Niagara Falls

The main reason why I went to Toronto was to kill two birds with one stone: visit Canada and see the Niagara Falls. If Toronto didn’t steal my heart like I wrote in my last post, the Niagara Falls did. I was a little afraid that because I pictured them with such optimistic thoughts they were going to disappoint me. Fortunately, it didn’t happen.

We took a Greyhound bus from Toronto at 9 am. One hour and a half later we were at the bus station in downtown Niagara Falls. We walked 40 minutes and then we arrived at the eccentric part of the town, the part that reminded me of Las Vegas with casinos and a lot of tourists attractions.

But as soon as we saw the falls we forgot everything. We just focused on the falls and it was all worthy.

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We wanted to get closer so we decided to take the Hornblower Niagara Cruise. It was 25$ CAD and, in my modest opinion, it was worth every single penny. We had fun, we took really good pictures, we definitely got wet and we saw those amazing natural wonders so close that it was outstanding. I vividly suggest to do it to anyone eager to go to the Niagara Falls, no matter which side, American or Canadian, because it gives you the experience of a lifetime.

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After having lunch at the Great Canadian Burger, we decided that it was time to head back to Toronto. We saw what we wanted and we didn’t care about all the tourists’ attractions nearby the falls. Our feet were done walking, so we decided to take the bus but, apparently, you can’t buy a single ticket. The bus system works with a 7$ daily ticket. So, trying not to think how destroyed our feet were, we decided to walk back. We took the Greyhound bus to Toronto around 3 PM. In about 5 hours we saw what we wanted to see in Niagara Falls.

We definitely loved it, we liked it more than Toronto itself because it didn’t disappoint our ideas and, with a really good weather, we had the opportunity to experience it at its fullest.

NAMASTE.

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Why Toronto didn’t steal my heart

I have to admit it, Toronto didn’t steal my heart.

We arrived at the Billy Bishop Airport at 11:40 am and after passing thru the immigration process we saw the pretty famous Toronto skyline.  There was the CN Tower and then a huge amount of skyscrapers. I know, it’s a city, skyscrapers are common, the problem was that I didn’t see a kind of harmony between the old and the new. It felt like they just kept building skyscrapers without thinking of the surroundings.

After dropping off our heavy bags at the Airbnb, which was in a really central position, we decided to eat something and then head to the Distillery District. We had lunch at the Loose Moose. We didn’t actually find reviews online, we just followed our hunger and we stopped at the first pub that we felt was good. The food was great, it was Saturday and on the screens, there were soccer and baseball games since the Toronto Blue Jays were playing at the Rodgers Centre, a couple of blocks down the street.

After lunch, we walked to the Distillery District, a 35-minute walk from downtown Toronto. The weather was good, a little bit cloudy but with the right temperature. In our three days stay in Toronto we didn’t catch a bus (expect to go to the Niagara Falls), that’s why, today, four days after we came back in Madison, my feet are still recovering from all the blisters that my shoes created on them.

The Distillery District was a really good surprise. A hidden gem. It was made by all those two-story high brick buildings, full of art galleries, artisan shops and charming restaurants with really expensive prices.

If that’s one thing you should know about travelling as an au pair is that you don’t always have enough time, since weekend gateways are more common, so you have to optimise the time at its best and skip the relaxing part. Fortunately, in Toronto, Giusy and I decided to take it easy because we had plenty of time. We stopped at El Catrin Distilleria and we had a very expensive but delicious Margarita.

Our second stop was the CN Tower. A 35-minute walk again and we were back in downtown Toronto. Luckily, the sky cleared it up and we had the opportunity to watch an amazing sunset from the top. The cost for the CN Tower is 36$ CAD, with this ticket you are able to see the first two observation levels which for me were totally worthy. What, at the end, it was not worthy was the 12$ CAD Skypod ticket: you can’t see anything clearly. It’s better just stick to the 36$ CAD general admission tickets.

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The second day we spend it at the Niagara Falls and since I loved it I’m going to write another post just about them. But at 5:30 pm we were back in Toronto so we decided to take a 20-minute walk to the Kensington Market passing thru Chinatown. Unfortunately, we arrived at the Kensington Market a little bit late since it was about to close at 7 pm. We had the chance to attend a street concert by a Brazilian band and then walk thru the alleys in which the stands were already gone. Tired, we got back to the Airbnb, took a shower and head out for dinner in a close Irish Pub Fionn MacCool’s. Our feet couldn’t stand another 20-minute walk.

