EUROPE: 21 Days Solo Traveling ~ Holy Week in ROME

DAY 1 – Arrival in Rome, Spanish Steps & Trevi Fountain

April 11, 2017 Tuesday around 1am when I left Manila and traveled for 9 hours to Abu Dhabi Airport for a short layover. Then I flew to Rome for 7 hours and landed at the Rome Fiumicino Airport around 1pm on the same day.

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I went straight to the Immigration counter after getting off the plane.

After a long queue, I had the most nerve-wracking interview with an immigration officer. He asked me if it’s my first time to travel to Europe and if I am traveling alone. I said yes.

He also asked how long will I stay in Italy, I said 12 days then I’m going to Barcelona and Paris.

Then he asked me how much my pocket money is. I felt a bit uncomfortable but I answered him confidently, “I have xxxx euros”. But I was shocked when he said, “Can I see it?”

A bit flustered as I opened my bag and showed him the euros I bought from the foreign exchange at NAIA. (Good thing I already bought them before I left Manila). When the immigration officer saw it he said “OK” then stamped my passport and let me pass. Whew!

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After passing thru the immigration, I just followed the signs leading to the train station.
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To get to the train station, I went out of the airport and felt the nice cool air.
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BIGLIETTERIA. Ticket counter in Italian. It pays to know some basic Italian words before traveling.

I took the Leonardo Express train from the airport to Roma Termini station, which is the city center. I could have taken the bus but it will take about an hour unlike the express train that only took about 30 minutes.

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One-way ticket to the Leonardo Express costs 14 euros. More pricey than the bus, but at this point I want a fast and hassle free transfer from the airport.

A look inside the Leonardo Express train. Plenty of comfortable seats and a space for big luggage.

After 30 minutes, I arrived at Roma Termini Station.                              20170411_160709

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As I stepped out of the train station, I paused for a while and breathe in the cool Roman air and take in all the Italian architecture surrounding me. 20170412_150921 copyWalked for just about 500 meters until I found my hostel, The Yellow Hostel

The Yellow Hostel

My home in Rome for next 4 days. The Yellow Hostel has one of the best ratings and reviews in Hostelworld.com that’s why I booked this place as my home base in Rome for 4 nights. It is located at Via Palestro which is just a short walking distance from the main train station Roma Termini.

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Reception counter. Check-in time is from 2:30pm onwards.

It has a cool and hip vibe that caters mostly to young travelers. I like how they combined classic Italian architecture with modern industrial design elements.

Below the lobby, there is a common kitchen where guests can cook their own food and a common lounge area with bean bags and a desktop computer where guests can use for free.

Surprisingly, my room is not on the same building as the lobby so the receptionist just gave me the room key and instructed me to just go to the building across the street, take the elevator to the 2nd floor and just find my room. How convenient.

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I stayed in a 6-bed mixed dorm room at The Yellow Hostel for about 38 euros per night.
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All rooms have lockers and electronic safe boxes which is good.

Tip: There is a 3 euros city tax per night that must be paid on top of the nightly rate. I guess this is a mandatory ordinance around Europe. The amount just vary depending on the city you’re staying in.

Then I went out to explore the city after settling in and catching upsome rest.  First place I went to was the Spanish Steps.

THE SPANISH STEPS

How I got there: From The Yellow Hostel at Via Palestro, I walked to Roma Termini Station and took the Metro Line A – Orange (bound to Battistini). I bought the 100-minute BIT Ticket that is valid for 100 minutes from first use and you can use it on one metro ride and other public transport like bus and tram. Then I got off at Spagna Station and just followed the signs to the Spanish Steps.

It was crowded when I arrived but I can’t complain because it has been my dream to visit the famous Spanish Steps that I only see in movies and now I finally get to be in that place. I’m just thankful for this opportunity.

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The Spanish Steps is one of the most famous tourist spots and meeting place in Rome. It got it’s name because it is located near the Spanish Embassy in Piazza de Spagna at the bottom of the steps.
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View from the top of the Spanish Steps and I was amazed how the sun is still up at 7pm.

There are about 135 steps built to connect the Piazza de Spagna below to the Trinita dei Monti Church on top.

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Detail of the steps.

I sat there for a while and reflect on everything that happened to me so far. I thought of all the hardships I had to go thru to be where I am at that moment. I could not believe I’m finally in Italy. I almost cried and had my emotional moment right there haha! Enough of the drama.

Tip: Eating is not allowed while sitting on the Spanish Steps or you’ll be called out by guards.

