When we arrived in Atlanta, we were pretty tired, so Raymond and I took a nap. When we woke up, it was 3am—darn jet lag! Our tummies were rumbling, and we knew just where to go. With more than 100 locations in Atlanta alone and open 24 hours, we headed to none other than Waffle House. When in Atlanta, where else would you eat in the middle of the night, right?
Raymond perusing the giant menu
There we shared a waffle, eggs, and hashbrowns that were scattered, smothered, and covered, which is Waffle House talk for hashbrowns that include sautéed onions and cheese.
Scattered, smothered, and covered
Well-rested the next day, Raymond and I set out to explore. We had heard about something called the Big Chicken, which locals actually use as a landmark when giving directions. We were rather curious, so we had to check it out, even though it’s in the suburbs. Standing more than 17 meters tall, it is indeed a big chicken!
Yup, that is a big chicken
Curiosity satisfied, we headed back ITP ["inside the Perimeter," which is the ring road around Atlanta] for a bit of history. Thankfully the clouds had parted when we went to view a sculpture titled Homage to King. Atlanta is Martin Luther King Jr.’s hometown, and this simple, yet lovely steel sculpture honouring MLK overlooks the city.
In front of Homage to King
From there it was a short walk to the Jackson Street Bridge where we were treated to the quintessential view of the Atlanta skyline. The cityscape from this spot was really fantastic. If Raymond and I ever travel to Atlanta again, we’ll definitely have to go back to this bridge for the sunset!
Raymond in ATL
Enjoying the view of the Atlanta skyline
Next Raymond and I decided we wanted lunch, so we went to Ponce City Market, a huge mixed-use development that was originally a Sears, Roebuck and Co. building when it was built 90 years ago. Nowadays Ponce City Market features a food hall, shops, event space, and even a carnival-esque park on the roof.
Raymond in front of Ponce City Market
About to enter Ponce City Market
Some wayfaring signage at Ponce City Market that is also good life advice
We filled up on yummy salads from one of the food hall vendors, then we wandered outside to go for a walk on the BeltLine. This former railway corridor has evolved into a multi-use path, and the eastside trail runs right beside Ponce City Market. It was the perfect place for a post-lunch stroll as the sun beamed down on us.
Hoofin’ it along the BeltLine
As we walked along the BeltLine, Raymond and I noticed that there is a lot of art dotting the trail. We learned that Art on the Atlanta BeltLine is a juried, public art exhibition, so the art changes each year. What a great idea to incorporate temporary art amongst the urban and natural beauty of the BeltLine itself! We enjoyed looking at the different murals and sculptures as we made our way down the path.
Art on the Atlanta BeltLine
When we were walking back to Ponce City Market, we came across a small door. [Raymond knocked, but no one answered.] Turns out that there are a number of tiny doors all around Atlanta! Next time Raymond and I visit Atlanta, we might have to go on a mission to find all of them.
After our walk, Raymond and I were ready for a snack. What can I say—we like to try local grub when we travel. We went to The Varsity, the iconic restaurant that perches above the Connector [the freeway that runs through Atlanta].
At the iconic Varsity
What’ll ya have?
Learning about the history of the Varsity
We were impressed to find out that The Varsity is the largest drive-in fast food restaurant in the world. When we walked in, we understood why The Varsity has this honour, as the space is absolutely massive. Welcomed by the traditional “What’ll ya have?” greeting, we ordered a Frosted Orange, which tastes like a creamsicle. In between a milkshake and a slushie, Raymond and I agreed that the Frosted Orange was a tasty treat.
Mmm… orangey goodness
The next morning before we left Atlanta, Raymond and I stopped by Sublime Doughnuts. Sublime has quite the variety of flavours, such as Fresh Strawberry ‘N Cream, Orange Dream Star, Salt & Vinegar, and much more. We opted to order an A-Town Cream, which was fabulous. Since Sublime is open 24 hours, it’s probably good that Raymond and I don’t live near it
24-hour doughnuts? Dangerous!
So many delicious options
Raymond impatiently waiting to eat his A-Town Cream
Overall Raymond and I had a fun [and yummy] time in Atlanta. Where should Raymond visit next year? Let us know in the comments!
