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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. Katic Breads by Margot Justes








This morning was one of those wonderful surprising moments. I went with next door neighbors and friends to a train station for a croissant and coffee.

The Palatine train station utilizes the space well, every second Saturday of the month they allow vendors to sell their wares. One such vendor is the Katic Breads Bakery, situated right next door to Starbucks, and they couldn’t be better positioned.  

They open at eight, we got there ten minutes before eight, and they were already busy. The plain croissants are superb, brought back memories of Paris for me, but they were sold out. I got an almond croissant instead, then went next door to Starbucks for my coffee. It was a delicious continental breakfast. A slice of heaven.

The croissant was flaky and moist, and you could actually taste the almond filling. I loved the idea of sitting in a train station enjoying a decent cup of coffee and savoring a delicious croissant.

The vendors are there every second Saturday of the month through May. In June they’ll be in my neck of the woods, at the Northbrook Farmers Market. I plan to be there for coffee and a croissant, and I’ll go back to Palatine in May.

I bought a baguette, a Kalamata Olive bread, and a whole wheat sourdough. I’ve tasted their breads before, and everyone was a success. I happen to love good bread, and as you can see will go out of my way to find it.

There isn’t a bakery you can visit, they travel to farmers markets, but contact information is 605 Plum St. Aurora, IL 60506 www.katicbreads.com. The website is worth a visit because they post their schedule, and you’ll get an idea of the passion the baker holds for a good product, and it clearly is reflected in the taste of the breads, and the brisk sales I saw today.

I loved my Saturday morning. Hope yours was wonderful too.

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

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2. Red Apple and Polish Food by Margot Justes









Once in a while I crave a bit of stick to your ribs and everywhere else type of home cooked goodness. Polish food, specifically the Red Apple restaurant in Chicago delivers the perfect meal. They are located on 6474 N. Milwaukee Ave, in Chicago. 773/588-5781. It’s a bit of old home for me, one of those places that bring back many memories.

As with most Polish restaurants, it is a buffet filled with potato pancakes, pierogi, sauerkraut, sausage, tongue, tripe, chicken, ham, roast beef, you name it, the buffet has it. Even a few things you won’t name unless you have an Eastern European background, things like tripe, tongue and gizzard stew-all delicious and worth a try.

I go there for the pierogi, sort of like an Italian ravioli, often filled with potatoes, (my favorite) meat, cheese, sauerkraut, plums, really any filling you prefer. The potato pancakes and tongue are my favorite dishes too, of course there is the schnitzel, sort of a elongated moist hamburger perfectly seasoned, along with the mushroom gravy that goes well with everything. The bigos, or hunter stew made with meat and sauerkraut is delicious too.

There is a salad bar with the usual selection, along with shredded beets and herring in vinegar sauce, cucumbers in sour cream, and many other choices. The sweets are wonderful too, from kolaczki to cheese cakes, to assorted cakes, and fruit. 

I imagine there are babcias (grannies) in the kitchen cooking the food, it does taste homemade, and really yummy. The atmosphere is bright and cheerful, and I could hear Polish spoken at a few tables. Like I said, many happy memories.

If you haven’t tried Polish food, this would be a perfect place to sample the cuisine, it’s basic, hearty and just plain good food.

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


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3. An Irish Pub by Margot Justes












It was time to acknowledge that I was a year older, and that meant going out to dinner with family to celebrate.  It’s a lovely tradition, and the birthday person gets to pick the restaurant.

My grandkids already picked their place. We’re going to tea at the Peninsula Hotel. They both love high tea.

For my birthday, I picked an Irish Pub. To clarify, I don’t drink beer, don’t like the flavor or the smell, however I love a good meatloaf, and even more, Shepherd’s Pie. The pub had both, and the Shepherd’s Pie was the best I have ever tasted.

Chief O’Neill’s is located on 3471 N. Elston, Chicago, IL 60618 773/583-3066 www.chiefonneillspub.com

We started with the Kerrygold Flatbread; caramelized cabbage, roasted potato and Kerrygold Smoked Cheddar. The combination was delicious. My grandson ordered the Bruschetta, because that is his favorite appetizer.

Next on the menu was the Corned Beef and Cabbage, along with a really delicious Guinness Infused Meatloaf-I finally found a way I like beer-in my meatloaf. The Shepherd’s Pie had ground sirloin and veal, along with peas and herbs, topped with browned mashed potatoes. Seasoned perfectly. The Corned Beef Burger was high, served with perfectly done steak fries.

For dessert, we shared a key lime pie, Crème Brulee, and a positively yummy bread pudding with vanilla ice cream.

I was told the beers were good, as was the cider, and Irish coffee.

I have to go back for their Sunday Brunch, and to try the Scotia Eggs; hard boiled eggs wrapped in minced lamb, coated in bread crumbs and fried. I make a simpler recipe at home, just slice the egg in half,  roll it in a breakfast sausage, and cook it in a nonstick skillet.  Makes a great appetizer, or a wonderful breakfast addition.

I loved the decor, a lot of beautifully carved wood, and stained glass. It was a cold day, and we were lucky enough to sit near the fire place. The place is cozy, and the parking was easy and free. Free in Chicago is rare.

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

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4. Beograd by Margot Justes




Chicago is a multi cultural city, and one of the wonderful aspects of that diversity are the ethnic restaurants.  I recently went to Beograd Cafe, a Serbian restaurant located at 2933 W. Irving Park Rd. Chicago Il 60618 (773/478-7575) www.beogradchicago.com

I posted the address and phone number, just in case you’re in the Chicago area, and want to try this restaurant. The food is positively scrumptious.

My next door neighbors and friends are Serbian, and I have had Serbian food at their house. I have also visited Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia, and the food is similar, so the cuisine as a whole was not a surprise, but it was well prepared, fresh and utterly scrumptious.

We started with the Shopska salad; tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, and feta cheese. Then we moved on to the Burek, a savory dish made with filo dough and filled with cheese and spinach, potato or cheese and meat. They have other fillings, but we sampled the three I listed. This is a huge round dinner plate size of goodness, and they didn’t skimp on any ingredients. I tasted all three and had no favorite. I’d go back just for the Burek. Next time I’ll order one to go.

We also ordered a meat plate, the Beograd special that included lamb, chevapchichi, a traditional Serbian sausage, pork sausages, pork chops, and Serbian style hamburgers, along with ajvar, a vegetarian spread made with roasted red peppers and eggplant that went really well with the warm and delicious hot bread.  

We didn’t skimp on desserts either, there were crapes, I tasted the Nutella version which was excellent, we also ordered a Dobosh Torte, seven layers of thin sponge cake, layered  with a rich chocolate cream, and a walnut torte.

To finish the meal we had Serbian coffee, very much like the Greek and Turkish versions but not quite as strong.

I found out they’re open for breakfast and I have plans to go back for breakfast, and certainly dinner.

If you try the restaurant, let me know how you like.

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


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5. Celebrations by Margot Justes






We celebrate occasions, birthdays, anniversaries, graduation, good news, when we need stress relief, we find a reason to celebrate. In reality, we try to find a reason to celebrate anything that is a bit special.  



How do we celebrate? In my case that usually means a get together with friends and family, a restaurant meal, or if it really is a significant celebration, if possible I take a trip. I’m not getting younger, and while my body still let’s me I want to see as much as I can. I  want to play tourist.



On my recent getaway from a really miserable Chicago winter, I took an easy cruise to the Bahamas, and in the process met a few people who were perfectly content to stay in their little town, or county.



One such person, did go on the cruise, but refused to get off the ship. He got ‘away’ and wanted to be comfortable in familiar surroundings. He wasn’t an isolated incident on this particular cruise.
Frankly, I found that to be incredibly sad. As Mark Twain put it so succinctly,  “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”  If we don’t get out of our comfort zone, we’ll never learn about other cultures, society, or even something as simple as different celebrations.



