France:  Macron vs. Le Pen

The world is watching

I am worried for France, for Europe, for the world.   Could Macron vs. Le Pen 2022 be a Clinton vs.Trump 2016 scenario? I was convinced Hillary would win.  The polls said so.  How could intelligent people vote for Trump?  The polls were wrong, although Clinton did win the popular vote.  French polls are predicting a Macron victory, but many detest the country’s president, just as many detested Hillary.  This is Le Pen’s third bid for the presidency.  In 2017 Macron triumphed with 66% of the vote.  It will be much, much closer this time.  And, the similarities between Le Pen and Trump are frightening.

 I am now a French citizen. I voted for the first time in France in round one of the country’s presidential election, and will vote in round two on April 24.  Much like the U.S., France is very divided. Macron, a centrist, is considered a president of the rich by many.  Too many feel left out, ignored by the political elite. They blame Macron for inflation just as so many Americans blame Biden for inflation.  They are against immigration and want to reclaim France for the French.

There was a mind boggling field of 12 candidates in round one. Macron and Le Pen beat out all others.

The French are also disillusioned with politics.  In the first round, 26% of voters abstained, the lowest turnout since the 2002 election.  This could be higher in the second round as many voters dislike both candidates. 

Le Pen, representing the far-right National Rally party, has softened her extreme right image. She is a die-hard cat lover and has appeared on television at-home interviews cuddling her felines. Her campaign is all about pocket-book issues, appealing to those suffering the pain of inflation. Her supporters believe she cares more about them than Macron does. She has gained mega points on the likeability chart.

Town hall in Roquebrune Cap Martin, France, where I vote.

“I’ll be the president of real life and above all of your purchasing power,”  she told a cheering crowd at a rally.  Although she has toned down her anti-immigration rhetoric, she is still a racist at heart. She wants to ban the hijab in public places and curb immigration.   She blames immigration for “feeding crime and ruining our social services.”  At the rally, her attacks on “anarchic immigration” drew the loudest applause.   She wants to withdraw France from NATO.  She has had close ties with Russia. 

While many dislike Macron, he has been given high marks for his handling of the economy, the pandemic and European affairs. He has been actively involved in diplomatic efforts to end the Ukraine war. He met with Putin. But, as the cost of living soars, all this takes a back seat.

In a guest essay which appeared in the New York Times, Dominique Moisi of the Institut Montaigne, a Paris-based think tank, had this assessment: “What is at stake on April 24 is nothing less than the future of democracy in France and in Europe.” 

Voting in r0und one of the French presidential election

I asked several friends and acquaintances whom they would vote for and why.  This is by no means an accurate sample of all French voters.  Nonetheless, here are their views:

Michele, caregiver for the elderly

“I am very disappointed in Macron.  He is for the rich.  I will vote for Le Pen.  She cares about inflation and the average person. But, it’s very difficult.  We don’t really have a choice.  I am not convinced one is better than the other.”

Thomas, retired American designer with dual citizenship

“I don’t’ like Macron.  I don’t like his style, his story. He is like an actor. It’s a shame the choice is so limited…Le Pen is a hard-working, dedicated politician. I like her.  I listen to her speeches.  She makes sense.  She is bright, intelligent.  We need change.  I will be forced to vote for her.  I think she will win.  A lot of people feel l like I do.”

Nicole, retired admin assistant

“I am not entirely in agreement with everything Macron has done, but in any case, I will not vote for Le Pen.  Macron is a positive image for France.  He is intelligent. He speaks English.  He has been good for foreign trade, but not for internal trade.”

Christophe, physical therapist, osteopath.

“I was against Le Pen and the extreme right for many years.  I am among those who think politics is under the control of world power… Macron was elected with the assistance of banks and powerful people… He thinks of Europe, not France.  I think many people will vote for Le Pen even if they don’t like her.  They want to block Macron. “

Christophe is an anti-vaxxer. Macron imposed strict vaccination controls, requiring medical personnel to be vaccinated to continue to work. Many refused and lost their jobs.  “Le Pen is against the vaccinations,” he said.  “She will assure that those who lost their jobs are rehired and repaid for their lost salary.”

