Venetian Masks, Vivaldi, Saint Mark's Square, Gondola Rides, & Gelato

Venice + You + Your Honey = MAGIC

When booking this trip to Northern Italy, my husband and I knew we wanted Venice to be on the list of destinations. I had never been. He hadn't been since he was 7 years old. We have heard it has been increasingly mobbed by tourists over the last 10+ years, and were a bit concerned we would be turned off. Upon following some tourist dodging advice from fellow travel bloggers, we calculated our plans accordingly. And fell in love with Venice together.

First bit of advice... drop your bags and just have a wander. Wander along the streets until you get lost. Wander the side streets of course. Once you see a mob of tourists... turn. If you see more... duck and dodge! Turn again. The advice worked! We found some cute cafes and noticed the people surrounding us were not wearing white socks, sneakers, shorts, and fanny packs... they were in business attire or everyday wear... with fine leather shoes of course. ;-) The other bit of advice that worked!? Get up early. I mean EARLY! We got up both days with the sun to grab a quick jog and workout in Saint Mark's Square in front of the basilica. It was EPIC! The Grand Canal and all its landmarks were glistening gold in the morning sun. And hoards of people weren't obstructing our views. We did quick showers and again, beat the tourists to the lines for the palace (Palazzo Ducale)  and later the Guggenheim Museum.

If you're heading to Venice, there are a lot of ways to explore the Grand Canal. But I had my heart set on a gondola ride through the Grand Canal and also the side streets/side waterways. It was EXPENSIVE! 80 euros for a half hour during the day and 120 euros in the evening. We bit the bullet and forked over the cash. It was just my husband and me... but I guess a way to lower the cost per person is if you were with another couple. So maybe consider that!

An amazing place for an amazing view and drink (sparkling water with lots of lemon at the moment for this pregnant lady!)... head to the top of the Danieli Hotel. Sunset was stunning. I promise you will not be disappointed... except maybe with the bill. It can be punchy! This is why I suggest a drink instead of dinner. ;-)

Listening to live music in a Gothic church, palace, or other landmark is such a treat. We have done this in other European cities and wanted to make sure to find a place to soak up more culture through music. We found a Vivaldi performance in a church. We got to hear Vivaldi's Four Seasons. It was just fabulous. As was the gelato we bought on the street afterward. If you're looking for some classical music on the floating city in a particular neighborhood, here is the link. There is also a popular interactive opera experience. Click here for that.

Enjoy the pictures and YouTube vlogs! Be sure to leave me a message on social media and let me know what you think! AND... where you want to go next. Thanks for exploring the world with me!

 

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James Bond's Italy: Lake Como

During my two week Northern Italy adventure, I spent several nights in Lake Como. This was easily one of my favorite places. I had the gist of Como... but wasn't aware I would fall in love with it so much!  Lake Como is known for classy, tasteful, European opulence, and majestic mountains along the Swiss Alps that plunge straight into the water. I was hoping I might spot some James Bond set locations, and if I was extra lucky, thought I might see the handsome, George Clooney gallivanting around. Well... my husband and I DID spot a villa from Casino Royale... and we did eat dinner at a couple restaurants George and Amal Clooney are known to hang out... but unfortunately no Ocean's Eleven sighting! If you're interested in the ins and outs from an American travel writer's perspective, click on this link.

After wandering around Como for a day or two... shopping, eating pasta and gelato, and seeing the sites like the Gothic Como Cathedral, my husband and I took a ferry to Bellagio, which is sometimes called Europe's prettiest town. We had lunch at an elegant outdoor eatery, Bilacus Ristorante, and explored the famous gardens of the Villa Melzi. Bellagio was incredible- but I must say the ferry ride out there was equally as tantalizing! We opted to take the slow ferry out, and the fast ferry back. This was a great way to see all the sites... including Casino Royale's, Villa del Balbianello! 

I would postitively recommend eating dinner, or at least having a cocktail, coffee, or tea at Villa d'Este. Sitting there having my tea (it would have been a dirty martini if I wasn't pregnant) I felt like a princess, merely by being there! Click on this link to see what I mean... and I need not say more! You also ought to consider dining at Il Gato Nero. This is another spot the Clooney's are known to frequent. I had the most delicious onion soup to start, followed by scallops with pine nut cream. The server brings your own personal bread basket with about a half dozen choices (fresh baked bread is my weakness... more than chocolate cake for sure!). Both culinary destinations are in Cernobbio. 

