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Our Amazing European Adventure! Including 2 cruises and 7 days in Italy!

Our Amazing European Adventure! Including 2 cruises and 7 days in Italy!

Old Aug 14th, 2013, 08:37 AM
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Looking forward to Fallo.
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Old Aug 16th, 2013, 06:34 AM
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Friday, June 28th

Today is our last day in Italy. Such a bittersweet day, I'm not ready to go home! It’s the day we’re going to Fallo! This is the town where my great grandfather was born. And it’s actually the town that several other relatives came over to the US from as well.

Originally we thought about driving to Fallo on our own. It’s a good thing we didn’t! Not because of the drive, but as we’d later find out – we would have been absolutely lost once we arrived!

As luck would have it, during my research I found out that Rome in Limo, one of the most commonly used tour companies for cruise passengers, happens to do a tour called “Back to Your Roots”! I stumbled across this when I was looking for our port tours. Interestingly for some reason we didn’t book any of our ports with them, but I did find this tour! I contacted them, and they were very easy to work with. Jany always replied by email very quickly – it seemed day or night! Did she every sleep? Was there more than one Jany?

Back when we started planning our trip, last summer, I started doing some pretty heavy family research. Sure – we knew the basics, but if we were going to try to find the “homeland” we had to know the details! So I went onto ancestery.com and did the whole family tree and I have to say it was absolutely fascinating! I found the immigration records for my great grandfather. I saw the ship records for each and every time he came back and forth from the US to not only Italy but other places in Europe! I saw the paperwork where he became a US citizen, with his signature! So, on these papers, his hometown would be listed, with his birth date as well as his parents’ names. Which of course my grandmother knew, but to have it documented was fascinating!

I did hit a wall at my great-great grandfather. Once the records get to Italy it stops. I ended up researching both my mom’s mother’s family and her father’s family. Her father’s family will have to be our return trip to Italy! His side is quite interesting! That one may make for a whole novel, not just a trip report!

Anyway, as our trip got closer, I emailed Jany some of the details so our driver/guide would know where we would be going and what we’d be looking for.

We knew our drive would be about three hours or so. Keith decided to stay back at the apartment again today. He didn’t want to spend more than six hours in the van. Today he planned to check out some of the craft breweries in Rome. Not only is he a chef, but he is a pretty talented home brewer as well.

So, while he slept in, we met our driver, Vincenzo, right at 8 am! We had a nice large van and Vincenzo told us that we’d take the highway out towards the Adriatic Sea and then back track towards Fallo, which is in the Abruzzo region of Italy. He said this would be a smoother ride, less mountainous… even though we’d be backtracking a bit. Coincidentally he was from a town about 25 minutes from Fallo, although he’s never been there himself.

For those interested, Fallo is a tiny town with only less than 150 residents, maybe less. At the time when my great grandfather left Fallo, in the early 1900’s there were over 1000 residents!

We rode along while Vincenzo drove. You would have honestly thought he was going to visit his home town too! He was so enthusiastic about this trip with us! The drive was so scenic, and apparently this wasn’t even the scenic route! We stopped at an Autogrill for a bit of a break, filled up the van with gas and got some snacks. I got an éclair type pastry. And once again – I was quite impressed with the freshness and quality of the food! So far train stations and roadside food has not disappointed us!

When we got close to our destination, Vincenzo told us to get our cameras out! He was funny – he wanted to be sure we’d get pictures of the road signs for Fallo! And the “Benvenuti Fallo” signs! He was great. I feel so lucky that we’ve had such great drivers and guides! Here we are on our last day and every guide and/or driver has been wonderful!

As we approached the town, we were actually a bit surprised at just how modern it all seemed, with respect to where we were! First we saw an actual hotel! Shocking! When the town has 100 or so residents, you don’t expect a hotel! But it certainly was filled with old world charm. This was absolutely nothing like my mom expected. I’d seen some pictures online in my research. She was maybe expecting something more farm like for some reason. I knew it was a medieval hill town type place. It was lovely!

Vincenzo slowed down and spoke Italian to two gentleman on the street, asking them where the City Hall was. With some enthusiastic hand motions we were on our way. Which was funny because there was only one road into the town! We parked our very large, and seemingly out of place van and piled out. I felt like we stuck out like a sore thumb!

We walked into the City Hall building and the first thing we saw was a poster on a bulletin board from a recent election. It may have been in all Italian, but my mom could not believe that of all the names listed she recognized the surnames of more than half of them! If they weren’t family names they were neighbors she grew up with! They were families that also came over with her grand father!

