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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. Tenerife by Margot Justes Redux

On the transatlantic cruise this November, I will revisit Tenerife, there is much more to see. In the meantime I thought I’d share my first impressions of this beautiful place.

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 the major port of the island, and Santa Cruz has a population of about 220,000 residents.

It is bright, lively, 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
A Hotel in Venice

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2. Thoughts of The Dark Fantastic: Book Review: CHICAGHOSTS#1: GONE GORILLA By Robert...

Thoughts of The Dark Fantastic: Book Review: CHICAGHOSTS#1: GONE GORILLA By Robert...: Let me get this out of the way first: I am a huge Robert W. Walker fan. Ever since I stumbled upon a paperback copy of the superbly ente... Read the rest of this post

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3. A Visit to Venice by Margot Justes

This article is posted on my website on the travel page. I love Venice, and wanted to share its magic here too. Hope you enjoy my impressions of this incredible city.

The magic is powerful, simply strolling along the narrow ancient streets allows your imagination to soar. No matter the adventure you seek, the eerily lit side paths, or some not at all, the  glow in the canals and ancient brick walls, summon you forth. In the distance a single house light shines upon a small canal and reflects in the water, and as you cross that old bridge, you wonder who else walked along the same trail.

Was it Casanova in search of a damsel in distress to whisk away for some fun? His face covered by a mask as he celebrated Carnivale? Maybe it’s the shadow of Andrea Palladio, admiring his design of Il Redentore, the glorious church built in the 16th Century on the waterfront of the Canale della Giudecca to save Venice from an outbreak of the plague.  Such is the lure 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.

I can’t possibly detail everything, but I can give you a glimpse of my Venice. If I see a church I go in, the same for a museum, an interesting side street, and in Venice there are many. As the saying goes, I leave no stone unturned. Visit an old church, and you might find a concert being given. Tour the Church and stay for the concert.

There is a moment in A Hotel in Venice where Minola comes upon a few ladies sitting on a bridge enjoying their dinner, an opened bottle of wine resting on a stair, and they were deep in discussion, linguistics was one of the topics-that happened to me, and I participated in the lively conversation, and along the way learned a few things. I was so taken with the scene that I decided to include it in my book. Those are the moments I treasure when I travel. I’m normally a rather shy person, but somehow find it easy to chat up strangers when on the road.

Venice often called the “Floating City” began in the 5th Century AD. There are 118 or so small islands connected by canals and bridges. It is amazing that Venice is built upon a wooden platform, driven by wooden stakes. The wood has survived because it is underwater and not exposed to oxygen, and the fact that the flowing salt water petrified the wood, and turned into a hard as stone substance is remarkable. More amazing are all those gorgeous buildings that seemingly are floating on water.

That in itself is stunning, and must be seen, add to that the architecture, the incredible art, music, and history, and you have the perfect venue for an incredible vacation, and in my case an added bonus, the perfect setting for my third book in the hotel series. I also happen to love the food, a definite added bonus. The black pasta made with cuttlefish ink is incomparable, the sardines with onions another favorite, along with an abundance of gelaterias, not to mention I love pizza, and the grilled vegetable pizza, especially the ones that include roasted eggplant are superb.

Much of the delight centers around the Grand Canal, as it flows majestically, alive with commerce and joie de vivre as palaces, vaporettos, water taxis and gondolas, and various working boats seem to glide on water, swiftly shifting to and fro to evade a collision, it is a choreographed waltz on water, a persistent and expert dance of avoidance. 

Along the way there are palaces, homes, cafes and shops that line the Grand Canal and the sound of music and traffic echoes in the distance, and you seem to sway to the sound of life, as the famous Rialto Bridge stands guard. The bridge offers shopping, restaurants, but most of all, it offers a superb view of the Grand Canal.

I stood on top for quite a while, mesmerized by the intense machinations of the traffic below.  The Grand Canal is essentially a grand street, comparable to Paris, New York and Chicago. It meanders through the heart of Venice, two and a half miles long, and offers terrific public and commercial transport,  and of course romance-just like the major avenues of the world, only better, because it’s all on water.

I always think that the magnificent Rialto Bridge stands guard over the Grand Canal. The outside stairs have an unmatched and spectacular view of the Grand Canal, inside the bridge, the street is lined with tourist shops and even a Rialto Market that has been in business for over a thousand years; if you plan to visit the market, best to arrive early before the crowds do. 

The Rialto is the oldest bridge crossing the Grand Canal, its origin in one shape or another dates back to 1181. The stone bridge as it stands today was completed in 1591, and I would say every visitor to the city visits the bridge. Pundits said the design was too risky, and predicted it would collapse. It still stands today and is one of the most iconic architectural delights in Venice.

Take a day and evening vaporetto ride along the Grand Canal, travel like the locals. There is a marked difference in a morning ride and an evening ride. Sunlight provides the hustle and bustle of people going to work, going about their daily business, the city comes to life, deliveries are made, restaurants open, the jostle of life begins.

