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1. Montserrat, Spain by Margot Justes














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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2. Barcelona, Spain by Margot Justes




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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








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3. Tenerife, Canary Islands by Margot Justes












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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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4. Gran Canaria by Margot Justes











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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. Lanzarote, Canary Islands by Margot Justes















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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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6. VPF's HOPEFUL WRITER

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7. Cartagena, Spain by Margot Justes


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

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

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

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










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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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8. Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar by Margot Justes










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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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9. Agadir, Morocco by Margot Justes













The port of Agadir was my first visit to North Africa. Our tour included a souk visit, which is a typical market/bazaar, tented and patched with whatever was handy, you could see imagination at work everywhere you turned.

The souk we visited was positively huge, there was no time to stop and shop, our guide was rather persistent that we stay together, and he just marched on, one turn after another in a wondrous maze. I was grateful, I tend to wander off and get lost; they’d probably still be looking for me today, but I was smart enough to stick to the guide like the proverbial glue.

Alley upon alley of curved and narrow paths, most were dirt, others had tile, cracked plaster, still others pieces of bricks, well worn rugs, all uneven, and all led to infinity. It seemed never ending. Anything was for sale from cheese to meat to clothes, massive selections of olives, live poultry and everything in between.

We walked through town for a little bit, visited the top of the hill, or mountain as the guide indicated, where in 1960 at almost midnight a volcanic eruption killed 20,000 people. The place remains untouched, neglected  with few dry plans marking some graveyards. A sad reminder of a horrific loss. Along the path coming down the hill, vendors lined up their good on either side of the street, and once again touristy trinkets were for sale, most were imports from China.

After the somber reminder of the loss of those poor souls, a welcome break called the Fantasia Show was held in a tent and garden, where galloping horses and riders with guns drawn came to a sudden stop and fired into the air, even a snake charmer was thrown in for good measure. There were souvenirs to buy, and one was expected to haggle. Even patient camels were waiting for tourists to ride them-the awkward creatures are actually quite soulful, graceful and limber.

In the evening I took another tour, back to the tent lined with red carpets and the same garden. This tour included a traditional dinner in the tent and entertainment in the garden.  I’m sure there were Arabian Knights lurking in a corner somewhere…well I am a romance writer after all.

More of the traditional Arabian Nights riders, guns drawn as they galloped across the lawn, fired their guns, and majestically rode back. Blanks were used but the noise was enough to wake the dead. It was a delightful evening, filled with local customs and traditions.

After the show we had a typical Moroccan dinner of a soup made with chick peas and local spices, a chicken with vegetables slowly cooked in a tagine, and then couscous with roasted vegetables and lamb, and for the finale a huge bowl of fresh fruit. I love couscous and the preparation was outstanding.

A belly dancer provided the after dinner entertainment. By the time I was back on the ship, I really did think about the magic and romance of the Arabian Nights, moonlight and mysterious strangers.


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

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10. Setting the Story by Margot Justes









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.

New architectural structures reflect a modern appeal, but the old is appreciated and treasured. 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, I told myself I must come back, and I did. My second book is set there. My third hotel book, my current WIP is set in magical and mysterious Venice. All three cities are mystical and romantic places. Venice has captured my heart perhaps as no other city-there is a constant pull to go back and see what I have missed.

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, in Bath and 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.   

Stand on top of the Rialto Bridge in Venice, look down at the Grand Canal, and the mesmerizing traffic below, boats gliding on water expertly and avoid contact. Sip an espresso in a cafe and listen to a gondolier serenade you from afar.

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 the experience, 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
Blood Art
Hearts & Daggers
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com

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11. Blood Art and Blatant Self Promotion by Margot Justes


