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Road tripping the “Flyover States” on the way to​ the Yellowstone National Park.

Put four girls together, one car, 34 hours driving and Luis Fonsi singing “Decpacito” all way long. The result? Best road trip ever.

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Emma Chase once said:

“The greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way”

And there was a lot of stuff going on during that trip.

So let’s start!

Who is going to guess where we celebrated the 4th of July? Someone could say watching fireworks on a lake shore sitting on a cozy blanket. Someone else could say drinking beer at a barbecue party. All very attractive alternatives. However, can that be compared with a long and hot wait in an auto-repair garage in Billings, Montana? What the heck were they doing in Billings on the 4th of July?! Fair question. Well, the day before Independence Day, our car’s brakes broke (no pun intended). It wouldn’t have been an issue if we hadn’t all had to work the day after in Wisconsin.

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I always try to look at the bright side of a bad situation. My point was that, at least, the car broke the day before of our last day trip. We would have had plenty of time to look for someone available to fix our car and then drive all night back to Wisconsin. And voila. We found out this car-repair garage in Billings opened 24h – even in a National Holiday. And you know what? We made it! We got our car fixed and we got back in time to work the day after!

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Mishaps aside, I would do it over and over again because that place left me speechless. So, welcome to the Yellowstone National Park. The Park spans an area of 3,468.4 square miles (8,983 km2) and covers no less than three States – Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. It is divided into two Loops – the Upper and the Lower Loop.

Our trip was four days long and included a stop to Mt. Rushmore on our way back home. Two days driving and two days spent at the Park. Since we arrived from the northeast, the most logical choice was entering the Park from the North Entrance and visiting the Upper Loop first.

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DAY #1 Upper Loop

I like to call it the “slow” loop. Even though there are not as many pit stops as in the Lower Loop, it was really relaxing going up and down through the snow-capped mountains, stopping at the crystal-clear rivers and discovering hidden waterfalls. The landscape was spectacular and the sun made everything so sharp that even the best pictures can not possibly do the colors justice.

 

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For more pictures>>> https://www.instagram.com/just__take__me__away/

 

The must see spots of this loop are essentially three – Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin and Canyon Area.

THE MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS

This spot is known for the terraces – formed over centuries of hot water bubbling up from the ground, cooling and depositing calcium carbonate. The sulfur smell is very strong over there but the view is totally worthy.

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THE NORRIS GEYSER BASIN

This Geyser is characterized by the presence of colorful and above the boiling point geothermal hotspots. We did not make to stop there but if you will have more time I would not want to miss it!

THE GRAND CANYON OF YELLOWSTONE

This Canyon has been dug by the Yellowstone River. Three waterfalls feed the River – the Lower, Upper and Crystal Falls. Since we were out of time, we stopped just at the Lower Falls in order to have a full image of the Canyon, the River, and the Fall all together.

 

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For more pictures >>>> https://www.instagram.com/just__take__me__away/

 

 

DAY #2 Lower Loop

After spending the night in a very rustic log cabin at the Blue Moon Saloon, we made our way to the Park’s West Entrance. We began the Lower Loop tour from Madison and then we followed the road until the East Entrance. The Lower Loop has the greatest number of Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features. Sure you do not want to miss the Midway Geyser Basin, the Old Faithful Area, the West Thumb and all the amazing views of the Yellowstone Lake.

THE MIDWAY GEYSER BASIN

It hosts the world-famous Grand Prismatic – one of the most brilliant of Yellowstone colorful hot springs. Minerals dissolved in the hot water are deposited and gradually build the gracefully terraced shoulders of this features. Simultaneously, billions of microorganisms called “Thermophiles” make the hot spring a burst of colors.

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On the way to the Midway Geyser Basin, we were lucky enough to catch an amazing sight of the Old Faithful Area geysers in the distance through a field of purple flowers. That’s the best part of road trips. You are free to stop whenever you want and be amazed of what the road offers you!

