Exploring: Wine Tasting in Dahlonega, GA

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Whilst Mama C was in the ATL a couple of weeks ago we thought the perfect bit of exploring for her would be a spot of wine tasting – Mama C is famed for liking a little tipple every now and then! I had better stress that she is not an alcoholic or anywhere near bordering on one, she just likes to have a drink of the alcoholic variety and is always open to trying new liquor like at the wedding in Germany was she dived head first into the rhubarb schnapps and loved it! If that disclaimer wasn’t involved in this blog post my status as best daughter in the world may have just been lost.

So, one hot and sunny Saturday afternoon in September we jumped into the car and headed to Dahlonega. North Georgia, and the Dahlonega region in particular is famous for its vineyards and wine tasting, so, after a little bit of research by yours truly, we made our way to Wolf Mountain Vineyards and it was stunning:

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Rachel got a pat on the back from both Mama C and the German for picking this one! The views were out of this world, you could see for miles, catching glimpses of the mountains in the distance, some of the thousands of trees that make it feel like you’re living in a forest in Georgia and of course those all important vineyards and grapes that make the delicious wine.

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Now let’s face it people, we were there for one thing, the wine. We quickly made our way to the tasting room, figuring we could check out the views and vineyards a little more later, and marched straight to the guy who sold the tasting flights. Priorities people, priorities! Three wine flights were quickly purchased and we were ready to rock and roll.

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1 sparkling, 1 white, 1 rosé and 2 reds later and our tasting flight was over…sad times. But we thoroughly enjoyed it, there were some very tasty wines there indeed. With each sample we were given a little explanation about the type of wine, it’s taste and how it was made and when our flight was over, Mama C and I decided to indulge in another glass, opting for the rosé and a seat outside in the sunshine. The German was our designated driver so he was downing wine glasses of…water!

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We sipped our wine whilst gazing out to the mountains. Just below us, a wedding was about to get underway and guests were starting to arrive – it really was a beautiful place to get married. Given the chance of getting married for a third time to the same man (I really don’t think that is going to happen and I am definitely pushing my luck a little there, twice is more than enough!) I would choose somewhere like that. The mountains in the backdrop, beautiful scenery and a gorgeous little pavilion for the ceremony to be held on. Hey, a girl can dream!

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All in all it was an afternoon well spent. I think the German and I might be heading to a few more vineyards up there win the near future – it would be rude not to!

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Exploring: New Orleans – The French Market

Exploring New Orleans
It’s another Travel Tuesday in New Orleans people – I still have so much to write about when it comes to this amazing city! Today, it’s the French Market. If you ever find yourself dumped in New Orleans for the weekend then you cannot leave without visiting this place, if you don’t go there you’ll be seriously missing out.

Perched on the edge of the Mississippi in the French Quarter of the city is the French Market, a place to get your tourist bits and bobs (if you really need them), taste some amazing local delicacies and just soak up the atmosphere of the market. We headed down here on a Sunday morning after a stroll along the banks of the river, it was so hot and we were in desperate need of some water and some shade. Our first stop was breakfast where we tucked into some spicy alligator meat (more on that in my guide to the best places to eat in New Orleans) with eggs, Cajun potatoes and bread – definitely something different but a good start to the day!

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As you head into the market you are hit by a variety of smells and surrounded by little food stalls, cafés and sno-ball outlets where you can buy and eat everything from alligator to crawfish, oysters to po-boys and everything else in between, if you’re after a little snack to help you on your exploring way then this is the place to be. There are praline stalls, hot sauce shops with hundreds of different varieties and places to get a cooling drink, oh, and it’s all underneath a canopy so you can escape the sunshine too – in the height of summer that’s a must!

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As you walk further into the market you come to the non-food stalls, we’re talking the stuff of dreams if you’re after every tourist gift under the sun at a much cheaper price than the tourist shops on and around Bourbon Street. There are mardi-gras masks and beads by the billion, t-shirts with New Orleans on the front, magnets, postcards, books, artwork – you name it, it was there. I will admit to picking up a mardi-gras mask for both myself and the German – they were so pretty and so cheap, you never know when you’re going to need a mask for a masquerade ball!

