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A day trip to Murano from Venice

A day trip to the island of Murano, famous for a thousand years for its production of glass.  The island is about 20 mins from Venice itself.

We took vaporetto #82 from the Giudecca, riding all the way round the bottom of the Bienale gardens and Arsenale, up the Fondamento Nuovo on the other side, across past the cemetery island and to the island of Murano. Actually to the second stop on Murano called Faro, which means lighthouse, when you’re there you’ll see there’s a pretty obvious reason why it’s called the lighthouse stop. Also why the café (below) where we had a cappucino is called the Café al Faro.

What Murano is, and always has been, known for is its glass. They’ve been moulding, blowing, coloring, adding fiddly bits to the stuff and SELLING it for around a millenium and a half. You may not like it, indeed some of it is pretty gaudy, but it’s what Murano is, and as I say, always has been, about.

Here is HV Morton in 1964: “indeed most of the glass on view looked to me hideous and I thought is sad to see such an ancient craft in decline. Among the memories of such displays are windows full of glass harlequins, some standing on their heads . . . and vulgar little goblets . . . One longed to see something simple and beautiful. Curiously enough that is what people said in the sixteenth century, when, looking round for something to take home they were repelled by drinking glasses in the shape of ships, whales, lions and birds.” But he thinks good stuff has been and still can be made; on the glass museum he says: here “can be seen the Venetian glass of one’s dreams: chalices, reliquaries, graceful cups, plates and bowls as thin as air.”

The rather more snobbish JG Links in Venice for Pleasure a couple of years later (1966) has the opposite view: “It is quite astonishing that anything so highly regarded throughout the world for so many centuries should be of such uniform hideousness, and we cannot blame the modern designers. The shortest visit to the Museum, and that will be scarcely short enough, will demonstrate that, with very few exceptions, it has always been the same.”


Anyway the good news, for us at least, was that JG was wrong. There is some fascinating and some very beautiful stuff in the museum, which traces the manufacture of glass back to, and before, the Romans. Ever wondered what the Romans used to mix their maritinis? Here are cocktail stirrers (well that’s what they look like) from 100 ad:

and some very beautiful stuff, diamond engraved from before wheel engraving was belatedly learned from Bohemia:

Anyway it’s all there, worth learning about the different periods of Venetian glass, its origins when descendants of Roman glass makers fled barbarian invasions to the safety of the islands in the lagoon in the 700s, its 1400s and 1500s heyday when Venice controlled much of Europe’s glass manufacture (confining it to the island of Murano because of the risk of fire from the 15 furnaces burning at 2,000 degrees F), it’s decline as production shifted to Bohemia and elsewhere, its 1800s revival as ornamental glass, which continues, with ups and downs, to this day.

We visited a glassworks, managed not to buy anything, but always fun to see the glassblower blowing and moulding the blobs of glowing, molten glass.

We looked into the church of San Pietro Martire, there is a Bellini on the wall on the left of the side door that you enter by. Unrestored and badly lit it is not easy to see, a doge thoughtfully had it painted so that his two daughters incarcerated in a convent could contemplate it and pray for his soul after his death. Three beautifully painted birds on the bottom right of the picture, the Blue Guide tells us the peacock represents eternal life, the heron long life. And the partridge? Then lunch in a very local eatery down a narrow entrance on the other side of the canal from San Donato (which I’ll come to later). An excellent simple lunch, some olives stuffed with anchovies served warm as a starter (olive a l’ascolana, I’ve not had them before), pasta, very tender breaded chicken breast, good house white wine (as we have found often in Venice the house white better than the house red).

After lunch we crossed back over the canal to the spectacular Santi Maria e Donato, a beautiful Romanesque church (Veneto-Byzantine according to the Blue Guide) with an undulating marble and mosaic floor, some say to reflect the waves on the lagoon, others more prosaically say it’s the result of 1,000 years of subsidence. The Byzantine “praying” Madonna in the apse on a background of gold is stunning.

After that back, in a light rain, to board a much quicker vaporetto (#5) than the one we came on, a 25 mins trip from the Murano Faro stop to S Zacaria.

