A Travellerspoint blog

London, Marrakesh and Paris (Whew!)

Our final three weeks in three amazing cities

It's hard to believe that our trip has come to an end and it's time to give an update on our final three weeks. We have had such a wonderful adventure together and I am quite sad to see it end. I have certainly gained what I wanted from our time and feel that we are much closer as a family and have wonderful shared memories to charish. However, what I didn't realize was that I would be so comfortable living out of a suitcase and spending time in such varied lands. I am already looking forward to our next holiday and seeing how this trip will have changed who we are in the future.

Now, about our final three weeks...

London
July 25th - 29th

We arrived at the Fletcher's in Richmond Upon Thames and were treated to a fun-filled Moroccan tour reunion with the McSorley's (minus Rose) and Shaw's (minus Alex). We all enjoyed sharing stories about the past few months and remembering the good times we had together back in April. The highlight was singing a song about our tour that Adrian wrote and played on his guitar. What a fantastic group of people and hopefully we can all get together in California in 2012!

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The next day we all (sans the Shaws) headed on the the train to downtown London to ride on the London Eye and see all of the major sights. We had a picnic in St. James Green and then said farewell to the McSorley's. Back in Richmond the girls took off with Eleanor and Kathryn for a walk home via the park while Jim and Carol gave me a wonderful tour of the town and the views.

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Our visit to Richmond included a day at the local pool, lots of shopping, tea and cake along the Thames, an afternoon at Kew Gardens, more tea at the Maids of Honor tea room, a 15th birthday pizza celebration for Kathryn, trying Pimms for the first time, and of course lots of nice conversations with the Fletcher's.

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On our final day in England I took Gracie, Lucy and Eleanor into Central London to see the Tower of London and do some shopping at Harrod's. Eleanor was a super tour guide and the four of us packed a lot into the afternoon. It
certainly won't be our last trip to England and we are thankful that we now have good friends to visit on return trips.

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Marrakesh
July 30th - August 7th

The three of us enjoyed Morocco a lot during our visit in April and after chatting with our tour guide, Radouane, we decided to head back down for a one week tour with him. The weather was quite a change from jolly ol' England and the dry heat was evident the moment we stepped off of the plane. We arrived hungry and were happy to eat the cupcakes that Eleanor kindly packed for our journey.

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To escape the 100+ degree heat of the city we headed up to a small town with a lake in the High Atlas mountains called Ourigane. We stayed for two nights at a gite and spent the days hiking and swimming in the lake. We even tried cactus fruit for the first time and it was delicious.

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We then returned to Marrakesh for a couple of days and enjoyed a day at the Oasiria water park and an evening in the main square and marketplace called Djemaa El-Fna. We all got henna tattoos and paid about 5% of the price we paid last time we were there (thanks Radouane!). The square is listed as a World Heritage site and it is definitely something not to be missed. There are dancers, storytellers, snake charmers, and a wide assortment of food stalls and games to be played. Standing in the middle you almost get sensory overload.

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After two days in the sweltering heat we opted to head back out to the mountains and went to stay at Radouane's house in Ouzoud. He grew up in the small town and his house overlooks an olive grove and river and looks out onto the hills surrounding the town. The town contains the highest waterfalls in Northern Africa and it was busy with lots of Moroccan tourists escaping the heat just like us. We ate lots of tagines, drank lots of fresh squeezed orange juice, the girls went on a donkey ride, we swam in the river, got more henna tattoos, and of course enjoyed the views of the waterfalls and eating/drinking in their rainbow mists. We also enjoyed meeting Radouane's family and seeing another part of this beautiful country. We all look forward to returning again some day and exploring the country further.

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Paris
August 8th - 15th

We took an overnight plane from Casablanca to Paris via Frankfurt and arrived in the morning. After a taxi ride to our beautiful apartment overlooking the D'Orsay Museum, our good friends, the Pelayos, met up with us for a week of fun. Annie and the kids, Ally and Austin, arrived that morning from Seattle so we were all a bit jet lagged. After lunch at a French brasserie, Annie and I took the kids on a long walk along the Seine and then a boat tour on the river. We all promptly fell asleep and missed most of the tour but the nap was nice! A funny "Parisian" moment that day was watching a homeless man drinking champagne on a park bench. Even those down and out know how to appreciate the finer things in this city.

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The following day we took a tour of Notre Dame and Annie read the story to the kids in a cafe while we were eating crepes and sipping coffees. In the evening we stopped in a restaurant and had the kids sit at a table behind us (it was almost like they weren't there - hahaha) while we looked out onto the sidewalk and watched all of the activity.

