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Get writing, networking, and everyday tips from the Masters - Debra St. John, June Sproat, Terri Stone, Morgan Mandel, DL Larson, Rob Walker, Margot Justes, Austin S. Camacho, Tony Burton.
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1. Changing Holiday traditions by Margot Justes

 I thought I'd share a few pictures from the Biltmore Estate. I'm heading back Monday, on my way to Charlotte to check out the Christmas decorations. I've read they're wonderful, and I'll post pictures. 

The ham sandwich, the best I've had in many, many years was from Cedric's Tavern on the estate. The excellent coffee, and freshly squeezed orange juice came with breakfast.

Have a happy and thankful Thanksgiving. 

Traditions evolve and change, that is life. I didn’t grow up with any, but I made sure a few were created when my daughters were born. Something as simple as going apple picking every fall-that tradition continued with my grand-kiddies until my older daughter moved out of state.

Then there was the annual pizza party at Halloween until we moved-now I see pictures of the kiddies dressed in costumes. I still hand out candy, but no longer decorate, except for a few treasured pieces I kept, all the other stuff was given away prior to my move.  Do I miss it? Yes, but I understand that things change.

Thanksgiving was always at the house, and both daughters always made it home for the holiday, until my older daughter married, and then the tradition moved to her house, and continues to this day. It is such a beautiful, poignant, and quiet holiday-one of my favorites.

Adapting to new situations as life progresses, and making them work is essential, otherwise we lose track of what is important.

I hope to establish a new tradition with my daughters, hopefully next year we’ll all be able to spend a couple of days in Asheville, and then head to Charlotte to celebrate Thanksgiving.  That may not be possible because the young kiddies are in school. It will be a work in progress, but even one night would be a delight.

I spent a couple of days in Asheville this October, and fell in love. It would be lovely to start the season and see the Biltmore Estate decorated for the holidays.

I had a Christmas tradition as well, the annual Ruth Page production of The Nutcracker in Chicago, that tradition continued until the production ceased to exist. Then we tried other productions, a play, high tea-anything that celebrated the spirit of the holiday. It continues even now, it’s been adapted, but it continues. Christmas is a jubilant, boisterous holiday filled with light and spirit. There are always many things to do during the season.

Our traditions have evolved to suit our needs because our lives have changed. This is the first time in many, many years, that I live close to my younger daughter, and I love it.

She was away at school for many years, and would always come home for the holidays, but grad school and post doc work put her in a college environment for a long time. For her this will be a first Christmas since  she started college that she doesn’t have to travel, because this year we’ll all be together in Alexandria.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within

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2. Better Read than Dead: {Review} Cutting Edge by Robert W. Walker

Better Read than Dead: {Review} Cutting Edge by Robert W. Walker: Title: Cutting Edge Author: Robert W. Walker Genre: Criminal Suspense Series: Lucas Stonecoat #1 Synopsis: Robert W. Walker,... Read the rest of this post

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3. Living on a Boat by Margot Justes

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Annapolis Boat Show. The weather was breezy, but not cold, the air simmered with excitement as many people considered a new purchase, an upgrade, or curiosity seekers who wanted to get a feel for the lifestyle. I was among the curious ones.

The boating lifestyle is common to the area, and I was surprised how many people actually live year round on their boats, especially in the DC area-the water doesn’t freeze, and if it gets too cold, the boat can be shrink wrapped for warmth.

I visited a few boats that would fit the-live-on-board lifestyle, anywhere between 44 to 48ft seemed to be a good fit. They included 2 cabins, 2 baths, a galley, and actual living space. The new boat prices were not for the faint of heart.

However, if one is serious about that lifestyle, there are options-a well loved used boat. There were quite a few vendors publicizing used boats for sale, at a fraction of the cost of a new one. As always,s buyer beware-the used boat should be inspected, the condition of engines well evaluated, just like buying a house.

The idea appeals to me, there is of course a onetime flat fee to belong to a marina, or yacht club, and then monthly fees to live there-but they’re not outrageous. Taking all the fees into account, the price is quite reasonable, and less that most house or condo living.

Am I considering another change? Yes, I’m seriously thinking about it. I have not actually visited a used boat broker, but have started to look online, and the more I look the more it gains in appeal.

At a certain age, life-let me narrow that down a bit-every day becomes an adventure.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice

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4. Holiday Season by Margot Justes

The wonderful holiday season is upon us, for me that starts with Halloween and ends with the New Year. Every year I have decorated for Halloween, and the festivities included a pizza party for family and friends.

That tradition has gone by the wayside since the move. I still put up a few decorations, but the majority of the ‘stuff’ went during the garage sales while still in Illinois.  Downsizing is a terrific process, one I’m still going through-just in case in a couple of years, I’ll downsize once again-but I digress.

The pizza party will not happen, but a pizza dinner is not out of the question. There will be trick-or-treating in the complex, and I’ll have to buy the sweet stuff, and of course I buy what I like-chocolate.  Whatever candy will be leftover, will immediately go with Dina to her office. Open bags of chocolate are not a good thing in this house-they are not safe-even unopened bags are not safe, that is why the candy will be bought as close to Halloween as possible.

After Halloween, Thanksgiving will be upon us. This year will be spent in Charlotte, with the munchkins, that tradition continues-in a different state-but family will be together. The trip to Charlotte will include a stop in Asheville, to visit the Biltmore Estate, that will already be decorated for Christmas...a Christmas tree in every room, and candlelight to pave the way. It sounds positively magical, and Dina has never been to Asheville.

Christmas this year will be celebrated in Alexandria, Solonge and her troops will be coming here for a week. Once again the decorations will be minimal, space is severely limited, but it will be spent with family, and that is the most important part of the holiday season.

Hope your holiday season will be a wonderful one. I have included a few pictures of my Halloween decorations, the few I kept because of sentimental reasons.

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
Blood Art
A Fire Within

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5. Urban vs. Suburban by Margot Justes

Still playing tourist in Alexandria, and I have not been consistent with my blogs-nothing new there-the history here is simply amazing, and there is much to see everywhere you turn, and as a result I have not focused on my writing. So many places rich in American history are close by and beckon a visit.

I’m a writer, I actually need to write...that being said, A Hotel in Venice has been released and I’m working on a sequel set in Barcelona.

I spent many years living in suburbia, raised two accomplished and successful daughters in the burbs. Fortunately it was a quiet life-a life with an excellent school district that benefitted my daughters, a life filled with dear friends, and many memories and strife-in other words-life. The hardest part was leaving lifelong friends, but we all make an effort to visit each other, and most assuredly we stay in touch.

When the decision came to move, I wanted something a little more mobile, certainly more urban. I love to walk and wanted to be able to do so. Driving for me was never a delight, and always a chore, one I dislike immensely.

Alexandria was perfect, it is at once urban and suburban. Filled with history, a quaint and charming old town packed with restaurants, boutiques, antique shops,  historical buildings and tourists. A gorgeous water front, with easy access to DC, just a hop on the Metro, and within 20 minutes  the National Gallery beckons. Did I mention, all the Smithsonian museums are free to the public.

A water taxi and 20 minutes later the giant Ferris wheel beckons at the National Harbor, MD.

The best part, most of the sites in Alexandria are within walking distance for me, that includes the Alexandria Harbor, that also boasts a converted torpedo factory that now houses 82 studios and artists, and 7 galleries, the studios/galleries are open to the public free of charge. It is heavenly.

I find the vitality of urban life, the sound of cars and sirens, the Metro going by, construction- all exhilarating and life affirming. There is soul pulsing in this city, it is a tourist town that generates excitement because of its history and many landmarks, it is a business center. It is home.

The National Science Foundation is building its headquarters here, along with NSF, new condos and apartment buildings are rising fast to accommodate the influx of new blood. An announcement from TSA indicated that they’re moving their corporate headquarters to our area in 2017...more urban reality.

I posted a few pictures from Alexandria for you to enjoy.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice

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6. Travel Tips by Margot Justes

Travel can be exhausting, and I hear from many people how tired they are of packing and planning, and then there is the actual travel itself. I try to simplify my travel as much as I can.

I love the planning part, that is not a problem for me. There is a tremendous amount of information available on the internet. Yes, it does take time, but for me that is part of the fun of travel. The only part I dislike is the going to the airport and getting on the plane. It is no longer enjoyable. Oiled sardines have more freedom in the can than passengers in the plane.

I already booked back to back cruises that will take me to Rome in October, 2016. It is easier to budget, if you can plan in stages, and I can always cancel until the end of August and get a full refund. I check the prices weekly, and if there is a lower rate for my cabin category, I call the cruise line and ask for the lower price; it depends on availability and if indeed the price is lower for the cabin category.

An upgrade can be requested up until departure, however there are no guarantees. I’ve had reductions in price, but have yet to receive a ‘free’ upgrade. So far I have only cruised Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, they are sister companies. These are Celebrity cruises, and I’ve accumulated enough points to receive a few perks, every little bit helps.

If travelling to Europe, I always spend at least two days in the port city. I look for hotels, and check to see if description meets my criteria-central in town, and easy walking distance to a few sites. I love to walk, and European cities tend to be walking cities.

