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Here it is: Elvira's Venice Report, "Ham Tacos and the Toilet isn't Sucking Mud"

Here it is: Elvira's Venice Report, "Ham Tacos and the Toilet isn't Sucking Mud"

Old Jul 4th, 2005, 11:21 AM
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Here it is: Elvira's Venice Report, "Ham Tacos and the Toilet isn't Sucking Mud"

For all of you who have been wanting this, enjoy!

Ham tacos and the toilet isn't sucking mud

Author: elvira
Date: 10/18/2000, 12:12 pm ET
Part One of the Loons Change Maritime Law:

Via British Air, arrived Gatwick Airport early afternoon. 3 Loons took Alitalia to Venice, and said they had wonderful service and food, highly recommending the airline. I took British Air from HEATHROW, and so had to change airports. Important info: British Air will cover the cost of the SpeedLink bus BUT you must get the voucher from the British Air customer service desk first (it is across the floor from the SpeedLink desk) then turn it in at the SpeedLink desk for a 'boarding card'. The bus is comfortable, and even in near-rush hour traffic, took about 1 1/2 hours. It rained a bit, then the sun came out...and the good omen appeared. Over Heathrow, a DOUBLE rainbow, full arcs end to end over the airport...and PURPLE bands. Have never seen either of those phenomena, and I knew the trip would be aces from then on.

I arrived at Marco Polo airport (nice teeny little airport; never worry about meeting people there - you can see the whole airport from any spot) about 30 mins before the other Loons, so had a chance to pick up some brochures on the buses, etc. As we arrived at midnight, the water buses had stopped running (they stop around 12:05) so we had to take a water taxi. It was about $60 I think, but split 4 ways, not budget-breaking. It was a truly memorable experience...the boat went very VERY fast across to Venice, then putt-putted into a tiny canal near the hotel; it was appropriate that our arrival was over water. Driver got all our bags onto the dock (mind you, it's now almost 1am), and though he spoke no English, gave us directions to the hotel (I have enough pidgin Italian to get simple directions...and order food). No sounds... so quiet...through narrow alleys that must have been trod by 15th century Venetians, who also heard nothing...so strange to not hear the hum of traffic. The directions were perfect, we turned the last corner and saw the lit front of the Albergo Santa Lucia at Calle Misericordia, 358. I had let them know we would be arriving late, and they kept the front lobby and the sign lit up to welcome us. The lovely man at the front desk spoke no English, but again, pidgin Italian, I figured out my sister had called and left a message for me to call her (she wasn't joining us this time, but her daughter was). He took us to a HUGE room that looked onto the terrace - chandelier over the center of the room - full bathroom - all for about $30 a person (including breakfast). It turns out, after calling Ah Gheez, that her daughter, Neeeece, had left her ATM cards on the kitchen table, and basically had NO money with her. She was to arrive the next day with OldHand's cousin, Photog, from Florida, around noon at Marco Polo...we all assured Ah Gheez we'd front Neeeece the money, so Mom sighed in relief. Beds weren't the most comfortable, but they were ok...the mosquitoes kept us awake. Suggest that during skeeter season, you bring bug spray (we had repellant, but they still buzzed our ears all night). We recommend the hotel for good value for the money (it is about 5 minutes from the train station).