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The next morning we walked to a nearby boulangerie for pastries and then toured the famous underground sewers of Paris. I don't think the kids will truly appreciate what they saw until they see Les Miserables. Then it was off to Jardin de Tuleries for an afternoon of carnival rides, trampolining and floating boats in the fountain. That evening we got a babysitter to come in and Annie and I went to tour Sacre Coure and have a nice, leisurely dinner in the Bastille district. What a treat to spend hours in a cafe sipping wine with your good friend!

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A Louvre treasure hunt tour for the kids was on the agenda for the next day and we hit Tuleries again afterwards for some kiddie fun. Gracie's friend Quinn told us to eat at her favorite restaurant, Le Relais de l'Entrecote, so we had a wonderful dinner there of steak and frites (all they serve) and headed around the corner to Les Duex Magots for a glass of wine. We have a painting above our fireplace of the famous cafe so I wanted to sit in front of it and soak up the atmosphere.

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Ally and Austin's dad, Steven, arrived that night and the next day we toured the D'Orsay Museum and then rode bikes under the Eiffel Tower and along the Seine. In the evening we took the elevator up, up, up to the top of the tower for some fantastic views.

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On Thursday Annie and the kids headed back to Hong Kong and the girls and I went to the L'Ongarie to view Monet's Water Lillies and then spent the afternoon shopping for souveniers (the girls wanted to spend their money) and walking all around our neighborhood. For dinner we walked along the Seine with Steven and found a nice sushi restaurant.

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Today was the final day of our trip and we decided to get out of the city and took a bike trip out to Giverny to see Monet's house and gardens. We took a train to Vernon, got our bikes, shopped in the farmer's market for picnic supplies and then lunched on the river. Afterwards we rode about 4km to Giverny and had a lovely time at Monet's place. It was a really perfect way to end our trip.

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Tomorrow morning we head for the airport and home. It really feels so strange to think that I will be sleeping in my own bed tomorrow night. Wow! What an experience this has been and I am so thankful that we were able to do it. I couldn't have asked for better travel buddies and I know this isn't the last of the Arevalo 3 adventures. Stay tuned...

Posted by k2arevalo 08.14.2010 14:44 Archived in France Comments (4)

St. Ives, Cornwall, England

Greetings from the People's Republic of Cornwall - the place we've visited on this trip that feels the most like home. The town of St. Ives (in the county of Cornwall) is a well known spot for artists and it has a Santa Cruz/Berkeley vibe to it. We have enjoyed a nice week chilling out in the seaside town at the southwest tip of England.

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We've had mostly foggy/drizzly days this week but the fog did burn off a couple of days to give us glorious sunny afternoons. My highlight of the week was walking the coastal trail from St. Ives towards Zennor and taking in the beautiful scenery. The vistas looked just like the Northern California coast and made me a bit homesick. After our walk we played a fun game of putt putt golf overlooking the beach.

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Gracie's highlight was taking two days of surfing lessons and she is hooked. She can't wait to go out again with her Uncle Jimmy. While she was surfing, Lucy and I had a lot of fun boogie boarding in the waves.

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One day this week we decided to drive around Cornwall and spent the afternoon at a castle on a rock called St. Michael's Mount. We had to take a ferry out to the still-occupied castle but were able to walk back to shore during low tide. It was a really cool experience. In reading my "Hello!" magazine (British mag. similar to "People") I discovered that Prince Charles and Camilla (Duchess of Cornwall) also visited St. Michael's Mount this month. I guess you could say that we are hob-nobbing with royalty :).

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In addition to the fun mentioned above, we were also able to catch "Toy Story 3" and "Shrek 3" at the local cinema and had wonderful food all week. The area is famous for pasties, a stuffed pie-type food that looks like a calzone. In the 19th century the area was full of tin mines and the miners use to eat the inside of the pies for lunch and discard the crust. They did this to avoid ingesting the tin on their hands. Throughout the county there are smokestacks that are a reminder of their mining past. In addition to the yummy pasties with all sorts of fillings, I really enjoyed the Cornish clotted cream that I ate every day with jam on scones. Delicious!

It's hard to believe but we've just finished the last week of our trip when the three of us will be alone. I've tried my best to appreciate every moment we've spent together and we all agreed that we would miss each other a lot when we got home and weren't together all day.

