Roomful Of Blues At The Stadium Theater


If you live in New England, you know about Roomful of Blues, the powerhouse R&B band formed by Greg Piccolo and Duke Robillard almost 50 years ago. These guys have played every venue in the Northeast — Rhodes on the Pawtuxet, booze cruises on Narragansett Bay, the lawn of the Spring House on Block Island, converted warehouses in Fall River. Carolyn and I saw them play years ago at a roadside bar not far from our house that was about as big as a shipping container.

The members of the band have changed over the years. Duke split and formed his own band. Ronnie Earl, one of the greatest piano players in history, took his act on the road. But the foundation of the band — a front line composed of trumpets, saxophones, and trombones — hasn’t changed one iota.

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This weekend, Roomful played at the renovated Stadium Theater in Woonsocket. They were joined by two other local bands who have have been around since the Carter administration — Steve Smith and The Nakeds, and John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band.

Let’s be honest. The Stadium is not a great venue for a concert. The acoustics are lousy. The more the sound man cranked up the volume, the more the sound of the bands tended to blur into a wall of white noise. But the music was great and the crowd (composed mostly of what could charitably be called “older Americans”) loved it.

At the end of the night, all three bands came on stage and jammed together in a very up tempo version of Down The Mississippi Down In New Orleans. Wish I had recorded that but my little Sony point and shoot had run out of battery by that point. It was the highlight of the evening and worth the price of admission for that one song alone.

I was able to record four numbers, though, which are shared with you below. The first song is Too Much Boogie, a Roomful standard. My little toy camera did a pretty good job, I think. The sound quality isn’t great, but then again it wasn’t that great in the theater to begin with.

Hope you enjoy the music. And if you ever get a chance to see Roomful of Blues in person, do not pass it up. They are a significant part of American musical history and deservedly so.


 

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The Flames Next Door


Carolyn and I are fans of the Moth Radio Hour on NPR where real people stand up before a live audience and tell a story from their life. Some are funny. Some are poignant. Some offer insights into our relationships with those around us. If I ever got invited on the show, there are a few stories I think would be worthy of sharing. This is one of them.

In the fall of 1972, I received orders to Vietnam. One of my Army buddies invited me to a farewell dinner at his apartment in Oakland, California. It was in a typical brick apartment building — an 8-plex as I remember. They were what we called back “garden apartments” back then, meaning each had an small balcony off the living room.

We drank a lot of wine and told a lot of lies about how we would catch up with each other after I got back from my doing my patriotic chore. As the hour grew late, I said goodbye at the door to  his apartment and headed down the stairs to the street. That’s when I saw a flicker of flame coming from the roof of the house next door.

The house was a relic, one of the few old Victorian style wood frame buildings in the neighborhood. It had a wide porch and a big oak door with an oval window. There were gable everywhere and maybe even a gargoyle or two. It looked like it belonged on the set of Dark Shadows.

I called out to my friend, “Call the fire department. I think the house next door is on fire.” He shrugged and said, “Don’t worry. They’re just a bunch of hippies.” Those were the days of Haight Ashbury. Big Brother And The Holding Company still got a lot of air time on the radio. Hippies were everywhere and not everyone appreciated their “If it feels good, do it” life style.

I was headed down the sidewalk toward my car when a large tongue of flame sprouted from the rooftop. I ran back up the stairs to my friend’s apartment, banged on his door, and told his this was for real. The house next door was on fire and he needed to phone it in. By now, we could clearly see the flames growing bigger. He made the call.

The fire department arrived in just a few minutes. One of the firemen went up and pounded on the big front door. It took a while, but eventually a light went on in the front hall. A gaunt man with long hair wearing granny glasses came to the door.  He seemed totally unaware of the fire — or anything else for that matter.

“Sir, come outside,” the fireman said. “Your house is on fire.” The young man came out onto the porch then down the stairs to the sidewalk. As he turned to look up, I could see the flames reflected in his glasses. He stared for what seemed like a long time and then he said, “Oh, wow!”