Note from Becky: This past summer Raymond had a wonderful opportunity. Aaron, a friend of the elves, invited Raymond to travel with him to China! Raymond was ecstatic and talked excitedly about the trip relatively non-stop for weeks beforehand. Below is Aaron’s recount of their fun adventure.
Our trip got off to an interesting start with Guangzhou customs officers questioning Raymond’s lack of a passport/visa.
Unperturbed, Raymond asked the officials if they knew for whom he worked. “Perhaps you have heard of him. His name is Santa Claus, though you might know him as Father Christmas.” “Welcome to China, Mr. Raymond,” said the lead officer, after validating his credentials on northpole.com. “Stay as long as you wish, and please call us if you need anything.” They handed Raymond their card and let him through.
Raymond photobombing a picture in White Cloud Airport
Raymond quickly realized he would have to adjust to a new climate. His Nordic undercoat was not designed for the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia. However, when he saw all the happy, smiling children, he knew he came to the right place. He wondered how the reindeer delivery team managed to get packages to so many people each year. He then remembered that Santa, through centuries of experience, had become ultra-efficient.
Raymond then began his Guangzhou tour. He liked how the large, modern city contrasted with the traditional homes and villages.
Cooling off with some iced coffee
On the first day, Raymond visited a huge underground mall with many toy stores and play centers for children. A European bakery had big Belgian waffles that reminded him of the delicious waffle he had in Brussels, Belgium. When Raymond got tired, he stopped for coffee at Starbucks (and was pleasantly surprised to find that his Starbucks card worked there). Finally, he took a boat ride on the Pearl River, which cuts through the city. The boat had an open deck, upon which he drank tea while winding along the route. This was very relaxing.
About to go on a relaxing boat ride on the Pearl River
The next day, Raymond climbed a mountain with a waterfall. The quiet, natural setting was a nice break from the previous day’s urban hustle. At the top of the waterfall was a Buddhist temple. Raymond explained to the kind monks that his job was to help the elves at the North Pole prepare so Santa can deliver gifts to children. The monks praised Raymond for such a noble vocation. They promised that many good things would come to him in return. On the way down, Raymond washed his hooves in the stream that collected toward the bottom. He chatted with some college students, who practiced their English with him and told him how popular he would be around Christmastime in Guangzhou.
Peering at the Haiyin Bridge
Raymond returned to the city for the third day. Most of the day was spent at a toy factory in an industrial park; he found it interesting to see another place where toys are made and compare it to Santa’s Workshop. Raymond and the factory managers also discussed what toys they all thought might be hits next Christmas. When the meeting was over, the factory work unit took Raymond to the Guangzhou central library. Raymond stood in awe of the multi-storey mega-library. Fortunately for Raymond, an entire floor was dedicated to books in English. Raymond quickly found the section about Western holidays, and he was happy to find several items about “Father Christmas” (Santa).
Raymond in the Guangzhou library next to a statue that represents learning & scholarship
On the last day of his trip, Raymond decided to walk around the whole city, with no particular plan about it. He saw an old, bearded man on the side of the road. The man had some papers with strange symbols on them, the most prominent of which was the distinctive “yin/yang” divided circle. Raymond realized this man was a fortune teller.
Curious, Raymond paid the fortune teller 50 RMB (Chinese dollars) and asked what lie in store for himself. The man asked Raymond to extend his right, front leg. He then used his fingers to trace the markings on the bottom of Raymond’s hoof.
“You have a generous heart and are loved by many. The people here like you very much, but you must leave soon. It will be ‘beneficial for you to forward the great water’ tomorrow.”
Raymond understood what this meant. He had had a wonderful trip to China, but it was time to go back to his home at the North Pole. He thanked the man, and then finished his solo tour.
The next day, Raymond took a taxi back to White Cloud Airport, said “goodbye” to his new friends, hopped aboard his flight, and began his return trip. (Since Raymond is a young reindeer, he flies commercial airlines to get farther north, then he uses his special magic to fly the rest of the way home.) He was sure Santa would be impressed with the plush toy samples and distribution ideas the factory bosses gave to him.
While he would miss his new friends, Raymond was happy to return home.