We walked up the steps of the very modern City Hall building and found someone in one of the offices. Not a soul spoke one word of English! Thank Goodness we didn’t make this trip on our own as our original plan was! Vincenzo explained why we were here and who we were looking for. It’s not unusual for Americans to come to parts of Italy looking for a piece of their heritage, but I’m also pretty sure that this little town doesn’t get too many people stopping by too often! They have approximately 30 families that live there!

After some lively conversation, the gentleman went to find the County Clerk. She came back all smiles! My mom and her got along as if they were separated at birth. However, neither could understand a word the other said! Not one word! As I stood there it was as if I was watching a movie – we walked into the room with these big books and boxes of records….

It was very exciting! We had our paper printout from ancestry.com, words were being spoken a mile a minute – in English and Italian and Vincenzo was translating all the while! There was laughing and hands were going as only the Italians do! My mom was waving her hands, the clerk waving hers...The town Sheriff came in and joined in the conversation, his hands started going too. My mom talking to them both as if they could understand eachother and they talking to her as if she could understand them! I stood there watching this exchange and my mom was just so at home here! I kept thinking how much she has loved Italy!

Only there was a problem, they kept looking and they couldn’t find Patrizio DiVito! It’s not that we were in the wrong place, of course he was born here – we know that. But their records don’t go back far enough. When they built this City Hall, they didn’t put the oldest records here. Did we have time to go to the main hall of records? It’s in another town? That would give us more information. We could find HIS card? Vincenzo was pointing at his watch and telling them we’re only here for one day and we’d need an appointment if we went to the other town. Oh my!

But wait – that’s ok because they can still show us the house that was the DiVito house! With a town this small, when a family owns property, they really only have one home and it’s passed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately the “last” of the DiVitos passed away this past March, but we can see the house and see the town!

It wasn’t surprising that there wouldn’t have been any other DiVitos because my great grandfather, his father, and his sister all came to America. As a matter of fact, it’s a mystery as to who that last DiVito is a decedent from! We’ve got to do some research on that - maybe even a trip back to ask?

Hugs were exchanged between my mom and the County Clerk. She was so upset she couldn’t find my great grandfather’s information. She must have searched every box and book for it! However, she was very pleased that we could see the house that he likely grew up in! And to see the town itself! Honestly, being here was like visiting with old friends!

So, we left the courthouse, with an escort from the Sheriff so that he could show us the house – the American family escorted down the street…the Italians started looking out their windows – who were these people in our town? He’d call up to them – in Italian – you could make out some words – “America” “DiVito” “familia” And then an “ahhhhh” He’d ask them if they knew Patrizio – well of course not – he left in 1910! They did know the DiVito who recently passed away though! They’d wave to us and smile!

So we walked up to the house – it was charming! Lovely! It’s currently vacant if anyone is looking! We saw the town church – it’s beautiful inside! Then the sheriff left us to just wander around the town a bit. It didn’t take long! Like so many little medieval towns seem to be, it’s basically a one street circle or loop. We walked through, took some pictures and when we got back to where we entered the town, Vincenzo told us we could wait at the “bench” and he would go get the van for us.

On our way out of town we stopped at the Fallo Hotel for lunch. We of course had Vincenzo join us. He was so much more than a driver that day! And again, thankfully he joined us for lunch! Not that we couldn’t have figured it out – but this particular restaurant was 100% all Italian! The menu – all Italian! And in his charming way, he asked us what we might like for lunch, even if it wasn’t necessarily on the menu, and what do you know – that’s what we got. I believe my dad got something from the menu, but Alex and I had gnocchi with traditional sauce and my mom and Megan had spaghetti carbonara. Neither of those items were on the menu and both were phenomenal! We had some starters, the five of us had entrees, I’m pretty sure there was wine involved and this meal was half the price of our over priced Panini lunch by the Vatican yesterday! Location is everything!

We decided that our drive back should be through the mountains instead of taking the highway. We were feeling adventurous now! We went through several little hill towns and it was just beautiful! Of course our stomachs were full and before long we were all sleeping!

All in all our day to Fallo was a huge success! It was something we’ll remember forever! On our next trip we’ll have to do the same for my mother’s father’s father!

