USA, October 2015: Part 2 – Atlanta, GA

Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

My aunt, uncle and cousin moved to Atlanta when I was around 10, and although I’d been to visit a few times before, the last time was when I was 16 (12 years ago!) My cousin got married in October though so it was time to take another trip across the Atlantic. We started our holiday with a week by the beach in Florida, and finished up with a long weekend in Atlanta.

The bridal couple had block booked rooms at the Loews and Four Seasons hotels in Midtown, which were a little pricier than James and I had in mind, so after a little look at alternatives we found an amazing apartment on AirBnB, which was right across the street and was a fraction of the cost. I couldn’t believe my luck and told practically everyone I knew about it, so of course karma bit me in the behind – I received a message from our host about six weeks before our stay, saying that there had been a shooting in the building (!) and that the building managers were tightening up on security and had told him he wasn’t allowed to take AirBnB guests any more. He was really apologetic and we were fully refunded, but by that stage, our options were pretty limited on accommodation nearby – we discovered once we got there that along with our family wedding (the most important event of course), a Taylor Swift concert, a college football game, and the Red Bull Soapbox Race were also being held in town that weekend!

Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

On the Friday, after returning our hire car to the airport, we stayed at the Hilton Doubletree Atlanta Airport. It was pretty dated and not really up to the high standard I’d expect from the brand, but was clean and comfortable and fine for one night, and I’ve seen on Tripadvisor that they’re carrying out a refurbishment this Spring so hopefully it’ll be up to scratch again soon. My biggest grievance was that the curtains only covered half the window, and there was an enormous, brightly lit billboard outside, which kept me awake until 3am, when we finally found the secret full-length curtain, cunningly concealed behind both the stupid half-curtain and a net curtain. Gah. “At least check out isn’t until 12,” I thought, “so I can sleep in…” – until 9am, when housekeeping rapped loudly several times on every door in the corridor, yelling “HOUSEKEEPING” at the top of her lungs each time.

Thankfully though, it was all worth it in the end, as we had booked the beautiful Georgian Terrace for the remainder of our stay. It’s used as home base for actors starring in stage shows at the Fox Theatre across the street, and it’s easy to see why. The architecture is stunning, with two traditional brick buildings connected by a glass and steel foyer, the rooms are stylish, comfortable and spacious, and the staff are friendly and helpful. Admittedly, this hotel also has the stupid curtain set-up, but thankfully we’d already learned that lesson!

Georgian Terrace Hotel, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgian Terrace Hotel, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgian Terrace Hotel, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgian Terrace Hotel, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Friday evening was spent at a family get together at my new cousin-in-law’s apartment, with great food and even better company. I had met the bride before but it was good to meet her extended family, and it’s always lovely to spend time with my own extended family too. The wedding was held at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, which was gorgeous especially with all the autumn leaves. The ceremony was held outside and then we went indoors for a buffet (yum) and a night of traditional Scottish and Romanian dancing! Oh and a little trivia for you – Coldplay’s current single Adventure of a Lifetime was recorded here.

Callanwolde Center, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Emma's Picture Postcards

Emma's Picture Postcards

with my “little” cousins and sister!

On Sunday James and I went to see the Georgia Aquarium. Admission is around $40 per person, which seemed a little pricy at first glance, but it’s definitely worth it, especially as there’s a fantastic dolphin show included in the general admission. The main aquarium is split into several sections, each one centred around a different ecosystem – freshwater, Arctic, etc. It was a nice way to break up the huge volume of exhibits, and each one felt individual while still containing a range of different creatures.

