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Looking for a less expensive way to travel between major European cities?

A relatively new bus service, FlixBus, is receiving very positive response as a safe and comfortable alternative to train or rental car options while in Europe.

The company, FlixBus, was founded in 2013 in Germany following deregulation of German transit restrictions. Various countries across Europe have been added to their routes, including Italy which was added to the network in 2015.

The buses are exceptionally clean and offer:

  • Extra leg room for all seats
  • Restroom facilities aboard
  • Seat belts at each and every seat
  • Internet service throughout your trip at no additional cost
  • Power plugs at each seat to ensure you do not run out of battery time
  • Snacks and refreshments available
  • Large amount of luggage space; large pieces of luggage go in the compartments below the seating and there is space for small hand luggage above each seat or, on double deck buses, under the seat in front of you
  • Clean buses with confidence on the timetable for planning and transit

So, if ease of travel, no hassle with loading luggage on and off trains in crowded stations and comfortable safe travel appeal to you, please consider FlixBus.

Web: FlixBus

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Some of the Flixbus Fleet

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Upper deck seating on two-level buses

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Seating Main Level Flixbus

For many years, this island in the Venetian Lagoon, not far from the Lido, was a secret of the city. Slowly, the word is reaching the world about a living treasure of enormous intellectual and spiritual importance; San Lazzaro degli Armeni.

Bookmarked by two Mocenigo family members who became Doges, Giovanni Il Cornaro was Doge of the city of Venice in 1715 when a group of seventeen Armenian monks arrived, seeking refuge after being ousted by Turkish occupiers in the area now known as Greek’s Peloponnese.

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The Cloister of San Lazzaro degli Armeni

The rule of the day was that no religious orders were permitted to live in the canal-narrow confines of the city proper. An island, however, was another thing altogether. With the  support of the Venetian Senate, the monks were given an island within site of St. Mark’s Square. That island, once home to a leper colony,  became known as San Lazzaro degli Armeni, The Island of St. Lazarus of the Armenians.

Why all this history? Well, in order to better understand the treasure that lay securely within a very modern library, it is always helpful to have a framework in which to understand the gifts that they gave to Venice and the world.

The founder of the order, Mekhitar, was accompanied on his journey from Armenia to Venice with seventeen other monks. Mekhitar’s translated name is “The Comforter”-though this writer cannot locate any reference to how this was translated.

Knowing that the Armenian culture would continue to suffer a long and painful demise, Mekhitar took it upon the Order to begin the creation of what would become one of the extant three centers of Armenian culture; San Lazzaro, Echmiadzin near Yerevan in Armenia and Vienna.

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The Illuminated Manuscript Library – San Lazzaro degli Armeni

The collection is now housed in two libraries; one contains over 150,000 volumes regarding Armenian language, religion and culture. Mekhitar’s priceless collection of over 35,000 volumes along with his personal library are contained in the larger of the two libraries.  The other, more modern, structure contains over 4,500 masterpieces of illumined manuscripts.

In addition to collecting works of cultural importance, the monks also established a book press where, from the mid 16th century until 1991 they printed innumerable books of primarily Armenian focus.

Lord Byron?

 

A brief aside for those who have a passion and interest in the work of Lord Byron. He arrived in Venice in 1816 and took up acquaintance with the monks. He eventually spent time on the island, studied the Armenian language and assisted in the compilation of an English-Armenian language grammar reference. It was in 1817 that Byron removed himself from Venice and the fellowship of the monks, and headed to Greece. It was there, in 1824, that he succumbed to a fever while living in Missolonghi.

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The Memorial Marker – Lord Byron

Some of Byron’s items remain at San Lazzaro; a pen and desk he used and some other items. There is also a memorial marker on the island to remember his kindnesses to the monks of San Lazzaro.

Please make plans to include a visit to this fascinating and little known island when you are next in Venice.

IF YOU GO:

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Route #20 – Vaporetto Venice

A visit to the island can only be made by leaving on the 3:15PM vaporetto #20 from S. Zaccaria stop near St. Mark’s Square to the island. Upon arrival, you are greeted by some of the monks who will lead you on a tour. The tour takes about an hour and you are back at S. Zaccaria by around 4:45PM.

 

San Lazzaro degli Armeni

Vaporetto Route information (to check for any possible changes in schedule) Tel: 011+39.272.2111

Monastery Tel: +39.41.52.60.104

Web: Monastero Mechitarista

Join us in Italy on one of our small group excursions across Italy. Four itineraries.  Your own villa. Daily multi-lingual tour lead and support. Relax. Unwind. Come home again to Italy.