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Oh and we can’t forget the nearby beignets – this place is super close to Café Du Monde and if you read last week’s post on where to eat you’ll know exactly why you need to stop off there!

Exploring: New Orleans – The Food

Exploring New Orleans

Life has been so hectic lately I still haven’t managed to tell you all about our trip to New Orleans back in June for my birthday. So, for Travel Tuesday this week, I thought we’d take a trip back to the deep south to check out the food.

NoLa is famous for various different delicacies and I wanted to try all of them, in the space of 3 days. I had a list and I was going to tick them all off…and I just about did! I think there was one item I didn’t manage to try so I did pretty well, and came home a few pounds heavier! So, here’s my definitive list of what you need to try (and where!) whilst in New Orleans.

1. A Po-Boy from Killer Poboys
This place is seriously tucked away, so tucked away in fact we had to ask someone where it was after strolling up and down the street it was supposed to be on at least three times. We were told to go into the Erin Rose Bar on Conti Street, walk all the way to the back as if you’ve gone too far and you’ll find it – it was a little strange but sure enough, at the back of the Erin Rose Bar we found some Killer Poboys! A po-boy was just about at the top of my list and I wasn’t disappointed. I chose the shrimp with the Germany tucking into a meatloaf po-boy – just amazing! It was loaded with huge coriander lime shrimp, salad and special sauce, it may even have been one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten! Po-boys are everywhere in New Orleans but f you want a good po-boy when you’re in NoLa, you have to go there – it may look a little strange but it’s worth venturing into the deep dark depths of the Erin Rose Bar for!

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2. Beignets at Café Du Monde
You can’t got to New Orleans without dropping by this place and trying some beignets. They’re a kind of doughnut that is covered in powdered sugar. This place is world-famous for them, people head to Café Du Monde, order a cafe au lait and beignets and indulge in a little people watching whilst trying to avoid being covered in powdered sugar! This place is always packed and once you taste the delights they sell you’ll know why! We decided to go for the take away option:

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3. Oysters Rockefeller
This dish was invented in New Orleans so it would be pretty rude to not chow down on some oysters rockefeller whilst you’re there. Now, I’ve never been a big fan of oysters, in fact before eating these I’d only ever tried them once and they were a little too slimy for my liking but, after hearing lots of good things about this dish I thought I’d give it a try – the German was a little more wary though and opted for something much more sensible (I can’t remember what but it definitely wasn’t oysters!). So, oysters rockefeller is served on the half shell, topped with various chopped herbs, a butter sauce and breadcrumbs and then baked or broiled – that’s grilled if you’re in the UK! I have to say I was pretty surprised by the outcome, they were very tasty. I may even indulge in oysters more often:

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4. Sno-balls
This is the perfect treat to cool you down when you’re in the midst of the New Orleans heat and humidity. It’s basically shaved ice-covered in cane sugar syrup. Because the ice is so thin, the syrup is absorbed into it and you can get them in every flavour imaginable, seriously. There’s the usual like strawberry, pineapple, cherry and lemon and then there’s the less traditional flavours like cake batter, peanut butter and silver fox – whatever that is! We went for a mango sno-ball and it cooled us down perfectly:

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5. Pralines
Another New Orleans staple is a praline. Again influence by the French settlers, this treat is sure to tickle your sweet taste buds. These are basically sugar, butter, cream and pecan nuts cooked together until most of the water has evaporated and it reaches a thick, creamy substance. They’re then dropped onto a wax paper sheet and left to cool – they taste amazing! No other words needed. You have to try some when you hit NoLa!

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6. Gator Meat
Ok, so this isn’t necessarily typical of New Orleans but alligator meat is huge here. It’s everywhere, whether it’s gator sticks, gator fillet, fried gator, you name it, they do it. The German decided he wanted to try it so we tucked into a gator breakfast at the French Market. To me, gator is a little like a mixture of chicken and pork, it’s light coloured and not too chewy, it’s actually pretty tasty! Ours was laden with the typical NoLa spices and definitely hit the spot!