The third day, our last day, we checked out of the Airbnb around 11 am. After that we decided to have a brunch at Chez Cora, just around the corner, that served us a huge amount of food that fed us for the entire day.

Our first stop was Nathan Philips Square, another 20-minute walk.

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On the way back to the airport we stopped at Graffiti Alley.

As I said at the beginning, Toronto didn’t steal my heart but it has really nice corners that were worthy to visit. Toronto is a normal metropolis, with a lot of skyscrapers, the CN Tower to characterise the scenery and hidden gems. It was my first city in Canada and made me realise how a huge melting pot this country is.

We walked about 25 miles in three days. We never took a bus to move around Toronto. Our feet collected about 7 blisters: 6 on my feet, 1 on Giusy’s. We spend three days in another country and I’m glad I did it because now I have another stamp on my passport and a huge bag of memories that I’m never going to forget.

NAMASTE.

Wisconsin, an amazing surprise.

In almost one year and a half that I’ve been living in Wisconsin, I’ve never actually visited it. I know Madison because I live here and I love it. I’ve been to Devil’s Lake and Wisconsin Dells, that’s it. I know, a shame, so when I had the chance to sleep at a cottage in Sturgeon Bay for free I couldn’t refuse.

Sturgeon Bay is a 3-hour drive from Madison, no big deal now that I’ve got used to American distances. Before heading to the cottage Giusy and I decided to stop at a National Park, half an hour north: Whitefish Dunes State Park – Cave Point State Park.  This place definitely amazed us. The colour of the water could have been compared to the one in South Italy or Sardinia. Growing up in Italy you are used to living close to lakes in which you see the other side, this is not the case with Lake Michigan and for a moment I felt at home.

The next day, Giusy and I decided to go even more north, to the top of the Door County peninsula. We tried to convince others to come with us but they said people told them that it wasn’t worth so they decided to stay. I didn’t care about people telling me it wasn’t worth another hour drive and I’m happy I took that ferry and drove around Washington Island. We drove till the North Pier, we paid 13$ per person and 26$ per vehicle. The weather was pretty cold, the wind was chilly but the luckily, the sun started to shine around 10 am.

It took us around 3 hours to drive around the island, we took our time and we visited basically everything. We started driving up along the west coast and we stopped at the Schoolhouse Beach State Park, a beautiful beach made of smoothed stones.

Then we drove along the north coast and we stopped at the Lookout Tower to see the island from the highest point.

Our last stop was at a sand dunes beach on the south coast of the island. It was stunning, a peaceful place if you don’t consider the outstanding amount of mosquitos and bugs that were around the lake.

Before coming to the States, thinking of driving 5 hours in one day wouldn’t even be taken into consideration. Since I’m here I feel like I got used to the huge distances, I figured out how stupid I was back home because I’ve never visited cities close to my hometown just because they were two or three hours away.

I’m glad I didn’t listen to my friends and I’ve decided to visit Washington Island because I would have never seen which amazing pearls Wisconsin hides in the north. I didn’t know where this State was until two years ago but I fell in love with it suddenly. Its people, its landscapes, its summer and, till Christmas, its winter. Its fall and spring. I’m happy I moved to Wisconsin because here I found a home and the real Midwest.

If you have time to spent in the States and you don’t know where to go just go up north, between Illinois, Minnesota and Canada there’s this State that has become my second home and has a lot to offer and to give to you, cheese and beer first of all. But also, smiles and warmth even in the coldest winter.

NAMASTE.

6 days in April in Washington D.C.

Spring break 2017: Washington D.C. My reaction wasn’t that happy. I wished about Carribean islands, not another city, but you know what, I didn’t care that much because it was chosen and paid by my host family. The weather was surprisingly hot: around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) and sunny 5 days over 6. I walked a lot, saw a lot of monuments that I had the chance to see only in movies and visited a couple of museums.

DAY 1 – April 8, 2017

We arrived in Washington D.C. around 5 PM after leaving Madison, WI, around 12:15 PM. We had a connection flight in Detroit, MI. The first day, since we arrived pretty late and tired, we didn’t go out or explored. The house we rented was in the Foggy Bottom district. A really pretty zone, close to the George Washington University, about 20 minutes walk to Georgetown and the Lincoln Memorial.