If you are planning on a trip to Italy, this is the season to read up on numerous great books about the culture, history and la vita Italiano.

Florence:

stones-of-florenceThe reference I most strongly recommend is Christopher Hibbert’s definitive The House of Medici-Its Rise and Fall. Hibbert deftly guides the reader through the intricacies of everything from the Medici family tree, political intrigue and ‘the end of the line’ in easy to read prose. Truly a must for those who plan on spending time in bella Firenze.

Inferno: Dan Brown’s most recent book, this one does describe various parts of the city in very vivid detail.

The Stones of Florence: Mary McCarthy’s landmark 1956 book is still a wonderful read to get a great perspective on the city, its sites and history.

Heading south – Naples or Sicily

Elena Ferrante, The Neapolitan Quartet. In this day and age, no one beats Elena’s the-ancient-shoreability to capture Neapolitan life so vividly and in such lucid style.

The Ancient Shore. Shirley Hazzard’s lifelong love with Naples comes through in a unique framework of the ancients who established colonies here in the era’s past. A very good read with an unusual perspective.

Sicily, 3o00 Years of Human History: Sandra Benjamin’s ability to translate the complex story of Sicily’s tumultuous existence, from the indigenous cultures of the Sicanians and others through multiple occupations by other nations brings the island’s complex story to life. A great read if you are planning time on Sicily.

Venice in your plans?

paradise-of-citiesParadise of Cities: Venice in the Nineteenth Century. John Norwich’s remarkable book shares observations about the city as it began to attract visitors on the “Grand Tour”. My love of this book is that the author shares what Venice was and what it was destined to be, well in advance of the tourist hoards that arrive today. A very interesting perspective on the City in the Sea.

If Venice Dies: Salvatore Settis’s searing look at the terrible effects of cruise ships and tourists crowds descending on the city. Even if you are a cruise passenger, this book deserves your attention to a city in peril. I highly recommend. The book was released in Italian and an English translation by Andre Naffis-Sahely has brought the book to a whole new audience.

There are hundreds more. This will get you started!

Join us in Italy on one of our small group excursions across Italy. Four itineraries.  Your own villa. Daily multi-lingual tour lead and support. Relax. Unwind. Come home again to Italy.

 

 

 

Imagine that the finest preserved Greek Doric Temples in the world reside not in Greece, but Italy. It’s true. Less than an hour south of Salerno are the remains of an ancient port city which once brought wealth to that part of Magna Grecia.

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Paestum – Illustration by Jean Claude Golvin – Showing the city at the height of its success.

When the Greeks arrived and began to build their city, they selected a flat plain at the intersection of the River now called the Sele and the Tyrrhenian Sea. With ease of access to the river-bringing supplies inland-and the sea for trade with the countries on the perimeter of the Mediterranean, the colony thrived until the invasion of other cultures.

Only twenty miles down the coast was the partner city of Paestum, Agripoli. Located, now, on a high promontory above a natural harbor, the town of Agripoli traded with Paestum for the supplies and products used to trade with, and subdue, the indigenous people-the Lucanians.

The temples in Paestum were built between 600 BC and 450 BC, symbols of Greek power in the southern Tyrrhenian Sea. Named Poseidonia by the Greeks, the colony was eventually overtaken by the Lucanians (an indigenous people who occupied lands near where the colony of Poseidonia was established) who renamed it Paistos. When Rome conquered those lands, they renamed it Pesto or Paestum.

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It was not until the 18th Century that efforts were made to mark the archaeological site, catalog its treasures and establish protection of the lands around the site. Only about fifteen percent of the ancient city has been excavated; the remaining lands are in private hands.

It is nothing short of breathtaking to suddenly come up on the temples and archaeological site. The coast road that connects the Amalfi Coast Road at Vietri sul Mare to Salerno and then on to Paestum travels across lands fought over during WWII. A nearby cemetery at Battipaglia is a stark reminder of those times. (A side note that the home of the best Mozzarella Buffa comes from this area of Italy, particularly near Battipaglia. Try Tenuta Vanullo for tours and exceptional meals.)

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5th Century BC Fresco – Paestum Museum

This place is rarely busy. I’ve been to the site numerous times and it is unusual to see more than two groups of ten people or more. The site is quiet and exudes a melancholy air of age. The museum is well worth visiting so please plan on including time to explore the treasures from years of excavation.

 

There is a very nice small hotel in the area, along with some restaurants. The hotel  information is included in the “IF YOU GO” section, below.

Why should you visit? Well, less than 1/100th of the crowds of Pompeii, less expensive and crowded than either Pompeii or Herculaneum, easy access, a lovely drive and good food within reach!

