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Finally...our 19 day glorious October 2007 (very long detailed) trip report to Italy!

Finally...our 19 day glorious October 2007 (very long detailed) trip report to Italy!

Old Apr 24th, 2008, 02:04 PM
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Hi A/S;

Thank you, so much, for the sideshow, it looks great & I can see how you fell in love with the place.

We see the weeks we want are available and we have inquired about renting.

Thanks again, I can't wait to read more of your adventures.

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Old Apr 24th, 2008, 02:50 PM
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My pleasure!

The owner Minda is great....very responsive and happy to answer questions.

I'm so glad the cottage is available for your week. We rearranged our entire itinerary to fit Sogna in....that's how much I wanted it.

You'll get a kick out of this: our bedding now at home looks EXACTLY like the one in the cottage: all white and with the same pillow decor. Tuscany is so inspiring!

Good Luck,
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Old Apr 24th, 2008, 05:25 PM
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Thanks for answering my post. We can't wait for next Wednesday to come, especially after having read all of this forum--many parts of it more than once. We've appreciate all of the comments made by others as well.

We're doing lots of playing it by ear. I'm sure that on some days we'll just head off for parts unknown and see what adventures we can find. I found a wonderful book called Tuscany and Umbria's Best-Loved Driving Tours, and I'm sure we'll do at least a couple of those. There are lots of great restaurants in some of the surrounding hilltop towns, and we plan to try some of them out.

Our first "planned" activity is an overnight to Florence to celebrate birthdays and anniversary. We have tickets for Carmen directed by Zubin Mehta--part of a music festival that takes place there yearly. The next morning we'll have time for David and the Uffizi and some exploring in the area. I'm sure that we'll be in Florence at some other time during the month as well since 2 different couples will be joining us--one for the first week and another for the 2nd and 3rd. We're meeting the second couple in Venice (we'll travel there by train) on the 11th. We took your advice and have booked the Secret Itineraries Tour. Also plan to wander through the off-the-beaten-track areas that you explored. The only bit of shopping that we've planned for sure is a in a certain mask shop that is supposed to be "the best in Venice."

Of course, Cinque Terre is also on the itinerary; it's very close to Seravezza. I loved your description and I can't wait to find Storie!

Another destination where we'll spend a few of days is the area south of Florence, including Siena and hill towns. And, of course, we plan to do lots of wine tasting--and lots of eating!

The rest of the trip is pretty loose; I think we'll do lots of planning as we go. I'll let you know how that goes when we get back.

We're ending the trip with three days in Rome and have booked tours with Context Rome. I took a couple of their tours 8 years ago when I went to Italy with a friend. The tours were great and worth every penny. Now they're lots more pennies, but we think that by that time we'll want to have some hand holding!

Thanks again for your terrific contribution to this forum.

Mil Grazie!!!!
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Old Apr 24th, 2008, 10:12 PM
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adventureseeker, pics of Sogna are wonderful. More cats, I see!
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Old Apr 25th, 2008, 06:47 AM
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Travelin 2,

Your trip sounds so lovely. What a way to celebrate w/ Carmen. Have a fabulous time and tell us all about it.

Tell David I said hello! (and Antonio in CT if you see him).

Buon viaggio....


Good to hear from you. I know, more cats! There's a few more sprinkled around our hilltown photos (kinda like a "Where's Waldo?&quot.
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Old Apr 25th, 2008, 08:24 AM
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*<b>Sogna and the stone cottage</b>.

*<b>Siena</b>: it took awhile for us to warm up to her after taking a whole hour to find parking. The <b>Piazza del Campo</b> was amazingly spectacular.

*lunch at <b>Trattoria Fonte Giusta</b> in Siena. Our <u>favorite meal</u> in all of Tuscany.

*<b>Caterina, the patron saint of Siena</b>. Her quote and wisdom inspires and moves me.

*the charming towns of <b>Monte San Savino and Arezzo</b> (antique shops galore).

*lunch at <b>Osteria dei Mercanti</b> in Arezzo. Another delizioso mom and pop trattoria.

*<b>Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore</b> in the scenic Crete Sensei region.

*<b>Bosco della Ragnaia</b>: an artist’s interpretive garden smack dab in the middle of the forests near Pienza.

*<b>Sant’ Anna Camprena Montasery</b> near Pienza where “English Patient” was filmed.

*<b>Pienza</b> gets our vote for the most picturesque town we visited. So quaint and charming. We enjoyed our lunch at the cozy <b>Latte di Luna</b>. And then there’s the delectable <b>Pecorino cheese</b>….mamma mia!

