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Exploring Venice, Italy: Lunch on the Island of Burano at Trattoria da Romano

 

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Charming interior of Trattoria da Romano

If you’re looking for things to do in Venice, Italy taking a day trip to one of the nearby islands is a must. The colorful island of Burano, known for it’s brightly painted houses and fine lace is an excellent choice.

Burano has a few well regarded restaurants, making it a great destination for lunch time excursion.

The only way to reach Burano is by boat. I traveled with friends on a private water taxi arranged by the concierge at Bauer il Palazzo which got us to Burano in about 35 minutes. Water taxi is very fun way to travel!

Time lapse of water taxi ride from Venice to Burano

We had a fabulous lunch at Trattoria da Romano, which came highly recommended to us by an American who is an Italian scholar and part-time resident. Booking reservations ahead of time is a must.

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Canals and colorful buildings of Burano

Trattoria da Romano makes a world famous risotto which won raves from Anthony Bourdain, who featured the restaurant on an episode of No Reservations.

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Smiling water at Trattoria da Romano

Burano has only 2,800 full time residents, most of whom work in the fishing industry. When you come here, you’re coming for seafood! We ate our meal family style, with sardines and branzino for the table.

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My friends contemplating the menu at Trattoria da Romano

The highlight of the meal was the seafood risotto, which will please any foodie. I am not normally a fan of dishes that include squid ink, but the seafood risotto won me over. I’ve been dreaming about it since tasting it for myself.

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Seafood Risotto at Trattoria da Ramano

We ordered both the Bourdain-approved seafood risotto, as well as the traditional risotto. While not much to look at, both were seriously next level. The seafood risotto was black but not overly so. It was so good, we contemplated ordering another round for the table.

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Sardines for lunch at Trattoria da Romano

The spaghetti with clams was also quite flavorful and perfectly al dente.

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Spaghetti with clams

We also heard great things about Gatto Nero Restaurant, but we did not dine there ourselves.

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Picture of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards on the wall at Trattoria da Romano

Be sure to check out the photographs on the wall near the bathrooms at Trattoria da Romano. They are a fascinating look at the history of this family owned restaurant and it’s guests.

Via San Martino Destra 221, Burano – Venezia
Phone 041 730030
Via Giudecca, 88 – 30142 Burano (Venice Italy)
Tel. +39.041.730120

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Exploring Italy: Venice in the Winter

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A gondolier on the Grande Canal in Venice, Italy

I rang in 2017 in Venice, Italy. I’m a huge fan of Italy and usually game to visit. To me, Venice has always seemed like a gorgeous dreamy fantasyland, so beautiful it is almost surreal.

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Gondoliers on one of the canals in Venice 

Italy is always a popular tourist destination and Venice was once described to me as “the original Vegas.” The city’s unique charms have always been a huge draw for tourists. For this reason, I’ve only visited Venice in the winter. It’s still a popular spot, but you don’t have dodge quite so many selfie stick toting tourists.

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Tourists taking selfies on the Rialto Bridge

This trip I stayed at the fantastic Bauer Il Palazzo, which has a great location about five minutes walk from San Marco Square. The suite was old school stunning and very spacious by Venetian standards, with an exceptionally huge bathroom.

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Stunning interiors of the Aman Venice

While the focus of this trip was simply wandering around the city and dining with friends, I did make a trip to the Aman Venice for lunch. It’s a gorgeous property which boasted the only green space I saw in the city.

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Seeing red in a suite at the Bauer il Palazzo

The Aman has a lovely restaurant and bar, and served a great Aperol spritz. Like all Aman properties, it was zen to the point of feeling like you had the whole place to yourself.

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Museum-like interiors of the Aman Venice

It’s a lovely respite from the throngs of tourists, but a bit more off the beaten path and not the right place if you want a “happening” vibe. But I’ll admit… I was dying to see the rooms!

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Spritz o’clock at the Aman Venice

I had a positive experience at the Bauer il Palazzo and would definitely stay there again. I hope I get the chance since Venice is one of those cities I start planning my next trip to before I’ve even left.

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Sunrise on the Grande Canal

If you’re planning a trip to Venice, check with your hotel about arranging a water taxi to meet you at the airport. Uber is not an option in a a city where gondolas and water taxis are the only way to navigate the canals and water ways.

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Dusk at Basilica de la Salute

 

Bauer Il Palazzo Venice

Address: S. Marco, 1459, 30124 Venezia, Italy
Address: Calle Tiepolo Baiamonte, 1364, Palazzo Papadopoli, 30125 Sestiere San Polo, Venezia VE, Italy

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Exploring Southern California: Sunrise at Joshua Tree National Park

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Colorful sunrise in Joshua Tree

I have a fondness for desert landscapes and love to visit Joshua Tree National Park during the winter. The weather is pleasant and the park never seems too crowded. I find it particularly peaceful to get up before dawn to watch the sunrise.

