Snapstories from the USA

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Heading back to America always means one thing– jet lag. At least it also means I was awake to catch this Brooklyn sunrise. Despite the sleep in my eyes, it was easy to recognize my old stomping grounds as the morning light brought the city to life. – M

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For all the cities I’ve visited, not one of them has captured my imagination like New York City. It’s hard to pin it down to just one thing; at first I thought it could be the skyline which towers above, or the frenetic energy of the people who walk below. But what I really think gives the city its heart is its diversity.

It’s not only race and nationality that sets people apart, it’s the multitude of languages, identities, fashion and culture that make the city so vivid and full of life.

It’s perhaps through the individuality of the people who live in it, that the city finds its own identity for people to attach themselves to. – L

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Along with the diversity of people in New York City, there is also a diversity of architecture that creates wonderful juxtapositions of old and new. We stumbled upon this church framed by the high rise apartments and office buildings around it as we crossed though wall street on our way towards Miss Lady Liberty. – M

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Central Park is one of those places that dominates your imagination just by hearing its name. It conjures scenes of romance, of spectacle and of some intangible idea that is the heart of New York.

For the average New Yorker though I think it’s something different. Exploring the park you see quiet businesspeople eating sandwiches on their breaks, friends tossing frisbees on the big open stretches of lawn and families letting their kids run along the winding paths.

Whether you see the park with the familiar eyes of a local or the wonder of a tourist, the way it bristles with happy energy below the towering skyline of Manhattan surely makes it one of the most captivating places in the world. – L

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We have now moved onto our second leg of our trip: the “Second City.” Chicago has it’s own places perfect for escaping fast-paced city life. Today we strolled through the Garfield Park Conservatory and discovered that while you wouldn’t think it, one of the first places fall shows up is in the lily pads. – M

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Rolling through the hills of Wisconsin, traditional farm houses lie scattered throughout the landscape. Around them green fields shift slowly to golds and browns as fall begins to take hold.

Coming from the suburbs of Chicago the change in land and architecture is a reminder of the diversity and expanse of the country. Compared to the busy streets we left behind, life here seems to slow to a crawl.

Tonight we put our bags down at Mari’s parents cabin deep in the Wisconsin countryside, and for a moment swap the rush of the city for a chance to rest and reflect. – L

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One of the things I look forward to most about coming home isn’t a person, a place, a favorite meal, but simply the chance to see this dog.

One look from beneath his wild, curly hair and I can’t say no. Lex reluctantly accepts and I pat my hands to let Bruno know it’s okay to jump onto the bed. He takes one leap and ends up occupying the entire foot of the bed, squashing Lex’s legs in the process and disrupting any chance for a snooze. It doesn’t take long, however, for for Lex’s disgruntled demeanor to shift as this fluff ball’s endlessly affectionate nature makes any wrongdoings easy to forget. – M

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There are certain landmarks whose names bring you back to the stories and lessons of your youth. The Amazon rain forest flings you into stories of exploration and conservation, and the Pyramids immediately put you in an ancient culture amid golden tombs.

The Mississippi River is another of those landmarks that drives the imagination. Looking out over a meander in this famous river conjures images of Huckleberry Finn floating down on his raft, or big wheeled river boats as scenes for a great adventure.

The gray clouds remained steady for the rest of our afternoon, but did little to dull the feeling that I’d visited a page from a story book. – L

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In 1972, My dad purchased 30 acres of land for 6,000 dollars with idealistic dreams of escaping city life and settling down in the woods. Instead, this land in Wisconsin became our family’s getaway. This cabin has stood in many forms since the 70s as a cornerstone of our time on Plum Creek Road. Built by my father and hand painted by my mother, it has a piece of their souls that will always make it feel like home. I have the pleasure of sharing this special place with Lex as we continue to explore the American midwest. – M

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Our morning routine in Wisconsin is simple. Sleep schedules match the natural cycles of the sun and we rise as soon as grey light starts to seep through the cabin’s windows. We add our warm layers to fight off the cold morning air and make our way to the camp fire to start the most important meal of the day – coffee. Once we’ve downed our cups to the grains at the bottom, the morning rush eases off. I’d settle under a blanket with my book while Lex began to write his daily reflections of his American road trip. – M

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The countryside of Wisconsin changes from trees, bramble and brush to flowing creeks that move down to green pastures and open fields. The sounds of the day are filled by common birds like sparrows or robins chattering, or the occasional grunt of a cow down below.

At night however new noises are added to the chorus, as the nocturnal creatures begin to rise. Most of the time frogs from the creek croak out in the dark, while a cacophony of insects starts to ring out through the woods.

Just sometimes though, you’re reminded that the dark is for hunting. The call of an owl seems to still the night for just a moment, and the barks of a coyote make even Mari’s dog Bruno turn his head from the fire. – L

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The entrance to my family’s property would be indistinguishable from the rest of the surrounding bluff land if it wasn’t for this gate built by my father. While the gate doesn’t actually stop anyone from entering the land, as it only stretches a couple feet on either side before it ends and prairie grasses rise, the gate tells others that there is a home hidden up on the hill. – M

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While some might have you believe otherwise, traveling is not all adventure and excitement. Sometimes it’s stressful, other times exhausting, and sometimes it’s just plain boring.

The last two days we’ve taken our foot off the pedal and enjoyed catching up with Mari’s family, and ourselves. It’s sleep ins and long breakfasts overlooking the garden, runs through the park and evenings in front of the television.