 “I will vote for Le Pen.  I want to breathe.  I want change… Le Pen is not as bad as Macron… If we had another choice, I would vote for someone else.  We have a choice between la peste et le cholera (the plague and cholera).

Christine, retired teacher

“I will vote for Macron.  I am not against all he has done.  I agree with his program for Europe… He has not done badly for the economy.  During the pandemic he gave money to businesses and workers.  Inflation is 4 % in France, but 8% in Germany and 10% in Spain…. Le Pen is a racist.  She wants to withdraw from NATO.  She is against Europe.  She is an ally of Putin…. She wants to change the constitution…” Christine likens Le Pen to Viktor Orban, the anti-European nationalist prime minister of Hungary. 

Evelyne, retired veterinarian

“I will vote for Le Pen. I would like to see a woman president.  I cannot support Macon because of his vaccination policies.”

Arnaud, pharmacist

“It’s very close, but I will probably vote for Macron. Le Pen is too dangerous”

Veronique, caregiver for the elderly

She will vote blanc. In France voters are given an envelope at the polling stations. There is a table with separate stacks of the names of the candidates, each on a separate paper. And, one stack with blank papers.  Voters take a paper with the name of their candidate, or a blank piece of paper, go into a voting booth, and insert the paper naming their choice into the envelope which is then deposited into a transparent plastic box.

Depositing the envelope in the plastic box.

After casting their vote, they sign a register to confirm that they have voted. Several officials oversee the process. This is distinct from abstention. A blank vote shows the citizen has an interest in participating in the process, but refuses to make a choice.

“I suffered too much because I was not vaccinated. I lost my job.”  Veronique said.  However, she calls herself a “woman of the left,” She could not vote for Le Pen, hence she votes blanc.

The results of my poll give three votes to Macron, four to Le Pen, and 1 blank. If you add my vote for Macron, he gets four. A tie. Fortunately he is ahead in national polls, yet a Le Pen win is not impossible. Polls are not infallible.

The televised debate between Macron and Le Pen on April 20 could help Macron, who is known to be a skillful debater. He took Le Pen, who was poorly prepared, to the cleaners in the 2017 presidential debate. However, she learned her lesson and will be prepared this time

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Bellissimo Lago di Como

“I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.” That is exactly the way I felt during a September visit to Lago di Como (Lake Como) in northern Italy. It is sublime. Glittering waters at the feet of Alpine mountain ranges. Photo-opp villages with cobbled alleys and flowered promenades. Baroque villas and impeccably manicured gardens.

Like me, lots of famous people have been seduced by the lake’s beauty and charm. Artists, writers, opera singers and aristocrats have homes on the lake shores. Not to mention Hollywood stars: George Clooney, Madonna, Richard Branson, Sylvester Stallone…

Varenna

My friend Karen, who knows the lake well, suggested we stop at Lake Como en route to her apartment in Croatia. I had fond memories of previous lake visits and was all in. She chose Varenna, considered one of the prettiest lakeside towns, as our destination for two nights. We enjoyed soaking up the vistas and the captivating ambiance of the lake and town.

The most heavenly time was high above the lakeside town of Tremezzo at the restaurant Al Veluu. Karen has friends who know the restaurant owner. She made a reservation mentioning her friends. We never did meet the owner. The waiter who greeted us was neither impressed nor happy to see us. It was close to 2 p.m.. The restaurant terrace was empty. He, no doubt, wanted to call it a day.

We had the spacious terrace and garden all to ourselves. The divine surroundings and spectacular views made up for the disappointing food. It was calm, peaceful, relaxing. We did not want to leave, but the warm sun was no longer so warm, and we needed to start the trek (taxi then 2 ferry rides) back to Varenna.

Karen chills out at Al Veluu.

Boats are the primary means of transportation for visiting Lake Como. Ferries of all sizes shuttle from town to town. The previous day we took a ferry to Bellagio, the “pearl” of the lake. Years ago husband Bob and I visited this treasure of a town. We visited the park and gardens of the grandiose Villa Serbelloni, hiked in the hills, took boat rides. It was all delightful.

Bellagio

Years later we returned with my mother who was overwhelmed. In addition to the gorgeous views and surroundings, she loved the shops. Bellagio, like most of the towns, has a plethora of boutiques and souvenir shops. On one visit, I purchased a large olive wood basket which I still treasure.