I shot this time lapse video on my iPhone 7 plus at Joshua Tree National Park

On my most recent trip, I had my two labs with me. Since activities with dogs are limited in the park, I stayed in Palm Springs at the pet friendly Ace Hotel Palm Springs. The Ace Hotel also two dedicated Tesla chargers, which made this road trip easy since since I drive a Tesla.

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Bristled Joshua Trees

If I was traveling without my two dogs, I would have stayed closer to the park. I’m a big fan of the Mojave Sands at Joshua Tree (check out this previous post about a stay at Mojave Sands), but they only allow small dogs.

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Twisted, surreal Joshua Trees

If you’re heading to Joshua Tree National Park from Palm Springs, I suggest coming in through the West Entrance.  Each morning I drove towards Hidden Valley, Barker Dam, and Keys Ranch until I found a spot I wanted to watch the sunrise.

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Here comes the desert sun

If you are driving from Palm Springs, and want to watch the sunrise, allow at least 90 before sunrise to drive to the West Entrance of the park and find a spot to watch and set up your equipment. It can get windy at times, and you might want to use a tripod.

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Colors change dramatically just after dawn in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree has been a favorite spot of mine to just chill. After photographing the sunrise, it’s nice to explore the cholla cactus garden, an easy quarter mile loop with a dense population of cholla cactus.

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Sunrise panorama shot on my iPhone 7 plus

Pet owners should note that activities with dogs are limited and animals must be leashed at all times. You can check out what activities you can do with your dog in Joshua Tree National Park here.

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The last super moon of 2016 seen through a Joshua Tree

My trip occurred during the last supermoon of 2016, so that made both the sunrise and moon interesting to photograph.

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Warm skies in Joshua Tree

After exploring the park for a few hours after sunrise, I like to head to the funky Joshua Tree Saloon for breakfast. The service is friendly and the place is packed after 7:30 with climbers and desert dwellers. They make a mean Bloody Mary, and the potato pancakes are quite tasty.

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Morning walk through the cholla cactus garden

If you head to the Joshua Tree Saloon, don’t miss the vintage photo of Johnny Cash near the front door.

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Rocky landscape at Joshua Tree National Park

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Morning in the desert at Joshua Tree National Park

I’m a big fan of National Parks and Joshua Tree is the one I am most comfortable exploring on my own. It’s pretty user friendly.

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Funky roadside Joshua tree

If you’re visiting Palm Springs, Palm Desert, or the Coachella Valley, I’d definitely recommend spending a morning exploring the surreal desert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park. It’s one of those special places in California that has a “vibe.”

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Morning sunlight in the cholla cactus garden

Joshua Tree National Park

74485 National Park Dr.
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597

Joshua Tree National Park is open 24 hours a day and may be visited at any time of the year.

Entrance Fee – $20.00 (7-day vehicle permit, admitting the passengers of a single, non-commercial vehicle on the day of purchase and for the next six days).

Motorcycle or Bicycle Entrance Fee/ Walk-In Fee – $10.00 (7-day entrance permit, per motorcycle or bicycle/per person on foot).

Joshua Tree Saloon

61835 Twentynine Palms Hwy.
P.O. Box 289 Joshua Tree
CA 92252 USA

1-760-366-2250

Hours Open:
Sunday – Thursday 7:00 am-12:00 Midnight
Friday & Saturday 7:00 am – 2:00 AM

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Exploring Southern California During the Holidays: Robolights in Palm Springs

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Giant inflatable santa on the roof of this year’s RoboLights display

If you are going to be in Southern California during the holidays and are looking for an outside-the-box holiday experience, consider heading to Palm Springs to see artist Kenny Irwin Jr’s 32nd year of RoboLights, an upcycled holiday lights display unlike any other.

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Robo reindeer outside the RoboLights display

Palm Springs artist Kenny Irwin, Jr.’s more is more aesthetic has been putting on an increasing complex mixed media holiday lights art installation at his father’s home since he was 12. Now in it’s 32nd year, RoboLights is truly something to behold.

Video of the RoboLights reindeer

Visiting RoboLights is like walking through a surreal winter wonderland.

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Surreal winter wonderland at RoboLights

Built on the outdoor property of the artist’s father’s home, the greeter outside RoboLights told us the display has over 4 Acres of lights. It’s wildly impressive in a Watts Towers meets Willy Wonka sort of way. Sculptures are made from repurposed toilets and mannequins, and old dog crates re-worked into Sci-Fi art containing giant spiders, all bedecked with holiday lights.