Next up…our last night in Rome! And the pictures from the day!
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Old Aug 16th, 2013, 06:44 AM
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Wow! What a wonderful experience to give your mother.
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Old Aug 16th, 2013, 07:52 AM
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Shelly, this is the best post of your long trip. Heartwarming to see how your research on your family roots led to a special day.
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Old Aug 16th, 2013, 09:51 AM
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Thank you! I was so glad to have had this day as our last day. It really was the perfect ending to our journey. We had traveled so many different places and seen so many amazing things, but this honestly was the most meaningful. My parents both loved the entire trip, but of course my mom felt a huge connection to Italy. Her father's roots are in Rome. His father wasn't born in Rome, but another remote little town, but his family has property there today somewhere. A villa on the outskirts I hear! She kept telling me that various people in Rome would remind her of her uncles or even her father (who had passed away a few years ago). There are definitely still fairly close relatives to his family still in Rome and the area so she would like to go back and visit there in the future, and look them up. She has cousins that currently go over every year and visit family. She just needs to follow up with them.

But with Fallo, this was so "old country" Italy! Her mother so often would talk about her father and how he must have grown up! How "all of the Italians" left and came to Philadelphia and what that was like for them.

We got to show my grandmother and her sister the pictures from Fallo this past weekend and they were just giddy! They loved seeing where their father was from! They're in their late 80s now, so for them this was a dream come true to see these pictures! Just imagine them listening as we told them the story of this day!
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Old Aug 16th, 2013, 06:45 PM
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Make sure your mother returns with her cousins.
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Old Aug 17th, 2013, 02:43 AM
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Shell Just wanted you to know I did hope over to your post and am slllowly plowing through all the exquisite info
Lots to catch up on but I am absorbing AND copying quite a bit as I will be going on the Epic as well and like you I am a staunch anti-offshore cruise tour person
Unlike you though I'll be traveling by myself so I hope I can find some more adventurous souls I am booked as part of a larger group but the organizer is already encouraging them to book the ship tours Do you recall even one port where the other cruisers may have gotten good value?
Also as has been stated time and time again this is an absolutely insightful wonderful delightful even, report and I give you a million thanks for taking the time and effort to share your family's experiences
Which brings me to the photos which are definitely the highlight Your Son makes me laugh Seems he tries to NOT be like his Father but is very much so despite the trying And Baby Girl is just as sweet as pudding even with the melt down I think 3 weeks was a great run And like everyone else you may have missed your calling Methinks there's a photographer in your soul (-; Else I need to invest in the Nikon DL5000 ASAP!
I'll probably have questions later after I go over my "notes" But sounds like you made sure you guys Trip of a Lifetime was One for the Ages so Brava to you and I'm glad you guys made it home safely
Au Revoir! (for now)
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Old Aug 17th, 2013, 04:17 AM
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Wow, this has been one of the best trip reports I have ever read. What an amazing adventure and opportunity for your family. The pictures have been incredible as well. Thank you for sharing.
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Old Aug 17th, 2013, 04:38 AM
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You are my hero! Great photos and fun report. The day in Fallo must have been so special for your mom.
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Old Aug 17th, 2013, 05:55 AM
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R2da - have you checked out cruisecritic.com? If not, pop over there and go to the roll call boards. Find your sailing. Hopefully there's some activity. You can often find groups who are doing private tours and join in with them! We had a couple from Ireland with us on two tours and also a family from England with us on another tour. This was all arranged through cruise critic.

If that doesn't work out - the only time I ever really spoke to passengers about their tours was on the Marseilles day. We bumped into a group from the ship in Les Baux. They seemed happy with their tour and it sounded like they got to go to quite a few locations. That was nice because as I mentioned, so many passengers seem to give that port a pass because they don't know what to do or they stay in Marseilles and are disappointed.

Thank you so much for the compliments on the photos!

And feel free to ask away, any questions you may have! We had a great trip!
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Old Aug 17th, 2013, 11:10 AM
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TDudette and trvlgirlmq - thanks so much! I have our last night to finish up and I'll also post the pictures from our last day. If not this afternoon, I hope to get to it this weekend!

Thanks for following along until the end!
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Old Aug 18th, 2013, 07:22 AM
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I left off after our fantastic trip to Fallo...here we are, our last evening in Rome! Our trip is coming to an end, and fast!

We returned to our apartment and had some time to relax for a bit. We looked through the various booklets that Alessandra had left us and tried to decide where to go for dinner. We had recommendations from our guide yesterday, Mike, and we also had our list from our first night – our tour with Bruno. So many options! It was our last night – we wanted it to be special. While we tossed ideas around I also did most of our packing. I didn’t want to have to come back tonight and deal with it.