Back to my point, I think I had one a minute ago...we take the time to celebrate, to spend time with friends and family.  I know we take pictures, and some even write about the happy times. We keep track of what we celebrated, we leave a trail of memories for others to follow.



I have been asked to combine my food(ie) tendencies and my love of travel. I’m not a foodie, I don’t really know what that means, but I love to try all types of different ethnic foods, and as the saying goes ‘I like to eat’.  I will keep a journal of the different restaurants I visit, or the few things I actually prepare at home, and will attempt to remember to take pictures of the food, before it is decimated on the plate. Hopefully, there will be a few blogs with pictures about Chicago area restaurants that I will post.



The first blog next week will be on Beograd, a Serbian delight, followed by my birthday ‘celebration’ at Chief O’Neill’s, an Irish Pub. I’m a sucker for a good meatloaf ,or Shepherd’s Pie. I also love the occasional Kiszka, a Polish blood sausage for breakfast. You’ll see pictures.  



There will of course be more blogs about travel. My next trip will be with my grandkids this summer. I’m looking forward to showing them a bit of Europe, and hope to instill in them the love of travel.



On that note, I’m delighted, and exceedingly happy to report that A Hotel in Bath was nominated for the In'Dtale Magazine "RONE" Award.



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


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6. Carnival Time in New Orleans by Margot Justes







Chicago’s winter this year has been brutal, and I was lucky enough to be able to escape it for a brief respite. A seven day cruise to the Bahamas first took me to New Orleans.

I thought Mardi Gras was only celebrated on the designated day-not so-the Carnival season starts the weekend before and carries on for a full week, ending the following Sunday. This year it started on the 21st of February.

I never thought I’d be anywhere near a place that celebrated Mardi Gras, not a big fan of crowds, but I couldn’t escape the beginning of the Carnival season in New Orleans.  I was there the first day of the festivities. That meant the first two parades that passed right on Canal Street, literally outside the main entrance to the hotel. How could I not participate and see the floats-after all-they’re legendary.

I joined the crowd on the street, young and old alike piled against the barricades along the street and waited for the fun to start. For me it started much earlier.  I walked on Canal, Bourbon, Royal and Decatur streets in the early afternoon, and the party was already in full swing.  Alcohol was freely flowing, as were the masks and various holiday accoutrements, from feathers, too-toos, beads and face paint. 

The parade started at about eight thirty in the evening, streets were closed making access difficult, if you were unlucky enough to want to go anywhere near the parade route. Carnival is big business in New Orleans. The floats are amazing, simply stunning, as are the costumes. The floats were colorful, garish and over the top, just perfect for the Carnival excesses. Marching bands, and of course the required political cars streamed along the street, one after the other. They were still going strong at midnight. I however was not. 

I’d never go out of my way to go anywhere during Carnival time, but this was an unplanned opportunity to see a bit of it, before it got really crazy on the actual day.  I was told Mardi Gras is absolutely nuts, but by that time, I was already on board ship. That being said, it was a wonderful opportunity to see a bit of the famed festival.

This was not my first trip to New Orleans, and I had fond memories of Café du Monde, so of course I stopped for coffee and beignets. The beignets were as I remembered them, absolutely delicious, the coffee I thought lacked strength and depth.  I remembered it as being more flavorful. Maybe my palate has changed, or maybe they’ve adapted the coffee to suit everyone. I do love my coffee on the strong side, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  There is something to be said for going back, and still take pleasure from the experience.

This was a first time I tried the colorful King Cake, and I loved it. Purple, gold and green colors decorate the top, sprinkled liberally with coarse sugar. Filled with a light cream center, the yeast dough is moist, and every bite is truly heavenly. I was told there are many versions, but I only sampled the one the hotel had to offer. Between the beignets, the King Cake, a huge lunch at the Court of Two Sisters, a Muffalata sandwich at the French Market, and the Shrimp Po-Boy, I can say the food is yummy.

Surprising to see were the many art galleries that lined the streets. Everywhere you turned that was a gallery, or local art was sold in a souvenir shop. Since my time was limited, I took the On and Off Bus, it’s a wonderful way to catch a glimpse of the city.

The French Quarter has not changed, it is alive and well. Effects of Katrina are still evident in many places, but the tourist trade is doing well, and that helps the area recover. The spirit of the locals is amazing and gracious.

Visit Paris from your armchair, A Hotel in Paris, is on sale for only 99. through Sunday.
http://www.amazon.com/A-Hotel-in-Paris-ebook/dp/B007KLPEU8/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1332155482&sr=8-2

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hearts & Daggers
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com



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7. The Island of Delos by Margot Justes




I wanted to be the first one to visit Europe with my grandchildren. Sydney will be twelve by the time we leave, and Anthony will be nine. Right now he’s more interested in the fact that the cruise ship will have a basketball court, and a swimming pool, and the gelato bar won’t hurt either.  He’ll go along with anything that is selected. So it’s up to Sydney to select the excursions, and pick what she wants to see.

Both kiddies are avid readers, but Sydney gets to choose. I loaned her a few of my travel books. One of our stops this summer will be Mykonos, Greece. For Valentine’s day I bought them a journal so that they could write about their  experiences. Anthony was excited, and actually picked his own journal.

I asked Sydney what she wanted to see in Mykonos. She looked through the guide book, and said ‘I’d like to see Delos.’ I explained that it is a live dig, not a touristy place, and that the only thing she’ll see were  ruins. Unbelievable ruins, but still ruins. I wanted to make sure she wouldn’t be disappointed.  Her reply was simple, ‘I like ruins

I’m looking forward to seeing it through their eyes. Delos is by no means a touristy visit. Below is a 
blog I wrote right after my first visit there three years ago.

I included pictures of Mykonos as well, it is a lively and lovely island.

About a thirty minute ferry ride from Mykonos is the island of Delos. And what an island  it is. There are approximately 25 people there, all either archeologists or security personnel.

The island is bare, there are no snack shops, no hotels, no restaurants, the only bathroom is on the museum, and the wind can whip up in a quick frenzy. The island is in fact quite desolate.  And absolutely stunning. 

There is a museum, that is the only modern accommodation for the tourist. Books and other Delos souvenirs can be bought there, but that is the extent of the touristy trade. The rest of the island is in ruins. Magnificent ruins. It is an immense site and one not easily forgotten.

Delos is said to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. Archeological traces indicate the island was inhabited as early as 3000 B.C. Some of the ruins are so well preserved that you can actually imagine what the structures looked like and how they were utilized.

From the Doric Temple of Isis to the Archaic Lions to the mosaic floors that are to this day in great shape. Truly inspiring, when you think about the age of those mosaics and remnants of ancient buildings.

Off the beaten path, I observed an archeologist crouched on a low portable chair, a pad and pencil in hand as he meticulously measured something on the ground and then put it on paper. I snuck up on him and watched as he quietly continued his research. Time stood still and the serenity on the island was disturbed only by the fierce whipping wind.

If you ever find yourself in Mykonos, do take the time to visit Delos. I promise, you will not be disappointed, you will in fact be enthralled. The terrain is rough, wear comfortable shoes, you will be walking in worn and uneven footsteps that are three thousand years old . It doesn't get better than that.
Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
www.mjustes.com




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8. A Day at Sea by Margot Justes Redux





It has been a harsh winter this year, and I’m ready for a bit of warmth and sun. Cruising at this stage in my life is a perfect get away. I get to see new places every day, and I don’t have to worry about anything else. It is a stress free vacation.

