5 Things I Love about being an Expat in America…Part 3

Expat Love

It’s that time again where I harp on about what I love about being an expat in America. It can be anything from food (that’s usually in there somewhere) to a trip I’ve been on or simply the way of life over here. So, without further ado, here’s my latest top 5:

1. Burgers
America does burgers and America does bloody good burgers. The  burgers here are the best I’ve ever tasted, I don’t think I’ve ever had a really bad one and I’ve tucked into a fair few since moving over here that’s for sure! They’re usually all hand-made, not like those disgusting frozen ones you get in some restaurants back in the UK. They’re ground to perfection, moulded and cooked to your liking, even in the chain restaurants where, back in the UK, the burgers can be pretty naff. They’re then topped with every topping imaginable that always work together. Even the fast food restaurants have got the burger down to a T, well, obviously not McDonald’s or Burger King, they’re the same around the world, but head to somewhere like Five Guys and you’ve got an amazing fast food burger that is out of this world! I never used to order burgers back at home unless we were somewhere like the Handmade Burger Co. or somewhere I knew the burgers were good, here I don’t hesitate. I usually opt for something with cheese and bacon (everything tastes better with cheese and bacon) and add some guacamole or fried pickles or pulled pork, or mushrooms…the list is endless!

2. Baseball
I’ve definitely taken a big liking to this sport! When we came over to the States, we went to watch every new sport going, basketball, American football but baseball was my favourite. I love putting on my Braves t-shirt and heading to the ball game at Turner Field! It’s a relaxed game, you can spend time with friends, if you’re eyes aren’t on the field all the time it doesn’t matter, you unlikely to miss something if you’re looking away for a few minutes. You can kick back with a beer and some peanuts, tuck into a hot dog or some nachos and jump up and shout when there’s a home run! The German has made it his mission to catch a ball at one of the games, he literally jumps out of his seat and braces himself if the ball is ever heading somewhere near his direction! He’s yet to catch one but he once came pretty close! We can’t forget the 7th inning stretch either where everybody stands up, sways and sings ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game!’ A perfect Sunday afternoon can be had right there! Just remember to pack the sunscreen…

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Five Guys Rocks! / The Braves at the Ted / A house ready for Halloween!

3. Holiday Celebrations
Let’s face it, American’s know how to celebrate a holiday. Whether it’s 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas or something simple like Labor Day or Memorial Day, there’s always something happening somewhere to celebrate, and it usually involves fireworks, especially on 4th of July! People decorate their homes with seasonal decor (pumpkins in fall, American flags for 4th of July), they have parties for every event imaginable and go the whole hog with the decor – Halloween is one of my favourite holidays, especially when it comes to the fancy dress! Valentines Day, St Patricks Day and any other day gets its fair share of celebrations, not like in the UK where they’re half celebrated and half not! Although, I think the UK is copying the States and heading towards this type of celebration now.

4. Coffee Creamer
If I had to leave the States I do not know what I would do without my, now beloved, coffee creamer! This is something that definitely needs to catch on back in the UK – it’s literally flavoured cream but it does wonders for your morning coffee! There’s every flavour imaginable from French vanilla (my personal favourite) and hazelnut to cinnamon roll and Bailey’s, yes you heard that right, Bailey’s. Some of them are a little too sweet for me but I’d definitely miss them if they weren’t there! It’s the simple things.

5. It’s a confidence thing.
Being an expat definitely helps to boost your confidence. I’ve always been a pretty shy person, hell, I used to hide behind my mum’s skirt when I was little and cry at men, but, moving to another country means I’ve had to be more confident. I’ve been forced to go out and make friends, they weren’t going to come to me. We had to put ourselves out there, make new contacts and build our new life. I do things now that I would never have done back in the UK all down to the fact I came here knowing one person, the German, and let’s face it, a life knowing just one person isn’t going to be that much fun is it? Now, just over 18 months into our adventure, we’ve built a life, have a good network of friends and have definitely become a lot more confident in ourselves. Now, we can take on the world…well maybe not the whole world but we’ll give it a good go!

Exploring: Hoover Dam

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When we were in Las Vegas back in April we thought it was only right to take a trip to the Hoover Dam, when you’re in the area it would be rude not to, right? So, on our way towards Route 66 and the Grand Canyon we stopped off to check out the Hoover Dam and see what the big fuss is all about.