After spending some time at the Spanish Steps, I wanted to eat something authentic so I thought of having GELATO!

From my research, I discovered that Giolitti is the oldest ice cream parlor in Rome and has one of the best tasting gelato. From the Spanish Steps, it was just a 10-minute walk to get there.

I had a scoop of dark chocolate and raspberry gelato on a cone. It was delicious but I think having a gelato on a cold night was a bad idea haha!

TREVI FOUNTAIN

I was stunned. The Trevi Fountain is probably the most beautiful thing I have ever seen even though it was crowded.

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Trevi Fountain got it’s name because it is located at the junction of three streets (tre vie).

A visit to Trevi Fountain will not be complete without throwing a coin to the water. According to tradition, if you throw a coin once, you will surely come back to Rome. Throw another coin and you will find love hmm…

20170411_19535820170411_20164120170411_202953I did not toss a coin because I don’t really believe in myths BUT I learned later on that the estimated 3,000 euros thrown into the fountain everyday is collected and donated to charity for the less fortunate to have food. (Damn, I should have tossed already!)

Anyway, I decided to walk back to my hostel to see more of the surroundings. It was a long walk but it’s all worth it because Rome is such a beautiful city even at night.

 

DAY 2 – Colosseum, Roman Forum, Piazza Venezia, Campo de Fiori, Piazza Navona, Pantheon

20170412_074831April 12, 2017 Wednesday. I woke up at 6am because I want to avoid the crowd on the tourist spots. So I grabbed a quick breakfast at The Yellow Bar at the ground floor of the building I’m staying at. I had a tyical Italian breakfast of capuccino and cornetto (croissant).

Then in Metro station I bought the 72-hour ticket which is valid for 72 hours from the first use which is just perfect for my next 3 days in Rome.

My first destination was the Colosseum which is probably one of the iconic landmarks of Italy and one of my must-visit places in my bucket list.

COLOSSEUM20170412_084109The Colosseum was a Roman amphitheater built with marble stone and completed around 80 AD to serve as a venue for gladiatorial fights. You can just imagine how much blood were shed in this place.

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I bought my ticket online to avoid long queue at the ticket counter and security check. The ticket also gives you an access to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill so 3 places in 1 ticket, awesome!

The online ticket costs 14 euros (12 euros full price + 2 euros online reservation fee)

I arrived there around 8am and went straight to the security check. There are audio guides for rent for those who are not in a guided tour.

 

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Queue for the security check

I arrived there around 8am and went straight to the security check. There are audio guides for rent for those who are not in a guided tour.

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Closer look of some details inside the Colosseum
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Below the battle ground are rooms where gladiators and animals wait before the fights.

Outside the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine. It was built to celebrate the victory of Emperor Constantine during the Roman Empire and is now one of the three remaining triumphal arches in Rome.20170412_100722

ROMAN FORUM

Nearby the arch is the entrance to the Roman Forum. It is an open public space with the ruins of ancient Roman arches, temples and churches. It used to be the center of life in Ancient Rome.

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Entrance to the Roman Forum

Today, only the remains of the buildings are visible such as the facades of the temples and some triumphal arches.

20170412_112226My online ticket allows me to visit another site which is the Palatine Hill but I got so tired of seeing ruins that’s why I decided to just go to another attraction which is Piazza Venezia.

PIAZZA VENEZIA20170412_121119_001The most recognizable structure in this piazza is this large white marble monument dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II. Many people call it names like “the typewriter” or “the wedding cake” because of its all white color layered massing.20170412_120218Entrance is free and you can also check out the museum on top with exhibitions about the unification of Italy.

PIAZZA DEL CAMPIDOGLIO

Next to Piazza Venezia is Piazza del Campidoglio designed by Michelangelo.

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Cordonata, literally means “graded ramp” is one of the feature elements of Campidoglio.
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The bronze replica statue of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is located on the center of the piazza.

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It was past 12 noon and I wanted something to eat, but not just an ordinary food, I want something that is a must-try in Rome. So I decided to go to Forno Campo de Fiori to try their famous Pizza Bianca which is said to be the best in Rome.

CAMPO DE FIORI

It is a famous public market in Rome that used to be a piazza where executions were held.

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In the middle of Campo de Fiori is a hunting statue of Giordano Bruno who was executed here in 1600 by burning him alive. (Shocking)

Today, Campo de Fiori is a lively market that sells the most amazing produce in Rome. At night, this piazza transforms to a famous place for nightlife among young Romans.

