I bloody love Christmas.

I am officially feeling full on festive! The Christmas songs have been on and the house has turned into a winter wonderland! Christmas is my favorite time of the year. It means Christmas decorations, Glühwein, family and food – things just could not get any better than that. My excitement levels go off the scale once Thanksgiving is over and it’s time to get a Christmas tree and that is exactly what happened this weekend.

Saturday came around and it was time for the now traditional trip with our friends Mandy and Carson to pick out our Christmas trees. So off we went to Braselton and to Cooper’s Christmas Tree Farm to kick start the festive season.

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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!

Go Georgia Bulldogs!

And every other college football team out there. Yep, that’s right people, college football season kicked off again last night and America has gone mad for it as usual, well, at least here in the South anyway! Here it’s like a religion and fans get more excited for the college football season than the NFL. It’s just unbelievable!

So, I thought I’d go on a trip down memory lane to celebrate and tell you all about the time we headed to Athens (the one in Georgia, not in Greece people) to take in a University of Georgia football game.

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Now, I knew that I’d be blown away when I went to the Sanford Stadium to see my first ever college football game but I definitely didn’t realize just how much! As you all know I’m a Brit and back in the UK university sports teams are watched by a handful of people, all of which are usually students enrolled at the university, but things couldn’t be any further from that here in America and I was about to find out just how far away they actually are.

The realization was starting to set in even before we got to Athens for the University of Georgia Bulldogs game against the Missouri Tigers. Cars were passing us on the highway covered in flags and bumper stickers with the Bulldogs logo on – everyone was heading in the same direction – to cheer on their ‘Dawgs!’ As soon as we parked up I spotted the infamous tailgaters – hundreds were hanging out behind their cars with beers and football snacks – some even had their RV’s parked up and the BBQ burning away! To me it was just like what I’d seen on the big screen in films.

As we walked towards the Sanford Stadium the only thing you could see was a sea of red as thousands and thousands of people made their way to the game –you could tell some of them made the same journey for every home game without a doubt, and what amazed me the most is that the majority of them weren’t even students. Families have season tickets and go week upon week and support them religiously, just like an NFL football team, that’s something you would never see back in the UK. I remember a trip to see my university rugby team play a rival university an hour away, about 5 buses left the university and the stands were mostly empty, it couldn’t be further away on the scale from the sheer volume of fans at college football games here in the states.

 

I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the moment we walked into the stadium and all we could see all around us was red – just unbelievable:

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There were more people in this stadium than at a Premier League soccer game in the UK and that’s our biggest sport. The stadium is bigger than our national stadium, Wembley, and it was full to bursting. I just couldn’t get my head around the sheer amount of people all cheering on a college football team. I constantly looked around the stadium and shook my head in disbelief, not in a negative way though, I love the fact that everyone is so passionate about it and so behind the team.

The noise and the atmosphere was just incredible. The stadium was alive and when everyone cheered together before a kick off, it was so loud they could probably hear it all the way in Atlanta! Then came the ‘barking’ and ‘GO DAWGS!’

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Now I’m not going to lie, despite the German trying on many occasions to explain the rules of American football I had no idea what was happening throughout the game but that definitely didn’t stop me enjoying myself. Just being in the stadium and among the supporters was incredible, never mind when there was a touchdown! (Yes I do know what one is!)

And then came the very, very exciting part of the game for me – the marching band, oh how I love a marching band! These are something we don’t get in the UK and I’ve always wanted to see one, again because of the movies! During the game the Red Coat Band was entertainment enough playing in the stand but when they took to the field at half time I was mesmerized! It’s just amazing how they play their instruments and somehow make their way around a football field in time and in a certain sequence!

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Sadly the Dawgs weren’t victorious this time and they lost the game but that didn’t put a dampener on the day at all. The sun was shining, it was a perfect football afternoon and I thoroughly enjoyed my first college football game. However, even after visiting the stadium, taking in the atmosphere and the amount of people around I still can’t get to grips with the amount of support for a college team. Unbelievable, but definitely something to be proud of.