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

The tanks are spotlessly clean and very large, which allows plenty of viewing windows but also hidden areas where the animals can be without a human audience. As well as a huge variety of fish and other smaller sea creatures, they have river and sea otters (my favourites), whale sharks, rays, beluga whales, dolphins and penguins. The penguin enclosure has a little tunnel underneath where you can crawl in and poke your head up amongst the penguins… it was quite surreal to see human heads, in perspex tubes, amongst a little flock of penguins! Hard to explain, but hopefully this photo illustrates it a bit better:

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

As well as being visually stunning, Georgia Aquarium is really informative and interactive. The above picture is of a Q&A that one of the staff members was holding with a volunteer diver in the tank, there are info panels throughout the exhibits, and as I mentioned briefly above, there are a few teams of dolphins who you can see performing and training, which I really enjoyed and also learned plenty from. The one thing that was a bit jarring was how very corporate the exhibits were. I’m all for corporate / charity partnerships where companies gain advertising in exchange for funding research, conservation, etc. The dolphin show, for example, is called the AT&T Splash 101 (and they must have said the name about 101 times), and the actual plot of land the aquarium sits on was donated by Coca Cola, so there’s a lot of Coke branding around. All that’s fair enough in my book, but I felt some of the “info” panels around the exhibits were a step too far – they were literally as bad as “beluga whales don’t use plates, but if they did, they’d choose these blue ones from Target”.

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

This fella is in every photo I have of this tank – he wanted to be the star(fish) (groan)

We spent a couple of hours exploring the aquarium late morning, and decided to stick around for the next dolphin show, which was at 2pm. While we waited we popped out to Centennial Park and picked up a delicious hot dog from a street vendor for lunch. Afterwards, we strolled back to our hotel along Peachtree Street, which had been closed for the day for Atlanta Streets Alive – there were loads of people out on bikes, plus a fabulous stilt walker in gold-sequined trousers 😀

Centennial Park, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Centennial Park, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Fox Theatre, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Fox Theatre and Emory University Hospital, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Mary Mac's, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

We finished up with dinner at Mary Mac’s, a traditional Southern dining room. I loved the unique ordering system of filling out a little slip, the casual, relaxed, community feel of the place, the home made lemonade, and the food – oh my God, the food was heaven. No frills, just a good, hearty, home cooked feed.

And then it was back to normal life! I hope you enjoyed my huge, photo-heavy post, and make sure to check out part 1 if you haven’t already.

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USA, October 2015: Part 1 – Destin, FL

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Hello! I’m back, after an unexpected month off from blogging. I was planning to schedule a post or two for while I was away on holiday, which… didn’t happen… and then when I got home it took me a while to get back into the swing of things.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times on here that I had a holiday to the US planned. My cousin, who lives in Atlanta, was getting married, and we (my boyfriend, parents, sister and I) decided to make the most of the opportunity for some beach time as well. To minimise driving time (or, heaven forbid, the cost of flying into and out of different airports) we decided to head for the Florida Panhandle, and after a little bit of searching online we found this beautiful rental apartment in Destin.

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

The apartment was one of the best and most spacious rental accommodations I’ve ever stayed in. The kitchen was fully equipped with everything you could need, and there was a lot of storage space, so it would be ideal for a longer stay. It has three bedrooms, two with king size beds and one with two doubles, and all have en suite bathrooms. There are two balconies, the main one looking out over the marina and accessible from the living room and master bedroom, and the second looking down on to the pool and accessible from the second (our) bedroom.

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

The sea was mostly hidden by a neighbouring apartment complex, but we did have a sea view on either side of it, and were treated to some spectacular sunsets. It was also fun to watch the wildlife in the marina – there were often enormous shoals of fish circling around in there, and casual fishermen would swing by to haul up a net full of them, plus there was a regular heron, some extremely tame sparrows, and we even saw a great big ray swimming around one day.

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

The apartment complex had a beautiful swimming pool, which was mostly deserted, since it was “cold”, to quote the locals – the temperature was in the upper 20’s every day, and perfect for sunbathing as far as we were concerned! We also had an access code allowing us onto the beach – as far as we could tell from exploring, the beach seemed to be entirely private access, so that’s something to bear in mind if you’re visiting Destin. There are some public access beaches in the national parks, but from what I read on Tripadvisor the quality isn’t as high, and you often have to pay for access and/or walk a considerable distance from your car to reach the actual sea side. Anyway, our particular stretch of white sand was pretty perfect, and also quiet, so we were more than content to stay close!