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7. Stein’s Deli
We actually stumbled upon this place whilst navigating our way around the Garden District and it was definitely a good find! Stein’s Deli is a Jewish and Italian deli that’s serves up some of the tastiest sandwiches ever! We didn’t really know where we were going to grab some lunch but after passing this beaut and noticing it was busy we headed in. The menu was just immense with everything from a traditional Reuben to the Southern Animal Foundation. I settled on the Rachel (I wonder how I made that decision?) which consisted of hot pastrami, swiss and sauerkraut on rye with Russian dressing, three words – oh, my, lord. It was out of this world:

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8. The Ruby Slipper Cafe
If you’re in the market for breakfast The Ruby Slipper Cafe is the place to go. We found this one through the joys of TripAdvisor and headed there to kick off my birthday celebrations. This place was inspired by the sense of homecoming felt following Hurricane Katrina, as Dorothy and her ruby slippers in the Wizard of Oz said ‘there’s no place like home!’ Being my birthday I obviously started with a bloody Mary before chowing down on the chicken St. Charles – hey, I’d been stuffing my face all weekend, no use stopping now! It was delicious! The German opted for the Costa Rican with breakfast chorizo and I can assure you that was very tasty too!

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9. Hot Sauce
Louisiana is famed for its hot sauce, lets face it, with dishes like gumbo, creole and other spicy creations these people need it! They add it to almost everything to give it the kick they’re looking for and, if you’re in the market to stock up and buy some you’re in luck. In quite a few shops in New Orleans there are hot sauce bars where you can try loads of different types of the stuff, and by loads I’m not talking just 10! We bobbed into one before dinner one night and checked a few of them out. I think I managed about 3 before my mouth was on fire and I couldn’t take it anymore the German however went a few steps further and tried so many of the sauces that his eyes were watering and it looked like he was crying – typical boy would not be beaten by the hot sauce. Obviously some a milder than others and some are majorly strong, so strong in fact they actually tell you to just try one little drop – I steered very clear of those ones!

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Sadly we didn’t tuck into any gumbo or jambalaya, another New Orleans staple but it was the middle of June and so hot outside that I think chowing down on something hot and spicy may have finished me off! Another typical dish that we didn’t eat was crawfish. I was pretty sad about this because it was close to the top of my ‘must-eat’ list but, with just a couple of days in the city I think we did pretty well at tasting most of the dishes!

Exploring: Savannah, GA

Exploring Savannah

The German added another year onto his life last weekend (Happy Birthday Handsome Husband!) so we decided to explore somewhere new and headed to Savannah, GA. Being in the same state I figured it wasn’t too far away, although it was still a 4 hour drive, I forget just how big this place is!

Savannah is on the coast of Georgia is the oldest city in the state after being established in 1733, so it’s pretty historical in American terms and it’s been on our bucket list ever since we moved here. So, we set off on Saturday morning and arrived just after lunch. We picked a great hotel right in the middle of historic downtown Savannah called Marshall House, imagine a traditional Georgian house turned into a hotel:

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After checking in and unpacking we headed out to explore Savannah. Jeez, this place is beautiful! It’s packed with cute old houses with beautiful staircases to the front door, little squares all around the city offering benches to chill out on and some much-needed shade from the sun (we managed to pick the hottest weekend of the year to visit, temperatures were in the triple figures people!) and the prettiest trees which line the road and grow together in the middle creating some gorgeous archways across the streets.

Savannah 2We spent most of the day strolling from square to square, checking out the beautiful  houses and of course catching a glimpse of the iconic Forsyth Fountain.

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We obviously hunted out the square where Forrest Gump spent hours waiting for a bus – remember that one? ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get!’ Yep, that famous bus stop scene was filmed in one of the beautiful squares in Savannah – Chippewa Square. The bench isn’t there now and modifications have been made which I was a bit disappointed about, I wanted to sit on it!

