CALIFORNIA OR … DENMARK?

United States are so big and variegated, you sure already know. Few years ago someone told us about Solvang, a small town in California, Santa Barbara County, really particular. Why? Because in this tiny pretty town you seem to be teleported in a Denmark village.

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Solvang means “sunny field” in danish. The city infact was founded in 1911 by a group of Danes who traveled west to establish a Danish colony far from the midwestern winters. The city is home to a number of bakeries, restaurants, and merchants offering a taste of Denmark in California. The architecture of many of the façades and buildings reflects traditional Danish style. There is also a copy of the famous Little Mermaid statue from Copenaghen.

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History tells us that, between 1850 and 1930, a considerable number of Danes left Denmark, which was suffering from poor economic prospects. According to some estimates, as many as one in ten Danes emigrated during this period, mostly to the United States. The most popular destinations for Danish settlers were States like Utah, Illinois, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

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And now, let me tell you why you should visit it, maybe in a couple of hours, like we did. It’s true that it’s not a main attraction, but it’s funny to suddenly feel the sensation of not being in California anymore.
The architectures will surprise you: there are several windmills that have been converted into small businesses on many street corners. If you look carefully, there are storks perched above several buildings. Horse drawn carriages are a common sight in its streets. Businesses are linked close together and have wood trim on the facades, that are often in the form of a pattern, usually crisscrossed. This gives the city more character.

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If you want to taste something different, pastry shops and bakeries will be your main attraction: you’ll be pleased to find lots of Danish cookies and pastries to taste. If you love chocolate, you’ll find as well great shops: maybe a little pricey, but it’s normal for a touristic place, after all.

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WEST COAST PARKS: GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK

Have you ever been to West Coast? Did you ever made one of that famous exciting road trip across the neverending american desert roads? I can say: Yes, I did! And to me, this was a really special trip. And the first time i saw the vastness of Grand Canyon, I was simply… speechless. I just can’t describe the sensations of immensity and freedom that permeate you in front of such beautiful sight. After years, I look at the pictures I took back then, and  every time I’m still astonished. ‘Cause Nature always knows how to surprise us, with its suave majesty. Mother Nature makes ourselves well aware about how small we’re in this world. She always teaches us to be thankful for all the marvels that await us just around the corner.

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“The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison – beyond description; absolutely unparalleled through-out the wide world… Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”

Theodore Roosevelt

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POSTCARDS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD: LOS ANGELES

LA is a city that you can love and hate at the same time. It’s too big, too messy, too chaotic. But it makes you dream, because after all, Los Angeles means Hollywood, the myth, the chance of a life. It means sun, palm trees and neverending golden beaches, from glamorous Malibu to multiethnic Venice Beach.

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CITIES OF THE WORLD: SAN FRANCISCO

In this period I feel like I just want to travel: put something in the suitcase and leave for unknowed destinations . Maybe ’cause summer is arriving, and summer for me means the longest holidays in a year… Today I was thinking at my trip in California, three years ago, and I wanna share with you my photos and first impressions of San Francisco. I must say that for me it was love at first sight: I could live there one day.

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I think that San Francisco is renowned for its mixture of scenic beauty and unique culture that makes it one of the most vibrant cities in America, if not in the world. Great ethnic and cultural diversity shows itself in the city’s varied neighborhoods, from the crowded and exciting streets of Chinatown to the eclectic attitudes of the Castro Quartier. Each district of San Francisco carries its own unique and distinct culture.San Francisco prides itself on its openness to diversity in race, gender, sexual orientation and personal style.

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To understand the several souls of this city, you must know that it has been corrupted from several cultures: the first European settlement in the area was founded by the Spanish in 1776 as a mission community surrounding the Mission San Francisco de Asís, in what is today called the Mission Dolores in the Mission District. Upon gaining independence from Spain in 1821, the area became part of Mexico.In 1846, the United States claimed this area “California”. Over the next couple of years, California officially became part of the United States following the Mexican-American War, and the name of the town was changed from Yerba Buena to San Francisco.

