Strawberry Dreams

Hi. Barb here.

It’s finally strawberry season in Maine. We had a long, cold spring (okay, a longer, colder spring) and a long, snowy winter. Snow, it turns out, is good for strawberries because it protects them, and indeed, this year’s crop is delicious and super juicy.

cuttingstrawberrieFor me, strawberries are always the most welcome indication that summer has finally arrived. When I was a kid, my father’s parents owned a summer home in Water Mill, Long Island. On the last day of school every year, my grandmother would pick me and my brother up, and whisk us, along with her father, my great-grandfather, out to Long Island Expressway for two weeks at the beach. We always stopped along the way and picked up the first strawberries of the season. Some of them even made it all the way to the house, where my grandmother would prepare her special shortcake biscuits. (So special, the recipe was miraculously printed on the Biscuit box.)

I love seasons, and I love things that are special because you can only get them in a certain season, for a limited time. Now that I’m a grown up, you can get strawberries at the supermarket almost all year round. Those berries don’t interest me.

But give me local berries straight out of the fields and I will eat them for three weeks straight, or however long they stay around. They’re precious, because they’re rare. And they tap our memories because we associate them with a time and a feeling.

strawberryshortcake2So enjoy, because, what, honestly, could be better?


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My Bathtub, My Refuge

This is Lea Wait, and no, I haven’t yet taken shelter in a bathtub – although I’ve heard they’re good places to be (empty) during a tornado. Handy information if, like one of my daughters, you live in Kansas. But here in Maine bathtubs perform simpler, more classic, functions.

I grew up in houses, both our winter home in New Jersey and our summer home in Maine, that had large, footed, bathtubs and no showers.Lea_Wait.jpg

I don’t ever remember anyone asking for one. Our house was full as I was growing up: my parents, my grandparents, and my three sisters and I all managed (with the help of a set-in-concrete morning schedule) to stay clean with 1 1/2 bathrooms. Baths were taken at night, to speed up the morning ablutions, and my grandparents waited until all three girls and my father had left the house before venturing out of their bedrooms and claiming their bathroom time. It worked.

I first encountered serious showers in college, when I was faced with shared bathrooms with a dozen shower stalls and one bathtub per floor in my dorm. I showered, like everyone else. But I didn’t like showering. It was expedient, but nothing more. I longed for the reassurance and relaxation of a bath. I learned the hours that lone bathtub was apt to be available … and not filled with Jello or other strange substances. (It WAS a college dorm.) I managed to take a bath perhaps once every couple of weeks. I survived.

After college I lived in a series of apartments in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Two of them were equipped with both bathtubs and showers. I happily used the tubs. The third apartment, however, and the one I lived in the longest, not only didn’t have a bathtub, it didn’t have a bathroom. Oh, yes: it did have a toilet, in what had at one time been a closet, and it had a “step-up” metal shower in the kitchen, next to the set-tubs that were the only sinks. No air conditioning, of course, so I remember showering in July and stepping out into my kitchen and immediately dripping from more than the shower. And stepping out into an unheated apartment in winter when there were problems with the building’s boiler. About every six months I added more concrete to the base of the shower to keep it from leaking.

Showering was definitely not a luxurious or lengthy experience.

Somehow I didn’t mind. Yes, the shower was quirky. But I was living in Greenwich Village, on my own, and I loved my apartment. In addition to the shower in my kitchen I also had  a nineteenth century pump organ I’d bought from a church in Maine that had upgraded to an electric organ. One table doubled as a place to eat and a place to write. My Olympic portable had a permanent place on it.

After my New York years I lived in houses, most equipped with one full bathroom containing both a tub and a shower. My daughters argued over shower times, but I used the tub. My nightly bath was one of the few times I could close a door and block out the world. Time alone was precious.

The house I live in now was built in 1774, but some time in the early twentieth century a bathroom was added, complete with tub. That tub is still there. It’s the same one my parents and grandparents used; the one I used as I child. I step into those warm waters and the world disappears. I get ideas for my books. I think through my day. I come to terms with the world.

