Christmas in Italy

As many of you may know, I served a mission in Italy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 2010 – 2012. I could not wait to bring Kacee back to meet the people and see places that I learned to love so much. So in April of 2014, we bought ourselves some airline tickets that would fly us out on Christmas Eve from Salt Lake City to Paris, arriving around 11am on Christmas day, and then from Paris to Rome, arriving around 4pm later that day. We hope you learn a lot and enjoy hearing about out trip! We love all of our Italian friends and are so grateful to the Esposito and Valentini families for having hosted us!

This map shows my travels and assignments to different cities as a missionary (2010 – 2012):

  • Rome (July 2010 – October 2010)
  • Sciacca, Sicily (October 2010 – January 2011)
  • Naples (January 2011 – September 2011)
  • Bari (September 2011 – January 2012)
  • Reggio Calabria (January 2012 – April 2012)
  • Rome (April 2012 – June 2012)
Rome - Sciacca - Naples - Bari - Reggio Calabria - Rome

Rome – Sciacca – Naples – Bari – Reggio Calabria – Rome

Below is our travel itinerary for our Christmas vacation December 24, 2014 – January 12, 2015

Rome to Naples to Bari, and back to Rome

Rome to Naples to Bari, and back to Rome

December 25, 2014

We arrived in Paris at 11am after hardly sleeping on our flight across the Atlantic. We were able to spot the White Cliffs of Dover and the English Channel as we approached France from the North. I couldn’t help muttering the little French I know under my breath as I anticipated spending the next couple of hours in the Charles De Gaulle Airport. Kacee spent her first Euro on a French Macaron cookie. Kacee absolutely loves those!

Christmas Day 2014 in Paris

Christmas Day 2014 in Paris

As we flew away from Paris we caught sight of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris

The Eiffel Tower in Paris

When we arrived in Rome we took our luggage to the Leonardo Express and bought two tickets into the Roma Centrale Station.   When we exited the train we went outside to the bus stop of the #90. It was pretty dark – about to 6:00pm. Normally the bus stop is crawling with people of all races, colors, smells, exhaust and pigeons. Finding only the pigeons, we quickly realized that the bus would not be coming. We walked over to the opposite side of the main transfer station where the majority of the bus lines were parked. Along the way we asked to find out where the #90 would be stopping. We found the #90 parked in the spot nearest the train station. It was very difficult to find because they had changed the bus’ color. When I lived in Rome they were green – these new ones were purple.

We loaded our luggage into the bus and eventually we departed from the Capolinea or top of the line. It was too dark to see where we were or where we were going. The drive was taking longer than I remembered so I asked a few people if they knew how far away the Sempione stop was. Someone told me that it was significantly further ahead, but I didn’t trust them. A few stops later, knowing that we were getting off a little early, I told Kacee we should get off. I changed my mind in an instant, and then changed it again; we ended up getting off and we began a very long walk.

We had gotten off way too soon. We followed the electrical wires that marked the route of the #90 (it was a line that served some electric busses) for about thirty minutes before we arrived at our intended stop at Piazza Sempione. The city reeked of smoke and we were very tired from traveling since the day before. The streets were all paved with cobblestone and marble which rubbed the wheels on the bottom of the luggage raw. I’m not sure that Kacee had confidence in me that I knew where I was taking her, but we both felt relieved when we made it to the piazza. Our hotel was located just off of the main street. Before stopping at the hotel, I asked Kacee if she wouldn’t mind trying a kebab for dinner. I absolutely loved them when I lived in Rome, so we went to my favorite kebab spot which just happened to be located right in Piazza Sempione.

Kebab in Rome December 25, 2014

Kebab in Rome December 25, 2014

Kebab place in Piazza Sempione

Kebab place in Piazza Sempione

After that delicious dinner we made it to our hotel. This is how we felt:

It was a long walk! December 25, 2014 in Rome

It was a long walk! December 25, 2014 in Rome

The hotel room was heated to a very high temperature and we needed to open the windows to breathe. The bed was very small  – I think that the hotel may have made a mistake there – and it was quite hard as well. It was very nice, though, and a great deal at 51 euro per night.

Somehow we found enough energy to go for a little walk after we showered and unpacked a little bit.  The hotel was situated equidistant from both the Rome 2 meeting house and the mission home. We took a walk that evening visiting both locations before retiring for the evening.

December 26, 2014

The next morning we awoke to a beautiful day outside: birds singing, church bells ringing, the silence of people recuperating lost sleep from the Holiday. We headed down for breakfast which was being served in an elegant hall decorated to the finest detail of molding and boasting a massive chandelier. They served juice, chocolate croissants, tasty mineral water, hot chocolate, and a few forbidden beverages. I mainly had chocolate croissants, and yogurt. Kacee enjoyed the chocolate croissants, salami, cheese, and hot chocolate.