Generally I book through the hotel, there is a better chance of an upgrade. If there is a membership involved, I join. I’m registered with Marriott, SPG, IHG, Hilton and Hyatt. Sometimes boutique hotel have terrific deals. I never rule anything out.

In some cases, places like Expedia might have a special price; it is best to check a few sites on line. Do your research.  One thing I found out, you will not get the nicest room if you book through a second party, but sometimes the price is considerably lower and well worth it. Best to check all possible sources.

I always request breakfast with room. This way I don’t spend time looking for a place to eat in the morning. It is easier and more expedient for me, and they tend to be a delight. A leisurely breakfast, usually accompanied by a terrific coffee is a wonderful beginning to a full day.

The next thing I do is book the flight, usually a month before the trip, but I start watching the prices two months before departure. I’ve read that Tuesdays are a good day to book the flight, but that has not been my experience.

There is not much wiggle room. I watch the prices on a couple of airlines, and when they seem low enough I book them. I don’t gamble, but when booking a flight I consider it a crap shoot. They go up and down minute by minute.

There are a few ways to save, your earned miles, or points through a credit card.
I have a credit card that gives me travel points.  I don’t track my miles at all, because it is a huge hassle to book a flight using miles; I feel as if I’m at the mercy of the airlines. It doesn’t work for me. Usually the most direct route is best if at all possible; the fewer transfers the better, the less chance your luggage will ultimately wind up in a different city, or sometimes a different continent.

I always check the various sites advertising lower rates, but they all quote similar prices to the actual airlines. Most airlines won’t give you miles if you book through a second party. The same applies to hotels.

Whenever possible, I like to arrange my airport transfer ahead of time. Rome is the perfect example. I’ve used RomeCab before. I just send an e-mail with the flight information, hotel information, and pick up time from hotel to port. They’re reliable, and I know they’ll show up at the airport with my name on a placard. It’s easy, and I don’t have to wait in a long line for a taxi. The price is about the same as a cab ride. There is no pre-payment involved, just a cash payment upon arrival in hotel, and I know up front what the price will be.

The back to back cruises are booked, the InterContinental Hotel in Rome is one of my favorites, good location, right above the Spanish Steps, walking distance to a few sites, and I have SPG points I’ll be using. The breakfast buffet is delicious, and the coffee superb. A couple-usually more-cappuccinos in the morning is a delight, and start the day beautifully.I already have the hotel and the cruises booked. 

Two weeks before the trip, I make a list of things I’ll need. I’ve always had this dream that  my passport is lounging at home, while I’m the airport.  I pack light, and set everything I think I’ll need on my dresser. By the time I’m ready for a suitcase, the pile is considerably smaller, and ready to go in.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice

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7. Travel by Margot Justes

This year,  along with a move from an apartment to a condo, I’ve gone back several times to Illinois for special occasions, and to visit friends. Along with those hops, I’m also going to the Georgia Romance Writers conference in Atlanta this coming October. On the way back I plan to stop in Asheville, and visit the many art galleries that have found a home there. Then it will be time for the beginning of the holiday season and family. This year time seemed to disappear.

I did book back-to-back cruises from Rome in 2016 that will take me to Portugal, Spain Turkey, a few Greek Islands, and Israel-with a stop in Haifa. I plan to visit Mt. Carmel and a certain boarding school where I spent 2 years in my youth. Amazingly enough, it is still there.

I tend to travel light, I’m not as young as I used to be, and lugging heavy suitcases is a pain, literally and figuratively. I have an expanding suitcase, that for some strange reason is fully expanded on the way back.

I have two grandchildren, and I bring back a few souvenirs, but am careful what I buy. Books tend to make the top of the list, paperback edition of the history of the area, local architecture, and of course there are many artists that display their works around popular tourist areas, and I tend to gravitate to that, of course t-shirts and hats, all that takes space. Thankfully I no longer hunt for espresso cups-I collect them-but with condo living, space is limited and I had to stop. That is why the suitcases expand on the way home.

I also have a gigantic purse that could pass for a suitcase, and put all my essential information there, passport, travel information, and anything I can’t do without should my luggage get lost. I’m allowed a carry on, and that is packed with my small and light lap top, camera, Kindle, a spare change of clothes, travel book, and the allowed make-up accoutrements, along with anything else I’ll need. I also have a copy of my passport page-just in case, which I keep with me but not in the same place as my passport.

I never, never put anything valuable in my suitcase. I don’t travel with a lot of cash, and many credits cards. I take two credit cards, only because should something happen, I have another options I keep the telephone numbers of the cards, and use the hotel or cabin safe, if on board ship. It is not full proof, and I’m sure if anyone wanted to break in-they would simply destroy the safe-but as the saying goes-it keeps the honest people out.

I have a daily budget, the rest stays in safe, and I only take one credit card with me when touring, the other one remains in the safe. Money belts work well, and I have a small comfortable purse that goes over my shoulder, the purse is in front, so I can see it at all times, and I hang on to the straps. Best advice, is pure common sense, be aware of your surroundings.

Over the years, I have bought clothes that I can roll easily, and of course there are shoes. I love shoes, but have learned to pack them sparingly; one good and comfortable pair of walking shoes. I don’t worry if the shoes will match whatever I’m going to wear-never did-and won’t start now. I want to be comfortable and avoid blisters if at all possible. I do pack a box of band-aids, those things are expensive, especially on board ship.

I used to pack my gym shoes, because I love to walk on the jogging deck while on the ship, but now use the walking shoes for that as well-they have rubber soles and offer excellent support, and they are not as bulky as gym shoes. Notice I said walk-I do not run or jog-I walk. One pair of dress shoes, along with a couple pair of sandals that will do for short walks, or simply while on board ship, FitFlops work well.  A pair of dressy black pants, and a couple of sparkly tops for the formal nights on board ship, and by the way I roll them up too.

I don’t pack an outfit or two for each day, I pack mix and match outfits, and always remember there are laundry facilities in hotels and cruises-should the need arise. The laundry prices in hotels tend to be expensive, but in an emergency, it’s there. I also remind myself how much airlines charge for overweight luggage-that cures me of even thinking of over packing.

If you cruise enough, and join their frequent cruising club, eventually you’ll get a laundry allowance or discounted prices on board ship.

I have seen people bring a few suitcases per person when boarding a ship, and always wonder where they are going to put all that stuff-the cabins are small, and storage space is limited.

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
Blood Art
A Fire Within

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8. Blessings by Margot Justes Redux

How often do we take the time to just whisper thank you to one in particular. Just a whispered thank you. How often do we count our blessings? How often do we take the time to just relax?  How often do we smile for no reason at all? I think we should, on a daily basis. If we did that, we’d see how lucky we are, because there are always others that are worse off.

We get on with our daily lives, but most of us are blessed, sure enough we have problems, various ills, issues at work, with friends, all the daily stuff that I call drudge stuff, but it is in fact life. It is what makes most of us who we are, weak or strong, or somewhere in between. We deal with what life throws at us to the best of our ability without hurting others.

With age comes wisdom, or at least that is what everyone says. Wisdom to take a breath and say thanks, wisdom to know the difference between what is important, and what is superfluous.

I’ve always had the philosophy that you should do what you can now, tomorrow is not guaranteed. Don’t wait to call family and friends. Don’t wait to do what makes you happy; take that road trip, read that book, visit that family member or friend. Stay connected whatever way possible to the people important in your life, and don’t let minor disagreements destroy those human connections.

We’re so hooked on those electronic connections and gadgets that we lose sight of what matters. You go to lunch with friends, sit down and check your phone, start texting, or worse, make a phone call.  Wasn’t it the idea to go to lunch with friends-sans the electronic equipage-is it really that important to check that phone? Don’t we get a break, maybe more to the point do we want that break? I know I do. Am I missing something, or is it just the age difference. You know, the with age comes wisdom adage.

Last week, I was walking out of Macy’s and a young thing bumped into me at the door, she didn’t even know I was there, didn’t look up, just plowed ahead. She was busy texting, and what was more telling, she didn’t even apologize. Must be the age thing.

On that note, we should smile, take a breath, and be thankful for what we have, and the things that matter. Others are not so lucky.

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
Blood Art
A Fire Within

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9. Magical Venice by Margot Justes

I’m immersed in Venice. My latest release is set there. Memories of my trip are flooding back, and I hope to return next year.This is a city that has captured my heart and soul.

Venice is mystical, its magic powerful, and just walking along the narrow ancient streets allows your imagination to soar. The eerily lit side streets, the reflecting glow in the canals and ancient brick walls, summon you forth. You cross an old bridge and you wonder who else walked along the same path.

Was it Casanova? His face covered by a mask as he celebrated Carnivale, and waited for a damsel. Such is the evocative power of Venice. Steeped in history and romance, the stunning architecture,  the art, and the beautiful tranquil canals, all pull together to form this magical place called Venice.

The Grand Canal flows majestically, along the way, palaces and homes seem to float in the water, as the famous Rialto Bridge stands guard. It’s an evocative place to be sure. It’s a place where you can get lost in the history, go back in time, daydream, and imagine as things were, and still come back to the present and enjoy delicious coffee, black pasta and incomparable gelato.

