Why I love the summer in Madison

No matter who you are going to talk with, if you come to Madison, Wisconsin, during the winter people are going to tell you to stay strong because “the summer here is worth every single snowflake.” I grew up in Italy, I know what summer means, how amazing it can be, so I was a little bit skeptical at the beginning. I must say that they were right: Madison in the summer is amazing. Everything brightens up, people are always outside doing every kind of activity and the city is full of events. You can’t get bored here if you like being outdoors and enjoy the warmth of the sun. After a winter like the ones in Wisconsin, believe me, you are going to love every single ray of sun.

THE TERRACE AT MEMORIAL UNION

If you come to Madison in the summer this is the place to go. No matter what, hands down, this is home for thousands of people during the days and nights from May to September. Colorful chairs and tables are set in front of Lake Mendota that always gifts with amazing sunsets. I traveled a lot, I saw amazing places but the sunsets that Madison has, I’ve seen nowhere. I love to spend time here with friends, just chit chatting in front of a pitcher of beer to share. The Union is part of the UW Campus and has been recently renewed. It has a lot of varieties of food provided. You definitely should try the Orange Custard Chocolate Chip ice cream. It’s a must to do at the Terrace. During the evenings, something is always going on: movie night, open mic or live bands playing.

IMG_0631

Sunset from the Terrace.

IMG_1640

STATE STREET

State Street is a “pedestrian mall” that links the Capitol Square to the University of Wisconsin Campus. It’s a good place where to find amazing and unique pieces in the interesting stores all along the street. If you like arts and crafts you have for sure stop in one of the many independent shops. Here you can find the Overture Center for the Arts, the Orpheum Theater, The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. There’s plenty of coffee shops, restaurants, and bars. During the night State Street becomes Madison’s main attraction. People love to pub crawl from the top to the bottom of State Street. Everything closes at 2:30 am. For a foreigner like me, still pretty early.

I had the best and the worst times of my life on this street with people from all over the world. State Street is not only a summer place, it’s all year-around but with the warm weather is definitely easier to walk around without risking to freeze. Go to Tiki Bar if you want cheap alcohol, at the Piano Bar if you want good music, Whiskey Jacks if you want to dance and Mondays if you want totally get wasted.

IMG_0210

State Street.

PADDLEBOARDING OR KAYAKING ON THE LAKES

Before coming here I had never kayak or paddle board. After one year and a half, I can easily say I can’t imagine my life without those two activities. Madison has three major lakes: Lake Mendota, Lake Monona, and Lake Wingra. On all the three lakes there’s plenty of places where to rent boats, paddleboard or kayak. I personally have a membership at Wingra Boats, on Lake Wingra, a wake-free lake surrounded by the UW Arboretum. I love this place. Paddleboarding or kayaking in it truly relaxes me. I think Lake Wingra’ seaweed situation is slightly better than in the other two lakes. During weekdays there’s a boat that cleans the lake from the majority of seaweeds.

IMG_0396

Lake Wingra

PARKS

Madison is full of parks and beaches where to relax, do some yoga and take a walk in nature:

  • James Madison Park is a waterfront park located on Lake Mendota;
  • Tenney Park is a waterfront park located on Lake Mendota;
  • Olin Park is a waterfront park located on Lake Monona that has an amazing view of the Madison skyline;
  • The University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum is a teaching and research facility of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the site of historic research in ecological restoration. 1,260 acres (5 km2) in Madison, Wisconsin. Beautiful place where to walk in nature;
  • Picnic Point is a nearly mile-long peninsula along Lake Mendota’s south shore.
IMG_1400

View from Olin Park.

IMG_1104.jpg

View from Picnic Point

FARMER’S MARKET

Madison and its suburbs are full of farmer’s markets during the spring and summer time. The most known is the one held on every Saturday morning on the Capitol Square. The Market encircles the Square. farmers market

DEVIL’S LAKE – BARABOO

If you want to drive 45 minutes up north you should totally visit Devil’s Lake. It’s a great place where to hike, swim, relax at the beach, have a picnic, paddleboard or kayak. It’s a State Park so the entrance with the car costs 8$ if you have a Wisconsin License Plate. There’s a concession over there where to buy souvenirs and food. The internet signal is weak but surrounded by so much beauty it’s definitely not something you are going to complain about. The water is clear, no seaweeds.