Shadowy lights during the evening vaporetto ride envelopes Venice in a mysterious glow, that mystifying allure you won’t find anywhere else, where shadows beckon you to follow. The moonlight glows and shimmers, the dimly lit palaces reflect in the water, and the sound of music resonates and amplifies to create that perfect moment. The trips are remarkable and since it’s public transport it is affordable

Venice is expensive, that is not a secret, yet reasonable meals can be had, but if you eat in the tourist areas, you will pay handsomely for the privilege. I always include breakfast with my hotel stay, prices tend to be sensible when booked with room. For one, I need my coffee first thing in the morning, for another it takes less time than looking for a spot other than cafes. I’m a breakfast person, it is my time to relax, plan the daily activities, and if I’m lucky chat with a few tourists. 

There are things you may not want to miss, and need to include in your budget, like a gondola ride, that will set you back about a hundred dollars, it is far more romantic than a vaporetto ride, and it will take you where a vaporetto won’t-the small canals and intimate side alleys. Watching a gondolier in action is a delight in its own right, often times the ride includes a passionate Italian love song, and the swish of the oars as they hit the water adds to the sublime moment.

The biggest tourist draw, and there are so many to choose from, is the Piazza San Marco, it is a piazza like no other, and again to simply walk around it, is best to arrive early in the morning, and in the evening-the time in between is packed with tourists, and I do mean packed. The lighting in the evening is subdued, and if it’s a moonlit night, magical.

I now book tours to the must see places, the lines are horrifically long, you pay a little extra but you get in much faster, and an added bonus are the lectures on the history of the place you are seeing. You can linger long after the tour guide finishes, and this way you do get a little history, a bit of background and sometimes a little about the daily life of the Venetians.

There is of course a great deal of free information on the many sites-it is up to you and your budget how you want to view them. Many travel books offer all the advice you can possibly need, all the places that should be seen, taking into consideration how much time you have, they list hotels in all price ranges, and if budget is really tight, you can borrow the book from your library and take it on your trip-just remember to return it when you get back.

The treasures at the Piazza San Marco are not to be missed, it is one of the key tourists sites. Given that the Basilica San Marco was began in 832, the history is vast and rich, and for almost a thousand years it served as the Doge’s private chapel, you can just imagine the political intrigues within these walls.

The Ducal or Doge’s Palace was home to many leaders of Venice for almost a thousand years. It is filled with art, sumptuous rooms, and the famous Bridge of Sighs so aptly named by Lord Byron; it was a last lonely view of Venice for those who were going from the palace to prison.

The first palace was a fortress finished in 814, change through history included fires in 976, in 1106, 1574, and 1577. Many masterpieces were destroyed, and restoration continued slowly until the 1880’s.  The palace survived and to this day reflects the massive and majestic power that was once Venice.
It is evocative 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 enjoy the sites, delicious coffee, black pasta and incomparable gelato.

Visiting the Companile or Bell Tower is easy, a small elevator  will take you to the top, from where you have a bird’s eye view of the piazza, and the rest of Venice, and sometime on a clear day the Alps are visible. It has been written that the tower was started in 912. Due to erosion and a shallow foundation, the  Companile collapsed in 1902. It was rebuilt in 1912 as the Venetians wanted,  “where it was and how it was.”

There are of course the must see things, but there are others that are a surprise. Walk into a small church, and wonder at the beauty, peace and charm that is offered. Go during the Biennale Art Festival and you just might see the church converted into an art gallery, and not necessarily religious art.  Many of the places I found just by accident are free. There are many little niches filled with flowers, and little gardens, a piazza with beautiful fountains and charming cafes. Many of these places become galleries during the festival.

You will not get lost, there are signs everywhere that will point you to a landmark. Unless of course you’re like me, have no sense of direction, and easily gets lost. On my first trip to Venice upon settling in the hotel the first evening, I was determined to see Piazza San Marco. I was given the routine hotel map, the concierge circled the hotel location, and the location of the piazza.

I wondered for two hours, followed all the signs marked on the walls, there were arrows pointing where to turn next. I turned and circled places so many times I was dizzy, and I never found the piazza. By the time I found my way back to the hotel, I was convinced the piazza was not real, and could not possibly exist. The following morning, after a hearty breakfast and many cups of coffee, I found it.

Returning to the hotel was an adventure in itself,  holding a map upside down and looking lost, exhausted and downright pitiful helped in my attempt to find my way back to a shower and bed. At that point I was so tired, any hotel would have done-jet lag was beginning to take its toll.

If you like glass, Venice offers that too, many buildings and hotels proudly show their Murano masterpieces in the shape of sconces, table lamps, vases and of course chandeliers.

If you want to see for yourself how glass is blown and the intricacies involved, visit a furnace.  Murano is thirty minutes away by vaporetto, or fifteen minutes by water taxi, a choppy fast ride, and since the traffic is considerable as you head to more or less open water, the taxi basically rides the waves. It is a fun and often times bumpy ride.

Murano does not have the charm, or majesty of Venice. It is more or less a working island that produces world renowned, magnificent glass, and the economy revolves around glass that is shipped all over the world, and of course there is the tourist trade. One store after another lures you in. There are the inexpensive shops that sell glass trinkets made in China, some blown in Murano, you have many options, and as always know your product. There is a logo on many of the bigger pieces that identify it as Murano glass, but be vigilant.

