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Trip Report: Family4Travels for 3 weeks to Piedmont , Ligurian Coast, Tuscany and Rome

Trip Report: Family4Travels for 3 weeks to Piedmont , Ligurian Coast, Tuscany and Rome

Jul 3rd, 2006, 09:04 AM
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Trip Report: Family4Travels for 3 weeks to Piedmont , Ligurian Coast, Tuscany and Rome

We just returned from a 3 week trip to Italy. We stayed 5 nights in Piedmonte (Acqui Terme), 4 nights on the Ligurian Coast (Lerici), 5 nights in Tuscany (Castellina in Chianti) and 5 nights in Rome. This was our 2nd trip to Italy, our first was 15 months ago when we did Rome, Venice and Florence. This trip was to celebrate our 20th anniversary, although our kids came with us on the trip. Our daughter (DD) turned 14 on the trip and our son (DS) is 10 1/2. We have been to London, Paris, Rome, Venice and Florence but this was our first time to do smaller towns. I wasn’t sure what we would think as we love big cities, but we really loved the smaller towns as well.

We flew in and out of Milan (couldn’t do open jaw with these frequent flier miles). We rented a car in Milan and kept it until our arrival in Rome. This was our first experience driving in Italy (or Europe for that matter). My DH did all the driving – thank goodness, although the role of navigator, map follower is a tough one too. A few notes about driving in Italy. We drove throughout Piedmont, Liguria and Tuscany then Tuscany to Rome. We didn’t find it too difficult although we did get lost a lot, particularly Piedmont, but that may have just been because it was our first location and we got used to the driving after that. A few pointers. Get a good map. We had the Touring Club Italiano map that was very good, but keep in mind even a good map does not show the exact way from one town to another. Basically you have to follow the signs (which are good). However, not every town is always listed, so therefore it is important to know in which general direction you are going, i.e. what the name of some other towns are in the same general direction. Outside of the major cities, there are very few stop signs or stop lights but A LOT of roundabouts. Rule of thumb: if you get to a roundabout and the town name you are looking for is not there, your best chance is to go straight . Also, know the parking rules, white lines are free but there is usually a sign that tells you how long you can park there. You must use the dial on the right hand part of the front window to indicate when you arrived (we learned this the hard way with a parking ticket!!). Blue lines mean you must pay at the parcometer and put the ticket on your dash. Once you get the hang of it, it is great and the diesel engines go forever without having to fill up constantly.

Our past two trips to Europe I have planned by myself (and the helpful fodorites), however I had two big trips within 3 months of each other and I knew it would be difficult to have to do everything myself. So for this trip I found Megan McCaffrey (www.bellavitaitalia.com) on Slow Travel and she was wonderful. We planned the Rome part of the trip ourselves as we had been there but she helped us with the rest of the trip, and we also did a boat trip with her to the Cinque Terre from Lerici and a cooking class with her mother-in-law (to be) Rosella which was a highlight of our trip! More details on those later!

Piedmonte (Acqui Terme) June 10 – 15 (5 nights)

We arrived in Milan and picked up our rental car and drove about 1.5 hours to Acqui Terme and arrived at Baur B&B (www.baurbb.com) about 3pm. It was incredibly beautiful, just as the pictures on the website show. It was up a hill with an incredible view below and a beautiful terrace. Before I continue, a few words about Baur B&B. This is now our favorite place in Europe. It is run by Diana (an American), and Michael (a German) Baur. This is a small B&B with only two rooms (although they plan on adding a 3rd this winter). We rented both rooms as there were four of us so we had the whole B&B to ourselves. The rooms are very large and beautifully decorated with local treasures and some of Diana’s own pottery. The bathrooms are large tiled bathrooms with all the amenities you would need including a real hair dryer (not those things stuck to the walls in many Italian hotels). There is a great pool and beautiful area around the pool with plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas. The terrace in front is where breakfast is served every morning (in the winter it is served inside). As I mentioned earlier the views are spectacular. Diana and Michael are wonderful hosts. They have not missed a beat with incredible breakfasts, wonderful beds (the best we have slept on in Europe) and just a willingness to do anything required to make your stay enjoyable. They provided us with excellent dinner recommendations, as well as recommendations for our daytrips, always making sure we had good directions. Michael always made sure DS knew when the next World Cup game was! The B&B is located about just down the hill from the town of Acqui Terme. While we never did, you could walk into town as we saw many locals doing.