Tomorrow we head to London to stay with the lovely Fletcher family and enjoy a bbq at their house with all of our Moroccan tour friends (we will all miss G'mama!). We will be at their house in London for several days and then we are heading back to Marrakesh for a week. After that we will be meeting the Pelayos in Paris for the final week of adventure. I'm not sure what type of internet access/free time we will have so this will most likely be it for the blog until the very end of our trip. I promise to do a final entry before we head home on August 15th. Cheers!

Posted by k2arevalo 07.24.2010 11:35 Archived in England Comments (2)

Oxford and The Cotswolds, England

Oxford
July 8th

After a tearful farewell to G'mama at 5am in the Milan airport, we boarded a flight to Heathrow and arrived at 8am. During the flight we flew over the Alps and the real Matterhorn Mountain of Disneyland fame. England is the first English language country we have been to for over four months and we all commented how nice it was to be able to read the signs in the airport and speak to everyone. We made our way to Oxford for a day and night in the university town. We all decided we were tired of Italian food and opted for yummy Lebanese for lunch. We spent over an hour beforehand in a bookstore enjoying the huge selection of titles in English. We ended up buying a couple of books each and started reading them immediately when we sat down for lunch. I have to say that books have been a challenge this trip. Gracie and I both have lots of titles on MY Kindle and we are trying our best to share. Beyond that, in any town that we found a bookstore with an English section we have spent a lot of time browsing (and enjoying our new purchases).

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The afternoon was spent sightseeing in the lovely town. There are about 30 individual colleges that make up Oxford University and each has it's own self-contained campus and individual personality. It was amazing on our tour to hear all of the famous names that have studied at the university and we were thrilled to discover that the real Alice from Alice in Wonderland was raised at Christ Church College in Oxford. Her father was the dean of the college and Louis Carroll was a math teacher there who enjoyed entertaining Alice and her sisters with stories of adventure. We went to the shop where she would go to buy sweets and then had a nice Mad Hatter Tea Party at the tea shop next door. It was also cool to discover that the beautiful, old, wood-paneled dining hall at Christ Church was the one used in the Harry Potter films. Oxford is a great town for eating, shopping and sightseeing and we had a nice time soaking in the sights!

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The Cotswolds
July 9th - July 16th

We enjoyed our black cab ride to the Europcar office and after a few minutes just sitting behind the steering wheel I found my courage to drive on the "wrong" side of the road and we set off for our cottage in the Cotswolds. Upper Oddington where Rose Cottage is located is about one hour from Oxford and two miles from Stow-In-The-Wold. It is a charming country cottage in a tiny town with only one pub and no stores. The first afternoon we walked to the pub for lunch and then happily made black bean tostadas for dinner (yes, they do have a Mexican section in the Tesco superstore).

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On Saturday morning, July 10th, we were joined at our cottage by Lyn, Lucy and Laura Shaw, our friends we met on our Morocco tour. They live about an hour away in a suburb of Birmingham called Solihull. It was great to see them all and we enjoyed a 5-mile afternoon walk from Burton-on-the-Water through Upper and Lower Slaughter. It was like no time had passed since we'd seen each other and we had a fun time walking and talking. That evening we headed back to the Horse and Groom pub in town and the following day was spent at the Lido (swimming pool) in Cheltenham. We arrived in England during a heat wave and enjoyed the sunshine and warm weather while it lasted.

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Laura spent the night with us on Sunday and after awaking to rain on Monday we drove to Solihull for the afternoon and evening. "Big" Lucy was very nice and agreed to watch the three younger girls so Lyn and I could spend the afternoon shopping at the mall. We had so much fun shopping together and it felt so "normal" to be at a mall with a girlfriend. That evening we got to visit with Danny and Alex and after a delicious dinner of chicken curry we played a competitive game of Pictionary (with the adult ladies being victorious!), and took a nice walk around their beautiful neighborhood.

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The following morning we said thanks and goodbye to the Shaws and headed to Warwick Castle for a soggy afternoon of medieval history. The castle was fun and had intersesting exhibits. The girls and I especially enjoyed the fireball catapult, doing archery, and learning about parties held in the castle in the 1800's and battles fought outside the walls during the 15th century.

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Wednesday we had a traditional English country day and it was spent shopping in Stow-in-the-Wold for wellies (rain boots), having cream tea (scones with cottled cream and tea) in the afternoon, and watching the hilarious Mr. Bean in the evening. It was a great day and it also included a tour through a charming toy museum in Stow.