IMG_1652.jpg

At the end, I think it’s pretty clear, I love Madison in the summer. There are so many things to do, places where to go and hike, swim, paddleboard, kayak or simply relax. It’s a perfect place to discover your inner outdoorsy personality. I have to thank Madison because it’s here that I figured out I didn’t want to be a lazy person anymore and I dragged myself outdoor discovering how amazing it is just to be in the sun and do things surrounded by nature.

 

NAMASTE.

 

Advertisements

A letter to 20-years-old me.

I’m about to turn 25. A big step. A milestone. A quarter of a century I’ve been alive and today, in one of my last days as 24 years old, I can’t be happier with how my life is turning out. The other day I was thinking of my 20-years-old version and I smiled. I guess that Elena just enrolled as a freshman at University would be pretty impressed with how her life turned out to be. I remembered how hard I tried to plan my life throughout college, trying to find a place in the world, always changing my mind about what I would have liked to do with my life, over and over again. Easy to say that except the part in which I moved to the States everything else faded away.

I see my 20-years-old me trapped in a world that wasn’t hers. I see her dealing with exams she wasn’t interested in, handling people who didn’t make her happy, a life that she wasn’t dreaming for herself. I see that period as pitch black, so I want to give my past me some advice.

First of all, it’s not going to be easy moving abroad. You are going to love it, but some moments are going to be hard even for a positive soul like you. Luckily, you are going to meet amazing people from all over the world. Those people are going to become your friends, they are going to be an important part of your life. It doesn’t matter how long have you meet them and how far they are going to live from you. Meanwhile, keep close those few friends from home, they are going to be there for you even an ocean apart. Among those amazing people, you are going to meet people who are going to break your heart. Don’t be too sad, those people weren’t meant to be part of your life. You’ll find someone who is going to fix you in a moment in which you are expecting nothing.

Stop keeping your problems for yourself because you are afraid to hurt somebody. Speak up, talk with that person. I know, it’s going to be damn hard but you are going to be so relieved at the end. Cry your tears out, don’t hold anything in, stop it. You are going to be alone in hard times, crying is the only thing that won’t make you explode. No matter what, your family is always going to come first and be there for you. No matter what’s going on.

Travel, as much as you can. You are going to see amazing places, you won’t be disappointed. Your crave for traveling will be truly and deeply satisfied.

Keep your mind wide open, always. Stop judging people, it’s not nice. Go to that yoga class, it’s going to change your life.

In the end, everything is going to be alright, stop worrying about the future, start living the present. You have so many things to be grateful for.

IMG_0223.jpg

NAMASTE.

What I’ve learned in 30 days of hot yoga

I know, it may seem that with all these travels I’ve been shirker about yoga. It’s absolutely not true. I fell in love with yoga even more after every class that I took in a local studio, Dragonfly Hot Yoga.

I’ve bought a 40 $ intro offer that allowed me to take unlimited classes at the four locations for one month. I’ve started May, 15th and I just finished my last class with the intro offer. On Monday, I’m about to start my membership at the yoga studio. It’s quite expensive, 99$ per month. When you are an au pair is not easy stuff, but I’ve decided that yoga is something I don’t want to give up because I’m an au poor. 

Since I’ve started hot yoga, three times a week, I’ve seen progress in my body. It doesn’t mean that I’ve lost thousands of pounds, it means that I fell in love with my body in a way I’ve never fallen before. I feel stronger, I feel prouder, I fell like I’m totally ok with who I am. Growing up I’ve always struggled with my body weight, even in periods in which my body was ok. I’ve never suffered bulimia or anorexia, but in my mind, my body was never enough, not even when I had people telling me it was, that there was nothing wrong. It is something in your mind. If it doesn’t click you are not free of your own judgment. It’s been almost 5 months that I’ve started practicing yoga and I’ve never felt so in love with my body. No matter the pounds, no matter the chubby tummy, no matter the huge thighs, nothing matter because it clicked, in my brain: my body is perfect as it is. Finally, after almost 25 years, I’m ok with my body and I have to thank yoga.