View from the Sunrise Hotel Window December 26, 2014

View from the Sunrise Hotel Window December 26, 2014

We returned to Piazza Sempione to catch a bus en route to the shopping mall at Porta di Roma. Most everything was closed due to the holiday, however we managed to get on the roof of the shopping mall to get this picture of the Rome Temple:

Rome Temple December 26, 2014

Rome Temple December 26, 2014

We weren’t there long before a mall cop on a segway came and told us that we were in forbidden territory. So we left. The Rome Temple (of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is located right across from the Shopping Mall and the Roman IKEA. We tried to enter the IKEA next, but had no luck due to the never-ending holiday.

The buses in Rome are quite an enigma, but we managed to get on the 338 (headed in the correct direction) off to the outskirts of Rome and beyond. This time we were headed to the Buffalotta zone outside of the Great Circular Highway A.K.A. the G.R.A. We got a little lost but eventually got on the right track. We asked directions of an elderly man who told us to go in a direction which I believed to be quite incorrect. The only problem was that the only way to get where we needed to go was to follow him along his path. We had to go very slow (staying back about 200 feet) because if we had passed him, he would have realized that we didn’t take his advice to go the other way. Eventually we had to pass him (walking along the opposite side of the street) and when he saw us he started screaming directions at us in a very commanding way. All I could shout back was, “Thanks, but we’ve gotta go this way!” as we hurried off to Via della Buffalotta from Via di Tor S. Giovanni where we had mistakingly ended up.

We arrived by foot at the Bethel of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Rome. I had made many friends there as a Mormon Missionary nearly five years previously. While many of my missionary companions felt threatened by the Witnesses (or had had unpleasant scripture reckonings with them) I always felt a really soft spot in my heart for them and what they spend their lives doing. I had also had an occasional unpleasant encounter or had felt perhaps provoked or attacked, but most visits were kind and pleasant. I would always confront them anytime that I saw them. Most of the time it’s hard to do that. I imagine that when the Witnesses see the Mormons and vice versa, they/we feel a sense of urgent competition – or thoughts go through our mind: “how are we going to counter their bible attacks today?!” While these thoughts were likely the default, I would always confront them and ask how they were doing, how the work was going, and that I respected their commitment. I knew firsthand how hard it was to talk to people about my religion especially when it was often spat back into my face or desecrated before me. I had real empathy and sympathy for them because in my mind (they being more well-known in Italy than we were) they were treated extremely disrespectfully by the majority of Italians.

So I made a lot of friends with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and we were there at the Bethel to visit them. We entered the gates and told them that we were there to visit Marco, Eric, e Chezia. They let us in and we got to chat with a bunch of them in the very beautiful lobby. We seemed to arouse some interest in that we were Italian speaking Americans who were not Witnesses. We took a tour of the whole place with our friends. At the end of the tour we were walking outside near the entrance when I saw a man that I recognized. I turned to Marco and said, “Is that man a traveling overseer? I know that guy!” Marco returned to grab the man. When he approached I said, “I know you – you gave a talk in the city of Bari in December of 2011.” I had been in attendance at a JW meeting in Bari and had heard the man speak. Then the man remembered me, that he had spoken with me in the streets of Bari and had invited us to the meeting. It was crazy to relive some of those memories.

Then some of the JW friends secretly organized a SKYPE session to speak with my best JW friend, Giacomo. We toured the audio/visual dept. of the JW base and they got Giacomo on Skype. We had originally planned to see Giacomo in person, but he had been transferred to Columbia (yes, the country in South America) so we couldn’t see him in Italy.

After all the cheek kisses of all the JW friends, we left and went to our hotel to relax for a little bit. We then went out to go see my old missionary apartment in Fidene. We went out there and Kacee had her first Italian (Roman-style) pizza at the same place in which I had had my very first Italian pizza in 2010. When we paid for the pizza, I saw a pass-along card behind the register with a picture of Jesus on it. I pointed to it and told them that I had given them that pass-along card. They then recognized me as being one of the Mormon missionaries – I of course, recognized all of them.

