ fourth largest city, behind Houston, San Antonio and Dallas.

1. Humans have lived in the Austin area since 9200 BC.

2. Until late in the Cretaceous Period — which ended 66 million years ago — the area that makes up Austin today was completely underwater and home to 10 underwater volcanoes that geologists call “explosion craters.”  That’s why many of Austin’s cliffs are crumbly, whitish rock known as “Austin Chalk.”

3. Austin was originally named Waterloo when the city was officially chosen as the new capital of the Republic of Texas. The name was changed to Austin in honor of Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas” and the republic’s first secretary of state.

4. Constructed from sunset red granite, the Texas State Capitol building in Austin is the largest state capitol in the United States.

5. While the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the city’s population at 947,890 in 2016, Forbes named Austin as the fastest growing large city in the United States.

6. The city of Austin covers 280 square miles, making the city nearly as large in landmass as New York City.

7. Located in central Texas near Hill Country, Austin is 225 miles from the U.S./Mexico border.

8. Austin is the only city in the world known to still operate a system of Moonlight Towers, 165 ft. tall structures from the 19th century to light up the city at night. One of the towers was prominently featured in the 1993 film Dazed and Confused as the site of a high-school keg party, in which the character played by Matthew McConaughey exclaims, “Party at the Moon Tower.” In 1993, the city of Austin dismantled and restored the towers at a cost of $1.3 million.

9. When it was built in 1893, the Austin Dam was one of the world’s largest concrete dams stretching 1,200 feet across the Colorado River. The dam powered Austin’s electric trolley cars as well as its Moon Towers. Sadly, seven years after it was built, flood waters caused the Austin Dam to collapse, killing eight people.

10. With 200 live music venues and as many as 2,000 bands and performing artists, Austin is considered the Live Music Capital of the World.  

11. Singer Janis Joplin got her start in Austin at Threadgill’s — a gas station and restaurant where bands played for rounds of beer.

12. “Austin City Limits” — the longest-running live music television show in the U.S. –began broadcasting on October 14, 1974 with Willie Nelson as a featured performer.  As many as 5 million people worldwide view the PBS each week.

13. In 1986, three staffers at The Austin Chronicle envisioned a festival to showcase Austin’s musical talents. South by Southwest kicked off in 1987 with 700 attendees. 30 years later, South by Southwest (also known as SXSW) lasts 10 days each March and includes film, comedy, gaming, interactive media and other components in addition to attracting more than 2,200 musicians and 28,000 concert goers to venues throughout Austin.

14. Since 1963, Austin has celebrated the birthday of Eeyore, the fictional character from Winnie the Pooh. Eeyore’s Birthday Party generally occurs on the last Saturday in April.

15. Austin hosts the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships, which draws pun-loving individuals from around the country. Contestants use their pun skills in the “Punslinger” and “Punniest of Show” competitions.

16. Every spring and summer about 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats migrate to Austin, giving the city North America’s largest urban bat colony. Every night these bats emerge from under the Congress Avenue Bridge.

17. Whole Foods began in Austin in 1978 when 25-year-old college dropout John Mackey and Rene Lawson Hardy borrowed $45,000 to open a small natural foods store. In 2017, Amazon paid $13.4 billion to acquire the upscale grocery chain.

18. Austin is home to America’s only Formula 1 race, the United States Grand Prix. The annual race takes place at the 3.4-mile Circuit of the Americas course located southwest of the city.

Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium, home of Texas Longhorns football. Photo taken by surelyitsjohn.

Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium, home of Texas Longhorns football. Photo taken by surelyitsjohn.

19. Austin is home to one of Texas’s largest sports stadiums. The University of Texas at Austin Longhorns athletic stadium holds more than 101,000 people. During football games at the stadium, UT-Austin fans display the Hook ’em Horns hand sign, created in 1955 by cheerleader Harley Clark. 

20. Austin is home to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Located on the grounds of the University of Texas at Austin, the library and museum houses documents and artifacts related to the Johnson administration, including LBJ’s limousine and a re-creation of the Oval Office.

21. Austin has provided the filming location for a number of well-known movies in addition to Dazed and Confused. Boyhood, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Office Space, Miss Congeniality, Kill Bill: Volume 1, and Spy Kids were all filmed in Austin. 

22. According to the Nielsen Company, adults in Austin read and contribute to blogs more than those in any other U.S. metropolitan area.

23. U.S. News & World Report named Austin the best place to live in the U.S. in 2017.

Have you visited Austin, Texas? Or have you lived there? What fun fact can you add about Austin? 