As the time nears for my cruise, I check daily to see if the prices change to my benefit. So far, it's going in the other direction.  However, it reminds me why at this stage in my life why I really love cruising.
Surrounded by water on all sides, the giant ship glides along the waves, the water lapping steadily as the ship moves forward. Mesmerizing. Relaxing. Blissful. All cares are swept away.

If the first day of the cruise is spent at sea, is a perfect time to relax and take that deep cleansing breath, as your cares glide away . The early morning is best, before the multitudes wake. That first cup of coffee and that first gaze at the ocean.  There is nothing better than the gentle breeze and sometimes not so gentle, and that fresh waft of the ocean air. Fresh and invigorating.

The coffee itch is always satisfied. I'm addicted to the brew, and fortunately it's served piping hot early every morning. It's not the best coffee by far, but considering how many people are on board and that it's continuously flowing, the ambiance makes it more than palatable. By the way, good coffee is available later in the day for an extra charge.

If your wishes tend toward walking there is a path on the highest deck, where it's just you, water and the sky. Early in the early morning twilight is just perfection, and there are fewer people. That is not a bad way to begin a vacation.

The delightful part of being at sea, is that you can do as much or as little as you want. There are plenty of planned activities, from belly dancing, belly flops and I'm sure other belly things, there is ballroom dancing, and...well, you get the drift. You can be as busy or as relaxed as you like. It's all up to you.  

The staff always on hand to bring fresh coffee, milk, whatever you need; they are continuously working. By the end of the first day, the steward will know your name, what you like, if you want coffee delivered to your cabin, and at what time. It's all part of the training to make each guest feel at home and welcome. You know what, it works.

The elevators have a plaque on the floor, changed daily to make sure you know the days of the week; a gentle reminder that you're on vacation.

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


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9. The Wonder of Travel by Margot Justes Redux



The pictures are of Bath, England. I set my second book there, A Hotel in Bath, because I fell in love with the age worn, and magnificent city. I even found the murder place at the Sacred Spring in the Roman Baths Museum; the flowing hot sulphuric water was perfect. A unique and truly magical place for romance and mystery. 

My roots go back to Europe, and I've always been kiddingly (I hope) told that for me it's not a vacation unless I cross the pond, aka the Atlantic, or any other ocean for that matter. I've been blessed in being able to travel. I seek out the best deals in hotels, air fare and anything else needed to keep the price down and affordable; of course that is all relative. We have to plan according to our budgetary constraints. The idea is to be able to go somewhere and see something new and have an adventure, and still be able to afford it.  



That adventure can happen right in your own backyard, all it takes is a bit of research and voila, there are things to do. Everyplace offers something new to discover. I'm not at all interested in beaches, not my choice, but I have made an effort and have seen a few. Okay, I'll admit to the old adage if you've seen one beach you've seen them all. Well except the beaches in Santorini, Greece, it is black sand because of volcanic activity.  Here is my point, it was different and I learned a bit about Santorini's history because of that beach. 



The same can happen right here at home. A beautiful building, an enticing restaurant with a terrific view, an age old bookstore filled to capacity with history and books, local history museum and yes, bars and beaches. No matter your interest, there is always something new to see. It doesn't have to cost a lot, just a bit of your time.



Not everyone likes museums. I've heard a great deal of disdain in my life from people who do not want to waste their time in a museum. Sad to say I’ve heard the same about reading. But I digress, my philosophy is, if you don't try you'll never know. Stretch the imagination a bit. Many museums charge a fee, some nominal and others not so nominal, but there are discounts available. Just a bit of research is needed to find them.  If you're in the DC area, the Smithsonian is free, and the museums are unbelievable, you hop from the National Gallery to the American History Museum , and so many others in between-and they are all amazingly free.



As the proverbial saying goes, I cut my teeth in museums, but my palate was severely limited to Polish food. That is what I grew up on, and to this day still love to eat it. There was no other exposure until I was on my own, timid and afraid slowly I ventured out, now there is not a cuisine in this world that I would not try. I'm grateful that I took that first step. I apply that same process to a vacation, whether it's in other parts of the world or right here at home.



I wrote a travel article on Bath, that was first published by Crimespree  Magazine, and it is now posted on my website on the travel page.



Happy travels, wherever they may take you.



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





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10. Ravenna by Margot Justes




Ravenna, is the capital of the Province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy.

Once upon a time, it was also the capital city of the Western Roman Empire from 402 until the collapse in 476. Ravenna was conquered by the  Byzantine Empire in 540. Ravenna’s history is rich in conquests, architecture, literature and music. The history is immense, and many books are available on the subject.

The town survived many wars, conquests and occupations. Ravenna was ruled by Venice from about 1440 until 1509. Sacked by the French in 1512, followed by another short conquest by Venice from 1527 to 1529. That is just a smattering of the incredible history.

The history is rich and convoluted, and even World War II did little damage. The preservation of the town is astounding, and it truly is an amazing place to see.

The buildings are steeped in age, and you get an incredible sense of history when you walk the narrow, cobbled streets, or even stop in a modern cafe that is housed in an ancient building.

For me, a coffee stop is the rigueur to get a sense of the city. In Italy an espresso is gulped down quickly while standing. I prefer to savor mine while I sit and observe the locals. There is a higher fee for the coffee if you sit down. I’m a tourist, I sit and sip. But I digress...

Ravenna is a photographer’s paradise. It is a walking city, and every street, building, cobblestone is a treasure. Eight of UNESCO’s Heritage Sites are found in Ravenna, from churches, to a mausoleum, to basilicas and a baptistry. The sites dated from 430 to 549.

Notable writers like Byron, Hesse, Wilde, T.S. Elliot  and Dante wrote about Ravenna in one way or another.

There is an annual Ravenna Music Festival, Operas held at the Teatro Alighieri, something for everyone. Ravenna is rich in cultural history, and even Chicago has a classical link to Ravenna. Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s director Ricardo Muti, is a longtime resident of Ravenna.

Cruising allows you to see a bit of a place, and most likely I would never have seen Ravenna otherwise. I’m grateful to have seen even a little.  



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


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11. 10 clever uses for the space under the stairs

10 clever uses for the space under the stairs  Better than letting that space be turned over to monsters and creatures that like to live under the stairs...hehehe.... Read the rest of this post

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12. A bit of the Caribbean Warmth by Margot Justes Redux





It’s bitter cold in Chicago, and time for a bit of the Caribbean warmth. The shimmering waters, the sparkly sand warm under your feet, and the sheer delight of relaxation. The ‘ah’ moment to take a breath and savor every second.

It’s no secret I love to cruise, and soon I’ll find myself in the Southern Caribbean. The sightseeing is vastly different from the European visits.  

I prefer cruising, because you stop in distinctive places; the islands are close, but each one is unique, and fun to visit. The locals are friendly, and always ready with a smile.

The Caribbean is more accessible from the US, and second, the pace is far more relaxed.  A perfect vacation, to get away from the stress of our daily routine, and get into the palm trees, beach and sand frame of mind. It is not rushed, does not possess the ‘I have to see everything because I don’t know if I’ll ever be back’ feeling. You can visit at your leisure because you just might be back.

Okay I’m not a beach baby, and I must have something else to see and do, have no fear it’s there as well.

If you find yourself in St. Thomas, there is Blackbeard’s Castle, with a tower thrown in for good measure. For those that climb all the way up, they can, on the way down stop in the Rum Blending & Bottling facility. Not only can you watch as the rum is blended and bottled, you can sample the brew and buy a few bottles, and they’ll deliver directly to the ship. How is that for convenience?

Once you’ve satisfied your thirst-after all the climb up the tower is arduous-you can visit the amber museum. Along the way you’ll find a magnificent amber waterfall, it is not to be missed. The water shimmers along the various golden hues of the amber, and the effect is a feast for the eyes. There is a gift shop where you can find some unique and original amber pieces.