Kacee's first Italian Pizza in Fidene (Northern part of Rome)

Kacee’s first Italian Pizza in Fidene (Northern part of Rome)

December 27, 2014

The next day we visited St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

St. Peter's Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro) at Vatican City - December 26, 2014

St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro) at Vatican City – December 26, 2014

Vatican City - December 26, 2014

Vatican City – December 26, 2014

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For lunch we decided to walk to Trastevere, a neighborhood in Rome known for its truly authentic roman dishes. When we arrived in the neighborhood, I bluntly asked the people in the street, where I could find the restaurant that made the best amatriciana. They pointed us to this BLESSED restaurant called “Da Massi.”

Ristorante Da Massi in the neighborhood  called

Ristorante Da Massi in the neighborhood called “Trastevere”

The FRIED BUFFALO MOZZARELLA was soooooooo good………….

Fried Mozzarella at

Fried Mozzarella at “Da Massi”

And the pasta, Bucatini all’amatriciana, was absolutely TO DIE FOR! The picture below is the same dish from a different restaurant in Piazza Navona, but I had to include it because we didn’t have a good picture of the dish from Da Massi’s in Trastevere. The bacon (pancetta) atop the pasta was so tasty and crispy, that I am almost crying right now that I’m not there right now!

Bucatini all'amatriciana - my Favorite pasta

Bucatini all’amatriciana – Shane’s Favorite pasta

We picked up some Gelato near Vatican City on the way back to the subway train.

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December 28, 2014

December 28 was a Sunday. We attended church in the Rome 2 ward, where I had served as a greenie, and was also the area I was serving in when my time came to return home. Abbiamo visto delle…. wait a second… I just literally was about to go off in Italian… We saw some people that I knew and loved so much. Everyone we saw got and gave a whole lot of cheek kisses. (Always go to the right first so you don’t accidentally get hit on the lips.)

After church we went to the BEAUTIFUL Ladispoli to visit our friend Diana.

When we lived in Salt Lake City in 2013, I went to Temple Square very often. As a teacher I had summers off, and Kacee worked during the day. One day on my visit to Temple Square, I met Diana who was serving as a missionary on Temple Square but who was from Ladispoli, Italy. I gave her some referrals of people I had taught in Italy and Kacee and I ended up running into Diana 3 or 4 times on Temple Square. She is really nice and we both really like her.

Our friend Diana!

Our friend Diana!

We loved chatting. After that we ran into the missionaries in Ladispoli. We chatted with them too.

For dinner Norma e Daniele hanno inv….Norma and Daniele invited us over for dinner. They fed us polenta all’amatriciana it was very good. I can’t get enough of that sauce! They had a beautiful apartment that overlooked the Rome Temple Site. The view was BEYOND amazing! They were so kind and so nice, we talk about them a lot and we think they are great!  Kacee was even brave enough to practice some of her Italian aria texts for them, and they gave her some awesome diction advice.

Beautiful Ladispoli

Beautiful Ladispoli

December 29, 2014

The next set are pretty self-explanatory…

Molding atop the Colosseum

Molding atop the Colosseum

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It was absolutely FREEZING!!!!!

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We then enjoyed a Neapolitan-style pizza at Pizza Forum conveniently located very near the Colosseum. We also NEEDED to get inside. We could not feel our fingers or toes. (Also check out this lady’s stylin’ coat!)

Pizza Forum near the Colosseum (Neapolitan Style Pizza)

Pizza Forum near the Colosseum (Neapolitan Style Pizza)

Pizza Forum

Pizza Forum

We came home in the late afternoon not to venture out again due to the cold weather. We watched some Italian TV (the recent show about the Hitler assassination plot [Valkyrie?] – pretty interesting to watch in Italian).

December 30, 2014

Visit to the Roman Forum.
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This arc was commissioned by the Roman Senate to commemorate the Roman’s conquest of Israel.IMG_3737

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

This church is believed to be built upon the traditional location of the prison which held captive the Apostle Peter and Evangelist Paul.

IMG_3866We could not help going back to Pizza Forum….

Diavola Pizza from Pizza Forum

Diavola Pizza from Pizza Forum

That night, we returned to the JW’s Bethel to have dinner with our Witness Friends. We love them so much! We had a wonderful time talking about the various misunderstandings that plague both of our belief systems – the funny stuff mostly. When we told them that Kacee had sung Doretta’s song from Puccini’s La Rondine at the Met Competition, Marco ran back to his room and pulled out a box of CDs and libretti. We just love how cultured Italians just have these on hand! This was a great night. Marco made pasta and fried cinnamon tortillas in honor of his American guests.

Our Jehovah's Witness Friends in Rome

Our Jehovah’s Witness Friends in Rome

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December 31, 2014

On this day we both took more than 25,000 steps. My pedometer said so. This is huge because I average about 3,500 steps every day that I don’t take a walk… (most days are like that). We walked all around Rome from the Vatican, to Piazza Navona, to the Pantheon, to Trevi Fountain, to the subway, to the Spanish Steps, back to the hotel, to the laundromat, to the new year’s party, and back to the hotel. At the new year’s party we also danced for hours which racked up several more steps.