*<b>Montalcino and Montepulciano</b>: two fabulous hilltowns with character, history, enotecas and great shopping.

*<b>Museo della Communita di Montalcino e del Brunello</b> (the Brunello Museum) in Montalcino was an amazing lesson in the history of the wine making famiglia and excellent museum about Montalcino.

*lunch and wine cellar tour at <b>Fattoria dei Barbi</b>. Centuries old family winery.

*<b>Sant’Antimo Abbey</b>. The Gregorian chanting by the monks, the church and the grounds are DEFINITELY worth a look.

*The <b>drives through the countryside</b> to each of these towns was stunning. It was all like a picture postcard. I took countless photos of sheep grazing, cypress trees and villas that dotted the countryside. We vowed to come back during the other 3 seasons to see how different the landscape looked.

*Our adventure in <b>local supermarkets</b>: We were sent back to the produce area to weigh and label all our fruits/veggies. It was overwhelming to see all the cheeses, meats, etc. available. We didn’t have an access card to unlock the shopping carts. We loved perusing the aisles to see all the different foods, labels, brands.

*<b>Sensory overload</b>: the Tuscan fog setting between the hills, the changing color of the leaves, the smell of wood burning fireplaces, the crisp Autumn air, the flaming sunsets, the taste of local olive oil (liquid gold!), the art, the feel of stone.

<b>Up next....our Tuscany Photo Slideshow, first morning in Sogna and Siena!

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Old Apr 26th, 2008, 09:09 AM
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We also loved, loved, loved Trattoria Fonte Giusta in Siena! Also our favorite meal! Just ate there 2 weeks ago.....yum! Incidently, was recommended to us by our hotel.
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Old Apr 26th, 2008, 01:44 PM
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What an incredible report. Delightful writing. . I'm going to print this out and use it for planning. Magical!
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Old Apr 26th, 2008, 04:26 PM
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what a great report. Many thanks.
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Old Apr 26th, 2008, 06:33 PM
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Grazie all! Thx for stopping by.


We stumbled across Fonte Giusta after following a soccer team in there. It was not only our BEST meal in Tuscany, but oh, so reasonable! Glad you enjoyed!
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Old Apr 27th, 2008, 12:29 PM
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Part 3 (October 21, 2007)

Day 12

Our first real day in Tuscany….Siena or bust!

First morning in <b>Sogna Piccola</b>….I expected that being our first day in Tuscany that I’d get my expected jitters of anticipation and not sleep soundly. On the contrary, this bed was SO comfortable. Not only the mattress, but the bedding was top of the line with its high thread count….it was like sleeping on a cloud.

It was hard to get out of bed, but I managed and let DH continue his ZZZzzz’s. I went into the 2nd bedroom to unpack. Just like our layout at La Mala, we had a small second room. This one had a bed and handpainted wardrobe armoire that I claimed the entire room as my very own “walk-in closet”.

We were here for a week and with the convenient laundry facilities (shared by the rest of the hamlet) we planned to wash up our dirty clothes for the 2nd half of our trip.

I enjoyed this task of unpacking since I could lay out many of my accessories. Scarves on this hook, bracelets in the ceramic bowl, hats in the basket. There was a much larger handpainted armoire in the Master which DH could call his own.

Downstairs I went and took a peek outside. It looked chilly and there was a slight wind. I made some tea, changed my clothes and headed out to explore Sogna.

As I stepped outside, the 2 village cats were waiting on the stairs to say, &quot;Buon giorno&quot;. Yup, it was chilly but so beautiful and crisp. The old stone buildings were awash in the morning light.

Because this hamlet called Sogna sat on top of a hill every view from every angle was different. On this side were the hills covered in trees and the “Tuscan fog” setting in it like we were on top of a cloud. On the other side was the town of Ambra far below. It was like a ghost town, not a soul in sight.

We parked in one of two designated parking “lots” for the guests/residents. Needless to say that our car was the only one in our lot for the entire 7 days. The other lot at the front of Sogna had 2 cars which never moved the entire time.

I was enjoying Sogna and imagined what it was like way back when. I found the pool area which looked so lovely and inviting, but it was so cold out that taking a dip was unimaginable. I stumbled across the petite church which was locked up and the old cemetery across the way.

It was obvious that this hamlet was well taken care of. As I ventured out a bit past the entrance to Sogna, I came across an Italian gent who was doing work on the hillside. He had his trusty old “Ape” (those cute golf cart looking trucks that are popular all over Tuscany) loaded with garden tools. We both waved. Must be the Sogna groundskeeper.