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Exploring Italy's Piedmont for a Lovely Wedding

During our recent trip to Northern Italy, my husband and I spent a weekend in the Piedmont region for a lovely wedding at Villa la Madonna. We stayed a few minutes drive away in a quaint little town called Bistagno and explored a couple little surrounding towns. My favorite place to explore was Alba. It is known for truffles, hazelnuts, wine, and dark chocolate. I would 100% recommend venturing away from the big cities when booking European holiday itineraries. There is such a warm and different feeling you get when the pace is slower and you get more of a chance to interact with locals. I hope you enjoy the pictures and video blogs.

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Milan Fashion Week, Gothic Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, & Sforza Castle

If you're making the trip to Northern Italy, you MUST stop and see historical sites in Milan like the Gothic Duomo and shop in one of the world's first shopping malls (the glass topped Galleria Vittorio Emanuele), it was a real treat to be there during Milan Fashion Week! It brings an incredible buzz to the forward looking, business hub, and style center of Italy.

Walking through the fashion district during Milan Fashion Week made my days of people watching in New York City look like child's play. Seriously! I couldn't believe all the beautiful, stylish people walking around. I've never seen anything like it. I also spotted THE Cindy Crawford and her entourage. That was a good sighting! I also loved the opportunity to go visit the showroom of my favorite designer in the world, Chiara Boni La Petite Robe. I have been wearing her dresses for the last 6 years of my television career, but had never seen the dresses in person until they would get shipped to me directly in NYC. The ladies in the shop were so sweet and I picked up two dresses... one red with a cute slit and one white one with a cute ruffle around the neck. I kinda broke the bank but that was the only major shopping I did for the rest of the trip. ;-)

If you're looking for some restaurant recommendations... check out Caffe Zucca, Cracco, Paper Moon, or Antica Osteria del Ponte. One of my favorite memories from the few days my husband and I spent in Milan was coming up with our own outdoor workouts in Sforza Castle and Sempione Park. We were so blessed with amazing weather the whole trip. So lucky! I loved Milan and would recommend spending 2-3 nights there.

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Beijing in 3 Days

Onto the next stop! The third leg of our Asia adventure takes us to Beijing, China! Tokyo and Seoul were amazing, but the place I wanted to see more than anything on this trip was the Great Wall of China. I saved the best for last when sorting out my itinerary! I hope you enjoy the video blogs below from my experiences from the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Beijing's Hutongs, Intercontinental Sanlitun, etc. As always, leave me a message on social media if you have travel tips, questions, or places you would like to see me go next!

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Seoul in 3 Days

I had an unforgettable three days in Seoul, South Korea. From trying out some of their world renown skincare products, to sampling the street food, to touring the DMZ, to visiting shrines and temples, I am so happy I planned the trip. But, the morning before I was set to tour the DMZ, my travel companion and I were packing our suitcases in Tokyo to head to the airport, and we got some troubling news. A missile had just been launched over Japan by North Korea. Given the recent potential nuclear war headlines and back and forth between President Trump and North Korea’s unhinged leader Kim Jung Un… I have to say I thought twice before heading to Seoul... particularly the Korean Peninsula’s DMZ. But my friend and I decided to stick to the plan.

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Tokyo in 3 Days

Konnichiwa! Hello! Good afternoon from Tokyo! There are so many great ways to soak up the size and scope of Tokyo's cityscape that's home to more than 13 million people! We chose to have a sky high elegant lunch in one of Tokyo's tallest buildings and then did an afternoon cruise on Tokyo Bay. If you're looking for the newest, highest point, Tokyo SkyTree is your destination. You can get some of Japan's most famous sushi while you're there too! Unfortunately I am off the sushi at the moment (4.5 more months) since I'm preggers.... But we did eat some amazing Japanese signature teppanyaki cuisine, crazy cool street food, and Japanese sweet treats.

You must go to Shibuya Crossing while you are in Tokyo. It is said to be the busiest intersection in the world! Make sure to take the train here! Ya gotta ride the subways like a local! I was so impressed by the subway system there. Incredibly organized, orderly, clean, etc. And the Japanese people are absolutely lovely if you need some help getting around!