IF YOU GO:

Archeological Museum Via Magna Grecia – Paestum. Phone +39 0828 811 023 / +39 0828 722654. Open daily 08.30 a.m.– 7.30 p.m (last admission: 6:50PM)

Ticket (Museum + Archeological Area): € 9,00 pp

Hotel:

Il Granaio dei Casabella

This lovely, small and very fairly priced hotel was renovated in very old farm buildings.  Just six minutes walk from one of the ancient city gates of Paestum, the rooms here are clean and service is well provided.

Via Tavernelle, 84, 84063 Capaccio-Paestum SA, Italy
Phone: +39 0828 721014

 

 

 

 

 

CALTAGIRONE

Set in the heartland of Sicily, Caltagirone has been beckoning lovers of Sicilian pottery for centuries. The name derives from the Arabic word for “Castle of Pottery Jars”, “qal’at-al-jarar”. Home to Sicilian Ceramics, this lovely baroque city is also home to some excellent restaurants. There is also a place that I must recommend on the outskirts of the city, an easy taxi ride.

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Il Locandiere Caltagirone. Don’t expect fancy. Expect great food!

Within an easy walk of the most famous Cathedral in the city, Santa Maria del Monte, this unassuming restaurant serves up incredible Sicilian fresh fish and meat dishes with recipes which reflect the diverse cultural weave of the island-from Greek to Arabic to Spanish to French.

In a word? Go. I do recommend reservations. If you are staying in Caltagirone, or in the nearby villages or hills, this is absolutely a place to reserve and dine.

Il Locandiere

Via Don Luigi Sturzo, 55, 95041 Caltagirone CT, Italy
Phone: +39 0933 58292

Call head for opening hours.

CALTAGIRONE-SAN MICHELE DI GANZARIA

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Imagine the warmth of the fire at Rustico accompanied by fabulous food

A short twelve-minute taxi ride from Caltagirone, or a rental car trip, west of the city you will come to the small village of San Michele di Ganzaria. Out of the way, a bit remote and a bit daunting…let me tell you, the Ristorante Rustico in the Hotel Pomara (watch for signs on the buildings on your left as you enter the village) is worth every minute of the trip.

I’ve been enjoying meals at this place for more than ten years. Never have I been disappointed. The wait staff is animated, they love American visitors, appreciate our kind words about this food (as if we couldn’t say anything BUT good!) and offer meals from the wood fired grill and kitchen that will delight your senses.

They offer a great local wine selection as well-and if you stay at the hotel you can stumble…I mean walk…up the short hill to your rooms with little difficulty, satiated and ready for a great night’s rest.

If you are in the Caltagirone area and are looking for a clean and safe place to stay, the Pomara is a great destination hotel.

Ristorante Rustico

Hotel Pomara

Loc. San Michele di Ganzaria

Via Vittorio Veneto, 84

Tel: +39.0933.97.69.76

ORTYGIA-SIRACUSA

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Entrance to Ristorante Don Camillo Ortygia, Siracusa

Since 1985, Don Camillo has been preparing exceptional meals for discerning diners in Siracusa.

Truth be told, this restaurant is on the island of Ortygia, the location of the first Greek colony on this part of Sicily. The island received its name, it is believed, from the ancient Greek word for Quail which, apparently, inhabited the island in abundance.

Speaking of abundance, with a sixteen page menu you can imagine the nearly limitless options you have for meals at Camillo.

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Dining Room at Don Camillo, Ortygia Siracusa

Some examples: Appetizers: Filet of Grouper with Powdered “Matallota” sauce: Filet of Tuna with a Marmalade of Peppers. Primi: Spaghetti of the Sirens with Shrimp and Sea Urchin or Lamb Cutlet in a potato crust with spicy sauce of Spring Onion and Saffron. Secondi offerings? Sword Fish with Honey and Sour Vegetables or Wild Black Nebrodi Mountains Pork Chop in Nero d’Avola wine sauce and sour pears…Madonna mia, what a feast awaits those lucky enough to enjoy a meal at this fabulous restaurant.

Don Camillo

Via delle Maestranze, 96, 96100 Siracusa SR, Italy
Phone: +39 0931 67133

Hours: 09:30AM – 2:30PM and 7:30PM – 10:30PM//CLOSED SUNDAY

AGRIGENTO

Choices, choices. The first of three restaurants listed here provides an easy and simple ambience with great food, the second offers a lovely city center romantic and refined atmosphere and dining experience, and the third offers breathtaking views with great food; it all depends on what you wish to enjoy in concert with your meal, great conversation and excellent wine.

