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Rome, Bologna and Ravenna -- a trip report


Feb 26th, 2007, 09:38 AM
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Rome, Bologna and Ravenna -- a trip report

If it hadn’t been for the angel wings things might have been different. I saw them one evening in a window on the Via Dei Coronari -- old and worn, colors faded. They were about seven inches long with eight or nine orders of feathers, down to bare wood at one small section, and two rusted pins on each which would have joined them to the body. It was just at closing and we were leaving Rome for Bologna the next morning. I resolved to return on Friday to begin negotiations . . .

We were back in Italy after almost five years, midway through a nine day trip to Rome, Bologna and Ravenna. We had resolved to skip some old favorites in Rome and visit sites we had either missed, or not revisited for many years. We landed in Rome on Saturday morning, departed for Bologna on Wednesday, returned to Rome on Friday, and departed Sunday morning for the US.

I‘ll try and spare you my threadbare impressions of the more famous attractions, concentrating on those I haven’t seen mentioned as much.

Rome -- Lodging

We decided to stay in two hotels, changing after the trip to Bologna. Our first was the Santa Chiara, well-known here I’m sure. It is one the square of behind the Pantheon, somewhat less frenetic than the Piazza della Rotonda. We found it convenient and well run. The staff was helpful and reliable with wake up calls, directions, estimations of time needed, etc. And they let me ask for the key in Italian. The room was a bit small for a triple, but comfortable and attractive in a spare, elegant way.

On our return we stayed at the Albergo Portoghesi -- on the other end of the historic district at the point where the Via dell’Orso meets the Portoghesi. We chose it for its proximity to the Vatican. We loved this place. Our room -- they call it an appartamento -- was a small suite. Window overlooking the garden of a picturesque pile across the street, bath off the main bedroom. Another competent and friendly staff. The location is superb. You are a few minutes walk from the Pantheon and Piazza Navonna, but the location is much quieter. If you intend to visit the Castel Sant Angelo or Vatican, you’re just across the river.

Rome -- Food

First of all, I must apologize. For years I’ve been running down Roman pizza, perhaps because the last time we visited was after a stop in Naples. I was wrong. It is possible to have very good pizza indeed in Rome. We went to Pizzeria Baffetto at Via Governo Vecchio 114, often recommended here, the first night. Crowded and requiring a bit of a wait but offering a superb thin yet chewy crust, fragrant sauce and most important, a light hand with the silky cheese. Now I’ll ruin it for you -- I always order anchovy pizza. These marvelous little fish are so despised in the US that I hesitate in local pizzerias, wondering just how long they’ve lain waiting for my order. I don’t have that problem in anchovy-friendly countries such as Italy, and it is hard to get me away from them.

Next night was the famous antipasti selection at l’Orso 80. You want to be hungry if you do this. The mixed antipasto order includes: grilled marinated eggplant, roasted red peppers, oil-cured olives, celery and fennel salad, seafood salad with scungilli, shrimp and mussels, fried rice balls, fried zucchini, beans simmered in tomato broth, grilled zucchini, meatballs in tomato sauce, steamed artichokes dressed in olive oil, and a baked flat bread -- pizza dough, and judging by its quality, pizza would be a good bet here, too -- with a little oil and salt. I may have forgotten something but you get the idea. Add the house rosso and you have a very satisfying meal.

Monday was quite tiring, as you will hear, and we ducked in Dai Tre Amici at Via della Rotonde 7-8-9, just steps from our hotel. This is a tourist oriented place, even more-so than the two above, but turns out a pretty serviceable roast lamb. I preceded it with orrichietta and broccoli redolent of garlic and pecorino romano cheese. I can recommend it to anyone wandering around the Pantheon about dinner time. Ordered the house red here too, amazing value at about 6€.

Our final dinner before leaving for Bologna was at Al Pompiere (Via Santa Maria dei Calderari 38) -- a ghetto institution. Although I’ve seen it mentioned in a guide book or two, the overwhelming majority of the patrons are Italian -- frequently in groups of eight or ten. I had the carcioffi alla giudeca -- the celebrated deep-fried artichoke. The leaves were a crisp light to dark brown, the heart and stalk tender and pale green -- as beautiful as it was delicious. I followed it with a pasta caccia e pepe. Here they used a ridged tubular pasta about the size of ziti, perfectly undercooked, and the cheese flavor predominated. My main dish was tender wild boar braised in tomato. Was it good? Oh yes. I think I would have enjoyed it quite as much even if I hadn’t been thinking of the angel wings I’d seen earlier in the evening, just inside the door of a closing antique shop . . .
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Feb 26th, 2007, 10:24 AM
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Good start. Looking forward to the Ravenna portion.
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Feb 26th, 2007, 11:47 AM
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Thanks -- I’l be spending some time on Ravenna.