There are galleries where you can spend thousands of dollars and pick up a unique treasure, some of the chandeliers are beyond elaborate, and I always wonder who would clean them. The selection is vast, from the modern to period pieces, and anything in between. On my last trip, I was fortunate to have the concierge at the hotel arrange a visit to the Schiavon Art Team furnace. I was allowed to take pictures, and speak with the master designer. Even in a gift shop I always ask if I can take pictures.

He was generous with his time, and I received a great deal of information that helped with my research for A Hotel in Venice. Their work is imaginative, creative, and simply amazing, and on my next visit to Venice, I plan on going back. There is something magical about seeing glass in liquid form and watch as it changes and becomes a solid. It is hard work, but the results are sublime.

Glass is the business of Murano, and has been for centuries, since the guild moved from Venice in 1291, because the citizens were afraid of fires.  The first documented Venetian glass product dates back to 982. In 1224 the Guild of Glassmakers, Arts Fiolaria was established, and the guild protected the glassmakers under strict guidelines, but the guild was now controlled directly by the Republic of Venice.

The glass blowers became the elite members of society and mingled with the aristocracy and the very wealthy, powerful marriages were formed influencing the political climate of the time. It was a mysterious and sometimes deadly world of secrets, the formulas for blending and glass blowing techniques were protected sometimes with fatal results. I’ve been assured that the secrecy prevails even today. It is an ever changing and evolving industry, much like many others, but with a creative insight that for me is hard to beat-sheer artistry at work. I can watch glass being blown for hours, to me it is a mesmerizing process, and the final result be it a vase, or hat that looks real is astonishing.

Venice is enchanting, and I’m looking forward to my return trip to this mysterious, romantic and magical city. The ideal trip would include a book signing in a bookstore or maybe a furnace in Murano.

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

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4. Planning a Trip to Rome by Margot Justes

Rome is one of those cities, that no matter how often you visit there is always something new to see, something that was missed. Considering the age, that is not at all surprising.  

Every street corner, every narrow cobbled street is filled with history, glorious churches, and of course shopping, whether it’s haute couture, or typical souvenir trinkets, it is all available. Did I forget to mention food, it is delicious.

I’ll have 3 days to spend in Rome in October. The Pantheon is high on my list this time around, as is Tivoli, glorious fountains and lush gardens can be seen at Hadrian’s Villa.

Plan is to arrive early in the morning, check in at hotel, and then set on foot to enjoy the sites. After the flight, stretching the legs feels terrific.

If room is not ready hotel will hold the luggage. Since I tend to travel off season, I found that in many cases in Europe, a room is usually available.  

Second day I plan to take a tour bus to Tivoli, that will be a full day excursion. Third day will be spent visiting the Pantheon, and will include a visit to Via Margutta-a street filled with artists. I’ve seen pictures, but have never been, maybe it is what Montmartre in Paris used to be. More walking, and leisurely dining, a few espressos, and cappuccinos along the way will complete the 3 days nicely.  Let’s not forget the gelato.

On the last day I always look forward to a quick walk, and a delicious breakfast, before the taxi will whisk me away  to the cruise ship in Civitavecchia, the Port of Rome-it is about a 45 minute cab ride from the center of Rome.

I already started looking at places to stay. I pick hotels that tend to be close to the center of town, and unfortunately my favorite hotel in Rome, the InterContinental has closed its doors permanently. It was a lovely old property, right above the Spanish Steps, with an amazing history, a past life that included a convent. The rooms were tiny, but the property was lovely, the staff helpful, and the breakfasts delicious. I will miss it.

The Splendide Royal, in a quiet area but walking distance to many sites would be my second choice. October if off season for travel to Rome, but prices at the moment are far too high. I’ll wait and watch. Maybe too many people are travelling ‘off season’ and the hotels are becoming wise. Another possible choice is the Sofitel, also centrally located on a quiet street.

It’s a good thing I booked the cruises so early, prices have risen, but I’m watching them, just in case there is a sale-until I pay for the cruises-I can get the lower price, always assuming it is the same cabin category.

No matter the trip, planning one is a lot of fun for me.

Happy travels.

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

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5. More Travel Planning by Margot Justes

This time I’ll be gone for over a month, and the items I’ll take will increase, but they will still fit in the same expandable suitcase, except this time it’ll probably expand a little on the way.

I keep the suitcase relatively small and compact for that reason. If I had a big suitcase, I’d probably manage to fill it up. Laundry is available on board ship, and I have a couple of free coupons per cruise. That will suit me perfectly. As a rule, I never, ever put anything valuable in the suitcase.

I take the suitcase, a carry-on, and a big purse that folds into a little purse.  In that purse I carry my passport, wallet, a bit cash-the local currency as well as dollars,  2 credit cards, phone, and any important papers I may have, all personal items, anything I can stuff in the big purse I do, and that includes my small compact laptop, Kindle and camera. It all fits in that big, lightweight black bag-it is terrific for travel. That bag stays under the seat in front of me. It does not go in the luggage rack on the plane. I carry a change of clothes and personal  toilette items in the carry-on.

My travel shoes have arrived, they’re not pretty,  but they are incredibly comfortable. Since I buy my walking shoes for comfort, I keep them until they literally fall apart. Even though the trip is in October, I have already started my list.