I’m sure all those fans and more will be out in force this weekend, the tailgating parties will be kicking off and thousands upon thousands will be screaming ‘Go Dawgs’ as the Bulldogs kick off their new season. Like I said, it’s like a religion around here, the excitement is already building and will be here to stay throughout the season. I think we’ll be heading to another college game this season, maybe this time we’ll try out Georgia Tech and its yellow jackets – Pa Cook’s already a fan, we bought him a yellow jacket golf club head cover for Christmas! Enjoy the season people!

Are you a football fan? Who do you support?

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!

Food: Chow Bing in Buckhead

I’ve always been a lover of Chinese food (who isn’t, right?) so when I was invited to a blogger dinner at Chow Bing in Buckhead to sample their menu I obviously jumped at the chance!

This, however, isn’t your regular chinese. We’re not talking chicken and broccoli with boiled rice or sweet and sour pork with some greasy noodles, this place serves up fresh, healthy food and fast.

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Chow Bing’s modern and industrial decor.

Conveniently located on the same strip mall as the ‘Disco Kroger’ in Buckhead, this place has got chinese food sussed. There’s no orange goop, laden with MSG, colourings and other fake ingredients, Gary Lin uses locally sourced, fresh produce, all-natural, humanely raised meat, none of that MSG garb and far less oils and corn syrups that you find in your typical American chinese restaurant. As a Brit living in a land where super-sized chicken breasts and brightly coloured, radio-active looking icing is the norm, this is a breath of fresh air.

Sichuan Wings / Wonton Nachos / Chicken Dumplings

Sichuan Wings / Wonton Nachos / Chicken Dumplings

Along with some fellow bloggers from the Association of Food Bloggers, we tried a selection of appetizers, including the wonton nachos, the chicken dumplings and the chicken tenders. Out of the three, my favourite was the chicken dumplings, they were so tasty! Although the nachos had an amazing spicy cilantro sauce on them and the chicken tenders a refreshingly light breading. We also tucked into the Sichuan wings that are described on the menu as ‘tongue-numbingly hot’ and believe me, they were the hottest wings I have ever tasted! Don’t get me wrong, they were good but if you’re not a fan of hot food, I’d give these babies a wide berth!

Chow's Chicken Box / Roast Pork / Kung Pao Chicken

Chow’s Chicken Box / Roast Pork / Kung Pao Chicken

After tucking into the appetizers I opted for the roast pork House Bing Platter, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. Instead of the usual chinese roast pork which has a pink ring around it and is sometimes pretty dry, Gary slow roasts the pork for several hours, giving it a crispy edge and retaining the moisture. It was super delicious! Another item on the menu that caught my eye was the Chow’s chicken box, this is a combination of just about everything on the menu on one plate, it’s definitely unique!

Oh, and lets not forget the drinks! Chow Bing has a fully stocked bar and also serves bubble tea. I went for a coconut rum tea and it was so tasty! Think being transported to the Caribbean with a kick and you’ve just about got the party in your mouth that this drink provided! I’ll definitely be ordering another next time I head there.

It was so refreshing to eat a chinese and not be faced with a thick, goopy (if that’s even a word!) substance all over it, packed with MSG and bright colours. If you’re into healthy food without the additives and colorings then Chow Bing is definitely the place to go.

*This is an unsponsored blog. I was invited to the restaurant by the Association of Food Bloggers and received a complimentary meal, however, all views in this post are my own.*

Today’s Ramblings #18

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As much as working from home is brilliant, no rules to live by, sitting on the comfort of your own sofa for lunch and bobbing down to the pool to catch some rays as often as you’d like it’s also very counterproductive. There are distractions everywhere, from giving people back home a quick call (that obviously turns into nearly an hour) to watching some trash tv I recorded the night before and generally just staring out of the window. So, in an effort to get something done with my day and get away from the distractions of the sofa, the pool, the tv and anything else I can make an excuse from at home, I’ve taken my laptop on a little trip and I’m writing this from a Panera Bread store. I feel like I’ve joined the American masses, everyone seems to do it over here, the only problem is finding a plug socket near to a table for lack of power fails. I’m feeling pretty American right now, I’m not going to lie! Although I have an aging laptop and not a flashy MacBook like most of the other people around here. I’ll keep you updated on whether it does make me more productive or not. If it does the German might not be so happy…it will cost him more money in food and coffee if places like Starbucks become my office!