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

                                                   Chapter 1

Florence, Italy 1503
“I am a vampire, Leonardo.”
“I am well aware of that fact Nikolai, but you have the soul of an artist.”
“I repeat. I am a vampire. And make no mistake—I have no soul.”
As a course for survival, Nikolai lost his soul centuries ago, but there was no reason in belaboring the point. Leonardo da Vinci was entitled to his belief.
Nikolai stood in the middle of the cavernous room and looked around him. Flickering candles cast shadows on the walls. A massive wooden desk was shoved against bare brick, one end piled with old rags coated in deep and rich colors. Leonardo's palette lay on the floor recklessly abandoned, and paint splashes had spilled onto the wooden floor, filling the wide cracks between the boards. A stale oil smell permeated the room; used candles were everywhere, surrounded by mounds of spent wax. A few books were stacked up on the floor against another wall, one on top of the other. An old wooden chair pushed against a corner, stained with crimson paint; the cushion looked like a splash of blood. A tapestry covered the wall where a makeshift straw bed lay on the floor.
“I repeat. You, my dear friend, have the soul of an artist. Vampire or not.”
“I collect art, hence our deep and abiding friendship—all due to your masterful accomplishments. I have no other such talents. At least, other than being eternal, ageless, and have an uncanny ability to amass a fortune at every opportunity. Typical vampire standards; anything I want, when I want, and how I want. Staying alive for eons does allow one to become complacent. Despite the danger, eternal existence does permit certain pleasures. And for me, the building of a sizable art collection is most gratifying, and a venture which I intend to continue through the ages.” The brusque, low voice was mesmerizing in its intensity, and hid any emotion, any visible trace of anguish. He simply stated these facts as if they were nothing, and common.
Nikolai Volkov watched as Leonardo picked up burned out candles and stray brushes he had left everywhere.
“Nikolai, you support artists that are being ignored, ridiculed. You redeem us. You recognize ageless talent. I am egotistical enough to say that in the coming centuries I will survive through my art.”
“Of that I have no doubt. Again, that is why I collect your paintings; your drawings alone are incomparable. I know you will survive. And you will increase my wealth substantially.” Nikolai turned and looked at the various paintings leaning against one of the stone walls. In the corner canvases were stacked in no particular order, and next to them wooden planks.
Leonardo's studio was plain, utilitarian, and filled with finished and unfinished works of art, all of which Nikolai coveted and wanted to own. Possess.
“Yes, I am sure I will survive, but only through my art. You have and will continue to survive through other means. Ones I do not wish to think about.”
“I have paid dearly for my survival.” Nikolai touched his cheek, feeling the ridge of the deep scar on his face. That attack had been particularly brutal. The cut went all the way to the bone, and not allowed to heal. Lucrezia Borgia told him it would mar his stunning beauty and further bind him to her, both physically and emotionally. She was wrong on both counts. He considered the scar his badge of courage and tenacity.
His surreal beauty, as she had once described it, now marred by that one scar. A reminder of torture. A memory not to be forgotten. Vampires do not scar, yet that one single scar on his body remained, as if an omen of things yet to come. Centuries of memories all held within that singular ridged cut on his face that slashed down to his very soul. The one he claimed not to have.
He was tall, over six-foot-three, with hair black as night. His eyes were as blue as sapphires and frigid as the Arctic ice. Nikolai was built hard, like Michelangelo's David, and just as cold.
The lethal combination fostered first and foremost fear from man and demon alike. And admiration, from women. All women. He never lacked for company. Yet, they all left him unsatisfied, and yearning for something he didn’t understand.
“Leonardo, will you paint a portrait for me?” Nikolai spoke quietly, staring at a painting stacked against a wall, his back to Leonardo.
“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.


Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Blood Art
Hearts and Daggers
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com 
http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Art-Margot-Justes-ebook/dp/B00FWA8YMO


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12. Florence, Italy by Margot Justes









Our first stop was in Livorno, Italy, the port city in Tuscany that took me to Florence. It was love at first sight. Even on a cold and rainy day, it was one of the most astounding cities I have ever seen. Florence is said to be the birth place of the Renaissance, and to celebrate our first stop was the Accademia Museum to visit Michelangelo’s David.

To say it is magnificent would be an understatement. It is powerful, the hands are large beyond even the size of the 14 foot sculpture that weighs in at about 6 tons. It radiates power, it was meant to do so; those hands will ultimately destroy Goliath. They are bigger than perceived reality.

The piece is an astounding work of artistry. There is a reason Michelangelo dissected cadavers and spent many hours in the Carrere Marble quarries watching the men work. It’s all there in David’s body, every nuance, every muscle, every vein is defined to perfection.

The face is that of someone older than the young teen David, emanating age and wisdom beyond the teen years, and of course the sheer male beauty. The face appears to be that of a Greek god, the look is wistful. It is pure perfection, right down to the veins in the powerful hand that holds the rock. The one holding the sling is relaxed, since little effort will be needed. The white Carrere marble seems to add strength and purity to the piece.

The day was packed with museum visits, the Church of Santa Croce (Church of the Holy Cross) and the old medieval bridge Ponte Vecchia crossing the Amo River.  The narrow streets were filled with shops selling anything from cheeses and salamis to leather goods and gold.

Lunch at Piazza della Signorina,  at Il Bargello was a welcome respite for a bit of warmth and away from the continuous rain, the pasta delicious, and the large bottle of Chianti didn’t hurt either. The creamy hazelnut gelato and espresso complimented the end of the meal. The Piazza also has a copy of David.

