A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Micheline

Catch up!

Oh my gosh, sorry I've been so bad about keeping up with my blog lately! This whole last month has just been incredible! Lots of 'lasts' and beach days, and dancing! We've really been making the most of these past few weeks! And i can't belive i am leaving Barcelona on Thursday! CRAZY!

Just a quick catch up...

I met with my intercambio Vanessa for the last few times. One time she took me to some of her favorite places! First was the Parque del Laberinto, the oldest park in Barcelona. It was just such a hidden gem, totally isolated from the sounds and happenings of city life. Tons of ivy, vines, palm trees, gardens, greenery and flowers, benches, fountains, ponds, remains of old waterfalls…and also a fun labyrinth! Such a pleasant place to just stroll around!

The second place she brought me is her favorite running spot in the city, Carretera de Les Agűes. We had to drive there, and it is a bunch of running paths that run alongside the mountain of Tibidabo, all overlooking the entire city of Barcelona. Great views! Funny detail: there are tons of wild boars there!

I've been at the beach a lot..and i finally went swimming in the Mediterranean! It wasn't even that cold! (or maybe i'm just hard as nails......haha)

Finals are this week, and they require a total of maybe 2 hours of studying...so great! But don't be fooled, I AM learning a lot!! And i leave Barcelona on Thursday--how is that possible? It has just come so soon! I can't even believe the semester is almost over!

Thursday I head to Italy until May 11! First I'm going to stay with my cousin, Alessia, and her family in Pescara! I'm so excited to meet them and just hang out! And then I am meeting my friend in Cinque Terre, and going to Florence and Venice with her as well!

Okay, no time for pictures today, just a quick catch up!

I'll be home soon!

besitos!

Micheline

Posted by Micheline 04:18 Comments (1)

BARÇA BARÇA BAAAARÇA!

I just can't get enough of this city!

Okay so here is the start of me making the most of my last few weeks here in BCN! :( (sad!)

Mercé has been cookin’ up a storm of delicious meals lately! One night she made tortilla, salad, and seafood paella—and I ate the seafood in it! Anyway, it was delicious and the yummiest meal ever! Last night we had fried artichokes------delicious!! The only thing is that somehow she got the idea I like canned tuna even though she knows I don’t like other fish and she has been putting it in the salads and so I have been secretly wiping down the lettuce before I eat the salad! Haha oops!

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Last weekend I went to another coastal village on the Costa Brava, Cadaqués, with my program and it was just beautiful! Nothing too much going on, but just a lovelyyyy place to stroll and soak up the rays! And then we went to the Salvador Dalí Museum in Figueras, which was weird and great. Loved it. Although I’ve got to say, at this point, after hitting so many touristy cities, I think I am officially museum-ed out! So that was a fun one to end museum mania with! :)

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FC BARÇA CENTRAL!!!! The last few games have been super fun and exciting! We’ve been watching BARÇA kick everyone’s butts and there’s nothing better than watching the game in a Spanish bar with big screens and lots of excited rowdy fans…………except for BEING THERE!! I went to my first FCB game (finally) on Wednesday and watched them beat another Spanish team! It was just great! The fans are so funny-they do things like make paper airplanes and all try to get them to land on the field! And at halftime, EVERYBODY whips out a delicious bocadillo (long skinny sandwich) from their pockets and chows down! So of course we had to pack some for ourselves! Got to take part in tradition! :)

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There is a pretty ‘Magic Fountain Show’ in Barcelona a few nights of each week, so a few of my friends and I went to go check it out! It was pretty-such a great summer-night thing to do! This giant fountain in Placa Espanya explodes with water with all different colored lights and synchronized with music! Fun! Check out the video!

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The other day my friends and I went to watch this fantastic festival in the Grácia neighborhood of Barcelona! They have these human tower competitions and they are super super tall! Like towers that are like 6 people high, with these little kids at the very top! And they climb up right there on the street-no mats or anything! To climb up they wrapped a long black piece of fabric very tightly around their torso, which the barefoot climbers use to grab onto and make their way up the human tower! It was just wild! And only the little kids at the very top were wearing helmets!
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Also I just want to show you some cool pics of the graffiti around the city- there are a lot of pretty pieces and also a lot of Catalan-pride graffiti!

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I’ve still been meeting with my Spanish intercambio very often, who I just adore! We alternate between English and Spanish each time we meet. So it’s just been really great because we get along so well that hang out for hours on end….so it’s great practice to have a conversation for like 3 hours, without speaking a word of English! She also loves to introduce me to new Spanish or Catalan things that I haven’t tried/seen yet! Like last week we had some new types of Catalan sausage, Fuet and something else-both very delicious! And she said I can stay with her when I come back to BCN! How great! We also talk about differences between Spanish and American culture a lot and do a lot of storytelling and comparing! For example, she was just fascinated by some of the wedding traditions that we have in America, like having bridesmaids, and wedding showers! Here’s a pic of her!

