We went to Venice and we saw...

Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 03:11 AM
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We went to Venice and we saw...

Hi folks - we've been back about 3 days now from our week in Venice, and I'm just about recovered enough to attempt the TRIP REPORT.

well, what did we see?

Doge's Palace
Elephants [in pictures]
I Gesuiti
La Fenice
Numerous churches
People [lots of them]
Queues [not so many]
Seppie [cuttlefish]
Water [lots of it]

sorry about the ones I've missed out - they don't realy exist as letters in Italian and therefore are a bit difficult to fill in!

but as you can see we did pack quite a lot in - and missed out quite a lot too - so much for those who say that you can see what's worth seeing in venice in 2-3 days.

the "we" is me, DH [both in our 50s] and the "kids" who inexplicably STILL want to come on holiday with us, being DD who is 20, and now at uni, and DS, 17. [it may have something to do with the fact that we're still willing to pay for them to accompany us!]

this is the third of the big three in italy that we've done in this way - Rome about 2 years ago, Florence 6 months later, and last but not least Venice at Easter 2008. each time we have rented an apartment, and each time that has been a huge success.

our flight from Bristol was due to leave at 5pm, and would take 2 hours, so we were due to arrive at 8pm local time. we'd arranged with the owner that his nephew, Simone, with whom I'd already spoken on the phone a few days before we left, would meet us at the water gate near our apartment. because we were arriving quite late, we'd decided to take a water-taxi - the cost of E90 isn't too bad between 4.

of course, what we'd failed to factor into this was that there would be snow at Geneva [just fancy - snow in Switzerland in March - who'd have thought it?] which delayed our plane's arrival in Bristol and thus our flight out. so i had to phone simone from the departure lounge, to warn him we'd be delayed by at last an hour. As I had already established in our first call that his english was even worse than my italian, I spent the flight worrying [needlessly as it turned out] that he'd not understood.

once we actually took off, the flight was uneventful, [apart from dS being chatted up by the lady sitting next to him who tried to interest him in her daughter!] and we landed at about 9pm.

lots has been written about how to negotiate getting from Marco polo airport to Venice. the last time I was there, about 18 months ago, I'd got the SITA bus from just outside, and then a vaporetto, but I didn't fancy all 4 of us struggling with our luggage etc. in the dark hence the decision to get the water taxi. the desk was easy to find - just ahead as you exit the customs hall- and we picked up our Venice cards [a good buy IMO - see below] at the same time. then we had the long but easy walk from the airport down to the water -dock, where we found someone waiting to put us on the water -taxi. [you pay on board].

we couldn't see much as we were going so fast, but it is certainly the most luxurious way to arrive in Venice. i managed to get through to simone and handed my phone over to the driver for them to arrange where we would arrive - which curiously turned out to be the rialto vaporetto stop. then it was off to the apartment past the public toilets along a maze of ever tinier streets - would we ever find it by ourselves?

THE APARTMENT. I found the one we ended up booking before Christmas [thinking that they would go fast as we were travelling at easter] through www.holiday-rentals.co.uk. this is an owner's agency - you deal direct with the owner once you decide to follow up a particular property. the one we picked - no. 57426 - had just what we wanted - 2 beds, 2 bathrooms, [so DD can spend endles time in the shower doing her hair] and 2 living rooms, [so the rest of us can escape from DS when we need to, which is usually quite often] a proper kitchen, and a terrace. [a bit optimistic for the end of March, but you never know]. it was also in a good central position - just off campo san bartolomeo, near the rialto [can marco side]. if you look it up on the net, the pictures are pretty accurate. if anything it was better than we were expecting.

booking that far before we travelled we had a huge choice - really too much. however, when I enquired about this one, I felt comfortable dealing with the owner, who it turned out is now UK based and could be paid in £sterling into straight into his UK bank a/c - that was lucky as it turned out, though I suppose a property quoted in US$ would have been even better. I also liked the fact that we could cancel up to a month in advance - although we ALWAYS take out travel insurance [and have an annual family policy that costs us about £100 for all 4 of us, even DS] - it was still nice to have this re-assurance.

