by Melinda Gallo

I have always thought my niece JJ was born lucky. A few days before she and her parents arrived, it rained even though the weather had been pretty nice for a week. The day they arrived, it was sunny with clear skies. And that was how each day was during their trip here.

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I wish I could've seen Florence through my niece's six-year-old eyes. She has travelled quite a bit, going to different states like Hawaii, Florida, and Utah. But, this was her first visit to Europe. And Florence as her first European city to visit.

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It was odd going back to the market to buy food today. Dave and I had been eating out so much that we almost forgot what it was like before our guests arrived. We ate almost every lunch and every dinner in a different restaurant. Now, we have a short list of our favorites.

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Today was our last meal together with my sister, brother-in-law, and niece. After eating almost every lunch and dinner together, we decided to have one last meal together before they took off. We met at their apartment and walked over to find a place to have breakfast in Piazza della Signoria at an outdoor cafť.

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After two glorious days in Monterosso, we checked out of the hotel and went to the train station to find out the train schedule. I went up to the counter to talk to the woman about when we could get on a train back to Florence. She said it'd be faster to take one train to La Spezia, then an "Intercity" train (instead of a regional one that stops at every station) from La Spezia to Pisa, and finally one direct to Florence.

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Our first trip outside of Florence began early in the morning. We went to Monterosso, the farthest north town in the Cinque Terre on the Ligurian coast. Dave and I haven't been out of Florence since we moved here last November. We couldn't wait to go.

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My sister, her husband, and my niece JJ arrived on Tuesday afternoon. We sat outside on the terrace of a bar, waiting for them. It's the first time they've been to Florence while I'm living here. Only my mom ever came to Florence to visit me when I was living here in 1997-1999.

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I love to read, but I'm very picky about what I read. It's hard for me to find good Italian books by Italian authors that I love. I don't normally read in Italian unless I'm in Italy. For some reason, the words seem to make more sense when I'm here. As if I can hear them more in my head.

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It rained almost all day yesterday. So we didn't even venture out. Today is Pasquetta, which is Easter Monday. Everything is closed except a few bars and restaurants. I was hoping that the market or my favorite bakery would be open, but I walked around the entire area and everything was closed.

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As predicted, the bells on the church rang at midnight right when we got home tonight. They haven't rung since Friday morning although I haven't really noticed. I hear them so often that I tune them out now.

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Well, after a few days of staying home, taking lots of vitamins, sleeping long hours, and taking naps, I'm finally feeling much better. What started out as allergies, and then appeared more like the flu, ended up being a cold....we think.

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I've told everyone that my 6-year old niece JJ is coming to visit us here in Florence. It'll be her first trip to Europe ever! Of course, she's not coming alone, she's bringing her parents too. It has been planned for quite a while and each time I talk to her on the phone she asks me when we're going to see each other again. "Soon," I always say.

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Dave and I stayed in yesterday. Neither one of us felt that great. As soon as I tell my friends that I'm not feeling well, the first question each one asks me is, "Che temperatura hai?" (What temperature do you have?) They think I'm nuts because I didn't have a thermometer until recently. I just know when I feel good and when I don't. I didn't need a thermometer to figure it out for me.

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Some days I can be doing one of the most mundane of things, like washing the dishes, and there's a tug at my heart. It whispers to me and when I don't pay attention, it begins to yell. Memories of my mom flood my head. Memories of the last time she travelled to visit me when I was living in Florence back in 1998. Three years of memories before she passed come to me in an instant.

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I decided to make nice with the girls at the lavanderia (dry cleaner's) today. I've been wanting to go back and say something instead of walking out without looking back, like I did the last time. I finally decided, after much procrastination, to go to the lavanderia today.

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