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Sleigh pulled by team of jackalope

Visiting RoboLights, I felt I was walking through a surreal winter wonderland. Some of the sculptures seemed better suited for a haunted house or dystopian futuristic film set than a holiday light show but that’s what makes RoboLights so interesting.

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Left: Upside down Santa Clause Right: Bunny driving a sleigh straight out of Mad Max

I spoke with some locals who visit RoboLights every year and asked them how much the display changes from year to year. They guessed about 30%– sometimes new elements like color schemes or themes get introduced, or the layout changes.

Video of one of the displays of lights at the 2016 RoboLights

This year’s addition of an inflatables on the roof, including a Santa and a Godzilla with a candy cane,  bit of an uproar. The City of Palm Springs attempted to close down this year’s RoboLights citing safety concerns but the artist prevailed in court last week and the city was denied a restraining order that would only allow residents of the property and contractors to access the robotics and light displays.

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Walls of dolls and fairy lights at RoboLights

RoboLights is open to the public and accepts donations ($5 is recommended).

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Dangling mannequin installation at RoboLights

Sensory overload comes with the territory and some of the subject matter is non-traditional enough that I think adults will enjoy RoboLights more than children with more traditional expectations.

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Mannequins on display at RoboLights

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One of the more light hearted sculptures at RoboLights

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Christmas trees at RoboLights

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Dog crate sculpture at the 2016 RoboLights

Artist Kenny Irwin Jr. has really gone above and beyond and RoboLights is unlike any other holiday lights display I’ve ever seen. If you’re in the Palm Springs area, I’d recommend checking it out. The display runs through January 1, 2017.

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Dystopian holiday spirit on display at RoboLights

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tunnel of lights at RoboLights

Opening hours for RoboLight are from  4-9:30 pm but the display is capacity controlled. If you don’t want to wait in line, consider getting to the outdoor light show when they open.

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RoboLights exterior is hard to miss

 

ROBOLIGHTS is OPEN to the public from Thanksgiving to January 1st 4:00-9:30PM 
The installation – free to the public, but donations are suggested to help defray costs.
Address:
1077 E Granvia Valmonte
Palm Springs, California
(Located in a very residential part of Palm Springs, Robo Lights is in/around the 1077 Property).

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Christmas Market Destination: Wroclaw, Poland

Editor’s Note: Anastasia Chernykh, the social media manager of this blog, recently visited the Christmas Market in Wroclaw, Poland. I asked her to write a guest post about it. Enjoy! – Jen 

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Festive Lights at Wrocław Christmas Market

It’s that time of year again! The Christmas Markets have started to pop up all over the Europe (a few of them can be found in US and Canada, and- believe it or not- in Asia!). What started as a good German holiday tradition is now a well-known global phenomenon, and widely celebrated event across the globe.

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Christmas ornaments and bells for sale

According to European lore, the Christmas Markets started long before Germany became a nation. You are likely to find a Christmas Market located everywhere where German is spoken, including Austria, Switzerland, and some areas of France and Poland. German immigrants brought the tradition across the ocean. The festive atmosphere, wooden huts lit up with fairy lights, tasty foods, warming mulled wine, and lovely communal vibe made it a favorite holiday attraction.

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Reindeer at Rynok Square

The biggest markets draw millions of visitors every year, and those in the largest Polish cities became also popular with tourist coming to country in December from all over the world. Wroclaw (Breslau in German) is the fourth largest city in Poland, and the historical capital of Silesia Region in Western Poland. So it’s easy to see why German ancestry found its way to the hearts of locals. In 2016, the city is a European Capital of Culture and the World Book Capital.

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Salesman sporting moose-like expression

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Hand made goods make great heart-warming gifts! 

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Fairy Wood comes with real fairies!

The major entertainment area is called “Bajkowy Lasek”(Fairy Wood), a place where you can see some Christmas plays for kids, adults can grab a cup of mulled wine, and just embrace the good mood!

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Cup of mulled wine to warm up

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Christmas Lights in Wroclaw

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Classic guests at Christmas Market: Snowmen and Reindeer

It is also a fun and unique way to enjoy your Christmas shopping, and a great alternative to the overcrowded shopping malls!

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Hand crafted ceramics and Christmas Bells

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Mugs and decoupage

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Sweet Gingerbread gifts
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Grilled ‘oscypek’ sheep cheese from the Polish mountains and Lithuanian smoked meats

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Christmas Tree and Bokeh

The Christmas market in Wroclaw is open from November 18 to December 22 in the heart of Wroclaw. Daily hours 10am-9pm

The easiest way to get to Wroclaw is by plane. You can easily fly to Wroclaw’s Copernicus Airport from UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands and Ukraine.

You can also take a train from Dresden (3.5 hours), Kraków (about 5.5 hours), or Warsaw (6-8 hours) to Wrocław.

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