How to Park your Car in Italy

OK you have rented a car and now you enter a city. What are the parking rules? Many cities have free parking. Resorts and big cities require you to pay for parking. There are signs, like here, that give the hours (remember Europe is on military time so 1 means 1 am not pm. 1 pm is 13:00). Usually there are meters near where you park. They are easy to read and operate. They will say, for example, 1 E per ora (1 Euro per hour). Put in an amount and press the button (usually green) that says Biglietti or ticket). A ticket is printed that you put on your dashboard. Most of these cities have police that monitor the cars so don’t be late.

Some cities have parking garages without toll booths. In these cases there is usually a Tabacchi store (tobacco) or Bar near by that sells Parking Tickets (Posteggio Biglietti). You pay the person in the bar or store and get a ticket to display in your window. Some require you to fill-in information like start time and date. Once parked remember where your car is. Most smartphones have apps that remember where your car is but you have to set them at the car before leaving. You can also use your favorite map program to set a favorite location at the car. Then when you are on the other side of the city and lost, you can simply plot a walking course to the car. Remember to use walk mode not drive mode. Many Italian cities have one way streets and restricted driving zones. It may take a lot longer to walk the drive course than the walking one. Once back to your car you can delete the favorite from the map app. When we were in Rome we had this problem. I set the map to the place we wanted to go but forgot to press the walk button. The result was 5 miles. The route went out of old Rome and back in at another location. When I changed it to Walk mode, it was less than a mile.

Driving is a means of getting around. Use it to get to these wonderful small towns and then park the car and walk. Walking allows you to see everything and be part of the experience. Stop at a bar and enjoy something to eat and a coffee or a glass of wine. Enjoy it!

George & Jo Anne

 

 

Categories: Euro, Europe, Italy, Mountain Towns, Parking Garage, Parking Meters, Small Towns | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So you have picked your city! Now what?

OK you did your homework and picked your perfect European countries to visit. You have a list of cities to visit and the major things to see in each city. Now what? How should you get around Europe? You have three choices:

  1. Tour – which I would never do
  2. Trains – European trains are fast, on schedule and comfortable. They are also very easy to use.
  3. Rental Car – Cars are the most convent for small cities. They should not be used for large cities.

Trains – European trains between major cities are fast and travel faster than cars do. In France they travel much faster than cars do. You can buy tickets in America on-line but you pay a premium plus an increased exchange rate. In Europe there are machines that can be put into English and are easy to use. You enter where you are going, choose one way or round trip and pick your train (time). They take credit cards and your tickets are printed at the machine. You can also go to a window and speak to someone. They normally speak some English. There are usually lines at the windows. However you buy your tickets don’t forget to have them validated at machines by your track. Validation says you are using this ticket. It is an honor system and the conductor may never get to you to check your tickets. If you are checked onboard and do not have a validation stamp, the fine is very high. Online tickets may have “No Validation Needed” stamped on them. These are good for only the train listed so validation is not necessary. From big cities to small cities there are trains but they are local trains. They are slower and usually stop at each city along the way. Europe’s train system is extensive and can get you to or very near your destination town.

Rental Cars – Rental cars are convent at most airports. You can usually pickup your car in a parking garage or lot attached to the terminals. There are many companies including the American rental companies and the European companies. We usually don’t use the American companies because they are more costly for the same car. We like Eurocar. I also pay to take the insurance. It is easier to deal with an accident if you have insurance from the rental company. If you are using a rental car you really should have a GPS unit. You can rent these with the car for an additional fee. You can also use the one on your smart phone. We bought the Tom-Tom app for our iPhones. We have one for the USA and one for Western Europe. They each cost around $50 but we have had them on two different phones for 4 years now. The app can show traffic (for an annual fee). They also know where speed cameras and gas stations are.

Make a note on your smart phone and carry a printed copy (in case you lose your phone) of all hotel names, addresses and phone numbers. You should also have your itinerary with a list of city names you are going to visit. Europeans are friendly and will help you out as needed. Be friendly and polite. It is customary in Europe to say “Please” and “Thank-You”. You should know how to say these in each language you will encounter. Now just enjoy your trip. Create some memories!