Another note from Becky: That sounded like a fantastic trip, didn’t it? I may have to get Raymond to show me around China sometime! Where else do you think Raymond went this year? Stay tuned to find out!
Over the past couple of years, Raymond and I have visited Rome and Venice, Italy. On both of these wonderful trips, one of things we enjoyed most was the food. Italian cuisine is one of my favourites, and Raymond is quite partial to it as well. As vegetarians, we both love all of the food options we have when in Italy.
Well, at the beginning of this year, Raymond and I had a hankering for pasta, pizza, and the like, so we travelled down to Italy for a few days to nosh and relax. We walked quite a bit each day, which was good since we ate a lot, too!
Warning: You might want to grab a snack because if you aren’t already hungry, you sure will be by the time you finish reading this post
On our foodie excursion, we spent most of our time in Venice. As soon as we arrived in this ancient city, Raymond and I popped into a pizzeria where we shared a pizza topped with spinach and egg.
Raymond about to dig into pizza con spinaci e uovo
While walking around the town, we kept seeing these giant cookies in bakery windows, so we grabbed one to nibble on back at the hotel. It turns out these cookies are called pan dei dogi, and they are unique to Venice. They come in different flavours [ours was pistachio] and are topped with almonds or hazelnuts.
With our pan dei dogi al pistacchio
There are no roads or cars in Venice; therefore, everyone gets around either by walking or via vaporetto, which is a waterbus. So the following day Raymond and I took a vaporetto along the Grand Canal to our next delicious destination.
Enjoying the ride along the Grand Canal
Hidden down a side street, Friedland offers pasta and other dishes in take-out containers. Don’t let the unassuming appearance fool you—Friedland’s handmade pasta is extremely tasty and served piping hot.
Walking into the tiny space occupied by Friedland
The yummy pasta al pomodoro from Friedland was only €3.99—a steal!
Raymond and I then walked around, just exploring. We figured we needed some exercise since we were planning on eating a large meal later. And we may have stopped at GROM for gelato, but we were too busy enjoying our ice cream and forgot to take a photo.
Later on when dinnertime rolled around, we hopped on a vaporetto to visit another restaurant.
Peering out the vaporetto window
For dinner, we ventured to Spaghetteria-Pizzeria 6342 A Le Tole. We had seen this restaurant on a previous day and promised ourselves we would return because they had gorgeous fresh pasta on display in the front window. Raymond and I are so glad we made sure to go back because the food was incredible!
Maccheroni al pomodoro at 6342 A Le Tole
We must’ve been going through a pomodoro phase since we had it twice in one day, but it’s just so good. After cleaning our plates, Raymond and I could not figure out what dessert to order because they all sounded mouthwatering. But why decide when you can just split 2 different desserts, right?
Since we were in Venice during Carnival, not only did we get to see all of the amazing masks and costumes, we also were able to try a dish that is only served during this time of year: frittelle di Carnevale. These donuts come with a variety of fillings, but ours were filled with custard cream and came with warm chocolate to dip them in. Delizioso!
Raymond eyeing the frittelle di Carnevale
The other dessert we shared was—of course—tiramisù. Despite not liking coffee, I LOVE tiramisù. Raymond had never tried it before, but he’s definitely a fan now.
6342 A Le Tole’s tiramisù
After a few tasty days in Venice, we travelled farther south to Rome. We were craving pasta, and we knew our first meal in Italy’s capital had to be cacio e pepe. This Roman specialty is a very simple dish of spaghetti, Pecorino Romano cheese, and black pepper.
Raymond says, “Mmm…”
If you are ever in Rome, don’t walk—RUN—to Pinsere. This award-winning pizzeria serves the classics as well as some unique flavour combinations. For our final meal in Italy, Raymond and I shared a gorgonzola, walnut, pear, and honey pizza, and we agreed that it was one of the best [if not THE best] pizzas we’ve ever had in our lives. The delectable crust and balance of flavours took this pizza to a whole other level of yumminess.
This pizza was a thing of beauty
Raymond and I had so much fun eating our way around Italy. We may have to take more food-centric trips in the future. And I should’ve heeded my own warning and gotten a snack because writing this post has certainly made me hungry! I think I’ll wander on over to the Kitchen and see what Mrs. Claus is baking.