Next day, I left the Loons to go back to the airport to meet the East Coast Loons arriving about noon. There's a waterbus stop in front of the train station, but had to change at San Marco for the airport bus. I missed the boat (so to speak), so I was about an hour late to the airport. As predicted by the rainbows, all was well - both flights were delayed an hour, so I was on time. Rusty arrived first from Munich; 15 mins later, Neeeece and Photog arrived from Florida. And Photog had left HER ATM cards at home, too! We determined it was caused by something in the Florida water. Meanwhile, back at the albergo, the other Loons were heading for the boat we rented, where I and the East Coast Loons would meet them. Dimbulb here gave ALL the boat info to Old Hand...and had no directions, phone #s, zippo with me to find the boat place! So I go to the water taxi booth and ask if they can take us to the boat place (praying that I can 'feel' where it is) in Chioggia. He says 'it will be very VERY expensive; better to take the regular taxi' (there are water buses to Chioggia, but we would have had to take a water bus to Venice, then change to the Chioggia water bus - with a long wait in between). We got ourselves a taxi, and off we went to find the boat. Well, Chioggia is a lot bigger than it looks on the map, and we drove around and around looking for the boat place. Finally, we had the driver just leave us in a little square near what looked like a likely place for the boat place to be, so we left the Florida Loons to watch the bags, and Rusty and I started wandering. About a half hour later, we're walking across a BIG bridge, and see a sign "houseboat rentals"...and a bunch of little houseboats all moored up along the bridge. EUREKA we shout...until we see the boat. It's the f**king Queen f**king Mary...and none of us know the first thing about boats. We clamber on board, where Marcello is patiently explaining to one of the newest Loons, now dubbed El Capitane, all the navigational terms, rules, etc. for us to take out the boat...oh criminey, what have we gotten ourselves into. Bricola, channels, fore, aft...we're doomed. He takes us out for a spin, and I guess we did ok, because he gives us the keys. It's now about 5:30, so we walk into Chioggia...what a hidden gem. It's a mini-Venice WITHOUT the tourists. The only language we heard was Italian; happened upon a wedding party walking to the hotel for the reception, the sort of photo op you hope will happen. As restaurants don't open until 7:00 or later, we found a little cafe that sold all sorts of sandwiches and pizzas and calzones, so we each got something different then took bites...sandwiches were like a dollar apiece! Then a stroll through town - old churches and statues, beautiful shops, and gelati! Found a little supermarket and bought some wine, then back to the boat. We decided to stay moored at the bridge for the evening, and set off the next day for Venice. So there we are on the back of the boat, in patio chairs, drinking wine and enjoying the night air. Across the road is a large parking lot, with the tented fish market (now closed, of course, because it's 11pm), and totally dark. Suddenly, this large metal container flies open, lights go on...and cars and scooters and Vespas and bicycles start flooding into the parking lot, their owners going up to the open metal container, walking away with plastic bags. Nefarious activity, we think...until the smells start wafting over to us. Two of the Loons dodge traffic to investigate...and come back with...ham tacos. Flat bread, sort of like pizza crust, folded in half and filled with grilled onions and ham...ohmigod, heavenly. No wonder the jernt was jumpin'! And traffic all night long - these Chioggians apparently never sleep. Got a good night's sleep, ready to tackle (is that what you do to the ocean?) cruising to Venice in the morning.

Author: elaine
Date: 10/18/2000, 01:37 pm ET
Elvira, I love the fact that you, the champion planner and organizer of all time, have a niece that forgets atm cards. Guess those a/r genes skip generations.
Chioggia is a new topic for me, but you've gotten me very interested. How/from where does a person get there by public water bus from Venice (not the airport), does anyone know? Is it an easy daytrip from Venice proper, or more of a voyage? (There's no information on it at all in my general Italy guidebook.)

Author: elvira
Date: 10/18/2000, 02:13 pm ET
Oh lordy we are now in trouble; we must cast off from our mooring, and head for Vignole, a little island just south of Venice where we can moor the boat, then take the water bus into Venice. El Capitane is at the helm, and six Loons are scrambling over the boat, casting off, pushing with boat hooks, hollering and yelling...and we're off, cruising at a mind-blowing 24 knots (I believe that's the speed of pregnant women pushing wheelbarrows uphill) keeping the bricola to our right, and land to our left. Find the eensy weensy canal at Vignole where we can moor...and there's another boat there. Uh oh, we have to get good real fast...and we do. Pulled up in front, backed that tug against the dock, tied her off...and got a round of applause from the guys on the other boat. We catch the water bus to Venice, to see some of the Regatta...and we create a stir.