If you like glass, Venice offers that too, many buildings and hotels show proudly their Murano masterpieces. If you want to see for yourself, visit a furnace, or a gallery,  Murano is thirty minutes away by vaporetto, and fifteen minutes by water taxi. A beautiful way to travel on the Grand Canal.

I’m looking forward to my return trip to a mysterious and magnificent city. If you want  more of Venice, I posted a rather lengthy travel article on my website on the travel page.

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks

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10. A Hotel in Venice-First Chapter by Margot Justes

I thought I'd share the 1st chapter of my latest release, and a little bit of Venice with you. 
It is truly a magical and mystical city.       

Chapter 1
The stars seemed to follow the black gondola as it flowed along the
Grand Canal, and in the distance, a dark and narrow passage beckoned
for a romantic interlude.
            Iridescent shards glistened in the moonlight. The golden glow and
the ripples in the water reminded Minola Grey of Shelley’s poem
Love’s Philosophy. “And the moonbeams kissed the sea.” As the
gondola glided along the canal, the old palazzos, one building after
another, appeared to sway with the hushed tones of the lapping water.
Peter Riley had wanted some peace and quiet and asked the
gondolier to choose a less travelled way along a narrow and more
intimate path.
            “Welcome to Venice, Miss Grey.” Peter’s finger traced the line of
her cheekbone and then her neck. “I'm very much in love with you,” he
whispered in her ear and felt her lean into him. This was the way it
should be, just the two of them together. Alone. Nothing stood in their
way. They were in Venice for a wedding. Theirs. Minola loved glass
and art. Because of the Biennale Art Festival and Murano, another
island world-renowned for blown glass that was only fifteen minutes
away by water taxi, they had chosen Venice as the perfect destination.
            Minola Grey turned toward him and brushed her lips against his,
the touch whisper soft. “I’m very much in love with you, too.
Anywhere with you is romantic, but Venice is magnificent.
Incomparable,” she purred like a contented kitten, nestling deeper into
his arms and gazing across the canal.
            He was completely absorbed in the peaceful moment, until Minola
tilted her head away from him and murmured in his ear, “Peter. Isn’t
that strange?” She pointed above her head at the pier and stared at what
seemed like a mound of multi-colored mosaics. From her vantage
point, the glass appeared to be a colorful blanket. “It’s like a sculpture,
sort of.”
            “Miss Grey, may I remind you we’re in a gondola in Venice. The
moon is shining.” He ran his fingers over her cheek once again, his
touch firm and persuasive. “I’m caressing your face. We’re together.
You, Love of my Life, should be looking at me, not glass. I know, after
our visit to Murano, you have glass on your mind, but really, where is
your sense of romance?”
            “Peter, I’m sorry. I am romantic. You tell me I'm romantic when we
            “Love? Yes, you are. Passionate and romantic, you turn my world
upside down, and not just when we make love. However, now would be
a good time to slip into that romantic mood again.” His lips curved up
in a smile. He couldn't help himself. Everything she did made him
smile, with the exception of getting into trouble and endangering her
life. She had an uncanny talent for finding bodies, and the end result
terrified him.
            They had met in Paris. He was with Interpol, and his money
laundering case almost cost Minola her life. In Bath, her life was
threatened, and worse, he couldn’t control her impulse to help. Peter
loved his work—he excelled at it—but now he focused on keeping the
woman sitting beside him safe from harm. That was not as easy as it
appeared. She was a remarkable artist who knew how to get into
trouble and could never deny anyone’s cry for help.
            “But, Peter, it’s unusual. I know we’re on the Grand Canal. Well,
we turned and are now on this lonely, dark, narrow, and romantic
canal—okay, sort of an alley, except that this is Venice and it is a canal.
Just take a peek…” Minola Grey would not let go and pointed again to
the glass enclosure when she heard Peter groan.
            “I'm sorry. But…but…” She stuttered.
             “Minola, what am I going to do with you? We have moonlight, a
dark intimate canal in front of us, a lantern, and a gondolier who is not
going to sing to us. A perfect setting.”
            “Perfect setting? For what?” she asked, still captivated by the
colorful display on the pier, and she moved closer to the edge of the
gondola so she could see better.
            “You’re going to reduce my vocabulary to Arrgh.” Peter’s voice
sounded resigned. He motioned to the gondolier. “Roberto, please bring
us closer to that pile of glass, whatever it is.” Peter watched as the
gondolier expertly used his foot and a wall to push off so he could
maneuver his gondola as close to the pier as possible, allowing Peter to
step out. “Stay put,” he ordered as she tried to follow him. “I mean it.”
            He gazed back at her and frowned. “Stay.”
            Minola bristled at the order. “I'm not a doggie.” She glanced at his
resolute expression and grudgingly replied, “Fine. I won't budge.”
Minola settled back in the gondola and saw Peter bend down.
Tiny pieces of glass were molded together to form what appeared to
be a blanket for whatever was underneath. The center was well-crafted,
and the colors brilliant. The edges, not finished well, were sharp and
haphazard. Suddenly, he felt those goose bumps on the back of his neck
that told him more than just glass rested on the secluded dock.
            “I have a bad feeling about this,” he murmured.
            “Peter, did you say something?” Minola raised her voice to be
heard. She rarely shouted and found the sound unpleasant. Her
preference lay in peaceful contemplation and quiet conversation. Loud
noises did not appeal to her gentle soul, and she avoided situations that
involved screaming and throngs of people. Even her art exhibits were
tempered, and Peter made sure she was protected at all times. He
understood her and would do anything to keep her from harm.
Anything. She appreciated that, but often did not agree with his
assessments and his need to shield her.
            “Stay put. I’m going to be a little longer.”
            “Nooo… not without me. I’m not staying in the gondola alone.”
             “You’re not alone. I’m right here, and so is Roberto.” Peter stooped
down and viewed the bizarre sight. The flashlight on his cell helped
him to see the blood around the base of the glass. He pointed the light
toward the edge of the pier and saw the blood trail lead to water.
Peter tried to lift the hefty glass, and using both hands, he could
hardly budge it. Straining hard, he lifted the mound a tiny notch,
enough to tell him all was not well. The familiar stench that reached his
nostrils caused him to instinctively control his breathing. He'd
recognize the odor of a decomposing body anywhere. The sweet acrid
smell, the reek that defies description but lingers long after, told him a
body was hidden underneath the glass sarcophagus. He turned, quickly
stepped down, and boarded the gondola before calling the police.
            Peter’s bleak expression told her all she needed to know. “Peter,
that’s a body covered by glass, isn't it? A dead body?"
            “Are there any others?” he quipped, running his hand down her arm
for support. “The police are on the way.”
            “What would it be doing there? This is Venice. A piece that large
had to come from a big furnace. Are there large furnaces in Venice? I
thought they all moved to Murano centuries ago.”
            “I don’t know. You’re the glass expert. That is why we spent so
much time in Murano, isn’t it?” His voice was short. He was in
unfamiliar territory, and at the moment, he had no contacts in Venice.
None that would allow him access to this investigation.
            “No, we came here on vacation, to be together, visit a friend, a few
galleries, and see Murano,” she spoke softly, afraid she ruined their
time together. “We came here to be married.”
            “So far, we haven't spent much time together. You've been busy.” A
muscle flickered in his jaw, and he felt himself tense. “And now we
won't have much peace.”
            “I know. I'm sorry. I wanted to visit the Castigli family. They are
friends, their furnace produces exquisite glass, and Jennifer needed to
talk.” She saw his reaction and bit her lip until she tasted blood, a habit
indicating her nerves. Licking her lips and swallowing, she looked up
and found Peter's gaze focused on her mouth.
             “Yes, I know. I was there…with you. How quickly you forget.” His
reply was curt. Nothing good was going to come out of this.
            “I didn't forget. Peter, I'm sorry.” She bent her head down to hide
the sorrow. She’d hurt him, something she never wanted to do. “I
always know when you're with me.” She took his hand in hers and
touched his palm, hoping to erase the pain she caused. “Peter, I always
            “You might want to let me know once in a while.” Peter looked out
to the Grand Canal and the narrow canal where they now found
themselves docked, gazing at the beauty surrounding them. The various
lanterns and lit homes that lined the Grand Canal reflected a burnished
glow in the water as a vaporetto, the typical utilitarian mode of travel
used by locals and savvy tourists alike, sped by. Even the standard
public transportation was romantic.
            He raised her hand to his lips, the embrace as soft as a gentle
breeze. Above all else, he loved the woman sitting next to him. His life
changed for the better when they met in Paris after she became
involved in a murder investigation. His murder investigation. She
bloody well wrapped herself around his very soul and very nearly died
in the process. It must not happen here. She would not become
involved. Despite his firm resolve, he knew she would help, and he, in
turn, would follow her anywhere to keep her safe.
            “Always. I promise. Peter, you do know that I'm in love with you.
That I'm yours and always will be.” She brushed her lips against his
cheek. The touch was at once gentle and erotic. The spark against her
fingertips as she touched him reminded her of their first meeting, and
her volatile and intimate reaction to him. She would later learn he had
an English and an American education. He could read people well, and
that made him excel at his job.
            “That's better.” Once she allowed him into her life, he never
doubted her love and commitment to him. His always savage response
to her when they were together was tempered by her gentleness. He
wanted her at all times, something he never imagined possible. The
more he knew her, the more he loved and the more he wanted. How is
that feasible?
            “Peter, you don’t think this is connected to the missing master glass
blower or the problems at the Castigli Furnace, do you?” The words
slipped before she had a chance to stop them. During their earlier visit
to the Castigli furnace, her friend Jennifer had been distracted. One of
her employees had not shown up for work for over a week, and Jennifer
knew he wouldn’t leave without saying a word. They were working on
a project together, and Minola’s inquisitive nature just couldn’t let go
of the mystery. “We're not in Murano, and I'm imagining things. There
are many furnaces in Murano.” A shadow of alarm touched her face.
            “No, this is Venice. This is where I wanted a romantic gondola ride
with the love of my life. This is where I wanted to…Damn it; you just
had to find a body,” he groused.
            “This is where you wanted what?” Minola asked.
            “I’m not going there now. We’re waiting for the police, and we
have to tell them we found a body. We’re out of our element here, Miss
            “Why? You’re Interpol-that means International Police. Venice is
            “Not funny, Miss Grey.” He shook his head and replied smoothly,
            “I have no contacts here at this time.”
            “Shouldn't you have international contacts?” Her voice was fragile,
uncertain. She didn't want to inflict additional strain on their
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11. A Tourist in Chicago by Margot Justes