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: General Travel, Exchange Rates, Trains, GPS, Europe, Hotels, Euro, Tour Groups, Car Rentals | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So you have seen the big cities, what’s next?

Europe is amazing for it’s big cities, museums, famous points of interest, food, wine and it’s people. Once you have seen the main attractions what is next? PLENTY! There are thousands of small cities. Some are in the mountains, some at the beach and others just inland in a valley. Think about what you like most. Do you love to see mountains or beach or both. Do you want a quiet town with locals or a popular small town with tourists. What kind of food do you like? These questions help you decide on where to take your next vacation. Remember that most of Europe’s real treasures or not on tour stops. To reach them you have to get out on your own and seek them out. Travel with your spouse or friends or relatives. Enjoy this experience with someone.

Do you speak a second language? That may help determine which country you pick. If you don’t speak a second language, no problem. English is spoken to some degree in all the bigger cities and to a lesser degree in smaller towns. Learn some basics like please and thank you, Good day, how much, etc. You can survive on your own. Buy a guide book that covers the areas you will visit. Familiarize yourself with the attractions you are interested in. Don’t set a hard schedule. The purpose of vacation is to relax and enjoy. If you find a small town that is exciting, change your schedule and spend more time there. Be spontaneous.

Shop for airline tickets. The prices change drastically over time. I have found cheaper fares 10 months out when they are first available. Then they go up sometimes by several hundred dollars. Then at the last minute if seats are available they drop again. Not everyone can travel last minute but if you can you can get some substantial discounts. The same is true with hotels. If you book airline and hotels together on a site like Orbitz, you can get great discounts on the hotel. Shop for european hotels not American ones. Make sure you have a private bath. Don’t worry about small rooms (they are very small). You are going to spend the night only. During the day you are out enjoying your city.

Shop banks for dollar to Euro exchange. The rates jump all over the place. DO NOT EXCHANGE AT THE AIRPORT! The rates there are outrageous. Banks in Europe have good rates but hotels are usually very high. Get a credit card that does NOT charge an extra fee for foreign transactions and use it. You can use your ATM card in ATMs in Europe to get cash as well. When you leave don’t cash your Euros back to dollars unless you never plan to return to Europe.

Rental cars can be expensive but you can find deals. The cars are small. We Americans travel with VERY big suitcases. four people and four big suitcases won’t fit in most European cars. Get a diesel if possible. The fuel is cheaper and you get much better milage. Once there forget about checking your itinerary all the time. Relax and enjoy the country you chose, the cities, the food and the people. Remembers Bars are not the same as in America. They are family places. In the morning you go to a bar for a pastry and coffee. At lunch time you can get a sandwich with a soda, beer or wine and at dinner you can get sandwiches and a drink. All day long you can stop for a coffee or drink and a light snack. Some serve ice cream.

Enjoy, Enjoy, Enjoy ..

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Beaches, Euro, Europe, Exchange Rates, Flights, General Travel, Hotels, Small Towns, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to buy a place in Italy, the book!

So many people have liked our BLOG here that we are going to write a book (e-book) on our story. Stay tuned to this BLOG for details when it’s completed. I know many of you would love a romantic place in Europe. You can’t imagine how to do it. We tell the whole story on how to do it, what to watch out for and leave the enjoyment of your new place to you.

Not ready for a house commitment? Maybe a rental for 6 months or a year is better suited for you. You can still fully enjoy the country you have chosen. The only problem will be leaving at the end of your rental. Let us know what you have enjoyed about the “How to buy a Place in Italy” series. Would you read our book? Do you see your self buying or long-term reining in Europe?