When my husband first moved here, a man addicted to showers, he had to come to terms with the tub. At first sometimes he even drove twenty minutes to Boothbay Harbor to shower at the YMCA there. After several years we had a plumber install what he referred to as “an after thought” — a pipe from the tub’s faucet leading to a shower head above, so showers were possible. But the water pressure from our well wasn’t strong. And by then my husband had gotten used to taking baths. He rarely showers now. He’s been converted. (I firmly believe baths are addictive.)

He sometimes makes fun of me because if I have a headache or a stiff muscle or a stuffy nose, my first stop is the bathtub. I’ve explained that all my ills are better when I’m in warm water. That not only am I washing dirt and germs away, but problems, as well.

Maybe the world would be a quieter, more relaxed, place if everyone gave up showers for tubs.

Or maybe not. But, in my life, a bath tub is an essential.

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Weekend Update: June 27-28, 2015

fallsbooks1Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Lea Wait (Monday), Barb Ross (Tuesday), Kate Flora (Thursday) and John Clark (Friday), with a special group post on Wednesday.

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

It’s a summer full of books and mystery!

An early-planning note that next Saturday, the Fourth of July, some of us (Maureen Milliken, Dorothy Cannell, John Clark, Kathy Lynn Emerson and Lea Wait) will be at a booth at the Belgrade Lakes Fourth Celebration, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., with books and pens in hand. Stop in, say “Hi!”, and take home a signed book. You know you need a beach (or lake) read.

The group will be set at 78 Main St., right in the middle of the festivities.

While you’re in Belgrade Lakes, stop by Day’s Store, favorite of locals and summer folksDays alike and check out, along with the best homemade doughnuts in Maine, their display of Maureen’s book, Cold Hard News.

They asked Maureen if they could sell it after hearing about it from the Fourth of July organizers and other townsfolk. Nothing like marketing and word of mouth to get books in the hands of eager readers! Now let’s hope for a rainy summer in The Lakes so there’ll be lots of good reading time.

On a different early planning note: On July 6th, Kate Flora and Dorothy Cannell will be telling secrets at the Castine Library.

A note to our librarian friends: If you have a summer book sale coming up, let us know. We’d like to share that news here. Also more about your cool summer events.

Rumor has it there’s a mystery weekend being planned for the Jesup Library on the 18th  of September . Of course there is the wondrous Books in Boothbay on July 13th, and on July 24th and 25th, there’s the Beyond the Sea Book Festival in Lincolnville, where you will find many of your favorite Maine Crime Writers.

Also on July 25th, at Richard Ford’s home in East Boothbay, from 2-5, the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance will hold its 40th Birthday summer party. This is absolutely a “be there or be square” event with all the Maine writers you’ve ever wanted to meet, along with politicians, publishers, and luminaries of all sorts.

An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. Contact Kate Flora: mailto:

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How to Research A Murder

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, introducing a fellow mystery writer with an interesting story to tell. I first met Sarah Wisseman several years ago, but we reconnected at Malice Domestic this past spring. Sarah was responsible for bringing an excellent session on forensic anthropology to the program–the mystery of the boy in the iron coffin. It was a fascinating look at the way DNA, facial reconstruction and other forensic methods, together with basic genealogical research, combined to identify remains found during an excavation. In her novels, Sarah calls on her own background as an archaeologist to create fascinating characters and compelling plots. Here is the story of how she came to write her latest novel, Burnt Siena.


How to Research a Murder


Sarah Wisseman

sarahteslacrop (228x300)Most writers agree it helps to know your setting by visiting in person, not just by googling it or looking at maps and pictures. I did both for my newest mystery, Burnt Siena, recently released from Five Star/ Cengage Learning. I visited the magical city of Siena, Italy, for the first time in 1975, and returned for a conference in 2008. The last time, I took pictures—not just tourist pictures—but snaps of cafés and apartment buildings, flower shops and food displays, where I might want to set my characters.