Remember the scary guy from HomeGoods in my last rambling post? Well, I bobbed into the store again the other day to try to find some bits and bobs for the hutch and they’ve outdone themselves again! Check out what I spotted this time…

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Yep, a good old British telephone box! It made me feel a little at home but seriously, who would want this in their home and once again where would they put it? I’m a Brit and I wouldn’t want it, even if I had the biggest house on the block. It costs a mere $1999 if you were wondering and fancy purchasing one for your home! I think I’ll pass this time…

Now, I know American’s like to be prepared, but after my recent trip to Hobby Lobby I didn’t think they wanted to be THAT prepared. So, here’s what happened, I walked into the store and spotted the 4th of July decorations, very acceptable seen as though that’s next week (and I have that dreaded 10k to run that I still haven’t done any training for, the run I was planning this morning was successfully avoided thanks to Ma Cook giving me a call!) then, I was slightly shocked when I spotted these…

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Thanksgiving and fall decorations. I mean, we haven’t even had summer yet. But then things got much, much worse. I walked around the corner and was confronted with this…

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Christmas decorations, rows and rows and rows of them! Not just the odd thing here and there but aisles of the stuff with everything from trees to baubles, to ribbon, to wreaths, you name it, it was there, in June, 6 months before the big day and 5 months before anyone would even think about putting their tree up. Why oh why do they need to be in the store so early? I understand that crafty people have to be organised and make things well ahead of time but they don’t make baubles and tree decorations. The world is most definitely going mad!

Well, I already feel pretty productive, maybe this working from a Panera Bread or Starbucks thing might actually work…

Exploring: Las Vegas – Route 66

It’s Travel Tuesday again with the lovely Bonnie Rose over at A Compass Rose so today we’re heading back to Nevada and Arizona for another piece of Las Vegas:

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Ok, so I know this isn’t technically in Las Vegas but it happened whilst we were on our Las Vegas trip so I’m going with it!

This time I’m taking you on a trip down a legendary road – Route 66. Whilst out in Las Vegas we decided it was only right to head to the Grand Canyon – hey, how many times are you going to be just a few hours drive away from it in your lifetime? We figured we couldn’t miss this opportunity, so, along with my brother and sister-in-law, we hired a car and headed for the Canyon.

This obviously meant a trip on Route 66! Even though you can now take a new highway that would mean you arriving at the Grand Canyon earlier than if you took Route 66 we all felt like we had to experience it, it’s America’s most famous road and a once in a lifetime opportunity – it is just amazing.

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Route 66 was one of the original highways within the US highway network. When it was first constructed in 1926, it practically spanned the whole country, starting off in Chicago, Illinois and running through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before ending in Santa Monica, California. It was known as the Mother Road or the Main Street of America.

Now though, new highways have been built and although Route 66 remains, parts have been designated as a National Scenic Highway with the name Historic Route 66 – it was this part of the road that we were about to travel on.

I was so excited about this, I mean, this is Route 66, this road has had a television program named after it and a song. There had to be something about it that made people love it so much and you can tell why in Arizona.

The road is just breathtaking:

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That right there is all you saw for miles and miles. It was just beautiful. You were in the middle of the desert, on one long road that didn’t seem to have an end. You saw hardly any cars and there wasn’t much happening around you apart from every so often you’d drive through a little town in the middle of nowhere and you’d spot the odd really long train in the distance. It was amazing.

We did stop off for some food along the way at a roadside diner my sister-in-law had read about, you simply couldn’t make it up – a couple of Germans had moved over to the States and opened a diner on Route 66, the German felt like he was at home!

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If you’re ever on Route 66 stop here. The food was delicious! The portion sizes were out of this world – I think even my brother and the German couldn’t finish all their plates and they’re usually quite good at that!

After our re-fuel we carried on our trip to the Grand Canyon, more on that later. I’m so glad we drove down Route 66, here are a few more photos just for you!

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And as usual there is a picture of me being an idiot…standard.

Have you ever driven on Route 66? What was your experience like?