So we met our hosts Diana & Michael Baur and their Labrador Max. Diana had prepared a wonderful lunch of meats, cheeses, bread, fruit, potato salad and delicious grilled zucchini. However, the most exceptional item was a hazelnut cake specially made by a friend of theirs. It was incredibly moist with a wonderful flavor. DS embarrassed us by eating tons of proscuitto and 3 pieces of hazelnut cake. That evening Diana and Michael were invited to a friend’s wine festival, and as their guests we were invited as well. I actually don’t drink wine, but DH thoroughly enjoyed tasting the wines and the kids tried some sweet wine. Everyone else at the festival was Italian.

Later we enjoyed dinner in Acqui Terme at Il Nuovo Ciarlocco (Via Don Bosco, 1 ). Michael had told us to order carne cruda, it is Piedmonte’s style of carpaccio. So we order it and it is actually raw ground veal – looks just like raw hamburger meat, but it is actually very good. After dinner we walk around the town. It is 10:00pm and the town is really hopping. Each piazza has a different type of entertainment going on. A rock band, a little circus, dance music….Everyone is out enjoyng the evening – babies in strollers, young kids, teens, parents and grandparents. We have a gelato at Visconti, then head back to our wonderful beds and sleep like rocks.

Diana will serve breakfast between 8:30am and 10:00am, you just have to let her know what time you would like it the night before. We said 9:00am. It was a bit difficult to wake up as we were tired from the travel day before and didn’t want to get out of our comfy beds, but boy was it worth it. Our breakfast was the best we have had in Europe. A stunning spread of fruit, museli, yogurt, meats, cheeses, tomatoes, fresh baked goods and two of our favorites – grilled peaches with pinenuts and made to order frittatas (omelettes). Michael goes early in the morning to the markets to get fresh pastries, cheese, fruit, etc.

Lingering over our breakfast we got a later start but headed to Torino for the afternoon. We arrived about 2:00pm on a Sunday so was fairly quiet, but we were quickly enamored by it. We parked in an underground parking garage in Piazza San Carlo Felice. We walked to the Mole and went up the elevator to see the beautiful views from the top. Next, we went through the Cinema Museum which was very interesting and stylishly done. Most displays are in Italian, but it is easy to get the gist of things.

We walked to the main square Palazzo Castello to find a bite to eat. We had nice paninis at Costa Verde off of Via Garibaldi. It is after 4pm now and the city is filling up with people going on their passagieta. It is truly amazing how many people are out, yet no stores were open as it was a Sunday. We go looking for Pepino Geletaria and have wonderful gelato there. We find a small food market going on around the corner and get fresh pear and fresh grape juice.

We went back to the car and drove around a bit to some of the Olympic sites and across the Po River. We really enjoyed our time in Torino. We found it very pedestrian friendly, charming and frankly, highly underrated.

We get back to Baur B&B, rest and freshen up. Diana has made us a reservation at Da Fausto, a restaurant just beyond Acqui Terme in the hills in a small town called Cavatore. We had one of our best meals of the trip. Wonderful raviolis, incredible roast beef and duck salad. The desserts were fantastic – semi-freddoes, meringues and an apple tart, and Fausto, the owner, is quite charming with his limited English.

One of the reasons for our trip was also to visit the small towns that DH’s family came from. One set of great-grandfather and -grandmother came from Vignole Barbera. It was less than an hour from Acqui Terme and right next to Serravalle where there is a large outlet mall. So, first we go to the Outlet Mall. The outlets are very nice and there are a lot of designers (D&G, Prada, Versace, etc.) but personally I prefer shopping in the smaller boutiques in the city centers.