Pietrasanta, Pisa: in search of Stagi

Tomorrow we will get the train to Pisa and on to Pietrasanta, the birthplace of Stagio Stagi. Having based ourselves in Lucca (a fortunate choice), we spent today searching out works by Matteo Civitali, both in the town (his birth- and workplace) and out in the surrounding countryside. But tomorrow will be devoted to the Stagi family of sculptors.

I came across Stagio Stagi (1496–1563), the most well-known of the Stagis, while in the first stages of researching for the 5th edition of Blue Guide Tuscany. Reading the previous editions, there were mentions of Stagio Stagi in Pisa and also Pietrasanta, Seravezza and Volterra. Lorenzo Stagi (Stagio’s father) was cited in Pietrasanta, and there was just one mention of a Giuseppe Stagi also in Pietrasanta. The 2nd edition (1995) refers to Stagio and Lorenzo as “famous natives” of Pietrasanta. I wondered how dominant these sculptors were in the marble quarrying town they were born in. How influential were they? Who might their works have inspired? Would they be commemorated widely in the town or only noticeable through their works? And were there any more members of the family working as sculptors?

First some preparation. As with all thorough preparation, the best results come from a suitable working atmosphere - we entered our ‘workplace’ for the evening: Trattoria Da Giulio on Via delle Conce, recommended by the Blue Guide Tuscany author. Surrounded by photos of the rich and famous in the entrance hall and tables enough to serve 200 diners, perhaps we had made the wrong choice. However, the food was reputed to be excellent, and the table we were shown to was in the quieter, furthest dining room which appeared to be reserved for non-Italian speakers (or was I being paranoid?). It looked as though our Stagi preparations would commence without major distractions. First things first, we ordered a bottle of local red (Montecarlo), and I opted for the daily special of baccalà frito (fried cod) and a side dish of ceci(chickpeas).

We covered the table with local maps, Blue Guide Tuscany, Blue Guide Central Italy and a recent edition of Touring Club Italiano Toscana. Between courses (all excellent, as promised) we sifted through each of the entries for the Stagis and made a list of works to see the next day: in Pisa, altarpieces in the duomo, a funerary monument in the Camposanto, and a tabernacle in Santa Maria della Spina; in Pietrasanta duomo a bas-relief of John the Baptist on the facade, a statue of the saint inside, altarpieces, water basins, a pulpit pedestal, two capitals, and choir frontals including signed marble profiles in stall no.4. The works in Pisa sounded interesting, but surely our research would come to fruition in Pietrasanta’s duomo. Signed profiles in choir stall no. 4 - this was exciting.

Having not seen any physical reference to Stagi in Lucca (even though Lorenzo is recorded as having worked with the Matteo Civitali workshop), we decided to scour our books one more time, and Touring Club Italia mentioned an aedicule by Stagio above the door of San Alessandro. Five minutes’ walk and we were in the small square facing the church. On the right side was the door and the Stagi aedicule (albeit in the dark). Most noticeable was the palm tree motif around the hood. Was this a signature motif that we would see more of in Pietrasanta tomorrow?

Reading list for Venice

This reading list is taken from Blue Guide Venice, 8th edition (2007). And Blue Guide Literary Companion Venice (2009) is an anthology of writing about or set in Venice:

The number of books that have been written about Venice is enormous. Ever since the first published descriptions of the city appeared in the 16th century, writers have been exploring her history, analysing her art and architecture, and using her as the backdrop for works of fiction. The list below gives some of the most recent publications, as well as seminal works of scholarship, or works of unique charm and vision, though these may be less readily available. Where relevant, first editions are given in square brackets, latest editions in rounded brackets.