We also strolled into the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, a beautiful building both inside and out, right in the centre of Savannah:

Savannah 3After the cathedral we headed to the river where we checked out some shops and of course stopped off for a little drink – it was hot out there! This place has some really beautiful buildings and a lot of history, I loved just walking around and taking the place in. We stopped off at the most amazing candy store – Savannah’s Candy Kitchen. If you’re ever in the area you have to check this place out! It was full of delicious treats and they make pralines, taffy and other tasty treats right in front of you! It was sweet heaven – Ma Cook would have done everything in her power to keep me out of that shop when I was little!

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Savannah’s also one of only four places in the US where you can drink on the streets – somehow the German and I have managed to find ourselves in 3 of them in the last 6 months alone! I have no idea how that happened…

After eating dinner at Maxwell’s (you should go there if you’re in the area, we had the best steak!) and taking in a flight of beer or two we called it a day ready for some more exploring (and the German’s birthday!) the following day!

The next day the German got older, finally got his birthday presents after begging from 6pm the following day because it was already his birthday in Germany and we carried on exploring. We went to the SCAD museum, a definite must see, through the city and its various squares (there are so many we couldn’t do them all in one day!) and visited the Candy Kitchen again for some birthday treats for the German!

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Birthday boy!

We walked along the river, got caught in a little shower (damn rain in high temperatures!) visited the cemetery and of course sunk some birthday drinks! Later we went for dinner at a lovely restaurant called Pacci at The Brice Hotel (the cola braised ribs are to die for!) followed by some more birthday drinks for the birthday boy!

The following day before heading back to Atlanta these beach lovers couldn’t leave without a little trip to Tybee Island! Sadly though a tropical storm was hanging around off the coast meaning the beach was pretty windy! We attempted to lay out for a couple of hours but, without any chairs to sit on we were being hit by sand blowing in the wind…not the most comfortable beach trip ever. So, we ditched the towels and took a walk along the beach instead. It’s a pretty place and definitely worth heading to if you’re in the area!

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Have you ever been to Savannah? What were your highlights?

Exploring: St Pete Beach, FL

Is exactly what the German and I had a couple of weeks ago before I headed back to the UK for a couple of weeks and it was bliss!

My aunty and uncle were flying out to Florida and staying in an apartment there so they suggested that we jumped in our car and drove down to stay with them for the weekend as they wouldn’t be able to make it to Atlanta this year. Do you really think we were going to say no? Erm…I don’t think so!

So, we did exactly that:

Road Trip!

Road Trip!

Early on Friday morning, we hopped in the car and started the 7 hour drive to St. Pete Beach on the gulf coast of Florida. Now, back in the day when we lived in the UK, driving 7 hours for a weekend away would have been deemed ridiculous but in America-land this is normal.

At just after 7am we were on the road, and, after a quick stop for some brunch, by 4pm we had arrived here:

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Beautiful, right? You can’t go wrong with white sand, clear water and blue skies! We are so lucky to have this, in American terms, on our doorstep. Spending a weekend in Florida is something I could only dream of a few years ago, I could only dream of flying to America on holiday, and now, here I am, having a weekend break in the Sunshine State. One very lucky lady indeed.

Back to the story, we jumped out of the carsaid a big fat excited hello to my aunty and uncle who we hadn’t seen since the wedding and literally within minutes we were changed and by the pool – you get pretty hot and sweaty in the German’s car and we were in serious need of a cool down! After a few hours chilling out and catching up, we went back to the apartment, got changed and went out for dinner where we stuffed ourselves with some amazing seafood (when at the beach!) before having a stroll to a local home-made ice cream parlour – just delicious!

The following morning we got up, had breakfast and drove to Fort Desoto in search of some dolphins and, after never seeing a dolphin in real life before, the German and I ticked something else off our bucket list and spotted some! Just amazing!

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The Dolphin Hunters / Spotted One! / Happy Dolphin Spotters

Sadly, we didn’t spot a manatee – hopefully next time!

The rest of the weekend was pretty much spent relaxing on the beach, perfect right? We spent Saturday on Fort Desoto beach and Sunday at St Pete Beach just across the road from the apartment. The German and I went for a walk along the beach and spotted some baby birds and turtle nests, we drank a couple of beers, caught some sunshine and had a few dips in the sea – amazing.