I walked the streets, stretched out on the paving stones of the Piazza del Campo on a warm Sunday afternoon, ate pasta with cream sauce and mushrooms. But it was the repurposed convent where I stayed, and the unexpected “Ospedale Psichiatrico,” a former insane asylum where our conference was held, that convinced me Siena was perfect for my story.

kouros-Getty (195x300)A key part of my plot was inspired by the controversy over the purchase of a Greek statue for nine million dollars by the J. Paul Getty Museum in California almost thirty years ago. Believing the statue was an unusually well-preserved, ancient but original work of art, the Getty put it on display. Then a similar statue, an obvious forgery, turned up and the fight was on. Despite numerous scientific tests, art historians and curators could not agree whether the Getty statue was truly ancient, or one of the best modern forgeries ever produced. Writing Burnt Siena compelled me to review Greek sculpture styles (can an original statue combine the hair style of one period and the carved feet from another?), marble patinas (can a false patina be complex enough imitate the crust of ages and to fool modern scientists?), and the constant tug-of-war between stealing antiquities from their excavations and forging them. Both illegal practices feed each other because antiquities, both originals and clever forgeries, can fetch such high prices in the art market.

burntsiena cover sm (194x300)My love of Siena and my fascination with art forgery and antiquities smuggling drove me to invent a young art conservator, Flora Garibaldi, who is fresh out of advanced training and beginning a new job working for Restauro Lorenzetti, a respected firm of art conservators in Siena. But after her colleague and roommate Ernst Mann is found dead in the street below their apartment balcony, Flora’s dream job turns sour. The Italian police, after ruling Flora innocent of murder, persuade her to spy on her employers. Flora is trapped between the competing demands of the Lorenzettis: genial Beppe, sulky Pietro, and hunky and amorous Marco. Flora thinks Marco is being used by his family to divert police attention and generate income by replicating Greek sculpture. Will Marco’s statue be sold as a legitimate, museum-grade copy, or as a Greek “masterpiece?” Flora’s emotional turmoil grows as she works to protect Marco, avenge Ernst, and fight her growing attraction to policeman Vittorio Bernini.

The sequel to Burnt Siena will be set in Rome, where Flora and Bernini work with the Carabinieri’s Art Squad to investigate a rumor about Nazi-looted art stashed somewhere in the catacombs under the city.


Sarah Wisseman, a retired archaeologist at the University of Illinois, is the author of four Lisa Donahue Archaeological Mysteries set in Boston (Bound for Eternity and The Fall of Augustus) and the Middle East (The Dead Sea Codex and The House of the Sphinx) and one stand-alone historical mystery (The Bootlegger’s Nephew) set in Prohibition-era Illinois. Visit her at


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Rockies, But No Bullwinkle

Just one of the hills between Lake Louise and Jasper

Just one of the hills between Lake Louise and Jasper

When Kate and I were kids growing up on Sennebec Hill Farm, trains were still running regularly from Brunswick to Rockland. When the humidity was just right on certain summer days, we could hear the train whistle all the way from the Warren depot just south of Route One. My fascination with trains has never left me. When Beth and I went to Colorado a few years ago, we rode on five different trains, four of which were steam locomotives. It was an unforgettable trip and when we got home we agreed that our next big vacation would be a train trip through the Canadian Rockies.

A week after I retired from the Hartland Public Library, we boarded a plane in Bangor and after changing planes in Washington and Toronto, we landed in Vancouver where we were met by warmth and cloudless skies. Transportation was pretty easy and straightforward. You can get a shuttle bus to almost every hotel and the elevated train runs right down to the waterfront. We arrived a day early so we could have extra time to see some of the sights.

Vancouver's outer harbor at sunset

Vancouver’s outer harbor at sunset

First up was the Sun Yat Sen Gardens which combines a traditional Chinese water garden with a waterfall and an authentic Ming scholar’s residence. The entire structure and garden was built by 51 craftsmen who came from China and spent two years building it as close to the way similar ones had been built in the 1300s. The intricate halls and walkways were constructed with precise joinery and without the use of nails, screws or glue. Pottery, paintings and wood carvings from that period have been used to enhance the authenticity. It’s both beautiful and relaxing.

An example of what's at the Sun Yat Sen Garden

An example of what’s at the Sun Yat Sen Garden

Numerous people cautioned us about avoiding a three block area not far from the gardens. These are where Vancouver’s considerable homeless population gather. We skirted them, but in reality, the homeless are everywhere in the city because its climate is mild. We passed one young woman sitting on the sidewalk looking down at the pavement while a cardboard sign lay across her lap that said “Will eat your leftover food.” The image stuck with me the entire trip. To show you the contrast, North Vancouver which lies beyond the Lion’s Gate Bridge is composed of homes where 80% cost in excess of a million dollars.