 

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For more pictures >>>> https://www.instagram.com/just__take__me__away/

 

 

 

 

THE OLD FAITHFUL AREA

The Old Faithful Area hosts the largest concentration of active geysers. The path built among the little fumaroles will lead to a viewing area where people can sit and wait for the geyser eruption. Clik here to watch the eruption video. 

The average between the geyser’s eruptions is currently 74 minutes. Visitors can check for posted prediction times in most buildings in the Old Faithful Area. Eruptions normally last between 1.5 to 5 minutes for an amount ranging from 3,700 gallons to 8,400 gallons of water. The average temperature is about 204°F (95.6°C).

YELLOWSTONE LAKE

Before heading out, the Park gave us one last gift – an amazing view of the Yellowstone Lake. No better way to conclude an already awesome trip!

 

MOUNT RUSHMORE

So, here we are! Our car got fixed and we hit the road one more time. Since it was on our way back to Wisconsin, we decided to make a quick stop in South Dakota and visit the famous sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

 

 

 

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For more pictures >>>> https://www.instagram.com/just__take__me__away/

Although I really appreciate the place, it let me a little disappointed. On the base of the publicity built around the place, I would be expected more. Moreover, there is nothing else to visit around but Mount Rushmore. Therefore, I am glad we included this stop on our trip because I do not think is worth going there just to see the sculpture of the presidents’ faces – it does not take more than half an hour.

 

See ya!

 

 

 

 

 

  

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Vuoi vivere il “Sogno Americano”? Diventa Au Pair!

In tanti mi chiedono come abbia fatto ad arrivare in America. Altri ancora dove abbia trovato il coraggio di lasciare tutto e partire. Altri invece per quale motivo abbia deciso di prolungare la mia permanenza qui, negli Stati Uniti.

Magari dall’esterno può sembrare tutto confuso e complicato ma, in realtà, non c’è stata decisione migliore e  più semplice della mia vita. Meglio andare per gradi però.

#1 Un giorno me ne andrò in America. Chi mi conosce bene avrà sentito questa frase uscire dalla mia bocca milioni di volte. A ciò seguivano le classiche constatazioni quali – ci vogliono troppi soldi, e’ troppo lontana, non ci puoi andare da sola, si mangia male e poi ingrassi.  Effettivamente e’ vero – si ingrassa. Il resto? Solo scuse.

#2 Mi ero laureata da poco. Stavo dando una ripulita ad alcuni appunti che avevo sul cellulare quando, tra le pagine di block notes, vedo un indirizzo web. Apro la pagina e mi ritrovo tra le mani il sito di un’agenzia di Au Pair. Cosa significa Au Pair? Si tratta essenzialmente di uno scambio culturale che permette di essere ospitati presso una famiglia americana per un anno e pagati in cambio delle ore che spenderete prendendovi cura dei loro figli. 

#3 Vi piace viaggiare? Volete migliorare il vostro inglese? Volete vivere la cultura americana? Se la risposta e’ sì, fate i bagagli e partite. So che può sembrare spaventosa l’idea di lasciare tutto e tutti per un anno, vivere in un posto che non conosci con persone che non hai mai visto prima.  Senza amici e senza parlare bene la lingua. Tutto cio mi spaventava e allo stesso tempo eccitava. Volevo mettermi alla prova. Volevo superare i miei limiti. Volevo sapere di poterci riuscire. Se faccio questo, posso fare tutto – ho pensato. Sfidare me stessa. Questo e’ stato il mio coraggio.

#4 Va alla grande! E poi arriva quel momento il cui ti fermi e ralizzi quanta strada hai fatto.  Ti sei costruita una nuova vita. Hai conosciuto persone che sono poi diventate amiche e amici. Persone che stanno rendendo questa esperienza meravigliosa. Hai viaggiato. Hai visto posti che la maggior parte della gente ha visto solo in televisione. Hai una nuova famiglia, nuovi fratelli e nuove sorelle. Parli inglese – e lo fai bene. E lo fai cosi tanto che quando parli in italiano anche le parole piu’ semplice le proncunci in inglese. 