The history of the castle is fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable, and highly recommended. Every island has something unique to offer.

That is just one stop on the itinerary. Cruising is not that expensive, when you consider that it is a floating all inclusive hotel. The cabin, food, gym, and the entertainment is included; alcohol is not. There are advertised specials, and inside cabins are usually well priced. You spend little time in those cubby holes, but if you can afford it, a veranda is a delightful upgrade. Sometimes, the cruise ship might upgrade your cabin level. So far I have found that upgrade to be rather elusive.

Blood Art Goodreads giveaway is still going on. https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/enter_choose_address/77996-blood-art

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hearts & Daggers
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com

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13. Dubrovnik by Margot Justes




Dubrovnik is one of those historical cities, where you could wonder about, and happily get lost in. A walled city in Croatia, on the Dalmatian Coast it is aptly called the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’.  Dubrovnik dates back to early 7th century. Formed by refugees who named it Laus: from the Latin lausa meaning rock.

From the time of Dubrovnik’s formal creation by the Slavs, who called it Dubrovnik, from the Croatian word dubrava (rock), the town was protected by Byzantine Empire, and after the Fourth Crusade, controlled by the all powerful sovereignty of Venice, and became part of the Hungarian-Croatian Kingdom, and everything in between. The history is as rich as it is varied. 

Rock as a basis for a name is appropriate for the city. It is a perfect sample of a well preserved and designed late-medieval walled city. Just walking through the narrow, meandering streets surrounded by stone everywhere you turn, gives you a sense of history.

The city was almost destroyed by an earthquake in 1667, but many of the beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, fountains and palaces remained intact. More damaged occurred in the 1990s due to military conflicts, but there is an ongoing restoration program sponsored by UNESCO; it has been one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.

The main square in old town is a gathering spot for locals and tourists, along with a church, bell tower, a palace, it is also filled with restaurants, souvenir shops, and coffee houses-they serve an excellent cup of the brew-it is indeed a tourist delight. Our tour guide spoke of the tremendous amount of pride the Croatian people hold for Dubrovnik, and reverence for their history, and survival.  

Dubrovnik is incredibly picturesque, and for a short blog best described through photography. Well worth a visit, and spending a day was certainly not enough, but it was enough to  let me know I need to go back.

Blood Art giveaway on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/enter_choose_address/77996-blood-art

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


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14. A Hotel in Bath by Margot Justes Redux


I would like to share a snippet of A Hotel in Bathwith you. A journey that began in Paris, continues in Bath.
“Welcome to London, Miss Grey,” he whispered.
“Thank you, Captain.” She leaned toward him and with her fingertips caressed his cheek.
The plane roared to a stop amidst layers of dense fog, the silvery hue obscuring the landing strip. Inside the plane, the woman sitting next to Peter Riley shivered, he gently stroked her hand, his gaze on her face as soft as the caress. He was so completely aware of her that he could taste her increasing panic. Their relationship was new, and Minola Grey was skittish about commitment. He knew the relationship terrified her, a fear of betrayal never far from the surface.
Minola looked up at him and their eyes locked. “A hotel in London, Captain?”
“Yes, Miss Grey. We were going to go to my apartment, but I received a message that the painters were delayed, and the apartment is not ready. A hotel in Bath. That concept should be familiar to you, except this time, I’m staying with you from the very beginning,” he replied smiling. His grip on her fingers tightened. She took his breath away. “I love you,” he whispered in her ear. “Nervous?”
“No…yes…”
“No. Yes. Hmmm. Now, that is an interesting response. Any regrets?”
“About what?”
“Me.”
“No. Never about you. Meeting your parents, well, let's just say that is an entirely different matter,” Minola replied.
He remembered the first time he met Minola Grey. Paris. And murder. As an Interpol agent, Peter Riley was part of an investigative team in Paris; somehow, she wound up becoming an indispensable part of his life. Because of him, she had matured as a woman and as an artistshe’d become a success in Paris, and now had a major show planned in London—but she still had doubts and insecurities about their association. Minola continued, “Peter, what are your parents going to think? I’m a stranger you are imposing on them during their vacation. Maybe I should stay in London. We can all meet later in Bath.”
His grip on her fingers did not relent, he understood her and her fears. She was a remarkable artist whose talent he’d seen grow darker and grittier with her exposure to his profession. He’d been terrified for her safety. It happened right in front of his eyes, she’d seen death and her life had been threatened, horrifying him in the process. She learned about greed, hate, how easy it is for someone to take a life. Peter would do anything to keep her safe and wrapped in a cocoon of his own choosing. Yet throughout their time together, she remained stoic, timid, and more importantly, mistrustful of their relationship.
“First and foremost, you are not a stranger. You are the one and only woman in my life. Have been since the day we met. We are going to Bath together. My parents are looking forward to meeting you. And I want to be with you, but if I’m not enough of a lure, there is an added incentive; a gallery in Bath you will enjoy visiting. I know the owner.”
“A gallery? Ah, you twist my arm, Captain. By the way, you are enough. You will always be enough.” She leaned over and once again touched his cheek. “Peter, how long are we going to stay in Bath? Maybe we should get two
“We are staying in one room. Together.” He brought her hand to his lips, before she had a chance to withdraw. “We can leave tomorrow morning. It’s not a long drive, and we can relax tonight. Well, maybe not relax, entirely. I have missed loving you,” he said with emphasis.
“Peter, I'm afraid; I feel as if you didn't get a chance to…”
“I have everything I want. You. I’m thinking of leaving Interpol. I’ve found I cannot risk your life again; your safety has become an obsession.”
“What?” She shook her head. “No, you can't. You told me a while back that you make a difference with your work. I know you make a differenceI've seen it. It’s what you want. I can’t let you alter your life so dramatically. Besides, how can I possibly be in danger just by being with you?”
“This is not like being a policeman. Some of the people I deal with reach a long way and retaliate. Violently. My family is further detached from me by living in a small village where everyone knows each other. You, my love, will be living with me and have a high profile. You can become a perfect target.”
“You would be giving up your career because of me, and it would be my fault.  I can’t live with that...Peter, I can’t.”
“I will not be giving anything up. It’s time I assumed responsibilities at home.”
“What do you mean? Responsibilities at home? You would throw away your career and resent me later. You didn’t even discuss it with me. We have to talk. Are we together or not?”
“We are. Absolutely. I’m not letting you go. Ever. And you are correct, we do have to talk. Once we get to Bath. Tonight, I want to make love with you.”
Leaving the plane, his grip firm on her waist, he ushered her to the baggage area. He wasn’t going to let her go. His need for her increased with every breath he took. How on earth is that possible? He recognized that she still felt tentative and apprehensive. The betrayal in Chicago had left her vulnerable, and he had his work cut out for him to allow her to grow in their relationship, allow her to trust him and believe in him. Believe he would never betray her.
Peter’s cell phone went off, and he answered instinctively. “Mother, how are you?” His arm around Minola’s waist tightened perceptibly. “Yes, we are on our way to the…yes, no, not my apartment…we should be in Bath tomorrow.” Peter listened to the voice at the other end of the line. “I’m sorry, son,” he heard his mother say, “Madeleine was killed sometime yesterday. Ashby is asking for you and Fitzhugh has been trying to get in touch.”
Cheers,  
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Blood Art
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com

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15. Venice by Margot Justes Redux




Below is a blog I posted when I returned from my first trip to Venice. On my second trip this year, my feelings about Venice intensified. The city is as mysterious as it is stunning.

Getting to Venice is not difficult,  hop on a plane to any central European city and transfer to a small plane bound for the Marco Polo airport in Venice.