We drove to Vignole Barbera, only about 10 minutes from Serravalle. It is not a large town, and much of the construction in the city is post WWII. There is a church in the Centro Storico that DH suspected is where his great grandparents were married. There is a monument in front of the church to people who fought in the wars. Several Figinis (his grandmother’s maiden name) are listed. Unfortunately, the Communale Principio was closed at 1:00pm and didn’t reopen later in the afternoon. We walked around a bit and stopped for gelato.

We got back to Baur B&B in time for DH to watch most of the US vs. Czech World Cup match. The rest of us lounged by the pool. We had another great dinner at Antica Osteria (14040 Castel Rocchero). The food was great but we ordered too much and were stuffed.

The next day was Tues.which is market day in Acqui Terme so we went to explore the town. It is full of stalls – food, clothing, shoes and people come from all the nearby towns. By 12:30 the stalls were closing down and everyone was going home for their afternoon nap. After a quick gelato stop we decided to do like everyone else, so we headed back to Baur B&B and spent a wonderful afternoon relaxing by the pool. That evening, Diana prepared a wonderful dinner and we had a glorious evening relaxing on the terrace and visiting with Diana and Michael.

The next morning we woke up to another incredible breakfast. This morning includes a spectacular apricot tart. Today we head to Alba. Our small city of Medford, Oregon is a “sister city” with Alba, Italy. We have a student foreign exchange program with them as well as other programs. A friend’s daughter who had done the student exchange program about 4 years ago told us there is a book in the Communale Municipale that only visitors of Medford can sign. We decided this was something we should do. We go to the Communale Municipale to ask, but no one seemed to speak English. Someone kindly calls another person who does speak some English. She told us she doesn’t know anything about a book, but they do have a “Twin City” room where they have a display from Medford as well as 2-3 other twins(sister) cities they have throughout the world. Medford has a whole wall dedicated to it with many pictures of local dignitaries and pictures of Medford. Then another woman came in (speaks no English) but explained that yes there is a book you can sign, and pulled it out from a drawer in a credenza. We all signed the Alba – Medford Twin City book and thanked our two helpful patrons.

We walked through the Piazza Duomo and down the main street of Vittorio Emmanuel. It was a very nice street with lots of shopping. We had lunch at LaLiberia (Via Elvio Pertinace, 24), a very modern sleek resetuarnat with good food. Despite the fact that now everything was closed we decided to walk around the city a bit more. Unfortunately, my shoe broke - (bummer!) it was impossible to walk and of course, all the shops are closed. DH broought the car to us and we decided to do the scenic drive back that Diana and Michael recommended. We drove through Barolo, Monteforte d’Alba and many other beautiful parts of Piedmonte.

When we returned, DS stayed with Michael to watch a World Cup game while DH took DD and I to Acqui to do some shopping. Dinner later was at La Curia in Acqui Terme (Via Alla Bollente, 72 ). For appetizers we had asparagus con funghi porcini and millefiore melezane which are both excellent. DS and I shared vitelleto (veal) and DH and DD both had ravioli. We all enjoyed another wonderful dinner.

The next day was our last morning at Baur B&B and the delicious breakfast. Hugs & kisses all around as we said goodbye to our new friends Diana, Michael and Max. Our next stop was Lerici on the Ligurian coast. However, on our way was our second “family heritage” stop. DH’s grandfather was from Favale di Malvaro, up in the mountains just east of Genoa. It is a small village up in the mountains with old terraced gardens. We tried to find a place for lunch but nobody had sandwiches (there are only 2 places) so we settle for some snacks. There is a statue in one of the small squares (okay it’s actually a parking lot) that commerates those who left Favale to emigrate to America. Apparently, they also have a festival honoring this in late June. We walked up a hill to the church and found the cemetery. There were many Boitanos (DH’s mother’s maiden name). Despite the early hour at home (5:45am), DH called his Mom to ask what her grandfather’s first name was and confirm roughly when he died. We found his gravestone – Boitano G. Batiste. This was pretty neat.

