For Day two of our LEAP Retreat, we began with brunch at the Russian House, an authentic Russian Restaurant in downtown Austin. The name “Russian House” is very fitting for the restaurant. When we were seated at our table, it genuinely felt like we were having brunch in someone’s home. There were family photos lining the walls, chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, small decorative knick-knacks on various shelves, and there was even a mini-fireplace.
For many of us, it was our first time experiencing Russian food. With the goal of being culturally diverse, everyone kept an open mind and diverged from ordering dishes with which we were already familiar. To ease our way into this experience, we started with Cheburek, which is a crescent-moon shaped dough filled with meat and herbs. Next, was the group’s favorite: the stuff mushroom.
This was a grilled Portobello Mushroom covered in gorgonzola cheese, salted cucumber, and fried onion. Lastly, we tried the Pogrebok, which consisted of an assortment of pickled vegetables, pork belly, boiled potatoes, sauerkraut, herring, and scallions. This was our least favorite.
And this was just in preparation of our main meals! Our meals consisted of Potato Zrazy…
…which includes fried potato rolls; the Manty, which are large dumplings stuffed with lamb;
…and the Golubtsy, which includes cabbage rolls stuffed with beef, portk, and rice.
After stuffing ourselves, we reflected a bit on our meals. Although we were somewhat daunted by trying new food, we enjoyed our meals, learned much that was new (Russians like sour cream with almost everything!), and enjoyed further exploring Austin.
Next, we decided to further explore Austin by visiting the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, which is named for Texas’s 38th Lieutenant Governor. The Museum opened in 2001, and it captures more than 2,500 years of Texas history.
As we walked inside, we were greeted by a quote on the wall by Sam Houston, declaring his love for Texas.
After taking a photo, we began our journey through time with exhibits that explore the pre-contact phase of Texas history.
We enjoyed the exhibits, which covered much that students are already familiar with, such as the conquistadors, Stephen F. Austin and the settlement of Texas, and the Alamo.
But we also saw some brand new things. One of the paintings on Texas history, for example, was “Marching to the Massacre,” and it was painted by none other than Andrew Jackson Houston, Sam Houston’s son.
And speaking of paintings, the Museum had a special exhibit on collectibles, which included a painting of Abraham Lincoln, called “Melancholy Lincoln.” It was a fine painting, but what made it unusual is that it was painted by Dwight D. Eisenhower.
It is also energizing to learn about the role that Sam Houston played in the Civil War; specifically, his decision not to take an oath to the confederacy.
As we ascended the floors, we learned more about the history of modern day Texas, such as the importance that oil has played in the state’s development, the state’s role in the space race, and a special exhibit titled “Rodeo,” which showcased the history of rodeo in Texas.
We had a lot of fun pretending to be in a rodeo…
To mark our time in the Museum, we took some LEAPing photos in front of the giant Lone Star.
To finish a full day in Austin, we headed to “Rowing Dock,” the LEAP Ambassador’s favorite kayaking spot in Austin. But for four of us, it was actually our first time to kayak, and we did it in 48-degree weather!
At first, we struggled to get our bearings, and we remained very concerned about tipping over into the frigid water.
The double kayaks rent for about $20 for an hour, which was only $10 per person. It took us, however, about an hour and a half to do our four-mile trip, which was to the second set of Austin bridges.
Once we reached our goal, we paused and balanced in our kayaks for a quick selfie with the Austin skyline as our backdrop.
The view was beautiful.
Going back was a little more difficult, because it involves rowing upstream.
But we were warming up from the effort…
…and the beauty of the sunset made it a pleasant journey.
To warm up a bit more and to decompress after exercise, we went to “Quacks” on 43rd Street, where we enjoyed coffee, tea, and cupcakes.
Quacks is our favorite local bakery in Austin, and while we enjoyed all the cupcakes, the Gingerbread was the best! It was a nice cap to a long and productive day, and it left us energized for some traveling on day three of our Austin adventure.