I list everything I’m going to take on vacation, along with the clothes, shoes, absolutely everything. I have one pair of dress shoes that have lasted for years, and so far they’re holding up really well. I call them my sparkly shoes, and they’re perfect for the formal nights on cruise, or just an evening out, as long as it doesn’t include a lot of walking.  I find that at my age, comfort and cute shoes are not interchangeable-it’s an either or situation.

I pack 2 pair of  comfortable and durable strap sandals that I use for excursions, and a couple pair of fit flops, for the pool and easy excursions, and the mules I'll wear on the plane. That’s it for shoes. I love shoes, but I do not over pack.

For the formal nights, I picked 4 sparkly tops, one pair of dress silky black pants, and I alternate the tops. They're lightweight, and I roll them up-they take up less space in the suitcase. I roll everything I can to consolidate space.

Slowly things fill up the pages, and for me it is much easier than worry at the last minute that I forgot something-like a passport.  As I think of things I add to the list.

Next is the trip closer to home coming up in May.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness...”  Mark Twain

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

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6. Planning a Trip by Margot Justes

I have a couple local trips planned this Spring, meeting friends in Asheville, and then we’ll head to Hilton Head, Savannah and Myrtle Beach. I booked back-to-back cruises in early fall. The cruise will start in Rome and end in Ft. Lauderdale.

I’ve reached the stage where flying is no longer the delight it once was. Coming back from Ft. Lauderdale is shorter, and I really enjoy crossing the Atlantic on a ship. There is some site seeing, and then 5-7 days at sea. Perfect way to decompress, relax and write, and there is no jet lag-time is adjusted daily while at sea. Transatlantic cruises are far less expensive, so it is a perfect option for me.

I’m a planner, as anyone who knows me will attest, so of course I already started. There were a couple of things I needed. One was an over-the -shoulder travel bag, mine after years of use finally gave up the fight.

I have certain criteria, it must be lightweight, have a solid shoulder strap-that will make it harder to cut, must have a couple of compartments, and must have zippers. I have found the perfect bag, it even had a chain to attach a wallet for additional safety. Made by Kipling, it is readily available at Macy’s, the bigger version is $80, less if on sale, and Macy’s coupons come in handy.  Pick-pockets abound in Europe, it is a well developed and rather successful profession.

The other thing that has worn through are my what I call airport shoes-black comfortable mules that I can slip off and on. Like my travel purse, my mules gave up the ghost, and besides I don’t like to wear closed shoes.

I never, never go barefoot in an airplane, so shoes I can slip off is the way to go, and they must be comfortable to trudge through airports, and site seeing. I’m big on comfort, and have a couple of pair of Ecco sandals that I can walk miles in without a problem, they pack well, and are not bulky.

The mules are also used if it’s cold and raining while I’m touring. They tend to be bulky, so it’s great that I can wear them on the plane. I do not wear gym shoes while touring, never developed the habit, and am not going to start now, and I pack light.  I found just the pair, or I should say, my daughter found a pair for me-ABEO-I tried them, they were incredibly comfortable, and the fit was perfect. I now have shoes and purse. No picture of shoes-they are being shipped.

I have a folder for each trip, and have started my ubiquitous list. As I accomplish the items on the list, I check them off, and more often than not add new stuff.

If only I could plan my blogs, and actually write one every week. There will be more of my planning ‘obsession, so please stay tuned, and don’t give up on me.  Of course there is a great deal to see in Asheville, Savannah, Hilton Head-well you get the drift-and of course a hotel to book in Rome, and trips to Tivoli to plan. And a conference in Atlanta coming up right before trip to Rome. The planning is a learning tool for me, I discover new places, new things to see, and that gives me a great of pleasure, and as a result, my bucket list is growing-that is always a good thing..

Happy travels, no matter where they take you.

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

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7. The Butler did it by Margot Justes

I’ve been working on my novella, a sequel to A Fire Within , it seems like forever, and I’m stuck. My editor is expecting a finished manuscript by August, and I’m procrastinaning.

I didn’t realize how stuck, until I was cutting up veggies for soup, and at the same time  playing  Clue, in my head. The same board game I used to play with my girls, except I really had the game on the table.

Of course the simple answer was-the butler did it in the library with a knife, and I needed a band-aid to prove that the butler did it... the celery I was slicing wound up in the trash, and the knife was washed with soap and hot water. To add insult to injury, the water was too hot and I wound up with a burn, along with sliced finger. It taught me a lesson, do not multi-task with sharp instruments in my hand.

As delightful as my attempt at making a vegetable soup was, I was no closer to ending my story. I have all the suspects lined up, and no one is stepping up to volunteer. Almost as if the characters are saying, try and make it stick.

The working title of this novella, is Dazzling Diamonds, and even the title seems to be off, diamonds are dazzling, but these are blood or conflict diamonds. They dazzle but at what price...it’s a great story, if only I could finish it, and write...the end.

Now, back to my story...she writes hopefully.

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

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8. My Interview by Nancy Badger

I'd like to thank Nancy Badger for the opportunity. I had fun with it.

Margot Justes stopped by to talk about her book A Hotel in Venice, a romantic mystery released in August, 2015. Please tell my readers a little about your book?

MargotI love art, and travel, and I combined my love of both and set my stories internationally. Paris was my first love, and of course the first book had to be set there. My heroine is an artist, since I possess no such talent, I live vicariously through her efforts.