Just want to say that we absolutely loved Piedmonte. Of course, our stay at Baur B&B was a big part of that, but in addition, Piedmonte is very quiet and relaxing and not filled with tourists. We saw some German tourists but never saw another American tourist our whole time in Piedmonte (except once at lunch in Alba). Very few Italians there speak English, most menus do not have English translations. We thoroughly enjoyed this authentic Italian experience and can’t wait to return to this beautiful region.

Next up Lerici on the Ligurian Coast.

jgg is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2006, 09:31 AM
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Looking forward to the next installment. Loved that you took time to find Boitano Batiste.
Jean is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2006, 09:47 AM
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Enjoying your trip report. Sounds like you all had fun. Look forward to the next installment.
noe847 is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2006, 10:20 AM
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Love your report. I'm looking at the Piedmont area and Lake Como area for a trip next year.

How much was your B&B? Could you get a weekly/5 day rate?
Budman is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2006, 11:42 AM
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The 2006 rates are 160 euros per night for each room. This includes breakfast and a well stocked refrigerator with water, soft drinks, etc. as well as the house wine. Dinner and lunch were extra - but well worth it.
jgg is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2006, 11:53 AM
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Yippee, jgg, I have been waiting for this! The first part of your trip sounds awesome. Now, I better stop reading yours and start writing my own report!
fun4all4 is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2006, 12:04 PM
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Lovely - looking forward to more!
LCBoniti is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2006, 12:14 PM
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bookmarking for later... can't wait!
amarena is offline  
Jul 5th, 2006, 08:36 AM
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We arrived in Lerici about 5pm. Our first reaction was – WOW! It was a bit startling at first as there were a lot of people, particularly on the beaches – quite a change from the more quiet days in Piemonte. However, as we stayed there we really grew to love this charming town. We stayed at Hotel Florida (rms. 33 & 34). The rooms were small and pretty vanilla, but we faced the ocean, which is right across the street, and we had a stunning view of the ocean and the town of Lerici, which is beautiful with it’s many colored buildings and it’s castle. There was a very nice lobby and a nice breakfast room with a typical Italian hotel breakfast of meats, cheeses, cereals, yogurt and fruit. The staff was very helpful and I must say while the rooms were decorated very plainly they were always kept spotless, and the beds were fairly comfortable. It was about a 5-10 min. walk along the beach sidewalk to the main piazza. A very nice walk that we did several times before and after dinner. The hotel gave us a free parking pass to park right near there. We didn’t use the car to go to dinner in Lerici, only when we toured during the day – aside from Cinque Terre and Portovenere.

Our first night we had dinner at Entragia (Salita Canata, 2), enjoyed a nice dinner and watched a World Cup game with the locals.

Our first full day in Lerici we were scheduled to do a boat tour with Megan McCaffrey of Bella Vita Italia. She is an American who is engaged to an Italian and describes herself as “Your Personal Concierge for Italy.” She lives in Lerici but does private tours throughout much of Italy. She met us at the hotel and we walked to the port to catch our boat to Cinque Terre. The boat took us along the coastline of La Spezia and Portovenere before we arrived at the Cinque Terre. We got off first at Riomaggiore. It is a tiny little town with one street going up the middle. It is quite old and unfortunately it is difficult for property owners to do any improvements to their property. However, it was quite charming. A few restaurants have hot dogs and hamburgers on their chalkboard menus – a bad sign for how many tourists can come through. From Riomaggiore we walked over to Manorolo. It was unfortunate that there was so much graffiti on the walkways and tunnels. Manorolo is slightly larger than Riomaggiore and we walked around the town a bit. We walked down to the small port and took the boat to Vernazza. This town is much larger than the other two with a large piazza and a small beach. We had a wonderful lunch at Belforte over looking the beach one way and the ocean the other. Declicious, fresh seafood and we had a wonderful visit with Megan.