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Thursday we decided to brave the rainy weather in our new wellies and drove to the Cotswold Farm Park. It is a farm dedicated to conservation and preserving rare British breeds of cows, pigs, sheep and chickens. The girls were able to feed the baby lambs from bottles and hold some adorable bunnies. We also saw a chick hatching from an egg and got to feed many sheep and goats. The facility is well designed and we spent hours there enjoying the fresh air and their adorable animals.

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Today was our last day in the country and I convinced the girls that we needed to do a walk. So we grabbed our wellies and rain jackets and headed for the lovely town of Winchcombe. Our walk was a four mile loop over rolling hills, through sheep pastures and past Sudeley Castle where the Henry VIII's 6th (and final) wife was buried. We had to duck under big trees to avoid the occassional downpour and it was an adventure avoiding all of the poop in the pastures and listening to the animals call out as we walked past. Of course we rewarded ourselves with a cream tea after the hike and had dinner at a great pub called The Fox in Lower Oddington.

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We are off tomorrow morning to St. Ives which is on the coast in Cornwall. I am looking forward to seeing another part of England but will miss this charming, beautiful district. Only four more weeks of our journey and we intend to make the most of it. Cheers!

Posted by k2arevalo 07.16.2010 23:31 Archived in England Comments (3)

San Sano in Tuscany and Bellagio on Lago di Como

Plus modes of transportation on the trip and G'mama's final thoughts

San Sano, Tuscany/Chianti, Italy
June 27th - July 1st

After breakfast we strolled through the streets of Venice and took a vaporetto to the parking garage where we had left our car. We all agreed that Venice was a special place and we look forward to return visits in the future. Then we were off on our drive back to Tuscany, technically the Chianti region of Tuscany, for a few days with the Rohlfes Family. When we arrived in the beautiful hamlet of San Sano we were thrilled that our hotel was only yards away from the Rohlfes villa. We quickly unpacked and spent a wonderful evening at the restaurant near their villa getting caught up. We are used to seeing each other every couple of weeks and it was so great to spend time with them and meet beautiful Justine who was born while we were in Spain.

The next day we had fun swimming at the pool at their villa complex and then drove to dinner in the Tuscan hill town of Radda. The restaurant had a fantastic view overlooking a large Chianti vineyard and the food was superb. The following day it was Jacob's 4th birthday and we all headed into Siena to celebrate. The Palio race was being run two days later and race-fever was high in the city. There at 17 neighborhoods in Siena and they all have their own flag and sponsor horses to run against each other twice a year on July 2nd and August 16th. That evening we had a birthday party for Jacob, complete with a game of "pin the star on the firetruck".

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On July 1st it was my 40th birthday and I was treated to breakfast in bed and then a hike among the vineyards. It was a hot day and everyone but Jen and Justine slowly dropped out. Jen and I hiked for a couple of hours and it was so great to have that time together! The rest of the gang was hanging out by the pool and I think they were happy not to be with us :) In the afternoon Jen and I went to our "spa" treatment and we ended up naked together in a large tub of wine infused water sipping Chianti. Not quite what we expected but we sure had some great laughs. That evening we had a chef at the Rohlfes villa and he prepared a wonderful meal. It was a fabulous way to spend my birthday and I thank them all for their love and support!

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Bellagio, Lake Como
After final goodbyes to the Rohlfes' we headed out on our 6 hour drive to Lake Como. It was hot adventure getting to Bellagio but the view once we got here was worth it. Although it was hazy when we arrived, as the week has worn on the vistas have become clearer and the mountain views surrounding the lake are spectacular. It is amazing to be so warm (temps in the 90's) and see some snow still on the Alps in Switzerland. While here we have taken a walk and toured the lovely gardens at Villa Meltzi, taken a boat tour of the lake and spent hours walking the streets of the town and sipping wine while enjoying the views. In case you were wondering, we did still get in our daily dose of gelato.

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Because we celebrated both Gracie's and my birthdays we thought it fitting that G'mama and Lucy could celebrate their "Unbirthdays" - complete with gifts and dinner at the restaurant of their choice. Yesterday we headed out on a short walk north of Bellagio to Punta Spartivento and today we had laundry done and went horseback riding in the picturesque hills surrounding Lake Como.

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Tomorrow we head to Milan and the following day G'mama goes back to Walnut Creek and we head to The Cotswolds in England. We have all had a fabulous time travelling together and it certainly won't be the same without my mom here. I feel blessed and so fortunate that we have been able to spend this time together and I look forward to more adventures in the future.