We are sitting on the canal (as in, on the cement wall, hanging our feet over the Grand Canal) just west of San Marco, watching the tail-end of the Regatta, when Photog leans over to see something in the water...and drops her $200 sunglasses into the water. She can see them, so she goes over to the water taxi guy and explains what happened. He gives her a long-handled broom, so she starts trying to fish them out. TaxiGuy and a couple more are leaning over and watching. TaxiGuy then finds a long metal pole with a curved end, and HE tries that. Quite a few folks have now gathered around to watch what's going on. Among the men, lots of discussion about what happened, the logistics of what to do, etc. (men are the same everywhere). One man breaks away, and comes back in a few minutes with a FISHING NET, and he now takes over...for 15 minutes he scoops up algae, tosses it out, drags the net, scoops up algae, tosses it out...by this time, I'm figuring those sunglasses are halfway to Algeria... when...allelujah!! They are snagged by the net! And the peasants rejoice. There's applause, whoopin'n'hollerin', and high-fives... and the guy just walks away. Photog realizes he's left, and chases him down, offering him a 'reward', which he refuses. She does give him a big hug, and thanks him profusely. The crowd now disperses...and we find our rescuer at his SOUVENIR STAND...he had LEFT it to help us! Needless to say, we made sure we did a goodly amount of shopping right there. I am mentioning all of this, not only because it was highly entertaining, but to counteract recent criticisms of the Venetians as money-grubbing cheaters of tourists. Not once did we experience that, and we did all the things that tourists do. As a whole, we found them gracious, generous, helpful, kind and genuinely pleasant to be around (didn't hurt that the men were among some of the handsomest I've ever seen). We found the prices to be fair and reasonable (yes, at Harry's Bar the drinks are expensive, but why would that be a surprise?) and we got what was represented. Not once did we feel were cheated, or looked upon as suckers. Our time in Venice was some of the most pleasant I've ever spent, and we've vowed to return for a longer stay.

Author: June
Date: 10/18/2000, 03:03 pm ET
I'm new! Elvira is so funny that I will search for her other postings, but in the meantime, who or what are the loons? Is she traveling with a group of women friends, family, or what? I need a little history here.

Author: elvira
Date: 10/18/2000, 03:25 pm ET
Marcello told us there was PLENTY of docking space at Murano, as long as we arrived before 10am, when it got busy. So we get there about 9:30, and cruise into the canal noted as "public docking"...both sides are lined with boats, the canal is EXACTLY as wide as the boat is long. We can't keep heading straight, because there's a low bridge dead ahead. Finally, we see a space and El Capitane goes for it...and the Loons make maritime history...we're trying to fit the Queen Mary between several little dories, a couple of teak sailboats, and a cabin cruiser or two. To top it all off, there are NO mooring posts, just rings in the wall of the canal. Photog's got her back against the cabin and her foot against a dory, trying to keep the aft from crushing the dory, Neeeece is trying to jump onto the wharf so she can be tossed a rope to tie us off on a ring...general mayhem is ensuing. Out from the restaurant that's located right on the canal comes a gorgeous man (olive skin, blue eyes, will you come home with me?) who gestures for us to throw him a line ("what's a Grecian urn?"), and he ties us off. Sorts out that where we've moored is the restaurant's dock, and HE owns the restaurant. Well, we troop right in there and order up a tableful of sandwiches and Cokes and coffee and desserts. Then off we go to spend every lira we have...and we were pretty successful. NOW we have to cast off and head for the Brenta Canal...more mayhem, but we get out without damaging anything other than Old Hand, who, when trying to get on board, slipped and ended up dangling from the side of the boat next to the dock (other than a couple of bruises on her knees, she's fine - scared the beegeezus out of all of us, though).