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In 1848 the California Gold Rush started in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Waves of fortune-seeking immigrants arrived by boat in San Francisco, increasing the City’s population from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands.But in 1906, a devastating earthquake shook the city and a resulting fire destroyed much of the city. After World War II, San Francisco continued to grow in population. Aggressive urban planning projects led to a changing skyline, with the city adding more highrises to its financial district. With the demographic increase, some problems arrive, like the uptake in the crime rate, and the increasing number of homeless people – a problem still exhisting nowadays -.

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Speaking of attractions, San Francisco is well-known for its Victorian architecture, particularly in the central and northern neighborhoods (e.g. Alamo Square,Castro, Nob Hill and Pacific Heights). The city has one of the most restrictive building and planning codes in the world, which helps preserve the historical architecture in certain areas.In many ways a boat is the ideal way to approach San Francisco. The city’s spectacular skyline is best appreciated from the water: we took the ferries running from San Francisco to Sausalito, which is a unique and picturesque community, perched on a hillside between the San Francisco Bay and the Marin Headlands.

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San Francisco as you surely know, has some famous “landmarks”: one of the most famous bridges in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge, has been called one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and is the first thing you see of San Francisco if driving in from the north, as it is one of the major road routes into and out of the city. A classic view of the bridge is when it’s surrounded by a thick fog that covers the upper part of the bridge.

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Within the center of the city, the famous cable cars run up and down the hills of San Francisco between Market Street and Fisherman’s Wharf and offer quite a ride. We make a long queue to take it, but finally we took a great funny ride standing up on a side of the cable car… a beautiful way to visit San Francisco.

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We stopped ourselves near Chinatown, that today is part a “tourist trap”, part an exhibit of local life. Sure builduings and shops mantein a characteristic aspect, but it’s not that the Chinese community lives and makes errands daily only in this quarter.

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Most tourists start the tour of the city with Fisherman’s Wharf; it is a great place to see amazing street entertainers, watch sea lions at Pier 39, visit museums, or take a cruise to the infamous Alcatraz Prison or to the pleasant Angel Island. Working fishing boats still come into the small harbor here, and the district is home to several excellent seafood restaurants. Don’t miss the chance to eat the famous “clam chowder”,  a seafood and vegetables stew, served in sourdough bread bowls.

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Nearby at the top of Market Street is the Castro Quarter, the center of San Francisco’s Lesbian/Gay/Bi/Transgender (LGBT) community, with numerous theaters and small shops and restaurants. Next door is the Mission District, home to the Mission Dolores Church, one of the oldest structures in the city, and a fantastic collection of murals of all sorts on the walls of many nearby buildings.

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Always speaking of landmarks, don’t miss the chance to visit,in the Civic Center Area, the San Francisco City Hall, re-opened in 1915, in its open space area. It’s a Beaux-Arts monument that epitomized the high-minded American Renaissance of the 1880s to 1917.

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Another prominent tower nearby is the Transamerica Pyramid, the tallest and most recognizable building in the San Francisco skyline, located among the skyscrapers and highrises of the Financial District. Perhaps the most famous view of that skyline is from Alamo Square Park in the Western Addition district, home to the famous Painted Ladies row of Victorian houses, with many other pretty Victorians encircling the lovely park.

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CITIES OF THE WORLD: LAS VEGAS

Las Vegas. How many movies take place in “Sin City?! A couple of years ago i’ve finally visited this “strange”and charming city.
The name means, in spanish, “fields”: in the nearby, there were indeed some water wells,  which had kept in life some green areas for a while. First, the location is striking: Las Vegas appears in the middle of the Mojave desert, if you arrive by car from the highway; weather is always windy, and air is hot even in the night. The exciting nights in Vegas: the city that never sleeps: it’s true, you have no time limits: you can eat, dance, sleep, make a plunge in the swimming pool at every hour during the day and the night.
You’re surrounded by strange buildings, gorgeous hotels, that have a bunch of attraction: even (and i was feeling sorry for them) exotic animals, like white tigers. Everything it’s a surprise, a challenge between hotels that wish to amaze the most the million of visitors (also americans) that every year visit this “city”.