My recent trip to Chicago was to a wedding at the historical Warwick Allerton Hotel.
It reminded me of the rich and wondrous architectural history in Chicago.

Not only is the hotel an historical treasure, but the management took great care in providing an elegant venue, delicious food and wonderful service. The wedding was truly a memorable occasion.

The hotel was designated “an official Chicago Landmark” by Mayor Richard Daley in June 1998. Built in 1922, and opened in 1924, it is a Northern Italian Renaissance Revival design and it is opulent and rich with wonderful windows, marble floors, and with incredible views of the city from the reception ballroom.  It was the first 25-story skyscraper built on North Michigan Avenue.

The Tip-Top-Tap lounge that served as host to Don McNeill’s nationally broadcast “Breakfast Club” was closed in 1961, but the neon sign remains and is an iconic reminder of the rich history of the building.

If your taste runs to architecture, you won’t be disappointed, there are many more fantastic buildings. A simple walk along Michigan Avenue, will get you the Wrigley Building, and the Chicago Tribune; if you look closely at the Tribune building, you’ll see stones imbedded from many of the world’s greatest treasures, all are labeled from point of origin.  Even out latest mega Trump Tower, has the perfect location, overlooking the Chicago River, and can be clearly seen from the corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, and from the Allerton Hotel.

This is the city where Mies van der Rohe, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wight to name just a few built a few treasures.

The city has been called the windy city most probably because Chicago was trying to get the 1893 World Exposition, and as an ad campaign, the lake breeze was heralded as a city wonder. The more popular version is due to the politicians, and the hot air that continuously blows from City Hall. Either way, the name stuck. I personally prefer the more recent political version.

Chicago is multi cultural, vibrant, and has stunning architecture. Not a bad start to a city that is filled to the brim with world renown museums, an abundance of fine dining establishments, local eateries, a world renown orchestra, and theater productions that rival New York. I love this city, and play tourist whenever time allows.

My favorite museum is the Art Institute, beautifully situated on Michigan Ave-the Grand Avenue-that gives Fifth Avenue, and the Champs Elysees, a run for their money. The wide sidewalks are lined with pots of flowers, trees and miniature gardens, decorated for every season. Along with occasional sculptures, from cows to couches. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes serious, but always fun to see.

There are many museums, but only a few have the envied lake shore location; the Field Museum, the Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium are aligned in the ‘museum complex’ in close proximity, and are a must see. All this can be yours, within walking distance , if you really like to walk, or a short bus, taxi, car, or trolley ride.

If your taste runs to modern art, just a bit off Michigan Avenue is the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Don’t forget State Street, and the loop area that has been greatly revitalized, visit the Macy’s store, that once was the great Marshall Field’s, and to me always will be.

There is the Buckingham Fountain, Millennium Park, an architectural gem, and the over used word  world renowned. The building costs of Millennium Park went way over budget, but the park has become a main tourist attraction. We have Grant Park, and an amazing lakefront, and bicycle paths everywhere you turn. Not to mention ethnic food galore; I don’t think there is an ethnic food you can think of that you won’t find in Chicago.

On the south side of the city we have the Oriental Museum, and the interactive Science and Industry Museum. This city has it all, and at a slower, more relaxed pace than New York.

I listed just a few of the main central tourist attractions, that by no means limits the rich cultural history that abounds in many neighborhoods in this city. This is just a brief glimpse of what Chicago has to offer.

I haven’t even mentioned the fantastic food choices.

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
Blood Art
Hearts and Daggers

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12. Murano Glass by margot Justes

Murano is world renown for blown glass, and since I just finished A Hotel in Venice, and the story deals with the intrigues of blown glass, ancient formulas and secrecy. I thought I’d share a visit to a Murano furnace with you.

Murano is 30 minutes by vaporetto (ferry) or a 15 minute water taxi ride from Venice. Murano has been in the glass business since the 13th Century. Afraid of fires, the political leaders of Venice, moved the furnaces to Murano.

The concierge at the hotel was able to arrange a private visit to the Schiavon Art Team. I have seen a working furnace before that was geared toward the tourists straight off the boat or the ferry, as it were, and I have stopped in many Murano and Venetian tourists shops, glass is always for sale. From little tourist trinkets, vases, lamps to magnificent chandeliers that cost thousands of Euros. 

For the most part the pieces are pretty similar in the shops, and geared toward the tourist trade. This furnace had some spectacular pieces of art.

I was totally unprepared for the sheer beauty and originality of the work, contemporary glass art work that came to life when properly lit.  I loved every piece I saw, they were not the common pieces sold everywhere you turned, but unique pieces with astounding colors and textures.  Terrific variation of African baskets with dark reds, black and tan deep opaque colors that if not touched would pass for a woven basket. The work is sublime.

Not only was I able to watch a master glass blower at work, I was also allowed to take all the pictures I wanted. Starting with the furnaces, the annealing area or drying room, polishing room and the galleries. The host and designer and master blower-that is rather a rare combination-was willing to answer my questions, and assured me that secrecy still prevailed in the design and processes involved.

Some were custom pieces ordered by individual clients and businesses, but there were many pieces for sale in the gallery upstairs, as well as a gallery down the street from the furnace that is open to the public.

 It takes many years to become a master blower, and it is incredibly hard work. Try blowing through a tube and shape a piece of molten glass. If it’s your first try, your face will turn beet red from the effort-but the master blower makes it look effortless. 

The visit was a most memorable and inspirational experience, one I will always cherish, that being said-I want to go back and revisit.

I have included a few pictures, hope you will find then as incredible and beautiful  as I did.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Fire Within

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13. Close to Home by Margot Justes

Often times it is delightful to play tourist in your own neighborhood, and rather easy to postpone visits if one is close. I live in an area that is rich in American history, and am finally taking advantage of it.

Two weeks ago, a replica of the French Tall Ship Hermione visited Alexandria, Va.  Docked at the waterfront, it gave tourists and locals alike an idea of what life was like in the late 18th Century. Not only were people allowed to board the ship, but crew dressed in period garb walked about and gave lectures on the culture, presented exhibits of the navigation, even clothes of the period.

A living breathing taste of history, the kind that stays with you. The kind that makes you want to pick up a book and read more about it. The amazing rigging, the heights the sailors needed to reach to sail the ship to me looked terrifying, yet it was a matter of routine for sailors of the time, and I might add for the crew aboard the replica as well.

The original ship sailed from France in 1780 bringing the Marquis de Lafayette to American shores to deliver a message to George Washington. Lafayette, a French military leader fought in the American Revolutionary War, and became an American hero. His efforts on behalf of the revolution are legendary, and many books have been written about his life. The exhibition brought the life of the adventurous Marquis to the forefront.

It took twenty year to build the replica, and it is on tour to celebrate the building of the replica, and to celebrate the momentous history that brought Lafayette to America.

To actually glimpse a bygone lifestyle, touch the clothes, imagine how difficult the life was, the hardships they endured and survived, and moved forward under extreme duress. That is something that should be cherished and never forgotten. That is history remembered.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Fire Within

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14. CT Commie Tiger Mommy: Robert Walker - a crime writer (blame it on Huck F...

CT Commie Tiger Mommy: Robert Walker - a crime writer (blame it on Huck F...: I am  pleased to welcome Robert Walker , an astonishingly prolific and charmingly daring (with a strong self-deprecation streak) crime write... Read the rest of this post

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15. New Cover for Blood Art by Margot Justes

A new cover for Blood Art, and of course I’d like to take this opportunity to share the first chapter with you.

 I loved writing it, and hope you enjoy reading it.