From Vernazza we took the boat back to Portovenere. This was an extremely charming town with tall skinny buildings painted in various pastel colors. First we walked to the church and looked out at Byron’s Bay. Then we walked back through the center of town and enjoyed some gelato. We really liked Portovenere, it has a nice beach and was not quite as crowded as the Cinque Terre. We really enjoyed seeing the Cinque Terre by boat and it was awesome having Megan as our guide as she had many interesting things to tell us and knew right how to get from place to place. Sometimes it is just nice not to have to think for a day!! When we returned to our hotel DS and I went across the street to relax on the beach while the others rested inside.

For dinner we ate at Golfe de Poeti right on the main piazza in Lerici. All the restaurants we ate at were recommended by Megan and this one was fantastic. It’s location and size makes one think it is just a tourist trap, but the food was excellent, particularly the fried calamari.There was a strange art show going on in the piazza. We walked around a bit, then headed back to the hotel for bed.

We decided to spend one more day touring before we relaxed on the beach. We drove over to Sarzana, a town just 10 minutes inland from Lerici. It was another very charming town, and turns out to be one of our favorites from the trip. It had a large piazza with several great streets coming out from it.. I found a new pair of shoes to replace the ones that broke (luckily I had brought 3 pairs of shoes!) At 12:30 the shops started closing so we stopped and had lunch at Café Costituzionale, which was right on the Piazza. The waitress just spoke the menu in Italian . We had paninis, insalata caprese and mozzerella di buffalo with bresola. Everything was excellent – some of the best caprese on the trip. Before we left we stopped at a gelateria we noticed on our way into town, Biagi. It is a bright white and modern gelateria. Retrospectively, we all agree that this was the best gelato we had while we were in Italy.

Now we drove to Carrara. I have read Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone twice and have always wanted to visit Carrara. We didn’t really know where we were going when we got to the town, but just kept following the signs to cave di marmo which just kept heading us up the mountain. We stopped to take some pictures then kept heading up. Lucky us, we ended up on a flat area with a small museum, a shop and a working cave that was giving tours that day as it was a Saturday. They took us down into the cave in a mini van. They had a guide in Englilsh and one in Italian. The groups were small, maybe 6-8 people. It was very interesting to go down there and the tour was quite good. We bought a few things made right there from their marble and then headed back to Lerici. We got back just in time to freshen up and change – our shoes were covered in marble dust!!

We met Megan McCaffrey at 5:00pm to go to her house for our private cooking lesson with her mother-in-law (to be), Rosella. Her house was in a borgo above Lerici. She has an incredible view. The apt. was small but had a neat outdoor kitchen, where we had our lesson, and a great outdoor dining area. We learned some of the idiosyncracies of living in a place built in 1691 – no hot water in the kitchen, you must unplug the washing machine in order to turn on a small kitchen appliance….

We also met Luigi, Megan’s fiancée, who is also a very gracious host. We thoroughly enjoyed our evening. We made focaccia, spada, gnocchi, pesto, pesce, pepperonata and yogurt mousse for dessert. Rosella loved the kids and was particularly overjoyed to see DS eat so much and his arrival in Italy (Totti) jersey and hat was a big hit! DS & Luigi went upstairs to watch the Italy vs. US World Cup game. We stayed on the terrace and listened to all the neighbors in the borgo react to the game. It ends up a tie 1-1.

The next day was DD’s 14th birthday as well as Father’s Day. We had decided to relax on the beach and had reserved chairs and umbrellas at Eco de Mare, a private beach between Lerici and Tellaro. It was located in a stunningly beautiful cove, that many sailboats stopped at during the day. It was extremely quiet and serene. There is a restaurant just a few steps off the beach that served lunch. Just a reminder if you choose to go there, they do not take credit cards so bring cash. We had a wonderful and very relaxing day. When we returned to our hotel, we were reminded of why we spent the extra money – the beaches in Lerici were still very crowded and noisy.

For dinner Megan had recommend a fabulous seafood restaurant called Pin Bon (in Pitelli up above Lerici, Via Canarbino, 7). We went there to celebrate DD’s birthday and Father’s Day. We had a spectacular seafood appetizer with anchovies, octopus and all kinds of seafood, then an excellent sepia risotto with calamari then to finish off an extremely large platter of scampi and shrimp. A wonderful place for a special evening.