“How many people are inside?” the fireman asked. “Oh, wow,” the young man said. The firefighters went in and started searching the house. Eventually, 12 more people emerged from inside, including three young children. They had been sleeping in a bedroom on the top floor near where the fire started.

Every time a new person came out of the house, the young man said, “Oh, wow.” He said the same thing when he saw the children come out bundled in blankets and looking confused. Maybe one or more of them was his. It was hard to tell from his reaction.

Not long afterward, the house seemed to shudder and then groan. Then it burst into flame with fire licking out of every window. The people who had been inside stood at the curb and watched as fire consumed their home. “Oh, wow,” they said in unison.

 

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The Accidental Tourists Invade Florida


 

Our latest adventure captures the theme that has come to define our lives perfectly — go, see, do. You can find it in the words of Charles Kuralt located in the upper right corner of this page: “I see the road ahead is turning. I wonder what’s around the bend.”

The story began earlier this year when we got a home exchange request from some folks in Hobe Sound, a coastal community near Palm Beach. They wanted to come to Rhode Island in October for 10 days. We hadn’t planned on going to Florida in October, but I had a $500 voucher from United from last November when my flight home from San Antonio went awry. It expired in November, so we had to use it or lose it.

We said yes and started to make our plans. We booked our flight and reserved a car. Then Hurricane Irma happened. In its aftermath, the folks in Florida notified us they had to evacuate their home, which was damaged by the storm. Regretfully, they had to cancel the home exchange.

Which left us with a dilemma. It was easy enough to cancel our rental car reservation but what about the plane tickets? Could we cash them in? And what would happen to the voucher we used to purchase them? Even if United agreed to refund our money and reactivate the voucher (highly unlikely) we would still need to go somewhere within the next 6 weeks.

One option was to simply eat the plane tickets. Another was to find somewhere else to stay that wouldn’t cost us an arm and a leg. With 10 days to go, Carolyn found us a place in Ocean Village, a seaside community on South Hutchinson Island in Fort Pierce. The place looked pretty cool and the price was right — only $60 a night. We decided to go for it.

We were a little apprehensive because the unit we were renting sounded small — a one bedroom, one bath unit. We expected it to be like a typical motel unit. When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find we would not be living in a broom closet during the next ten days.

The unit was cheery and bright with a well equipped kitchen, a generous living room and bedroom, lots of closet space, and a screened in porch overlooking the pool with a view of the ocean beyond. We felt we had gotten more than we bargained for.

After we settled in, we discovered we liked the village where we were staying.  There are some high rise towers and some low rise units like ours. The people at the pool were friendly. There was a par 3 golf course running through the property. We aren’t avid golfers but a par 3 is something we could see ourselves trying. There are about a dozen tennis courts, several bocce courts and shuffleboard areas, and bicycle paths everywhere.

The beach was to die for. Unlike most of the Florida coast, there was not a forest of condo towers on either side of us. Constant surf. Gentle breezes. All of it just a 5 minute walk away. We were definitely impressed.

On a whim, we poked our head into the office to ask if any units like ours were for sale. They told us most of the 300 units in the village have a one month minimum for rentals but a few units in the low rise buildings allow one week stays. There were two units available — one in the building next to us and another in a building about 10 minutes away.

The units that can be rented on a weekly basis are highly desirable because they are in demand year round. Few people want to book a month in Florida in July and August, but locals from Orlando and surrounding areas are delighted to take a week at the beach to escape the heat of inland Florida. It’s sort of like folks from Pennsylvania flocking to the Jersey shore in the summer.

The unit next door was on the second floor and in move-in condition. The other was on the first floor and needed renovation. We asked to see both. An appointment was made for Monday. On Saturday, the broker called to ask if we could meet her at 9:30 am instead. There was some interest developing in the unit. Oh, sure. Some phantom buyer had magically appeared. We’re getting scammed, we thought.

