Barcelona In Winter


It is the right of a traveler

to vent their frustration at every minor inconvenience

by writing of it to their friends.

Susanna Clarke


With all this forecast of snow that fails to show, I dream more and more of living in the Mediterranean where the weather is mild and the culture varied. I adore French style and Italian gusto, but food can win me over, especially fresh and tasty seafood served in appetizer portions that the Spanish call “Tapas.” ¬†To inspire a stop in (if not a move to) Barcelona, here’s an easy itinerary that you’ll enjoy even in winter:

Start with a city bike tour to give your cramped airplane legs much needed exercise while covering a good chunk of the city. Whether renting bikes on your own or riding with a group tour, make sure you include the city’s beach front boardwalk. Locals and tour guides are your best resource for information on how much to tip restaurants/taxis, where to find the best of this and that, etc, so don’t be shy to ask! And see this woman running in the photo? That will never be me! ūüėČ

Learn about local culture with a tapas tour by Barcelona Local Experiences where you sample traditional favorites in food and wine at four historic tapas bars.

Catch a Flamenco Show at the grand and gorgeous Palau de La Musica. If you’re a fan of architecture, the Palau runs guided tours to brag about its interiors which will allow you to admire the beauty of its glass dome with daylight. ¬†If traveling with young ones, they’ll stay more awake at the Tablao Flamenco Cordobes (though I’m not a fan of its location in the touristy Ramblas) where dancers’ vigorously stomp their feet at eye level. For a casual yet sexier ambiance, book an after dinner table at the courtyard of Palau Dalmases.

Shop for fresh produce at Santa Caterina Market followed by a paella cooking class at Cook & Taste Barcelona. Their pretty kitchen in the middle of nowhere was a very lovely surprise. To make them easier to find, look for the Conessa sandwich shop at a corner of Placa de Sant Jaume and walk up the small street right beside the shop.

To appreciate the genius of Gaudi, your first stop among his creations should be the attic museum at¬†Casa Mila¬†(aka La Pedrera) where exhibits give you an idea of how this master architect took inspiration from nature in design and how he was able to calculate the weight bearing loads of the spiraling pillars for his building’s structures without mathematical formulas. For best photo lighting, time your rooftop visit of this apartment building right around sunset. The mid-afternoon is when you catch sunlight streaming beautifully through the stained glass windows of the Sagrada Familia. Casa Batllo has a fun theatrical tour only on Sunday afternoons with costumed characters relating the story of the pretend Batllo family and Gaudi.

Runner Bean Free Walking Tour has very capable and enthusiastic guides who deserve to be tipped generously.


Click on this Barcelona nightlife link for a comprehensive list aside from their newer nightclubs (Shoko, Carpe Diem, etc.) lined up on the boardwalk by the casino and Frank Gehry’s fish sculpture. The entrance to the clubs look like small pop up stores that make you wonder how they can possibly fit enough people for a wild party. They don’t. They actually use things called stairs and elevators to take you down to a lower level–where the umbrellas add additional dining options facing the beach. ūüėČ

Where to stay

Not the W Hotel if you want a central location. For ease of walking in all directions, I love the Eixample neighborhood where the streets are wider than the old city sections of El Born or Barri Gotic. Around the two Gaudi houses of Casa Mila and Casa Batllo will situate you near Ramblas de Catalunya where locals shop. El Palace is my royal favorite. with its cozy retro nightclub lounge in the basement, featuring a jazz trio or vocalist on weekends.

Where to eat

Vinitus – Vinitus has 2 locations of tapas bars in Eixample. I enjoyed the smaller one with its cozy booths in some shade of blue. They don’t bother with reservations so go early and though I’m not a fan of bread pudding, you must find out why I had to have some.

Behind Casa Mila – Dora for the most tender and thinly sliced octopus and the feel of an old world neighborhood restaurant.