In my latest release, A Hotel in Venice, Minola Grey and her fiancée Peter Riley help a friend while preparing for their wedding. In the process they discover the dark side of centuries old secrets, the hidden mysteries in the exquisite glass blowing business in Murano, and the vile depth some will go to protect those secrets.

Nancy- I have an Art degree, so your heroine intrigues me! Describe the genre of this particular title, and is it the only genre you write in?

Margot- A Hotel in Venice, part of my hotel series, is first and foremost a romantic love story, accompanied by murder and mayhem-I call them romantic mysteries.

On a dare, I also wrote a paranormal vampire love story, where Leonardo da Vinci meets master vampire, Nikolai Volkov. The Mona Lisa plays a pivotal part in Nikolai’s life in modern times. I enjoyed it so much that I’m now writing a sequel to Blood Art.

Nancy- Viewing the Mona Lisa is on my bucket list. When did you start working toward publication?

Margot- I never really did, but I always had stories in my head, and really didn’t think about writing, it was just a way to pass time. Then I had a tough day in the office, came home and tried to read-that usually relaxed me.  Not that day-I sat down with pad and paper and started writing-it was truly bizarre, an unforgettable afternoon, and the birth of A Hotel in Paris. The first thing I had ever written other than office memos. I pitched it at a conference, and a small publisher took me on. My publisher and I have since parted company, and I am an indie author.

The story started out as a full mystery, until the two protagonists met. There was an instant chemical reaction, and I was lost. I had never read romance novels, and needed a quick education. I discovered RWA, and joined the local chapter, and found I really loved the genre, the happy endings-the sheer and total escape from our everyday reality.

Nancy- Do you have any rejection stories to tell?

Margot- I received the usual ‘thanks, but no thanks’, most often no response at all, but one was a hoot, a verbal rejection. At a local RWA conference, I approached an editor from a well known publisher who said she was looking for an original voice, something fresh, and I pitched my story, she listened, told me again how important an original voice was, and in the same breath, asked who do I write like? I was so taken aback, I had no immediate response, other than stand there stupefied until I finally had enough sense to thank her for her time.

Nancy- Will you share some encouraging words for authors still struggling for that first contract?

Margot- The first thing is not to give up, accept rejection for what it is-a totally subjective, and far from perfect process. Not everyone is going to like what you write. The advice I have been given, and took to heart is not to chase the popular genres, they change with the wind. Patience and a thick skin are essential in this business.

The agents and publishers have to make money, hence the appeal of what sells well, over and over. Fortunately, the publication world is changing daily. There is a revolution going on, and a writer no longer has to have an agent, or publisher. Indie publication is a fast growing business, and many are succeeding. That being said, it is tough for an unknown writer to make a living at it, it is a slow painstaking process to develop a readership. A good editor is essential to the process, I cannot stress that enough. 

Nancy- Please share three fun facts about you that most people don’t know.

1) Love to belly dance.
2) Have been known to stalk bagpipers when I hear them play.
3) I have no sense of direction, and left-right is open to interpretation.

Nancy- What’s next for you?

Margot- Hopefully, my little niche market of art and travel filled with romance and mystery will expand. I’m working on three projects, a sequel to my paranormal Blood Art, A Hotel in Barcelona-a city with glorious and whimsical architecture, and a novella set in Chicago that follows the secondary characters from A Fire Within. I’ve built a family of close friends.

Book Blurb A Hotel in Venice:
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.

Minola Grey and her fiancé Peter Riley travel to Venice for a romantic wedding surrounded by their friends. However, a romantic Grand Canal gondola ride embroils the couple in a conspiracy as mysterious and mystifying as the city itself. Here, Minola’s notoriety and powers of observation make her a target of someone’s sinister machinations. Worse, someone wants to undermine and destroy her relationship with Peter.

When an old friend asks for help finding a missing Master Glassblower and the art he’d created, Minola cannot refuse. Yet, in the thick of the investigation, she must be careful. Her very involvement may heighten the threat against her and Peter, making them the next targets. Unfortunately, Minola has never been able to resist a friend in need.

Why were Master Glassblower Julio Divini’s glass daggers stolen in the first place? What secrets have been hidden in century old traditions? And will Peter be able to share his own secrets with his future bride? Most importantly, will the wedding happen as Minola and Peter plan… Or not at all?

More about the Author
Born in Poland, Margot Justes has lived in some of the world's most wonderful places, including Israel, France and South Africa. Currently living in the East Coast, she has taken her love of art and travel and cultivated it into unique settings and stories for her writing, 2007 brought her a contract for her first novel A Hotel in Paris.

A Hotel in Bath
 was released February 2013, A Hotel in Venice was released 
August, 2015.  Margot is currently working on her fourth book in the hotel series, set in Barcelona, Spain. She is also hard at work on a sequel to Blood Art .

A Fire Within, 
set in Chicago was released February, 2014.  The story first appeared in the Hearts and Daggers anthology. Her other projects include a novella also set in Chicago, Dazzling Diamonds, scheduled for release August 2016.  She also writes travel articles and blogs.