The first, Trattoria dei Templi, attracts a large tourist crowd at lunch, but in the evening, the greatly reduced crowds and easy ambiance of the interior provide the perfect setting for a delightful meal. The location, close to the city walls of Agrigento, provides for easy access.

The Trattoria offers typical local fare at an exceptionally affordable price point; the locals eat here and that is always a sign to me that the food is very good and the prices are more than fair. Try the vino di tavola by the 1/2 liter or full liter, depending on your group size and don’t forget to ask about the specials of the day from your wait staff.

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Trattoria dei Templi, Agrigento

Trattoria dei Templi

Via Panoramica Valle dei Templi, 15, 92100 Agrigento AG, Italy
Phone: +39 0922 403110

Hours: 12:30PM – 3:00PM and 7:30PM to 11:00PM

Ristorante Kalos

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Ristorante Kalos Dining Room

Another option, Ristorante Kalos, is located in the center of Agrigento at the intersection of the Piazzetta San Calogero and Via Atenea, not far from the Centrale train station. There is a lovely Italian word often used to describe the atmosphere and food; raffinato, refined.  This memorable restaurant offers that kind of feel in abundance. The atmosphere is intimate, quiet and ‘raffinato’. Fresh seafood, taken daily from the nearby coast below Agrigento and Kaos (home of the Sicilian playwright Luigi Pirandello), is offered in various recipes and the continually changing seasons bring a varied a menu as you can find in southern Sicily.

Ristorante Kalos

Salita Filino, 1, 92100 Agrigento AG, Italy
Phone:+39 0922 26389

Hours: 12:00 Noon – 3:00PM and 7:00PM – 11:00PM//CLOSED MONDAY

Ristorante Il Re del Girgenti

Ristorante Il Re del Girgenti

Via Panoramica Valle dei Templi, 51, 92100 Agrigento AG, Italy
Phone: +39 0922 401388

Hours: 11:30AM – 3:00PM and 8:00PM to 11:30PM//CLOSED TUESDAY

TAORMINA

Taormina has been affectionately named the “Portofino of Sicily”. Attracting the yacht crowd in summer, the lanes of this gorgeous picturesque village above Giardini Naxos (arrival point of the Greeks in 734 BC) offer shopping, views and wonderful restaurants.

This short list of three restaurants, much like those provided for Agrigento, offer various kinds of dining experiences, price points and terrace views.

Ristorante L’Incontro

This small place is a delight. Be sure to request a terrace view table when you reserve for dinner-strongly recommended. The views down to the sea and, on clear evenings, over to the mainland of Italy are unforgettable. The seven page menu changes often and offers fresh seafood as its specialty.

The restaurant is very easy to find; walk in from the Porta Messina and you will find L’Incontro at #20 Via Luigi Pirandello in the village.

Ristorante L’Incontro

Via Luigi Pirandello, 20, 98039 Taormina ME, Italy
Phone: +39 0942 628084
Hours: 12:00 Noon – 3:00PM and 6:00PM – 10:30PM//CLOSED TUESDAY

 

Al Saraceno

Views, views, views. This is what draws so many visitors to Taormina and there is no question that the views from Ristorante Al Saraceno are part of its allure. Located on a terrace above the main part of the village,  this restaurant matches the views with remarkable food. While the name might fool you with the word “Pizzeria” in the mix, don’t be mislead. This place offers great Sicilian seafood and specialties worthy of the location.

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The View from Al Saraceno with Mt. Etna in the distance

Their seafood is as fresh as it can be and the preparations offer a wonderful balance between European and north African spices, special touches by the chef and exceptional side dishes.

Without question, reserve in advance and request a terrace view table!

Al Sarceno

 

Via Madonna della Rocca, 16/18, 98039 Taormina ME

Tel +39 0942 63 20 15

Hours: 11:00AM – 3:00PM and 6:00PM to 12:00AM Midnight//NO CLOSE DATE

Osteria Nero D’Avola

Okay. There has to be one splurge in the mix. The Osteria is a justifiably famous place for great meals. Located just off of the Piazza San Domenico. Located very close to the most famous hotel in Taormina of the same name (San Domenico Palace), this place offers a rooftop terrace with views and some outstanding food. The prices are a bit steep, yet so are many other places in Taormina.

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Osteria Nero D’Avola

The name of this restaurant pays homage to the most famous grape (and wine) of Sicily, the Nero D’Avola. The menu is varied and offers unusual delicacies like White Olives marinated in olive oil from the Sicilian Baroque city of Noto, fresh anchovies prepared in lemon juice, olive oil and spices (don’t say ‘No’ until you have tried them!) and fresh lamb chop marinated in Nero D’Avola and served with local vegetables. Incredible.