General background
Paolo Barbaro, Venice Revealed, Souvenir Press (2002)
John Freely, Strolling Through Venice, Penguin (1994).
Christopher Hibbert, Venice: Biography of a City, [1988], Grafton (1990)
Hugh Honour, Companion Guide to Venice [1965], Companion Guides (2001)
Joe Links, Venice for Pleasure [1962], (2003)
Jan Morris, Venice [1960], Faber & Faber (1993)

History and Social history
David Chambers and Brian Pullan, Venice: a Documentary History 1450–1630, Blackwell (1992)
Charles Freeman, The Horses of St Mark’s, [2004], Abacus (2005)
Ralph A. Griffiths and John E. Law (ed.), Rawdon Brown and the Anglo-Venetian Relationship, Nonsuch Publishing (2005)
Jonathan Keates, The Siege of Venice, Vintage (2006)
Frederic C. Lane, Venice: A Maritime Republic, Johns Hopkins University Press (1973)
Mary MacCarthy, Venice Observed [1963]; The Stones of Florence and Venice Observed, Penguin (2006)
Jan Morris, The Venetian Empire: A Sea Voyage, Penguin (1990)
Francesco da Mosto, Francesco’s Italy, BBC Books (2004)
Jane da Mosto and Caroline Fletcher, The Science of Saving Venice, Umberto Allemandi
& Co (2004)
John Julius Norwich, Venice: The Rise to Empire, Alan Lane [1977], and Venice: The Greatness and the Fall, Viking [1981]; reissued as a single volume in paperback as The History of Venice, Penguin (2003)
John Julius Norwich, Paradise of Cities: Venice and its Nineteenth-century Visitors, Penguin (2004)
John Pemble, Venice Rediscovered, Oxford University Press (1996)
Bruce Redford, Venice and the Grand Tour, 1670–1830, Yale University Press (1996)
Margaret Plant, Venice: Fragile City 1797–1997, Yale University Press (2002).

Art history
J. Clegg, Ruskin and Venice, Junction Books (1981)
Ennio Concina, A History of Venetian Architecture, Cambridge University Press (1998)
Patricia Fortini Brown, The Renaissance in Venice (1997); Venice and Antiquity, Yale University Press (1997).
Richard Goy, Venice: the City and its Architecture, Phaidon (1999)
Julian Halsby, Venice. The Artist’s Vision [1990], UnicornPress (2002)
Robert Hewison, Ruskin and Venice, La Stamperia di Venezia (1983)
Paul Hills, Venetian Colour—marble, mosaic, and glass 1250–1550, Yale University Press (1999)
Deborah Howard, Venice and the East: The Impact of the Islamic World on Venetian
Architecture
, Yale University Press (2000); The Architectural History of Venice[1980], Yale University Press (2005)
Peter Humfrey, Painting in Renaissance Venice, Yale University Press [1995], (2001)
Ralph Lieberman, Renaissance Architecture in Venice, Frederick Muller (1982)
Mary Lutyens (ed.) Effie in Venice: Effie Ruskin’s Letters Home 1849–1852[1965], Pallas
Athene (2003)
Margaret F. MacDonald, Palaces in the Night: Whistler in Venice, University of California
Press (2001)
Sarah Quill, Ruskin’s Venice. The Stones Revisited, Lund Humphries (2003)
John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice (3 vols) [1851], Pallas Athene (2003)
John Steer, Venetian Painting, Thames & Hudson [1970], (1991)
Arnold Whittick, Ruskin’s Venice (1976)

Literary works and poetry
Robert Browning, ‘A Toccata of Galuppi’s
Lord Byron, ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’, ‘Marino Faliero’, ‘The Two Foscari
Henry James, The Princess Casamassima [1886], The Aspern Papers [1888], The Wings of the Dove [1902]
Thomas Mann, Death in Venice [1913]
Hetty Meyric Hughes (ed.), Venice: Poetry of Place, Eland (2006)
Marcel Proust, Albertine Disparue [1925]
William Wordsworth, ‘On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic

Modern fiction
Michael Dibdin, Dead Lagoon, Faber & Faber (1995)
L.P. Hartley, Eustace and Hilda [1947]
Donna Leon, crime novels set in Venice. The most recent include Through a Glass Darkly, (2006); Doctored Evidence, (2005); Wilful Behaviour, (2003); Death at La Fenice (2004)
Daphne du Maurier, ‘Don’t Look Now’ (short story in the collection Not After Midnight
[1971], famous as the basis for the Nicholas Roeg film of the same name)
Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo), The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole (1934)
Muriel Spark, Territorial Rights, Penguin [1979]
Emma Tennant, Felony, Vintage (2003)
Barry Unsworth, Stone Virgin [1985]
Salley Vickers, Miss Garnet’s Angel, HarperCollins (2001)

Modern non-fiction and anthologies
Milton Grundy, Venice. An Anthology Guide, Giles de la Mare Publishers (1998)
Ian Littlewood, A Literary Companion to Venice, St Martin’s Press (1995)
David C. McPherson, Shakespeare, Jonson and the Myth of Venice, University of Delaware Press (1990)
Michael Marqusee, Venice. An Illustrated Anthology, HarperCollins (1989)
Paula Weideger, Venetian Dreaming, Pocket Books (2004). A memoir of a year spent living in the Palazzo Donà delle Rose.

Some older histories and descriptions
Horatio Brown, Life on the Lagoons [1884]; Venice: An Historical Sketch [1895];In and Around Venice [1905], Studies in Venetian History [1907]
Shirley Guiton, No Magic Eden, Hamish Hamilton [1972], on Torcello, Burano, and Murano in particular, and A World by Itself:Tradition and Change in the Venetian Lagoon, Hamish Hamilton [1977], the sequel
William Dean Howells, Venetian Life [1866], Northwestern University Press (2001)
Edward Hutton, Venice and Venetia [1911]
Henry James, Italian Hours [1909], Kessinger (2004)
Logan Pearsall Smith (ed.), Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, (2 vols); a vivid insight
into life in Venice in the early 17th century [1907]
E.V. Lucas, A Wanderer in Venice [1914], Indypublish (2005)
Pompeo Molmenti, Venice [1906]
Thomas Okey, Venice and its Story [1910]
Margaret Oliphant, The Makers of Venice [1898]
Lonsdale and Laura Ragg, Things Seen in Venice [1912]; Venice [1916]
Alexander Robertson, Venetian Sermons [1905], Kessinger (2004)
Margaret Symonds, Days Spent on a Doge’s Farm [1893]
Alethea Wiel, Venice [1894], Kessinger (2005)

Reading list for Florence and Tuscany

Taken from Blue Guide Tuscany, 5th edition (2009)

Florence
Gene A. Brucker Renaissance Florence (Wiley, 1969). An excellent and very readable historical introduction.
Margaret Haines (ed.) The Years of the Cupola 1417-1436. A fascinating digital archive of the sources of the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, now available on line at www.operaduomo.firenze.it/cupola.
Amanda Lillie Florentine Villas in the 15th century: An Architectural and Social History (Cambridge University Press, 2005). Provides a careful new interpretation of the countryside around Florence, concentrating on the properties owned by the Medici’s wealthy contemporaries.
John M. Najemy A History of Florence 1200-1575 (Blackwell, 2006). The most recent scholarly work, concentrating on the ‘Elite’ and the ‘Popolo’ as well as the Medici. The shift in emphasis from the ruling family to social history makes this a particularly intriguing book to read.

General Books on Florence
Eve Borsook The Companion Guide to Florence (Collins, first edition 1966; sixth revised edition of 1997, reprinted with corrections 2000). This remains one of the best books ever written on Florence.
Olive Hamilton Paradise of Exiles (Andre Deutsch, 1974) and The Divine Country: The British in Tuscany 1372-1980 (Andre Deutsch, 1982). Following on from Treves’ The Golden Ring, discussing Anglo residents in the region.
Christopher Hibbert Florence: The Biography of a City (W. W. Norton, 1993, reissued 2004). One in a series (others include Rome and Venice, both also by Hibbert) and provides an intriguing general view of all things connected with Florence.
Michael Levey Florence: A Portrait (Harvard University Press, 1996, repr. 1998). An equally intriguing view of Florence as Hibbert’s Florence: The Biography of a City.
Richard W.B. Lewis The City of Florence (Historical vistas and Personal sightings)  (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1995). As the title suggests, this book provides a highly personal account of the present-day town.
Giuliana Artom Treves The Golden Ring. The Anglo-Florentines 1847-1862 (Longmans, Green, 1956). One of the first books to discuss the importance of the English residents in Florence.

