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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. Making Reservations by Margot Justes













I kept checking the hotel prices in Rome, and instead of going down, they kept climbing up. There are festivals and celebrations in Rome in October, there usually are but nothing that would keep the prices up for the unfashionable fall tourist season.

Has it now become trendy to go to Europe in the fall and avoid the tourist crush, long lines, and high prices? That would seem to be the case, but I’m sure if I waited until later in the season the prices would change, but unfortunately the ship won’t wait until I’m ready to book my hotel, it will sail without me.

I kept checking the hotel rates, and finally picked the Sofitel. I didn’t want it to sell out as many other hotels did, or wait until the prices go even higher. I stayed there before, it is on a quiet street, a five minute walk to the Spanish Steps, and a leisurely twenty minute walk to the Pantheon, and the Borghese Gardens are practically across the street.

The hotel is lovely, and last time they upgraded me to a suite, a Nespresso machine in the room provided delicious coffee, a delightful veranda where I sipped my morning brew, and enjoyed the superlative view of Rome. I have no such expectations this time.

The airfare was the hardest to book. I found out that it is cheaper to book a round trip ticket, than one way, or multi city. I learned a lot about what works, and what doesn’t.

I have points from a credit card company, and was told I could transfer said points to a number of participating airlines, unfortunately those airlines prices were higher than the others, and the of use points to upgrade to business did not work out at all. Either there were no seats available to upgrade, or the economy rates were astronomical. 

One of the reasons I’m not a fan of flying anymore, it is nightmarish to navigate the sites of various airlines. It is a complicated and time consuming process, unless you’re willing to plunk down a small fortune, and just give up. I’m not one of those people. What I did find interesting is that while booking a flight on line, I was told there was an error, when I went back and started over again, the rate for the same flight was much higher. Some error.

Since I was not able to use my points, I had the credit card company transfer the amount to my checking account to offset the cost of the airfare. I now know that the advertised benefit of transferring point for point to the participating airline is worthless to me. It may work for others, I’m only stating that it didn’t work for me.

Air France offered a fantastic rate for business class, with a one hour and forty minute layover in Paris. I booked business going to my destination, and the least expensive economy seat for return,  since I won’t be using it, the cruise ends in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I was also able to book a reasonable and direct flight from Ft. Lauderdale home. It only took me a whole day, and a great deal of patience and frustration.

The transportation from airport to hotel, and from hotel to port will be provided by RomeCab, I’ve used them before and they’re reliable and reasonable.

After spending a frustrating week finalizing the trip, I needed a break from reality, of course that didn’t motivate me to continue with current WIP, the project of torture, it just doesn’t want to end. On that note, I posted a few pictures from Rome for you to enjoy.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within
www.mjustes.com

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2. First Impression of Cairns by Margot Justes














I’ve been going through my posts, and came across my trip to Australia, and thought I’d share it today.

It’s a long trek to Australia, the first leg was from Chicago to Los Angeles, than straight to Sydney, and on to Cairns. I either sat at the airport, or on the plane for what seemed like an eternity. The length of the journey was well worth it-Cairns is stunning.

My first impression of Cairns was the arrival at the hotel in the early evening, after a long flight, a couple of layovers, and a delayed flight, I thought I’d be too tired to pay attention to anything except how quickly I could get to bed. Not so.

The hotel, a few steps away from the boardwalk, faced the water. The tropical vegetation was magnificent, and the desk staff accommodating.  Once I made it to my room, the view took my breath away. The harbor on the left, the water and mountains straight ahead, and the lit boardwalk and gardens below.

There was no way I was going to sleep, without first checking out the area. Shower and bed had to wait, I did freshen up-it was a long, long trip-not even counting the 10 hour layover in Los Angeles, and then a 4 hour delay-instead of taking off at ten, we took off at two in the morning. You have to give Virgin Atlantic credit, they were serving dinner in the middle of the night. I opted for sleep, but I digress...

The stroll on the boardwalk was mesmerizing, the boats along the harbor were dimly lit, the water shimmered in the dusk, and there was a gentle breeze, you could hear the rustle of the fronds from the tall palm trees. I was in heaven. Cairns was positively gorgeous, and I had a whole week to discover its treasures.

I stopped at the hotel restaurant for a quick bite to eat, and had the best grilled calamari with eggplant chutney I have ever had. It was perfection, kudos to the Mondo Restaurant.  I went back one more time for that same dish, and would have done so again, but wanted to try other local places.

First evening in Cairns was memorable indeed, and once I made it to bed, yes, after I showered, I slept like the proverbial log.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
Blood Art
A Fire Within
www.mjustes.com

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3. Cruising Stuff by Margot Justes


It's always good to be prepared, and that goes for vacation planning, and in my case planning a cruise, 

The first thing to do is research the cruise line, select the one that appeals the most. See what they offer, pick the cruise line that offers the perfect itinerary for you. Check prices on line, they change frequently. Call to see if an upgrade is available, or if the prices have gone down.

Recently I started looking at a couple of other cruise line that offer more unique itineraries. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. This year is fully booked, but I’m already planning for next year.