We had already checked out both buildings and eliminated the unit on the first floor. A.) We don’t want to do any renovations at this stage in our life. B.) It was on the first floor and more susceptible to flooding in a storm. C.) It was much further away from the pool, the beach and the common areas. D.) It had a view of the parking lot, not the ocean. So it was the unit next door on the second floor or nothing.

We met the broker and immediately fell in love with the place. It was painted in our colors. It had a better view than the unit we were staying in. And it had an updated eat-in kitchen area with nice granite counter tops. Plus, the owner had already rented it for portions of 2108 and 2019. The income would cover our costs for both years. We made an offer and went to the beach. The photo below shows our shadows on the sand as the sun is setting behind us. We could definitely learn to live like this.

Part of our decision to make an offer was the city of Fort Pierce itself. Not as chi chi as Vero Beach to the north or Palm Beach to the south, it felt a little like Newburyport — a comfortable place where we could feel at home. There were also some great sailing opportunities, nice shops, an old fashioned theater, and a selection of interesting restaurants.

Fort Pierce is the sweet spot for us — not too impressed with itself but charming in an Old Florida kind of way. It is a quiet interlude between the hustle and bustle that Florida has become and feels like a throwback to a simpler time.

Come to find out, another broker was ten minutes behind us with customers in tow. They wanted the unit. On Sunday, two other brokers brought customers to see the place. One of them was actually banging on the door demanding to be let in. What put us over the top with the seller was that we were willing to close within 2 weeks. In this new modern age, everything could be handled online from home thanks to electronic signature and wire transfer technology.

As of October 31, we are condo owners in Ocean Village on South Hutchinson Island, Florida. The unit will be rented most of the time but we will be able to stay for free whenever we want while enjoying a positive cash flow. Between home exchanges and condo rentals, we are now solidly part of the sharing economy.

Whenever a door opens, it can lead to all sorts of unexpected things. What doors will this decision to own property in Florida open for us? We don’t know. We have charted a course into unknown territory and are excited by the possibilities.

To paraphrase Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken, two Floridas diverged on a sunny coast. We chose the one less traveled by and that will make all the difference. We invite you to share our newly discovered treasure with us. Perhaps you will like it as much as we do.

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Truckin’ With Dead & Company At Fenway Park


On Sunday, June 18, Carolyn and I went to a Dead & Company concert at Fenway Park. Many thanks to Carolyn’s brother, Steven Fortuna, for supplying us with tickets. We were seated roughly where Xander Bogaerts usually plays shortstop for the Red Sox.

I had never been to a Dead concert before. Carolyn went a time or two during her halcyon days 35 years ago. It was, as the old expression goes, a trip. Reconstituted with John Mayer filling in for the deceased Jerry Garcia, Dead & Company reprised all the band’s best known favorites on an enormous stage set up in front of the Green Monster near where it intersects with The Triangle in centerfield.

Rising 4 stories high and festooned with dozens of speakers fed by a bazillion amplifiers, the set was mighty impressive. Live video of the musicians was projected onto the back wall and the wings flanking the stage. The production crew added graphics that can only be described as psychedelic.

The evening evoked the easy camaraderie inspired by the magic mushrooms, peyote, and other recreational drugs that were so much a part of the original Dead Head experience.  The aroma of marijuana drifted across the infield. Some of us tried to position ourselves down wind in hopes of getting a contact high. The crowd was relaxed and mellow.

The video accompanying this post was taken on my Sony point and shoot camera, which may account for its modest sound quality. It captures the first four minutes of Truckin’, one of the only Dead songs to ever hit the Top 40.

The song itself went on for nearly 15 minutes, honoring the Grateful Dead’s tradition of intricate melodies that swoop and loop back on themselves in flights of musical improvisation. The recording ends after 4 minutes because that’s when my arms got tired of holding the camera.

The concert was way cool, but being out on the field at Fenway Park was cool, too. It was a great night — warm with a gentle breeze. The music reminded us of time when Americans were less afraid of their government and lunatics and were all truckin’ more or less together.