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ms Prinsendam, Holland America Line, Bantry Bay, Ireland In June, we sailed on Holland America Line’s 14-day Celtic Explorer cruise on the ms Prinsendam. Due to high winds and heavy rains, Captain Ane Jan Smit had to alter the planned itinerary several times. After the second or third of these “we have to change the itinerary messages,” Captain Smit jokingly called our sailing “The Magical, Mystery Cruise.”

ms Prinsendam, Holland America Line, Scheldt River, NetherlandsDespite the fact that cruise on the Prinsendam missed three planned ports  — St Peter Port, Guernsey; Milford Haven, Wales and Galway, Ireland — we visited two unplanned replacement ports, and we had a terrific cruise experience.

This much change can make a cruise difficult. Reflecting back, we realized that we had such a great cruise was because of some hospitality superstars among the Prinsendam staff and crew.

Dining stewards on Holland America's ms PrinsendamOur dining room waiters, Dheny and Arya, are some of the best we’ve had at sea. In addition to providing timely, gracious service, waiter Dheny was very familiar with the menu each evening, and would make excellent recommendations.

Even more impressive — in comparison to other cruise ships — was the way the entire wait staff team handled breakfast in the dining room. They worked together well to ensure coffee was filled, orders were taken, and food was delivered hot and in a timely manner. This level of quality service, and teamwork was surely enhanced by the hospitality talents and leadership skills of Pulung Baskoro, the Dining Room Manager on the Prinsendam. Pulung was headed home for vacation when we left the ship.

Beverage Manager Mario JelicWe had the opportunity to dine one evening with Beverage Manager Mario Jelic, who is a personable dinner guest. He led an excellent staff of bartenders, wine stewards and bar servers throughout the ship.

Crow's Nest bartender, Prinsendam, Holland America LineThe Crow’s Nest is also the Piano Bar on the Prinsendam.  It was our favorite place to hang out after dinner, listening to music and meeting new friends. Gilbert was the Crow’s Nest bartender, and he made the venue welcoming and friendly.

bar server, Holland America, PrinsendamFor the Prinsendam guests enjoying the Crow’s Nest but not sitting at the bar, Esmi — Princess Esmi as well called her — provided outstanding service with a great smile. 

Whether meeting with friends, enjoying a cocktail, or just taking in the ocean view, the Crow’s Nest on the Prinsendam is a special place, enhanced by the excellent staff.

wine attendant, Holland America, PrinsendamOur table enjoyed wine with dinner most nights in the main dinning room. Wine steward Allan took care  of our table as well as many others. Yet his service was always gracious and timely.

Location Guide Dorine — aka Dora the Explorer — put on terrific, detailed programs on the highlights of each port, even when the port was newly announced as a replacement for some of the canceled port. We ran into Dorine during her free time in port, because she’s always exploring new things (such as how to ride the public bus between Killybegs and Donegal, Ireland) so that she can share first-hand insights with cruise guests.

Future Cruise Consultant Chantal Hettich is articulate, knowledgeable and patient in helping cruise guests determine their next cruise. Chantal is also a consummate dinner host if you are lucky to have her at your dining table during a formal dinner.

Ecco & Niken, room stewards, Holland America LineWe only have a picture of our Cabin Stewards Ecco and Niken’s card (as we rarely saw them.) We knew they were cleaning our cabin and many others with extraordinary care. Our laundry was always returned promptly and hung in the closet. The ice bucket was always filled. Best of all, whenever we were out of the room, it was cleaned and made up, like magic.

We are certain there are more hospitality superstars throughout the Prinsendam, as the ship’s hotel operations appeared well run. These eleven people are the ones that we remember as helping make our “Magical, Mystery Cruise” something truly special.

Have you sailed on Holland America’s Prinsendam? Who provided superior service for your cruise?

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We’ve visited the Belgium city of Antwerp several times, most recently during a 22-hour overnight stay while sailing on Holland America Line’s ms Prinsendam. If you are going to Antwerp, these are 14 things we recommend to eat, drink and see during your stay.

Brabo statue in front of Town Hall, Antwerp., Belgium1. Head to the ‘Grote Markt’ historic city center. Check out the Brabo statue in front the Town Hall that celebrates the legend of how the city of Antwerp got its name. A mythical giant named Antigoon lived by Scheldt River and demanded a toll from all who crossed the river. If anyone refused to pay, Antigoon would sever one of their hands and throw it into the river. One day, a brave young soldier named Brabo cut off the giant’s hand and tossed it in the river. The name ‘Antwerp’ was derived from Dutch words that mean “to throw a hand.”

The Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium2. While in the historic center, marvel at the 400 ft. spire on The Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp’s Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral that dates back to 1352. The cathedral contains famous Peter Paul Rubens paintings including The Raising of the Cross, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and The Descent from the Cross. 

Waffles at Waffle Factory, Antwerp, Belgium3. Have a waffle and a coffee. For fast service and a convenient location, stop by the Waffle Factory at 60 Grote Markt. Belgium waffles are distinct, and some shops offer both the softer, doughy version (left, with chocolate, in photo above) as well at the kind with a crisp outside (right, with powdered sugar, in photo above.)

Waffle Désiré De Lille, Antwerp, Belgium4. For a more decadent and upscale waffle experience, head to Désiré de Lille at 16 Schrijnwerkersstraat. You can have lunch or make lunch out of the ice cream- topped Waffle Désiré de Lille pictured above.

Interior, The Church of St. James, Antwerp, Belgium5. Admire the interior of The Church of St. James. Artist Peter Paul Rubens is buried here, with one of his paintings above his tomb.

Lange Wapper statue in front of Het Steen castle, Antwerp, Belgium6. Notice the unusual Lange Wapper statue in front of the Het Steen medieval fortress beside the Scheldt River. The statue depicts the giant Lange Wapper — a Flemish folkloric character who used to terrorize the people of Antwerp during medieval times.

Hoegaarden white wheat and Hoegaarden Rosée fruit beer in Antwerp, Belgium7. Try one or two of Belgium’s 1,600 different beers. We enjoyed this round of Hoegaarden wheat beers while people watching at one of the many outdoor cafes also the Hoogstraat. Hoegaarden Rosée, (right in the photo above) is one of the fruit beers

Museum aan de Stroom, Antwerp, Belgium8. Explore the 10-story Museum Aan de Stroom or MAS, Antwerp’s largest museum filled with maritime history and the development of the city through the ages.

city view from the rooftop terrace of the MAS Museum, Antwerp, Belgium9. Take in a panoramic view of Antwerp from rooftop terrace of the MAS Museum.

Red Star Line Museum, Antwerp, Belgium10. Follow the footsteps of millions of immigrants to North America at the Red Star Line Museum.  The museum is housed in the former shipping line’s warehouses in Antwerp’s old port district called The Eilandje.

Wijngaardstraat - street in central Antwerp, Belgium11. Explore narrow streets such as Wijngaardstraat in Antwerp’s historic center. In addition to the romantic heart-shaped street lights, you will find a lovely cocktail lounge on Wijngaardstraat.

Dogma cocktail bar, Antwerp, Belgium12. Experience Dogma, one of Antwerp’s hip cocktail bars at 5 Wijngaardstraat. While any of the bar’s craft cocktails will be interesting, you might consider trying one made with gin.  The juniper-flavored liquor is said to have evolved from the jenever or “Dutch Courage“ that British soldiers drank to calm their nerves before battle in 1585 when fighting in Antwerp against the Spanish during the Eighty Years’ War.

Sherry Cobbler, Cocktails at 9, Antwerp, Belgium13. Broaden beyond gin and beer. Try the too-pretty-to-drink Sherry Cobbler, at Cocktails at 9.  

Cocktails at 9, Antwerp, BelgiumOur friends enjoyed the quiet, comfortable but luxurious atmosphere of Cocktails at 9. The bar is hidden off Lijnwaadmarkt near the Antwerp’s landmark Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral.

Belgium frites with curry sauce14. Try the Belgium frites topped with curry sauce or curry gravy.  Belgium, rather than France, invented the “French fry” during the 17th century, and “frites” are part of Belgium’s gastronomic and cultural heritage. Good frites are cut from fresh potatoes and fried twice, leaving while them crispy on the outside and soft inside. The frites — served with a variety of delicious sauces — make the perfect late evening snack.

Antwerp has many delightful things to see, eat and drink. If you’d like to hire a guide, check out Antwerp: Private Tour with a Local from Get Your Guide.

What is your favorite thing to eat, drink or see in Antwerp, Belgium? 

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A Visit to The Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp, Belgium

August 28, 2017

We visited the Red Star Line Museum while in Antwerp, Belgium during our 14-day Celtic Explorer cruise on Holland America’s ms Prinsendam. The museum — opened in 2013 — is housed in the former shipping line’s warehouses in Antwerp’s old port district called The Eilandje. Founded in 1872 by United States shipping magnates and two Antwerp business partners, the Red Star […]

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