I was exhilarated and refreshed. Back to Piccola where I found DH still asleep. I couldn’t blame him for slumbering in that heavenly bed. I made myself some tea, wrapped myself in the handknit wool throw and began leafing through the first stack of many books.

The first book I thumbed through was one of Frances Mayes’ Italian d&eacute;cor books. A <b>quote</b> she had in there struck me...like lightning: “Chi piu’ conosce piu’ ama, pi’ amando piu’ gusta” by Santa Caterina, the patron saint of Siena. Translation: “The more you know, the more you love , and by loving more, the more you enjoy”. That summed it all up for me….why I travel, why I plan like I do, why I immerse myself . It gave me goosebumps.

The book also stated that Iris Origo, the author of “War in the Val D’Orcia” (an Italian war diary) had this <u>same quote</u> on her tombstone. That was on our list, to go to the garden tour at La Foce near Montepulciano. Now I had MORE reasons to go.

DH came downstairs and I made him a cup of tea whilst we nibbled on some crostini and olives for a snack. We sat and lingered talking about a plan for the day. The cottage was also stocked with guidebooks and an overstuffed accordion file with maps, brochures, etc. of the sights in Tuscany. I pulled out a slew of info about Siena and since it was fairly close (30 minutes) we decided that would be our “hilltown du jour”.

We weren’t in any hurry and just took our time reading and then showered and got ready to face the day. It was so nice to relax and be leisurely in this comfy cottage.

One of the things we needed to do today was to go to the supermarket and load up on supplies for the week. It was Sunday and most (if not all) of the grocers in this small region were closed for the day.

<b><u>SIENA OR BUST</u></b>
We grab our map (and the handy dandy intensive Tuscany street atlas that the cottage had) and we’re off. Dressed in jackets, scarves and hats, it was getting biting cold. We drove via the country roads and encountered those stacked signs at the intersection that had about a dozen arrowed signs on a post. This way to Siena, that way to Arezzo, this way to Florence, that way to Valdarno.

We easily found Siena. It wasn’t what I had expected. It was commercialized than I thought it would be and the roads not so user friendly as I anticipated.

We followed the signs to the “Historical Centre”. Aha….the historical centre was the stone walled town that we were looking for. We consider ourselves to be pretty adept when it comes to directions and following signs, but found ourselves driving round and round trying to find out how to get in and where to park.

We finally got into the stone walls and had a difficult time finding parking. There were parking “lots” for residents”, for tourist buses and we found a few for visitors, but all were full. From this point it took a whole hour (no exaggeration!) for us to find parking. We were close to giving up and not having a very good first impression of Siena. This was not fun and we were hungry.

After going by the same area for the third time, we found parking. Thank heavens! With all the research I had done on Tuscany, I wish I would’ve done more about the logistics and more about the layout of the town.

We had parked near the fort <i>fortezza</i>, so we decided to climb up the stairs and have a look see which rewarded us with incredible views of the historic skyline. It was pretty cool walking on top and seeing the towers and buildings of the main part of Siena.

Outside the fort was lined with vendors (Sunday street fair) which were now in the midst of packing up. From above, I saw that I really wasn’t missing anything (most stuff were new clothing, cheap trinkets, etc….not cool artisan items or antiques).

We took a look at our map and followed a scenic path towards the campo. Once inside the historic walls of Siena we walked the beautiful cobblestone streets towards the middle of town.

We followed these not-so-busy pathways and I saw a sign to <b>Santa Caterina’s Casa and Sanctuary</b>. BINGO! I’ve now got this undeniable connection with her, so naturally we had to check it out. It was kismet that we came in the way we did….everything happens for a reason. The sanctuary and grounds were quite small and beautiful. It gave me goosebumps and an eerie feeling to be here…like I was meant to be here.

We continued on our way and decided it was (way past) time for lunch. The route we took wasn’t busy at all and it was quite pleasant. The street was lined with buildings upon buildings, some with storefronts (all closed).

DH took a path to another side street which had some caf&eacute;’s on it. In front of us now was a team of soccer (futbol) players. They beelined to a trattoria on our left called <b>Trattoria Fonte Guista</b>…..naturally, we followed them in. We took it as a sign of good food. And…that it was!

It was a lively place. We were seated near a big group of Italians (40+) having a banquet lunch. Platters and platters of food kept coming out. It all looked delish!
This was another local’s joint with a menu all in Italian (and it was very warm and cozy inside) and not many (if at all) Americanos. This place was known for it’s Chianina beef and that was evident by the glass case filled with massive cuts of raw beef.