Placa de Sant Jaume is where many bike and walking tours meet. As I mentioned earlier, there’s the tiny sandwich shop called Conessa at one corner of the square that’s known to be the best in the city. Around another corner of the square, I enjoyed the high ceilings and food at Lonja de Tapas on Carrer Sant Jaume 1, 8.

Best Seafood Paella at Salamanca in Barceloneta and if you want to pick out your own live lobster, La Barca del Salamanca on the pier.

Best Churros in town is said to be at Xurreria Manuel San Roman, Carrer de Banys Nous 8.

El Nacional – I can’t vouch much for the food but you must see this former carpark that has been beautifully converted into a lively restaurant square with a selection of half a dozen dining options with a gelato counter up front. Ladies must check out their fun cabaret style powder room behind the stairs, too.

Located in the far northeast corner of Spain, Barcelona is a popular stop for cruise ships and a comfortable three hours from Madrid on the high-speed AVE train. Those who plan on renting a car can start in Barcelona, take the train to Madrid and sightsee Toledo, all before picking up a car ‚ÄĒ cleverly saving on several days’ worth of rental and parking fees.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share your best Barcelona travel tip.


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201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman



The Romantic Road


I married a German.

Every night I dress up as Poland

so he invades me.

Bette Midler

Dreaming of your next anniversary, honeymoon or escapade for two? ¬†What’s now called The Romantic Road used to be a major trade route during the Middle Ages and has been re-branded today featuring plenty of old world charm. It is Germany’s most scenic drive through rolling hills past vineyards, restaurants, lush parks, historic castles, and old towns that transport you back in time.¬†Mapped out in 1950, this “formal” route through the southern provinces of Bavaria and Baden-W√ľrttemberg helped rebuild Germany’s tourism industry after WWII.

To get started, fly into Frankfurt or Munich and rent a car. For the love of all that is good and metallic, skip the compacts and rent a fast BMW, Audi, or Mercedes. You’ll be on the Autobahn¬†and you’ll feel safer with a big engine when everyone else is going 120 mph.

I love spontaneity and waking late, but it’s not a vacation if I have to drive (or cook.) ¬†So I opt for the trains and, even better, an organized bus tour. There is much to be said about leaving all the planning and booking to someone else though I can’t rave as much about the “See you on the bus by 7:00/8:00 am” schedule. ¬†To be fair, there is no way I’d get to see ¬†half of a tour’s itinerary if I’m left to my own late start devices.

Photo up top is lunch by the Mosel River on a fine summer’s day. This area is home of the Reisling grape and where there are vineyards–no matter how slanted on a hillside–there’s wine! Nearby is one of the oldest and largest wine estates in Germany,¬†B√ľrgerspital, situated in a beautiful and historic courtyard right in the middle of W√ľrzburg.

The casino in Baden-Baden has got to be the most glamorous I’ve seen even though they humbly defer to being second to Monaco’s. I’d have to agree that their facade and lobby do not do justice to the interiors that’s still stunning after over a century.

Where to stay: Brenners Park Hotel & Spa is excellent in location, food and service with superb attention to detail.

In Munich, join a bike tour to add variety to your fitness routine and stop by the English Garden to see their famous surfers. This all white church in the city could inspire your next wedding or anniversary (cake.)

Where to stay: The Mandarin Oriental is modern and elegant, but the Bayerischer Hof has the prettiest lounge under a blue dome with a white bar set on a stage at the far end. If you can’t sleep early, there’s a nightclub in the basement with a live band most weekends.

And what’s romance without a bit of fairytale? Neuschwanstein in Bavaria is the castle that inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty version in Disneyland. I completely missed this highlight in a previous tour due to a shroud of fog so I’m thrilled to report I made it this time around. While many of its rooms went unfinished whenThe Swan King who designed this castle died, the intricate workmanship that executed his vision in the finished rooms. Tickets are time specific and if you’re late to claim them at your appointed hour, they’ll be quickly snapped up by some other tourist.