the entrance to the apartment was through a "sottoportege" and into a tiny courtyard. then three doors and 3 locks - the one to the courtyard, then the one to the upstairs, and finally the one to our apartment. the environs did not boade well - a dark entrance with dim lighting, a narrow and somewhat dingy staircase - but once we were inside, what a contrast. all was bright modern furnishings and stainless steel, with new kitchen appliances, a lovely large bedroom and bathroom for us [with a jaccuzi! and separte shower], a separte twin bedroom upstairs for the kids with their own bathroom, and of course the terrace. it was even possible to run the dishwasher and washing machine and the oven all at the same time!!! [thoguh we weren't doing that when we arrived it was good to know that we could].

once simone had shown us round [with us taking in virtually nothing except the fact that he'd left us a rather yummy looking loaf of bread] he handed over the keys to us and we were on our own. we were much too excited to go to bed, so we made sure that we understood how the keys worked, and went out to find a drink and a snack.

by now it was about 11pm, and true to form, there wasn't much open. we ended up in a cafe on the campo san bartolomeo, about 50 yards from the flat. we had coffees, hot chocs and panini [plus a grappa for DH] which all came to a rather frightening E36 - we were obviously going to be eating in a lot if that was an example of the costs of eating in Venice. then "home" to bed, via the three locks which we surprisingly managed to negotiate quite successfully. thank goodness as I didn't fancy spending the night outside the public toilets.

tomorrow - we hit the rialto market and have our first proepr meal in Venice.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 03:34 AM
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Annhig, my kids are just the same ages, and we're headed to Venice (and Paris, and Montepulciano) in June. Can't wait for the next installment.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 03:42 AM
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I am also looking forward to the next installment. Thanks, annhig.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 05:22 AM
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thanks for the encouragement, rickandpat and Jake.

i tend to suffer from trip report fatigue so your kind words are doubly welcome.

I'll be back asap.

regards, ann
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 05:32 AM
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I am the same age as your DD and I appreciate family trips, as I'm sure your children did as well!

Wonderful report so far. Will be in Venice at the end of May, so can't wait to hear more.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 05:50 AM
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ann, I was thinking of you over Easter, and was so happy this morning to see your report. I can't wait for more.

Noted you flew out of Bristol; we have dear friends in Yate, are you anywhere near them?
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 05:59 AM
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hi bfrac,

thanks you for your kind thoughts. regretably Bristol and therefore Yate [where we also have friends, though of the christmas card variety] is 3 hours away.

or 2 1/2 hours when DH is driving leading to him collecting a speeding ticket on the way.

cafe of dreams - glad you're enjoying it. are you going to venice with your family or with friends?

regards, ann
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 07:11 AM
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I've been waiting to hear about this trip!
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 11:53 AM
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Ann, Thanks for the heads up. I am tuned in and looking forward to it.
Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 12:32 PM
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We had a "J." The first day we were there they were filming that James Bond movie!
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 02:21 PM
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wow, missiepie, sorry we missed that. in fact the kids did think of one on the way home [you have to do something to fill those three long hours] but I'd forgotten it when I posted earlier - it was JAM. [see below]

i hope that was worth waiting for.

Day 2.

one of my "must dos" for this trip was the rialto market - not just because I love fresh produce markets, but also because we actually needed to buy some food, as we weren't sure what would be available over the easter holiday. so i roused my trusty sherpas [DH and DS, DD HAD to do her hair,] and we ventured out.

the rialto was all of 100 yds away -right out of the courtyard, round the corner by the shoe-repairers, past the public toilets [the family can't say I don't take them to the best places] and up over the bridge.

once you get past the tourists and the stalls that cater to their needs [mainly scarves and sweets - do tourists buy nothing else?] you are soon amongst the shops patronised by normal people. butchers, bakers [the best one where he had bought the bread for us, according to simone] cafes - and of course the famous market. in fact it is divided into two main parts - the pescheria [fish market] and the veg and fruit. the fish was possbily the freshest and most varied I've ever seen [coming from cornwall that is quite something] - and some of it was STILL moving. and the fruit and veg was also very good - i still haven't worked out what the herb that looked like a beard was!

after a preliminary recce, we needed to plan our campaign, so repaired to a cafe for a much needed breakfast - our first in Venice. hot chocolate and a chocolate croissant for DS, and coffee and plain croissants for us. only we found, not for the last time, that the plain criossants had apricot jam [!] in them. in fact, try as we might, we never did find plain croissants in Venice. Whenever and wherever we tried to buy plain ones, we still got ones with jam. but the coffee was good.