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I stopped by this cheese stand and the vendor was too kind to let me taste some of the cheese for free 🙂

I felt like I’m in heaven. Campo de Fiori is every food lover’s dream. From various types of pasta, spices, fresh fruits and vegetables as well as clothing, they have it.

Across the market is Forno which is famous for their pizza bianca.

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Pizza Bianca of Forno Campo de Fiori. I would say it’s overrated. To me it’s just a plain toasted crust that tastes bland.
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I was so underwhelmed by their pizza bianca that’s why I bought a panini with provola cheese,  mortadella (Italian luncheon meat) and rucola (arugula)

Then I bought this freshly squeezed pomegranate juice and sat under Bruno’s statue as I enjoy my panini.

PIAZZA NAVONA

About 600 meters away from Campo de Fiori is another famous piazza in Rome, the Piazza Navona.

Piazza Navona is an oval shaped former stadium used for festivals and sports events before converting to a public square. It is famous for its three fountains; the Moor, Neptune and the Fountain of four rivers. There is also a baroque church along this piazza and charming restaurants on the other side.

PANTHEON20170412_134809Just 500mm away from Piazza Navona is the Pantheon at Piazza della Rotonda. It is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Rome built around 125 AD. It was first used as a temple for pagan gods before converting to a catholic church.

Tip: Entrance to the Pantheon is free but you need to be observing proper behavior since it’s a church. Therefore proper dress code must be observed as well as silence; otherwise you want to be yelled out with “Silencio!”

After a full day of walking around the piazzas of Rome, it’s only fitting that I reward myself with a nice fancy dinner. I decided to have authentic Italian pasta at Mamma Angela’s Trattoria which is just below the hostel I’m staying at.                    20170412_211436

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I had Tagliatelle with pork cheek and mushrooms and my favorite wine, Moscato.

What a perfect way to end my 2nd day in Rome.

 

DAY 3 – Vatican Museum, Janiculum and Trastevere

April 13, 2017 – Thursday. I went to the Vatican Museum to check out some of the finest art collections in the world. I bought my online ticket ahead to avoid the expected long queue and chose the 8:30am slot just so I can start early and see as much artworks as I can. The online ticket costs 20 euros (full price 16 euros + pre sales fee 4 euros).

 

VATICAN MUSEUM

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There’s already a queue outside the tall walls of the Vatican Museum. Those who have not bought their tickets ahead.

How I got there:

I took the Metro Line A (bound to Battistini). Got off at Ottaviano Station and walked about 550 meters  to the Vatican Museum.

Thank God I arrived early and I already have my online ticket and I don’t have to queue.

When I passed thru the security check, I went to the ticket counter to claim my actual ticket to the museum.

After passing thru the turnstiles, there’s an escalator going up to the galleries. There’s a booth where you can rent audio guides for at least 7 euros but I opted not to rent.

The first thing I really want to see is the famous spiral staircase. Although I’m going to see it later at the exit, I thought it may be crowded already by tourists. That’s why I broke out from the usual itinerary and find my way to the famous staircase.

Bramante Staircase

After taking lots of photos and selfies, I went back to the galleries of the museum. The first gallery I entered was the Pinacoteca. It is a gallery of paintings by major artists from 11th century to the 19th century. There you’ll see works by Giotto di Bondone, Filippo Lippi, Raffaello Sanzio, Leonardo da Vinci, Veronese, Caravaggio, Nicolas Poussin, Peter Paul Rubens, Bernini and many others.

Pinacoteca

Next gallery I went to was the Museo Gregoriano Egizio (Gregorian Egyptian Museum). It contains many ancient Egyptian artifacts as well as Egyptian style objects made during the Roman Empire.

Museo Gregoriano Egizio

I was fascinated to see a real egyptian mummy for the first time. I have always been amazed by ancient Egyptian history.

Museo Gregoriano Etruscano

This gallery features a huge collection of Greek vases and Etruscan objects.

Museo Pio Clementino

One of the famous spots in this gallery is the Octagonal Court where you’ll see the famous marble statue called “Laocoon and his sons”

You will also see the Round Hall or Sala Rotonda that has a large porphyry basin in the middle which is also called “The bathtub of Nero”

Gallery of the candelabras

Gallery of Tapestries                                                                                                20170413_103241

Gallery of Maps                                                                                               20170413_103759

Raphael Rooms                                                                                                                                 20170413_103939

Collection of Contemporary Art                                                                              20170413_104924

Sistine Chapel                                                                  20170413_105308As you enter a narrow door, you will see a huge crowd where all heads are looking up. It’s the most famous work of Michelangelo, the fresco ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

I immediately searched for the most famous part, the Creation of Adam. I was in awe. I feel so honored to witness one of the greatest art masterpiece in the world.