So, we got up mega early (I’m talking 6am people, and we were on holiday!) jumped in the car and headed off to explore. Seeing Las Vegas at 6:45am was the first experience. Walking through our hotel casino we spotted gamblers who were there from the night before, still chugging on a beer and losing, or maybe winning some cash. Then there were the early riser gamblers who’d just got out of bed, picked up their morning coffee and headed to the slots. Never mind New York, Vegas never sleeps either!

After picking up our morning coffees and the German designating me to be the first driver we set off like happy, excited road trippers…

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The Hoover Dam isn’t too far away from Las Vegas, in fact it’s about an hour away from the strip so if you fancy a little trip out and away from the bright lights and flashing machines this is definitely the place to go. We arrived at about 8:30am, perfect timing if you want to avoid the crowds of tourists that flock there on a daily basis. We were just about the only people there, give or take a few other couples and groups of friends. It was definitely the best time to go if you wanted to take some fab pictures at your own pace without having to wait for people to move out of the way!

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This place is just breathtaking. Obviously I’ve seen it in pictures, in films and on TV but until you get to the real thing you really can’t believe how big and beautiful it is. I think I got out of the car and simply said ‘wow!’ It is bigger than you could ever imagine, each area you walk around is more breathtaking than the last, each angle you take a photo from is more beautiful, it’s simply out of this world.

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Ready for some stats and history about this place? So, the Hoover Dam was built between 1931 and 1935 during the Great Depression as a way to give thousands of unemployed workers jobs, but sadly it also cost over one hundred lives.  It was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 30, 1935 and controversially named after President Herbert Hoover, the guy who was in power when construction began.

The dam impounds Lake Mead and the Colorado River and serves as a flood control barrier to the surrounding areas as well as a power provider for public and private utilities in Arizona, Nevada and California.

Now back to the fun bit! So, the Hoover Dam sits in both Arizona and Nevada, meaning half of the dam is in a different time zone to the other. Obviously, I had to have a little fun with this and at one point was half in Arizona and half in Nevada, I think the German thought I had a screw loose, nothing new there:

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Heading to the dam early in the morning had another benefit too, aside from the lack of tourists the temperature wasn’t too bad either. Well, I say it wasn’t too bad, it was still 90 degrees! I can only imagine what it was like for those thousands of workers who built this thing, no wonder some of them sadly died from heat exhaustion. Just a leisurely stroll from one end of the dam to the other was hot enough for me, never mind lugging concrete around. You can also see where the heat has had its effect on the water and how the levels have dropped significantly over the years, the white line above the water is where the levels were at one point, they’re much lower now but not low enough to not need the dam!

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After a stroll from one side of the dam to the other and taking in the amazing sights, we decided to head back to the car and make our way towards our next stop…the Grand Canyon! Stay tuned for a blog post on yet another breathtaking destination!

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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:

Exploring Las Vegas
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?

Exploring: Virginia Highlands Summerfest 2014.

Once springtime hits Atlanta there’s a festival happening just about every weekend in some place or another, whether it’s a beer festival, an arts and crafts festival, a music festival or any other theme you can imagine, you can literally visit one every weekend and they’re always guaranteed to be worth it. Remember that trip we did to the Dogwood Festival with the huge turkey leg?

This weekend, after recovering from our wedding hangovers, we ventured here:

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The Virginia Highlands Summerfest 2014. Virginia Highlands is a really nice neighborhood near Midtown and Piedmont Park, it has some quirky shops, nice restaurants and cute parks to chill out in, personally I like going there anyway, never mind when there’s a festival in town!

So off we trotted, it took us a little while to find a parking space but our luck was in and we grabbed one right next to the main street where the festival was taking place – result! These festivals all seem to run along the same theme – lots of little booths with different artists and companies selling there wares along with those all important beer and food stalls – my favourite!

Yesterday was hot. So hot that even strolling down the street at a leisurely pace turned me a little sweaty! I think the fact that I had my hair down didn’t help – it’s blummin hot under that mop! Anyway, we took in the stalls, the German gravitating to the booths selling photos and prints (he’s a secret photography lover, I’m often a camera widow when we go exploring!), I was very interested in the jewellery and craft stalls, finding lots of pretty things I wanted to buy:

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The booths also provided a welcome break from the hot sun! The majority of the action was on Virginia Avenue – a huge street in the center of the Highlands with live music in a couple of places along the street. These festivals are a great place to meet friends, have a few drinks, do some exploring and chill out for a couple of hours at the weekend.