Once there, it took me a while to get my bearing,  my nickname Wrong Way Rodal is well founded. I get lost easily and have a hard time with left and right, and we won't discuss North, South, etc.

At the Marco Polo airport, I wanted to get an ACTV 72 hour pass, that would allow me to take the bus to the center of town and more importantly would allow me to use the vaporetto at will.

I asked and received a blank stare, a finger pointing to a sea of faces, no kiosk selling anything, just tourists looking as lost as I was. One person actually answered in Italian, and since I spoke in English and don't speak Italian beyond the pleasantries, it presented a slight problem.  But we smiled at each other and I thanked him in Italian. Grazie goes a long way but unfortunately not to a place that got me a ticket.

The fact that I spoke English, had this totally lost look on my face, was at an airport, lugging luggage behind me and hoping against hope someone would take me for a tourist. Nope, it didn’t happen, no one did. Odd that.

I walked a bit further, probably in a circle, although nothing looked familiar and I didn't get that- been there done that- the European Vacation 'look kids Big Ben' feeling.
Finally, I got lucky and bought the three day pass and took the bus that took me to Piazza Roma, the central hub where it would appear all travelers converge. 

From there it was walking distance over a few bridges to the Boscolo Bellini hotel, just steps away from the Grand Canal in the Cannaregio district.

Going up and down the various bridges was a treat, the luggage thumping, bumping and groaning as the was person pulling the darn things. That would be me.

The area was perfect, the hotel however was not, at best it lacked a personality, however the people at the desk were gracious and helpful, and the location more than made up for the shortcomings of the hotel.
Breakfast at the hotel was delicious, the pastries fresh and the coffee sublime.  On the second day, my server remembered my preference and brought hot steaming milk to the table.

My first day was spent wondering through the maze of tiny alleys and narrow streets in hope of finding the elusive Piazza San Marco. You guessed it, even following the clear markings and arrows, I got lost. 
Practically next door to the hotel was a remarkable Romanesque church and it so happened that there was a concert that night right in the church. It was fantastic. All in all, an incredible first day in a wondrous city.

The local restaurant was superb and I fell in  love with black pasta, the local Venetian specialty. It truly was love at first bite.  Black pasta is either pasta made with squid or cuttlefish  ink, or the sauce is made from the ink. I tried both and loved both, the flavor is at once robust and earthy. Gelato was the dessert of choice, there are many flavors to choose from and I did my best to sample as many as time permitted.

Piazza San Marco does exist. St. Mark's Basilica stands proud and dominates the Piazza, it is the central focus, however the Piazza is so much more, the ducal palace and cafes, souvenir shops and the Grand Canal. The Piazza, simply put is glorious, as is the rest of this mysterious and intriguing city.

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


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16. Cinque Terre by Margot Justes


 
Cinque Terre is in the rugged Liguria region of the Italian Riviera. Rugged indeed and stunning. Cinque Terre is a national park, and 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 bit of 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. The effect is stunning.

Cinque Terre has become a popular tourist destination, and you will find the necessary souvenir shops, restaurants, and cafes. Yet it retains an old age charm, with small fishing boats moored on the street, sort of like parking a car, except they’re boats. We has enough time to walk down the main street and a few narrow avenues that further defined 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 a 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 you forget everything except the sheer age and natural beauty that surrounds you.

From Vernazza we took the local train to Monterosso. The village is a bit bigger, and more  touristy. I stopped for lunch at a restaurant with a fantastic view of the sea, and the best seafood pasta I’ve ever tasted. Pasta was cooked al dente just the way I like it, and the seafood was incredibly fresh, and the tomato sauce was light and well seasoned.

Along the way, we tasted some of the local wines, and amaretti con limone cookies; the Monterosso specialty-macaroons made with lemon, and some delicious Pesto, 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.

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. Barcelona by Margot Justes

 



Barcelona is exciting, vibrant and the locals know how to enjoy themselves, they possess the joie de vivre that is hard to miss, and often times hard to find.

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

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

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

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

Have I forgotten to mention the food-it is delicious-they create a mouth watering delight   with just potatoes. Okay, I’m Polish and happen to love potatoes, but the Patatas Bravas are truly yummy, and the sauce has a slight bite that you feel on the tip of your tongue.

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

Shopping abounds on Passeig de Gracia, favorably compared to other famous boulevards with prices to match. I enjoy the walk, and window shop, the displays are imaginative and fun.

There are many hotels and as always prices range from low to high, it all depends on your budget. You will find delicious and reasonably priced tapas bars, but if you’re in the tourist areas be prepared to pay. I do a bit of research  before I leave, and thus avoid sticker shock.

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

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

 

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18. Gaudi in Barcelona by Margot Justes


 
If you love architecture, and whimsical work that makes you smile and feel happy, then there is no better place than Barcelona. That is where you’ll find Antoni Gaudi’s work.

You will also find Dali, Picasso and Miro, but Gaudi’s work alone is worth a trip to Barcelona. Many of his buildings in Barcelona were designated World Heritage Sites.

Gaudi is considered a major contributor to the ‘Catalan Modernism’ style of architecture, and the leading proponent of the Art Nouveau movement, but the end result refuses to be qualified as anything but ‘Gaudi’. His style unique, extravagant, original, earthy and simply stunning.  

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

The interior of La Sagrada Familia is now open to the public, and the use of light from above and through the stained glass windows is mesmerizing. The columns branch out on top to support the structure, but it reflects his love of nature and looks like a forest.

His use of ceramic tile, wood, wrought iron, brick, colorful paint results in a stroll through a fantasy, as can be witnessed in the Pedrera, and Casa Batllo, as well as La Sagrada Familia, and even a park,  Park Guell.

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

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

 

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19. Montserrat by Margot Justes


 
Barcelona is gorgeous, and I decided to spend a couple of days before and a couple of days after the cruise in Barcelona. So much to see that four days wasn’t enough. Since the cruise ended on Sunday, disembarkation was early, ship docked at seven, and most everything was closed. It was the perfect time to go to Montserrat.

Montserrat is a monastery up high in the mountains, 38 kilometers from Barcelona and about an hour by bus. The setting is glorious, built into the mountain, with stunning views wherever you turn.

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

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

There are a few ways to reach Montserrat, by cable car, bus, car or by rack railway. The road is narrow and winds up the mountain. I decided it was best to leave the driving to the professionals.  

Along with the church, monastery, library, meandering roads and artistic treasures, there is also a hotel, and when I go back I’d stay in the hotel for a couple of days. A few hours just wet my appetite for more.

There is a service in the church on Sunday, as well as a noon performance by the boys choir, so the church was filled to capacity and beyond. You literally couldn’t get in-it was packed solid- even a well oiled sardine would have a problem. I got a glimpse of the ornate church, but couldn’t handle all the humanity, it took me ten minutes from the very back of the church to get out the door, and fresh air.

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

I just touched on Montserrat, if you find yourself in Barcelona, Montserrat is not to be missed.

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

 

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20. Two Hotels in Barcelona by Margot Justes


 
This was a Mediterranean  cruise that departed from Barcelona, one of the major ports in Europe. A beautiful city with stunning architecture, Antoni Gaudi’s work alone is worth a visit. I stayed two nights before the cruise, and two nights after. I picked two different hotels, both were centrally located.

The first hotel in Barcelona, and one I would highly recommend was Hotel Casa Fuster; an intimate hotel with fewer than a hundred rooms, built in the Art Nouveau style of architecture, located in the center of town on 132 Passeig De Gracia.

Service was incomparable, room was beautiful, the roof top had spectacular views of the city, and a sumptuous breakfast that included eggs any style, Spanish ham and cheeses, excellent bread and a selection of coffees, made the stay perfect. I’m a breakfast person. They even had an industrial strength Nespresso machine. I started with a pot of coffee and hot steaming milk, and finished with the self serve Nespresso coffee.