Margot Justes is a Member of Romance Writers of America, the Chicago North RWA Chapter, as well as the Georgia Romance Writers. She is a past president of the Chicago North RWA Chapter, and the Chicago Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

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9. Goals for the Year by Margot Justes

The new year is upon us, and many resolutions have been made, and I’m equally sure many have already been set aside. Rather than set resolutions, I established a few professional goals for myself. My resolutions usually disappeared mid-January. This year I’m after attainable goals.

The first one is to finish my novella-a sequel to A Fire Within, also set in Chicago, this project has lasted more than 2 years, and it is time finish.

The second one is to make a dent in A Hotel in Barcelona, so that I can get it out in 2017. I’m not a fast writer, and have plenty of research to do, and many words to write.

The third is to finish my sequel to Blood Art. A terrific idea came to mind in the middle of the night-and yes-for once I took notes. It’s about a vampire and a romance writer. Half is in rather familiar territory, the other half is the fun of making it all up.

The setting might be in Chicago, or somewhere in Europe-haven’t decided yet, but that is also the enjoyable part. Did I mention I love my job? I do, even the frustrating parts when I write myself into a corner, or I write a wonderful scene and have no idea why I wrote it, or where it belongs. Ultimately it always finds a home.

The goals also include a trip to Europe, specifically Barcelona. I was there three years ago, but need more detailed information about detailed places, and to get the feel of the city, to capture the zest and joy of life that exists in Barcelona.  I didn’t realize I’d be setting my next book there during my last visit, or I would have been more prepared.  I’m serious about researching the places I write about. The characters come to life, and enjoy their visit almost as much as I do.

I chose Barcelona because I love Gaudi’s work, his creative style is beyond whimsy. He was an amazing architect who forever put his stamp on this city. I’ll share a few pictures-his work alone is worth a visit to Barcelona.

The goals seem attainable, the cruise is already set for October, and am now booking the excursions-a couple a month-that spreads the cost, and is easier to budget.  

Hope you enjoy the pictures, Gaudi's work is amazing.

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

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10. A Hotel in Paris by Margot Justes

Memories of my time spent in Paris are always with me, and I thought I’d share the 1st Chapter of A Hotel in Paris with you. It is the beginning of my ‘hotel’ series. It wasn’t meant to be a series, but I fell in love with the characters, and continued their life together.

It is slower in pace,  it is dreamy, and evocative. It is about a woman on the cusp of self discovery, filled with self-doubt and romantic pain. It is also the first thing I ever wrote, other than office memo.