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Europe, Owning a home in Italy, Renting a place in Europe | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

How to buy a Place in Italy – Part 20

If you are contemplating buying a place in Italy or anywhere in Europe you must consider the lifestyle of that area. Europeans live different from we do. You should understand that and adjust your expectations. Some things to be considered are:

  1. Car sizes are typically smaller. This is because gas is so much more expensive (about $10/gallon in Italy but cars get 50-70 mpg). There are also many small cities where a larger car will NOT fit through the streets. We like having a hatchback in Italy. You can fold down the seats and carry most things you buy easily. You can find big american cars like Jeeps but they are rare and you need to be well off to afford to operate them.
  2. Cars are usually stick shift. Mountain roads are windy and many do not have guard rails (similar to California). Using your brakes on a downhill can wear them out and cause a fatal accident. Stick Shift (manual transmission) offers lower gears to help slow the car down without breaking.
  3. People in Europe tend to live outside even in winter. Their houses are very small by our standards. Kitchens are small, bathrooms are small and bedrooms are small. Houses and condo’s of 300-5– sq ft are large there. There always are large palatial mansions for millions of dollars but the typical home is small. Italians love to eat outside with family and friends. Balconies and decks are common.
  4. There are typically no closets. You need to buy an armoire (wardrobe) for your clothes.
  5. You usually do not get a kitchen even in a resale. There are furniture stores (Mobile) that sell full kitchens with cabinets and appliances.
  6. A typical day has stores open in morning until about 12:30 or 1 pm. Then everything except restaurants and touristy places close down. They reopen around 4pm and stay open until 8 or 9 pm. During the noon break, families spend time together. They eat lunch, walk together and meet up with friends. If you are looking for something during this closed time, you will not find it. Plan your day with this in mind.
  7. Wine is always cheaper when order as “House Wine” (vino di casa). It comes by the glass, 1/2 liter or full liter carafe. Some restaurants do sell bottles of wine but they are more expensive.

The most important thing about buying a Place in Italy is having fun! Determine what your most important criteria is. Ours was views. Set your budget. You can negotiate as you do here. Understand all your monthly bills (water, gas, electric, garbage and taxes). These can be paid monthly, every 2 or 3 months, semi annually or annually (depending on the area). Once you buy, make friends with your neighbors and store owners in town. Italians are friendly people and love Americans.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Closing a property in Italy, Europe, General Travel, Italy, Money, Owning a home in Italy, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to buy a Place in Italy – Part 19

Well we are back from our second stay at our Italian villa. Life goes on but we still dream of the sites, the people, the food, the wine, the gelato, the beaches … and on and on. In this BLOG we will discuss some of the considerations of buying a place outside the USA. First you need to find your dream place, The internet is full of places for sale. We chose solely on the views. Once you find a place and negotiate your price, you will need to transfer money as a down payment. We did this by wire transfer from our US account to the owners account in Italy. We were working through a realtor in the UK.

Money transfers are a big thing in this day and age of terrorism. Our Homeland Security requires documentation of any foreign account that is over a dollar value even for a day (when we did the transaction it was $50,000). Check the web for current restorations. There is no tax due on this amount (it is NOT the IRS). It just notifies our government that you had an account with substantial funds and the reason. We filed the paperwork and all was well. Not filing can lead to huge fines! In addition the Italian government requires paperwork on amounts over $5,000. We keep our transfers around $4,000 (which lasts a few years).

The next feat was to transfer the amount you will owe at closing. This can be $1000,000 to several million depending on your property. Of course if you take out a foreign mortgage that amount will be reduced by the mortgage amount. We decided to pay cash. The problem we had now was our government requires the person to be present when opening a foreign account. At the time we could not initiate a wire transfer remotely. We would have to fly to Italy open an account, fly back to the US and transfer the funds, then return to Italy for the closing. That would cost an extra $1200 to $1600 in airfare. Luckily we found companies like World First that transfer dollars to Euros and wire them into your foreign account. On smaller amounts they charge a small amount over the World Bank exchange rates. On large amounts they match it. Wiring from an US bank directly would cost a fee plus an extra 4-8% on the amount. If you were wiring even $100,000 that would be $4,000 to $8,000 extra.