Then there are the food and drink stalls. In summer, lemonade is king in America and not just any lemonade, we’re talking freshly squeezed very refreshing lemonade that they literally squeeze right in front of you with a very clever contraption that squashes the lemon in seconds! And let me tell you it is super tasty stuff! There’s also the option to add a shot of liquor like vodka but, after partying the night away at a wedding alcohol wasn’t really our friend yesterday afternoon so we opted for the plain version!

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We then moved onto a snack. If you ask me you can’t come to any of these places without trying something tasty! There was everything you can think of from food trucks selling meatballs and fish and chips (Yay!) to blooming onions, falafel, thai food and of course BBQ. We also can’t forget the stall I got a little bit excited about – the Meat Pies stall! There was a Union Jack on it and everything and it sold sausage rolls! It’s been so long since I had a proper sausage roll but after spotting one coming out of the oven I changed my decision to have one, knowing that despite how much someone tries it just won’t be the same as back home and I’d probably be a little disappointed (I’m sure they were very tasty but this British palate is very particular when it comes to traditional British scran!) and instead we went for all American and got a pulled pork BBQ sandwich and it was delicious!

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So there you have it – our first festival of the year. I’m sure we’ll be heading to many more before the summer is up, who wouldn’t want to rock up for some lemonade and tasty treats along with of course the cute stalls and sunshine with friends? Have you been to any festivals this year? What did you think of them?

Exploring: Maiwoche in Osnabrück

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Every May for one week only, the closest city to the German’s hometown, Osnabrück is transformed into a strawberry heaven that is called Maiwoche. Literally translated, this means May Week and the place goes mad. It’s the only city in Germany that has this ‘Volksfest’ which, translated means people’s festival and it’s the largest ‘Volksfest’ in the whole of Germany – wowzers! When I asked the German what the reason was behind it was instead of giving me the answer I was expecting like ‘it’s to celebrate the start of spring’ or something similar, his answer was ‘it’s just an excuse to meet friends and drink.’ Typical German there!

Now, the German first introduced me to Maiwoche a couple of years ago, on the afternoon of our last day in Germany, just hours before we had to head to the airport to catch our plane back to the UK. This was an epic fail on his part (or maybe he planned it that way?) and I nicely asked him to take me to it the following year as I’d missed out on all the fun but instead he decided to get a promotion at work and we moved to America. Shucks.

Anyway, it would appear we planned our wedding well, the week before the big day was indeed Maiwoche! You can imagine my excitement when I figured this out – my time had come to sample the delights of this thing and tell you all about it. So here goes…we’ll start with a few pictures:

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So, Maiwoche is a little like a Christmas market but in May. It has the usual little stalls and stands but it has a spring feel. It’s only in Osnabrück for one week and in between planning a wedding and welcoming our guests I managed to visit this thing 3 times and the German 4. I think we did well, we were there within hours of stepping off the plane!

So, the aim of the game is to meet friends, chat, stroll around the stalls, listen to some live music, fill yourself full of tasty delights and this being Germany, there is obviously a few drinks involved! Instead of the warming Glühwein that’s sipped at the Christmas markets in Germany during December there’s a lovely little number called Maibowle instead – see the picture above and the huge smile I have on my face, believe me that stuff is good!

So, strawberries are the center of this tasty drink, basically you mix sparking wine with brandy and sugar, add a load of strawberries that have been soaked in the stuff for a long time and you are definitely onto a winner. I’m thinking there’s some sort of colouring in there too to make it red? At this point during the week I was in a carb-free zone to fit into THE dress so the strawberries fitted into the diet well, despite the huge amount of alcohol they came with!

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This thing does have a few other differences from your standard Christmas market, for a start there are the flying chairs that people seem to like to get on after having a few drinks…! The Maypoles, the live music, the carousel bar (it’s basically an old carousel that’s been turned into a bar, it moves and everything!) and the party tent. Yes, you read that right, a section of the city centre is turned into a tent where music and partying takes place all night, accompanied by some Maibowles, beers and of course shots. Those Germans definitely know how to sink some drinks and party but without looking completely trashed like the Brits…I’m still intrigued as to how they do that!