#5 Perchè estendo? Come ho scritto in una cartolina ad un amico – ho ancora tanti posti da visitare, tante persone da conoscere e tanti ricordi da creare. È assolutamente normale avere un pò di nostalgia di casa ma poi passa. Tenete sempre presente solo una cosa – è un’esperienza unica nella vita e merita di essere vissuta appieno.

Era destino. Io penso che ognuno di noi abbia un proprio percorso da realizzare nella vita, qualcosa di già scritto. Sta a noi poi fare in modo che si realizzi o meno. Tutti parlano di questo destino come di qualcosa che di colpo cade dal cielo e ci viene servito su un piatto, dimenticando invece che perserveranza, sacrificio e passione sono alla base di tutto.

 

weekend trips

TORONTO CITY AND THE NIAGARA FALLS

You know those TV quiz shows? Well, up to the age of 10 years old, I was raised on bread, Nutella and ‘L’Ereditá’ – a famous Italian TV quiz show. My fantasies about the Niagara Falls come from there. Up until I left for the United States, I was totally sure those waterfalls were located somewhere else – in Africa to be exact. My mind was so sure about it that I have never felt the necessity of any further confirmation.

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I am 24 years old now and I can tell you the famous Niagara Falls are located instead between Canada and United State. Just 80 miles outside of Toronto, the Falls site is a perfect destination for a quick spring getaway. My travel buddy and I chose Toronto as our ‘home-base’ so that we killed two birds with one stone. Despite the 25 miles covered in little more than two days and a half – blisters on our feet included – I can say that I spent and amazing weekend between the breathtaking spectacle of the Cascade and the modernity of a metropolis such as Toronto.

TIPS BEFORE YOU GO

  • Put aside all the ideas you have about the ‘White Country’ and get ready to make up your mind – for better or worse.
  • Get comfy shoes. I usually alternate two pairs of shoes in order to give my feet rest after wearing the same pair for a long time.
  • The temperature between April and May are pretty warm. However, it can happen to catch a couple of rainy hours. It is better taking along a packable rain jacket easy to fold and keep in your purse or backpack.
  • Buy online the tickets for the Niagara Falls – it will be far less expensive.
  • If you decide to take the Niagara Falls cruise, you are going to get totally wet, trust me. Get a waterproof case cover bag for your phone – it will avoid making you miss important shots when you will be just in front of the Falls.
  • For the same reason above, during the cruise wear your sunglasses – they will help you to see through all the water splashes reaching your face.

TORONTO

As far as Toronto, the must visit place are in downtown or nearby. Toronto is a big city, as much as Chicago. For this reason, it would be a huge mistake trying to go around with a car. You would be stuck in the traffic at each corner you would turn. Moreover, if you really want to have a full immersion in the city life and stop looking around for parking spots, I strongly suggest to take up comfy shoes and get ready for a long walk along the city streets.

DAY #1 

DISTILLERY DISTRICT

From the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, we covered part of the City Waterfront to get to our accommodation in downtown. After dropping our backpacks and taking the room’s keys, we decided to head for the Distillery District. Once upon a time site of Whisky and Rum production, ‘The District’ was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1988 for containing the largest and best-preserved collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America.

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Walking down the street, I was attracted by the small art museums and the little boutiques selling very particular pieces and handcrafted jams and cheese. It is really the perfect spot to hang out in the late afternoon and then having dinner or just a happy hour – that is what we had. Several lanterns hanged in the air caught our attention and led us towards ‘El Catrin’. The patio, the blue-decorated windows and the great mix of modern furniture with a Mexican feel create a unique atmosphere. The cocktails then are extraordinary and really well-presented. Average prices for tourists but a little out of budget for Au pairs. Sometimes you must satisfy your own whim, tough!

