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Christina Bolton

Sunday, 01 May 2016

Paris After the Attacks

 

When we told friends and family of our plans to visit Paris, 2 ½ months after November's terrorist attacks, we received some strange looks and concerned questions – like “Why go now?” and “Is it safe?” So I thought I'd remind people of the amazing allures of the City of Light and reflect on the things I saw.

 

When we arrived, local and military police were everywhere! The first time I went to Paris was a few days after the US bombing of Libya in 1986 and now – with the travel warnings and the ubiquitous presence of soldiers – it was 1986 all over again. But now there were security checks going into just about every building as well: churches, museums, concert halls. Thankfully not restaurants or shops, but those were on alert in a different way.

 

One night in the Bastille we were sitting in a small restaurant with a glass front, not far from where several of the attacks took place. Suddenly, outside, the traffic came to a halt. Eventually motorists started beeping at a car that was not moving and people in the restaurant were beginning to become concerned; what had been a lively crowd became hushed and almost silent as the chef/owner came out of the kitchen and went to see what was going on. Body language changed and there was definitely a tension in the air – these days, someone stopping in the road could be more than just car trouble. In this case, all was fine and went back to normal, but not until drawing a crowd with their cell phones ready.

 

Paris is not used to this level of caution. There were big tents with metal detectors and security lines set up in an impromptu way at the entrance to the Opera among other places – where there used to be nothing. I don't know if the tents will eventually disappear and things will go back to normal, or if this is the new normal and they'll end up building permanent structures to house them, but the times are such that we will find out shortly.

 

Mostly, we felt very safe everywhere. Though personally I feel nervous walking by a guy with a machine gun, like the ones in front of government buildings, synagogues and mosques, even if he is supposed to be protecting me.

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We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in the Bastille, a short walk from both the Bataclan Theatre and the Marais, one of Paris' most fashionable (and expensive) areas. Loaded with shops, cafes and nightlife, the Marais' picturesque squares and avenues buzz with activity. From there, we continued walking in a different direction each day. Once, we took a short stroll across the bridge in front of Hotel de Ville to Notre-Dame and Saint-Chapelle with its amazing stained glass (not to be missed).

Chapelle

 

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Another day we walked a bit further down the Seine to the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay. The following day we hopped on the metro to get across town to the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Elysees, but Paris is such a beautiful and walkable city that we came back by foot. Sacre-Coeur was also a one way metro ride – strolling down Rue des Martyrs and hopping into the great bakeries and cheese shops along the way (Sebastien Gaudard and Maison Landemaine are the best!).

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I could write a book about all to see and do in Paris – but there are so many guides already to choose from, so I'll just focus on a few highlights you must do:

 

  1. See Art! You have your pick of a multitude of museums – from the Renaissance to decorative arts to modern. The Louvre is a good place to start, but there are about 130 others so depending on your interests you have many choices. Remember, the city museums are all free and some of those house great artwork, so you might as well stop in (try Petit Palais or Musee Carnavalet). I'd say my favorite museum is Musee d'Orsay, which houses many impressionist and pre-impressionist masterpieces. Its a little easier to manage if you're the type to be overwhelmed by the Louvre's 35,000 pieces, but like everything in Paris, its very hard to choose.                       Painting

 

  1. Stroll down the Seine! Yes, its nice during the day, but its better at night. The bridges and sculptures are lit to perfection and the lovers are out arm in arm. You can also hop on a boat for a romantic ride if you like. I don't know who was originally in charge of lighting up Paris, but they were a magnificent artist as well!             Seine

  2. Eat! Sure, you should stop into as many patisseries and boulangeries as you can handle. Yes, you should try the macaroons at Laduree and Pierre Herme. Yes, you should eat a warm baguette straight from the oven after either the morning or afternoon baking (after all, who eats morning bread in the afternoon?). But most of all you should save time for at least one very special meal.

     

    Paris has its fair share of Michelin starred restaurants and some of them you can get into without signing up for the waiting list a year in advance or paying 1,000 euros for two. Ours was Le Chiberta (http://www.lechiberta.com/) near the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Elysees which is one of the restaurants associated with the famous chef Guy Savoy. We had the fabulous chef's tasting menu with wines paired by the sommelier – and this is the way to experience Paris – eating little bites of perfection!