The one thing that made the stay exceptional was the service. I stopped and asked about a visit to La Sagrada Familia, and was informed it is better to book a tour, otherwise the wait would be rather long. They called and reserved the tickets, and all I had to do was walk to the Julia travel agency near the church; about a twenty minute walk from the hotel. The agency was well known and had many offices in the city. It worked out perfectly well, and the guide was informative, and we had plenty of time to stay on our own after the tour ended. The hotel staff was right about the long wait.

The second hotel, the Majestic, also on 68 Passeig De Gracia, was contemporary, all marble and glass. As I got out of the taxi, I was asked by the porter in a top hat, if I had reservations. I didn’t want to be rude, so replied that yes, indeed I had reservations; however, an entirely different response came to mind. Not a good introduction to hotel, and it didn’t improve.

I requested an early arrival, and the hotel agreed, at least according to the travel agent. I checked in and was told that checkout was at noon, and I was early. They gave me a slip for the luggage, and told me that check in was at three.

I then asked about a tour to Montserrat, and the clerk at the registration desk showed me a private five hour car tour, to the tune of $600 hundred dollars. I said, I didn’t think so. I asked about a regular tour, she then tells me they are available, but we have to prepay with cash, or at least make a cash deposit, this way if we don’t show up, they keep the deposit.  No other effort was made-she lost interest when I declined the private car.

At this point I asked where was the nearest Julia office, and was told it’s a five minute cab ride. I asked her to show me on the map, and it turned out to be a ten minute walk from the hotel. I got my ticket, and off I went to Montserrat.

You could rent a car, and go on your own, but it was Sunday, besides the narrow road up the mountain was better left to the professionals. I’m really a quirky driver, and unless I’m in my own neck of the woods, as is my neighborhood, I leave the driving to others.

The breakfast was delicious, they had the obligatory omelet station, but the rest of the buffet was tapas style, and the Spanish ham, and various sausages, and cheeses were delicious. Coffee was excellent.  The Majestic also had a spectacular view of the city from the rooftop.

The rest of the staff at the Majestic was courteous, helpful and friendly. It’s amazing how first impressions and actions of the staff altered my perception of the hotel.

More about Barcelona next week.

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

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21. Blood Art by Margot Justes


I thought I’d share the first chapter of Blood Art with you, my first paranormal release.
I loved writing it, and hope you enjoy reading it.

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

                                                             Chapter 1

Florence, Italy 1503

           “I am a vampire, Leonardo.”

“I am well aware of that fact Nikolai, but you have the soul of an artist.”

“I repeat. I am a vampire. And make no mistake—I have no soul.”

As a course for survival, Nikolai lost his soul centuries ago, but there was no reason in belaboring the point. Leonardo da Vinci was entitled to his belief.

Nikolai stood in the middle of the cavernous room and looked around him. Flickering candles cast shadows on the walls. A massive wooden desk was shoved against bare brick, one end piled with old rags coated in deep and rich colors. Leonardo's palette lay on the floor recklessly abandoned, and paint splashes had spilled onto the wooden floor, filling the wide cracks between the boards. A stale oil smell permeated the room; used candles were everywhere, surrounded by mounds of spent wax. A few books were stacked up on the floor against another wall, one on top of the other. An old wooden chair pushed against a corner, stained with crimson paint; the cushion looked like a splash of blood. A tapestry covered the wall where a makeshift straw bed lay on the floor.

“I repeat. You, my dear friend, have the soul of an artist. Vampire or not.”

“I collect art, hence our deep and abiding friendship—all due to your masterful accomplishments. I have no other such talents. At least, other than being eternal, ageless, and have an uncanny ability to amass a fortune at every opportunity. Typical vampire standards; anything I want, when I want, and how I want. Staying alive for eons does allow one to become complacent. Despite the danger, eternal existence does permit certain pleasures. And for me, the building of a sizable art collection is most gratifying, and a venture which I intend to continue through the ages.” The brusque, low voice was mesmerizing in its intensity, and hid any emotion, any visible trace of anguish. He simply stated these facts as if they were nothing, and common.

Nikolai Volkov watched as Leonardo picked up burned out candles and stray brushes he had left everywhere.

“Nikolai, you support artists that are being ignored, ridiculed. You redeem us. You recognize ageless talent. I am egotistical enough to say that in the coming centuries I will survive through my art.”

“Of that I have no doubt. Again, that is why I collect your paintings; your drawings alone are incomparable. I know you will survive. And you will increase my wealth substantially.” Nikolai turned and looked at the various paintings leaning against one of the stone walls. In the corner canvases were stacked in no particular order, and next to them wooden planks.

Leonardo's studio was plain, utilitarian, and filled with finished and unfinished works of art, all of which Nikolai coveted and wanted to own. Possess.

“Yes, I am sure I will survive, but only through my art. You have and will continue to survive through other means. Ones I do not wish to think about.”

“I have paid dearly for my survival.” Nikolai touched his cheek, feeling the ridge of the deep scar on his face. That attack had been particularly brutal. The cut went all the way to the bone, and not allowed to heal. Lucrezia Borgia told him it would mar his stunning beauty and further bind him to her, both physically and emotionally. She was wrong on both counts. He considered the scar his badge of courage and tenacity.

His surreal beauty, as she had once described it, now marred by that one scar. A reminder of torture. A memory not to be forgotten. Vampires do not scar, yet that one single scar on his body remained, as if an omen of things yet to come. Centuries of memories all held within that singular ridged cut on his face that slashed down to his very soul. The one he claimed not to have.

He was tall, over six-foot-three, with hair black as night. His eyes were as blue as sapphires and frigid as the Arctic ice. Nikolai was built hard, like Michelangelo's David, and just as cold.

The lethal combination fostered first and foremost fear from man and demon alike. And admiration, from women. All women. He never lacked for company. Yet, they all left him unsatisfied, and yearning for something he didn’t understand.

“Leonardo, will you paint a portrait for me?” Nikolai spoke quietly, staring at a painting stacked against a wall, his back to Leonardo.

“You?”

“No. Not me.” Nikolai replied, his bleak smile was more of a grimace that did not reach his eyes. “This will be from memory. My memory.”

“Does she mean something to you? I assume you are speaking of a woman.”

“Yes, I was. And yes, she meant something to me.” He ran his finger along the jagged scar.

“Ah, I see. I gather she was not a pleasant memory.”

“You gather correctly.”

“I will do it for you. Tell me everything you know about her. Every single memory. Every movement. Everything you remember. Give me a perfect description of the mysterious woman. It will be my gift to you.”

“I do not wish to keep the painting.” Nikolai visibly shuddered at the thought. “You may do with it what you will. Burn it in hell for all I care.” His reply was savage.

“I see.” Leonardo replied thoughtfully, rubbing his chin. “Why do you want me to paint it?”

“To exorcise a demon. One among many.”

“Do you wish to discuss it, my friend?”

“No. Just paint the damn thing. You will be well paid.”

“No,” Leonardo replied vehemently, shaking his hand in the air. “There will be no money changing hands. I will paint it. I will not burn it; I will sell it. I do have a payment to demand of you. Once I am done, I expect to hear why I painted it. That is my demand. Do you agree?”

“Yes, damn you. I will agree to your terms. Your absurd demand.”

“Why absurd? She obviously damaged you. I would have to be an idiot not to recognize the symptoms. And I am not an idiot.”

“Yes, I am fully aware that you are not an idiot. You should be terrified of me. Yet you are not. You reason things out. You think. A vampire, even in your century, should horrify you. Yet, I do not.”

“You terrify me, all right. Your power. Your strength. Your ability to kill without thought. Your survival through the centuries. Your knowledge of the past. Yes, you alarm me, my friend.”