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I’ve also been meeting a lot of Erasmus students from all over Europe! That has been totally great because like into me, they aren’t settled a specific group of friends because they are also new to the city and studying here and looking to meet new people and stuff! So glad I’m making so many international friends! They are just great!

Posted by Micheline 06:35 Comments (0)

La Costa Brava: The Toccos and Pilkingtons Reunite!

Family Time :)

Haha I’m feeling a lot of pressure on this blog post, so I’ll try to make it a good one!

Well, what a week! It all began on Monday and the first five minutes set the tone (a good tone!)! Not even five minutes after walking through the door from Vienna, my apartment buzzer rings. First I ignored it, hoping for more time to spruce up to see the fam, and then, in the distance, I hear from the street- three stories down- Mom’s voice calling ‘Mikeyyyyy….Merceeeeeé.’ Haha of course! So my parents, Stefanie, and Matt (Stef’s fiancé) all came up to see my apartment and meet Mercé and then we set off to the Costa Brava (about an hour north of Barcelona), where Matt’s parents, Linda and Dave, have a PRECIOUS vacation home!

We arrived close to 10pm and headed out for a great Spanish meal, which is of course incomplete without a little sangia! Olé! And from then until Satuday morning, our week was just packed with good food, sunny weather, cute villages, beautiful landscapes, siestas, and of course some sangria!

Dave and Linda brought us to a beautiful & quaint beachside town, Colella. White stucco buildings with brown roofs and wrought iron balconies overflowing with plants—the epitome of Spanish! And the narrow streets winded down to the sea—there were fishing boats posted up on the sand, cafés, restaurants, people on the beach, the sea was sparkling in the sun---SO picturesque! We strolled along a path overlooking the turquoise Mediterranean until we reached the next town of Llefranc. Amazing! Of course we had to soak in the beauty with a refreshing Spanish ‘clara,’ a mix between beer and lemon soda! Just perfect! I think this area was my fav!
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We visited a very cool town, Pals, a Medieval village which has been preserved and is currently a functioning village with shops, residents, and some amazing landscape views! The cobblestone walkways and the little shops and wine cellars were so great and this is where we bought the most delicious (yet dangerous) sangria, which later caused the demise of the Toccos! Haha!
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Wednesday we visited the town of Palafrugell for some of the best Spanish tortilla ‘bocadillos’ we’ve encountered! We hit the markets, bought some fish & veggies, and hid for shelter in a wine store since it was raining! The lady working took us down to the wine cellar and gave us the scoop on a lot of their wines-very interesting to learn about! And back at the house everyone concocted a delicious meal of the fresh sardines, veggies, and olives we had bought at the market, a little meat, a little bread, and a lot o’ sangria! At this meal Dave and Linda coined the phrase the ‘tanked up Toccos!’ haha ohhh man!

We also visited the castle that Salvador Dalí built for his wife! We were able to walk from room to room and see how things were set up, and it’s kind of cool that it was somewhat recent! The castle was surrounded by pretty gardens with crazy Dalí elephants scattered throughout. And the area around the castle was super cute, with more cobblestone pathways and cute shops!
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Girona is another very cool city, with a Medeival feel and the old city walls still intact. From the path along the top of the city walls, we had a beautiful view of the whole city, and when it started to rain, we headed to dinner at a traditional Catalan restaurant. The dinner was great- I had my favorite typical Catalan dish, butifarra amb mongetes (catalan pork sausage with roasted white beans)! But Stefanie had quite the experience here!!! Having found a garbanzo bean dish that she liked on the English menu, she found it (or so she thought) on the Catalan menu. Trying to communicate with the waitress and order the menu item correctly, she ordered a meal that consisted of ‘cellos y garbanzos,’ thinking it was the same as the English menu. Well soon enough the meal came out and the majority of her plate was this white stuff that looked like chicken skin but was soft and mushy. We had no idea! So Matt tried it, and spit it out (rare occasion!!) so we knew it couldn’t be anything normal! When the waitress came back, she told us it was tripe-->aka the lining of a cow’s stomach!!! Eeeeeeeek! A little intense for all of us and especially for Stef, the almost-vegetarian! Hahah good story though—straight out of a movie!
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Friday, our last day with the Pilkingtons, we visited the ruins of a Greek city and Roman city in Empúries…the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day! And then of course some more delicious food-one of my many favorite meals of the week! While Matt was enjoying octopus and the best anchovies in the Mediterranean (see pic! haha), I had a pizza with figs, bacon, and cheese—YUM! Us ladies enjoyed some afternoon beach time at L’Escala while Papa took his first swim in the Mediterranean and the guys played a little ‘boules-’ a fun bocce-like game that’s played in the sand! Qué perfecto!
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Back in Colella, Dave and Linda introduced us to ‘cremat’! It is a pot of rum, Cuban rum, and sugar that is lit on fire for about ten minutes and then combined with about a shot of coffee! It was super sweet and super strong!
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After a fantastic week of relaxing and touring around La Costa Brava, my parents, Stef, Matt, and I headed back to Barcelona on Saturday for the remainder of their visit---> so it was my time to be the tour guide!! We did all sorts of fun things, ate more good food, did a lot of strolling around the city, and I was able to show them most of my favorite places!