Reservations strongly advised, especially in season (June – September).

Osteria Nero D’Avola

Piazza San Domenico, 2, 98039 Taormina ME, Italy
Phone: +39 0942 628874
AND A FINAL TREAT – For those who have read this entire article, a special dessert from one of the restaurants listed in this blog. Can you guess which one?
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Tort made with fresh chocolate, pistachios from Bronte-Italy’s famous city of pistachios, and fresh orange marmalade. Talk about HEAVEN!

 

Within the newly renovated and redesigned Museum of the Works of the Duomo in Florence is a gallery which stuns most visitors; the gallery of Michelangelo’s Deposition Pieta, also called the Nicodemus Pieta. The new space replaces the previous location of the work – a landing on the main staircase of the ‘old’ museum. In its new location it shines and fills a room five times the size of the stair landing.

Image result for nicodemus pieta michelangelo museo dell'opera del duomoA quick summary of the design: The highest figure of the four is said to be Nicodemus, in reality a self portrait of Michelangelo in his later years. The figure to the left of Christ deposed, as you stand before the work, is Mary Magdalen. The figure to the right of Christ is Mary, his mother.

Michelangelo left the figures of Mary, Christ and Nicodemus unfinished. It is widely believed that Tiberio Calcagni, a sculptor of some note, finished the Mary Magdalen after Michelangelo’s death.

The story of this gorgeous work is a long and complicated one. Here is what most historians believe: Michelangelo began work on the Pieta in 1556, eight years before his death. In the course of the work, he became increasingly frustrated with the quality of the marble, the position of the figures and the constant pressure he felt to ‘get it done’. The master eventually broke away several sections of the work (for reasons we do not understand) and eventually gave the main marble block and pieces to his servant, Antonio. The servant then sold the work to Calcagni.

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The numerous piece removed by Michelangelo during his work on the Pieta

Calcagni replaced the pieces on the main block of marble and then completed the figure of Mary Magdalen. Somehow, in the course of the work, movement of pieces and repair, Christ’s left leg went missing.

As you study the work today, it is difficult to see in the balance and beauty of the piece that anything is missing. It is believed that Michelangelo intended for Christ’s left leg to rest on his mother, Mary’s, thigh; perhaps too strong an implied relationship between mother and son – pressure from the church – caused him to remove the leg.

Below is a close up of the pin “hole” where Christ’s left leg would have been attached. To this day, no one knows what happened to that piece of marble.

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Even with its provenance in question, the piece of marble, back lit and highlighted in the gallery of the Museo del Opera del Duomo still fascinates us. How Buonarotti could turn marble to flesh remains as mysterious as the story of the Deposition Pieta.

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Pieta Gallery in the Museo del Opera del Duomo

 Credit to Penhook for some of the reference material used in this post. Thank you.

 

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May 2017 marks the start of FEST300, the Biennale International Exhibitions in Venice. For those who love contemporary culture, this is a must!

The location of the main exhibit spaces are the Giardini and Arsenal areas of the city. Both are located close together for ease of access.

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Map of the primary locations for the Bienale in Venice 2017

This is a huge international event and hotels always book early. The closer to the dates of the Biennale, the more room prices increase and availability decreases.

Not only art is highlighted. There are events running concurrently in Architecture, Dance, Cinema, Music and Theater.

So, book early. As an example, the 2013 Biennale featured the works of 150 artists housed in eighty-eight country pavilions. Over 475,000 visitors viewed exhibits during the seven months of the event.

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Chiharu Shiota, Japan’s representative at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015

Here are some additional things to keep in mind should you visit Venice during this event.

 

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2015 Exhibit – “Cool Hunting”

Make a plan of attack There’s enough to see at the Biennale (not to mention the rest of Venice) to easily take up five days.

 

Tips for getting to multiple venues The Biennale’s main two exhibit spaces are relatively easy to navigate but if you’re headed to the 50-odd other Biennale venues scattered throughout Venice it helps to have a multi-day vaporetto (public boat transportation) pass, comfortable walking shoes and a smart phone with a GPS service to find your way through the city’s tricky geography (but ask your cell phone provider about the cost of roaming charges before you go!).

The city is the festival Besides the Giardini and Arsenale, other important Biennale venues are at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, the Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana, the city’s Renaissance-era former Customs House and now a private museum of contemporary art on a stunning location where the Grand Canal meets the Giudecca Canal.

For all further information, please visit the Venezia Biennale Web Site.

Information about Tourist assistance, including accommodation details, in Venice is found at the Tourist Information Office Venezia.

 

 

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