Two of the seaplanes waiting to take you away

Two of the seaplanes waiting to take you away

We still had time and energy, so Beth and I walked down to the waterfront where a sea wall walkway begins and runs for 2.5 miles around the peninsula that is almost completely covered by Stanley Park. It doesn’t take long to realize how cosmopolitan British Columbia and specifically Vancouver are. I’d almost say that English speaking Caucasians were in the minority as we walked along the harbor. Beth and I wondered just how many different languages we heard that afternoon. Energy conservation and recycling are taken seriously in British Columbia. One of the buildings by the waterfront, the Vancouver Convention Centre has a roof of natural grass and vegetation that has been growing successfully for years. Just to the right of it is a huge pier where two cruise ships were docked as we walked past. On the other side of the convention centre is a smaller dock where half a dozen sea planes are ready to take you on a flight that lasts anywhere from ten minutes to as long and as far as you can afford. The inner harbor where we walked also has a huge cargo port where freighters are loading and unloading colorful containers from all over the world. Further down the harbor, several big bridges span the Fraser River as it empties into the Pacific.

Easy to say I do in a location like this.

Easy to say I do in a location like this.

We walked as far as the rose garden in the park and got to watch a wedding take place in covered walkway that had climbing roses of every possible color in bloom. To the left of this walkway stands an amazing cedar tree that looks like it must have died back at some point before resuming growth. The base of the trunk has to be at least eight feet in diameter. I must say that the roses were well worth the aching feet we tended to when we returned to the hotel.

One heck of a tree at one time

One heck of a tree at one time

Monday morning we boarded the Rocky Mountaineer and headed east. The train passes through one of the busiest railway yards in north America. I’m not sure, but I believe Adam, our tour guide, said that 30,000 railway cars pass through there daily. For the first thirty miles or so, we ran at a pretty slow speed because of urban congestion, but that made the early photo opportunities all the better. We’d be lazing past fields of high bush blueberries while eagles soared overhead, looking for a meal of salmon in the Fraser River, while we enjoyed snow capped mountains in the distance. We’re used to seeing bald eagles, but there were a number of golden eagles as well. In fact, I saw five flying over the river at one point.

Possibly the luckiest shot on the trip.

Possibly the luckiest shot on the trip.

When the train sped up we entered wilder country, more mountains, plenty of rapids on the river and waterfalls in the higher elevations. You tend to think of British Columbia as wet country, but Kamloops, our first stop is actually in high desert country. Beth asked Adam when we could expect to see big horn sheep. He said they’d start appearing around the 23 mile marker west of Kamloops. Sure enough, right after we passed the signpost, they started appearing on the ridges above us. I got one really good shot of a flock that was resting. British Columbia has been dealing with the same drought that afflicts California. In fact, the ski areas shut down in February because of a lack of snow. We could see evidence of its effects on the hillsides and along the roadways in Vancouver. Even so, the rivers were running high because of the snow melt and almost every one was blue-gray in color due to the silt from runoff coming down the mountains.

We passed several big lakes that were carved out during the last ice age. A couple are over 500 feet deep and according to Adam, are very cold no matter what time of year it is. The air temperature, however was right up there. It was 95 when we got to Kamloops. Since our car was just behind the locomotives, we often got to see wildlife before it was spooked. There was a platform between each car where people could stand and take photos without having to deal with window glare. Beth pretty much lived out there both days. On the portion between Kamloops and Banff, we got to cross the river several times, went through numerous tunnels, including two that are known as the Spiral Tunnels because they loop over each other and cut several miles and a couple thousand feet off what the original journey required.

By now, we were seeing areas where avalanches and rock slides are common. In fact, there were several spots where cement or metal shed-like structures have been built over the tracks because of frequent rock slides Everywhere you look there’s something worth photographing. Between us, we must have taken a thousand pictures. That’s the advantage of having a good quality digital camera. We both have Canon Rebels and brought two batteries apiece. When both of our first ones ran out of juice earlier than expected, we worried about having enough power to shoot things all the way to the end of our trip, but that didn’t happen.