Saturday night was particularly funny because Matt and Papa had gotten tickets to FC Barcelona game and Mom and Stef and I decided to try and scalp tickets at the stadium before the game--->haha ohh man! So first we located the scalpers, and while I was a little hesitant to approach people asking for tickets, Mom just went to town, asking everyone for ‘entradas’ with her Betty Boop Pepe look! Hysterical! Ultimately we weren’t successful, but it was a fun/silly experience anyway!

So it was a GREAT week! I was of course a little sad to see everyone go but I’m also a psyched to get back into the Barcelona flow of things, take a little break from traveling, and enjoy the city I’m in until the end of the program!
Ps. Thanks for reading and for all of the comments that people have been leaving! It’s super exciting to read them and to see that you all are enjoying keeping up with my travels!

Besitos!

Micheline

Posted by Micheline 04:24 Comments (2)

Prague and Vienna

Two more great cities down! Having received a TON of recommendations to visit Prague and Vienna, this was one of my must-do trips from the start of the semester, and I went for the first part of spring break with some friends!

First up was Prague--->we arrived Friday morning and had just about two days to soak up the Czech culture! I stayed with a friend of mine who is studying in Prague, which was really great because she ended up being our own personal tour guide! First thing first, we headed to Old Town Square! What a cute area! It kind of looked like the land of Hansel & Gretel meets ski town heaven---super cute Tudor-like buildings with such personality! Since it was the week before Easter, there were all sorts of Easter egg stands, beer stands, sausage stands, mulled wine stands, fried dough stands…yum!! So of course we had to try the Czech pastry, ‘trdelnik’, a delicious mix between a croissant and fried-dough, made and cooked over hot coals in the shape of a hollow cylinder! So good!

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We climbed the Clock Tower and caught some amazing views of the city and the Prague Castle in the distance…
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…..We wandered a while, through Bohemia, through the Jewish Quarter, popped into a few Bohemian shops, saw parts of the Prague Marathon, and then of course the next piece of foodie heaven (for some)-------fried cheese! Topped with mayo, served in patty form on a hamburger bun. Heart attack on a bun, but I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t hate it! Hahaha!

The Prague Castle was beautiful, but I liked the walk there even more than the castle itself! We crossed the Charles River Bridge, full of artists and street vendors, and climbed the steep, but beautiful cobblestone roads to reach the castle. We couldn’t go inside, but the whole surrounding area was very cool—also some great views of the city!
The Lennon Wall was one of my favorite things in Prague. Super cool and colorful graffiti dedicated to John Lennon covers a big random wall in the city. A lot of the images have been spray painted over, but there is still some really cool artwork remaining! Makes me want to be a hippie :)
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Right near the Lennon Wall, my Prague friend showed us this thing called “The Locks of Love.”… It’s a bunch of padlocks locked onto a metal-bar railing over the river. I guess the story is that people in love bring a lock to that railing, lock it on the railing, and throw the keys into the river to signify that their love is forever. How romantic! :)

I also learned that Budweiser is Czech, so of course I tried my first, original Budvar! It tastes much better than in the States-and I like the dark Budvar even more!

So my overall impression of Prague--> really beautiful and cute, love the cobblestones (even though they are so hard to walk on!), impressive buildings, yummy pastrys, mulled wine, and beer, the Czech people weren’t the nicest. (But it wasn’t the sunniest day either so maybe they were just grumpy! haha) I’d say I give it a 7 out of 10, taking food, nightlife, people, walkability, prettiness, and some other things into account!