I imagine you may want to get a little retail therapy in while you're in Tokyo. Harajuku and Aoyama are the main shopping districts in Tokyo. Harajuku skews younger and Aoyama skews high end. If shopping isn’t your thing, or you broke the bank just buying a plane ticket to Tokyo, you don’t have to spend too much... there is so much to see in these neighborhoods. Fabulous cafes to sip your tea and watch the people go by. My favorite shopping neighborhood was Daikanyama. It is a bit more hipster and reminds me of my old neighborhood in New York City, the West Village. It is actually often called the 'Brooklyn on Japan's capital.'  I would 100% recommend spending some time there. There are lots of cute coffee shops and cafes. We found a quirky place for dinner where if you wanted you could sit on beds that were lining the walls!  If you're in search of the quirkiest, most outlandish fashion finds... just go bopping around was in Takeshita-dori. This is where the teenagers make their fashion marks with bright colors and zany styles. If you want to get as authentic as possible, make sure to check out the posh boutiques and second hand shops along the side streets.

Because the art of sumo wrestling is such a foreign concept to me, I knew I had to squeeze in a session to at least watch these gigantic athletes slap and pound each other. Unfortunately our trip did not coincide with one of the handful of tournaments they have every year. If this is a priority for you... make sure to go to this website to plan your trip around tournament dates! Visiting a sumo stable for practice is thrilling too. I made my way to Ryogoku to observe a sumo wrestling practice. It was so cool! Lots of slapping themselves and taunting one another. The training equipment they use seems archaic.... massive water jugs, hammer weights, etc. I got to meet a few of the stars and snap some pics. I will say it was incredibly HOT in there. Pack lots of water and make sure you whisper once you take your seat. These practices are taken VERY seriously and you don't want to be rude. Also be sure to take off your shoes when you walk in the building.

The biggest seafood market in the world… Tsukiiji Market. Locals and tourists alike flock to the fish on a daily basis. Massive is an understatement. The equivalent of aound US$15 million of seafood is traded daily. Early in the morning it looks almost like a symphony of bustling merchants, trucks, forklifts, handcarts, ice, and seafood of all kinds. The jazz gets going before the rooster crows in the morning… so a lot of out of town-ers make a special trip to come watch the tuna being tossed and auctioned off as the sun rises… and then have sushi and freshly shucked oysters for breakfast! If raw ain’t yo thang…and neither is dried fish or seaweed… you can opt for savory Japanese rolled omelettes, called tamagoyaki. Some even come on sticks! I ate a lot of those while I was in Tokyo! I also tried charred baby octopus on a skewer. I usually LOVE octopus... but I have to admit... it was GROSS! The outer markets around the main Tsujiki Market are really cute too. I bought a couple pottery pieces, a bowl for my mom and a little holding tray for my husband. Tsukiji Market may be a must see stop for travelers to Tokyo, but it’s a legit working space. So watch out for all the workers and their heavy equipment! Or you’ll be tuna on toast!

 

 

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TRAVEL ASIA: Tokyo, Seoul, & Beijing

You know how much I love to travel and how much I want to see, smell, hear, and taste all the world has to offer. So upon finding out the amazing news that I'm pregnant with my first baby... I thought to myself... "Girl you better cross a few more destinations off that list... cause this freedom to hop on a plane is gonna be a thing of the past REAL soon!" My husband wasn't able to ask for more time off work, none of my American girlfriends seemed keen, and I was prepared to go it alone. Fortunately, a girlfriend I do a coastal walk with once a week (who also happens to be a doctor), was up for the trip! She begged her husband to take care of her 5 and 7 year old girls for 11 days... he graciously agreed... and I began furiously booking flights and accommodations! The trip... Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing... all places in Asia I wouldn't have to worry about the Zika virus. I hope you enjoy the travel posts I'll be putting up on AnnaKooiman.com over the next couple of weeks!

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Crazy Crocodiles, Koalas, & Cassowaries in Cairns

What do you get when you cross a crocodile with a rooster? A croc-a-doodle-doo! hahaha Okay enough of the silly jokes... I was seriously dying to go to Hartley's Crocodile Adventures while I was in Cairns exploring the Great Barrier Reef. Why did I want to go see scary crocodiles?  Because #1 Crocs are so totally Aussie and #2 Loads of Aussies have been telling me this is the best place to experience crazy crocs... up close and personal. From crocodile shows to crocodile boat rides in a lagoon full of the sharp toothed beasts... Hartley's did not disappoint. The highlight was riding in a small boat (it did have cages on the side) just a couple of feet away from the mammoth creatures! Of course you won't catch me in this post's pictures or videos cuddling with and crocs... you will see me cuddling with sweet koalas and feeding the world's deadliest bird, the cassowary

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Exploring the Great Barrier Reef

