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Mini Adventures: BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir of Houston

on January 18, 2017

Sometimes the best cure for your in-between adventures slump or post-trip blues is a mini adventure.

With our Canada trip in the past, and no real plans for our next destination in the future, I was in need of an adventure this past weekend.

So I decided to spend my MLK holiday exploring Houston, with the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir as the main event.

I’ve always been captivated by India; it’s actually at the top of my travel wishlist. At a young age I fell in love with the culture, architecture, language, music, film, and food of of India.

So when I saw one of my Houston friends post a picture of herself in front of this amazing temple, I was immediately jealous that she was getting to explore India. But then I realized she was a mere 30 minutes from downtown!

I knew I had to add this place to my Houston to-do list.

I’m so glad I did because the Mandir is absolutely amazing and unlike any place I’ve ever been.

This was the first traditional Hindu Mandir of its kind in North America. It’s made of over 33,000 pieces of Italian marble and Turkish limestone. All of these pieces were hand carved in India, and then sent to Houston to be assembled. The Mandir was inaugurated in 2004 after 16 months of construction time, which utilized 1.3 million volunteer hours.

The outside is stunning, but it doesn’t compare to the beauty inside. But in respect of the religious worship space, people are asked to refrain from photography inside the temple, so I didn’t take any photos of my own inside. I was able to find a few photos online to give y’all an idea of the atmosphere.

From Wikimedia

From Wikimedia

There is so much detail in every aspect of the Mandir’s architecture. I could spend days there, admiring every statue and every carving. I just can’t believe that all of it was made by human hands. Amazing!

Visitors of all faiths are welcome, entrance is free, and you can walk around all the temple and its grounds admiring the intricate carvings and holy statues. If you time your visit right, you can catch a few worship rituals. Check the website for schedules.

In order to go inside the Mandir, proper ettiquette must be followed.

  •  You are required to leave your shoes in cubby rooms outside and to go in with bare feet or socks.
  • You must cover shoulders and legs from the knee down, but they provide wraps for anyone who isn’t following their dress code.
  • No photography is permitted inside the Mandir.
  • Cell phones must also be switched to silent.
  • To maintain the spiritual atmosphere, visitors must observe silence inside the Mandir.

I can’t wait to go back to this gorgeous place! I’m hoping to attend some Diwali events later this year. Stay tuned!


Happy travels, friends!

Katy’s Guide to Austin, Texas

on September 25, 2016

Welcome to the Live Music Capital of the World! And one of my favorite cities ever!

I always cringe a little bit when people say that Austin is “mostly known” and/or only good for its nightlife. There is soooo much more to the city!

It’s hard to narrow down a lot of these categories because there is so much in Austin! I haven’t been able to try the majority of the most famous food/dessert places, bars, shops, and other activities in the city, so here I listed the places that are tried and true to me.



Places to Eat

Franklin’s BBQ: I honestly think it’s overrated, but it would be very remiss of me not to include it here. People sit out for hours and hours to eat here, so get there before it opens, bring some fold out chairs, and plenty of entertainment if you plan on eating here.

Austin Alehouse: I’ve probably eaten here more than any place in Austin. My best friend and I had a ritual of eating here before every concert and we actually made friends with the owner. My usual order is the market vegetable risotto with a Mexican martini. If you go during happy hour, a lot of their drinks and appetizers are half off.

Stubb’s BBQ: My personal favorite BBQ place and my favorite concert venue in Austin, rolled into one. On Sundays they have Gospel Brunch, which is exactly as it sounds, where you can eat some amazing brunch buffet and listen to live gospel music. A very Austin take on Sundays in the Bible Belt.

Home Slice Pizza: One of my favorite pizza places in the world. Absolutely delicious. Not great for buying by the slice price wise, I would definitely recommend just going in for the whole pizza.

Torchy’s Tacos: If you’re a Texan you’ve probably eaten at Torchy’s, but if you’re in Austin, stop by the original location. And order off the secret menu!

P.Terry’s: Another Austin original. Low prices. Great burgers. Even better milkshakes. Always great for an after concert snack!

Hopdoddy Burger Bar: Possibly the best/most famous burgers in town. But, always be sure to plan your visit carefully. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday there is usually a loooong line to get in and order. So as long as you time your visit right, or just go during the week, you shouldn’t have to wait long. They sell the best milkshakes ever! Try a stout chocolate shake for dessert!

Food Trucks: Austin has the best food trucks. They’re not always the easiest to find, but this website comes in handy if you’re looking.

Bars

I’m not much of a drinker, but I do have some favorite bars in the city, and it would be wrong not to include them in a guide to Austin. And I’m also trying to do my civic duty as a [former] Austinite to try and guide people away from the mess that is “dirty 6th.”

Volstead Lounge: This is an interesting place. Classic vintage cocktail lounge meets dive bar meets old world New Orleans.

Cheer-Up Charlies: Good music and good vibes. Lots of cool, unique events. Can’t ask for much else.