In Europe kitchens do NOT typically come with a house (new or resale). People take all appliances, cabinets and sink with them. We had a beautiful tile wall with electric plugs and switches, pipes for water & drainage. That was our kitchen. We bought an entire kitchen and had it installed. It included refrigerator, stove (oven and cook top), sink and cabinets. It fit the wall perfect. We love our kitchen and it didn’t cost anything near what it would in the states. Refrigerators are very small by US standards. You do NOT need a big refrigerator/freezer. Italians use very little frozen items (mostly ice cream and ice cubes). They buy everything fresh each day so the refrigerator doesn’t need to be big. If you are going to buy in Europe, get into the lifestyle. Don’t try to fit our American standards to your European house!

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You will use your foreign account to pay taxes, water bills, garbage pickup bills, electric & gas bills. Most banks have electronic banking so you can control you account from the US. Most also do not translate their pages into English. You have to do some translation on your own and get use to the site. You can also setup auto pay with all bills except taxes and Garbage pickup fees. For us these two are about $500 a year payable half in summer and remaining half in December. The bank website has a special page to pay these taxes.

Tomorrow we will discuss Living style in Italy. Houses are small but people live outside a lot.

George & Jo Anne

Categories: Europe, General Travel, Home Land Security, Italy, Money, Owning a home in Italy, Xpats | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

How to buy a Place in Italy – Part 18

It’s Saturday morning, our last morning in Velina (Campania Italy). We have breakfast at the house and finish our packing. We meet with the owner we bought the condo from and his daughter (runs condo association). Our broken Italian doesn’t allow a deep conversation but we get by. We decide we need screens for the windows. We have seen them in a neighbors unit. George never thought they would be possible because the windows open in and shutters open out. Where would the screens go? They actually go between the window and the shutter but they roll over to one side allowing access to the shutters. Ingenious! We also learnt that we could buy an Air Conditioning unit if we wanted to. It installs under the boiler on the deck. All the hook ups are there and the cool air comes out of the heater units. Easy install!

It is time to close down the place for another year. We turn off power to stove and refrigerator, open the refrigerator door and wipe it down. We cover table, furniture, towel racks and bed in plastic. Finally we shut off gas and water on deck at the boiler. All windows and shutters are closed and locked. We exit and say good-by to our home in Italy. It is very sad to drive through the gates and up the driveway for the last time this year. We both look back to see the house one last time and the mountains.

The highway is only about 2 miles from our town. It is a good road until it is not. This is the road that washed away in heavy rains last winter. After exiting a long tunnel we are detoured onto a mountain road. It is only a 4 or 5 mile detour but traffic is heavy. It seems everyone is headed north plus it is a weekend. Then we are back on the good highway and headed to Agropoli and then the A3 autostrada. The A3 takes us past Salerno and then turns north-west towards Naples. Above Naples it becomes the A1 autostrada (Italy’s main highway). It is a wonderful road with three lanes (which the Italians turn into four lanes sometimes). There are now speed cameras installed everywhere. The days of no speed limits are long gone.

The A1 goes from Naples north to Rome then north to Florence then north to Bologna and then finally to Milan. These superhighways allow you to go 140 KM/Hr (87 m/hr) before the cameras catch you. We aways stop along the autostrada at an auto-grill for something to eat and a break from driving. The drive from Velina to Fiumicino airport in Rome is 4 to 4.5 hours. These auto-grills are great. They serve pastry, sandwiches, pasta, coffee and alcohol. Yes you can have a drink before you re-enter the race to Rome.

First stop is out hotel on the airport property. It is the Hilton Garden Inn. A very nice modern hotel with decent rooms and a good restaurant. Breakfast is included and always good (you can order from a menu or go to the buffet). We check in and drop our suitcases off in the room. Next stop into the airport to return our rental car. The rental rents are in the short-term parking attached directly to the gates. Dropping the car off requires reading the sign as you enter the airport. Each car rental agency is located in one of the garages designated by a letter. We easily drop off our car and walk to terminal 3. From here you can take a shuttle bus or taxi to the hotel.

Back at the hotel it’s time for a drink before dinner. Drinks are served with a variety of nuts, pretzels and chips. Then it’s off for dinner. At dinner we meet another couple that just visited several big cities in Italy. After exchanging Facebook addresses we go to our room to get some sleep.