Exploring the Great Barrier Reef has been near the top of my Bucket List for a long time. It is one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World. According to GreatBarrierReef.org it is comprised of over 900 islands, spanning 133,000 square miles... making it larger than the Great Wall of China... or about half the size of Texas. The Great Barrier Reef is so big it can even be viewed from outer space! The Great Barrier Reef is ancient... perhaps 20 million years old. Today, a whole host of modern medicines are being developed from its plants and animals - Medicines to treat cancer, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimers, etc. Countless communities depend upon the Great Barrier Reef for economic reasons. Tourism to the reef generates billions of dollars a year. Of course the actual fish provide food and livelihoods for residents as well. More than 1,500 fish species call the Great Barrier Reef home. About 10% of the globe's total fish species can be found within its boundaries.

It is easy to see why the Great Barrier Reef is considered a Natural Wonder!  I can't believe I just crossed it off my Bucket List.... Tick!!  I hope you enjoy my pictures, videos, and thoughts from this awesome adventure. 

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Visiting the Australian Capital Territory

Since moving to Australia, I've been trying to see and do as much as I can. While in the USA I love spending time in Washington, DC so of course Canberra was on my list here. My husband and I visited the Australian Capital Territory last weekend and had such a great experience. We took a fun 4 hour road trip from Sydney on Saturday morning and arrived to our hotel around lunchtime. We had delicious grilled chicken sandwiches (chicken burgers as they say in Oz) in the casual lobby restaurant at the the Crowne Plaza Canberra. We then headed to our first stop, the Australian War Memorial.

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Vivid Sydney Breaks World Record and Lights Up Australia

There is so  much buzz in Oz right now around Vivid Sydney. I had to check it out and share how cool it is! And just so you can begin to understand the enormity of this event... I'll let you in on a secret! Vivid Sydney is now in the Guinness World Records as the globe's largest festival of light, music, and ideas! They actually broke their own record! How many lights did it take... to take the cake as largest interactive lighting display?!? 124,128! The events run from 26 May to 17 June, 2017.

Make sure you take a look at the YouTube video I put together from my experiences at Vivid Sydney. I took the ferry from Rose Bay to Circular Quay... met my husband for a yummy Thai dinner... and then strolled around the light show eating gelato. It was such a fun night. In the video I've posted above... you'll see projections of space, sea creatures, animals, and trippy psychedelic images illuminating iconic landmarks throughout Sydney including the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House, Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, Taronga Zoo, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. At the end of the video you'll see Darling Harbour’s Magicians of the Mist. It's a 50 meter high water fountain that features 40 meter high projections, lasers, fireworks, and flames. As with many of the displays, a dramatic soundtrack tells the light story in perfect sync. I have to say this is one of the best events I've been to since moving to Australia! I enjoyed it more than the fireworks on New Year's Eve! Although that display is even more iconic... the crowds are more manageable at Vivid Sydney.

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10 Tips to Survive Long Haul Travel

Is there somewhere you've always wanted to travel that requires a lot of time in the air? A cool town in Europe, Asia, or Australia? A place you've been dreaming about? What's stopping you? Are you thinking something like this? "I can't bear to do that flight... it's a long haul. It's too overwhelming. I'll stay home. I can't do it!" Well.... I say.... "YES you can! And here's how!"

1. Load up on the H2O... Take it easy on the alcohol. It's always fun when the food and beverage cart comes by on long flights... and you might be extra excited that you don't have to pay for beer and wine.... But I advise against drinking too many booze.  It's easy to get dehydrated on these epic journeys in the air. Alcohol adds to that likelihood. 

2. Keep your toiletry bag handy. It's nice to be able to brush your teeth, wipe your face down, etc... I like to put wet wipes or hand sanitizer in there too. The other must have for your magic sack? Moisturizer? Your skin will likely get very dry while you're up in the air. Lotion will keep you comfortable. I recommend bringing a moisturizer suitable for your face and body.

3. Invest in a pair of compression socksBut buy them before you get to the airport. I forgot mine this trip and ended up spending about three times what I would have if I'd planned better! Compression socks are often recommended by physicians because they keep the blood flowing on long flights. They prevent achey legs and feet that can be associated with cramped seating. 

4. Walk Around. Even if you don't need to use the restroom... Get up! Get moving every so often. I leave my seat every two hours or so. Just like using compression socks... walking around keeps the blood flowing and decreases chances of deep vein thrombosis.