These moments are important to the journey, they put into perspective the adventures and allow time to appreciate the bigger moments. – L

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The City Museum in St. Louis is known for being a place both kids and adults can enjoy. Between the the ten story slide, secret tunnels, and rooftop bar, the place definitely lives up to its reputation. It is not, however, a place to be enjoyed by the faint hearted. One can easily get lost in the museum’s system of artificial caves or feel a bit claustrophobic trying to climb a tight spiral staircase. The most frightening place was here, stories above ground, in a two passenger plane kept steady with only a few metal rigs. To enter we had to walk across the plane’s unsteady wing with the wind rattling against the cabin and our movements shaking the ground beneath us. – M

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What kinds of experiences do you search out when you travel?

Every country offers up something different to search out and explore. It could be the beautiful beaches, the formidable mountains or perhaps it’s the architecture of the city that gets you ticking.

With things like deep dish pizza, horshoes and tenderloin sandwiches, here in the midwest of the United States it’s definitely the food that tops the list of reasons to visit. Not the only reason of course, there’s plenty to see and do and you’d be missing out if you never visited Chicago.

While you’re here though, do yourself a favour and stop off at one of the many antique stores that you see while riding the Interstate. We stopped yesterday at the Pink Elephant Antique Shop on the way St. Louis.

Outside of the store, giant statues of spaceships, elephants and people grab your attention and inside the store, shelves are lined with old versions of whatever you can imagine. These stores are filled with everything from 18th century guns to comic books from the 80s. It’s the perfect place to grab some novelty photographs and be entertained on your road trips towards big cities and bigger pizzas. – L

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Anyone who’s spent any amount of time with a North American, knows there’s no holiday which gets them as worked up as Halloween.

Mention the word and watch as their faces light up and they begin to regale you with tales of whacky Halloween adventures in ironic costumes. As their eyes glaze over and they begin to tell you how wonderful a time of year ‘fall’ is, you smile and nod and add it to your growing list of cultural quirks.

This week we visited a ‘Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular’ in Springfield at the local park. Families came out in droves, and kids and adults alike were caught up in the spectacle of glowing jack-o-lanterns carved into bats, skeletons and the rest of the Halloween cast.

While pop music blasted from speakers, occasionally breaking into a Halloween tune or a scary chuckle, I began to realise I had been caught up in the festivities myself. I ogled at the more intricate carvings, smiled at the enthusiasm of the kids halloween costumes and admired the effort that had gone into the Halloween aesthetics.

If I had grown up with a Halloween like this, It’s hard to imagine not reminiscing passionately about bags full of candy and a chance to lose yourself in the festival. – L

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Seeing these kids dance unashamedly and unapologetically in a small impromptu dance pit, bordered by just a handful of parents and crowds scooting past, reminds me of what made Halloween so special as a child.

It was an opportunity to lose myself in a story, a chance to live in the magic of ghouls and ghosts and to feel as if everyone was right there with you. – M

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Sometimes it feels uncomfortable being a tourist. Seeing the long lines and big crowds waiting their turn at a premium photo spot can make the experience seem cheaper or less important.

Though really when we think this way, we’ve lost track of what makes it all so fun in the first place. We’ll rarely be the first to visit, or capture that totally unique angle for our photographs. But these are superficial goals.

We were inspired by the photos of those who came before us and we were driven to travel by the same incredible destinations. What’s really important is that wherever we go, no matter the crowds, we take the time to appreciate where we’ve ended up.

We all share experiences, and they are all completely unique. – L

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It’s easy to assume, Day of the Dead is a one day affair, but in actuality the holiday spans 3 days from October 31st to November 2nd. During this time, Mexican families and friends gather to remember and pray for those who have died. Through alters called ofrendas they support those who has passed by providing them with food and beverages. They further honor them by adorning the alters with edible sugar skulls known as calaveras and aztec marigolds.

This alter is created by artist Rodolfo Villena Hernández and can be found at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. It is dedicated to all immigrants. – M

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So often traveling serves to teach you more than what you set out to learn. When you lay out your plans of countries to visit and routes to explore, you imagine how you’ll learn of the cultures, the food and the people.

What you don’t envision are the lessons that teach about something more than your surroundings. These are the lessons that teach about you, and your life. You might learn how you face challenges, or cope with adversity. Most often, you learn how to see the world with a different set of eyes.

As we cruised down the Chicago River on an Architectural Boat Tour, we were caught up in the passion of our tour guide. What before was just a mass of concrete and metal, began to unfold into a story of the city.

While we spent the afternoon learning about the city of Chicago, we left the day reminded that beyond the familiar and the expected, there is almost always more to be discovered. – L

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These two buildings are known by many names in Chicago. Officially they are titled Marina City, but most popularly they are known, for obvious reasons, as the Corn Cob Towers. Millennials, however, might better know them as the Wilco Towers thanks to the band’s iconic 2001 album cover. Me, I just call them the Yankee Hotel. – M

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While you’re on holiday, some days linger and others race. Whichever it is, what’s important is that each day brings you just a little joy. Whether that’s found with your feet up in front of the TV, or admiring an attraction out in the city, don’t let a day escape you.

The last days of our holidays always seem to race. The realisation that we’re leaving the new behind and returning to the routine, puts a skip in our step. We rush to take it all in for fear of forgetting.

This last day we took the long ride to the Bronx Botanical Gardens to see the art installation of Dale Chihuly. Hand blown glass structures decorated the gardens, casting glimmers and reflections among the plants and lawns.

Here for a moment the clouds seemed to pause, and the sun slipped underneath, allowing the stained glass to colour the still pond. For just a second, the rush of the day faded and we had a chance to reflect on a holiday full of lasting memories. – L

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