by now a plan was forming - we had seen some lovely looking lamb, [a sort of rack with a boned bit attached] which we reckoned we could roast in our oven, so we went back to buy that, and got some thinly sliced rare beef as well. why can't we buy that at home???then we found a lovely cheese and ham stall with a queue of locals outside, and bought proscutto, pecorino [sheep's cheese, available in sweeet and sharp] and some dolcelatte. On a previous trip I'd found out about how to ask for 100grs - it's "un etto", so we got "un etto" of each - about 4 oz. finally we hit the fruit and veg and bought potatoes to roast with the lamb,[we were asked if we wanted "vecchie" - old - or "nuove" - new] asparagus [the white sort grown in Verona] tomatoes, and strawberries. yum yum. all this lot cost about 40E, which wasn't cheap but I reckoned would feed us for one main meal and several snacks.

luckily I didn't have to carry any of this, so I bought some bread on the way back as i suspected DD would already have finished the loaf simone left us. [i wasn't wrong]. then is was back home, and leaving DS there, [kids have no stamina] DH and i headed off in the opposite direction to where we thought the nearest supermarket was - left out of the courtyard, round the corner by the osteria della botte, past the rostecceria, over the bridge by the posh bathroom shop, left at the little square, past the shoe shop with the shoes shaped like feet [yes, you have read that right - and she had a gondola-shaped pair too!] and hidden on the corner by the pasticceria with the world's largest easter eggs- the COOP.

and I do mean hidden - if i hadn't known it was there from the google map of supermarkets I'd printed off, I'd never have spotted it. [this applied to all the other supermarkets we found as well - perhaps the venetians as ashamed of them?] another characteristic is that they are crammed into very small spaces that were never meant to have supermarkets in them, so they aren't like what we are used to - you have to fight your way past the baskets, crates on new stock, other customers, employees - but the quality of the produce was very good. we bought some great salami, juice, jams, plus the obligatory loo rolls - no-one wants to run out of those over the holidays.

back to the apartment again [we were getting the hang of this and hardly went wrong at all this time] we unpack our goodies, and decide to hit the town. As the kids have never seen st. marks that seems the place to start, and from my previous visit, i guessed it would take us about 10 minutes to walk there. I reckoned without the "tourist affect" of course - it took us all of 15, but suddenly there is was - the side of the basilica looming up ahead of us at the end of the alleyway we were in. and only several hundred people between us and it. as we worked our way round to the front, it quickly became obvious we weren't going in that day - the QUEUE was vast.

so onto plan B - [made up on the spot but I wasn't going to tell them that] - catch a vaporetto over to San Salute then walk along the Zattere to get away from the crowds. [and sus out the accademia, but I wasn't telling them that either!]

this was our first use of our Venice cards. I'd agonised over this - E50+ each is quite a lot of money - but we decided in the end that given we were going to be there for a week, 7 day cards would make life much more convenient, even if they didn't quite pay for themselves. it was difficult to know in advance just how many single journeys at 6.50E each were were likely to make. in the event, of all the decisions we made, this might have been the best - we probably used over 100E's worth each, and having the cards meant we could just jump on and off when and where we wanted.

when you first use one of these cards, you have to validate it in one of the machines, and mark the date and time when you first use it. then it's valid for the next 7 days. so we did that, though we needn't really have bothered - we only got asked for it once - on the last day when we were getting our last boat to the piazzale roma.

at first the crush of people, boats, and different piers was very confusing. but the routes are well-marked, and we soon got used to looking for the direction we wanted to go in and what line we needed. it was only one stop over to san salute, and as it was STILL only 11.30 am, we could go in. San Salute is magnificent from the outside, but the inside isn't much, IMO, apart from the floor, which is a fabulous marble mosaic, which you can just walk on, all the way round. then we wandered out onto the Zattere [the water-side pavement facing the long, thin guidecca island to the south of the main area of Venice] and looked for a beer. after much needed refreshment, [including DS's first but by no means last "spremute d'arancia"] we went for a long wander around dorsoduro, which I thought I'd explored pretty well last time I was there, but we were soon in uncharted waters, finding tiny alleys that suddenly opened out into large, sunlit- squares, and lovely shops and workshops full of exotic and interesting artworks and other goods.