Chapter 1

Florence, Italy 1503

“I am a vampire, Leonardo.”
“I am well aware of that fact Nikolai, but you have the soul of an artist.”
“I repeat. I am a vampire. And make no mistake—I have no soul.”
As a course for survival, Nikolai lost his soul centuries ago, but there was no reason in belaboring the point. Leonardo da Vinci was entitled to his belief.
Nikolai stood in the middle of the cavernous room and looked around him. Flickering candles cast shadows on the walls. A massive wooden desk was shoved against bare brick, one end piled with old rags coated in deep and rich colors. Leonardo's palette lay on the floor recklessly abandoned, and paint splashes had spilled onto the wooden floor, filling the wide cracks between the boards. A stale oil smell permeated the room; used candles were everywhere, surrounded by mounds of spent wax. A few books were stacked up on the floor against another wall, one on top of the other. An old wooden chair pushed against a corner, stained with crimson paint; the cushion looked like a splash of blood. A tapestry covered the wall where a makeshift straw bed lay on the floor.
“I repeat. You, my dear friend, have the soul of an artist. Vampire or not.”
“I collect art, hence our deep and abiding friendship—all due to your masterful accomplishments. I have no other such talents. At least, other than being eternal, ageless, and have an uncanny ability to amass a fortune at every opportunity. Typical vampire standards; anything I want, when I want, and how I want. Staying alive for eons does allow one to become complacent. Despite the danger, eternal existence does permit certain pleasures. And for me, the building of a sizable art collection is most gratifying, and a venture which I intend to continue through the ages.” The brusque, low voice was mesmerizing in its intensity, and hid any emotion, any visible trace of anguish. He simply stated these facts as if they were nothing, and common.
Nikolai Volkov watched as Leonardo picked up burned out candles and stray brushes he had left everywhere.
“Nikolai, you support artists that are being ignored, ridiculed. You redeem us. You recognize ageless talent. I am egotistical enough to say that in the coming centuries I will survive through my art.”
“Of that I have no doubt. Again, that is why I collect your paintings; your drawings alone are incomparable. I know you will survive. And you will increase my wealth substantially.” Nikolai turned and looked at the various paintings leaning against one of the stone walls. In the corner canvases were stacked in no particular order, and next to them wooden planks.
Leonardo's studio was plain, utilitarian, and filled with finished and unfinished works of art, all of which Nikolai coveted and wanted to own. Possess.
“Yes, I am sure I will survive, but only through my art. You have and will continue to survive through other means. Ones I do not wish to think about.”
“I have paid dearly for my survival.” Nikolai touched his cheek, feeling the ridge of the deep scar on his face. That attack had been particularly brutal. The cut went all the way to the bone, and not allowed to heal. Lucrezia Borgia told him it would mar his stunning beauty and further bind him to her, both physically and emotionally. She was wrong on both counts. He considered the scar his badge of courage and tenacity.
His surreal beauty, as she had once described it, now marred by that one scar. A reminder of torture. A memory not to be forgotten. Vampires do not scar, yet that one single scar on his body remained, as if an omen of things yet to come. Centuries of memories all held within that singular ridged cut on his face that slashed down to his very soul. The one he claimed not to have.
He was tall, over six-foot-three, with hair black as night. His eyes were as blue as sapphires and frigid as the Arctic ice. Nikolai was built hard, like Michelangelo's David, and just as cold.
The lethal combination fostered first and foremost fear from man and demon alike. And admiration, from women. All women. He never lacked for company. Yet, they all left him unsatisfied, and yearning for something he didn’t understand.
“Leonardo, will you paint a portrait for me?” Nikolai spoke quietly, staring at a painting stacked against a wall, his back to Leonardo.
“No. Not me.” Nikolai replied, his bleak smile was more of a grimace that did not reach his eyes. “This will be from memory. My memory.”
“Does she mean something to you? I assume you are speaking of a woman.”
“Yes, I was. And yes, she meant something to me.” He ran his finger along the jagged scar.
“Ah, I see. I gather she was not a pleasant memory.”
“You gather correctly.”
“I will do it for you. Tell me everything you know about her. Every single memory. Every movement. Everything you remember. Give me a perfect description of the mysterious woman. It will be my gift to you.”
“I do not wish to keep the painting.” Nikolai visibly shuddered at the thought. “You may do with it what you will. Burn it in hell for all I care.” His reply was savage.
“I see.” Leonardo replied thoughtfully, rubbing his chin. “Why do you want me to paint it?”
“To exorcise a demon. One among many.”
“Do you wish to discuss it, my friend?”
“No. Just paint the damn thing. You will be well paid.”
“No,” Leonardo replied vehemently, shaking his hand in the air. “There will be no money changing hands. I will paint it. I will not burn it; I will sell it. I do have a payment to demand of you. Once I am done, I expect to hear why I painted it. That is my demand. Do you agree?”
“Yes, damn you. I will agree to your terms. Your absurd demand.”
“Why absurd? She obviously damaged you. I would have to be an idiot not to recognize the symptoms. And I am not an idiot.”
“Yes, I am fully aware that you are not an idiot. You should be terrified of me. Yet you are not. You reason things out. You think. A vampire, even in your century, should horrify you. Yet, I do not.”
“You terrify me, all right. Your power. Your strength. Your ability to kill without thought. Your survival through the centuries. Your knowledge of the past. Yes, you alarm me, my friend.”
“Alarm…that is a milksop statement. Leonardo, look at your own drawings. You see what is to come. What does that say about you? Your work foreshadows the future. It is there, in your drawings.” Nikolai pointed to a canvas leaning against a wall. “You are more than an artist; our long discussions have proven that. You are a genius. A man of re-birth. You, here and now, could be considered demonic. That is how some would interpret your work.”
“I will ignore that. It is safer not to discuss people and their survival methods—it might be misunderstood. Fortunately for me, my work is not well understood. Most everyone sees a painting or a drawing, nothing more. Perhaps they even think I am mad. A simple man cannot interpret what I imagine simply by looking at my work. That is indeed very good for me.” Leonardo sighed. “Now, let us get back to your description of the woman.”
“Have I touched a sensitive spot?” The vampire asked, sarcasm dripped from every word.
“Yes.” Leonardo hissed between his teeth. “Now, give me the damn description.”
“Paint her as you would a beloved portrait. Make her mysterious. Enigmatic. Serene. Perfectly poised to attract attention. Paint her as the central and pivotal person in the scene. In fact blur everything else. Nothing should matter much save her face and hands. Long, beautiful fingers, elegant hands with perfect skin, relaxed. Incapable of hard work. Make her look innocent. Wistful.” Nikolai stopped speaking, and again touched his face along the line of the scar.
“Make the damn demon, the savage beast…saintly. That will be the joke for centuries to come. Paint it dark, yet give her light. A shimmer, so that she almost glows. Make her irresistible. Give her eyes that damn the soul. Eyes that see beyond the present. Is that enough for you?” Nikolai demanded.
“Yes. Do I have leave to choose the color of her hair and eyes?” Leonardo asked quietly, captivated by Nikolai’s mesmerizing voice and the tortured memories he was reliving.
“I do not care what color you choose. Dark is what I desire.”
“It shall be done. You want her to look enigmatic, a mystery through the ages. How is that for conceit? She will survive centuries, whereas I will die.”
“You, my friend, will be reborn every time someone looks at your work. But you already know that. Your art will speak for you for eternity.”
“Let us continue as we have in the past, Nikolai.” Leonardo preferred to ignore rather than acknowledge the reality of his existence. “Your life is eternal. You do not age. Let us leave it at that. Be careful not be recognized, it might endanger you.”
“I am four hundred years old. Through the centuries of battles, corruption, and betrayal, no one pays any attention to whether or not I age. Everyone is consumed with their own survival. I expect that in the future, I shall need to take better care.”
“Take better care, but live. Even if you cannot be killed, live as you have done in the past.” Leonardo spoke softly, as if afraid of being overheard.
“I aim to live better, and I can be killed; one just has to know how. I certainly do not discuss that aspect of my survival. I am alone, removed from my clan. Solitary, my lair and art my only comfort. It has been this way for centuries and, make no mistake, Leonardo—it is a lonely existence. You, my friend are a true master and you bring me a great deal of pleasure. Someday your work will be priceless. Look at your drawings. See the things I see in your work. You behold the future in front of you.”
 “Indeed.” Leonardo dismissed Nikolai's predictions with a wave of his hand. “I may need you again, after I begin the portrait, of course.” Leonardo spoke absentmindedly, stretching his fingers, already thinking about the unusual commission.
“Of course, I am always available to you. How will you explain the mystery woman?” Nikolai's curiosity got the better of him.
“I will not. There will be rumors. A model. A mistress. A wife. A requested portrait by a well to do merchant.  I myself will perpetuate said rumors,” Leonardo replied, a wide smile lining his face.
“Brilliant, Leonardo. As I have said, your work will be priceless.”
“Do you wish to change your mind and purchase the portrait?”
“No.” Nikolai shuddered, turned, and slammed the massive door behind him. He took a deep breath, a normal human reaction one he'd used so frequently that he no longer even thought about it. He walked outside and realized that had his heart been beating, it would have stopped at the mere suggestion that he keep the portrait of his tormentor and captor. Damn the Borgias. All of them.
Nikolai walked to his lair and thought about his life, lost in memories of long ago. He heard a rustle of leaves, a shrill scream, and then silence. His speed was as fast as the wind, and as quiet as death. He reached a man kneeling over the body of a woman. She lay on the ground, unconscious, her face bloody and leg twisted unnaturally, her arms outstretched. The man reached to lift her torn skirt. Nikolai lost all veneer of civility, his fury reflected in his blood-red eyes and extended fangs. He showed no mercy.
He grabbed the man, then effortlessly lifted him off the ground and threw him against a tree. He heard a crunch but didn't bother to look back. He reached down and tenderly touched the bruise on the woman's face, her split lip where the man had obviously hit her with his fist. Nikolai's touch healed her. He straightened the leg and massaged it. She would have a few bruises, but nothing that would last more than a few days. He lifted her in his arms and carried her back to Leonardo's.
Leonardo would help the less fortunate, the few strays Nikolai occasionally brought him. He always did.
On his way home, hunger struck. His fangs lengthened, but he would not feed from the vermin he'd destroyed. He'd lure someone else.
Nikolai once again pondered his existence. He'd just destroyed a life and felt no remorse. He knew that if he had not interfered, the woman would have been raped and most likely killed. He felt nothing for the life he so easily extinguished. The bastard deserved it.
Alone, Nikolai had few friends, and he chose not to search for any members of his clan, or any other vampires. He'd had his suspicions about several people he knew, but preferred not to bring any attention to his own existence.
His path to emotional survival and redemption forbid getting involved in battles not of his own choosing. He searched for his salvation and ultimately some meaning to his eternal existence. His senseless killing sprees subsided long ago. Finished. Now he only killed when necessary. To end evil, be it human or otherwise.
Nikolai thought about his captor and tormentor, and as always waited for her to come after him. Addicted to his blood, Lucrezia would move heaven and earth to get him back. She could do nothing else; the addiction was like a disease. He promised himself next time that she would not survive. He learned a great deal through the centuries, including how to outlast and outwait a demon. Patience. He had a great deal of patience for certain things. Eternity will teach you that, if nothing else.
Long ago, Nikolai escaped from his torments. He emerged into putrid air contaminated with lost souls, but he was free. Alone. No longer a captive to be tortured against his will. No longer raped. No longer beaten. No longer slashed and starved. She taught him to kill without thought, whether for revenge or retribution. He did not care; he had killed to gain physical and mental freedom.
The paintings and sculptures he'd gleaned while still a captive brought him salvation. Those pieces he took from her as payment for his suffering. She paid a heavy price for the abuse she gave, and in his mind, she would forever be a living nightmare. Her name was indelible in his memory: Lucrezia Borgia.
He'd called her the demon queen of torment, for indeed she knew how to inflict the utmost pain. The rack became a pleasure in comparison to what else he'd suffered. His limbs were stretched and pulled, his life's blood spilled, and still that wasn't enough for her. She'd turned him to keep him forever young, make him hers to use  as she pleased. Lucrezia became addicted to him, and that was her folly. His doom. Her ultimate mistake.
Once freed from her rule, and on through the ages, he saw redemption in art and the painters and sculptors who made a difference in the art world. The geniuses of the centuries, like Leonardo da Vinci, one among so few.
Nikolai's speed increased. He was eager to reach his home atop a hill, his fortress built with massive stones and rocks that allowed for defense, along with an underground chamber where he could rest in peace, unencumbered by anyone or anything. The fortress was designed so that any room could be kept pitch black—the windows tiny, the glass that was there was thick and crinkly. The curtains were made from heavy brocade that blocked all sunlight and the world outside.
Priceless tapestries hung on the walls, for warmth that he didn't need, and the pleasure that he craved. The absolute joy of holding a canvas, or feeling the texture of a magnificent tapestry, was his salvation in life, offering comfort and contemplation.
Nikolai longed for peace and searched for the one woman who would matter, who would end the unbearable loneliness. In the meantime, he did what he could to make life better for others. He tried to hide the arrogance, the strength, and all the other characteristics, everything that comes with being a vampire. Not ashamed of who and what he was, but age has taught him the old adage that discretion was indeed the better part of valor.
Through the centuries, he added to his already enormous art collection, and added to his own power as a demon.
The instinct of the vampire to survive was always present and a huge part of his survival, but he adapted to humanity. His chosen style of solitude served him well. Over time, he learned not to kill to feed, but allow his victims to survive without ill effects, and without memories of his presence. He no longer destroyed unless threatened, but then he had no mercy, his brutality hidden beneath the veneer of sophistication and age-old wisdom. But the brutality existed when needed.
His countless properties were managed by people he trusted and of whom he took great care. His people were loyal to him beyond question, and from one generation to the next, they stayed and worked with him, providing a sense of family and belonging. A ruthless businessman, he was fair and honest in his dealings with others. Betrayal was not in his vocabulary. No one crossed him; the sheer power that emanated from his presence, his cold, frigid eyes that appeared to look through to the deepest and darkest secrets of an adversary, instilled fear in anyone that he came in contact with.
Through the lonely centuries he'd had a foreshadowing of a looming battle, one he'd personally have to fight.
The when, how, and where wasn't clear as yet, but he knew it was coming.