We meandered home on the Green Line afterwards with snippets of lyrics floating though our heads. “Truckin’ got my chips cashed in. Keep truckin’, like the do-dah man.
Together, more or less in line, just keep truckin’ on.

Did someone say encore?

What a long strange trip it’s been.

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Follow In My Wake: Dennis Connor And Stars & Stripes 1987


This story was originally published on Ecoworldly

While visiting Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, I had a chance to sail on Stars & Stripes 1987, the 12 Meter yacht that played such an important part in America’s Cup history. The story begins in Newport, Rhode Island. 24 times, the fastest yachts in the world converged on Newport, determined to win the America’s Cup. 24 times, they sailed for home disappointed.

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The Famous Winged Keel Controversy

In September of 1983, a team from Perth, Australia, brought their innovative yacht, Australia II, to Newport. Australia II was the first boat ever to have a so-called “winged keel.” It featured two surfaces jutting out from the bottom of the keel, one on each side. And it was fast. The New York Yacht, custodians of the Cup for more than 100 years, insisted that keel was illegal. Before every race, they filed a protest and every time the official measurer declared the boat complied with every jot and title of the rules.

Liberty, the American defender, was skippered by Dennis Connor and was noticeably slower than the challenger. Only by superior tactics and skill was Connor able to compete with the Aussie boat. At the end of 6 races, the series was tied — 3 wins apiece.

Going Off On A Flyer

America’s Cup competition is match racing — two boats, one course. First to cross the finish line wins. No tears. There is one cardinal rule in match racing. The boat ahead sticks like glue to the boat behind. Wherever it goes, the leader goes.

There is an old expression in sailing: We cannot control the wind. All we can do is adjust our sails. Wind is not a constant thing — it comes first from one direction, than a few seconds later from another. If you allow the boat behind to sail off all alone, it might find better wind somewhere else. That’s why a seasoned match racer never, ever, under any circumstances, lets the trailing boat get away.

In the seventh race, Liberty had a commanding lead rounding the next to last mark. The wind that day was light and flukey. In a desperate search for a stronger breeze, Connor decided to sail off in the general direction of Portugal. Australia II sailed straight for the last mark. When the boats came together, Liberty’s lead had evaporated and it found itself over two minutes behind.

The Man Who Lost The Cup

Connor immediately became “the man who lost the Cup.” He was shamed throughout yachting circles and vilified wherever he went. Some believe he lost the last race deliberately so control of the America’s Cup would be wrested away from the New York Yacht Club.

It was well known that Connor and the NYYC despised each other. Connor had many innovative ideas about how the America’s Cup competition should evolve in the future. The NYYC wanted no part of any such frippery and tomfoolery.

Undaunted, Connor immediately set about organizing a challenge to recover the Cup based at the San Diego Yacht Club. 4 years later, he went to Australia with Stars Stripes 1987, the 55th 12 Meter yacht ever built. It was designed specifically for the heavy seas and high winds found in the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia.

A Triumph For Dennis Connor

But before it could challenge for the Cup, it needed to win the challengers series against boats from other countries. Eventually it came down to two — Stars & Stripes 1987 and KZ 5, the challenger from New Zealand. In the final and deciding race, Connor was leading when the genoa jib on Stars & Stripes exploded. As Connor’s crew struggled to replace the jib, KZ 5 sailed on by, certain that victory was theirs.

Unbelievably, Connor maneuvered his crippled boat with such expertise that he surprised the Kiwis at the final mark and went on to win the race and the right to challenge for the America’s Cup. The series itself was anti-climactic. Connor and Stars & Stripes bludgeoned the Australians into submission, taking 4 races in a row to bring the Cup back to the US.

As a young man who grew up sailing on Narragansett Bay, I followed America’s Cup racing passionately. In the days before DVR’s, I was the only person I knew who stayed up until 3 am to watch the races live from Australia. When Connor and Stars & Stripes paraded back into the harbor after reclaiming the Cup I was ecstatic, although I never quite forgave Connor for losing it i in the first place.