This was our last evening in Lerici as the next day we were leaving for Tuscany. We really enjoyed our stay in Lerici, it is a lovely seaside village with easy access by boat to Cinque Terre and Portovenere and easy access to the Autostrada if you want to head someplace else such as Carrara. Other daytrips that are possible from there are Portofino and Lunigiana which is filled with Etruscan ruins. Despite the fact that when we first arrived we were taken aback by the difference from Piemonte, we really fell in love with Lerici, and had wished we had an extra day to continue exploring there. We look forward to going back.

Next up Castellina in Chianti and Tuscany.
jgg is offline  
Jul 5th, 2006, 10:17 AM
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Great trip report! I was very interested in your trip to Carrara, but I couldn't quite picture being taken into the cave in a minivan! It definitely goes on my list of things to do on my next trip to Italy - along with Lerici.

Thanks for sharing and I look forward to Tuscany.
LCBoniti is offline  
Jul 5th, 2006, 11:21 AM
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We spent 4 nights at the Hotel Florida in Lerici a few years back. We also fell in love with the area and were very happy making it a home base for a few days. We found the staff there to be quite helpful. My parents stayed there last year and were told they still remembered us! I think we almost enjoyed Portovenere more than the Cinque Terre towns, as it was definitely less touristy.

We had also come down from Piedmonte, but stayed in Canelli at a fabulous Agritourisimo - La Luna e Fagnoli (I think that's the spelling -sun and the moon) run by a couple from Turin who had owned a restaurant. We had some of our best meals there. Piedmonte was a great place to explore, also went to Alba, Aqui Terme, etc. and really enjoyed this trip. One of our favorites. Glad to hear all is still well in that part of the world.
owlwoman is offline  
Jul 6th, 2006, 10:38 AM
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Great report, jgg. Can't wait for the next installment as we are going to be in Castellina in Chianti the first week of September. That was a great tip regarding the white and blue lines for parking. Is that standard throughout Italy, do you know?
lm is offline  
Jul 6th, 2006, 10:50 AM
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A lovely trip and a lovely tripreport jgg. I imagine your daughter will remember her 14th birthday forever!
And I chuckled at your comment about taking a day without having to "think". I get feeling that way in Italy also. Best regards.
LoveItaly is offline  
Jul 6th, 2006, 09:08 PM
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lm- I don't know if it is standard throughout Italy but it seemed to be the protocol in the 3 areas we were driving around in. Once we figured out the system we didn't get anymore tickets.

Hope to post Castellina in Chianti soon.
jgg is offline  
Jul 6th, 2006, 10:28 PM
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Wow what a long report on each stop!

Waiting impatiently for the next installement, however a small suggestion, why not post these reports seperately under diffrent headings?

For owl-woman "La Luna e il Falo" (the moon and the bonfire) is still going strong outside of Canelli, although its off the internet routes. The name comes from a famous book by Cesar Pavese about an a local who goes back home after spending many years in America.

Sampaguita is offline  
Jul 7th, 2006, 12:03 AM
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Sounds wonderful and you write so well...it's a pleasure to read.
RosieinOz is offline  
Jul 8th, 2006, 10:21 PM
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Keep 'em together jgg.
Carmen is offline  
Jul 8th, 2006, 10:29 PM
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Yes jgg, please keep adding to this thread here, it gets confusing when a new thread is made for each location of a trip report, at least IMO. Best regards.
LoveItaly is offline  
Jul 9th, 2006, 08:12 AM
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Thanks for the encouragement. I agree, keeping it in one thread is best! Sorry for the dealy in getting the next installment in. I am working on a BIG volunteer project here that runs Sat. - Tues. so hard to find the time. Thanks for everyone's patience.
jgg is offline  
Jul 9th, 2006, 08:29 AM
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Wonderful trip, to some of my favorite haunts, and an even better report. Grazie !
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