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Fire Within
Blood Art

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16. A Hotel in Venice Cover by Margot Justes

 I thought I'd share with you the cover for A Hotel in Venice, scheduled for release end of June, 2015.

A romantic gondola ride on the Grand Canal, a shimmer reflected in the moonlit night, and the beginning of murder and mayhem for Minola Grey and Peter Riley.

Margot  Justes

Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Blood Art
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks

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17. Gaudi in Barcelona by Margot Justes

If you love architecture, and whimsical work that makes you smile, feel happy and celebrate life, then there is no better place for you than Barcelona. That is where you’ll find Antoni Gaudi’s work, and where you will commune with nature in a most wonderful way.

There are the Dali, Picasso and Miro museums, but Gaudi’s work alone is worth a trip to Barcelona, many of his buildings were designated World Heritage Sites. In 1878 upon receiving his degree, the Director of the School of Architecture of Barcelona, said. “I don’t know if we have given this qualification to a madman or a genius, only time will tell.” Time has told, an unequivocal original genius.

Gaudi is considered a major contributor to the ‘Catalan Modernism’ style of architecture, and the leading proponent of the Art Nouveau movement, but the end result refuses to be qualified as anything but ‘Gaudi’. His style cannot really be classified, it’s unique, extravagant, original, earthy, beyond whimsy, and simply stunning.  

Gaudi was born in 1852 and died in a tram accident in 1926. His last days were spent at his most famous unfinished work, La Sagrada Familia. There is hope that it will be finished by the 100th anniversary of his death, in 2026. He left enough detailed information that the basilica can be completed, and with public donations it is a work in progress.

The interior of La Sagrada Familia is now open to the public, and the use of light from above and through the stained glass windows is mesmerizing. The columns reach the top to support the structure, and it reflects his love of nature, showing a dazzling and lively interpretation of a forest with branches reaching for the light.

His use of ceramic tile, wood, wrought iron, brick, colorful paint results in a stroll through a fantasy, as can be witnessed in the Pedrera, and Casa Batllo buildings, as well as La Sagrada Familia, and Park Guell, where a serpentine bench provides a respite, along with a pure sense of joy.

His work is truly amazing, and once you’ve seen it, you’ll want to see it again, and never forget it.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks

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18. Montserrat, Spain by Margot Justes

Barcelona is filled with amazing and whimsical architecture, Gaudi’s work is a prime example,  the people possess an unbound zest for life, there are world class museums, and of course delicious food.

Barcelona and the surrounding area is Catalan country, and to this day they are extremely proud of their Catalonian heritage, and many Catalonian flags could be seen flying from apartment windows in Barcelona. There was even a political movement for the Catalans to secede from Spain. 

A short hop away is the Montserrat Monastery. It is one of those places not to be missed. High in the mountains, about 38 kilometers from Barcelona, an hour by bus, and the ride itself is quite an adventure, slinking along a narrow street with twisting and tight curves that seem never ending.

There are a few ways to reach Montserrat, car, private limo, or bus. If you take the train,  you will need to take the cable car or rack railway to get to the top.  I decided it was best to leave the driving to the professionals and took a bus. Driving to Montserrat is not for the faint of heart, nor for that matter, riding in a bus.

At the highest point, about 1,236 meters above sea level, the view below is breathtaking. With steep rock formations the monastery is nestled beautifully into the mountains. The setting is glorious, and the views stunning wherever you turn.

There are quiet and peaceful garden areas, and many paths that allow for that  perfect silent, and contemplative walk. That being said, it is a huge draw, both for tourists and locals alike. It is considered a place of pilgrimage, that is what I was told by a local visiting couple.  

The monastery began about 1025, the rich archeological history dates back to 3,000 years BC. The credit for the monastery’s existence is given to Abbot Oliba, a powerful figure in Romanesque Catalonia.  An aristocrat, elected Abbot of Ripoll, and he along with a group of monks decided to build the monastery next to the chapel of Saint Mary.  

Beside the church, the monastery, a library, the meandering roads, beautiful gardens, and artistic treasures, there is also a hotel. I plan to go back and spend a night or two, the few hours I was there just wet my appetite for more.