Gary Jobson, a renowned America’s Cup sailor in his own right, said after the series, “The Stars & Stripes campaign of 1986-87 was the triumph of Dennis Conner. The events of 1983 were crushing. Dennis was hurt and vilified. He was made the scapegoat. To win after going through that was the story.”

The Sailing World Shifts On Its Axis

What happened next was the stuff upon which legends are built. Michael Fay, a wealthy industrialist from New Zealand, issued a challenge to the San Diego Yacht Club to contest for the Cup the following year. Ordinarily, the Cup races were scheduled 3 to 4 years apart. 21 syndicates had made their intentions known to compete in 1991, but Fay took his challenge to the New York Supreme Court which interpreted the original Deed of Gift to the New York Yacht Club in Fay’s favor.

The Deed specified only that the boats would have but one mast and be not more than 90 feet in length. Fay announced his challenger would be 90 feet long with one single mast. In fact, he already had the boat built and ready to race.

Connor and the SDYC were caught flat footed. They had no such boat ready and could not design and build one in time. But Connor, the wily strategist, had an answer. The San Diego defender would be a catamaran. Strictly speaking, it complied with the strict terms of the Deed of Gift.

Multi-hull Boats Rule The Seas

Connor beat the Kiwi boat and the era of multi-hull racing had come to America’s Cup competition. Today, as this is being written, catamarans representing Sweden and New Zealand will face each other for the right to challenge Team USA in the 2017 round of the competition. The old 12 Meter yachts had a maximum hull speed of about 17 knots on a windy day. Today’s boats are more like jet fighters than sailboats and can reach speeds of 50 knots.

The racing is exciting, intense, edge of your seat, stuff. And it exists because Dennis Connor went to Perth with Twelve Meter 55 — Stars & Stripes 1987 — and brought the Cup home in convincing style.

Standing In The Shadow Of Dennis Connor

I was thinking of all that history as I took the helm of 12 Meter 55 out of Harbor Town and sailed under reef through the waters of the Intercoastal Waterway. I stood where Dennis Connor stood. Put my hands on the wheel just as Connor had 40 years ago. The rest of the people on board were just tourists with no idea that the boat they were sailing on had once been a vital part of America’s Cup history.

But I knew. I could feel the energy field that still envelopes Stars & Stripes 1987. It’s there if you understand the history of the vessel and grew up steeped in America’s Cup lore. And while I sailed, I was channeling Jimmy Buffett: “Follow in my wake, there’s not that much at stake; for I have calmed the seas and smoothed the troubled waters…..”

I was sitting in a dentist’s chair in 1978, listening to a live broadcast of the race on the radio. When Connor sailed off toward the horizon and let the Aussies cruise home to victory, I almost bit the drill in half in anger and frustration. But now I have felt the aura of Dennis Connor and I just want to say, “Dennis, I forgive you.”

Everything Old Is New Again

There is a codicil to this story. The Herreshoff brothers, Nathaniel and John, designed and built a number of America’s Cup defenders at their boatyard in Bristol, Rhode Island. Hanging from the rafters in the Herreshoff Museum is a strange craft. It looks like a wooden pancake straddling two kayaks. It was built in 1898 and submitted to the New York Yacht Club as a potential America’s Cup defender.

The NYYC promptly ruled the design ineligible because it would too fast! The Herreshoffs, like Dennis Connor, were way ahead of their time.

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Catching Up With The Hanley Clan In Sydney


Carolyn and I spent most of January lolling on the beach in  Australia and visiting the Hanley clan at their digs in the Pyrmont section of Sydney. Mostly, we got to spend time with the two grandkids, Helena, age 6, and Ava, age 4.

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Our funnest day was at Luna Park, an amusement park located in North Sydney near the Harbor Bridge. We had a great day riding all the rides and visiting the fun house.

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Here’s a shot of Helena, who is fearless, getting ready to ascend the super scary Waterfall of Death ride. That’s not its real name but it’s a pretty good description.

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There was other cool stuff, too, like those funny mirrors amusement parks have and a whirly thing that kids love because it spins until everyone else falls off.