Varenna at night

In Varenna, we stayed at an Airbnb which promised a “bella vista” of the lake. What a joke. From a small bedroom window in a corner, if you twisted your neck you could spot the lake. Never mind. We had plenty of bella vistas as we climbed up and down the steep stairways in Varenna that lead to the lake, and strolled the path, Passegiata degli Innamorati (walk of lovers), along the shore.

Lake Como was the perfect start to my much-needed R&R break.

Thanks again to Karen, adventure in Croatia followed. Read all about it in an upcoming post. Don’t miss out.

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Bellagio

For more on Bellagio, read my report on a previous visit- click here.

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A Car for Christmas

Our Christmas present: A fire-engine red Suzuki Swift (2021). I named her Poppy. She is a delight.

Unfortunately, it’s a sorry saga that preceded the new car purchase. I know. It is a time to be merry and jolly, but I need to tell this story, and it has a happy holiday ending.

In mid-November we set out in our trusty Toyota Yaris Verso (Toyota 2). That car has its own story. (search “A Tale of Twin Toyotas”)

After canceling reservations three times over the past two years due to Covid restrictions, at last we headed north to our old stomping grounds, the Luberon area of France. We spent 14 happy years there and looked forward to visiting friends.

Previous visit to Table du Bonheur with friends Gayle and Ralph and chef Hans.

On day two of our visit, we proceeded to enjoy a delicious lunch at one of our favorite places, Table du Bonheur in the hinterlands. (search “Table of Happiness.) We anticipated savoring chef Hans’ innovative cuisine and visiting with him and his wife, Tiny.

It was not meant to be. As we climbed the hills, the Toyota struggled. I kept downshifting. Still little power. Bob was angry. “Get out. Let me drive.” I pulled over. We got out and the stench of something burning overwhelmed us. No one was driving that car anywhere.

I called our insurance. They were prompt, especially considering that it was a Sunday and we were far from towns. The car was pulled up on a tow truck bed. We climbed into the cabin and were deposited in Apt, the town where we were staying in a fabulous holiday apartment.

Much of the next three days was spent on the phone with the insurance, arranging taxis and rental cars, and figuring out what to do. Since the insurance company only dealt with certain taxi and rental car agents, it was very complicated. I was super stressed. Bob was lost.

Biding farewell to Toyota 2

Repair the car or bid it au revoir? We loved that car. We had made a special trip to Germany to purchase it. It was not classy, nor modern, but it filled our needs. It was assumed it need a new clutch: 1,000 euros plus. Was investing that sum in a 16-year-old car sensible? I was inclined to go ahead with the repair until the garage told me they would not even look at the car, much less do the required work, for at least 10 days. I called other garages. All the same. We could not stay that long.

We trekked to the garage, took care of the paperwork, and bid an emotional, tearful farewell to our precious Toyota 2.

In between phone frustration – press 2, then press *, then press 3…and listening to the same recitation too many times before reaching a live human being – fortunately there were some bright spots during our sojourn.

Our living room/kitchen at Cent Cinq

First: Our accommodations at Cent Cent, a gite or holiday apartment in Apt. Jen and Chris Mallon, daughter and son-in-law of our friends Mollie and David, have lovingly, tastefully restored an ancient house in the center of the town. Amazingly they have done all the work themselves. They have thought of everything and more: bathrobes, bath salts, coffee machine, plush bath towels, a well-equipped kitchen with supplies of olive oil, vinegar, sugar, etc. There are three guest apartments – all gorgeous, luxurious. Visit Apt and the Luberon, and enjoy Cent Cinq. For more, http://www.cent-cinq.fr

Emily and her Mercedes van

Second: Emily, a charming driver guide who took us to Marseille on Monday, the day after the catastrophe. I had an appointment at the American consulate there to have some important documents notarized. The insurance was unable to arrange a rental car on Sunday, and there was not enough time to get a car Monday morning for my 11 a.m. appointment. Emily to the rescue. She is an American from Oregon married to a Frenchman, a farmer who has acres of apple orchards. We chatted non-stop on the 5-hour journey to and from Marseille. I relaxed and forgot the trauma. Stay at Cent Cinq and let Emily chauffeur you to the sights, http://www.yourprivatechauffeurprovence.com

Third: Visiting the Apt Saturday market. It was always a treat, and this time did not disappoint. I loaded up on area favorites: olives, honey, aged cheese. I even found a few clothing bargains. 