Our server was delightfully pleasant. We dined on tasty Tuscan white beans drizzled in awesome olive oil, bruschetta, handmade porcini ravioli swimming in a pumpkin puree, “rocket” (arugula) salad and Tuscany’s famous Florentine steak from the Chianina beef (fabulous). All washed down with a nice ˝ bottle of Rosso di Montepulciano. Huge portions of simple food and fabulous flavors. An incredible deal at 42E. This was our <u>favorite meal in all of Tuscany</u>. (see our food and drink photo slideshow http://flickr.com/photos/debandstan/...7603706202008/)

Trattoria Fonte Guista http://www.trattoriafontegiusta.com/index2.htm

<b><u>PIAZZA DEL CAMPO</u></b>
After a very satisfying lunch, we contimued our way towards the center of town…the famous Piazza del Campo. Closer to the Campo it reminded us of Florence with its swanky boutiques and more crowds. We noticed that the closer to the campo you got, so did the prices inflate.

We checked out a few ceramic boutiques which nothing really struck my fancy. I collect old Italian pottery and was hoping to find some artisan ceramics in Tuscany that was very unique. Most of what I saw was the same pattern, print, colors, etc.

One shop we stumbled into was <b>Artigianato Babel</b> which had an array of uniquely painted beautiful pieces. They had 2 shops in Siena. I fell in love with a collection that was their famiglia “designer” collection of handpainted exclusive pieces with a price tag to match. I loved it all, but it was pricey.

I opted not to buy any thinking that I’d have 6 more days at other hilltowns that I expected I would have oodles (and less expensive) to choose from. That wasn’t the case as I came home empty-handed without a single ceramic piece.

We made our way to the gorgeous campo which is a “clam shape” and is touted as one of Italy’s most beautiful (we agree!). It’s where the annual Palio (horse race) is held. Wow, it was awesome.

I was never really interested in the Palio until now. We had seen a couple shows on TV back home about it, but being here inspired us to learn more about it. I imagined how alive this campo got during the event.

We really tried hard to hang out longer and considered the climb to the top of the tower, but it was biting cold. The tradeoff with the cold (and being in Tuscany the 3rd week in October), we had very limited tourists. Every town we visited was very manageable and none we complained were overrun w/ tourists. Although, we suspect that Siena is always busy and being there on a Sunday when they have their street fair made it more so.

Inside the campo’s tower atrium was an amateur photography exhibit. We enjoyed that for awhile. The atrium was a beautiful setting with stone, arches and statues. Back outside we tried to sit in the campo and enjoy the views like the couple dozen others, but it was uncomfortably cold and we needed to keep moving and the blood circulating.

We stepped into a few boutiques one of which had linens and kitchen goods. There were Mediterranean olivewood spoons, boards, etc. similar to the ones I bought as gifts in Vernazza. The Ligurian olivewood looked more rich and was less expensive than these, so that even made me more happy about my previous purchases.

I saw a shop that had linens called <b>Busatti</b>. I recognized our exquisite towels from the cottage as these Busatti. I went inside to check it out further. No purchases, just browsing!

It was late afternoon and the sun was going down making these alleyways colder. We had hoped to check out the duomo and church, but opted out. We left Siena feeling that we never really it our due. Maybe we'll have time to go back this trip. DH was already game to go back and eat at Fonte Guista!

We needed to be sure to find a grocery store (the more popular and stocked being the Coop which were closed on Sundays except for the larger ones in larger towns) to stock up.

<b><u>CIAO SIENA!</u></b>
We got back on the road and head back to Ambra where there were no grocers open (no surprise!). We should’ve stopped at one in Siena….oh well! The drive back was spectacular . The sun setting on the hills made them appear a glowing red….bellisimo!

The night was falling so we needed to make an executive decision about dinner. We wanted something quick and simple then head back to the warm cottage and fire. Being that it is Sunday in a small rural town, there weren’t many (if any) choices for dining.

We see an obviously “mom and pop” pizzeria ristorante called <b>Orient Express</b>. I’m thinking Chinese food in Tuscany? Then I see a sign w/ neon train, hence “Orient Express”. It’s open. There are a couple cars there. We have no other choice, but to go for it.

We step inside and it’s a big place and just one other couple there. In the corner is a TV with an Italian car race on. Our server excuses himself from the TV to come over and offer us drinks/menu. The prices were outrageously reasonable. ˝ liter of vino 3E, margherita pizza 3E, etc.