soon the kids were agitating for food, and from past experience, if they, particularly DD, aren't listened to when it comes to food, life gets grim. we'd spotted what looked like quite a nice place on the Zattere which had a deck in the sun [we aren't people who are influenced by such things, oh no!] so we made our way back there and sat ourselves down, full of trepidation after the night before, that meals out were going to prove expensive. getting the menu was a nice surprise - for a primi of antipasta di pesche, two pastas, plus 3 pizzas, covers, wine, water and two coffees, it cost 110E. for 4 people it wasn't cheap, but it wasn't outrageous either. DS particularly enjoyed his "spaghetti con seppie e suo tinto" - spaghetti with cuttlefish and its ink - as the black around his face clearly testified. he's come a long way since our first trip to Italy when he was 14 and would barely venture beyond meat and two veg and it was that trip to lake garda that widended his culinary horizons, so thank you italy!

we were beginnig to feel in need of a rest by this time and didn't much fancy walking back ; consultation with the vaporetto map showed that there should be a boat back to the rialto straight from the Zattere stop, and low and behold - there it was, a no 2 - which used to be the 82 apparently. we got this boat a lot, especially to get down the grand canal where it only stops a few times [luckily including the rialto], so is normally nowhere so crowded as the no 1, which at times reminded me of a japanese train.

after an hour or so back at the apartment [which was beginning to feel quite homely with al our stuff spread about] we set off again, this time heading for La Fenice - the Venice opera house - for which I'd booked tickets on the vivaticket site. yes, I know this sounds pretentious, [moi?] but the opera houses of europe are without exception beautiful buildings and atttending a performance is IMO the best way to see them. and i quite like [some] classical music. so there. there was no opera while we were there [sighs of relief from the kids] but a concert of shostacovitch and tschaicovski with a russian conductor.

our seats turned out to be right on the front row, so we had a great view of the strings, especially the violas, who are positioned where the cellos would normally be in an english orchestra. one player my eye wass continaully drawn to was pregnant and lauging the whole time, if only silently. before it started, the elderly gentleman next to me apologised for not greeting me when he sat down [he'd spotted an old friend in the row behind] and we started to converse, initally in italian, but quickly swapping into english which he spoke well but idiosycratically, insisting the "Venice is not a city, it is a magic". i knew what he meant. during the concert I saw that he was watching the pregnant player too, and that he particularly congratulated her at the end. a relative perhaps?

as for the music, the 1st half was frankly a bit of a trial. I wasn't familiar with the Schostacovitch 3rd cello concerto and hope to remain so. but the cellist encore was superb, and my neighbour told me that the soloist is a ventian, so a favourite with the audience. the 2nd half, tschaicovski's 5th, was really fantastic - how the strings play that last movement I'll never know - he must have hated string players. the audience went wild at the end - there must have been at least 6 curtain calls -perhaps they wre all relatives of the orchestra.

we came out at about 8pm [this easter saturday concert has been at the time that sunday concerts usually start, at about 5pm] and we're beginning to flag. so we make our way back to the apartment, and the kids are soon tucking into the cold meat and cheese we'd bought earlier. DH starts playing with the sound system and we soon have edith piaf [very italian] being piped all round the flat, including in the bathrooms and our bedroom. then the kids find a monty python CD and I end up in the jacuzzi listening to Bruce's philosopher's song. surreal.

and so to bed.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 04:51 PM
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Actually neither. I'll be studying abroad with peers from my college for a month and Venice is one of my stops.

Your descriptions of the Rialto Market are wonderful. This is one of my "musts" too!
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 05:12 PM
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Excellent description of Rialto market. Venice is perhaps the coolest, prettiest city I have ever been to. Skipping San Marco for Roma was a smart idea, specially during the second day because the longish ride also likely gave you a flavor of what to expect in the remainder of the week. That said, hopefully you were able to get up the Bell Tower for the views are nice. Visiting Venice Opera House pretentious... But why? Good description and sounds like a fabulous ending.

Hmmm.... I haven't read gelato anywhere. Yet By the way, kids tucking into the meat sounds pretty funny to me
Old Apr 3rd, 2008, 10:07 AM
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hi again.

cafe of dreams - where else are you heading?

comfy - don't know why i feel that the opera is pretentious - it's my plebian tendencies coming out, i suppose. What surprised me was that the kids seemed to enjoy it so much - I must have gone right somewhere.

glad you all enjoyed the rialto markets with me. Why can't we do that here? "there's no call for it" I suppose.

regards, ann
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Old Apr 3rd, 2008, 10:36 AM
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breakfast in today after I do the croissant run with DS who offers to come with me to carry the hot chocs for him and his sister. bless. we somehow manage to negotiate the three doors and locks along with the queue outside the toilets!