Fourth: Admiring the scenery and landscape. I had forgotten how beautiful it is. There are no fall colors on the Cote d’Azur where we now live – just palm trees and pines. The Luberon hills were awash in hues of gold, orange, red. Herds of sheep grazed in grassy fields. I wished there had been time to stop for photos.

On the way to Apt, lunch in Manosque with Christine and Bernard

Fifth: Friends. We did not see all those we had hoped to see, but we did share meals with some.

David, who provides invaluable assistance with this blog, and Mollie with daughter Jen and husband Chris, and Bob, at Cent Cinq

Once we got home, the search for a car began. The rental agency gave me a Citroen C-3 Crossover, an SUV. This is not a car for the congested coastal area where we live. The roads are narrow and twisty. Motorcyclists weave in and out, and appear from nowhere for nerve- wracking moments. Parking garages are a challenge. I pleaded numerous times for a smaller car to no avail. I was not comfortable driving that car and did crash into a parking garage wall, scraping the front.

Jen hard at work at Cent Cinq.

The plan was to buy new used car, but decent used cars were hard to find. I was told the 2022 cars have been slow to arrive due to supply chain problems, hence a dearth of used cars. Instead of spending days on the phone with the insurance, I was calling car dealers.

The search dragged on for three weeks before I found Poppy. I wanted a red car. I needed something bright and bold. And, I wanted to defy the French who have bizarre notions about red cars. A friend urged me not to buy a red car, suggesting that it would be damaged by a red car hater. Others confirmed the French aversion to red cars. It is true. There are not many red cars on the road here. French drive boring black and gray vehicles. Some go for white – not too exciting either.

Here’s to red cars and Christmas cheer!

Happy Holidays to all Tales and Travel readers. Thanks for your fidelity.

Friend Jinny visited us at Cent Cinq and brought me this beautiful rose, “Esperance” (hope). I needed it, and cherished the rose.

If not a follower of this blog, sign up. Your address is kept private. In the new year, I’ll write about my adventure last summer to Lake Como and then Croatia.

If you missed my blog post on Menton’s vibrant market (above), you can see it now on Travel Squire. https://travelsquire.com/menton-market-friendly-folk-and-french-favorites/

Marseille Revisited

We had not returned to my second favorite French city (Paris #1) since moving to the Mediterranean coast three years ago. When we lived north in the Luberon, we made frequent jaunts to France’s second city, just about 1 ½ hours away from our home in Reillanne. Many medical specialists have their offices in Marseille. We always took time to enjoy more than doctor visits.

The Bonne Mere, a statue atop Notre Dame de la Garde, watches over Marseille’s 1,613,797 citizens. The Vieux Port (old port) is in the foreground.

Reason for this visit was an appointment – not with a doctor – but at the American Consulate to have a Power of Attorney notarized. Not our lucky day. We arrived at the appointed hour only to be told all appointments for that day had been canceled. We were to have been notified. We were not. I was fuming, furious. Marseille is three hours away from our new home. It would be a chore to come back.

Monument along the Corniche Kennedy.

We sought solace at a nearby cafe. I calmed down and realized we needed to move on and take advantage of this visit.

Marseille is not chic and glamorous. It’s tough and brawny. It’s not the den of iniquity many imagine, but it’s not a paradise of peace and tranquility. Drug wars have been a major concern recently. So have decaying schools, hospitals and public housing. French President Emmanuel Macron recently announced a multi-billion euro plan to tackle the ills of France’s second city. “We need to build the Marseille of 2030,” he said.

Bob under Norman Foster’s Ombriere, a giant mirror hanging over a terrace at the Vieux Port.

Despite the city’s serious woes, visitors like us can enjoy its charms and vibrancy. France’s oldest city was founded by the Greeks in 600 BC. Romans took over in the first century. Italians settled in the city in the 1930s. The city was the gritty port for France’s colonies (Tunis, Morocco, Algeria).

Parts of Marseille, such as the Noailles neighborhood, seem more foreign than French.