                                                            Chapter 1

The shrill wail echoed in the hallway, Minola Grey slammed the door to her hotel room and followed the sound of distress. She saw the maid dart out of a guest room in sheer panic.  Minola reached her in a few brisk strides and asked, "Yvonne, what's the matter?"  She didn't detect any sign of injury, just pure terror in her eyes.  This type of behavior was unlike Yvonne, who was always steadfast.  Nothing ever ruffled her.
"Mademoiselle Grey…body…blood…" she sobbed.
"Body?  Blood?  Whose body?  Yvonne, please…please sit down."  Minola led her to the plush oversized chair near the elevator.  "Tell me what happened," Minola pleaded.
"Lord Yardleigh.  In his room…dead…blood," Yvonne said, her voice shook, but the weeping now dwindled to a whimper.
"Yvonne, knock on Dr. Lebrun's door.  See if he's in.  I'll go to Lord Yardleigh's room."  Minola's voice quiet and subdued, she thought to offer comfort to the distraught maid. “Please call the front desk for help, and get Security up here, fast."
Lord Yardleigh's open door allowed Minola to walk in, and what she saw left no doubt in her mind.  Lord Yardleigh was dead.  The body splayed out on the floor did not diminish the quiet elegance of the room.  Minola’s stomach twisted in a knot, her muscles tightened and nausea rose in her throat.
She'd never seen a body, much less in this bloody state.  Think!  Don't touch anything.  She shook her head, as if to clear any lingering cobwebs.  Get hold of yourself. Where is the gun? I don't see a gun. Murder? Must be. He didn’t get up and dispose of the gun and then conveniently lay down and die. Not with that wound. A great fan of the mystery genre, Minola knew enough not to disturb anything in the room.  The crime scene needed to be preserved. 
Reluctantly, Minola looked at the body again and noted how impeccably dressed he’d been–crisp white linen shirt, gold cuff links, and an expensive watch still on his wrist–impeccable except for the bloody stain that had spread beyond the hole in the shirt and created a crimson river against the achromatic background.  To relieve her queasiness, Minola swiftly glanced at the rest of the room.  As an artist she focused on the de rigueur hotel furniture, then on the few contemporary canvases displayed on the walls. These were not hotel issue, and were good.
The colors and textures of the paintings strangely complimented the hues of the grim, yet powerful, scene before her. Contemplating the pieces on the wall gave Minola a much needed reprieve from the ghastly outline on the floor.  Her hands clenched as she began to shake.
Nothing appeared to have been disturbed in the quiet, serene room.  The curtains were open, and the sun filtered through to cast a warm dappled glow over the body.  Minola shuddered, turned and without touching anything walked out of the room.
Back in the hallway, she patiently waited for what she knew would be a barrage of questions by hotel security and the Police Nationale de Paris.
This hotel is my home.  What happened here?  To give her an essential, although temporary, reprieve from the tragedy, she focused on yesterday’s idyllic day sitting in a café, in a cozy secluded booth across the street from the Luxembourg Gardens. Through the gilded wrought-iron fence she gleaned the contemplative and everyday life of the Parisians unlike today, where the horror of sudden death intruded on her contemplation.
As she waited for the police, she relived the relaxed pace inside the gardens, so peaceful and calm.  She remembered the old couple who sat on a bench and held hands, a woman watched her child play, and on another bench, two women sat in comfort and rolled the prams containing their precious cargoes.  Their hypnotic movements, back and forth, back and forth, helped lull Minola into utter contentment as the mesmerizing and soothing minutes flicked by. 
The image of Lord Yardleigh's body intruded on her thoughts.  So peaceful in repose…so still, so sanguine, except for the blood.  Go back to the gardens.   Go back to the gardens.
"Mademoiselle Grey…pardon, Mademoiselle," she faintly heard a voice call her back to reality.        Art drew her to Paris, so well represented–not confined to museums, but present everywhere, and always in the gardens which peppered this amazing city.
 "Mademoiselle Grey…Mademoiselle, s'il vous plait."  She heard that voice again, faint but urgent calling her.  Herserenity shattered, she faced the certainty of a gruesome murder in her quiet hotel.  Slowly Minola opened her eyes, and noticed the hallway was filled with police and crime investigators.  She recognized what looked like a solitary pathologist carrying a black medical bag.  The police did not block his entry.
"Mademoiselle Grey, are you all right?  I need to ask you a few questions."  The gentle yet insistent voice persisted through her hazy reality.  "Yes, of course.  I am sorry," she replied, and again clenched her hands to keep them from shaking.
"I'm  Luc Dubois with the Police Nationale.  Mademoiselle, we already have a statement from the maid.  She said that you went into the room.  Did you touch the body?" he inquired politely.
"I didn't touch anything…no…nothing at all.  I went in to see if I could help.  Yvonne had said blood…I just wanted to make sure…  I…"
He nodded his head and continued, "Did you notice anything unusual?  Did you see or hear anyone come up to this floor while you were waiting for the police?"
"The room appeared undisturbed.  So clean.  I didn't see or hear anyone, but I closed my eyes because I needed to escape. I am sorry, but I believe I drifted off a bit.  Maybe Yvonne heard or saw something.  Not a robbery…"  Her calm voice belied her distress. She looked down and tried to still her quaking hands.
"Yes, I know.  I had a difficult time bringing you out of your reverie, Mademoiselle.  The maid had gone downstairs to summon help; she could not get the phone to work.  I believe she was too agitated.  Pourquoi?  Why are you so certain that it was not a robbery?" he queried.
"You must have noticed he wore a gold Rolex.  There are also several very worthwhile contemporary art pieces on the wall.  A thief would have certainly stolen these items.  No self-respecting crook would leave a Rolex on his victim's wrist.” She said. “The Luxembourg Gardens are a far more delightful escape than seeing a murder victim." Her voice was wistful as she looked up, her eyes shimmered, but she refused to let the tears fall.
"There I would agree with you, Mademoiselle.  I am sorry you were a witness to such a tragedy."
"Merci.  Thank you for understanding."   
Minola closed her eyes and saw the sun filter through the pool of blood–a macabre scene, one that would stay with her forever.  She blinked twice and looked down at her watch. "Pardon, but I am already late for class.  May I please go, unless you still need me for any reason?  I will be back this afternoon.  I can leave my passport at the front desk."  As an afterthought she added, "If necessary."
"That will not be required, Mademoiselle.  You may go.  I understand that this is difficult for you.  There will be more questions for you this afternoon; please do make yourself available.  Merci, Mademoiselle."  He moved on to speak with another policeman.
* * *
Yves Lanier, of the Police Nationale, was a man with a mission.  His dingy grey office with matching furniture was so littered with papers and books that he couldn't find the phone on his desk.  It was here somewhere, he knew.  Damn it, I used it yesterday.  He briefly stared at the mess…then, with quiet efficiency, slid everything off his desk to the floor, and heard the ping of the phone hit the ground.  He bent down, picked it up, and dialed a Londonnumber he knew well.  A quiet voice answered: "Peter Riley."
"Bonjour, Peter.  How are you, my friend?"
"I know that tone, Yves.  Interpol at your service.  What's going on?"
"Peter, Yardleigh was murdered sometime late last night or early this morning.  I think your investigation into money laundering just veered off track."
The silence at the other end was palpable.  "What the hell happened?  He was cooperating.  What do you have?"
"We have nothing, mon ami.  He was shot once in the chest with a small-caliber gun.  No exit wound–the lab's still working on that.  Purely as an observation, it looks like he knew his killer.  No surprise or fear…there's nothing reflected on his face.  Nothing stolen.  Everything, as you English say, was neat and tidy, save for the corpse on the floor.  We secured the crime scene and did all the lovely things we are supposed to do.  The bastard was not nice enough to leave any clues."  Lanier spoke with the confidence of a seasoned cop.
"Let me talk to Clivers, my superior.  Murder is out of our jurisdiction.  I suppose that leaves Scotland Yard in the game."
"Peter, this started in England."
"Don't I know it.  I will call you back."  Lanier heard the phone click in his ear.
* * *
Peter Riley ran a hand through his hair and swore.  As he reached for his phone, it rang.  "Riley," he recognized the brooding voice, "what the hell is going on?"
"Sir, I just spoke with Lanier.  I assume you know as much as I do."
"Scotland Yard just filled me in.  As of right now you are on loan to Scotland Yard.  Riley, get over there…yesterday."
"Sir, just what am I supposed to do?  We can continue the internal investigation here…"  Peter was cut off again.
"He was killed in Paris.  You will go to Paris, do I make myself clear?"  The voice at the other end softened perceptibly.  "I can't think of a better man to handle this mess.  Keep me posted."
"Yes, sir, I'm on my way," Peter responded, and hung up the phone.  "Bloody hell," he murmured to himself.  He made a couple of phone calls and prepared to leave for Paris.