Looking over the first sections, I see I forgot to mention the prosciutto and melon included in the antipasto at l’Orso 80. Knew I’d leave something out.

Rome -- Sightseeing

Our plane was scheduled to depart JFK at 9:00 PM but was delayed by almost two hours. We arrived late Saturday morning. By the time we reached the city, checked in and napped, the day was nearly gone. We walked over to the Capitoline hill for a look over the Forum, then took a circuit of the old town before dinner.

For many years I came to Rome to see the ruins of the ancient city. In all that time, though, I had never visited the Tomb of the Scipios, the great patrician family of which Scipio Africanus, who defeated Hannibal, was the most celebrated. So for Sunday I’d planned a visit to the tomb and the nearby columbarium of , perhaps a walk on the walls at the Porta Sant Sebastiano, and a visit to the catacombs of San Callisto. Things went wrong from the first. We’d planned to take the Archeobus, but when it arrived at its stop in the Piazza Venezia it was full, and the guide told us the next one would be full, too. We grabbed a taxi and beat the bus to the gates. The guide was amazed to see us there. We walked back along the Via di Porta San Sebastiano to where the map and some guide books said we would find the ancient tomb. We found it, but the gate looked to have been locked a long time ago. A sign off to the side said that the site was closed for reasons of safety. There was no bell to ring for the porter. It was a small consolation to gaze at the door of the tomb and think of Scipio visiting his hallowed ancestors here. He himself was not buried in the tomb -- he came to think the Romans ungrateful for his past services, and went into self-imposed exile.

Rain was falling as we made our way back to the gate. We decided to walk the walls some other time, and set off on foot down the Appia Antica. The parking area for San Callisto is about a kilometer from the catacombs themselves. As we entered, we saw a sign informing us that the catacombs would be closed for a period not ending until two days ahead. What to do?

We decided to walk to the catacombs of Santa Domitilla. To reach these you turn right at the crossroads and follow the Via Ardeatina about a kilometer, then turn right along the Via della Sette Chiese for a shorter walk to the catacombs. We got there just in time for the last tour of the morning. The highlight of these particular catacombs is a fresco of the apostles on the arch of a family sepulcher. There are also some fine columns still in place from the original basilica. All too soon we were done and outside. We walked back to the Appia Antica, took a look at the church of Quo Vadis, then set off for the city. My son had never been to the baths of Caracalla, so we stopped off to show him around. We stopped for lunch at a tavola calda. It was mid afternoon. Rain splattered on the streets and from nowhere hordes of African and Pakistani vendors appeared with handfuls of cheap umbrellas for sale. We walked back to the hotel in the rain.

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Feb 26th, 2007, 03:39 PM
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I don't have time to read all this now, so I'm posting so I can find it. I look forward to it very much. I'll be in Venice, Bologna, Ravenna & Rome in July, so this is perfect!
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Feb 26th, 2007, 04:38 PM
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Heading to Rome in 12 days.

Loved the archaeology. And your review of Orso 80 was bang on. Already I am slavering -- tastebuds pumping like Britney Spears on Dexedrine.

(You think I jest -- No, seriously, my salivary glands ARE reacting to your evocative prose. Bravo, Pausanias -- you know how to write!)
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Feb 26th, 2007, 07:46 PM
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Anxiously awaiting your Bologna installment ... more, please!
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Feb 27th, 2007, 07:08 AM
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waiting for Bologna!
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Feb 27th, 2007, 08:02 AM
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Thank you all for your kind comments. I hope I don’t disappoint you when my meager knowledge of Bologna and Ravenna is revealed.

Looking at the previous installments, I see I have once again made a few errors. I misspelled orecchiete and failed to supply the name of the former occupant of the columbarium near the Tomb of the Scipios, which was Pomponius Hylas. This is a timely discovery, as the next section begins with another mistake. I’ll take advantage of it to introduce a new style of subtitle.

Part Three -- In which the narrator discovers he has made a grievous error, but is rescued from the consequences thereof by a kindly stranger.