We knew one destination for sure tonight would be the Trevi Fountain. So off we went, walking towards that direction. We had the address of one of the restaurants that Mike recommended, a place called Macerone. This would have been perfect yesterday! But they only had pasta – makes sense given the name right? We all had pasta for lunch and while really I wouldn’t have had a problem with more pasta, who would really? Some in our group wanted pizza…um, think Alex! So we kept looking.

Really, not a big deal, there must be more restaurants than anything else in Rome! We found a place a few blocks past the Piazza Rotunda on a nice street. I absolutely love eating outside, musicians strolling by – sure they want a tip, but it’s such an amazing atmosphere! We had a good meal. Not the best of the trip, but it was good and the service was very good. We always had the most fantastic waiters and waitresses. They always served us with a smile and loved to joke with us and the kids. They often asked us where we were from and how long we’d be in Italy. To be honest, this is one of the things I miss the most since being home. I hate the rushed feeling you get when eating out in the states. It really has come to bother me when the servers clear you plates while part of your group is still eating. It bothers me when they bring your check and place it at the table stating "no rush", sometimes before you're even finished eating - but you know they just want to get you out of there so they can get your table filled for the next group so they can get their next tip. I miss the slow paced meals in Europe. I miss the feeling that you're dining in a restaurant where you're treated like part of the family, where they honestly want you to enjoy every bite of food and not just bringing in dollars....

After dinner the waitress offered us complimentary shots of Lemoncello and asked if the kids could have some. Again with the alcohol for kids! When I seemed a bit taken aback, they waitress laughed and said – they’re on vacation right? Alex seemed to indicate to her that he agreed and she brought both kids very watered down shots! We toasted our final night and fantastic trip!

Keith decided to head back to the apartment instead of walking to the Trevi fountain. I don’t think he has the desire to toss a coin in or fight the crowds there!

The rest of us made our way – it was our first time out really exploring Rome at night. Every other time we knew exactly how to get from point A to point B. This time we knew our destination but not so much how to get there. Off we went, map in hand! We made it without getting lost and we enjoyed the lively streets at night. Although I will say that G-pop was starting to look tired, his knee was starting to bother him. It took 21 days, but I think he’s fading! And Mimi, she just might be getting tired too! Sometimes I forget that they’re almost 70 years old! They have kept up so well with us that it’s hard to remember!

But we did it, we made it to the fountain, which if you can manage to get past the craziness of the crowds and the people trying to force roses upon you…is really a stunning site all lit up at night!

Alex, Megan and I made our way down to the actual edge and tossed in our coins. We will be back! This was our insurance! Whew – we made it, we took our pictures, we had our moment at the edge of the fountain and we enjoyed our time! Isn’t that what it’s all about?

We spent a bit of time in the area getting a few more souvenirs. Somehow though, I never found that “one” perfect thing. Again – another reason to return! This is something I tend to do when I travel – I see things I like and never buy them – I seem to think I’ll find something I’ll like better – I need to realize if I like something enough, to just go with my gut and make that purchase! I’m not talking expensive things either! Maybe a scarf or a little piece of art? Anything...then I get home and feel like I missed out on those little pieces. Anyway – I do collect magnets – I have one for every city or town that I’ve been to and I hang them on a whiteboard in my office.

We walked back to our apartment and on the way we stopped back at the gelato place right next to the Albergo del Senato. The one that Megan and I had our very first gelato on the first afternoon when we arrived in Rome almost three weeks ago! It seemed only fitting that we would have our last gelato here now tonight!

We enjoyed our gelato and walked slowly back to the apartment. Stopping to say goodnight to our resident cats at Largo Argentina.

It was late, time for bed…of course as I was backing up my pictures from the day, Alex brings me his cell phone – he dropped it in a sink of water while he was brushing his teeth. Really? It won’t turn on. Ok…we’ll let it dry out overnight. Obviously we have no rice here for the rice technique! What a kid, 3 pairs of sunglasses and now the cell phone! It's a good thing he makes me laugh almost every day!

It was time for bed, tomorrow we have to say good by to Europe. Bummer.

Here is the link to the pictures from Fallo and our last night in Rome!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnp...7635069168367/

I guess I'll have just a little bit of wrap up from our last morning and the flight home left!
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Old Aug 18th, 2013, 07:44 AM
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I have enjoyed every morsel of your trip story and your pictures! I am glad that you can squeeze out another segment for the last day.