Back to Maiwoche! Sadly the weather wasn’t too good this year, it was a little cold (although I couldn’t decide if that was because we’d been basking in 80 degree heat in Atlanta the previous week) and it rained a few times so we had to find shelter either in the tent or under one of the beer stalls (again, shucks) so it wasn’t overly busy but there was still a good, fun atmosphere and the drinks were definitely flowing!

We also can’t forget the snacks. The German was so excited to get his fill of German goodness at Maiwoche – I think within minutes of hitting the stalls and getting a drink the man was itching to get to the Bratwurst stand for a sausage! I think he ate at least 2 or maybe 3 on every visit. So, apart from the traditional Bratwurst, Krakauer and Kasewurst (cheese sausage) there is every other treat you can imagine – Gyros, another favourite of the German, steak sandwiches, Kartoffelpuffer (deep fried potato, a little like a hash brown), deep fried fish, roasted salmon, caramalised almonds, gingerbread and every other German treat you can imagine. Being on the carb free I need to fit into a wedding dress at the weekend diet I had to choose wisely – I went for a bratwurst without the bread and some mushrooms with a garlic mayo – just amazing! Obviously I took you guys a few pictures…

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Maiwoche was definitely a big hit with me, my parents and every other Brit we managed to take there during the week we were in Germany! It’s obviously huge with the locals too, one of our nieces who lives in Osnabrück says she went nearly every night! I don’t blame her either – I think I would too given the chance. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll be able to make it next year but I’m sure we’ll be back to Maiwoche at some point in the future! If you’re thinking of heading to that part of Germany, make sure you plan your trip to include a visit – I can assure you won’t be disappointed!

Language Smanguage.

Right now, I’m not going to lie, I’m sunning myself on a beach in Florida with my handsome hubby, probably in the exact place we got married for the first time a year ago on our mini moon! But I didn’t want to leave you guys with nothing to read at all, so here’s a little piece I wrote about the language barriers expats in America may face! Have a read and let me know what you think. I promise that wedding post will be on it’s way once I get back!

Language Smanguage.
Living in America is fab – people here speak the same language as us Brits! Yay! Or so you would think! Sometimes it’s like I speak a foreign language and I’m met with a blank face when asking a question!

Obviously, these are the differences between American and British English – we’re effectively divided by one language, and despite my best efforts to try to adjust to these differences it seems there are some things I simply cannot get my head around!

So, I thought I’d give you a selection of the ones that are causing me the most trouble so far:

Cinema/movie theater:
Back in the UK we call the movie theater the cinema. It’s something I’ve done for such a long time my little head does not want to change it to the American version! We’ve been a few times lately (more than ever before to be honest! We were always pretty pants with seeing films!) and I’m always blurting out cinema and then quickly correcting myself with movies straight after! It’s blummin tough! See, even on Twitter I can’t get it right:

Useless. (That is the best cinema ever though! If you’re ever in Atlanta and wanting to go to the movies then the AMC at Phipps Plaza is the place to go! You’ll see why! You can thank me later!)

Rubbish/Trash/Garbage
When we first came over to the States I asked the lovely man at the hotel reception desk if he had a rubbish bin for the bags I’d amassed from my shopping trip. He looked at me with a blank face until I went on to ask for a trash can! His face soon lit up, of course madam! Lesson learnt.

Porridge/Oatmeal
In the UK we have porridge for breakfast. I can now imagine a lot of blank American faces reading this, kind of like the puzzled expression I got from my friend when I told her I’d had porridge for breakfast before the gym. I soon realised my error and said oatmeal, soon everything was right with the world and we were on the same page! However, I’m sure if I was in the same situation again I’d opt for saying porridge!

Chips/Fries
Now this one can cause some serious problems if you don’t get it right! Thankfully, I think I’ve cracked this one, probably because food is involved! In the UK chips to us look like this:

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Seen here complete with some battered fish and mushy peas! Just how they should be! However, if I ordered chips with my ribs or burger over here I’d be presented with a packet of crisps, as the German’s boss found out when he ordered his favourite meal of ribs, coleslaw and chips! He was sorely disappointed when a packet of crisps (chips to the Americans reading this!) arrived and not some deep-fried, fluffy potato goodness!!

supermarket/grocery store
As much as I try to say I’m going to the grocery store the words just won’t come out! Also, they seem a little weird! It will always be a supermarket to me! Sorry American friends, I am trying my best to integrate with you guys but that one is just not working! I did, however, get very excited when I first came out of a supermarket with one of those brown paper bags you see in the movies! I’ve always wanted on of those! It’s the little things!