……So on to Vienna (aka Wien )!!!! After a long train ride, Kristina, Arielle, and I were ready to take on Vienna. Arriving on a Sunday, we first did the Schonbrunn Gardens and Gloriette. On the way there, we were super hungry, but were having some language barrier issues at every café and restaurant we popped into…..so….….I did it…….>went to my first McDonalds in Europe! But it’s okay because I got Rainforest Alliance Certified Coffee! So back to sightseeing, the Schonbrunn Gardens was having a delicious Easter festival market type of thing going on with all sorts of stands selling delicious food! Too bad we had just eaten at McDonalds! Haha But the gardens themselves were really big and scattered with fountains, ruins, statues, etc. They were beautiful, but I bet they’ll be ten times more beautiful with everything in bloom! We got lost in the labyrinth park and climbed the green grassy path up to the Gloriette building- a high point in the city with a great view. Gotta love those good city views!
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Vienna is laid out in the way that there is a Ring Road around the most central part of the city. So we headed to the city center and took the tram around the ‘Ring’ as a way to give ourselves a little orientation to the city…..BUT since we were all so tired from travelling, we all fell asleep on the tram! Oops! No worries, because we then walked around some beautiful important places, saw some important buildings, and marveled at the grandiosity of Vienna.
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The central area of Vienna was just great---there are a few super wide promenades with stores and restaurants on either side, where the posh Viennese people (and of course the tourists) just stroll and eat and shop and enjoy the day :) The streets were very clean, and the buildings were very beautiful! And I loved how just beyond these big wide streets were many smaller narrower streets throughout the center. Walking through one of these streets, we just happened to stumble upon Mozart’s house! No big deal! :)
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Monday morning we headed to Vienna’s best known fresh food market, Naushmarket, for some breakfast. The pick of the day? Of course, apple strudel!

The Belvedere Gardens and the Royal Palace were fantastic to see in the great weather that we had. The sun was shining as we wandered through the garden’s paths, with pretty fountains and cone shaped bushes! Beautiful!
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The Viennese Opera house was yet another beautiful elaborate sight to see! Great from the outside, and for some reason we had to sneak past the guards to get a peek inside! It was very pretty and opera-house-ish. It kind of reminded me of the Wang Theater in Boston, but like twice the size.
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But the best thing of all in Vienna…..the gelato!! Who knew!? Zanoni & Zanoni is where it’s at, and it is goooooood. Super creamy, great consistency, rich flavor, best lunch ever!
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My overall impression of Vienna ----> Beautiful, clean, full of grandiose elaborate buildings, with some great spots for enjoying nice weather (like the many gardens scattered through the city) but even though I really wanted to be inclined to yodel-a-hee-hoooo, I felt like the atmosphere of Prague made me want to yodel more that of Vienna. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t in the rolling hills! But both were fantastic, very different from each other, and very great to see!

More to come (very soon!) about my family visit and time with the Pilkingtons!

Posted by Micheline 01:21 Comments (0)

Friends & Las Fallas

From Barcelona to Valencia!

What a week!! Sunday night I returned to Barcelona from Sevilla, and Monday afternoon Katie and Andy (two of my closest friends) arrived in Barcelona! We spent Monday through Thursday in Barcelona before heading down to Valencia on Thursday evening to experience the amazing Las Fallas celebration!

It was so great showing Katie and Andy around Barcelona, hitting the main tourist attractions and also some of Kristina’s and my favorite spots! The sun was shining everyday- perfect weather for strolling and wandering; so that’s pretty much what we did when I wasn’t in class! With some sangria, tapas, siestas, and a taste of the nightlife, I think they got a pretty good taste of Barcelona! Olé! Here’s a picture of Kristina, Katie, and me, with the beautiful mountain of Montjuic (which we visited on Thursday) in the background!

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Wednesday night, we all went to a Flamenco show with my program! The venue was super small and personal, and it was very entertaining to see some authentic Flamenco. There were a few live musicians, and one singer, and the singing style was so unique and interesting- like very expressive, and sometimes the lady sounded like she was wailing in pain. About halfway through a little girl, I think the daughter of the singer, came out on stage and first sang a song with the band, then danced a solo piece! It was so adorable, and she was so good! Such a cool tradition! Here’s a short video of the dancers!