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Since we were visiting out of season, we knew that the majority of Destin’s local attractions would be closed. To be honest though, I’m not sure there was a huge amount we were missing out on, other than Big Kahuna’s, a water park which looked fun, and a weekly fireworks display on the beach front. We were also told that the traffic in summer is CRAZY, and it was still busy by our standards in October! In any case, our number one priority was just to relax, and we took that seriously 🙂 We did venture out to the local outlet mall – a few items of clothing were found by all, and my sister and I also got a great deal on a beautiful Calvin Klein handbag each, but it was mostly an exercise in sighing over all the beautiful things – and to try out the tasty cuisine and Southern hospitality. With a member of the party who is both gluten intolerant and a vegetarian, plus another two who don’t like fish or seafood, this turned out to be much more difficult than I would have imagined. Most places have a gluten-free menu, but almost all the dishes on there are meat-based. I can recommend the following though:

La Paz, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

The Local Market – We ate here at least three times, and loved it. The decor is lovely, really open, with big wooden tables and benches, with chalk board menus and shelves full of produce. The majority of the lunch menu is sandwiches, which are on the pricier side (around $12-13) but 100% worth it – they are big, stuffed full of high quality, fresh ingredients, and come with generous sides plus a packet of Lays chips (Walkers crisps to us Brits). They also do amazing specials – I had a half rotisserie chicken, which was safely the biggest portion of chicken I’ve ever had in my life, with fries and coleslaw, for $6. $6, folks. The staff are friendly and relaxed, patiently waited for us to slowwwly decide what we wanted to order, and welcomed us back when we returned.

La Paz – La Paz is next door to, and shares a car park with, The Local Market; I noticed some of the staff in both; The Local Market is open for breakfast and lunch and La Paz is open for dinner; they have a similar vibe… I’m going to go ahead and say they’re sister restaurants, although they’re not advertised as such. Anyway, La Paz is a Mexican restaurant with a friendly, family feel. The decor is quirky, with walls covered (and then some) in fun / crazy art and pictures. Most importantly though, the food is fresh and tasty – the photo above (sorry for the poor quality!) is of the South of the Border salad. 100% of the dishes on the menu are available gluten free (with the carbs coming in the form of corn chips, corn tortillas or rice) and there are plenty of veggie options.

Mimmo’s – A more upmarket option, Mimmo’s is an Italian restaurant open for both lunch and dinner on weekdays, dinner only on weekends. The front windows are almost entirely covered by enormous curtains, which made me doubt it was open despite one of those neon “open” signs, but it’s nice inside and the food and service were great. Gluten free pasta is available, although only one type, but that was a happy compromise.

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

A few others we tried:

– Waffle House – The waffles, bacon and maple syrup get my vote; the coffee, not so much. The wait staff were the friendliest of the trip, which is saying something, but this is one to avoid if you’re coeliac – the one “gluten free” option, an omelette, was served with toast…

– TGI Friday’s – TGI’s is TGI’s – reliable quality, if a little overpriced. Bonus points for an extra lovely waiter, and a complete GF menu including dessert, beer and cider.

– Pizza Hut – mentioned here only because the GF pizza was enjoyed; the rest of us suffered from huge amounts of grease! The restaurant was large but always empty, which is never a good sign.

Cheeseburger in Paradise – good fries, and a GF vegetarian burger!

Island Wing Company – really good, baked chicken wings. Choose how many you want (from 5 to 100!) and which of the many sauces takes your fancy. We visited on a Sunday lunch time so there were several different NFL games showing on the multiple TV screens, which was… overwhelming. When we left I noticed that they have an outdoor seating area with only one screen, so if I were to go back I’d definitely sit there!

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

I hope y’all 😉 have a lovely weekend. I’m off to a ceilidh tonight and a wedding reception tomorrow, and inspired by this post by Sunny Sweet Pea, I think I might have a relaxing movie day on Sunday to recover!