Tuscan History
Denys Hay and John Law, Italy in the Age of the Renaissance 1380–1530(Longman, 1989). An excellent, scholarly paperback dealing with this specific period.
Harry Hearder Italy: A Short History (Cambridge University Press, 1990, repr. 1996). A very readable paperback which provides an introduction from earliest times right up to the 20th century.
Daniel Waley The Italian City-Republics (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1969, repr. 1978).
Describes the rise of the communes in the middle ages, and Lauro Martine’s Power
and Imagination
City-states in Renaissance Italy (Vintage, 1979) carries the story

forward. Waley has also written more specific studies (including Siena and the
Sienese, 1991).

Art History
Bernard Berenson The Italian Painters of the Renaissance (1930 and subsequent editions). A fundamental work, well worth reading for a fresh and clear account of the works of the greatest artists.
Jacob Burckhardt The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860; repr. 1965, HarperCollins). The classic work on the Renaissance.
Doris Carl Benedetto da Maiano. A Florentine sculptor at the threshold of the High Renaissance, (Brepols, 2006). Beautifully illustrated, providing a careful study of the work of this sculptor.
Mary Hollingsworth Patronage in Renaissance Italy, and Patronage in Sixteenth Century Italy (J. Murray, 1994–96). A serious two-volume study on patronage.
Walter Pater The Renaissance (1873, repr. 1967, Collins). Another classic work on the Renaissance.
Numerous monographs in English on the most famous artists include works published in the last half of the 20th century by Kenneth Clark and John Pope-Hennessy.

The Medici
Christopher Hibbert The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici (Morrow, 1974). Still provides an interesting account of the history of the family.
Dale Kent Cosimo de’ Medici and the Florentine Renaissance (Yale University Press, 2000). One of the most recent books on the Medici.
Nicolai Rubinstein The Government of Florence under the Medici, 1434-94(Clarendon Press, 1968). Still one of the most important works on the Medici family. It was Rubinstein who began the project to publish all the Letters of Lorenzo il Magnifico, continued under the direction of Michael Mallet and Humfrey Butters (the first 11 volumes cover the period 1460–1488).
The Medici Archive Project is an on-going database project which, since 1993, has been concerned with preserving the papers of the Medici grand-dukes, consisting of some 6,429 volumes of approximately 3 million letters. These are preserved in the Archivio di Stato in Florence and the intent is to promote research on them (www.medici.org).

Accounts of life in Tuscany
Kinta Beevor A Tuscan Childhood (Viking, 1993). Of all the many books written by
The English about their lives in Tuscany, this stands out as one of the most sincere
and interesting.
Iris Origo War in Val d’Orcia (Penguin, 1956), an account of the war years. Also, her
autobiography Images and Shadows. Part of a Life (J. Murray, 1970).

30.01.2009
15:17

The Best Credit / Debit Card for Travel

Should I use my regular USD credit card when I travel? How much will it cost? Will I get a bad exchange rate? Should I ask the merchant to charge me in USD? (By the way the answer to that last one is a big NO!)

Please share any comments or experiences you may have, we’re going to be posting some guidance notes here.

Ruskin on Venice

By Robert Hewison and published by Yale University Press, £45

Viewed from 160 years later it is not always easy to take Ruskin seriously: his romanticisation of the Gothic and demonisation of the Renaissance verges on the absurd, while curious relationships first with his beautiful and lively young wife - with whom he honeymooned in Venice and who divorced him shortly thereafter - and in later life with an adolescent girl who died young, are difficult to explain.

Neverthess Ruskin writes beautifully, his scholarship is superb, and his vision of mediaeval Europe as a pre-industrial, artisanal, feudal Utopia, while certainly wrong, is not without attraction.