Every time you stopped half way through a day, I was disappointed and couldn't wait for the next part. On the other hand I was glad that you stopped which made the trip tale longer!

Thanks for sharing!
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Old Aug 18th, 2013, 10:28 AM
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Shelly,
Thank you for your detailed and enthusiastic trip report!
I thought you'd be interested in reading this article from today's New York Times Travel section. It's written by another native of Pennsylvania in search of his Italian roots.
http://travel.nytimes.com/2013/08/18...tml?ref=travel.
I thought of you and your family as I was reading it.
HT
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Old Aug 18th, 2013, 11:27 AM
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Thanks for the tip about Cruisecritic.com No I had not checked them out. I will let you know what I find.
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Old Aug 19th, 2013, 05:33 AM
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HappyTrvlr - Thanks for that link to the NYT story! It was a great read!
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Old Aug 19th, 2013, 08:12 AM
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So, a final time to say wonderful photos and a great job of organizing and relating your TR, ShellD. Many thanks for sharing it all, TDu
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Old Aug 19th, 2013, 01:19 PM
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Saturday, June 29th

It’s time to go home. I got up early today so I could enjoy the last morning somewhat before the rush of leaving. I got up and dressed and then sat out on the beautiful terrace. Our apartment was perfect. Our entire trip was amazing. One that I will never forget. I hope the kids have memories that they won’t forget as well.

People often say they get to go on trips of a lifetime. In this case, I think ours really was. There was nothing I would have changed. Looking back, every single day was perfect. We are lucky. Very lucky.

Alessandra came by the apartment right on time, at 8:30. She did a quick run through and told us that we left everything just perfect. I could tell she was pleased. She returned our security deposit. I told her that if we ever returned, we would certainly stay here!

We walked out the giant doors and our driver from Rome Cabs was waiting right there for us. Right on time, at 8:45. We left Rome, and arrived at the airport.

As usual, my dad forgot to pack his little Swiss Army knife, he left it in his carry on, and had that confiscated. My mom mentioned that she always knows what she can get him for Christmas because he always gets one taken away from him!

The airport was packed, there wasn't even room to sit, except for on the floor, and our flight was delayed for about an hour or so. But everything was smooth.

We had a little lunch in the airport. I bought Megan some spicy salami and Pecorino cheese in one of the shops! I surprised her with it on the plane. It was in a little snack pack.

Our flight home was direct. Not bad at all. I got to catch up on some movies. I never get to see movies anymore. Especially my picks! I personally enjoyed the flight. It was quite relaxing!

We arrived home to four cats who seemed to miss us very much and a huge stack of mail.

Here it is now nearly two months later and I can’t help feel like our trip was so much more than a vacation. A good friend of mine told me before I left that I would come back a different person. I didn’t really understand that at the time. He was right.

I want to thank those of you who hung on and read my adventures! And those who enjoyed my photos...that means so much to me!

I also really want to thank so many of you who helped out during the past year when I was planning my trip. I started this totally overwhelmed. I had traveled independently throughout various parts of Latin America and had no problems planning those trips. But this one, it seemed so overwhelming to me! Coordinating trains, drivers, tours, cruises... I had no idea where to start. Through reading other people's trip reports and getting the recommendations of various hotels, tour guides, and perhaps most importantly the help figuring out how to use the trains - it all fell into place! So many questions were answered, either directly or non directly here. I can not thank the participants enough.

I know the type of trip we took is not a typical fodors European vacation - most here don't do cruises, and maybe not so many structured tours. But this worked for us on this trip. When we go back, our next trip to Italy, or wherever in Europe we land, will likely be much different. Now that we had our introduction - we're ready for more! At least I know I am!

Now I suppose I have to go back to living vicariously through other's trip reports...which isn't a bad thing at all!
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Old Aug 19th, 2013, 01:35 PM
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I'm so sorry your trip report is over. I have loved reading it! I guess you just have to take another vacation.
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Old Aug 19th, 2013, 02:09 PM
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Thanks again for the time and energy you gave to this report. I really enjoyed getting to read a little more each day. I am sad it's over. If you want to drag it out a little further, perhaps an overview of your favorite places/moments of the trip? (And/or the favorites of the rest of the family? ). Thanks again for sharing such a wonderful trip!
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