One of many seen on the trip

One of many seen on the trip

Our hotel was the Banff Ptarmigan. A chat with the desk clerk reinforced what I suspected, many of the people working in the hospitality industry in British Columbia are from Australia. The Canadian government seems to be far less concerned about aliens that ‘he who must not be named’ down in Augusta. In fact over half the people we toured with were from overseas. One gentleman I talked to was from Australia. He was semi-retired, but when he worked it was as a tour bus driver running 21 day excursions through Africa. It sounded like a pretty decent job to me. Banff has a population of 4500 who live there year round. During the height of the tourist season, both summer and winter, it can swell to over 90,000. Stores sell bear spray because so many wander into town and they have specially made trash cans that are bear proof. Elk also wander into town frequently, but none did so while we were there. We had a bus tour on our second day there that took us to the Banff Gondola which climbs to the top of a mountain overlooking the town. It’s 7486 feet above sea level and we had a nearly cloudless day to enjoy the view. From there, we drove to a couple scenic trails. On the first, we saw a coyote and several hoodoos. See the accompanying photo to get a look at them for yourself.

Like the line in Blazing Saddles

Like the line in Blazing Saddles

Several miles up the road, we stopped to admire three bighorn sheep who were lying right beside the road and looking like they owned it.

Getting there is half the fun

Getting there is half the fun

Being an avid reader makes traveling a challenge. I packed five books for the trip as well as downloading half a dozen advance reading copies from Edelweiss. However, I had three of them read by the time we reached Vancouver and ripped through the other two before we got to Banff, so off to the only bookstore in town we went. I bought two more YA novels I’d never heard about and wrote down the titles to half a dozen more. We also visited a candy store that had so many different kinds you’d need to visit it daily for years in order to try all of them.

The hotel served a terrific breakfast buffet. Any place that has unlimited bacon cooked well gets five stars in my book. While we were waiting for an open table, I had one of those ‘you’ll never believe me’ tourist moments. I overheard two women conversing in what I assumed was Mandarin, but with Australian accents.

More dang mountains than you can shake a stick at.

More dang mountains than you can shake a stick at.

From Banff, we boarded a tour bus and headed north. Our first stop was Lake Louise which has an elegant hotel with a lake right behind it. I have no idea what the room rates are, but I bet they’re a lot higher than Motel Six. Next up was a short walk to a scenic lookout where we could see several lakes below us and glaciers in the distance.

Pardon me, but do you have any Grey Poupon?

Pardon me, but do you have any Grey Poupon?

Between the lookout and our next stop at a wild waterfall, we stopped twice to photograph black bears who were so busy gorging on dandelions that they barely acknowledged our existence. We also slowed so we could admire and get quick shots of five mountain goats. Our next to the last stop before entering Jasper was a buffet lunch followed by a trip onto the Athabaska Glacier in an Ice Explorer, a unique vehicle with giant tires.

I'm so not gonna change the tire when it goes flat.

I’m so not gonna change the tire when it goes flat.

There are 23 in existence, most running here, but one is in Antarctica. After the glacier, we stopped at a fairly recent addition to the tourism opportunities in Jasper National Park, the Glacier Skywalk. Imagine standing on a sheet of glass while looking straight down 918 feet at the bottom of a canyon. Built in a large semi-circle, this walkway gives you some pretty nice photo opportunities. I expected to feel nervous when I walked out on it because I don’t handle heights very well, but it was too much fun taking pictures and watching other people look nervous for me to get queasy.

Not a good place to lose your glasses.

Not a good place to lose your glasses.

We stayed overnight at Whistler’s Inn when we reached Jasper. One thing we agreed on before the trip was that we’d splurge a time or two on meals. That night, we enjoyed an Indian buffet. While the entrees were tasty, the highlight was mango payasam for dessert. I’ve since found numerous recipes for it online and plan to make my own for an upcoming meal. We had half a day to explore Jasper and one of our discoveries was one of the best pastry/coffee shops I’ve ever encountered. My opinion of the Bear’s Paw seems to be shared by lots of other people because it came up almost immediately when I did an online search for bakeries in Jasper. It’s one of those places that if you lived nearby, your clothing would cease fitting properly in just a few weeks, but you wouldn’t care. From there, we wandered around and found an art gallery where both of us bought a print we really liked.