Most cruise lines offer a club membership-sign up on your first cruise, the enrollment is free, take advantage of it. The perks build up quickly the more you cruise. Saving on internet access, shop discounts, beverage savings; you get the drift-they want you back.

I’ve only cruised on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity-they are sister companies. I have reached a high membership level in their club, and one of the perks gives me a complimentary bag of laundry, and one dry cleaned garment. I can pack less, it’s not a great deal, but every little bit helps in the ease of travel. There are express lanes to check in, all those little things make it easier.

I mentioned this before, but it is important, at the time of the booking, make certain that the deposit is fully refundable prior to the final payment due date. I never used to take the insurance offered with the cruise, but now I do. It is an added security, and I like the reassurance that at least a portion of the price will be refunded. Like any insurance policy, it pays to read the fine print.

They have repositioning cruises that are unbelievably inexpensive because they have to move the ship from Europe to the Caribbean, or the reverse-depending on the season. In this case, it is a 15 night Celebrity cruise, and the cost will be less than $1,700 for food, lodging, and entertainment for 15 nights, that includes taxes, gratuities and insurance.

There are additional costs, the excursions can be pricy, and I tend to book through the cruise line, if there are any delays, the ship will wait for tours to return. Since I tend to get lost, and wander off, I’ve learned through mishaps to stick to the guide like the proverbial super glue. I once wandered off in Jerusalem, had no phone with me, I now carry my phone with me. By the time I realized I was lost, my group was long gone. I started looking for tour buses, and one kind guide contacted his counterpart, and I was escorted back to a Royal Caribbean tour that was from my ship.

There are specialty restaurants that charge extra, and of course alcohol, and specialty coffees-my weakness-I do treat myself to a few espressos and cappuccinos, but it is not mandatory. Whatever the budget will bear.

Since flying has become at best lamentable. At least sardines are covered in oil, and fit smoothly in a can, which is more than can be said for the passengers packed to the utmost capacity in the flying can. The extra fees levied by the industry add to the cost, and the comfort level in economy is non-existent.

In a way a transatlantic cruise helps, as far as length of flight. One long flight to Europe, in this case flying to Rome, and flying back home from Ft. Lauderdale. Lest you think, the flight will be cheaper, it is not. A one way ticket is more expensive, and when I checked the multicity trip, it cost as much as a round trip, and in some cases more. That all depends on the airlines used.

I’m going to try and use points to upgrade my flight-have not done that before, but have been told that my points will transfer one for one to a few select airlines-you guessed it- those airlines have the highest rates. Since this is August, I assume the fall prices have yet to be taken into account.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
www.mjustes.com


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4. Count Down by Margot Justes










The kiddies and I spent five days in Hilton Head in July-to say it was hot, would be an understatement. Temperatures reached 100, and the humidity provided a few terrific facials free of charge.

My favorite time along the shore is sunrise and sunset, and I made an effort to make sure the walks happened. On one of my morning strolls, I watched as a conservator relocated Loggerhead Sea Turtle eggs from a clean-up area to a safe zone, it is their nesting time.The survival rate is incredibly low, and for further protection they mark the relocated areas. I asked permission, and was allowed to take a photograph.

A good time was had by all, and I took a few pictures of early morning views of the ocean. The family liked it so much, they’re willing to make it an annual event. I’m good with that.

In the process, I realized that it is only two months before I head to Rome. I’m done with small trips, and am now focused on my writing...she wrote laughingly.

The hotel is not booked, prices are astronomical for an off season stay, I’ll wait and watch, the same goes for the airfare. Prices have yet to reflect the fall season.

I checked the cruise prices this morning, and one of the prices dropped substantially. I called and saved $200 per person. Celebrity honors the rate, until the cruise is paid in full.

If a lower rate for the cabin category is available, the price will be adjusted. The important verbiage is the cabin category. Also important are the perks being offered at the time of the original booking, sometimes the lower price excludes the perks, and then the rate is no longer as attractive, in fact sometimes it’s more expensive.

I have a tiny box where I stash the little stuff, hand sanitizer packets, tissues, money belt, and a new nifty gadget-at least new to me-a portable phone charger. I no longer carry my camera. I’m delighted with the results I get from my cell phone, it fits in my purse, and I don’t have to lug another appendage. Since I tend to take many pictures, the charger will give my phone added life while on the road. At least that is what I hope will happen. They’re rather inexpensive, I bought two for fifteen dollars.

It’s easy to forget the little stuff, it is all replaceable, but rather inconvenient. I even have a note to remind me to get the passport. My biggest nightmare is I’ll be at the airport, and my passport will be safely tucked away at home.

About a month before departure I’ll order Euro’s from the bank. There are change station at the airports, but it is more expensive. I still need to book my transportation from the airport to the hotel, and from hotel to Civitavecchia, the Port of Rome. I have used RomeCabs in the past, they’re reliable, reasonable, I can book ahead of time, and pay at time of service.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within
Blood Art
www.mjustes.com

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5. Summer by Margot Justes

















Happy July 4th!

I could not believe that it is July already, the year has practically disappeared-well, not really-but certainly half of it went within a blink of an eye. They say that time flies as you become older, I always used to chuckle when I heard that well worn phrase, I no longer laugh, for it is true.