     

    To give you an idea of our meal, we had an amuse-bouche (a small pre-appetizer sent out by the chef to stimulate the appetite), then a homemade duck fois gras with cognac-quince marmalade – the creamy indulgent richness of the duck liver pate pairing perfectly with the sweet-tart jam and Malabar pepper. The pasta was a delicious crayfish and mushroom ravioli in a flavorful cream sauce. The meat course was a perfectly cooked veal with sage, citrus and carrots in all kinds of textures, even a carrot foam. This was followed by Selle sur Cher goat cheese with greens and olive-rosemary tapenade, a sorbet to cleanse the palate, and a finale of dense chocolate cake with peanuts. The wines – from a Vouvray to a Haut-Medoc were a perfect accompaniment to an unforgettable meal.

                       Lechiberta

                         Le Chiberta's crayfish & mushroom ravioli

 

Don't write Paris off as a place of concern. Be smart and aware, but don't be stopped by fear. Live life to the fullest and enjoy your trip (and a few extra hotel vacancies) now!

 

 

 

©Christina Bolton

 

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Love locks on Paris' bridges

Monday, 11 April 2016

EC Lync System Carry-on

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EC Lync System Carry-on ultra-light and durable luggage/backpack by Eagle Creek has the unique ability of changing from a carry-on suitcase with wheels and a pull out handle to a large day pack. Its actually the exact same bag either way (it doesn't fold out or anything) it just has a removable frame with wheels.

 

I really liked the idea of it – it could be the perfect bag for those cheap airlines where they only let you have one bag and no 'personal item', purse or backpack. I end up on those airlines a lot, so I thought it may work well for me. In practice, though, its more cumbersome than I imagined and not especially intuitive.

 

It comes in a stow bag with ikea-style picture instructions. It doesn't take long to put the frame together and that's a one-time job anyways – I don't see any reason you'd want to take it apart again unless you had very limited storage space and wanted to fit it all back in the stow bag again. After the frame is together you slide the backpack over it and attach it with some clips. Theoretically, I thought this would be the easy part, but this is where it actually got tough. The clips are very tight and the straps that fit around the frame are very short and not adjustable so you're working in a very small area trying to get the tiny straps around the metal and back into the clips which are hard to press together (and almost impossible to take apart – but we'll get to that later). If the straps were just fastened with velcro the whole process would be infinitely easier and you could probably go from backpack to luggage within a minute or two, but given the way it is designed it took me 11 mins to put together the first time, which I thought was rather long, so I actually took it all apart again and put it in the bag and asked my husband to do it. It took him 23 mins!

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The bag itself has three zippered compartments – a main one for clothes and most everything else with a couple of small zippered pockets in it, a large but thin pocket perfect for a laptop or tablet, and a smaller pocket at the top for accessories. It also has a stuff sack on the outside. There are compression straps and a sternum strap, but no hip strap. It also has removable shoulder straps, though you don't really need to remove them to make it into a suitcase (you can still pull up the handle), just undo the simple clips at the bottom and slide them into the pocket at the back made for that purpose.

 

The real problem was removing the frame to go back into a day pack. When you finally get the aforementioned clips attached, they're in there so good that I tried for over 10 mins to get them apart and couldn't. I didn't want to resort to using tools because in a hotel room you wont have access to much, so to keep it realistic I just used the side of a ballpoint pen (which I'd usually have with me) to help press in those clips, no dice. Eventually, I needed to go get the pliers to remove the clips! With the pliers it only took me 1:45 mins to return it to a backpack, but unless you carry a multi-tool with you on your trips I'd definitely try this bag out first in the store to see if you can realistically use it the way its meant to be used (or wait until they come out with a new version with velcro attachments – or at least adjustable straps and looser clips!).

 

Eagle Creek does have a “No Matter What” warranty on all their products so it sounds like you should be able to use that to exchange it if its not working out. Its also a great selling point for any of their other bags. To see their whole line of products, click here: http://www.eaglecreek.com/.

 

 

 

©Christina Bolton

Saturday, 09 April 2016

Top 10 Paris

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DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 series offers invaluable guides that are easy to fit in your carry on. I used the Paris guide a month ago on my latest adventure and it proved helpful and extremely readable. Its the kind of book you can open to any page and find something of interest like Top 10 Cafe's & Bars, 'Off the Beaten Track', or 'Paris for Free'.

 

It begins with the Top 10 Paris Highlights, and though everyone seems to have differing opinions about what must be done in Paris, their list is comprehensive, and the top four, at least, are must-see's: Musee du Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, Notre-Dame, and the Eiffel Tower. They then mention the top 10 things to see at each, which seems like another big task - especially to chose ten of the Louvre's 35,000 pieces of the world's best art! Still, it does give you a starting point in what some people find a completely overwhelming (yet staggeringly beautiful) museum collection.