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DAY 2 – April 9, 2017

The first day of behaving like actual tourists we decided to walk to the Lincoln Memorial. We started there our long walk along the National Mall. Since my host mom was going to leave the next days because of a work problem we tried to see as much as possible. We started from the Lincoln Memorial, then the Washington Monument stopping at the Vietnam and World War II Memorials. We had lunch at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden that has a tiny café in it. After, we kept walking till the Capitol that was unfortunately closed. Since the little kid was tired I had to Uber home with him and the oldest while the parents and the middle one kept wandering around.

We decided to do a little bit of shopping around 6 PM. We wandered around Georgetown, shopped a little bit and then we ate at a Spanish restaurant called “La Bodega”. It was really nice and the calamari and patatas bravas were awesome.

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Lincoln Memorial

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The Statue of Abraham Lincoln

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Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool

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World War II Memorial

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The Capitol

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The Washington Monument from Capitol Hill

 

DAY 3 – April 10, 2017

We started our day around 12 PM having lunch at the Whole Foods close to the house. After that, we decided to go to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. We walked there and we stopped in front of the White House to take some pictures. I have to admit I thought it was bigger. I had the same impression with the Christmas tree in front of the Rockefeller Center in New York. On tv, it looked way bigger. After 20 minutes walk, we arrived at the Gallery. As all the Smithsonian Museums, they are free. We wandered around, searching for Alexander Hamilton’s portrait (my host family is obsessed with Hamilton, the musical). We visited the President’s Gallery passing thru the center of the building, a really nice place to relax and to find peace. On the way home, we stopped at the Forever 21 on 11th Street NW.

 

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The White House

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LaFayette Square

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Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

 

DAY 4 – April 11, 2017

Another museum day since outside was too warm for the kids. My host dad and the three kids took a cab to the Newseum while I enjoyed an amazing 1-hour long walk till the museum on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Newseum was cool, everything about newspapers, new medias, tv. You have to pay around 25$ per adult but I don’t know if it is actually worth it. I recognized that it was interesting but not the type of museum in which I want to spend money. There was a really thoughtful 9/11 Memorial and part of the Berlin Wall. We ate at the restaurant in the lower level of the museum. After that, we didn’t know if we wanted to hit the Jefferson Memorial or stop at the Natural History Museum. Since the queue outside the museum was short we stopped by. The museum is really interesting, crowded and free. After that, I walked another hour home.

We had dinner at an Italian restaurant close to Georgetown, La Perla.

 

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9/11 Memorial at Newseum

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View from the top of the Newseum of the Capitol

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Natural History Museum

DAY 5 – April 12, 2017

Last full day in Washington DC we decided to take it easy and head to the Jefferson Memorial. Unfortunately, we missed the cherry blossom and the sky was cloudy but I really liked the walk around the Tidal Basin visiting the Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorials.

 

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Thomas Jefferson

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Last cherry blossoms

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Jefferson Memorial

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Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial

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Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

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Washington Monument

Day 6 – April 13, 2017

The last day we didn’t see anything. Since we had the check out from the house at 11 AM and the flight at 3:30 PM we headed to the airport and we decided to eat and wait there because everyone was carrying too much to walk around the city. We landed in Madison, WI, around 5 PM.

 

I really enjoyed Washington DC but the city didn’t steal my heart. I liked walking around, seeing all the monuments and buildings that somehow remind me of Europe’s architecture. I didn’t even miss yoga class because we were on spring break. Walking helped me contain the need to practice but I really missed roll down the mat and do some poses. On Monday, we had the first class after spring break and I felt amazing after doing it. I have to start to find a way to practice even when I’m traveling.

NAMASTE.

 

1200 miles road trip in 4 days.

Be an au pair means that you have only two weeks of paid vacation through the year. I’m not complaining, two paid vacation weeks it is awesome, but for someone who wants to see as much as possible of the country in which is living for a strict amount of time, it is not that much. That’s why I came out with the insane idea of traveling thru the Midwest till Nashville in four days, touching six States: Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri,  Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana.

I found the perfect companion in 5 German girls. Franzi, who lives in Madison and is an au pair as well, found out that her roommates from Germany where coming to the States the same time I was planning this road trip. Everybody accepted.