May and June was spent with family and friends. A trip to Asheville, NC, and then Hilton Head in SC, the visit with friends provided a much appreciated release from daily routines.  

Asheville provided the Biltmore Estate, the largest, and most magnificent  private house in the country, still managed by the Vanderbilt descendents, all 255 rooms. The Biltmore Inn, a hotel on the estate provides an early morning coffee service in the lobby, and Cedric's Tavern, also on the estate, has an excellent Shepherd's Pie. The property maintains many gardens, a conservatory, where occasionally you may hear a concert, and they are well known for their wines-it is simply an amazing place to visit any time of the year. 

The center of Asheville is filled with artists, galleries, street musicians, many restaurants, and a long forgotten bohemian lifestyle-that is alive and flourishing in Asheville.  

Hilton Head Island is nestled among trees, it is lush, quiet and reserved, with golf opportunities it seemed on every corner, and only a 45 minute drive to Savannah, GA-the city teeming with history, grand squares, and verve. The day I was there was hot and humid, but the riverfront was filled with laughter, and good humor. Southern charm at its most effective.

After Hilton Head, and many walks along the shore, I went to Myrtle Beach, for more sand and ocean, but the primary reason was to see my grandson play baseball-he’s on a travelling team, and is quite the little slugger.

All the places beckon back, for the sheer escape from reality. It is almost like writing, you become caught up in the setting. There is nothing quite like a walk along the shore as the sun rises, or sets. All the cares seems to be swept away with the rushing tide.

Once week in June was spent in Charlotte, to watch my granddaughter graduate from junior high school, and my grandson from grade school, many celebrations that included a boat ride on Lake Norman.

Now we’re into July, and in just three months Rome, and the cruises await. I still need to book a few excursions, chief among them a trip to Masada and the Dead Sea.

In the meantime I need to finish the novella-this one seems to be a never ending process. I have been asked to do a sequel to Blood Art, but not the characters I already started to work with, and that means another project has been added, but first there must by an end to the novella.  

Hope you have a safe and wonderful summer.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within
www.mjustes.com

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6. Cinque Terre by Margot Justes










The beautiful and rugged Liguria region of the Italian Riviera is host to five villages that comprise the Cinque Terre. Rugged indeed and absolutely stunning. A national park, the area is protected by UNESCO, and is most assuredly worth a visit. We stopped in three of the five villages, Manarola, Vernazza and Monterosso.

I would love to go back and stay a few days, but I was happy to have spent a little time in each village. The ship docked in La Spezia, and from there we took a ferry to our first stop, Manarola. The village is  set atop a rock outcrop, with medieval hamlets perched on the rocks.  The bedrock juts from the soil and sea below, and the effect is stunning.

Cinque Terre has become a popular tourist destination, and you will find the obligatory souvenir shops, restaurants, and cafes that serve delicious coffees and pastries, along with gelaterias. Yet it retains an old age charm, with small fishing boats moored on the street, sort of like parking a car on a sidewalk, except they’re boats. We had enough time to walk down the main street and a few narrow and twisting passage ways that further illustrated the charm of the village.

Our next stop was Vernazza, the villages are similar, yet have a unique flavor all their own. Towering buildings flank narrow alleys, and they lead down to a magnificent bay. I stopped for an espresso in a cafe overlooking the bay. The coffee and view were sublime. The walk along the narrow streets, and the main tourist area was relaxing and everything is forgotten except the sheer age and natural beauty that surrounds you. Fortified with another espresso, I was ready for more.

From Vernazza, the local train took us to Monterosso. The village is a bit bigger, and far more  touristy. A restaurant with a fantastic view of the sea offered the local dish, a seafood pasta cooked al dente, the seafood fresh, and the tomato sauce was light and well seasoned.  Perfection on a plate. A feast for the eyes and the palate.

Along the way, we tasted some of the local wines, and amaretti con limone cookies; the Monterosso specialty-macaroons made with lemon, and delicious a Pesto that was served on a piece of toasted Italian bread, and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

It was a long day, and well worth the effort. The views were stunning and unspoiled, and it beckons back.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within
www.mjustes.com

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7. 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.

 Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
www.mjustes.com

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8. 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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9. 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.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
Blood Art
A Fire Within
www.mjustes.com
http://acmeauthorslink.blogspot.com

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10. 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.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within
www.mjustes.com

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11. 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

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
www.mjustes.com



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12. 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.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
www.mjustes.com


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13. 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.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within
www.mjustes.com

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14. 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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15. 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.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within
www.mjustes.com

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16. 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.


http://amzn.com/B007KLPEU8

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com

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17. 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.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
www.mjustes.com


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18. Native American - Amazing Grace (in cherokee)

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19. 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.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
www.mjustes.com

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20. 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.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
www.mjustes.com

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21. 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.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
Blood Art
A Fire Within
www.mjustes.com









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22. 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.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
www.mjustes.com

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23. 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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24. 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.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within
www.mjustes.com

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25. 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. 

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within
Blood Art
www.mjustes.com

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