We dawdled a bit about the room before leaving for our 5 PM reservation at the Borghese Gallery, which required arriving to pick up our tickets at 4:30. I’d had some trouble securing the reservations. The website and I did not get along. I thought I’d made the reservations for three of us, but when the confirmation came back, discovered I’d reserved only one space. I got online and applied for two more, and was relieved when they arrived. I printed out the receipts to bring to Rome.

The taxi driver had a hard time getting started, dodging tour groups and strollers on the narrow streets around the hotel. I was surprised that the city was so crowded in February. Whether you describe it as smothered or drowning or deluged with tourists, we were there. The driver avoided them all and got us there on time.

I handed the receipts to the clerk at the ticket desk at the Borghese. He inspected them and said, “Yes, but there are two tickets for five o’clock, and one for three o’clock.” I was stunned. How had I done that, and how had I failed to notice? The answer to the second was easy -- I hadn’t looked. He checked his computer and grimaced “Sorry, I don’t have any extra tickets available.” I bought the two tickets I’d reserved correctly. The clerk told me to return at five, in case there were any cancellations.

“Like there was at three,” my wife observed, to their considerable amusement.

We moved to the crowded waiting area. “Oh, it won’t be so bad,” I said. “There’s the bookstore and the cafe for me to pass the time in. Anyway, I’ve already been.”

“Thirty years ago.”

At that moment the clerk called me back to his desk. Apparently a group had made four reservations, but only three were coming. He sold me the fourth. Saved.

Well, you all know about the Borghese. I had only the vaguest memory of the place, remembering Bernini’s great sculptures, but forgetting the Caravaggios and other paintings, and more strangely, given my interests, the enormous and wonderful collection of classical sculpture and mosaics. It took us about an hour and a half. Since we had extra time, we revisited the sculpture galleries, and most especially the astonishing Apollo and Daphne. My son pointed out that set against the wall behind the masterpiece is a small sculpture treating the same theme, which simply shows Apollo contemplating a leaf. “Somewhat less inspired,” was his opinion.

We left the gallery and crossed the Borghese Gardens in the twilight, entering the gates at the head of the Via Veneto, then making our way to the Spanish Steps and on the l’Orso 80, for the meal described above. We returned to the Santa Chiara and turned in early, still jet-lagged, for we wanted to be rested for our Scavi tour at the Vatican, scheduled for 9 AM.

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Feb 27th, 2007, 08:20 AM
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Excellent! I've already bookmarked it so I can find the remainder!
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Feb 28th, 2007, 09:02 AM
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Scavi -- Five Easy Chiese -- Ostia

The Scavi tour comes highly recommended here, and in my opinion deserves the praise. It might be the most interesting hour you’ll spend touring Rome. Our guide was learned, comfortable with Latin and Greek, and very effectively building the case for identifying the tomb under the altar as that of St Peter. Being a non-religious person, I was both a little surprised and heartened to think that this might be a matter of deep concern to some. No doubt it figures prominently in the Fundamentalist vs Established Church debates, of which I am happily not a part. At any rate, our guide was scholarly enough to confine herself to expressing the high likelihood that we were indeed visiting the tomb of Peter.

As you walk through the necropolis, buried (for which he paid steep compensation) by Constantine you’ll notice steps leading from the sepulchers to the roof. They were used by Romans who, after visiting the dear departed, picnicked or feasted there, keeping company with lost family. I wondered if the Mexican Day of the Dead is a vestige of this tradition.

Afterwards we toured St Peter’s, paying particular attention to the contributions of Bernini. To tell the truth, I’d held a grudge against him for a long time over his requisition of the bronze from the Pantheon. While in the altar area this time, though, somewhat intimidated by the towering figures of the saints, I was struck by the basilica’s tumultuous, operatic atmosphere. I don’t think I’d recognized it on earlier visits.

After leaving the Basilica we had lunch at the small Hostaria Pizzeria “Da Vito and Dina” at 50 Via Degli Scipione, a few blocks away. The place had been recommended by an acquaintance, who’d been taken there by an acquaintance of his at the Vatican. It seems to have a small stream of local clientele as well as a trickle of tourists. A quiet, unassuming place to have a pretty good pizza or plate of pasta. Vito worked in a restaurant in California for a while, though he seems to have forgotten most of his English, and will show you a framed article about it showing him in a tux. He may introduce himself as Vito Corleone. If you need a bite while in the area give him a try -- I fear Dina rules with an iron hand, and the poor man needs a little friendly company.