Immigrants from the Caribbean, Lebanon, Turkey and other lands have joined Africans in making Marseille their home today. The melting pot atmosphere with exotic tastes, flavors and colors is captivating. “It’s exactly the kind of place I like,” said the late Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and author whose travel documentaries were ingenious.

Inside Maison Empereur.

It’s my kind of town, too. This time we set off to discover places new to us. My brother, also a fan of Marseille, recommended we visit Maison Empereur. Founded in 1827, this ancient, funky store is the oldest hardware store in France and like no other. Room after room, upstairs and down, is filled with all kinds of gadgets, tools, bric a brac. Copper pots of all sizes, baskets, cleaning supplies, antique toys, even some clothing items and cosmetics. It is mind-boggling. I bought some Marseille soap. The city is famous for its soap which it has been making for 600 years. I passed on the soap made from snail mucous, as well as the corn stripper…The range of kitchen paraphernalia is intriguing.

What every household needs.

Across the street is Pere Blaize, a Herbortisterie which is even older, dating to 1815. If you are into natural medicines, this is the place. Tell them the prescription drug you are taking and why. They will come up with a plant-based substitute. I bought something for reflux. Unfortunately, it did not offer the miracle cure I hoped for.

For herbal medicine, Pere Blaize is the place.

We wandered through the Noailles neighborhood, a bustling, colorful area that seems more foreign than French. Shops sell ceramics, baskets, vibrant African fabrics. Merchants hawk washing machines at houseware stores. Food stalls sell kebabs and flatbread. We had a delicious, copious and cheap lunch at a Turkish “hole-in-the-wall” kind of eatery: Tender chunks of lamb and veggies.

The “boys”gather in Noailles.

For dinner, we revisited the popular Chez Jeannot restaurant in the Vallon des Auffes, a mini harbor jammed with small boats, two restaurants and a young, jovial crowd crammed at tiny outdoor tables during apero hour – all very special and very Marseille. Chez Jeannot is noted for pizza, fish and calamari (the best). That was the reason for our return.

Vallon des Auffes

Since lockdowns have ended and virus cases are down, tourists have returned to Marseille, we learned, but not yet in the numbers hoped for. Cruise ships are once again docking at the city, but passengers are bussed to Nice for the day. Pity. 

Checking the passe sanitaire, proof of vaccination.

Years ago we met Jeanne Feutren and her mother at La Boite a Sardine, a lively, legendary Marseille restaurant. “I love Marseille. It’s so cosmopolitan,” Jeanne said. Both Jeanne and her mother were born in Marseille and are die-hard fans of their hometown. “You can meet the whole world here. We have the sea, the sand, hills, the calanques (coastal cliffs). People are so exuberant.” Her mother chimed in. “It’s a wonderful town.” I second that.

In 2013 Marseille was a European Capital of Culture. It was spiffed up with lots of polishing, scrubbing and renovating, plus a refurbished waterfront and stunning new architectural attractions. I wrote an article for two newspapers at the time and a blog post. To learn more about Marseille and all of its attractions, do a search, upper right, on “Marseille”and read my previous post.

Bob enjoys the the treats at Chez Jeannot.

Next week, at long last, we hope to return to our old stomping grounds and visit friends in the Luberon. This trip has been postponed too many times due to Covid. Look for a post on our adventures. And, one of these days I’ll write about my travels last summer to Lake Como and onto Croatia. Both super.

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On to Venice and Padua

I had visions of an empty Venice, like those I had seen during the lockdown. Deserted alleys and waterways. No gondolas on the canals. No lines to enter attractions, such as San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica). A dolphin or two frolicking in the Grand Canal.

That was then. Fast forward to early July when I visited. Even though travel restrictions were in place, tourists had returned to Venice. Long, long lines to climb the campanile (bell tower) of the Basilica. Gondolas aplenty gliding through the canals. Happy crowds feeding pigeons on the Piazza San Marco.

And, it was hot, much too hot. But, I adore Venice. I was spending a week at Abano Terme, about an hour from the city. (See previous post, “Taking the waters – and the mud”) I could not pass up a visit, especially after a conversation with a staff member at the spa. 