todays' plan, thanks to the kind people here, is to attend the sung easter mass in St. Mark's. although I'm not religious, I do a lot of singing of religious works in churches with the choir I'm in, plus I really want to be able to see the mosaics without the usual crush as well as to enjoy the overall experience. more family members than predicted volunteer to accompany me - not only DH but DS as well - that's a surprise - I hope we don't all live to regret it. only DD decides to opt out; she gets to do the spud-bashing for lunch. [as she'll be eating at least half of them that's no hardship].

luckily we get there 30 minutes early - there is already a big crowd inside and we only just manage to get seats. we'd already spotted the right entrance yesterday - it's the north door ie on the left hand-side as you're looking at the front of st. Mark's. we just looked as as if we knew where we were going and sailed straight in.

the interior is as vast and beautiful as i remember and all the mosaics are illuminated. the crowd grows ever larger and I note that a few people [including our neighbours from last night's concert] are admitted to an "inner sanctum" behind the screens. after what seems like and endless wait, the service is introduced in several languages, and the procession begins, coming right past where we are sat. this involves lots of gold and beautifully decorated vestments and DS starts muttering about the riches of the church and camels getting through the eyes of needles and i tell him that this is NOT the place for a philosophical discussion on the morality of wealth. [or words to that effect].

the service is about an hour an a half, including communion for those who wish [some don't seem to know what to do with the sacrement and have to be promted to eat it! which prompts me to think that we are not the only interlopers though we of course did not take communion] and we have translations of the readings and the Patriach's address. in the duller bits, my eye is drawn to the mosaics, and also to some of the other worshipers, some of whom seem very devout. the music is pretty good, though different to what you would hear in an english cathedral - no boys' and mens' choir but a mixed choir of adults who conveniently for us are gathered in the organ loft where we can both see and hear them very well. the not only sing the service, but some other choral pieces, some of which seem vaguley familiar.

when it's all finished, we are told that the Partriarch will convery to all those who are in communion with the church the personal blessing of the Pope; his passage, very slow as pwrshipers hold up their children for his blessing or seek it for themselves, co-incides withour exit route, so I see a man, who I had noticed during the service, introducing his wife/girlfriend? to him and she in her turn is clearly thrilled to have this opportunity. No - thrilled is the wrong word - her face glows with an inner joy which moves me now when I remember it.

then suddenly we are more or less pushed from the basilica by the attendants who are preparing for the next service, and the "magic" is over.

BTW, anyone who is concerned that there will be nothing to do in Italy at easter should make a bee-line for Venice. so far as I could tell, everything was open which would normally be open on a sunday, with the posible exception of st. Mark's, including the accademia, the Romans and Barbarians exhibition, and most probably the other main museums as well. you will not run out of things to do!

not having known this, i had an appointment with our oven, so we headed back to the apartment.

Next - LUNCH!!

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Old Apr 3rd, 2008, 11:03 AM
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annhig, I love your writing style! Having been to Venice once I am picturing it again through your words. Looking forward to more!
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Old Apr 3rd, 2008, 11:41 AM
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Thanks for the info on the vivaticket website. We'll be in Venice in November and I was just starting to think about "a night at the opera." Unfortunately, the schedule lists only a ballet during the week we are there. I'm hoping more events will be listed as we get closer to November.

And we love your descriptions of the Rialto market and the details on how to find the COOP!
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Old Apr 3rd, 2008, 02:50 PM
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Hi foodie and gomiki - thanks to you too for the kind words. they do help to keep me going when TRF threatens to hit.

foodie - do keep watching that web-site. As as I recall, you can select for date, location, and type of event. However, I only found the concert we went to about a month before we went - I'm pretty sure that it wasn't even scheduled before that. and once you find it, don't delay - the decent seats sell out pretty quickly, and the "restricted view" are generally dire. I found that you could either take the "best in house" they select for you at the price you want, or select your own by clicking on the seating plan. but it's not easy so it might be worth having a dry run with an event you DON'T want in order to familiarise yourself with the way the site works.

good luck,

regards, ann
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Old Apr 3rd, 2008, 04:48 PM
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annhig, I am very much enjoying your trip report and your writing style. And I can't wait to hear how your lamb tasted. Yumm!
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Old Apr 3rd, 2008, 05:08 PM
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Keep it coming, Ann. I'm enjoying it. I like it when people don't take their holidays, or themselves, too seriously.
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