Where to stay nearby:¬†Hotel Das R√ľbezahl, a spa hotel at the base of the Alps with a welcoming fire in the lobby, a glass of sparkling wine on arrival, and views of the castle from bedroom balconies.

For more sights along the Romantic Road, see¬†Germany Travel Guide.¬†Fun fact: While Americans have been captivated by the “Romantic Road” and the classic movie “The Sound of Music” filmed in Salzburg, many Germans have not heard of either one.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share where you’d map out your own romantic road.


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© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

Paris for Teens and Tweens


Airplane travel is nature’s way

of making you look

like your passport photo.
Al Gore

Though teens might consider getting their own car as the best gift of all, plane tickets with a plan for adventure that gets another stamp on their passport could be better for creating family legends from shared memories. I want my young adult wanna-bes to seek the stories that are different as well as familiar in people of other cultures and feel at ease in unfamiliar lands. How else will they truly know that the world has so much more to offer beyond their daily routines and virtual tech obsessions?

Paris being a favorite gateway to Europe, a lucky teen is going to see the best of the best with mom as tour director–thanks to my curated list of fun possibilities culled from previous visits and research. Keep this page handy for your family because it is only a matter of time when the travel winds will blow you through the City of Lights. I’ll be severely testing how far I can keep up my style using the “How to Pack Light tips for our extended trip!

Begin with a city bike tour with¬†Paris Charms and Secrets,¬†orienting you through the essential and hidden corners of the city. Your guide will fill you in with interesting facts and tales that will keep you enchanted through 4 hours of pedaling or not–thanks to their electric bikes. Choose their afternoon tour because your guide will likely time your stop at the Eiffel to coincide with its 6:00 pm twinkle time.

A popular eerie attraction, the Catacombs are the city’s old mineshaft-turned-mass grave. The tunnels are lined with the bones of millions of citizens who were laid to rest here by King Louis XVI before getting his own head chopped off.

For movie and theater buffs, the Studio Harcourt gives you the starlet experience with a cinematic black-and-white portrait shoot to commemorate your Parisian adventure. Everyone from Brigitte Bardot to Marilyn Monroe has had their photo taken here.

If waiting in line for the towers of Notre Dame is not your idea of fun, tire your teens out with the impressive climb up some 300 stairs to the top of the Sacr√© Coeur. Six o’clock in the evening is Vespers when you might get lucky hearing the mystical voices of the B√©n√©dictines Sisters at the church reeling you back in time to how life must have been like there in the 18th century as you view sunset over the city. Sigh!

For a swim in the city with local Parisians, Piscine Molitor is the prettiest old school swimming pool in Paris which was recently renovated. You can surprise your teen with a treatment at The Spa by Clarins or go for drinks and a salad on the rooftop. This is a members-only kind of place except if you get an Escale Molitor package at the spa (one-hour treatment +access to the pool, hammam, sauna, and gym). Book well in advance.

Curious to cook? I’m not, but as a mother, I’m a firm believer in the proper training of future husbands especially when you are in a country known for le gourmet.¬†La Cuisine has a variety of cooking classes from macarons and baguettes to apertifs and entrees.

For treasure hunts to engage even those who are not art enthusiasts, see what fun and games THATMuse can plan for your museum of interest.

Then, of course, Versailles… A stay at the Trianon Palace, a Hilton Waldorf Astoria luxury property, is the closest thing to feeling like Marie Antoinette. If you can’t stay the night, you can book treatments at the Guerlain Spa¬†and enjoy its beautiful pool, go for a walk in the royal garden, then have a spectacular Michelin Star lunch at the veranda of¬†Gordon Ramsay au Trianon. Wear comfy shoes please.

If not Versailles, then at least the Opera Garnier in the heart of Paris for its version of the Hall of Mirrors and so much genius behind the architect’s choice of design and construction elements. Join a guided tour run by the opera house or an independent walking tour that covers its surrounding neighborhood.

As tourists, early birds get the worm and wait less in queues at popular attractions. ¬†If you’re not into worms, wait for later in the day to go when the masses have been let in.