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

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11. Happy New Year by Margot Justes

Happy New Year!

May we have a bit of hope, and peace in 2016, along with the usual health and happiness wishes.

I’m not making any resolutions this year, because in the past I have not kept them-this year it will be one day at a time.

Like most of us, I spent time with my family and loved every minute of it. The kiddies trekked 7 miles on a rainy day in DC, and did not complain at all. Solonge kept track of our steps with her electronic gizmo, aka Fit Bit.

We visited the WWII Memorial, a solemn and profound monument, also the Viet Nam Memorial, this one gives me goose bumps every time I visit-so many souls lost. The names listed make this monument more thoughtful, and somehow more poignant.

We trekked to the Lincoln Memorial, and of course the Washington Memorial, the elevators were not working, and kiddies were disappointed in not being able to go to the top.

The National Tree had to be seen, and we captured a beautiful picture-the rain allowed us a slight break, which we greatly appreciated. From afar in the mist, we were able to see a bit of the White House and the decorations.

By the day’s end, my shoes squeaked from the water and unavoidable puddles-not smart to wear canvas shoes in the rain. They were comfy until they became wet.

We stopped for a festive late lunch at Old Ebbitt Grill, (www.ebbitt.com) that allowed the kiddies to dry out and eat, before resuming the rainy hike. The food was delicious, best meatloaf ever, and since I was dripping wet, and rather hungry, pictures were not a high priority.

This Christmas was truly magical, and I’m grateful I could spend it with my family. Can’t think of a better blessing, than the usual health and happiness. May we strive to achieve some peace, less hate and more kindness in 2016, it is within our individual power to do. That indeed would be a great blessing.

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

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12. Native American - Amazing Grace (in cherokee)

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13. Setting the Story by Margot Justes Redux

I write romantic mysteries for a niche market, my stories deal with art, travel, a bit of mayhem and romance. I might preface that with-I love art and I love to travel-and have been fortunate to be able to do so. The old adage write what you know and love is true.  

When I started writing, I knew my novel would be set in Paris. In my youth, I lived there for a year, and have since gone back a few times. It stood to reason that my first romance should be set there. I’m familiar with the city, and over the years from my perspective, little has changed in the City of Light. The Louvre now has Pei’s Pyramid at the entrance, a few buildings have been added, but the age old charm, the cobblestones, the meandering streets, the essence and soul are still very much there.

The first time I visited Bath, England, many years ago, I said I must come back, and I did. My second book is set there. My third hotel book, is set in magical and mysterious Venice. All three cities are unique and romantic places.

My heroine is an artist, and through her eyes, I introduce my readers to my favorite artists, allow her to live in exciting places, give her mysteries to solve, and someone to love. The best of all worlds.

For me it is essential to visit the place I write about, get a sense of the culture, the everyday, mundane activities that make up our lives. The magical moment of sitting in a cafe, sipping an espresso, and watching people go by. An image is created that will allow a glimpse of that perfect intimate moment.  A sculpture in a garden described so well that the reader can almost reach out and touch a sinew, that is the wonder of the written word.

Rodin has always set my pulse racing, his work is strong, exuberant, poignant to the point of agony, and sometimes even mischievous. I tried to bring that sense of joy and discovery to my hero in A Hotel in Paris, and hopefully to my readers. I find solace in art, for me it’s therapeutic. You don’t have to be an art scholar to enjoy it, it’s everywhere we turn, it surrounds us, all we have to do is take note.

Imagine tea at the Pump Room in Bath, and that first sip of the heavily scented Earl Grey tea, you take a deep whiff to savor the smell of the bergamot oil, take a bite of that a fresh scone still warm, loaded with clotted cream and strawberry preserves-except that I skip the cream and go directly for the jam, lots of jam. Those are all real memories that will enrich a story.

Visit a restaurant that has been in business since the early 1600s, watch out as you step down on the crooked stairs and touch the warped wall, coated with gobs of thick paint as you continue your descent that doesn’t seem to end, and then you gingerly sit down in a rickety old chair and hope you won’t be sitting on the ancient brick floor instead.   
From the Rodin Museum in Paris, to the Pump Room in Bath, to the dark and narrow canals in Venice, where the water mysteriously shimmers in the moonlit night. It’s all there. Familiarity with a location makes it easier to write about, it makes it come alive.

Even though I write contemporary romance mysteries, I love history and art, and that is what I write about. It goes back to the beginning, write what you know and love. 

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

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14. 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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15. 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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16. 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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17. 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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18. 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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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. 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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25. 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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