 

 

CN TOWER

The plan for this very afternoon included also renting bikes and visiting the Toronto Islands. However, The Islands have been closed to visitors just that week because of a flood. Therefore, we decided to move the CN Tower visit on Saturday in order to have more free time on Monday. Symbol of Canada, the Cn Tower is the third tallest tower in the world and remains the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. The tower presents three observation levels which you can have access to at different prices. The general admission costs $36 for adults. It allows you the access to the Glass Floor at 342m (1,122 ft.) and to the LookOut Level at 346 m (1,136 ft.). We went for a $48 for adults ticket including the General Admission plus SkyPod –  the third and highest observation level. The view from up there was something unique – especially when the sun was going down. At that moment, the ocean and the Toronto Islands got surrounded by a very special light. The view from the LookOut Level is totally worthy. Contrarily, I got pretty disappointed by the SkyPod deck. It is all enclosed by two rows of fences and that makes really difficult having a full view of the skyline and enjoying the sight. The CN Tower attracts thousands of visitors daily. Personally, we waited about one hour and a half to get to the first observation deck.  I suggest getting there a couple of hours before the sun sets down if you want to be there in time to enjoy the sunset.

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DAY # 2

NIAGARA FALLS 

The second day of our Canadian trip was all devoted to the Niagara Falls. We booked the bus tickets through this website. Booking tickets online in advance is far less expensive than buying them at the ticket office. We did not know how much time we were going to spend at the Falls so we decided to book just a one-way ticket for only $15. Huge mistake on our part, since we paid the return ticket to Toronto  $27 each. Once the coach dropped us off at the bus stop, we decided to walk to the Falls. It is not too far away – just 30 minutes by walking. For the laziest, a bus will take you straight to the Falls site for a few bucks. Approximatively, we spent about 5 hours in pictures, cruise, and a quick lunch. Also, the Falls are part of a State Park – the perfect place where to have a picnic and relax. As far as the Niagara cruise,  it takes you straight up to the horseshoe fall. It might sound a touristy thing to do but actually, from down there the view is amazing and it will give you the chance to experience the power of the Falls from up close. $25.95 and it was worthy.

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After the amazing morning, it was time to head back to Toronto. Our feet were pretty destroyed after all that walking. Unluckily, the buses towards downtown accept just tickets – $7 for a one-day pass. Since we lost our ride, we got back up there by walking and we made to catch the coach to Toronto.

KENSINGTON MARKET

Back to the city, we spent the rest of the afternoon at the Kensington Market. Here, the Asian, Caribbean and Jewish influences blended together to form a very particular mosaic. Proclaimed National Historic Site of Canada as well, today the neighborhood retains its charm and wonderful diversity through its eclectic mix of vintage clothing stores, grocers, restaurants, and cafes. Generally, the Market is open 7 days a week excluding Christmas and New Years. The best time for optimal shopping is between 11:00 am and 7:00 pm. However, I recommend to visit it the last Sunday of the month and experience the real life of the neighborhood. The “Pedestrian Sundays” in Kensington Market allows visitors on foot to enjoy the sights and sounds of the eclectic neighborhood, without the worries of traffic and parking. Musicians, artists, and performers will also provide extra entertainments on the streets in the area.

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On our way home we went through Chinatown and stopped by a souvenir store. Here, you will find the same postcards and the same little objects you would find somewhere else with the only difference that the prices will be far less expensive. Dinner time then. The place where we had dinner the last night was pretty cool. It was a pub at two minutes walking from our place – Fionn MacCool’s Restaurant and Irish Pub. Really good food and prices – perfect for our budgets.

DAY #3  

NATHAN PHILLIPS SQUARE AND GRAFFITI ALLEY

Since our plane was expected to leave in the late afternoon, we left our room later than the day before, had a brunch and spent the rest of the morning visiting what was left on our list. First stop Cora Breakfast and Lunch – huge portions, small prices and lots to choose from – gluten free options included.

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After grabbing the backpack we made our way to our second stop – the Nathan Phillips Square. It is where the ‘Toronto’ sign in located. During the winter months, the reflecting pool is converted into an ice rink for ice skating.

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Third stop Graffiti Alley. It is a colorful stretch of an alley that displays works by local and world-renowned wall art painters. It spans about seven blocks and it runs south of Queen Street West from Spadina Avenue to Portland Street. Many people say Graffiti isn’t art, it’s vandalism. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. It can be, not here tough. It was so colorful and the art was so stunning that I could not help but keep staring at that.

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