We took the Metro to Termini, bought our roundtrip tickets to Bologna, and crossed the square to the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. This was built by Michelangelo in the remains of the tepidarium and frigidarium of the Baths of Diocletian. Obviously it is much reworked, but you are still in a largely fourth century building. If you would like an idea of what the ancient baths might have looked like in their prime, stop in.

We walked another few blocks to the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vittoria to see -- you guessed! -- Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Theresa.

Further along we saw the fine glittering mosaics at the Basilica di Santa Pudenziana al Viminale, though there was no custodian to let us in the see the Roman baths said to be behind a door on the left. Then on to the more extensive and dazzling mosaics at the Basilica di Sanya Prassede all’Esquilino -- you’re getting to know the hills, now. Stopping at these two churches, as well as Santa Maria Maggiore, to view the mosaics will be of great interest to anyone contemplating a trip to to see those in Ravenna.

We made one final stop at St Pietro in Vincoli. First time visitors to Rome would do well to make this stop early. In attempting to cross Roman streets you are engaged in a contest with the drivers. Who will give way? Establishing eye contact with the driver will often compel his grudging submission to the rule of the crosswalk. For the best effect, you want to duplicate the expression on Michelangelo’s Moses. A set of horns might help, too.

We were pretty beat, ate at Dai Tre Amici as mentioned above. Took a walk by the Pantheon. Vendors were shooting whirly-gigs carrying multi-colored light sticks into the sky.

Our fourth day we visited Ostia Antica. Not as rich an experience at Pompeii, there are still some extremely interesting details -- the fountains, the taverns, the three storey insulae and the mosaics. There is now a cafeteria, so you don’t have to eat at the Barco di Aeneas or whatever, where the poor waiters are forced to scurry around in Roman tunics. We just grabbed a sandwich at the cafe outside the train station. Wasn’t bad, we lived.

It was on this evening that I found the angel wings just to the left of the door of a shop on the Via Dei Coronari, which have haunted me ever since. All right, so it’s only been a week. Still.

Next installment -- Bologna and Ravenna

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Feb 28th, 2007, 09:56 AM
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I saw some angel wings while in Rome in January made out of alabaster and lite from underneath. They were in an art gallery and were stunning.
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Feb 28th, 2007, 04:35 PM
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We are heading to Bologna and Ravenna in May, so we anxiously await your report.
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Mar 1st, 2007, 09:03 AM
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I was surprised to read the a post yesterday in which someone said Bologna was not a walkable city. I have to disagree. In my opinion, walking is one of Bologna’s main attractions.

We arrived on the Euro Star train at about 1:15 PM. The trip takes about two hours and forty-five minutes, and stops briefly in Florence. Before leaving the train station we bought our tickets for next day’s trip to Ravenna.

Hotel Orologio, via IV Novembre 10

The hotel is slightly off the Piazza Maggiore -- a matter of steps. It’s a bit quirky. The entrance is beside a bank, which occupies the greater part of what would normally be the lobby. (Convenient ATM, though.) The elevator stops a floor above the lobby, across from a large public room and the breakfast salon. There was a complimentary split of Chianti in our suite, which was quite nice -- a pair of rooms linked by a hall. The bath was off the hallway. However, there was a problem with a musty odor which persisted through the first day. Couldn’t find the source -- the room was spotless and nicely furnished. It lessened considerably the second day. The staff was young and friendly.

Some Lunch --

We left in search of lunch, looking for something light. A near circuit of the square presented only uninspiring choices. We cast a wider net and stopped outside an alimentari looking longingly at the cheeses and hams and sausages, tortellini and ravioli and breads. I felt pangs in the stomach and and experienced almost painful salivation -- this place almost made the old Balducci’s in the Village look like a 7-11. “If only they served food . . .” I began. We looked in the door. They did. We had stumbled unawares on Tamburini, via Caprarie 1, and it had a tavola calda operation in the back, jammed with customers. We joined them. I had a plate of tortellini in a tomato sauce, some bread, a salad and a bottle of beer. I still regret not ordering the . . . I don’t know what. It was some sort of pork filet wrapped in bacon and were sizzling on the tray. I thought it might be too much for lunch, but now it’s out of reach. Learn from my errors!