At the time of my visit on a Sunday, the church was packed, it didn’t help that a noon performance by the boys choir happened at the same time. You could not squeeze in, it was truly filled to capacity and beyond. Packed solid-even a well oiled sardine would have had a problem. I got a glimpse of the ornate church, but couldn’t handle all the humanity, it took me fifteen minutes from the very back of the church to get out the door, and into fresh air.

There were a few tents set up on the main road, and local artisans sold their wares, the most prominent items displayed were the local delicacies, various cheeses, honey, hams and fig cakes. I can vouch for the local hams, cheeses and fig cakes. Positively yummy.

I just touched on Montserrat, if you find yourself in Barcelona, Montserrat is not to be missed. I still hope to spend a night-I’ll need to go back and do more research, my next hotel book is set in Barcelona.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Fire Within
and coming in June A Hotel in Venice

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19. Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar by Margot Justes

It is no secret I love cruising, for one it’s simpler and easier at this stage in my life than packing and unpacking, lugging suitcases from place to place. On the ship I unpack once, granted you only see a little bit, but at least it is a taste, and sometimes a day is enough.

On the third day at sea, the captain announced that tomorrow morning between 4 and 5 in the morning we would be crossing the Strait of Gibraltar,  and the Rock would be visible. I scheduled a wake-up call for 4:00, I didn’t want to miss it a second of this event. Yes, I know it’s just a rock, but what a magnificent one.

The Strait of Gibraltar connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.
It is largely believed that the Neanderthals considered it home as far back as 125,00- years ago, and as late as possibly 30,000 years ago. The history is significant, but on this trip, I was only going to see the big rock, not the tunnels and passageways, nor the flora and fauna.

I didn’t know what to expect, when you’re in the open sea, it’s pitch black at night, sometimes you see an island, dim lights twinkling in the distance, another cruise ship heading to a port, or a freighter chugging along, but darkness is routine. We were moving toward the Atlantic in November, cruise ships were heading somewhere warm, just like our ship was doing-the final destination was Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

I thought I’d be the only one out on deck, not so, many other souls were up, many were in pajamas, sweat shirts, comfort clothes fit for the occasion. For all of us the first call was to the ever present coffee machines. The crew was up, and along with the coffee a continental breakfast was served while we all awaited the big rock. The anticipation was great.

Even in the dark and the huge gap between the ship and the rock, it was still a monstrous hunk of stone, and even with lights twinkling everywhere, it was an eerie spot.

At five ten, we crossed the straits, and indeed the big pile of rock was there, it is huge even from a great distance. I have a couple of pictures mostly of what looks like a massive dense space surrounded by light.

After the crossing we were on the Atlantic Ocean, bound for Agadir, Morocco-tomorrow’s stop. As the saying goes there was quite a bit of motion from the ocean once we crossed from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.

Proof of the movement were the bags placed on the landings. Delicately phrased, people call them barf bags for a reason. Usually when the bags come out, I expect some pretty rough seas, and they didn’t disappoint.

It is really strange walking on deck when it’s windy and the seas are rough-it feels as if you either have lead feet or are floating on air. I lasted 20 minutes before I gave up, and actually had to sit down and rest for a few minutes. I was not alone on deck, there were a couple of other souls floating on air, or not, depending on the wind.

For the afternoon, the captain predicted fifteen feet swells, the bags were firmly in place and that included the elevators; otherwise it was life as usual on board ship. They believe in being prepared, and you know it’s serious when the crew couldn’t walk in a straight line-their  sea legs were firmly in place. 

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks

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20. Cartagena, Spain by Margot Justes

I love the Spanish cities I have visited in the past-all unique and all beautiful, and Cartagena, located in the Region of Murcia was no exception. 

A long maritime past and many cultures have left an imprint and a rich heritage that the locals are very proud of, and are hoping the rest of the world will soon discover. It is a city with a spectacular waterfront, and recently discovered Roman ruins that date back about three thousand years.

The Roman Theatre is a must see, along with some terrific Art Nouveau architecture, like the Grand Hotel, the Casino and City Hall to name just a few.  According to our guide, the ruins have seriously put Cartagena on the tourist map, and that is excellent news.
Funds are needed for additional architectural digs and discoveries. As recently as 1987 they found remnants of the Punic wall, and other treasures that date back to Hannibal.

The question of further digs is twofold, there are houses, businesses, and parks that rest on potential archeological treasures, and many who live on those sites would prefer to continue to do so, while others want the excavations to continue. It is not so easy to start digging, yet the sense of history and preservation is desirable, and besides ancient ruins tend to bring tourists in, and of course that builds the economy, but as always there are many sides to every issue.

Along with the recent discoveries, fortunately for Cartagena, they have a wonderful moderate climate, reasonable prices and lovely beaches to motivate the tourist industry. 
The development of the industry is still a work in progress, few tourist shops, except for the usual Flamenco dolls and the obligatory Cartagena stamped stuff.

However, there is progress if the one shop I visited is anything to go by. Our guide mentioned that the wine produced in the region was quite good, and recommended one store that would carry it. I looked for others in the main square but couldn’t find any. What I found instead was the glorious paseo, the wonderful Spanish tradition of a leisurely stroll on the boulevard. It seems everyone was out and that included the family pets.

The store sold some excellent local wines, tomato jellies, along with beautiful locally made pottery, and a few wine related trinkets. That was the only store I fund that sold locally produced items, reasonably priced and the pottery made for some beautiful gifts.

I also discovered a local liqueur, simply called Licor 43. The secret formula has 43 ingredients,  chief among them is citrus, fruit juices, with a hint of vanilla. It is luscious, and it is available on Amazon. I’m beginning to think everything is available on Amazon.

The owners were friendly and eager to expand their tourist trade, and were excited about their product. I was told that soon they will ship wines internationally, and they looked forward to growing their business.

Our tour guide went beyond the normal tourist offerings, and made sure we learned about his city’s important heritage and recently discovered ancient past.

The plaza is just down the street from the beautiful waterfront, I sat down in a cafe and enjoyed my obligatory coffee and the view.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks

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22. Lanzarote, Canary Islands by Margot Justes

Lanzarote is a volcanic island that dates back about 15 million years ago. Located on the African Coast it is uniquely part of Spain as are the other 6 Canary Islands, and yet border the African Continent. I only visited three.

You can tell immediately that it is a volcanic island, the terrain is pure black, and there is a crunch beneath your feet because you’re walking on tiny volcanic pebbles. This island has more than 300 volcanoes, and perfect weather year round, it is eco friendly and as a result it is a great tourist destination, it’s perfect for tourists looking for serenity and an unimaginable landscape.

The history is rich and goes back to Greek writers like Homer, Plato and Plutarch. The first known inhabitants were the cave dwellers Guanches who arrived somewhere in the 1st or 2nd century BC.  The first European visitor was Lanzarotto Marcello, who settled in the early 14th century. My guess is that is why the island is called Lanzarote. By the end of the 15thcentury, Spain had conquered all seven islands, and to this day they remain uniquely Spanish.

The first thing you notice is the black soil, the second is that all the houses are painted white, the doors and window trim must be either painted brown or green, or if you live by the sea blue. No other colors are allowed on the island.

There is only one high rise, or what is considered a high rise by locals-maybe 12 stories-rising like a lone needle from afar-they are no longer allowed to be build anything tall because of the possibility of volcanic eruptions. 

There is a magnificent cactus garden designed by a local resident and much beloved artist, Cesar Manrique. According to our guide, he is said to be the man who gave Lanzarote a future filled with potential and hope. The garden is designed in a quarry, it has the feel of a Roman theatre, surrounded by volcanic rock, iron gates, steps leading down, up, and long narrow passages, it is modern and totally captivating. It houses over 1000 species of cactus, along with a few of Manrique’s mobiles. The garden is truly breathtaking, modern, functional, so peaceful that you never want to leave.

There is a café on top with amazing views to the gardens below, and alongside the café a few steps down is a small gift shop. The coffee was delicious,
and the view from the cafe sublime. At the time that we were there the phone lines were down, and people couldn’t charge their purchases, they had some lovely books on the design and history of the garden. I have never seen a design like this before, it’s one of the most unique places I have visited-I took picture so I can share them with you.

The tour also included a visit to Cesar Manrique’s house, designed by him on 5 volcanic bubbles, basically big holes in the volcanic land. He used each bubble to create wonderful open spaces, sitting options, each one unique and vibrant. All were connected by narrow passages, painted a bright white.  He included a pool, small dance floor, sitting rooms, all were open to the environment, with plants, creative lamps, a magical place, he even had what would for us pass as a barbeque grill.

His own art collection is now part of the museum as well. He is much beloved in the area, and our tour guide pointed out several times that he was killed in a car accident, she even pointed to the exact spot on the roundabout, as we were heading to visit his home.

As an indirect result Lanzarote has a brand new highway system that is efficient and much safer. According to her there were many deaths on the old roads. There are no traffic lights but roundabouts are everywhere. It is a small community, deeply rooted to the volcanic earth, and Cesar Manrique helped bring that closeness about. Cesar Manrique was instrumental in making the people of Lanzarote aware of their unique and wondrous heritage.

We also visited an agricultural museum, El Patio. To call it a journey to the past would be perfect. The museum houses farming equipment that dates back to the 1840’s. We were treated to local goat cheese, green olives, homegrown tomatoes, along with crackers and the local wine. After which we fed the chickens, rooster and one peacock the leftovers, they patiently waited for us to finish.