A note on museum tickets:¬†All Kids under 18 enter free (or EU citizens under 26 with proof of age). For adults, get your entry tickets from the ¬†‚ÄĮLouvre¬†website because they¬†are they cheaper and allow you into a much faster security line than tickets bought elsewhere like getting a “Paris Museum‚ÄĮPass” from the Paris Tourist board which covers most monuments & museums (eg, Louvre, Mus√©e¬†d’Orsay, Versailles, etc) or through your hotel.‚ÄĮ Note that tickets sold as ‚Äėskip the line‚Äô passes could have you standing in longer queues than the Louvre‚Äôs own e-ticket line.

With or without teens, eating will never go out of style where there’s a lot of walking and sightseeing involved. At the Trocadero, Monsieur Bleu‚Äôs terrace has one of the best views of the Eiffel tower with very good food. Note that on Saturdays and Sundays, Monsieur Bleu offers free babysitting services on the French floor (there‚Äôs also an American floor) with a disco for kids on Saturdays and other fun activities on Sundays. Dress well because shorts on a hot summer’s day may get you turned away despite having reservations.

A cross between Parisian and Japanese, Le Kong is a futuristic Japanese restaurant  with curved floor to ceiling windows decorated by Philippe Starck at the top of the Kenzo building. Perfect spot at sunset to be surrounded by Louis XV armchairs, plasma screens, a fluorescent staircase and a carpet of pebbles.

L’Oiseau Blanc (the White Bird) at the Peninsula Hotel is named for a French plane that crashed over the Atlantic in 1927 during a transatlantic flight attempt. The restaurant’s décor pays homage to the pilots, complete with a small-scale replica of the biplane that looks like it’s flying off the terrace. Even if you’re not a history buff, you’ll appreciate the sweeping views of the Eiffel Tower.

Every weekend between 4:00 and 6:00 pm at La Bauhinia bar of the Shangri-la Hotel, Pastry Chef Micha√ęl Bartocetti celebrates a veritable French ritual and a moment dear to little ones and grown-ups alike: the Go√Ľter! ¬†A superb buffet of traditional French pastries to satisfy every sweet tooth. Reservations at +33 (0)1 53 67 19 91 or by email:

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share your Parisian favorites for the family to enjoy. Enjoy your summer adventures and try not to miss me too much. Bon voyage and a bientot!

Photos on this page courtesy of Google Images.


Give the women you love the most unique gift

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© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

Italy With Teen

A good holiday is one spent

among people whose notions of time

are vaguer than yours.

J.B. Priestley


Winter break now and Spring break soon! With Milan offering the best airfare accessible to¬†favorable climes by train, here is a quick week’s itinerary¬†if you can travel light with your teen.

From Milan’s Malpensa airport, take the Malpensa Express train to Milan Centrale and¬†connect with¬†the fast train ( to Rome.

In Rome, book a hotel (at least 3 nights) between Piazza Navona and the Pantheon so you’re in a lively area in the evenings near restaurants in any direction.

Some Rome tour options are on my When In Rome Again blog post.

Take a morning train to Florence Santa Maria Novella and before exiting the station, leave your luggage for a small fee at the depot along the wall where you see the sign for Track 16.

Florence¬†in a day: You can’t miss the outdoor sculptures at the Piazza Vecchio, the fantastic embossed door of the Baptistry, museums galore, Pitti Palace, if the weather is lovely, catch the sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo for panoramic views of Florence and to say hello to yet another David statue.

Take the evening train to Venice Santa Lucia station and book an overnight stay at one of the hotel’s across the canal so they can hold your bags while you sightsee the next day.

Venice¬†in a day: Catch the vaporetto to St. Mark’s Square and feed the pigeons, admire the golden mosaics of the cathedral, climb up the bell tower, shop a bit, walk to Rialto Bridge and if you’re an early bird, catch the vendors setting up shop at the open air market. If you haven’t had enough of churches and museums yet, there’s the Accademia, the Scuola Grande and the Doge’s Palace. If you’d rather row a gondola than sit in one, check out Row Venice.