TIP: Taking photos are strictly not allowed. If you got caught by security, you will be yelled at and might ask you to delete your shot.

I don’t get it why they don’t allow photography inside the Sistine Chapel. I mean it’s one of the greatest art masterpieces so people will definitely want a photo souvenir. There are many theories why photography is not allowed. Some say it was because of an exclusive license deal to Nippon TV who funded the restoration of the fresco ceiling. I don’t know the real reason but I don’t care because I traveled a long way to get there and I won’t let anything get in the way of taking a snap of that amazing artwork.

I sat there for about 30 minutes and took my time appreciating every detail of the fresco paintings in the Sistine Chapel. I still feel overwhelmed and surreal that I am finally there.

After exiting the chapel, I felt really tired. Vatican Museum is so big and I don’t think I can visit all the galleries in one day.

I went out around 11:30am and decided to eat lunch before going to St. Peter’s Basilica.

I was so hungry that I ordered one whole Pizza Margherita and Bucatini Amatriciana all for myself!

ST. PETER’S SQUARE

I arrived at St. Peter’s Square around 1pm. The sun was up and the queue to enter St. Peter’s Basilica was insanely long.                                          20170413_13345420170413_13365320170413_135401I would have loved to go inside the basilica to see the famous Pieta sculpture by Michelangelo, St. Peter’s Baldacchino by Bernini and go up to the dome to see the beautiful view of St. Peter’s square but I don’t want to wait for hours to queue so I decided to just leave.

JANICULUM (GIANICOLO HILL)

According to travel guides, a visit to Rome cannot be complete without hiking up the Gianicolo Hill to see the panoramic view of the city.                                                                20170413_150210I walked for about 3km for 40 minutes to get there. The view was nice, though mostly buildings dominate the view, it’s a nice and quiet place to go on a picnic.

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Tempietto

The Tempietto, literally means “small temple”, was also in my list to visit because I’ve known it since college and it was a perfect example of High Renaissance Italian architecture designed by Donato Bramante as a commemorative tomb for St. Peter. It is located in the narrow courtyard of the Church of San Pietro in Montorio. Entrance is free.20170413_160652

Trastevere

Down the Gianicolo Hill is the lovely neighborhood of Trastevere. What I love about this place is that it’s less crowded and quiet.                                  20170413_16362820170413_16424920170413_164633

At that point my feet were already burning from walking all day that’s why I took the bus to go back to my hostel.

After catching up some rest, I went out around 7pm to have “Aperitivo”. It’s like the Italian version of happy hour or pre-dinner drink. Bars or restaurants usually offer free buffet of light snacks when you order a drink.

20170413_19543020170413_200959I went to this bar near the Pantheon called Sharivari and had a Strawberry Caipiroska. Then I was pleasantly surprised by the buffet spread they had. There is bread, peas, meatballs, artichoke, potatoes, chickpeas, zucchini and other dishes. I must say that I now love aperitivo! Haha

 

DAY 4 – Ecstasy of St. Theresa, Jewish Ghetto and Aventine Hill

April 14, 2017. It was Good Friday and my last full day in Rome. The first place I wanted to visit was the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria to see the famous “Ecstasy of St. Theresa” by Bernini.

Along the way I found a snack bar that looks like a something that locals frequently go to so I thought of having breakfast there.

After that indulgent breakfast it’s time to check out the church. As I stepped inside, I was immediately blown by the grandiose and lavish baroque style interior. The ceiling was heavily decorated with gilded moldings with white marble sculpture of flying angels framing the heavenly fresco paintings. It was unbelievably amazing!

20170414_083813Walking further towards the altar there are niches on each side and on one side was the Ecstasy of St. Theresa. The sculpture shows a moment of religious enlightenment by St. Theresa reclining on a sea of clouds with an angel looking down on her and made even more dramatic with gilded sun rays on the background. I guess the sultry expression on St. Theresa’s face made this work of Bernini famous because it stirred some controversy among conservative people.

Then it’s time for souvenir shopping so I headed back to Campo de Fiori to see what I can bring home. I just love this market a lot like I would love to live there haha!

I bought some Pecorino Romano cheese from this kiosk in Campo de Fiori . I appreciate that they vacuum sealed it for me to make it last until I get back to the Philippines.