Thanks to my host parents we didn’t have to rent any car (which for under 25 is a nightmare, btw) and we drove that poor 2005 Honda Odyssey for something like 1200 miles. We had to change the oil along the way because, well, I hadn’t check anything before we left. But, we made it home, that’s what it matters.

FIRST STOP: ST. LOUIS, MO

I drove from Madison, Wisconsin, to Chicago, Illinois on Friday night after work. I met the Germans at my host family’s condo in the Windy City and we spend the night there. The next morning we left around 9 am, after having breakfast and put the gas into the car, we headed to St. Louis, our first stop. It was there, just entered the highway, that the orange sign that alerts you to change the oil popped out. Yeah, lucky us. We decided to drive till it dropped to 10%, only when that moment would have come we would have start searching for help.

I don’t know if you ever experienced the Wisconsin winter, it’s not nice. It’s really really cold. Chicago is basically the same. Driving south was amazing for us. We left our jackets in the car and we started to feel the spring and the warmth of the sun.

We arrived in St. Louis, MO around 4 pm. We found the Airbnb, a really nice house in a quite neighborhood in University City, just 15 minutes from the Gateway Arch.

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We drove to downtown St. Louis and we spent a lot of time taking pictures at the Arch. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go on top of the Arch because it was closed because of work in progress.

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SECOND STOP: NASHVILLE, TN

The next day we left St. Louis around 8. On our first stop, about 1 hour and a half after departing, we decided to change the oil. We found a Walmart with an Auto Center and in about one hour everything was fixed. We arrived in Nashville around 2 pm and we decided to head straight to Centennial Park before going downtown. It was a Sunday and there was a lot of people hanging out there. The weather was awesome even if cloudy. I think I was more attracted to the people having fun all around the Pantheon than by the Pantheon itself.

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We drove downtown Nashville and we parked at the Public Library. Suddenly we fell in love with the city. Broadway, the main street, was amazing. There was music everywhere, people having fun, bands playing at 3 pm, country stores selling boots. Everything was like in the movies and we decided to stop at a bar and drink a beer before heading to our amazing Airbnb, just 10 minutes away from downtown.

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The next morning, before heading to Louisville, KY, we decided to try to find one of Nashville’s famous graffiti.

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THIRD STOP: LOUISVILLE, KY

After taking our Instagram pictures and a stop at Starbucks we headed to Louisville, KY. It was just a 3 hours drive, we were supposed to arrive by 1 pm but Franzi and I had this idea of stepping off the highway and try to find an Amish village. I was searching on Google and it was said that there was the biggest Amish settlement close to Munfordville, KY. I think we drove around 1 hour in the middle of nowhere, asking everyone where the Amish people were. The answer was always the same: “go straight, up the hill, you are going to see them”. Did we see them? Absolutely not. At one point we thought they were hiding from us. We just gave up and ate a burger at Wendy’s before driving another couple of hours to our third destination.

We stopped at the Airbnb first, it was around 4 pm when we arrived. The house looked pretty dodgy from the outside. It was an old house but it was ok for the amount of time that we were going to spend in it.

We drove downtown Louisville, to the Fourth Street. It was a Monday and obviously, nothing was going on. It was raining too but after looking around we had dinner in an amazing place suggested by our Airbnb host: Gordon Biersch Brewery.

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Before going back to our apartment, we decided to take a walk on the Big Four Bridge. A really nice walk on the Ohio River where you can have a nice view of downtown Louisville.

FOURTH STOP: INDIANAPOLIS, IN.

We left a rainy Louisville to head to our last and quick stop, Indianapolis, IN. The weather, on the way up north, was terrible but as soon as we arrived in Indianapolis it stopped raining. Louisville and Indianapolis are about 1 hour and a half apart, not a big deal. We decided not to go downtown Indianapolis but look at the skyline from the White River State Park.

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After lunch, we drove all the way up to Chicago and then to Madison, WI. We arrived at our last destination around 9 pm. We were in Chicago during the rush hour so our timetable got one hour delayed. Instead of 5 hours, it took us 6 hours.

This road trip was amazing and exhausting at the same time. We drove more than 1200 miles, we changed city every day and we saw so many things that sometimes it is hard to remember. But road trips, as much as they are exhausting, they are perfect to see, to go on an adventure, because they allow you to stop when you want. Yes, you have a timetable but everything can be changed based on your needs. I’m so glad I had open minded companions in this travel and I’m glad I’ve shared this experience with them.

NAMASTE.