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Fort Desoto Beach / Beach Fun / St Pete Beach

Then there was the food. We were on the gulf coast where there is some amazing seafood so, obviously, that was just about all we ate, well, apart from the very tasty Italian we had in St Petersburg! We tucked into snapper, tuna, salmon and grouper and everything was just delicious!

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But sadly, Monday morning came around and we had to say our goodbyes once again (the part I hate the most about being an expat) and head back to the ATL. Sad, sad, sad times. Driving 7 hours for a weekend at the beach was definitely worth it though. We got to spend some time with my aunty and uncle, even if it is just for a couple of days, when you live so far away just a couple of days makes all the difference. Thanks for a great weekend Team Lodge! We had an amazing time!

Before I go though, I can’t forget to show you the stunning sunset we managed to catch a glimpse of in St Petersburg:

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And that is just one of the many reasons why I will be heading to Florida once again very soon!

Exploring: New Orleans – The French Quarter

Exploring New Orleans
When you think of New Orleans, you instantly think of jazz music, crawfish and the French Quarter right? When we headed to NoLa last month I was excited to check out what it was all about, I’ve heard and read loads about the place and it was always on my bucket list. New Orleans is in the state of Louisiana, known as the deep south. It’s located on the Mississippi River, is surrounded by swamp land and believe me, it is VERY hot! Hotlanta has nothing on this place!

Our first stop was the French Quarter. This place is just beautiful, the French influence can be seen on just about every building in this part of the city, from the detailed, extremely pretty balconies and small, narrow streets to the intricate iron work and colours, the French colonists who founded the city certainly left their mark. I could look at those buildings again and again and would still find something new to see on them.

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Bourbon Street is at the heart of the French Quarter and it’s definitely an experience! This is where the party is at, it’s where Mardi Gras takes place, it’s where you can stroll down the street with a hand grenade (a famous type of cocktail in NoLa, not the actual weapon) in your hand, or in my case, a 32oz frozen cocktail, it’s where, if you’re there at the right time, a naked bike ride passes through (more on that one later!) and it’s where a million different smells culminate together to make some pretty disgusting ones! As the German put it, ‘there are many different smells in New Orleans, most of them are horrible!’ The heat mixes with things like stagnant water from thunderstorms, disinfectant from bars, alcohol, rubbish, half eaten food and let’s face it, probably human sick (this is the party street after all) and turns pretty nasty. There are areas where you actually have to stop breathing until the smell passes! Don’t let that put you off going though…this place is amazing! Nearly every bar has live music of some sort, there are drinks offers everywhere (including Huge Ass Beers!) and the party goes on until the wee small hours of course! You simply have to visit Bourbon Street, even if you only walk up and down it once during your stay, at least you can say you’ve been!

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Strolling around there’s music playing on just about every single corner – this was the birthplace of jazz. There’s just about every street performer you can imagine from traditional jazz and blues singers to those people statues that don’t move (I seriously have no idea how they do that, especially in the NoLa heat!) and some very inventive young children who literally crushed empty Coke cans and stuck them into their shoes with something like a drawing pin, effectively turning their trainers into tap shoes, and they were pretty darn good at the tapping too!

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You also can’t hit the French Quarter, or New Orleans in general, without taking a ride on a streetcar. These things are famous in these parts, even if you don’t need one to get to your destination, you should just take a ride on one to say you’ve done it. We took one from the French Quarter to the Garden District, they cost a couple of bucks each and are definitely worth it, even if it’s just to save your legs or get you to that next cocktail quicker!

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And, you just have to check out the Cathedral. St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest in North America and sits in Jackson Square. It’s one of those places you have to check out, it’s beautiful both inside and out. The outside isn’t anything out of this world but it fits its surroundings perfectly. The cathedral was damaged during Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, it’s organ bore the brunt of the damage after water flooded through the roof. But, it’s all been fixed now and it’s looking pretty darn lovely!