I also bought some ref magnets for 1 euro each.

I would have loved to bring home some Italian bread but they will not taste as good as fresh by the time I get home.

I did not want buy too much stuff in Rome because I want to save up space in my luggage for more souvenir from other cities I’m going.

Jewish Ghetto

20170414_113015I wanted to go somewhere off-the-beaten path. After visiting tourist attractions for the past 3 days I felt tired of getting through the crowd and queues so I decided to visit an interestingly beautiful neighborhood in the Roman Jewish Ghetto.

As I walk thru the narrow streets, I was pleasantly surprised with this old, rustic yet charming street that is Via del Portico d’Ottavia. The building exteriors have dilapidated surfaces, uneven cobblestones and quaint restaurants along the sides of the road looks very picturesque to me.

20170414_103837Its lunchtime and I think I found one of the best restaurants in Rome. Nonna Betta is a kosher restaurant, which means it complies with the Jewish dietary laws. This restaurant became famous when Anthony Bourdain ate here and enjoyed their artichoke dish.

The restaurant has a small narrow layout with wall paintings showing the daily life in the neighborhood.

20170414_130217For appetizer, I had their famous Jewish-style Artichoke. It’s one big whole artichoke roasted or baked then sprinkled with salt. It was delicious! Artichoke is now one of my favorite vegetables ever. I just wish they put a bit of olive oil to make it less dry.20170414_130245

20170414_131955Then I had one of the must-try pasta dishes in Rome, Cacio e Pepe which literally means cheese and pepper. They used an egg-based pasta called tagliolini cooked al dente mixed with pecorino cheese and pepper. It’s light yet tasty definitely my kind of pasta. They served it with their house bread in a basket (I thought it’s complimentary but not)

I’m so full.  The whole dining experience at Nonna Betta was great. The food is delicious, the waiters are friendly, the service was fast and the restaurant ambience is cozy and warm. The price was a bit expensive for me but it’s all worth it. I would definitely recommend this place to other people.

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I got a free Nonna Betta bookmark as a souvenir 🙂

They also have a small gift shop beside the restaurant selling cooking ingredients, utensils, souvenirs etc. and if you dine in their restaurant you will get a special discount.

20170414_140849I still have room for dessert so I went back to this small restaurant near Campo de Fiori to have an authentic Italian Tiramisu.

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Pan Divino is a small restaurant that sells paninis, tapas and homemade tiramisu that I would really love to try and it only cost 4 euros!

20170414_144548It was my first time to try an authentic Italian homemade tiramisu and it was delicious! The creaminess of mascarpone cheese with a slight hint of espresso and base ingredient of maybe biscotti or lady fingers was so moist. I’m a happy girl!

Orange Garden at Aventine Hill

A local recommended this place to me so I thought of checking it out for my last day in Rome. It’s one of the seven hills in Rome and it is famous for its beautiful orange trees garden and “The Hole”.

Source: httpswww.italyguides.itenlazioromedistricts-of-romeaventineknights-of-malta

The Hole as the people call it is a tiny keyhole on the doorway of a property in the Aventine Hill and if you peek into it you will see a perfect alignment of a portal view with the St. Peter’s Basilica on center. It may be a perfect coincidence or intended to be that way but it was clever. However, the queue just to peek into the hole was insane so I just decided to go to the orange garden.

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20170414_18461320170414_184539The orange tree garden is less crowded and offered which I think is the best panoramic view of Rome!

20170414_183952You can also see the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica from there. I went there during sunset and it was beautiful.                                              20170414_18393620170414_183940I sat there and reflected on the past 4 days of traveling around Rome. I felt so grateful and blessed for this amazing opportunity.

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Later that day, I decided to pass by the Trevi Fountain again before going back to my hostel because I didn’t do the traditional coin-tossing when I went there the first time.20170414_090801

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Guess how many coins did I toss? One or two? Haha!

Rome has this timeless beauty that keeps on enticing people for generations, hence its called the Eternal City. In spite of the constant change in this world it never lost its charm and I feel so grateful that I was able to experience the beauty and rich history this city has to offer. The stunning architecture, marvelous artworks, rustic yet charming cobblestone alleys and delicious food are the things I will remember the most. I’m just at the beginning of my trip and I feel great so far. I can’t wait for what’s in store for me next. Tomorrow I’m off to Tuscany and I am very excited!

..To be continued (Part 2 – Easter Weekend in Tuscany)

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