I realized it while I was practicing at the studio. I was in the downward facing dog, I looked at the mirror to my left and I liked what I saw. I was surprised. The line wasn’t perfect, I still have to work on it, but I liked it, the shape of my body. I looked at the mirror surprised it was me. Since that class, I tried to free myself from my own judgment because that was the one that stopped me so many times to go to a yoga class. I was so afraid to not be good enough that I didn’t sign up at any yoga studio for months before the beginning class that I took. I was so scared to see other people judging me. But now, when I’m in class I only see myself.

I practice at a hot yoga studio. I found out that I love to sweat. It may sound disgusting but I love to sweat out from every single pore of my body. I love to end the class tired but happy. Because that is the thing that really surprised me: I was happy even after at one point in the class I wanted to die.

I was happy. I’m happy every time I finish a class. I’m happy and that’s the main reason that I want to keep practicing, no matter the price. I found an amazing studio, with a really welcoming staff and a really friendly environment. I feel at home even since it’s only one month that I’m practicing there.

So, my yoga practice is going really good. I have a membership at a yoga studio. I’m practicing three times a week, even more, if I can figure it out with the work schedule. I still can’t do a lot of poses but I’m working on it. I feel so proud and happy for myself, it’s a feeling that I’ve never felt before and I’m starting to really like it.

NAMASTE.

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.

IMG_2514IMG_2519

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.

IMG_2572IMG_2577IMG_2586IMG_2592IMG_2628IMG_2634

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.

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.

IMG_2409IMG_2454

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.

IMG_2688.jpg

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.

What people don’t tell you about living abroad

I love to travel, always did. I decided to move abroad as an au pair for two years without thinking about it too much. I’m in my second year living in the States, an ocean apart from Italy, my country. In two years I’ve been abroad I lost two relatives, two people that have been part of my life since I was born.

Last year, on March 13, 2016, I’ve lost my aunt Luisa. She was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago. She lost her battle against this terrible enemy three months after I left home. I will always remember the last time that I saw her, on my farewell party with all the family. We took a terrible picture together because she was saying it would have been the last one. I didn’t pay attention that much but unfortunately, she was right.

On May 11, 2017, I lost my beloved Grandpa. I’m still crying while writing this post because my heart is broken in tons of pieces. My Grandpa was the happiest and messiest person that I’ve ever met. He drank a lot, he played a lot of instruments and he was always doing something, every single time I was going to his house. Last November, thanks to my host family, I went back home for one week and as soon as he saw me he smiled and said: “you’ve lost weight … almost.” I took as a compliment and I ate a piece of cake that he made because he was a great and weird chef. I heard his voice a month ago, my parents told me he was happy to hear my voice.

This is what people don’t talk about when you move abroad. They talk about being away from your family but they clearly don’t say what really sucks: when someone dies, for the last time, you are not going to be there for them but most of all you are not going to be there for the rest of your family. You can’t hug your mom, your dad or your brother. You are going to cry by yourself in a room that now is yours, speaking on the phone with your mom in tears. You are going to sigh loudly. You are going to hear a lot of “I’m sorry”, and you know that they really are, but they didn’t know how amazing the person you lost was, they don’t know how the world is less bright because of that. If you are lucky you are going to have friends, a kind of weird family, a boyfriend, someone that loves you and hugs you but you know, no matter what, that that one person you would love a hug from is gone forever.

I don’t want anyone to tell me: “it was your choice, you knew the consequences.” Yeah, I knew and I still know the consequences of living abroad but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deeply hurt losing someone. No matter what, when you leave you don’t think about this. You don’t think about receiving a call in which your parents tell you the words you are so afraid to hear. You don’t think about this. Everyone talks about the fun part, others talk about the hard parts but few talks about what really sucks about living abroad: what happens when you lose someone you love and you can’t go back.

IMG_1829.jpg

Ps: I wrote this post two nights ago, after I discovered my granpa was gone forever. It may not make sense but I want to post it and I’m doing it.

NAMASTE.