Where else do you think Raymond went this year? Stay tuned to find out!
Over the past few years, Raymond and I have travelled the globe some. Together we’ve visited Chicago, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, Brussels, NYC, Japan, among other places. Raymond is a great travel companion, and we always have a blast together—taking in the sights and sampling local vegetarian food.
Last weekend Raymond and I had a little free time, so we decided to pop down to Nashville, Tennessee to check out the elaborate Christmas decorations at the Opryland Resort. It was a certainly a sight to behold, as there are more than 2 million twinkling lights across the entire resort!
Raymond and I could’ve stared at these gorgeous trees for hours.
Every single tree was covered in lights.
Outside the main entrance to the Opryland Resort where there were carriage rides and a firepit.
Oh, there he is! By the HUGE poinsettia tree!
The Opryland Resort is one of the largest hotels in the world, and it features several atriums that house impressive Christmas decorations and thousands of plants. There is even a quarter-mile-long indoor river in the Delta Atrium! Walkways and bridges lead you all around the atriums, and seeing such large-scale holiday displays will leave you feeling jolly. Raymond and I certainly enjoyed wandering along the paths—he drinking some hot cocoa and me sipping a hot toddy.
Raymond was particularly amused by the banjo-strummin’ snowman.
The ceiling was quite literally dripping with lights. Our photos don’t do it justice!
Raymond bonding with a nutcracker.
Aside from the extensive decorations, there are lots of holiday activities going on all season long at the Opryland Resort, such as ice skating, tubing, gingerbread decorating, and more. Maybe sometime Raymond and I will get to go back and experience more of the festivities, but after a couple hours, we had to head back up to the North Pole. [But don't feel sorry for us; you know we have loads of festive fun up here ]
If you want to experience A Country Christmas at the Opryland Resort yourself, head to Nashville anytime between now and 1 January.
It’s December—yay! With only 24 days until Christmas, we are eagerly anticipating the big day and are rather busy up here at the North Pole. One of our favorite things about this time of year are all of the pretty, twinkling lights on Christmas trees and houses. Here’s a cozy digital wallpaper for your screen, so you can enjoy the sight of colorful lights all month long! Click the buttons below to download.
For our American friends, November is the month of thankfulness which culminates on Thanksgiving Day. While it’s great to have a holiday dedicated to giving thanks, gratitude is something we can all exercise year-round. This month challenge yourself to write down something you’re thankful for each day. Set this image as your desktop wallpaper, and Raymond the reindeer will give you a gentle reminder each time you see it.
…such as cooler weather, pumpkin spice everything, costumes, and this downloadable desktop wallpaper! Raymond the reindeer wanted to dress up to celebrate Halloween, so here he is, donning a wizard hat and accompanied by a couple of his pals. We’re having a hard time coming up with names for these guys… Dracu-apple? Jack-o-orange? What do you think? Help us name these cuties and leave your suggestions in the comments below.
Oh my gosh—it’s September already! Can you believe that summer’s over and kids are already back in school? We sure can’t. But here we are, three months until the holidays, and we elves still have so much to do! Even though Christmas seems like a long way off, we know the days will fly by. Thankfully, our pal Raymond the reindeer loves to lend a helping hoof whenever he can. And here he is, on a mission to spread some smiles. Download this wallpaper, and whenever you look at Raymond, he’ll surely lift your spirits, as he does ours!
This Friday the Summer Olympic Games will begin in Rio de Janeiro! As you probably know, Raymond the reindeer loves sports—whether it’s baseball, cricket, reindeer games, or anything in between. He even went to London, England for the 2012 Summer Olympics! Raymond is getting rather excited for this year’s games, so he decided to participate in a little track and field. Here he is donning his sweat bands, ready to run laps. Maybe with a little of Santa’s magic, Raymond can beat the world record for the 100m
…So take a break and head to the lake with your pal Raymond the reindeer. Download this wallpaper, and whenever you look at it, you’ll be transported to the serene scene. Picture yourself sitting on a dock, dipping your toes (or hooves) in the cool water, enjoying the warm breeze. Ahh… Summer!
And speaking of summertime fun, what’s your favorite lake to visit? Let us know in the comments below!