The last stop before heading to the train station was a bit unsettling for me. I’d asked the woman at the are gallery if Jasper had a library. She said they did and it was just a block away, but she wasn’t sure whether it was open. That turned out to be the understatement of the vacation. The town had gotten a 3.5 million dollar grant to renovate and expand it. However, the sign on the fence said it would be completed in July of 2013. It was pretty clear from what we could see that they were nowhere close to finishing the project. While we were looking at it, a gentleman who was a retired engineer stopped to chat and filled us in on the story. He said that the town had hired a very incompetent architectural firm, they hadn’t taken into consideration the fact that there was asbestos that had to be removed and the initial plans had failed to take into account the need to be up to bearing the weight of shelving and books. All this was further complicated by the installation of a roof that began leaking almost immediately. When I asked whether there was an alternative location to use while construction was going on. He rolled his eyes and said the woman who was the town librarian had been forced to house the books under the bleachers at the community center and gave up in frustration. I’m still shaking my head over the fact that a town of that size has been without library services for several years and may well lack them for a couple more.

We returned to Vancouver on an overnight Via Rail train. Sleeping berths take a bit of getting used to, so sleep that night was minimal. Fortunately there was a recreation car with electrical outlets, fresh coffee and unlimited fruit and cookies, so I suffered in comfort. We slowed or stopped numerous times on the return journey. In fact, the train arrived in Jasper three hours late. Apparently this isn’t unusual because freight trains have preference on the tracks and there are lots and lots of them running. I counted over 200 cars on several of the ones passing by. I also noticed that most of them were using only two engines. When I hopped freights back in my college days, similar trains used four or five, so there must have been some major improvements in diesel locomotives over the years.

One of many playing on a perfect day.

One of many playing on a perfect day.

We had another day and a half in Vancouver, so we tried to get to Granville Island on Saturday afternoon, but couldn’t find it, so we visited the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre near the outer harbor. It was an interesting tour. We don’t think of Canada as being part of space exploration, but several Canadians have been astronauts and there are many examples of equipment developed by Canadians to aid in space exploration. We sat in on a very interesting lecture/demonstration on the history of gravity and the challenge of defining what exactly it is. This was followed by a show in their planetarium. We noticed an abundance of kites behind the museum so we headed that way and discovered there was a kite festival going on. At one point there must have been more than 50 kites flying and we were treated to a synchronized flying demonstration when eight people flew the same design in giant loops. We walked back to our hotel and when we crossed the bridge, we realized that Granville Island was right below us. That particular bridge has a designated bike-way on the right side which includes a counter to keep track of how many bikes cross it. As of June 13th, more than 115,000 had done so in 2015. In fact bikes were prevalent in every place we visited on our trip.

Who gets the hangover, the goat or the cheesemaker?

Who gets the hangover, the goat or the cheesemaker?

After a quick supper, we took advantage of the final part of our tour package and went to the top of the Vancouver Lookout. This is similar to the Space Needle in Seattle, but is atop one of the hotels. It affords you a view in all directions and is especially pretty at sunset. We both took a lot of photos while waiting for the sun to go down.

We spent the majority of Sunday on Granville Island. This was a bustling manufacturing spot in the 1800s, but progress, fires and a changing economy left it looking pretty dismal in the early part of the 20th century. Fortunately, people saw its potential and today, it’s home to some 300 shops, affords numerous places for musicians to perform and has a huge open air market. It’s one of those places creative people gravitate to time and again. If I lived in Vancouver, it’s where I’d go whenever I had any free time. In addition to enjoying some really beautiful photographs, I bought a print that was more expensive that most things I buy and we had an outdoor meal of fancy cheese and fresh cherries. As we were riding back to the hotel, Beth and I agreed that it was the best part of our time in Vancouver.

The flight home was uneventful and we’re still looking over all the pictures, realizing that there are very few we don’t want to keep. This is a trip I’d recommend to anyone who likes the beauty of nature, coupled with a really nice city experience.

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