5. Check the back of the plane for free fruit and snacks. I have found that on most long haul flights the airlines will keep apples or some sort of fruit in a couple areas accessible by passengers between meals. 

6. Bring a shaker cup and protein powder. I like to bring the individual packs... and pick a blend that also includes some vitamins and minerals. This won't take up much space in your carry-on... and will be great to have if you don't get enough to eat or you don't like the meal you were served. Drinking a protein shake along the way will also ensure you are getting proper nutrition. Again, it also encourages you to drink more H2O!

7. Bring healthy crunchy snacks. I like to bring split pea snacks, dried chickpeas, or edamame. These are great between airline meals. The salt and crunch often gives me a little pick-me-up if I'm feeling motion sick or lethargic. 

8. Pack a compressible, comfy, and cozy jacket or sweater. Sometimes these flights get cold. I mean COLD. The airlines will provide a light blanket, but sometimes that's not enough for me. This is a biggie... don't forget!

9. Fight jet lag by getting on your destination's time zone ahead of time... Here's what I mean... Even if it is mid-morning in your departure city... if it happens to be evening in your destination city... imagine the meal you are about to eat is your DINNER... not your breakfast or lunch... sometimes you can really fool yourself.

10. Consider eye masks and melatonin to help you sleep. A lot of folks like to take sleeping pills, whether over the counter or prescription. But I prefer to do things in more natural ways when possible. Eye masks (similar to headphones) can help tune out the foreign environment around you. Melatonin can help get your circadian rhythms on track for your new 'bedtime.' It is said to reduce the time needed to fall asleep.

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5 Warm Weather Adventure Getaways

Australia! Puerto Rico! Dominican Republic! Jamaica! Hawaii!

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Koala Cuddles and Kangaroo Kisses at Sydney's Taronga Zoo

It's a zoo... with a view! An incredible view at that. The Taronga Zoo overlooks the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Walking into the park we are greeted by giraffes grazing in the sunshine. They are a real crowd favorite. But my main reason for coming to Taronga? Koalas and kangaroos. The zookeepers are giving us an incredible experience. You ready for this!? A meet and greet with some of their animal ambassadors. It's feeding time for not just the koalas and kangaroos... but the emus... swamp wallabies... and quokkas. They are all feeling 'snacky' too! ;-) We're in for a real treat! Check out the above video to see what it's like to interact with these unique animals!

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Fairy Tales and Castles! Become a Princess in Portugal

Sintra (not to be confused with Sinatra ;-)) is a fantastical small town not too far from the bustling city of Lisbon, Portugal. Easy trip. So hop on a train for less than 20 miles... and soon you will feel like a fairy tale princess! Seriously... I felt like I was in a Disney movie... just call me Jasmine. ;-) I would recommend blocking out about half a day for this trip. I imagine you will want to see the National Palace, Moorish Castle, and Pena Palace. 

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Wine Tasting and Biking the Tuscan Hills

Spend just a few moments in Tuscany.. particularly at sunrise or sunset... and it's easy to see why these smooth Italians have been inspiring, artists, photographers, poets, and lovers for ages. The tall, slender, green cypress trees and shrubs lining the road's and property pathways are synonymous with the region. And the sun's rays bouncing off grape vines and olive trees all in perfect symmetry is breathtaking. Oh... and the wine ain't bad to sip on either! ;-)  

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What Makes Chianti Classico Such a Special Wine?

My first trip to Tuscany is one I'll never forget. It got me hooked on Chianti Classico wine. The Chianti region is in the center of Tuscany... which is also in the center of Italy. I spent a few days in a villa enjoying the greens, oranges, and yellows of the landscape... and of course the tasty wine the area produces. Chianti wines were originally known for their traditional squatty bottles encased with straw... today they display a special seal of approval. Wines that exhibit the famous black rooster symbol are also certified as 'Chianti Classico' because they contain 80% Sangiovese grapes (the common red grape of the area) and 20% of other grapes native to the region or international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

 

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Learn to Kick Like a NYC Rockette

Legs for days! These Radio City Rockettes are world renown for their annual Christmas Spectacular! People travel from all over the globe to New York City to see them. The ladies tell me the tradition has been around since 1933. For many of these dancin’ machines… it’s been a dream to be part of the team since they were little girls.

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Anna Kooiman Travel Philosophy

I've learned a lot of travel hacks from being on the road for breaking news and fun, road trip feature stories around the US, I also have a tremendous itch for world travel. I'll share long haul travel tips too. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes!

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