Shangri-La: Because you never know when Bill Murray is gonna show up again and start bartending.

Barbarella: They have THE BEST theme nights! Seriously, the best.

Desserts

Amy’s Ice Cream: My favorite ice cream in the world! They have multiple locations but my favorite is on 6th and Lamar, right next to Lush and Waterloo (two of my favorite shopping spots). My regular order is a Mexican vanilla with Reese’s PB cups.

Doce Neve: My favorite gelato outside of the country of Italy. The location is super cute, plus while you’re there you can run over to the “Welcome to Austin” mural and snap a pic!

Gourdough’s Big. Fat. Donuts: I was conflicted about whether to include this one in dessert because honestly, these are big enough to be an entire meal. Take a look at their menu and you’ll see why. I always order the Miss Shortcake donut.

Hey Cupcake: Red velvet deliciousness! Love these big cupcakes so much!

Shopping

The Domain: For shops ranging from high end luxury like Louis Vuitton and Lilly Pulitzer to your regular mall spots like American Eagle Outfitters and PacSun. They also have some great eating spots.

Waterloo Records: If you’re a vinyl aficionado, like me, take a little stop into Waterloo for some shopping. They have a great selection of music!

Luxe Apothetique: My favorite boutique, and an Austin original. They sell lots of great local goods that would make for good souvenirs. There’s one location at The Domain and another downtown (on 2nd street).

Quirky Austin Things to Do

Hang out at Zilker Park: Zilker is Austin’s biggest park, and every fall for two weekends it’s the site of the Austin City Limits music festival. It’s a great for dogwatching, kiteflying, and just hanging out.

Take a dip in Barton Springs: When the heat’s getting the best of you in Austin, go for swim in this amazing spring-fed pool! The water is around 68-70 degrees year round, and honestly I’ve never been able to get in without feeling like I’m going to freeze to death. But it’s refreshing to dip your feet in at the least!

Batwatching at the Congress Avenue Bridge: At sunset every night during the warmer months you can watch the world’s largest urban bat colony wake up for the night and fly out by the millions to go hunt and cut down the city’s bug population. It’s an amazing to watch this contrast of the natural world set to the background of urban Austin.

Rent a kayak or stand up paddleboard on Town Lake: Get two birds with one stone and do this around sunset, then go station yourself beneath the bat bridge!

Summit Mount Bonnell: Ever wanted to climb a mountain? Do it here! But keep in mind that in Texas our idea of mountains is little different. Mount Bonnell is about 775 feet above sea level… But it’s a good little hike! You get one of the best views of Austin from a more secluded spot.

Texas State Capitol: Everything’s bigger in Texas. Even our capitol building. By 14 feet to be exact. That’s right, we beat out the US Capitol for that one. The grounds around the building are a great place to hang out and have a picnic on a cooler day. You can take a free tour of the building, which I always enjoy.

Peter Pan Mini Golf: All mini golf places are slightly run down and falling apart, it’s kind of their charm. Peter Pan is an Austin original. And if it’s your thing, you can BYO alcoholic beverage of choice.

Cathedral of Junk: An awesome art oddity hidden in the backyard of a pretty quiet neighborhood in South Austin.

Lucy in Disguise With Diamonds: I love this store. It’s a great place to find vintage clothes, costumes, and everything along those lines. If you don’t need anything in that department, it’s always just fun to go wander the aisles. Plus, who doesn’t love a good punny business name?!

Catch a concert: It doesn’t have to be a big, famous band. But there’s always a band playing somewhere in Austin. It is the live music capital of the world after all.

Uncommon Objects: A great place to sift through oddities of all kinds. And it’s all for sale!

South Congress: A great place to walk around, shop, eat, explore, hang out. The vibes are very Austin.

Events at Alamo Drafthouse: These movie theaters serve food, drinks, and host some awesome events like quote alongs and sing alongs! I’ve been to a Moulin Rouge sing along and it was a blast. Check out the different locations and see what they’re hosting during your visit.

Street Art

HOPE Outdoor Gallery

Greetings from Austin Mural

I Love You So Much Mural

You’re My Butter Half Mural

6th Street Mural

‘Til Death Do Us Part Mural

La Calavera Catrina Wall at the Mexic-Arte Museum

Getting Around

MetroRail: If you’re planning on staying outside of downtown to keep costs down, take the MetroRail to get to the city centre and avoid traffic (which is horrrrrible in Austin).

B-Cycle: If you’re just looking to get around downtown, get a 24 hour pass for this bike share program. You get the pass, and then you can “check out” a bike for 30 minutes. In theory, you should be able to bike to your next stop within this time period. If not, just stop somewhere halfway, return your bike, and immediately check one out again. Once you get to your final destination, check your bike back in to the station and go about your business. Then when you leave, do it all over again.


I’d like to hear about your favorite spots in Austin, too! Let me know any of your recommendations or favorites.

Happy Wanderlusting, friends!