Some Walking --

I suppose the reason Bologna does not enjoy a high tourist profile is that it lacks any real “must see” attraction. Since it has many “must eat” attractions it will appeal to the traveller content with soaking up the local atmosphere and vino. Personally I found it beautiful. It is a well preserved medieval city, the terra cotta facing on many of the buildings and the columns of the arcades give it a uniform hue -- it’s almost as much “of a piece” as Bath, England. The arcades themselves invite strolling -- no need to hurry from a rain shower. We passed by the due torri -- leaning medieval towers -- and walked through the university down the Via Zamboni. One of the colleges our son is applying to has a study broad program at the University of Bologna, so we considered it yet another school visit. I could hear his mind clicking as he absorbed the possibilities. Students thronged in and out of classroom buildings, rolled by on bicycles, smoked cigarettes under the porticoes and buzzed off on motor scooters. The neighborhood catered to student budgets -- small shops, bare bones bars and inexpensive restaurants.

At some point the school petered out. We turned right and reached some very high-end streets in short order. Shoppers will not be disappointed in Bologna. I noticed an attractive restaurant across the way and took its card to return to later. We ended up at the Piaaza Maggiore again, but it was as if I was seeing it for the first time. With its crenelations and machicolations, towers, banners and massive gates, it must be one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. In this case, however, its beauty is marred by its Basilica, San Petronio. For some reason the facade was never completed. There’s marble on the lower parts, and then, bare stone. Inside too, its major attraction is its vast scale. The arches and columns soar to 45 meters in height. The coronation of the odious Charles V took place here, and the great astronomer Cassini constructed a meridian line. In size it is one of the world’s greatest churches, but I think few will love it.

Some Dinner --

We returned to the restaurant, Da Cesari, Via de’ Carbonesi 8, for dinner. This is a small busy, friendly place, wood-paneled, and with old bottles of Barolo and lesser vintages lining the walls. They were putting out plates of prosciutto and mortadella at a reserved table. We were offered their house aperitif -- a blend of white wine, Compari and fresh strawberry juice. I had the tagliatelle Bolognese (I felt obliged on my first visit to the city), followed by a roast breast of duck seasoned with rosemary and garlic, and nearly swooned. My son’s first course was a pumpkin filled ravioli which drew raves. I ordered a very satisfactory sangiovese, but don’t recall the vineyard, and felt so well I followed it with a after dinner grappa. While we were eating the proprietor, and enormous, energetic guy, discussed the menu and options with many of the diners, engaging in a spirited question and answer about the merits of each dish. It was one of those times when I truly regretted my rudimentary grasp of Italian. However, a woman I assume was his daughter took very good care us.

Well, this has gone on too long. Ravenna and a little more about Bologna next installment.
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Mar 1st, 2007, 10:06 AM
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Thanks for the good Bologna info. Will be traveling to Emilia-Romagna. Looking forward to more of your report.
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Mar 1st, 2007, 10:14 AM
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Hi, pausanias -

You've certainly not gone on too long. Great report- thanks .

regards, ann
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Mar 1st, 2007, 03:27 PM
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Oh Thank you so much--this is just the info we were hoping for about Bologna--we too will be staying off the Piazza Maggiore--2 different hotels--3 days at the beginning at one, then Venice, the 3 days at another, also in the same vicinity. Both of those have gotten good reviews, but we had to book separately (Hotel Touring and Hotel Porta San Mamolo). Your restaurant cues are great for us--I had read reviews of both but no personal recommendations. We are planning a day in Ravenna (by train from Bologna) and look forward to your recommendations there as well. If you have additional suggestions on Bologna, I look forward to them.

Take care,
Robyn France
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Mar 1st, 2007, 04:35 PM
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Haven't been to Bologna yet, sounds wonderful. Yum Pumkin ravioli!!
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Mar 1st, 2007, 07:45 PM
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Nice report. Can you tell us the general location of the Tamburini? I can't find the street on my map.
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Mar 2nd, 2007, 05:23 AM
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Holly --

Does your map should show the Piazza Maggiore and the two towers? They are connected by a major way called the Via Rizzoli (Running east from the Piazza). The street just below Rizzoli (to the south) is the Via Caprarie.

Thanks all for your comments. More on the way.

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Mar 2nd, 2007, 06:36 AM
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Got it! (I think) Must be one of those un-named streets. Thanks.
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