 

One part of the guide that could be extremely helpful is the 'area by area' section where many of the main neighborhoods are again broken down into their own top 10's, so if you're staying in the Marais, for instance, it will give you the top 10 sights there as well as a walking tour and ten places to eat, mansions, shops, galleries, etc.

 

My husband was quite impressed with this book as well and it was great for his limited attention span (for travel – for sports its unlimited!).

 

This series is being relaunched on multiple destinations – many famous cities like NY, Rome & Rio and some small countries like Iceland. The books all have pull-out maps which was one of my favorite features and will certainly come in handy when you're in another country and your network coverage is not as comprehensive as you would have wished. I'm hoping to try out the Iceland guide next.

 

©Christina Bolton

 

 

Top 10 Paris, Mike Gerrard & Donna Dailey, DK Eyewitness Travel, 2016, $14, www.traveldk.com

 

Sunday, 01 March 2015

When all the Lands Were Sea

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In When all the Lands Were Sea Tor Eigeland tells us the story of his 1967 mission as a photojournalist to chronicle the lives of the Ma’dan people, also known as the Marsh Arabs. They lived between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in traditional Mesopotamia where the ‘Garden of Eden’ was said to have been.

 

Their 5,000 year old culture was seldom seen by foreigners and he explains all the red tape he had to go through to eventually get the permit. When he finally does hire a boat and get out to the marshes the people treat him as an honored guest and he gets to really see their culture and way of life. 

 

Water buffalos are an integral part of life for the Marsh Arabs - they use their dung as fuel for their fires and they make dairy products from their milk. The Ma’dan spend much time fishing, grow rice and make houses and mats out of reeds. In their watery world they canoe everywhere, even sometimes to their neighbor’s houses as each one is usually on its own little reed island. 

 

It’s a heartening story to see a bit of their culture, for as you may know, in the 1990’s Saddam Hussein drained the marshes that were their lifeblood and burned the reeds that they’d built their homes with. He was trying to wipe them out entirely as they had helped some of the others in the south to rebel against him. 

 

The result was desertification and what was called by the UN Environmental Program “one of the world’s greatest environmental disasters.” A 5,000 yr old culture was destroyed. Many of the Ma’dan ended up in refugee camps in neighboring Iran. Most of southern Iraq lost their dairy products, fish, and rice cultivation. Several animal and botanical species became extinct and migratory birds disappeared, disrupting wildlife across Eurasia and Africa. 

 

There were some attempts to restore the area after Saddam was ousted, but so much had changed - including the water becoming so salty that it’s undrinkable -that it was not successful and there are very few people there now.

 

When all the Lands Were Sea is an important book because it gives you a glimpse of a world that doesn't exist anymore through Eigeland’s pictures.

 

 

©Christina Bolton

 

When all the Lands Were Sea, Tor Eigeland, Interlink Books, 2015

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Trolltunga, Norway

Travel Photographs by Christina Bolton

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and another from the hike out there...

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(c)Christina Bolton

Wednesday, 01 May 2013

Incognito Contest: May-June 2013

Incog 

I am on an island in a pristine part of the world with powdery white sand between my toes. Everywhere there are animals, some prehistoric-looking like the marine iguanas and others, just plain rare. 

 

The crescent-shaped beach has a long path leading to it from the town through the foliage and scrub. The length of the pathway keeps at least some of the development at bay. As I walk along it I see birds that hop down the low stone walls next to me. They are not afraid of me. I get closer and am surprised that they still don’t fly away like they would at home if I was that close. 

 

Surfers practice on the waves, but I walk on further until I see the mangroves and the still turquoise pools where the pelicans play, reef sharks swim, and the kayakers slide out into the natural world.

 

Do you know where I am?

 

Tuesday, 01 January 2013

Travel Photographs: Turkey

Cappodocia

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Ephesus

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Pamukkale

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Heriapolis

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Bodrum

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Istanbul

Blue Mosque

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Archaeological Museum

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Hagia Sophia

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Mausoleum, Hagia Sophia

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Galata Tower

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Harem, Topkapi Palace

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Kariye Church

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Rustem Pasa Mosque

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Suleymaniye Mosque

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Minarets over Istanbul

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Basilica Cistern

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Dolmabahce Palace

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Bosphorus

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This beautiful coastal town is famed for its coves and secret beaches surrounded by steep cliffs. Its turquoise water is translucent and the sand is pure white. The port is home to many cafes and restaurants to experience the excellent local cuisine as well as numerous yachts to explore this rocky coastline. Surrounded by vineyards that make a prized white wine, this country produces numerous prize-winning vintages.