This latest book linking the two perennially absorbing, and closely related, subjects of Ruskin and Venice is well reviewed in Apollo Magazine by Christopher Newall:

Ruskin on Venice offers much more than a series of glimpses of its subject at different stages of his life: by linking Ruskin’s various stays in Venice together into a larger evolution of thought, it provides an unfolding drama of his myriad preoccupations and ever-fluctuating state of mind.”

Ruskin inevitably crops up in all the Blue Gudies’ Venice books: both he and his wife Effie are anthologised in Literary Companion Venice, and of course his presence is also recorded in the recent Blue Guide Travel Monograph on the Venice Lido.

To see more details about this book, check the Amazon links below.

Reading list for Rome

Unlike the Blue Guides to Florence and Venice, Blue Guide Rome does not include a list of recommended reading. Blue Guide Literary Companion Rome is due out Dec 2010, a sister volume to the Blue Guide Literary Companion Venice, to be joined by London in Spring 2011.

Comments on Blue Guide Greece the Mainland

The latest edition of this Blue Guides classic, updated by Sherry Marker, a lecturer at Smith College, Massachusetts, and James Pettifer, an academic and expert on the Balkans. The guide amply covers mainland Greece, the cradle of western civilization.

View the book’s contents, index and some sample pages, and buy securely from blueguides.com here»

 

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Edward Lear and Crete
A handful of favourite things to see in Sicily
The mystery of the veiled virgins
Venice without the crowds
Cividale del Friuli and the Lombards
The Trouble with Snake Goddesses
The tragedy of Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico
Oranges, lemons and relic cults: an escape from the queues...
City Picks: Verona
Hitherto unknown language discovered in east Anatolia
Painting of the Day
Museo Barracco: a little-visited gem
Santo Stefano Rotondo in Rome
Staten Island: Upcoming Exhibition …
International Gothic at the Uffizi
Celebrating Santa Rosalia, patron of Palermo
Delhi Ghost Trail
Comments on Pilgrim's Rome: A Blue Guide Travel Monograph
The Roman Villa at Balácapuszta (Baláca, Nemesvámos,...
The Bard of….Messina? Was Shakespeare Sicilian?
Rereading Ruskin
Sicily’s emblem: the Trinacria
Luca Signorelli on exhibition in Umbria
The Tribuna of the Uffizi reopens
The Venice equivalent of the anonymous Tweet?
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Sicilian Holiday Reading
Attila the Hun and the Foundation of Venice
Death in Venice cocktail a hit
The Gentry: Stories of the English
381 years ago this June
Brooklyn Bridge: a New York landmark
A Venetian Update
Sixth-century church to reopen
Roman Aquileia
Springtime in Friuli
Northern Italy dining and accommodation recommendations
Al Dente: Madness, Beauty & the Food of Rome
A celebration of Lucca
Romantic music in a Baroque setting
Blue Guide India Delhi Launch
Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life
The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci’s Arithmetic Revolution
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The Roman Forum
Whispering City: Rome and its Histories
The 15th-century Health Museum at Edirne
City of Fortune, How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire
Books about Istanbul
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Constantine: Unconquered Emperor, Christian Victor
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Comments on Blue Guide Literary Companions: Rome, London,...
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The 54th Venice Biennale stars Tintoretto
Holy Bones, Holy Dust
RECOMMENDED PLACES TO STAY AND EAT ON CRETE
Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity
Full Circle: How the Classical World Came Back to Us
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Comments on Sites of Antiquity: from Ancient Egypt to the...
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Familiar face
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Blue Guide Northern Italy
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A day trip to Ostia Antica from Rome - highly recommended
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A day trip from Venice up the Brenta Canal
A day trip to Murano from Venice
Pietrasanta, Pisa: in search of Stagi
Reading list for Venice
Reading list for Florence and Tuscany
The Best Credit / Debit Card for Travel
Ruskin on Venice
Reading list for Rome
Comments on Blue Guide Greece the Mainland

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