We must travel the length of the Giudecca Canal to get to the Brenta...and this is the canal that is the main travel route for warships, battleships, and cruiseships...I have not pointed this out to El Capitane, as she will cut and run. The rainbow omen holds true, and the canal is...vacant. Other than other pleasure craft, and the waterbuses and taxis, not a tanker or ocean liner in sight. We cruise right down the middle, San Marco on our right, San Giorgio Maggiore on our left...and out into the open sea. Not as scary as it sounds; the channels are well marked with bricola, the weather was spectacular (we had rain ONLY when we were docked at night) and no one got seasick at all. The locks were a challenge, but were manageable; there was always someone to help, and, in our case, DOZENS of men showed up to help; I think they were just amazed at a boatload of women...it wasn't at all condescending, more like awe. We even had several women come out to watch us, and give us the thumbs up when we got through the locks. One giant leap for womankind (or, in the case of Old Hand, one giant slip off the boat)...

Author: kk
Date: 10/18/2000, 03:32 pm ET
GOOD GRIEF, I say. The only reason I clicked on othis was because this bizarrely titled thread wasn't going away so I figured I might as well see what it's about. And there it was, Elvira's trip report. I've not yet read it but have printed it out for that purpose and intend to enjoy at leisure. Ever read the novel, Loon Lake, Elvira?

Author: Patrick
Date: 10/18/2000, 03:43 pm ET
Well, Elvira, you've really done it now! Here I was thinking we had the most exciting and wonderful three days anyone could have in Venice this summer, when you come along and spoil it all. God, what we did was as boring as watching algae grow compared to your adventures. Great to have you back!

Author: kk
Date: 10/18/2000, 04:07 pm ET
And when the head loon writes (above)......"and we create a stir," that's got to be the understatement of all time. Did you go to some Palladio houses, Elvira? Which ones please?

Author: elvira
Date: 10/18/2000, 05:48 pm ET
We moor at Malcontenta (bad name for a good town, so to speak) to take advantage of the bicyles we've been lugging around...humdinger of a day, we bicycle for miles...found a beautiful cemetery for photos and quiet time... ate lunch at a restaurant that specialized in fish, and had our first experience with fish and grits. I guess it was polenta, but the Texas Loon said "nuhn uh honey this here is GRITS"...and a legend was born. I had the best seafood pasta ever...teeny TEENY clams and mussels in their shells, shrimp, minute scallops on a bed of linguini. Half of the Loons continued on, the other half went back to the boat. The girls who went back to the boat decided to walk over to the Villa Foscari, only to discover that it was closed. They started to turn away, when a woman came out and motioned them in. Seems the villa's SCHEDULED openings are few, but they open for tour groups...and a group was due in about a half an hour, so the chatelaine let the Loons in...When we got back from our bike ride, they were chattering like magpies about the villa, how beautiful, the ceilings, etc. etc. etc. Rainbow omen, remember?
That night, a terrible storm blew in, strong winds and pea-sized HAIL...but we were safely moored, and battened down the hatches (really, we actually BATTENED DOWN THE HATCHES). We stayed moored for a couple of nights, biking and taking buses to some of the other villas...which is where the mud-sucking toilet comes in.

As Venezia doesn't have much of an EPA, boats pump sea/canal water directly into the toilets...and the flushing goes right back out again (don't think about it or you'll retch). We'd stayed moored for a couple of nights, and suddenly one of the toilets wouldn't flush...and was filled with brown 'stew'. When it was time to cast off, Old Hand said "if we hit the open sea with that full toilet, it's going to slop all over the place" so she put on a pair of rubber gloves (which I'd bought 3 days before for no reason - the rainbow omen again?), got a bucket, and bailed out the toilet. Figuring she'd come out gagging, I was surprised when she didn't. She said it smelled like briny, fishy water and looked more like mud, not like, er, you know. Back through the lock, more cheers and accolades from the locals, and we hit the open sea to head back to Chioggia to drop off the boat. Indescribably gorgeous day...bright sun, blue sky, little traffic. We each took turns at the helm...and hated giving it up to the next Loon. I went below deck to get some water, and decided to check the offending plumbing...gave it a flush and...it flushed. Apparently, we were sucking up the canal mud while moored and it flushed out once we started cruising. Again, the natives rejoiced...happy dance on deck at the news we were no longer sucking mud.