“Alarm…that is a milksop statement. Leonardo, look at your own drawings. You see what is to come. What does that say about you? Your work foreshadows the future. It is there, in your drawings.” Nikolai pointed to a canvas leaning against a wall. “You are more than an artist; our long discussions have proven that. You are a genius. A man of re-birth. You, here and now, could be considered demonic. That is how some would interpret your work.”

“I will ignore that. It is safer not to discuss people and their survival methods—it might be misunderstood. Fortunately for me, my work is not well understood. Most everyone sees a painting or a drawing, nothing more. Perhaps they even think I am mad. A simple man cannot interpret what I imagine simply by looking at my work. That is indeed very good for me.” Leonardo sighed. “Now, let us get back to your description of the woman.”

“Have I touched a sensitive spot?” The vampire asked, sarcasm dripped from every word.

“Yes.” Leonardo hissed between his teeth. “Now, give me the damn description.”

“Paint her as you would a beloved portrait. Make her mysterious. Enigmatic. Serene. Perfectly poised to attract attention. Paint her as the central and pivotal person in the scene. In fact blur everything else. Nothing should matter much save her face and hands. Long, beautiful fingers, elegant hands with perfect skin, relaxed. Incapable of hard work. Make her look innocent. Wistful.” Nikolai stopped speaking, and again touched his face along the line of the scar.

“Make the damn demon, the savage beast…saintly. That will be the joke for centuries to come. Paint it dark, yet give her light. A shimmer, so that she almost glows. Make her irresistible. Give her eyes that damn the soul. Eyes that see beyond the present. Is that enough for you?” Nikolai demanded.

“Yes. Do I have leave to choose the color of her hair and eyes?” Leonardo asked quietly, captivated by Nikolai’s mesmerizing voice and the tortured memories he was reliving.

“I do not care what color you choose. Dark is what I desire.”

“It shall be done. You want her to look enigmatic, a mystery through the ages. How is that for conceit? She will survive centuries, whereas I will die.”

“You, my friend, will be reborn every time someone looks at your work. But you already know that. Your art will speak for you for eternity.”

“Let us continue as we have in the past, Nikolai.” Leonardo preferred to ignore rather than acknowledge the reality of his existence. “Your life is eternal. You do not age. Let us leave it at that. Be careful not be recognized, it might endanger you.”

“I am four hundred years old. Through the centuries of battles, corruption, and betrayal, no one pays any attention to whether or not I age. Everyone is consumed with their own survival. I expect that in the future, I shall need to take better care.”

“Take better care, but live. Even if you cannot be killed, live as you have done in the past.” Leonardo spoke softly, as if afraid of being overheard.

“I aim to live better, and I can be killed; one just has to know how. I certainly do not discuss that aspect of my survival. I am alone, removed from my clan. Solitary, my lair and art my only comfort. It has been this way for centuries and, make no mistake, Leonardo—it is a lonely existence. You, my friend are a true master and you bring me a great deal of pleasure. Someday your work will be priceless. Look at your drawings. See the things I see in your work. You behold the future in front of you.”

 “Indeed.” Leonardo dismissed Nikolai's predictions with a wave of his hand. “I may need you again, after I begin the portrait, of course.” Leonardo spoke absentmindedly, stretching his fingers, already thinking about the unusual commission.

“Of course, I am always available to you. How will you explain the mystery woman?” Nikolai's curiosity got the better of him.

“I will not. There will be rumors. A model. A mistress. A wife. A requested portrait by a well to do merchant.  I myself will perpetuate said rumors,” Leonardo replied, a wide smile lining his face.

“Brilliant, Leonardo. As I have said, your work will be priceless.”

“Do you wish to change your mind and purchase the portrait?”

“No.” Nikolai shuddered, turned, and slammed the massive door behind him. He took a deep breath, a normal human reaction one he'd used so frequently that he no longer even thought about it. He walked outside and realized that had his heart been beating, it would have stopped at the mere suggestion that he keep the portrait of his tormentor and captor. Damn the Borgias. All of them.

Nikolai walked to his lair and thought about his life, lost in memories of long ago. He heard a rustle of leaves, a shrill scream, and then silence. His speed was as fast as the wind, and as quiet as death. He reached a man kneeling over the body of a woman. She lay on the ground, unconscious, her face bloody and leg twisted unnaturally, her arms outstretched. The man reached to lift her torn skirt. Nikolai lost all veneer of civility, his fury reflected in his blood-red eyes and extended fangs. He showed no mercy.

He grabbed the man, then effortlessly lifted him off the ground and threw him against a tree. He heard a crunch but didn't bother to look back. He reached down and tenderly touched the bruise on the woman's face, her split lip where the man had obviously hit her with his fist. Nikolai's touch healed her. He straightened the leg and massaged it. She would have a few bruises, but nothing that would last more than a few days. He lifted her in his arms and carried her back to Leonardo's.

Leonardo would help the less fortunate, the few strays Nikolai occasionally brought him. He always did.

On his way home, hunger struck. His fangs lengthened, but he would not feed from the vermin he'd destroyed. He'd lure someone else.

Nikolai once again pondered his existence. He'd just destroyed a life and felt no remorse. He knew that if he had not interfered, the woman would have been raped and most likely killed. He felt nothing for the life he so easily extinguished. The bastard deserved it.

Alone, Nikolai had few friends, and he chose not to search for any members of his clan, or any other vampires. He'd had his suspicions about several people he knew, but preferred not to bring any attention to his own existence.

His path to emotional survival and redemption forbid getting involved in battles not of his own choosing. He searched for his salvation and ultimately some meaning to his eternal existence. His senseless killing sprees subsided long ago. Finished. Now he only killed when necessary. To end evil, be it human or otherwise.

Nikolai thought about his captor and tormentor, and as always waited for her to come after him. Addicted to his blood, Lucrezia would move heaven and earth to get him back. She could do nothing else; the addiction was like a disease. He promised himself next time that she would not survive. He learned a great deal through the centuries, including how to outlast and outwait a demon. Patience. He had a great deal of patience for certain things. Eternity will teach you that, if nothing else.

Long ago, Nikolai escaped from his torments. He emerged into putrid air contaminated with lost souls, but he was free. Alone. No longer a captive to be tortured against his will. No longer raped. No longer beaten. No longer slashed and starved. She taught him to kill without thought, whether for revenge or retribution. He did not care; he had killed to gain physical and mental freedom.

The paintings and sculptures he'd gleaned while still a captive brought him salvation. Those pieces he took from her as payment for his suffering. She paid a heavy price for the abuse she gave, and in his mind, she would forever be a living nightmare. Her name was indelible in his memory: Lucrezia Borgia.

He'd called her the demon queen of torment, for indeed she knew how to inflict the utmost pain. The rack became a pleasure in comparison to what else he'd suffered. His limbs were stretched and pulled, his life's blood spilled, and still that wasn't enough for her. She'd turned him to keep him forever young, make him hers to use  as she pleased. Lucrezia became addicted to him, and that was her folly. His doom. Her ultimate mistake.

Once freed from her rule, and on through the ages, he saw redemption in art and the painters and sculptors who made a difference in the art world. The geniuses of the centuries, like Leonardo da Vinci, one among so few.

Nikolai's speed increased. He was eager to reach his home atop a hill, his fortress built with massive stones and rocks that allowed for defense, along with an underground chamber where he could rest in peace, unencumbered by anyone or anything. The fortress was designed so that any room could be kept pitch black—the windows tiny, the glass that was there was thick and crinkly. The curtains were made from heavy brocade that blocked all sunlight and the world outside.

Priceless tapestries hung on the walls, for warmth that he didn't need, and the pleasure that he craved. The absolute joy of holding a canvas, or feeling the texture of a magnificent tapestry, was his salvation in life, offering comfort and contemplation.