Fountains in Piazza Navona

Fountains in Piazza Navona

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

We partied with the young men and young women at the church until the countdown signaled the launching of many fireworks (some launched dangerously close and purposefully at other people). When the clock struck midnight everybody gave the person next to them two big cheek kisses, and then we all went in a line and kissed everyone. Italian culture is so kind and open!

January 1, 2015

We left our beautiful home in Rome early on the first of January. We rode the train down to Naples, home of the infamous volcano Vesuvius (pictured below on the right). Gino picked us up from the train station and took us to his home where we stayed for nine whole days! That was awesome and really kind of them!

The Beautiful Napoli!

The Beautiful Napoli!

January 2, 2015

Down by the sea we couldn’t help eating all the treats. Here we had gelato-topped crepes with Nutella…. 🙂

Crepes and Gelato in Pozzuoli al Lungo Mare

Crepes and Gelato in Pozzuoli al Lungo Mare

January 3, 2015

On this day we walked down from Maria’s house to the Cumana train line at Arco Felice where we learned that the train would not be coming or going from that spot. The man behind the counter was older and very entrenched in the Neapolitan tradition making his accent very thick and nearly impossible to understand. We did understand enough to figure out that the train would not be coming, that we would need to buy some tickets, and that we would need to get on a bus to take us to the next train stop. The bus arrived immediately and we hurried on it. It took us to the Cumana stop in Pozzuoli where we waited to board the train. I brought a copy of the Book of Mormon with me in Italian so I could place it with someone that day.

The electronic ticket validator at the train stop was not working so we needed to validate our tickets by hand by writing the date and time on the back. We became somewhat popular on the train because we had a pen to offer to other passengers in the tight quarters of the train. I made the comment to all within earshot that I had incorrectly validated my ticket by writing 03/01/14 (day/month/year is the Italian way) instead of 03/01/15. This lead into more conversation between us and the entire back half of the train. We met Dora and about 7 members of her family. We explained that we were Americans but I had lived in this area as a missionary 4 years earlier, how we love Naples (Italians really appreciated that we love their homeland), and the story of their whole family.

We were en route to Pianura, a town a bit more inland which required that we go into the main city before switching lines to go out there. It turned out that Dora lived in Pianura. When we exchanged contact information at the end of our journey, we wrote ours inside the Book of Mormon and handed it to her. “The whole book?” she exclaimed. “Yes, the whole book,” we replied.

We parted ways and got on the other train to Pianura. We walked all over town looking for Sister De Biasi’s house, but we couldn’t find it anywhere. After a couple of hours we decided to leave and walk to Fuorigrotta (3.3 miles) which really was a very long way after walking all over Pianura for two hours! We walked along the highway sans sidewalk. It was tiring but satisfying.

The red lines indicate our train’s journey to Pianura, the blue lines represent the distance we then walked back to Fuorigrotta after walking all around Pianura.

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When we arrived at Fuorigrotta, we found Ninfa’s old house. Ninfa was a lady we had baptized in June of 2011. She died of cancer about ten months later. When we came back to her house in 2015, her name was still written on her door: her apartment seems not to have been occupied since. Her name can be found below (Ninfa [G]aborno)

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After seeing Ninfa’s house, we stopped to eat some pizza. It was Kacee’s first Neapolitian Pizza in ACTUAL NAPLES! Don’t you love that ball of MOZZ right there in the middle? Yummy.

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January 4, 2015

We went to church in Pozzuoli. I had served in this branch for nine months as a missionary from January of 2011 until September of the same year. Another missionary, Elder McBride had found, taught, and baptized my brother Evans (EE-Vawns). I came into town the next week and taught Evans with my companions afterwards. In my nine months we saw Evans three times (at least) a week, and never once did Evans miss sacrament meeting. I was so glad to see him 4 years later still loving his life and still loving Jesus so much.

Evans at Church in Pozzuoli!

Evans at Church in Pozzuoli!

This is the view from the rear balcony of the church… Yes, churches along with everything else in Italy have balconies.

View from the Church

View from the Church

Kacee at the Church in Pozzuoli

Kacee at the Church in Pozzuoli

After church we went to have dinner with the Bonner family. In the Pozzuoli branch there are a handful of American families because of the nearby American military bases. The Bonner’s actually moved into the branch in the summer of 2011 while I still lived there!