Located in a country visited by many tourists, this area is especially crowded in the summer months, when city dwellers flock to the shore.

On a continent known for its cultural contributions to the world, with much of its great artwork hailing from this region.

Do you know where I am?


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Sunday, 29 April 2012

Volunteer Teacher Thailand


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Volunteer Teacher Thailand (or VTT) is almost single-handedly run by Ken Hyde, a British school principal who went to Thailand after the 2004 Tsunami to help rebuild houses and discovered the great need for learning English in the area since 90% of the English-speaking population of Khao Lak was killed in the disaster. Many of the tourism facilities and employees were located right along the coast where the tsunami hit. Upon returning home, Ken decided to take early retirement and go back to Khao Lak and offer English classes led by himself and volunteers.

The volunteers work in teams and go out to mostly elementary and middle schools in the surrounding community who have limited facilities and resources. When enough helpers are available he’ll send them to a high school and a local orphanage.

The first day of our week was spent lesson planning. Ken helped pick out the lessons for each level based on the school’s curriculum and then we were on our own trying to figure out how the lessons would go. This was pretty self-explanatory based on the lesson plans in most of the already prepared boxes of materials, but some were missing plans as they were probably lost over time. With a little help, we figured out the instructional gap and were ready to go.

The drive from VTT to the various schools ranged from 20 to 45 minutes. We sat in an open-back pickup rigged with bench seats (a very common configuration on the roads of Thailand) This was an adventure in and of itself.

Our first day in the classroom we were with 4th and 5th graders and taught 4 classes, and even though they were all in the same school, they all seemed radically different in behavior and comprehension. One group were absolute angels and another group we could barely keep in their seats throughout the lesson.



An example of one lesson we taught was ‘Geography of Southeast Asia’.  We had a large map made of a plastic board with Velcro pieces placed in each country and its capitols. We had many plastic cards with the names of the country’s and capitals and handed them to kids asking them to place them on the map and correct one another as a group before filling out worksheets on their own. Another lesson was on the environment and recycling with the English words for various recyclables such as bottles, cans, paper, etc.

The next day we went to the high school and again the differences between classrooms were substantial. The following day we went to a predominantly Muslim elementary school, and after that we were at a school for the coastal boat people who were a more tribal culture. Last, but definitely not least, we went to the Home and Life orphanage to teach a lesson there. The kids were not grouped by age, so we had real youngsters with teenagers together in the class. Still they seemed like the most motivated and well behaved group and worked very hard. Perhaps their incentive comes from knowing they’ll be on their own sooner than their counterparts who are not in orphanages, or perhaps it’s just the community feel of the place and the strong but loving support of the house mother and father.

While in the schools we were immersed in Thai culture – it was so interesting to see how things are done there. I enjoyed eating school lunches with other teachers and kids, people I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. It was very valuable for our perspective and even though we only participated for a short time, we felt like part of the community rather than just tourists passing through. We also received quite a bit of appreciation which was nice.

Ken operates VTT on a very limited budget, basically just the registration fee (of 3,000 Thai Baht - about $100) charged to each volunteer when the arrive. Even if one stays for 3 months they just pay the fee once, so that encourages long term participation, but one nice thing is that if people have less time they are still welcome. Some other volunteer programs either require long term stays or charge much larger weekly fees, so it can become quite expensive to volunteer your time!




With VTT you must find your own accommodation, but places like the one we stayed in (Khao Lak Seafood Family House) with hot water, but without AC were about $30 a night. The weather, even in early February, was extremely hot, so you may want to consider AC. Even swimming in the ocean didn’t help as the water was not cool enough to be refreshing.

Khao Lak is a resort town that gets lots of German, Russian, and Scandinavian tourists. Although most of the infrastructure is brand new from rebuilding, there is very little ‘local feel’ to the town. Without doing the volunteer work we probably would have left quite soon. There are many restaurants in the town – from stalls that serve cheap, basic dishes to more upscale places like Smile Khao Lak which has a delicious French-Thai menu.

Unlike some other volunteer programs there was quite a bit of downtime, so after school we went swimming and for long walks on the beach. Weekends were free as well and we were invited by the high school coordinator on an outing with other teachers to a special island for a picnic. We would have loved to join in, but that was our departure day, so we weren’t able to, but it was nice to be included after only a week of volunteering.