A charming place, although I found the scarecrows dressed as the local old farmers, sitting in a dilapidated, run down old house that was dimly lit downright eerie.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks

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23. Gran Canaria by Margot Justes

The second island we visited in the Canary Islands was Gran Canaria, an island much more open to the present, visible oil rigs along the shore, and a modern approach to tourists, high-rises everywhere and beautiful beaches for tourists and locals to enjoy. Colors of homes and buildings were varied and plentiful. It is larger than Lanzarote and seemed for more cosmopolitan.

The island is volcanic in origin, and part of the island was formed somewhere around 9 million years ago, give or take a million, or two, or three...suffice it to say, it is indeed old.

Maybe as far back as 500 BC, the Guanches first settled in Gran Canaria. A varied and often brutal history followed, the island was finally captured with the help of Queen Isabella I, and the conquest helped expand unified Spain.

Las Palmas, is the capital city, founded in 1478, the history is simply amazing. It is a vital sea port, where about a thousand ships visit the port a month; anything from fuel ships, to cargo and cruise ships, and all sizes in between. 

Gran Canaria is touristy, and commerce seems to be thriving. The island is far greener than Lanzarote and doesn’t quite leave such a distinct and memorable impression.  It is more commercial, still exotic but ready for the summer onslaught of tourists. It is known as a “Miniature Continent” because of the different climates and landscapes found in a relatively small, round island that is approximately 50 km in diameter.

Whereas Lanzarote was a sleepy, quaint village style of an island, with an unforgettable landscape, Gran Canaria was lively, exuberant, celebrates Carnaval in a grand style, and
is ready for tourists even in late October. The cultural side is not at all neglected, and the Museo Canario, is an important and incredible archeology museum that depicts the history of the archipelago.

There is the potential of oil development, and several rigs were already in the port. In Tenerife, I later found out that the locals are opposed to the plan, and the prospect of the oil rigs occupying their ocean coast, but as our tour guide indicated, Madrid, the seat of political power thinks otherwise.

We took a hair raising bus ride to Cruz Tajeda (Cross of Tajeda), up 4,800 ft.  The roads are really narrow, the curves many, and every time we came upon a bend, the bus driver sounded his horn-because the bus could not be seen from the other side, and the road wasn’t big enough to share even with the smallest vehicle, and the bus wasn’t big to begin with. The views were fantastic, we even caught a glimpse of a kitchen of a modern cave dweller, the hole was small and it was too dark to take pictures.

We saw two rock formations that were supposedly worshipped by the Guanches, the first cave dwellers of the area. They, like the ancient Egyptians embalmed their dead, for a safe passage to the new life.  The next island of Tenerife, we saw some of the mummified remains in a museum.

As many know, cruising is my preferred way to travel now, and sometimes spending a day in one port is never nearly enough, but it gives me a glimpse of the area that in many cases I would not have had. Happy travels!

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks

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24. Tenerife, Canary Islands by Margot Justes

Tenerife, is the largest of the Canary Islands, and according to our guide has a population of about 800,000 people.

The capital and major port is Santa Cruz, that is where we docked and spent the day touring. It is a the major port of the island, and Santa Cruz has a population of about 220,000 residents.

It is bright, lively, like many tourist attraction there are beaches, high rises-at least high rises for a volcanic island-shops, gardens, restaurants along with many houses that have staircases that seem to climb up to infinity-a perfect venue for rest and relaxation. The climate and landscape are very diverse, and there are more things to see here than the other two islands I visited.

A short bus ride took us to the beautiful market, neatly laid out, one aisle after another offers produce, meat and sausages, cheeses, flowers, spices-you can stop for coffee and soak up the atmosphere. The items for sale seem never ending, and the aromas were divine, especially from the spice areas.

The next stop was the Archeological Museum that has impressive exhibits of the life and death of the Guanche society-the first inhabitants of the Canary Islands dating back to the 1st and 2ndcenturies BC.

A fascinating exhibit that lists many of the plants found on the islands, reminiscent of the Audubon style, they were beautifully drawn and labeled and framed. There is a knob on each of the framed exhibits and when you pull on the knob you open a door, and it has a picture or drawing of the discoverer of the plant. Very neat indeed. This museum serves as a learning center for all the schools in the Canary Islands. 

Our next stop was La Laguna, a World Heritage Site. Designated a site because of the buildings, the intrinsic layout of the city, its colorful and distinctive architecture and beautiful patios. Smaller than Santa Cruz, it is more intimate and somewhat less touristy.

We stopped and visited another market square, this one smaller and older, but equally charming. Then on to the Cathedral and a couple of the famous interior patios. We had a few minutes to shop and stop for coffee. I opted for the coffee and a wonderful local delicacy, fried bread that I swear had custard inside, it was soft, gooey and delicious.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
and coming in June A Hotel in Venice

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25. Barcelona, Spain by Margot Justes

I’m working on the fourth hotel book, and this one is set in Barcelona. It is a city filled with art, amazing architecture and an incredible zest and appreciation for life.Barcelona is exciting, vibrant and the locals know how to enjoy themselves, they possess the joie de vivre that is hard to miss, and often times hard to find.

The architecture is unsurpassed, modern and old blends well together, and of course there is Gaudi-it is worth a visit to Barcelona just to see his work. It is unforgettable. I loved it so much that I posted a separate blog about his stunning and imaginative style. The amazing thing is that once you see it, you want to do it again, and again, simply because you probably missed the marvelous details the first time through. His work is beyond whimsy.

There are museums to be sure, Miro, Dali and Picasso have a foundation in Barcelona. The stunning architecture will take your breath away, everywhere you turn you see a magnificent building, from Gothic to Art Nouveau to the indescribable Gaudi treasures, to contemporary and everything in between. Landmarks abound.

At any given time stroll on La Rambla, and you’ll see locals and savvy tourists sit down in a cafe and enjoy a beer, tapas, coffee, along with a dish of green olives, or just stroll arm in arm on the wide avenue that is both romantic, hectic and invigorating. There are many souvenirs shops that line the famous paseo, all the kitschy tourist stuff, pottery, foods and other items made locally, along with entertainment, and all of it delightful.

The street is filled to capacity, and I for one at this stage in my life don’t like crowds, and if truth be told-never did-but I really rather enjoyed the lovely walk, and a stop for the obligatory delicious coffee. I had a wondrous adventure just walking down the street. You see people smile, nod their heads in acknowledgement as you stroll along as if in a romantic dream.

The city also boasts a beautiful coast line, and one of the biggest ports in Europe, along with some beautiful parks, even one designed by Gaudi.

Have I forgotten to mention the food-it is delicious-they create a mouth watering delight   with just potatoes. Okay, I’m Polish and happen to love potatoes, but the Patatas Bravas are truly yummy, roasted potatoes, a yummy sauce with a slight bite that you feel on the tip of your tongue. The excellent bread and incredible local hams would have kept me happy for a long time.

A huge array of cheeses, hams, breads, olives, an amazing selection of fish, all that is available in many tapas bars. The offerings are small, so you can visit many places and taste the amazing variety of appetizers. A delightful and delicious way to sample the local cuisine.

Shopping abounds on Passeig de Gracia, favorably compared to other famous boulevards with prices to match. I enjoyed the walk, and window shopping, the displays are imaginative and fun, and I was grateful that I travel light with little room for souvenirs.
That being said, I managed to buy a few small trinkets for family and friends, the souvenir shop at the Gaudi Casa Batllo was amazing, and yes-all my souvenirs came from that shop.

There are many hotels and as always prices range from low to high, it all depends on your budget. You will find delicious and reasonably priced tapas bars off the main tourist areas, but if you’re in with the tourist crowds be prepared to pay. I do a bit of research  before I leave, but I always allow for a tourist trap or two.

I booked the Casa Fuster Hotel, on Passeig de Gracia 132, on my first visit, a beautiful hotel reminiscent of Gaudi’s work, the service was superb, the rooms a good size, the breakfasts superb, and  the staff always eager to help with directions and available tours, they were friendly and caring. I hope to return and stay there again.

The second hotel was the Majestic, also on Passeig de Gracia 68-70, was a little more centrally located-by just a few blocks from Casa Fuster. That being said, I would rather walk the additional 4 or 5 blocks than stay at the Majestic again, lack of overall service, and a snippy registration cured me of ever staying there a second time.

The Majestic staff lost interest after I didn’t want to book a private car to Montserrat to the tune of 600Euros. After a discussion on booking a reasonable tour failed, a short 10 minute walk took me to a travel agency, where I was able to book a round trip ride for 29EU that would take me to the Montserrat  Monastery for the better part of the day. It is a trip not to be missed. I’ll post a separate blog on the location-it is in the mountains and it is magnificent.

I’m a breakfast person, and tend to eat the meal at the hotel to save on time, and the breakfast at the Majestic was outstanding. I couldn’t have asked for a more varied or delicious selection, and the coffee was delicious, but the lack of care and concern from the registration staff ruined any chance of my return to the hotel.

Barcelona has it all, and is definitely worth a visit or two, or three.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks

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