The next morning we boarded the shuttle bus to the airport. Anyone leaving Rome for the US must go to a new terminal, built by the Americans, for security. After security checks and passport control, you board a bus and are shuttled to the terminal that your flight leaves from. Rome’s airport is a big space with many gates, a good bar/restaurant and many shops. The shops require taking a mortgage out to buy the goods but it’s fun to browse. I always laugh when I see how many people stock up at the duty-free shop. Don’t they know that duty-free doesn’t mean cheap! It simply means you don’t pay duty on it. I priced 18-year-old scotch at the duty-free. It was $75. The same bottle back home at Total Wine was only $56. People love to think they are getting a big deal.

This is the saddest part of the journey. On one hand you are looking forward to getting home and seeing family and friends. On the other hand you are leaving romantic Italy. There is always next year!

Tomorrow we will discuss Fees and costs associated with owning a home in Italy.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Campania, Cilento, Eating Italian, Europe, General Travel, Hotels, Italy, Owning a home in Italy, Rome, Velina | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to buy a Place in Italy – Part 17

Well it’s Friday in Velina (Campania) and we are a little gloomy! This is our last full day here. Tomorrow we will leave for the Rome airport and Sunday take a flight back to Philadelphia. OK, we are not really complaining. We have had 8 wonderful days here and the memories will last our lifetime. This is such a romantic country and our little area of Italy is very romantic. How can you not be romantic when you wake up to the sea and mountain views we have. The people are so friendly, especially towards Americans. The food and wine are so delicious. The beaches are cleanest in Europe. In a short week, we have become part of the Italian lifestyle. We eat slower, enjoy our food and wine more. We are more sociable towards others. We enjoy watching life go by. Everyone here seems to be so happy. This is why it is so hard to leave but we have family and friends that we miss dearly.

Today we ate a big American breakfast at home. Slowly eating as we looked out at our views. When we leave we cover the furniture, table and bed in plastic. A years dust adds up! The plastic we used last year is dirty. Jo Anne has a great idea. We can look for a paint store or hardware store and buy plastic drop cloths. We know of such a store and go there. We are in luck and get 4 drop cloths for 1 Euro each ($1.30). Now it’s Isola Verde time for the Italian pass time of Coffee and free WiFi. After catching up on emails and Facebook, we discuss our day. We saw on the way into Marina Casal Velino a Market on the street. They closed one of the side roads and put up stands to sell all kinds of things. We learn this happens every Friday all year-long.

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Jo Anne buys Due Scarpe (2 pair of shoes) and a tablecloth. We browse all the little stalls. There are clothing stalls, furniture stalls and food stalls. The food is all fresh from a local farm. This was the first really hot day we had. It is too hot to climb ruins. On the way home we saw a Bufala Mozzarella store and stopped in. They had everything made with Buffalo’s milk. Gelato, biscotti and of course cheese. We bought a huge ball of Bufala Mozzarella. That evening we had Mozzarella bruschetta.

Bufala Mozzarrella

Tomorrow we will discuss Saturday and the drive to Rome’s airport (Fiumicino).

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Campania, Casal Velino, Eating Italian, Europe, Italy, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Buy a Place in Italy – Part 16

Thursday morning is no different from the other mornings. We awake to beautiful blue skies, puffy occasional clouds and shimmering sea. We are off, you guessed it, to Isola Verde for breakfast and WiFi. This place has a real following in Marina Casal Velino. It is right on a street directly across from the beach. Their pastries are fresh each day and crispy. Nothing is too sugary. Fillings, like marmalade are just a small amount. The espresso is done perfect. A great way to kick-start your day. We discuss our plans for the day and conclude that a trip to Pisciotta is in order. Pisciotta is a small mountain town not far from the beach town of Ascea (our second beach area). The road up is small, like all Italian mountain roads, but in good condition.

We arrive in Pisciotta and find a parking garage in the center. We didn’t know if we needed a ticket and where the machine was. It turns out, the local Tobacco store (also sells newspapers, gum, etc) sells the parking tickets. You buy it and mark it up as to time in. We walk back to the parking garage and place the ticket inside on the dash. Now we are free to explore Pisciotta. From the center of town, stairs lead up a high hill into the old section. Streets are pedestrian only and very narrow. We discover that local deliveries are done on small narrow vehicles with treads (like a tank) that can go up steep hills and also climb up or down stairs.