If you’re looking for a way to contribute to children’s education and try your hand at teaching English, VTT is a great place to start.


http://www.volunteerteacherthailand.org/


©Christina Kay Bolton

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Viceroy Bali


The Viceroy in Ubud, Bali was one of the highlights of our lengthy trip throughout Southeast Asia and Indonesia. With its gracious staff,  newly built bungalows, and magical location – it definitely scores a 10.

Upon arrival we were greeted with cool towels and welcome drinks by the friendly bell hops and explained the lay of the land by the helpful front desk staff. We were then taken down to our villa in a golf cart and shown around.

We had a Deluxe Terrace Villa and it was beautiful. Our own plunge pool awaited us complete with a balé (lovely little open-air pavilion) perched above it. The room itself had a sitting area, king size bed loaded with pillows, walk in closet, huge marble bathroom with a walk-in shower and soaking tub built for two. The design was a mix of Balinese and European and we had a thick thatched roof and marble floors. Every detail was thought of with fresh flowers everywhere, a free mini-bar (for non-alcoholic drinks), an espresso maker (with Italian coffee pods), a large flat screen TV with DVD player, and an iPod doc.


The Viceroy is owned by a family instead of a big corporation and strives to make guests happy. There are several categories of villas from Garden Villas to the regal Viceroy Villa (or presidential suite), they all are situated high on a steep hillside overlooking rice paddies cut into the opposite hill. There seems to be complete privacy even without drawing the shades, as all the villas face toward agricultural land.

We jumped in the pool as soon as we got a chance and it was cool and refreshing despite its small size and the Balinese heat. The balé was a perfect place to relax and read, write, or have a drink listening to our fountain and looking over the water and hillsides. It is also a great place to escape one of the rainy season’s afternoon showers.


The Lembah Spa is gorgeous. We were lucky enough to have an amazing couples massage in the double treatment room . After being expertly massaged with the scented oils of our choice, we were then given a crushed rice and cumin body scrub, and then doused with yogurt, before showering off. When we emerged from the shower we were led to a double bathtub completely covered with flower petals in a beautiful arrangement. The flower bath smelled divine with all the frangipani blossoms and was probably my favorite part. Afterwards we used the sauna, cold pool, and Jacuzzi and finished off with a fresh fruit juice.

The Viceroy also has a gym, a business center, a library, and a large pool next to the restaurant with lounge chairs. For those of you with an unlimited expense account there is even a helicopter pad so you can skip all the traffic and transfer directly from the airport.


The only inconvenience I experienced at the Viceroy is probably a plus to most people. When we arrived by car the guards did a thorough search of the car including using some type of long wand sensor to examine the car frame as well as checking the luggage in the trunk. I understand why they do it with the threat of terrorism in Bali, but even so I’d prefer not to be screened.



Daily breakfast was included with our stay and was delicious. We had our choice of entrée’s such as Eggs Benedict or Crepes with Valrhona chocolate served with juice, fresh fruit, toast, and coffee or tea.

The best part of the Viceroy was the complete relaxation we found there. Everything we could want was at our fingertips and there was no need to go anywhere. When we did go out to explore Ubud the free car service was very convenient.  At any point during the day, the drivers would take us downtown to one of the two main drop-off point’s  and in the evening they came to get us wherever we were in Ubud.



Visiting the royal palace and the market were fun, but we preferred walking through the rice paddies that surround Ubud. We went in search of Sari Organik, a restaurant that is hidden in the rice paddies and grows much of its own food – both the meals and the views were great. We also had a delicious meal at Bridges Bali, an upscale restaurant with excellent cuisine and great service.


On our last night we had another stellar culinary experience: the chef’s tasting dinner at the CasCades restaurant at the Viceroy. We got to try many of the chef’s divine creations. Our table was surrounded in a heart shape of flower petals in a romantic corner of the open air pavilion. The courteous servers always seemed to know if we needed anything. Our 5-course meal began with a silky goat cheese pannacotta with baby root vegetable salad, and followed through the sublime courses until we were more than satiated. Another standout was the main dish: chicken roulade with black truffles, forest mushrooms, baby vegetables and potato gratin. This would be the perfect setting for a honeymoon or anniversary, and actually the whole place can be booked out as an exclusive wedding spot.



The Viceroy is a luxurious retreat and one of the best places I’ve stayed in the whole world. I hope to return someday soon.

http://www.viceroybali.com/en/introduction.php



©Christina Kay Bolton

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