Take the evening train to Milan and stay near the Golden Triangle of designer shopping (ie, Via della Spiga, Via Sant’ Andrea and Via Montenapoleone). You’ll be within easy walking distance to the very well preserved Sforza Castle that holds a good collection of museums.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to add your Italy travel tips.


Ceiling at the Vatican


Even a very tall man appears to be a midget at the mini-Hall of Mirrors of the Doria Pamphilj mansion in Rome


Michaelangelo’s David and work in progress at the Accademia in Florence


Rape of the Sabine Women at the Piazza Vecchio, Florence


Would you rather ride or row?


Sunset in Venice



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© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

Germany Travel Guide

Travel makes you understand

that you should not think

you’re always right.

Christian Louboutin


Linderhof Palace is a most adorable mini-Versailles in the alps for one royal recluse

It is the season for¬†Christmas markets soon and if¬†you’re headed to see some in Germany, here are other sights I enjoyed the most:

Prettiest hotel bar at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich. They also have a little nightclub in the basement with a great band playing pop and classic dance tunes.


Bumped into dream cars from every decade at the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart


Made sure my crown jewels are still where I left them… was this at the treasury in Munich?


Try a horseless carriage ride through a small town, scenic woods and farmland


Rothenberg is a medieval city that survived the war unscathed by sheer luck of circumstance…


…Hear how from Rothenberg’s Night Watchman. History teachers can learn a thing or two from him on how to¬†dress the part while regaling the crowd with humorous narratives.


Though it wasn’t on my original wishlist, Dresden was a lovely surprise , turning out to be my¬†favorite city this tour. Bombed for no good reason during the war, the women of the town saved what they could from the rubble and re-used these to restore the city center back to its former glory. ¬†The Zwinger Palace is now home to three museums with its restored courtyard of elegant fountains and sculptures. I loved strolling through its upper level walkway, imagining how¬†many women were subliminally¬†seduced in an afternoon stroll surrounded by the countless sculptures of fat cherubs, lovers, women holding food or children, all suggesting fertility and love.



I felt positively¬†royal in my room at the Crown Prince Suites of the Kempinski Tauschenberg Palace Hotel. With very high ceilings and space wide enough for dancing, both sides of my bedchamber had double connecting doors to adjoining rooms–perfect for the discreet entry and exit of guests or¬†lovers. Standing right in the heart of town, this palace was originally built as the residence of the king’s favorite mistress. Below is what the bombed shell ūüėČ looked before and after restoration.


One of the amazing treasures at the Residenza is this galleon carved in pure ivory. Do you see the tiny sailors climbing the ropes? The middle mast has the royal seal “embossed” on its thin billowy sail.


Berlin was too, too modern for me. I like to travel to Europe for old architecture and they are doing a great job restoring the few structures that have remained standing like this Cathedral by the river.


A very modern Holocaust memorial


Found Cinderella’s¬†carriage at the Nymphenburg Palace¬†in Munich


Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share your own German faves.


Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

with  a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

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© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

My 7 Fave Books About Paris

America is my country


Paris is my hometown.

Gertrude Stein

“I don’t like reading!” must be the only chorus my two younger teens agree on. They¬†usually bicker like cat and dog yet form a united front on the topic of books, stubbornly glueing their noses to the computer. If it’s any consolation for a mother,¬†at least, their older brother in college actually values¬†the occasional recommendation, discussing his insights and revelations when we talk on the phone. He says this may simply be a function of age and how the book resonates with¬†his current life journey. I say one out of three kids is not a bad average, yes?

In honor of this blog’s favorite French fan’s birthday, here are ¬†stories set in Paris you’ll want to chill with on or off the beach this summer:

The Flaneur by Edmund White. Because meandering strolls with no particular destination is so very Parisian, observing the everyday theater on the city streets.


Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik (2001): What would it be like to raise children in Paris? An American writer shares his adventures starting a new career and family abroad.


Almost French by Sarah Turnbull. ¬†An Australian’s memoir of her giant leap, moving to Paris and marrying into a different culture.


The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain. ¬†Would you marry a struggling writer much younger than you? Could you¬†be friendly with¬†your husband’s mistress? A story told from the point of view of Hemingway’s first wife.


My Life in France by Julia Child.  How did the student become the master? Julia tells of her move to Paris with her husband before she figured out what she wanted to do when she grows up.



The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. A bookseller helps heal wounded hearts by prescribing the perfect story for them to read, eventually mending his own.


Lessons from Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott. shares her 20 style secrets learned while living in Paris.


Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share what’s on your summer¬†reading list. ¬†Stay cool and tres chic!


Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

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Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

When In Rome Again

In Italy,

they add work and life

to food and wine.

Robin Leach


Piazza Navona on a rainy day last visit

After last year’s whirlwind mother-daughter holiday (see posts¬†London with teen and Paris Charms with Teen,) the older brothers realized that traveling with mom need not just be an excuse to get their pesky sister out of the house. ¬†This Spring break, Brother #1 has signed up for his turn to go on ¬†a mother-son rendezvous.

Argentina was first choice because he’s interested in tango (and the pretty ladies that go with it,) but that’s too long a schlep from Boston for a week off. He got all excited over Iceland, but I refuse to ¬†be any place colder in March. Where can he hop on an easy flight to get to relatively mild weather, see art, architecture, and engineering marvels everywhere he turns, while avoiding hordes of tourists? Why, Rome in March, of course!

Audio tours

Before you even start packing, let celebrity guide Rick Steves’ audio tours stoke your imagination and enthusiasm.


A few fun things to do in Rome after you’ve covered the basics:

Rent a Ferrari

This IS Italy! Why not?


photo by Conde Nast Traveler

Ostia Antica

Also known as “The better Pompeii,” Ostia Antica is only 30 minutes North of the Colosseum, compared to Pompeii’s 4 hours South. This used to be the bustling commercial port of Rome when the Romans controlled the Mediterranean.¬†Wandering around the ruins today, you’ll see well-preserved remains of ancient brick structures from docks, bakeries, warehouses, apartments, mansions, shopping arcades, baths and sculptures–a peek at Roman lifestyles 2,000 years ago.

And if your travel companions are allergic to museums, a couple of light and lovely options are:

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

This private mansion off the Piazza Venezia on Via del Corso is also a museum open to the public. An easy walk from the Colosseum past the Typewriter building (aka¬†The Wedding Cake or Il Vittoriano Monument.) I love its rich interiors and their mini version of Versailles’ “Hall of Mirrors.” Listen to the audio guide recorded by a family member of the Doria Pamphilj as you walk through the elegant rooms and art filled halls, pay the extra 5 Euros to tour their more private apartments. Caffe Doria breaks the museum standard fare with its delicious and generous portions for lunch and tea/coffee in old world charm.


photo by Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

Galleria Borghese

Hike up to this mansion of Cardinal Borhese that is now a small museum for lovers of classical paintings and sculpture. Make advance tour reservations, leave your handbag home to avoid one more queue to check it, get there early before the crowds, and take your sweet time  with their audio guide that is not shy about describing  the underhanded ways that wealth and treasures get acquired. Afterwards, you can stroll through the gardens or rent a bicycle wagon in the park surrounding the property.


photo from Google Images

The Galleria Borghese is an easy walk down to Piazza del Popolo with its ancient obelisk and open square. Plenty of restaurant choices along the way as you head down Via del Babuino to the Spanish steps.

Galleria del Cembalo

Between the Spanish steps and the Tiber River at a wing of the Palazzo Borghese, fans of photography can admire exhibits in rooms with ornate high ceilings.


Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) for your Rome travel tips.


Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

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Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

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