Drum roll please……….. LAS FALLAS!!!! What an amazing experience! I feel like I can’t fully put it into words, and I’m pretty positive that no description or number of pictures could do it justice, but I’ll give it a whirl! So much to tell!
Well it all started Thursday night. Valencia is like the Spanish capital of paella, and since (I am embarrassed to say) I had yet to try paella, Thursday was the perfect day to do it! Plus, fyi, it is known in Spain that Thursday is the best day of the week to eat paella at a restaurant because it is always the freshest on Thursdays! Having received a recommendation to eat at the hotel restaurant, we tried our first paella there. And WOW…it was amazing! The waiter walks out of the kitchen with an enormous, maybe 1.5ft diameter, steaming paella de verduras (vegetable paella) with peppers, onions, beans, and artichokes. It had the perfect consistency, perfect taste…amazing!
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A side note about Las Fallas: it is a big festival celebrated most in Valencia from March 12-19 every year with fireworks, fire crackers, music, all night parties, paella contests, and most importantly, the burning of Las Fallas. The ’fallas’ are float-like sculptures, made out of paper maché on wood, built throughout the entire year by teams of local artists, with each neighborhood sponsoring its own falla. The fallas are all satirical and they represent different things that have happened during the past year. They are displayed all over the city, and on Friday, March 19th, they all go up in flames and are burned to the ground! 2pm each day, there is a little of over five minutes of super loud fire crackers, noise makers and fireworks, called mascletá super loud and super fun!
Thursday night we headed into the city center a little after midnight and the metro ride into the city was packed tight with all sorts of people—families, kids, teenagers, drunken people singing songs—it was great! We arrived just in time for the big fireworks show of the night, and then strolled from street to street, checking out the amazing Fallas on display at just about every intersection and plaza. It was so cool we literally had no sense of direction, but there was so much going on that it was so easy to just stroll from place to place, always seeing something new and exciting. Beer stands, churros stands, music blaring, dancing, lots of firecrackers, you name it!
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Since Friday is the last day of Las Fallas, it is of course the biggest day! And there was a ton going on during the day—lots of people, street musicians, paella cooking in the streets (YUM), tons of outdoor markets! Also it was interesting that there were soooo many people, lots of drinking, noise, crowds, and fun, and yet somehow it was all very civil! I don’t think we saw anyone getting out of hand the whole time- everyone was just enjoying themselves—how great! Here are some pics!
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But Friday night is what really blew us away! After a siesta and some dinner we returned to the city center nice and early to see the first, smaller ‘fallas infantiles’ being burned at 10pm. They were being set off all over the place, and we caught front row spots for one from start to finish. JAW DROPPING. We crowded around the gated falla as the firemen prepared, draping a long fuse all over it, splashing some gasoline, etc. Then this family arrived, super dressed up in like hoop skirts, Princess Leia hair, and special costumes. We were thinking that this family was either the main sponsor or main builder of this particular falla. Okay, so finally it was time…first--> fireworks! Because we were so close they were right over our heads and so low so there was firework debris raining down on us--> it just added to the excitement of it all! Then they lit the fuse, which had firecracker explosions leading up to the sculpture and then the falla went up in flames! Super opaque red-orange flames with thick black smoke billowing up! We watched it burn in amazement until even the frame burnt to the ground! THEN the dressed up family returned around the statue as the flames grew smaller and they were bawling! We were so confused at first, but then realized that this is what they dedicate all of their time to for an entire year, and this night is the culmination/destruction of all of their hard work! It was just so much more emotional that we were previously aware-even the grown men were crying! And then a bunch of people, who seemed to be everyone from their neighborhood joined hand and circled around the remains of the falla, chanting some sort of kids song in Spanish! We had known what to expect, but this was SO much more than we were expecting! We were speechless! Here are some pictures, but i am going to try and post a video of it soon!
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But there’s more, because that was only a small falla, and we also caught the BIGGEST falla from start to finish! After waiting an hour in the super packed crowd, the anticipation was built up! The whole process was just like the small falla, times a million! The fireworks alone were so much more than I’ve ever seen on any 4th of july or new year’s celebration! The sky was completely lit up, flashing red, pink, white, unreal!!! The firecrackers went off, and when this hugeee falla lit up in flames it was just incredible! Huge huge flames with super thick smoke filling the sky, and a sea of red sparks and fireballs hovering over the crowds of people that extended for blocks! It was like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life!
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Saturday was our last day, and since Las Fallas was technically over, it was our chance to check out the city without the giant crowds. We hit the beach for a little snooze, the park for a little lunch, and the Cathedral, where we climbed the bell tower for some great views of the city before seeing what is rumored to be the Holy Grail! I actually loved Valencia as a city! It’s really beautiful and white and spacious, with some really quaint narrow streets as well! Maybe my second favorite (after Barcelona, of course)!!!! It was a nice relaxing day, and the perfect way to end our amazing weekend! What a visit!
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NEXT UP....Prague, Vienna, and a visit from the fam!! (minus niki and ana!)

Posted by Micheline 04:06 Comments (0)

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