The Bonner Family

The Bonner Family and Evans and friends

January 5, 2015

On Monday we went over the hill into the center of Naples. We rode the Funicolare (the staircase-shaped train) – it’s just a set of stairs on a track powered by a pulley and cables – it is awesome!

Funicolare a Montesanto

Funicolare a Montesanto

At the top of the mountain, we found this cameo shop. We later found that Kacee’s grandmother had bought a Cameo from this exact shop with uncle Aaron many years ago when Kacee’s Uncle Aaron was serving as a missionary in this beautiful city!

Cameo Shop

Cameo Shop

The view was stunning and gorgeous!

Vesuvius in the background

Vesuvius in the background

View from the Castle

View from the castle at the top of the hill near the cameo shop

We came back down the mountain via the Funicolare and headed toward the street called San Gregorio Armeno.  On our way, we found this very beautiful church. The four corners of this conjunction archway represent the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Inside a Catholic Church near San Gregorio Armeno

Inside a Catholic Church near San Gregorio Armeno

CD cover cropped june 2015

After a long walk, we found San Gregorio Armeno, which is a bustling alleyway/street filled with shops selling homemade nativity sets and hand-painted figurines.  Kacee really wanted to buy a nativity in Italy, and we found a beautiful one in a glass dome!!

We headed back to Gino and Maria’s for pranzo

Maria is a fabulous cook. I ate at her house once a week for nine months, and she has never ceased to amaze me!

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That evening we went out to find and visit old friends!

Friends in Pozzuoli

Friends in Pozzuoli

Here is the family that hosted us in Pozzuoli: Maria, Gino, and Anna Maria. I had the privilege of baptizing Anna Maria (Maria’s aunt) in July of 2011.

La Famiglia Esposito

La Famiglia Esposito

January 6, 2015

We went to Mergellina to get some gelato. I got free gelato here as a missionary thanks to Elder Dugdale who made friends with the owner.

Shane got free Gelato here as a missionary

Shane got free Gelato here as a missionary

The view is beautiful.

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One can even see Vesuvius.

Vesuvius

Vesuvius

This day Giuliano, Maria’s son in-law, took us to tour the cool spots. He took us to Miseno where we got these shots.

Sunset from Miseno

Sunset from Miseno

Mediterranean sea.

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Crystal clear water.IMG_4452

And some more.

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If you’re familiar with Roman history, this was the spot from which Pliny the younger viewed and recorded his account of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D.IMG_4476

January 7, 2015

We went early in the morning to Pompeii. We absolutely LOVE Pompeii. I teach a Latin class at school that takes place in this little town. When I come here it all feels so real!

This is the Forum – the center of city commerce and government.

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I love these beautiful streets.

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This is the villa of Caecilius Iucundus. My latin curriculum center’s on this man’s life and family.

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This plaque indicates that it is his house. When the excavators found this house, they found a steel safe box in which they found artifacts of this man including a bust of his head, banking records, and other interesting items.

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This volcano in the background destroyed Pompeii in 79 A.D.

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After visiting the great city of Pompeii we had some pizza at Pellone. It is my absolute favorite of all the pizza that you can get in Naples!

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We may or may not have gone back that evening with Gino e Maria…  Needless to say, we were stuffed.

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January 8, 2015

WE LOVE POZZUOLI.  Everything about this place is beautiful.

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On our last evening in Pozzuoli, Maria made us a cake with our last name on it!

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January 9, 2015

They took us to Caserta where we took our train down to Bari.

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January 10, 2015

This is one of my favorite Catholic churches in Bari. I think we could employ its design as a ski-jump!

Bari

Bari

Our friends Ettore e Gabriella took us to Polignano which was stunning!

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January 11, 2015

They also took us to Albero Bello which was also amazing. We love Gabriella and Ettore – they are so nice. We love ALL ITALIANS!

Albero Bello

Albero Bello

On our last day we got this awesome picture with their family in their living room.

La Famiglia Valentini

La Famiglia Valentini

January 12, 2015

The next day we returned to Rome to the same hotel, we had our last Italian pizza with our favorite naturally fizzy water, and we flew home to America never forsaking the dream to get back there as soon as we possibly can!

Last pizza in Rome

Last pizza in Rome

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2 thoughts on “Christmas in Italy

  1. I came here because it showed up on my Facebook feed that Maria Esposito had liked the article, and I was not disappointed!
    A great read about wonderful people and places! I served from 2007-2009, and had the privilege of about 4 or so months of that time to be in Pozzuoli. Thanks for sharing! Definitely motivates me to return with my wife, as we haven’t yet been.

    Like

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