Four States, two days.

Las Vegas. The Sin City. Lights. Gambling. Music. Casino. People. A lot of people. “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. Lots of movies, tv shows, and songs celebrate this weird city in the middle of the desert. I have to admit it, when I booked my flight to Las Vegas two weeks ago I didn’t know what to expect. You know, during the night you have fun in Vegas, but during the day? We had just two full days and we didn’t want to spend them in a hotel room or doing shopping in stores that can be found 20 minutes away from home. We looked up on Pinterest and we found out that around Las Vegas there are so many natural attractions that fit all of them in two days was kind of impossible. 

We took the flight from Milwaukee on Thursday night, 9:55 PM. We landed in Las Vegas around 12 AM and after stopping at the car rental to grab our car, we headed to our first hotel: Fiesta Henderson Hotel and Casino. It is in the south part of Las Vegas, away from the sparkling lights of the Strip. Next morning, at 6 AM, we woke up and we drove four hours and a half to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. While I was driving my eyes were wide open, trying to collect all the amazing views in front of me. The landscape was stunning, it changed a lot in the hours that we were driving. It was dry at first, then a lot of trees appeared and then we arrived at the Grand Canyon. We paid 30$ to enter the park with our car. We decided to head to the Mather Point and when the canyon appeared in front of us it took my breath away. It was stunning. One of the best things that I’ve ever seen. 

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It was around 1 AM when we decided to move up north to the Desert View where we visited the Watch Tower. There we had lunch looking at the amazingness of the Grand Canyon in front of us.

We didn’t want to go back to Las Vegas yet. We knew there were other things just two hours and a half up north. So we decided to drive thru the Navajo Nation and reach Page, AZ. Our first plan was to visit the Antelope Canyon but it was too late so we stopped at the Horseshoe Bend. We parked the car and while the sun was starting to hide behind the clouds we reached the point. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was perfect. It’s truly difficult to explain how beautiful everything was. We stayed there till the sun went down.

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After that, we decided to drive back to Las Vegas. After driving other four hours and a half thru Arizona, Utah, and Nevada we finally arrived at our other hotel, Super 8, behind the Strip. We were so tired when we arrived around 11 PM that we didn’t even think of going out. We took a shower and we fell asleep right away.

The next morning we woke up around 7 AM and, after a nice breakfast at the hotel, we drove two hours to the Death Valley, CA. The weather wasn’t nice as the day before and when we arrived at the Death Valley we couldn’t see thru Dante’s View because it was so cloudy and foggy. We decided to go to Zabriskie Point and then drive till Furnace Creek.

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After that, because of the weather, we decided to drive back and head to the Valley of Fire just 40 minutes from Las Vegas. We decided to go there because in Las Vegas was raining while there, according to the weather app, it wasn’t. We were lucky. We arrived around 4.50 PM and the ranger told us that the park was going to close at sunset, around 5:15 PM. We drove like crazy. We wanted to see as much as possible and it was totally worth it. It was stunning. Much better than the Death Valley. It was spectacular. The colors were so bright it was unbelievable.

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Finally, we headed to Las Vegas. We spend just a couple of hours there. We walk around the Strip and we saw the Bellagio’s Fountain performance. At 11:25 PM there was our flight back to Milwaukee.

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In the end, I have to admit it: we didn’t experience the real Las Vegas. We slept there and we walked around a couple of hours. Do I regret it? Nah, not at all. There’s going to be another time in which I will go to Vegas just to have fun and get wasted. This time we decided that our adventure spirit wanted to be satisfied. We drove 13 hours, I don’t know how many miles. We drove day and night, with the rain and the sun. We were tired, at the end. If you ask me if I will do it again I’d say: ABSOLUTELY. After this vacation, I feel like my soul had been fed again. Everything I saw was worth my time. I checked out of my bucket list amazing places that before I had seen only in the movies. Travel is amazing, it makes you live again, it makes you grow, it makes you be a better person.

This wasn’t a post about yoga, I know. But traveling is an important part of my life. It makes me feel alive. That’s why I will try to put every significant travel in this blog, alongside with my yoga journey. Isn’t yoga this too? Find your true self. I feel like traveling is like yoga, it makes you find yourself. It makes you understand who you really are in an environment totally different from yours. It challenges you. It drives you crazy sometimes but, at the end, it makes you feel amazing, balanced and alive.

NAMASTE.