We were tired and starving. We began with 2 insalata mistas, next came DH’s spaghetti w/ olive oil and roasted garlic (a very simplistic, but intensely flavorful meal. I can taste this today. We’ve attempted to recreate this very simple dish at home, but it’s just not the same!), pizza cipolla (3E, cracker thin crust with roasted cipolline onions, fresh tomatoes and pools of real mozzarella cheese &amp; olive oil…and the size of a large pizza at home.) and DH ordered a chicken breast doused in a tasty mushroom sauce. …All that yummy goodness with a ˝ liter of natural aqua for the bargain price of 28E. We were very HAPPY campers indeed!

I ask to take home the pizza (1/2) which will serve as breakfast tomorrow! By the time we left there are a few Italian families that have come in and, of course, all know the owners.

The drive up to the cottage seemed to take forever. I just so wanted to get out of the car. On the gravel road up, DH spots a slew of small branches and twigs. He stops and loads up the trunk of our car for our fires. We have unlimited firewood for our cottage, but mostly are large pieces and we needed more starter. I see him in the review mirror and think, “my hero”!

I can’t wait to get into my jammies, have a warm fire and watch a DVD back at the cottage. Tonight’s DVD pick, “The English Patient”. Again, one we’ve seen many times, but it takes on a new life as we are here in Italy.

Off to dreamland………..

<b>Next up....our Tuscan photo slideshow, a very lazy day in Sogna and charming Monte San Savino.

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Old Apr 28th, 2008, 02:53 AM
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Awww another fantastic instalment!!! You really paint a pretty picture - I bet u wish u were back there now as ure writing?!!

Wee question for u if u dont mind Debbie, myself and my boyfriend will be staying in Florence for 3 nights - on the 3rd day we are going to hire a car and explore tuscany. My plan is to head to San Gimignano for a hour or so then thru Val d'orica to Pienza then back up to Florence via the Chianti region, maybe stopping off in Greve for dinner... I know this is quite a long drive but I def think its do-able and would be worth it and luckily my bf doesnt mind long drives!

Question is, do u think Siena is worth including? We are also stopping off in Lucca the following morning on our way to La Spezia.

Thanks!! Look forward to the rest of ure report
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Old Apr 28th, 2008, 03:04 PM
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I think you've got a full day in Tuscany that will work beautifully since you'll have a driver to keep you on track and also show you the &quot;best of the best&quot; in your day trip.

Siena is lovely and we just didn't have the time (nor was the weather cooperating) to see all there is to see there.

I think the best advice is to get some suggestion from your driver to see what he/she thinks about adding Siena. Sounds like your day is packed, so you're either going to have to start earlier or rearrange your plan.

Hope that helps...


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Old Apr 28th, 2008, 04:17 PM
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Thank you for a fabulous report. We are off to Italy in July and I can't wait!
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Old Apr 29th, 2008, 04:33 AM
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Thank you adventureseeker.

I'm leaving in 2 weeks for Venice, Florence and Lake Como.

I've read and enjoyed every word and will follow your advice on most things. It's been great.

2 questions.

1. Where is the &quot;Squero&quot;?
2. And how did you husband dress in the nicer restaurants. I'm wondering if mine needs a jacket and tie.

Thanks again.
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Old Apr 29th, 2008, 05:27 PM
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1) The Squero is in the Dorsoduro district on the Rio di San Trovaso canal. You should easily find it on a map and walk on the walkway towards the Zattere Promenade. It's very easy to spot across the canal with it's chalet-like architecture.

2) DH wore a stylish button down long sleeve shirt and twill pants with nice (somewhat dressy) shoes. Nothing fancy. This worked perfectly for the restaurants we dined at. Some diners were dressed up and some down, so DH was right in there.

Buon Viaggio.....
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Old Apr 29th, 2008, 08:05 PM
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And once you find the Squero (yes it is on the San Travaso Canal), keep walking a little bit until you come to a corner gelato shop called Lo Squero. The best ice cream I have ever eaten in my life (and I'm not an ice cream fanatic): nocciola (hazelnut) and pistachio. So good, I made a special second trip back and have 6 photos of myself on the nearby bridge eating gelato and looking ecstatic !!
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 04:08 AM
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Thanks adventureseeker, one less thing to pack!
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 06:25 AM
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Thanks for a wonderful trip report!
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Old May 8th, 2008, 05:32 PM
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I was loving your report...

I followed it from start to middle, and I am anxiously waiting for the rest. Hope everything's ok. Please come back to finish.
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