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Oh, and I can’t let you go without telling you more about THAT naked bike ride…turns out we were in the city and our Bourbon Street at just the right time! This naked bike ride thing is happening all over the world (I’ve heard of one taking place in London), people literally get on their bikes and ride them through the streets naked, simple as. It’s definitely a sight to see…

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Ok, so not everybody was naked but I couldn’t really be putting naked boobies and willies on here now could I?!

Exploring: The Grand Canyon

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When you’re in Las Vegas, Nevada and one of the most amazing sights in the world is just a 6 hour drive away then you’d be pretty stupid to miss out, and with our expat life focusing on new adventures we were ready to take on the challenge! So after stopping off at the Hoover Dam (you can read all about that by clicking here) we went on our merry way to the Grand Canyon, the historic via Route 66 (you can read all about that by, yep, you guessed it, clicking here!)

I knew the Grand Canyon was going to be spectacular but I don’t think I was braced for its beauty at all. This place is just breathtaking. We left Vegas at around 7am and, after our stops at the Hoover Dam and for lunch, we made it to the Grand Canyon in the late afternoon, perfect timing for some daytime sightseeing and catching the sunset, the most beautiful part of the day in those parts.

The canyon was carved by the Colorado River, it’s 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and has a depth of over a mile, quickly put, this thing is HUGE. We made our way to the South Rim and into the Grand Canyon National Park. We had to pay a small fee for parking, but we were allowed to stay for as long as we wanted and move around to the different viewing points.

We quickly parked up the car and headed to our first viewing point, desperate to get our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon that we’d read about and seen many pictures of, but, the pictures just do not do this thing justice:

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WOW.

WOW.

WOW.

I couldn’t stop saying it. It was out of this world and I was standing there looking at it. I had one of those expat ‘am I really here’ pinch myself moments. I was standing there, looking at the Grand Canyon. A couple of years ago I could only dream of being there and there I was, taking in its stunning beauty in awe. Did I mention this place is beautiful?

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The different shapes, colours and textures just looked stunning. The different light exposures made every view different. It was pretty cloudy when we arrived but the sun would suddenly peek out, making one part of the canyon brighter than the other, giving the picture another dimension completely.

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This was camera heaven for the German, he loves taking pictures and must have taken at least a couple of hundred while we were there. We obviously had to document the fact we’d been standing looking at the Grand Canyon, warning, typical tourist shot incoming…

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We also had time to take a few shots where I am mainly looking and acting like an idiot…no change there then.

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After checking out Yaki Point, we made our way along the road to Lipan Point and Desert View to check out the watchtower and it seems the peaceful tranquility of the canyon can lead to a lot of contemplation and reflection whilst looking at the spectacular view:

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I did check our pictures for one of me doing something similar but it would appear I am just a nutter. I swear I did do some contemplating and reflecting, it’s just that nobody managed to get any photographic evidence of this, just of me acting like an idiot. Great.

Anyway, enough of my idiotic tendencies, you need to see some more stunning pictures of the Grand Canyon:

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And we can’t forget this bit of camera trickery by the German:

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Then it was time to catch a Grand Canyon sunset, the part we’d all been waiting for and it was definitely worth staying late and getting back to Las Vegas at midnight for, no doubt about that. We were worried the cloudy skies may have led to a disappointing sunset that we pretty much wasn’t going to see, not good when you’ve travelled so far and you can’t really pop back next week for another look. But, the clouds cleared a little, some blue sky popped out and the sunset was stunning. If you’re going to the Grand Canyon, do not miss out on this part of the day, you’ll regret it forever if you do, here’s why:

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The sun reflecting off the rocks made you see them look totally different. New parts were highlighted, different formations came into light and the textures and shapes of the rocks looked so different to just 10 minutes ago when they were in the shade. All around me were collective gasps of ‘ooh’ and ‘aaah’ and ‘look at that bit over there’ and ‘how pretty is that.’ The colours were so bright and vivid, I couldn’t believe I was watching the sun go down at the Grand Canyon.

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All in all it was a pretty spectacular day and one that I’m sure won’t be beaten anytime soon when it comes to stunning views like that. Another destination has been ticked off the bucket list…I am one very lucky expat.

Have you been to the Grand Canyon? What did you think?