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There were two gals in pink polka dot costumes so naturally we had to get pictures of them with the kids.

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And finally, here’s a photo of the girls in the yard at the condo where we stayed. What a great trip. We need to do this again real soon!

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Discovering Cinque Terre, The Italian Riviera


We ended our Italian holiday with a 5 day visit to Cinque Terre — 5 historic villages clinging to the hillsides that rise up from the Mediterranean Sea on Italy’s west coast between Genoa and Rome. These ancient villages are colorful and charming, but they are also a testament to the indomitable spirit of mankind. The setting is truly a place where you would expect to find mountain goats, not people.

The beach at Monterosso

In the days before Italy was unified into one country, these five towns were independent territories. In French, Cinque Terre means “5 lands.” The French name stuck but the local pronunciation is most un-Gallic. In Italian, they are known collectively as CHINK wa TEAR uh. They are mostly inaccessible by car. In past centuries, communication with the outside world was mostly limited to walking paths cut into the steep sides of the mountains. Today, the towns are served by trains and coastal ships.

From south to north, the five villages are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. All share a similar architectural history and are especially scenic with their brightly colored buildings, narrow streets, and fleets of fishing boats nestled in quiet harbors. Monterosso is further divided into two sections — the Old Town and the more modern new section. We chose to stay in the newer part of Monterosso because that’s where the train station and the best beaches were located.

Monterosso Part I

The newer section of Monterosso is all about beaches. The seashore is lined with private clubs where visitors can rent an umbrella and a cabana for the day. At the northern end of town is a public beach. Above the beach is Il Gigante, a concrete sculpture set high atop a rocky outcropping. 80 years ago, the giant supported a dance floor that hung out over the water where revelers could dance under the stars. The dance floor is long gone, but Il Gigante still maintains his lonely vigil over the town below.

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Monterosso Part II

The old town of Monterosso is accessed by a tunnel. During WW II, the inhabitants took shelter in that tunnel during air raids. Our first visit occurred during a torrential rain storm that forced us to seek shelter in a local cafe where tourists and locals congregated to wait out the storm with a Caffe Americaine and a biscotti or two. The storm soon passed and we set off to explore the old part of town.

We returned to old Monterosso a few days later and climbed all the way to the top where there is an ancient monastery and burial vault. In more dangerous times, the people would hide in the monastery to avoid capture by Turkish pirates who roamed the Mediterranean. It was more than a 1,000 steps to the top and worth every huff and puff on the way up.

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Riomaggiore

One of the most photographed of all the 5 villages, Riomaggiore is a typical town in the area. It rises steeply from the shore to the hills above. It’s tiny harbor offers little protection to fishing boats, so they are hauled out and parked along the streets of town when stormy weather is expected.

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Manarola 

Just a mile north of Riomaggiore is the fishing village of Manarola. The casual visitor would have difficulty telling one from the other. Manarola has a picturesque harbor with many colorful small boats waiting to take those who make their living from the sea out onto the waters of the Mediterranean.

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Vernazza

We bypassed Corniglia, which sits high above the local railway station, to spend a day in Vernazza. We loved staying in Monterosso, but Vernazza was our favorite day trip while in Cinque Terre.

In 2011, severe storms caused major flooding that sent a wall of mud 12 feet deep cascading through the town. The ferocity of the storm dislodged homes in the valley above the town that had stood for centuries. The flood waters blasted a hole through the granite foundation of the town near the harbor.

Today, Vernazza has largely recovered but the damage is still there to be seen if you know where to look.

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We were sad to leave Cinque Terre, but our excursion had come to an end. We took the train back to Milan then a bus to the airport where we stayed overnight so we would be on time for our early morning flight home.

As we were leaving the hotel in the morning, we happened to glance out our window  to find that Italy had given us a goodbye gift. It was still dark where we were, but to the north, the tops of the Alps were bathed in sunlight from the coming dawn. It was a magnificent ending to our Italian holiday.

Thank you, Italy. Our journey was very special. We’ll see you again soon.

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