Nikolai longed for peace and searched for the one woman who would matter, who would end the unbearable loneliness. In the meantime, he did what he could to make life better for others. He tried to hide the arrogance, the strength, and all the other characteristics, everything that comes with being a vampire. Not ashamed of who and what he was, but age has taught him the old adage that discretion was indeed the better part of valor.

Through the centuries, he added to his already enormous art collection, and added to his own power as a demon.

The instinct of the vampire to survive was always present and a huge part of his survival, but he adapted to humanity. His chosen style of solitude served him well. Over time, he learned not to kill to feed, but allow his victims to survive without ill effects, and without memories of his presence. He no longer destroyed unless threatened, but then he had no mercy, his brutality hidden beneath the veneer of sophistication and age-old wisdom. But the brutality existed when needed.

His countless properties were managed by people he trusted and of whom he took great care. His people were loyal to him beyond question, and from one generation to the next, they stayed and worked with him, providing a sense of family and belonging. A ruthless businessman, he was fair and honest in his dealings with others. Betrayal was not in his vocabulary. No one crossed him; the sheer power that emanated from his presence, his cold, frigid eyes that appeared to look through to the deepest and darkest secrets of an adversary, instilled fear in anyone that he came in contact with.

Through the lonely centuries he'd had a foreshadowing of a looming battle, one he'd personally have to fight.

The when, how, and where wasn't clear as yet, but he knew it was coming.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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22. We Moved!! by DL Larson

Come join the move ~ we're at Book Beat Babes http://bookbeatbabes.blogspot.com

I'm reaffirming my need to write!

See you there ~

DL Larson

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23. Fun in Sydney by Margot Justes



There are many things to do in Sydney, and what to do depends on individual preferences, and time available.  I listed my favorite museums in a separate blog, but there are obviously many other things to see and do.

My daughter went to the top of the Harbor Bridge, the climb was rigorous and that bridge is mighty high, 440 ft from top to water level. I viewed it as a three and a half hour tour of terror.

I went to the Westfield Tower instead, took the elevator all the way up, and got my glimpse of Sydney from above, the easy way. I also took the off/on bus tour. It’s a good way to get a look at the whole city, you can get off and on at will, and visit museums, malls, whatever you like at your leisure.

The walking tours are always a delight. You get to see all the nooks and crannies, that you might miss if on your own. The Rocks walking tour was a perfect example. The area became my favorite part of Sydney, steeped in history with many wonderful old buildings and intricate stone passage ways in the oldest part of Sydney.

The Royal Botanic Gardens are a must. The gardens border Sydney Harbor and are next to the Opera House, Art Gallery NSW, and the Government House. It’s as if all points lead to the gardens. The grounds are vast and stunning, occasionally you’ll see posted signs ‘please walk on grass’. If you walk along the coast path, you’ll reach Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, where the view of the Opera House is absolutely stunning.

Of course there is shopping, from many art galleries that promote works of local artists, to souvenir shops that sell Crocodile Dundee hats, the usual touristy kitsch, to jewelry stores selling all kinds of opals, and high end jewelry, and everything in between.

The architecture is magnificent, let’s not forget the iconic Opera House, the Harbor Bridge, Westfield Tower, and of course the QVB-the Queen Victoria Building-a magnificent structure with colorful glass windows, beautiful inside and out, and it’s a shopping mall.

The hotel was walking distance to Circular Quay, the transportation hub that offers ferry rides across Sydney Harbor. It was an easy ferry ride to Darling Harbor, and Manly Beach. We asked the locals which beach we should visit-Bondi or Manly-since there was no time to do both, and the majority said Manly. So Manly it was. Many locals sat on the concrete walkway and enjoyed the sun. A perfect moment to relax and take a deep breath, and watch as the birds zoomed-in, hoping to get fed.

I would recommend a travel book, I usually tend to stick with Frommer’s; the layout is easy to read, and I just tag what interests me. If you don’t want to tour the city independently, there are many tours available.

I research the hotels on line, and usually pick them based on location, and easy access to sites, or public transportation. Sometimes I book through the hotel directly, on line, or I use a travel agent; in some cases travel agents have a better deal than you can find yourself. I check all options. 

These are the places that I most wanted to see, others I missed simply because there wasn’t enough time. Do I want to go back and see more of Australia. Yes, absolutely.

I hope you enjoyed the blogs on Sydney and Cairns as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Coming soon another set of blogs on Barcelona, and a Mediterranean Cruise.

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

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24. Moving Day Will Be Here Soon! by DL Larson

If everything goes according to plan, this may be my last blog on Acme Authors. We, our writers blog group, are moving to our new location next week. Look for us at Book Beat Babes at http://bookbeatbabes.blogspot.com

I have enjoyed blogging each week at Acme Authors. I've shared so much of my writing goals and beliefs, shared much of my personal life as a librarian, mom and grammie and how that all comes together as a writer.

It's going to be a new experience at Book Beat Babes, one I hope you will enjoy and become a follower. We plan to host guests who are creative and innovative in their writing careers. Feel free to hop over to our new site and see the guest list.

We have a great line-up of regulars too. I will continue on as before, blogging each Thursday. Please continue to share your thoughts with me as I have with you for these last several years.

So come join the party! http://bookbeatbabes.blogspot.com


Til next time ~

DL Larson

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25. Sydney Museums by Margot Justes



Depending on your stay, and things you like to do you won’t be disappointed in Sydney.
Aside from the Opera House, the Harbor Bridge, wonderful restaurants, and I’ve heard an active night life.  Can’t tell you much about night life-I’m an early riser, pack a full day when on the road, and am exhausted by ten. A nightcap in my hotel is about it for the night scene for me.

If your tastes run to museums, as mine does, there are a few to visit.

There is the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney’s answer to the Chicago Art Institute. Overlooking the Sydney Harbor and the Botanic Gardens, it is a relaxing, well lit museum that showcases Australian Artists, and has a huge display of Aboriginal art, along with a fine collection of European and Asian, and of course Australian art. It’s a museum that is easy to visit, at a comfortable pace. I prefer the smaller, more intimate museums, less angst that I’m missing something.

Over a million people visit the museum annually. The week we were there, there was a school holiday and the museums were filled with parents and children.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, located in the Rocks area-considered to be the oldest part of Sydney. The building is modern and quite lovely, and if you like modern art, you will enjoy the visit. I found a few exhibits I really enjoyed and some that were downright funny.

The Australian Museum, established in 1827, is considered Australia’s oldest museum, and covers natural history, Australian animals, and I actually got see a Cassowary Bird. There is a skeleton room, gems, and interactive kiddie areas. There is also the Indigenous Australians display, along with local cultural heritage galleries, among them displays that highlight the Aboriginal life .

While we were there, toward the end of our visit, bits of dust and soot started coming down from the vents; it was raining all sorts of speckled stuff.  Then the fire alarm went off. The exit from the museum was orderly, no panic ensued. I don’t know what happened, but by the time we were outside, the fire trucks were already in place.

The Rocks Discovery Museum, located in the oldest part of Sydney, provides a wonderful history of the Rocks, along with a terrific collection of pre-1788 artifacts.  This museum takes you back to the beginning, when English sailors, whalers,  traders and adventurers made the area their home. I think it was my favorite area in Sydney.

The Australian National Maritime Museum, features historic vessels, along with a full-scale replica of Captain Cook’s ship, the HMB Endeavour. While I was there was an Ansel Adams exhibit, Photography from the Mountains to the Sea. That was a delightful added bonus.

There are others, but I picked the ones that most interested me.

More next week.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hearts & Daggers
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
coming soon Blood Art
www.mjustes.com

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