Here is a list of the modes of transporation we have taken on this trip. We think we got everything![/b]
plane, train, car, tour bus, van, bicycle, public bus, gondola, roller coaster, ferry, donkey, mule, horse, camel, water taxi, car taxi, vaporetto, boat, kayak, Sharkie the blow-up dolphin, and our favorite mode, our own 2 feet.

[b]G'mama's Final Thoughts on Her Adventure
It has been quite an adventure and some of the things I will miss are: new experiences and adventures every day; meeting new people and friends; inexpensive, good wine; 3-hour dinners starting at 8pm; 10% tips and not being rushed in restaurants; knowing the traits of every dog in the AKC catalog as dictated to me by Lucy; lazy schedules most days - it feels like summer vacation; and of course most of all... my travelling buddies.

Things I won't miss: mosquitos; schlepping suitcases around; the effects on my body of multiple cobblestoned streets and stairs; wearing my passport belt at all times; and smoking in restaurants and bars.

As I get closer to home I look forward to: my own bed; a washing machine and dryer; Peet's coffee; and mostly seeing my wonderful family and friends again. Although I have missed home a great deal this has been a wonderful experience travelling with Kristie and the girls and enjoying diverse cultures and shared memories. See you soon. Ciao, Ann

Posted by k2arevalo 07.06.2010 10:54 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Venice, Italy (incl. Gracie's 10th Birthday in her words)

Venice
June 25th - 27th

June 25th -
Our drive to Venice was about 3 hours and after parking the car at a large public garage outside of they city we proceeded to the vaporetto stop to take the water bus to our hotel. This being Europe, the vaporetto drivers were on strike for a few hours that day so we ended up walking to a stop that was closer in and actually had a few of the boats taking passengers. We were happy that we combined all of the clothes we needed for our stay in Venice into one small suitcase. We had a fun time walking through the winding streets in search of our hotel and once we found it we went to a small square nearby for a pasta lunch. The afternoon was spent visiting mask shops and soaking in the sights and sounds of this famous city.

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This was the first visit to Venice for me and the girls and ever since Gracie's friend, Caramia, celebrated her 5th birthday here, Grace has been asking to celebrate her birthday in Venice. We were thrilled to be here and Gracie was excited to have her dream come true.

June 26th -

MY 10TH BIRTHDAY IN VENICE

I woke up with lots of hugs and kisses from my family and they sang the "Happy Birthday" song to me. I couldn't believe that I was in Venice for my entry to the double digits. I got a nice breakfast in bed and watched BBC while I waited for them return with food for moi. I played dominos with G'mama (she won) while Lucy and Mommy were buying presents for me. I got to open presents and I got a very nice marrionette of a doctor and he is very cute and has a Venetian mask. He has a black coat and underneath brightly colored clothes and a cane. I also got a nice calligraphy pen and Lucy got one too with different colored ink. I also got a mask for my faithful companion, Tahoe, and I got a matching mask to his.

I wanted to go to the famous island of Murano to see the glass. I got a glass saxaphone player and with my birthday money (10Euros) I bought a yellow glass dog that looks like Pluto and is ready to play. Lucy and I will put it in our room at home. I enjoyed looking in all of the shops and it seemed like every shop we went into we bought something - tempting, eh?

We took the vaporetto back to Piazza San Marco and went to our favorite gelato shop. I had a six scoop gelato - lots of thanks to Uncle Brad! We then went mask shopping and I got the mask that matches Tahoe and Lucy got a wolf mask. We walked to the gondola and got on a boat named Lucia (Lucy in Italian) and had a gondalier named Matteo. It was a dream to go through the side alleys and find out that on the bottom stories of the buildings are only storage areas because they flood in high tide. Venice floods over 100 times per year. We then had dinner at a pizzeria watching the US vs. Ghana game. We had fun but were sorry to see our team lose. If anyone knows Landon Donovan please give him my email address.

What a great, first double digit birthday!! Thanks Mommy, Grandma and Lucy for the wonderful day!!

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June 27th -
Our final day we spent exploring the city further and at night went to Piazza San Marco to listen to the dueling orchestras and dance in the soft lighting. The girls also enjoyed stomping in the puddles as Piazza San Marco started to flood. Even though G'mama has been to Venice before, on this trip because we stayed in the heart of the city for three nights we were able to spend more time wandering the streets and she came to truly appreciate all the city has to offer.

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Today, June 28th, we are driving to Chianti and will be spending four days visiting with our good friends from home, the Rohlfes family. We look forward to seeing them all and meeting baby Justine! Ciao ciao...

Posted by k2arevalo 06.28.2010 01:40 Archived in Italy Comments (3)

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