Trousers/Pants
OK, so this one is really tricky. In the UK, when we say pants we mean our underwear. Here in the States the word pants means trousers, and the word for underwear (well at least for women!) is panties. I simply cannot say the word panties. I think it my be my in-built British nature because panties just does not roll off my tongue. Pants are underwear and trousers are pants. I even feel wrong walking into Victoria’s Secret and asking about panties!! And that’s the shop where panties rule! I just can’t do it – to me it sounds wrong! I’m British, we seem to have some sort of trait that stops us talking about things like this and I don’t think that will be changing anytime soon!

There are some American words that I have adopted though – I now say cell phone instead of mobile (unless I’m back in the UK!) and I’ve obviously taken on board the fries/chips changes (I definitely don’t want the disappointment of a bag of crisps with my dinner!) but there are also a lot more that I’m sure my British brain will not get used to! I’ll keep you informed!!

Exploring: Las Vegas – The Casinos

Exploring Las Vegas

You can’t go to Las Vegas without visiting its casinos. Not only would it be a crime if you didn’t but you genuinely cannot miss them. For a start, we had to walk through the casino in our hotel just to get to our room. There is simply no escaping them! So I thought it was only fair to give them their own blog post.

The first thing you notice when you step into any casino on the Las Vegas strip is the smell. In Vegas it’s still legal to smoke inside bars and especially casinos, in fact it’s just about encouraged. As a non-smoker even I can see that for a smoker, being able to have a cigarette at a casino table will encourage you to stay for longer and gamble more. So, to combat the smell of stale smoke, every casino has some sort of air freshener being pumped into it. It literally hits you as soon as you walk in the doors, some of them are a little sweeter smelling than others, giving them a sickly smell but they’re not too bad and much better than walking out of there stinking of cigarette smoke, that’s for sure.

The casinos are pretty much all the same, unlike the different themes of the hotels, they’re all quite dark with lots of bright lights. They are slightly different depending on which hotel you’re in, for example the Paris has the legs of the Eiffel Tower coming through the roof, but the atmosphere, the sounds and the smell are pretty uniform throughout.

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Just about every hotel on the strip has a casino, apart from The Trump, I think that is the only one lacking the bright lights of the gambling machines. In the past, the machines used to be different in each hotel, now though, I think you can find the same machines in just about every casino. They all have different themes, literally every famous TV show or movie is present from Sex and the City to The Walking Dead, you name it there’s a gambling machine with it on, including Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory!

Gambling can also be a cheaper way to get drinks in Vegas. If you’re splashing your cash at a table or slot machine, your drinks are free so depending on how much you win/lose you could find yourself downing alcoholic drinks for free, and with the prices in Vegas (most are well on their way to $10 or more) it could be a cheaper way to drink in the city!

The casinos are so huge in every single hotel, this is America after all. They have evety game you can think of, many of the tables I simply didn’t understand – I really wanted to throw the dice on the craps table though! I’ve seen it in films, it needed to be done but as none of us understood the game we decided to give it a miss!

I’ll be honest, we didn’t do much gambling when we were there, shocker I know! I was more interested in seeing Vegas in all it’s weird and wonderful glory, checking out the hotels and soaking up the atmosphere. For the little bit of gambling we did do, I walked away with 21 cents! Yay! Go me! I didn’t even cash it in though – I saved it for a souvenir!

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I was disappointed with the fact you don’t get coins from the machines anymore, when someone wins big you don’t get thousands of coins spilling out of the bottom and you can’t walk around with a cup full or quarters. My brother and I once went to Atlantic City and picked up loads of different cups with the logos of the various casinos on, now though you walk away with a white ticket that you cash in at a machine. Sad times. I think it’s stolen some of the heritage from Vegas.

In my opinion with Vegas casinos, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. They’re pretty similar throughout but definitely worth checking out, especially at 6am in the morning when there are waifs and strays still gambling from the night before with a beer in their hand and those early risers, having a quick gamble with a coffee before starting their day! It’s definitely an education!

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