Returned the boat with only one problem...WARNING WARNING: when we paid for the boat in July, we were given a price substantially higher in $$ than the price shown in French francs. When I asked, I was told the $$ included fuel (we're talking about an $800 difference), so I agreed to that, figuring we wouldn't have to worry about a major expense on the trip. Weeeell, we return the boat, and Marcello says he wants money for the FUEL, because he has to go fill it up for the next renters! An hour later, we're still arguing...and we ended up paying the $300 to Marcello and are STILL arguing with Crown Blue Lines over the $800 fuel deposit. Put a damper on an otherwise wonderful experience...just a heads up if you plan to lease a boat to nail down that the local rep won't be demanding fuel money if you've already paid.

I would recommend the boat experience hands down (so to speak) to just about anyone, but I WOULD recommend you start with a simple canal trip where oil tankers aren't cutting across your bow (love those nautical terms). We all felt we'd gone a little bit beyond what we thought we were capable, and succeeded. El Capitane said she was drained, but felt very strong for having captained the boat so successfully. 7 women had spent 7 days in very close quarters - and are still good friends.

Visit Chioggia - it is wonderful! - there is traffic, though, unlike Venice...and THOUSANDS of bicyclists! For the ultimate seafood restaurant, El Gato in Chioggia...the menu is daunting, but the maitre d'/owner is very VERY helpful and speaks English...suggesting things and explaining what things are what. And, we got fish and grits there, too. The girls ate baby octopus (I passed), and all sorts of strange and wonderous sea creatures. Most memorable, and very, very good. 'Spensive.

To get away from the tourists in Venice, head north from San Marco toward Fondamente Nuove and wander the streets.

Waterbuses are very efficient and a water taxi is only for absolutely necessary (like arriving at Marco Polo at midnight!). You can get from Venice Lido to Chioggia by water bus; regular busses also run between Chioggia and the Venice bus terminal.

Some of the Loons stayed on in Venice for two more days; I took the train through Switzerland to Paris...and that's another story...

Author: elvira
Date: 10/18/2000, 10:19 pm ET
I was gone 6 weeks - the week in Venice with the Loons, and 5 weeks in Paris on my own.

I'm glad I've entertained you all with my report - and encouraged at least one of you to try the boating experience - and at least one woman (or man) to try something s/he's never done before.

Lots of time for reflecting, and a thought came to mind: whether traveler or tourist, we go off on our trips not only to explore and see new things in places, but to explore and see new things in ourselves and others. I never knew I liked being on a boat - the motion when the wakes rock it from side to side, the sound of the water slapping against the hull - who knew? Watching the other Loons work as a team, exhorting each other on, collapsing in gales of laughter at our misadventures, seeing the quiet, gentle one - Photog - put herself at risk to save the little dory, then eat a whole octopus! Would not have missed it for the world. I came back packed so full of 'stuff' that I'm happy I had a place to share it.

Now, the five weeks in Paris... hopefully I can condense into a reasonably-sized report for you all. Let's just say it was the best five weeks of my life...

Author: Lisa
Date: 10/19/2000, 12:02 am ET
"Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art."
Freya Stark

...Elvira, I'd love to sit around a campfire with you!

Author: elvira
Date: 10/22/2000, 08:56 pm ET
To kk: If I had had your email address, I would have contacted you directly, but here's the info on the Palladian villas we visited:

Both are in Stra, and are within walking distance of each other. You can do both in one day. First was the Villa Pisani, which is spectacular. The amusing thing is that the horse stables are more elaborate than the house. Seems the family got a little carried away, and didn't have the lira to continue the grandiose plans once the stable was built. There's a wonderful maze in which you really and truly do get lost; in the center (once you find your way) is a tall tower, and everyone starts hollering directions to you (in German, Italian, Croatian, you name it) and it's all really a lot of fun. There is a guide who will come and rescue you if you need it (ahem, uh, we did). The grounds are just beautiful, and the gift shop has a great selection of books, postcards, prints, etc. of the villa.
The other villa was villa Foscarini-Rossi; it is now a place for business conferences, balls, and special exhibits. Though little furniture remains (compared to the Pisani), the frescoes, ceiling paintings, carvings, etc. are still plenty to see. We made sure we visited it because there was a special exhibit of...shoes. Yes, that's my dirty little secret, I love shoes and have way too many. The exhibit was terrific - everything from Anne Klein to Andy Warhol. There was a room set up with all the paraphernalia for shoe making (sketches, lasts, what have you). The villa and grounds are quite beautiful, but unless there's an exhibit that interests you, there are other villas that would probably be better to visit. There wasn't a gift shop, so unless you take your own photos, there's no way to capture the beauty of the interior for your memory book. There's a regular 'city' bus that runs along the Brenta Canal so you can visit the villas you want (there's pretty good signage pointing to the villas along the road); it's also a reasonable bicycle ride. Between the 'public' villas are many, many privately owned villas that you can gawk at from their gates. The Brenta Canal boat tour went by us a few times while we were in Malcontenta, so that's an alternative to the do-it-yourself method (and some of the villas only open for the boat or bus tours).
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Old Jul 4th, 2005, 11:40 AM
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Thank you, Susan P. I have searched for this so many times and no combination of words I could think of would bring up this post. It is a true Fodor's classic, from a great and sorely missed Fodor's poster!
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Old Jul 4th, 2005, 11:49 AM
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Thanks Susan, glad I took this break from preparing for my guests.
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Old Jul 4th, 2005, 11:56 AM
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Yes, I really miss Elvira, too. I had saved this. I don't think the original is here anymore, because if you put "ham tacos" or "sucking mud" in the search box, it brings up a couple of threads where people are asking about it, but not the original.
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Old Jul 4th, 2005, 12:41 PM
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Here's a link to the original. It's not gone, just lost in one of the search engine's black holes.

http://fodors.com/forums/threadselec...d=2&tid=852867
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Old Jul 4th, 2005, 12:51 PM
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Susan! How did you ever find this! Have you been around that long too?

Thank you! Thank you!

Elvira where are you?
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Old Jul 4th, 2005, 02:19 PM
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Dayle, Glad you enjoyed it. And yes, I have been around that long, and longer, since early 1999 or thereabouts.
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Old Jul 4th, 2005, 02:59 PM
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Susan,

Thanks for finding this treasure!!

I must have missed this info....which company did she rent the houseboat from??
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Old Jul 4th, 2005, 03:05 PM
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Bless you SusanP.
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Old Jul 4th, 2005, 04:29 PM
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Thanks SusanP - I really miss Elvira!
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Old Jul 4th, 2005, 07:41 PM
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Bailey, If you go towards the end of the report, you will see that Elvira used Crown Blue Lines to rent the boat. Are you planning to follow their example?
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Old May 16th, 2009, 01:03 PM
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I remember this thread when it was current, so I guess I have been on here longer than I realize. Yikes.
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Old May 16th, 2009, 01:03 PM
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I mean Elvira's thread on Venice!
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Old May 16th, 2009, 04:47 PM
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Me too SeaUrchin. I need to get to Italy ASAP. Too long between trips for me!
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Old May 16th, 2009, 06:21 PM
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Anyone know what happened to Elvira? I loved her posts! And I think I've been on here since 2000 or maybe before, where did the time go?
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Old May 16th, 2009, 09:32 PM
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I can't believe I may have been on Fodors about 10 years!! Unbelievable and a bit frightening.
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Old May 17th, 2009, 02:38 AM
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This is a fantastic trip report!! Thanks SusanP for finding it, what a shame the OP isn't still around to see the longevity of her post. It's Sunday evening here in Sydney and we've just finished dinner. What a lovely way to finish a weekend.....
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