“I love Venice,” she said. “You must visit.” She planned an all-day itinerary for me. “Don’t schedule any treatments on the day you visit Venice. You will need all your energy for Venice.”

More energy than I had. I followed her recommendations, took the train to Venice, then hired a water taxi to take me to the Piazza San Marco, under the Rialto Bridge, past magnificent centuries-old palaces. There was no shortage of boats of all sizes on the Grand Canal. No dolphins in sight. 

Campanile (bell tower) of the San Marco Basilica

I was surprised and disappointed to see the lines, both to enter San Marco and climb the campanile. I decided against both, instead opted for a very expensive cappuccino (11 euro) at one of the many cafes lining the piazza. The pricey cafes had few customers. However, the legendary San Marco pigeons happily soared above, then landed and soaked up attention from tourists who were happy to fed them and pose for photos.

Even though the waiter at the cafe complained of little business, restaurants I passed during my wanderings were not lacking for customers. Gondolas seemed to be in high demand, yet a young gondolier also complained. “It’s very quiet. There are not a lot of people. Normally in July and August, it’s crazy. You can’t walk around here.”

Perhaps I was lucky after all. I could walk without being pushed by throngs. I found a quiet restaurant adjacent to a canal and enjoyed a fascinating lunch. A government building stood on the opposite side of the canal. A police boat arrived. Two scuba divers jumped off and quickly disappeared under water. Looking for underwater explosives? It was intriguing. I also wondered about the wisdom of being immersed in this water which I assumed was dreadfully polluted. Then I noticed fish. I mentioned this to the restaurant proprietor. He threw some bread in the water. More fish appeared. The dolphins have not returned, but, at least for now, fish are thriving.

Police diver on a secret mission?

Thanks to a recent ruling by the Italian government to ban cruise ships from approaching Venice’s lagoon, things could be looking up for those fish, not to mention the foundations of the city.

Cruise ship opponents argue that the massive ships which can transport more than 5,000 passengers each are responsible for waves and pollution that damage the delicate fabric of the city. Work is underway to construct a cruise terminal outside the lagoon. 

The Wall Street Journal quoted Gianluigi Rizo, a porter at the Piazza San Marco, who summed up the sentiments of those whose business depends on tourists. “It’s good that tourists are back, but the real money comes from the cruise ships with the Americans and the well-off Asians. They spend big in a short time, before sailing out.”

View of Venice from the Terrazza Panoramica, a new observation deck a top a multi level. upmarket shopping gallery.

Even with the tourists and the heat, I was happy to return to Venice. I love to meander, discovering intriguing alleys and passageways, off the beaten tourist track, usually getting lost. However, since I had a train to catch this time, I dared not be too adventurous. 

The trek to the station was longer than anticipated. I panicked, walking faster and faster so as not to miss my train. I made it, exhausted and perspiration drenched.

That excursion should have been enough. Perhaps best to stay and relax at the spa.? No, I needed to see Padua, again urged on by my mentor. She raved about the city’s star attractions, the Scrovegni Chapel with frescoes by Giotto and the Basilica of St. Anthony.

Scrovegni chapel with Giotto frescoes.

Giotto, an Italian painter of the late Middle Ages, and his team covered the walls of the entire chapel with frescoes illustrating the life of the Virgin and life of Christ. Their work, completed in 1305, is considered a masterpiece of the early Renaissance. It is mind boggling.

St. Anthony’s Basilica with Byzantine-style domes and art treasures was a must for me. St. Anthony played a role in my Catholic upbringing. My mother was a fan of the saint, the patron of lost items. Whenever she or we lost something, “Pray to Saint Anthony,” she urged. Often he came through. 

St. Anthony’s tomb.

The church shelters the saint’s grandiose tomb. Worshippers place hands on the tomb and pray. St. Anthony holy cards are available for free. I gave a donation, took a few, and mailed one of each of my three brothers.

Praying at St. Anthony’s tomb.

I passed up relaxing days and therapeutic treatments at the spa for Venice and Padua. I have no regrets.

Statue of St. Anthony.

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Another monumental church in Padua: Basilica of Saint Giustina

We recently returned to Marseille, one of my favorites. It merits a blog post. And, soon I will off for Adventure Croatia with friend Karen.

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Giotto’s Last Judgment fresco.