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During the day, Las Vegas seems snoozing, everybody is quite relaxed and walk from an hotel to an other, from a cafeteria to a steakhouse. Must say that there are not so many people in the Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard, the main Street in which more of the hotels are concentrated) during daytime, the night is longer here! With no doubt, Las Vegas shows his better sides in the night, when lights turn on and the shows start..

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Every hotels is like a theme park, and they perfectly recreated a setting, an historic period, a fairytale, and so on. The only important thing is to stand out. We visited many of the hotels of the Strip (every hotel can host  3.000/4.000 people) and every one has many restaurants in the inside, a shopping center, a disco, and so much more. In Italy don’t exist such things: for me was literaly incredible! I must show you something “bizarre” that i’ve viewed with my eyes:

CEASARS’ PALACE
Like the name says, the hotel has a Roman setting: they have recreated in the inside not even a palace, but also a roman marketplace (the sky you view in the next photo is fake, is totally recreated! -fools!-) At the outside, the buildings has several columns and capitals, they seems even in white marble, with fountains, water spurts and angels’ statues everywhere. In a word: magnificent.

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Bellagio is a small village near Como Lake, in Italy. This resort seems to reproduce the atmosphere and the houses settled on the lake shore. There are also some bizarre touchs, like the room that i called of the “airballoons and the eagle on the Liberty Bell”.

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The masterpiece of Bellagio in my opinion is the Murano hand-blown glass chandelier by Dale Chihuly, located in the hall of the hotel. It’s just marvellous. I’ve never seen so much Murano glass all at once. Bellagio has also a beautiful show of fountains outside, that is repeated many times in a day. So beautiful and refreshing in the summer!

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Like the name says, this hotel is a reconstruction of the center of Venice, whith elegant buildings, and canals with “gondolas”. (the gondoliers, even females, sing italian songs at the tourist who take a tour in gondola).
This place surprised me so much, cause for who has seen the real Venice one time in life, it’s clearly that there was an amazing effort to build this resort. It was so strange, some pictures taken inside the hotel are so real .. only the buildings – too recent and neat, could have deceived me.

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Everything in Vegas is fake, and you know it, but it’s all amusing, huge, coloured,  like a giant amusement park. I felt like a child walking in the Strip, trying not to miss any details, any building, any setting. In many hotels there were really too many people to take some good shots, but i must say that Vegas is magnificent especially on the outside in the night.
I loved “Paris” (a touch of Europe in the middel of the desert) and “New York, New York!”with all the symbols of the Big Apple. The “Excalibur”, a huge medieval castle. The “Luxor”, where we stayed, that has a huge black pyramid near a giant sphinx at the entrance. The Mirage, with his volcano which erupted every night several times. And so on.. I was really astonished in Vegas, and i saw things that i never had imagined. (like the “Wedding Chapels” and the “Marriage” in Vegas, and all the merchandising related: i laught so much for a while for this custom)

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I know, and i saw with my eyes, also unpleasant things: children dancing on a street, for some dollars to bring at someone else; aged people that cannot go away from a slot machine, losing a lot, wasting time gambling; people that promote “escorts” with tourists, and so on .. i don’t want to remember these details, but still there are many negative social sides.

Leaving the Strip towards the suburbs, i suggest to take a tour in Freemont Street, in the ancient part of the city (Las Vegas grown up at the beginning of the 1900). Freemont Street seems a “huge tunnel”, because it’s a street covered in white cloth; on the white canopy, many times in a day, they beam sparkling typed tests, and loudspeakers play different kind of music. (there are tribute for several artists: when i took part at the Freemont Street Experience there was a tribute to Freddie Mercury and the Queen “We are the Champions”, so good!)

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For many years, the western end of Fremont Street was the area most commonly portrayed whenever producers wanted to display the lights of Las Vegas. The large number of neon signs earned the area the nickname “Glitter Gulch.”  In this district you can see also the first “casinò” builded, like Golden Nugget. For some reason, this part of the city can bring you in the past, when mafia had strong economic power. Hoping to come back someday to discover more.