We find a restaurant called Tre Gufi (three Owls). It is too early for lunch but the owner invites us in to see the view. After about a hundred pictures we leave to continue our walk around the old section. We decide to come back for lunch here. The walk around town winds and climbs up and down stairs. There are views everywhere. Some of the sea others of the mountains. It is a beautiful and memorable town.

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The Streets

After a long walk around this wonderful city, we need to buy another ticket for parking and place it in the car. The locals tell us don’t worry it is lunch time and the police are eating. We then head back up to Tre Gufi for views and lunch. They let us pick a table outside overlooking a cliff down to the marina. What a wonderful setting.

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Our view and Table

On the way back we stop in Ascea to visit an ancient Greek city ruin of Velia (Elea in Greek – 538-535 BC). This was a huge city on the sea with its castle high up on the mountain. The ruins still show a part of this city. You can see foundations of houses and buildings and a coliseum. It was a very hot day and we had no shade. The climb up to the tower was hard but we were rewarded with a spectacular ruin still in tact and a great view.

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We then head home but first made a stop at the vegetable man to get fresh fruit and vegetables. We ate at home that night and enjoyed our view and sunset. Tomorrow we will discuss Friday, our last full day, in paradise.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Campania, Casal Velino, Cilento, Europe, General Travel, Greece, Italy, Mountain Towns, Owning a home in Italy, Pisciotta, Small Towns | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to buy a Place in Italy – Part 15

We wake up to another beautiful day in Italy. The sun is out and the mountains are aglow. We can see the water of the sea shimmering in the sun light. As most days, we start at Isola Verde for breakfast and our portion of high-test coffee. We sit like the Italians, relaxing and watching those around us. We can see bathers on the beach and waking on the sidewalk in front of us. We connect to WiFi and connect to family and friends. Some may question technology in such a beautiful place but we have a need to stay connected to those we love and miss. The week is half over but we don’t want to think about that just yet. We plan our day. Thinking about the small and large cities around us. Which should we visit today. Agropoli is the largest city nearby. Our bank is located there. We have been there but not to the old city. We have read about an old church and the castle. We decide to make our day trip there.

The Drive on the highway is easy until we get to the part that was destroyed by the rain. We are diverted off onto a mountain road. It takes about 10 minutes longer. We arrive in Agropoli and you need your GPS turned on. We use Tom Tom Western Europe on our iPhones. The streets are narrow with lots of twists and turns. The city is large and you can easily get lost. Finally we arrive in the old town area and look for parking. George finds spaces near the marina at the foot of old town. You buy a ticket (biglietto) at a machine for so many hours of parking. We can not see the ticket machine anywhere. George asks some people nearby and they don’t know. They ask others and finally we discover the machine is about a 1/4 mile away. After getting our ticket and displaying it in the car window, we head up the steep streets toward old town.

These streets are lined with shops that we browse. After awhile the street (pedestrian only) is so steep it just turns into a set of steps.

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You are rewarded for the climb by seeing a beautiful old church and a castle at the top of the hill. It has a moat (which is now grassed and serves as a parking lot and delivery entrance. From the castle are magnificent views of the harbor far below.

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 That evening we had our first guests to our house. We had some prosecco and then went to dinner together. Dinner was wonderful! We ate at a restaurant called Mama Angelina’s in Marina Casal Velino. It was on the street by the beach. We had a seafood dinner. Plates just kept coming. More fish and more fish. Finally we had to say BASTA (enough)! The food, wine and company were delightful.

Later we sat on our deck and watched the starry night. The sky is alive with stars here. We don’t want to go to bed because we might miss something spectacular. Tomorrow is another day … we will discuss Thursday in paradise tomorrow.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Agropoli, Campania, Casal Velino, Eating Italian, Europe, General Travel, GPS, Italy, Owning a home in Italy, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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