The rain continued throughout the day and somehow made the city more captivating and magical; the gloomy sky cast murky shadows on the striking and famed multi colored marble buildings as they glistened in the mist. Odd to say, but it was a joyful experience, the place is magical. Florence, once seen is never to be forgotten.

Florence deserves a few days not a few hours, and I have plans to be back and see the rest of this glorious place. In the meantime, I’m happy I was able to see just a little bit.

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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13. Favorite Holiday Recipes by Margot Justes


In many of my baking recipes you will detect an underlying theme-rum-the wonderful aroma of rum adds a festive touch to the baking process, and Myers’s is an excellent dark rum.

Fudge
½ cup of butter (1 stick)
1 large can of evaporated milk
2 oz bitter chocolate (I only use Ghirardelli chocolate)
12 oz semi sweet or dark chocolate chips (I use dark chocolate 70% or higher)
2 lbs sugar (4 ½ cups)
12 oz dark chocolate
½ lb marshmallows
1 ½ tbsp Vanilla
1 cup of chopped walnuts (I use 2 cups)
1 cup of raisins (I soak mine in dark rum overnight, and mix the rum and the raisins.

Combine butter, canned milk and sugar, stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, cook to a boil, about 5 minutes.

Turn off heat and add marshmallows, stir until melted, add the 3 types of chocolate, one at a time, stir until each is dissolved. Add vanilla and nuts, raisins with rum and stir.

Line a cookie sheet with saran wrap, extending the edges; pour the fudge into the cookie pan, spread evenly with knife or spatula.

Let dry for 2 days. Invert the fudge unto your counter, remove saran wrap and let dry for another 2 days. Cut into squares and serve.

This recipe makes quite a bit of fudge, I cut it all up and store in a sealed plastic bag, or tin. My family loves the fudge; usually it doesn’t last very long. Makes a great gift too.
Banana-Nut-Rum Bread
½ cup cooking oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs-beaten
4 or 5 ripe bananas-mashed
2 cups Flour (I use whole wheat)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup of chocolate chips
1 cup of raisins (I soak mine in rum overnight)

Beat oil and sugar together. Add the beaten eggs and banana pulp and beat well. Add the dry ingredients, milk and vanilla. Mix well and stir in nuts, raisins with rum, and chocolate chips. Pour into greased and floured loaf pan (9 x 5 x 3) I use lasagna pan, cooks more evenly.

Bake in preheated oven at 350 F for about an hour. Cool well before cutting.

Rum Balls
2 1/2 cups Vanilla Wafers
5 1/2 cups ground walnuts
1 cup of honey
1 cup of rum
1 cup or as needed confectioner’s sugar
Mix all ingredients, form into small balls and roll in sugar. I usually let them sit on foil paper for a day or so and then arrange on platter. You may need to sprinkle them with additional powdered sugar.

Poppy Seed Cake
This one takes time, but if you like poppy seeds, you’ll love this coffee cake.
1 cup of milk
1 package of active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 cup of butter (2 sticks)
1/3 cup of sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
4 1/4 cups of flour
2 tsp vanilla

Scald milk, cool to a warm temp, add yeast and 1 tsp sugar; stir to dissolve yeast. Let stand for about 10 minutes. Yeast should puff up in the milk.
Cream butter, add 1/2 cup of sugar, beat in eggs and salt. Add flour alternating with yeast mixture. Knead on floured surface. Place in greased bowl and cover. Let rise until doubled.
Cut dough in half and roll it out the length of your cookie sheet, spread the poppy seed filling and form into a log, sealing the ends. Put on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  The two rolls should fit on cookie sheet. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Poppy Seed Filling (double the recipe for the two cakes)
1 can of poppy seed filling (I use Solo)
Rind of 1 lemon
3/4 cup of chopped walnuts
11/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 raisins
Mix all ingredients and spread on rolled out dough.
1 egg slightly beaten and 1 tsp of water; mix egg and water and brush on cakes.
Let the cakes rise for a couple of hours, brush again with egg mixture, and then put in pre-heated oven at 350F and bake for an hour. Cool and enjoy.

Hot Chocolate
This is my version, with extra dark chocolate.
1 8 oz glass of milk, I use skim. (I conserve calories wherever I can...she wrote laughingly)
1 Tablespoon dark unsweetened Ghirardelli cocoa (I like the unsweetened cocoa, the flavor is much stronger)
4 squares Ghirardelli 72% dark or 2 tablespoons Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips
(optional)

Heat milk and cocoa, make sure cocoa and milk are well blended, use a small wisk if necessary. When the milk is hot take 4 squares or 2 tablespoons of Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips (to taste) put it in and mix until completely melted. You can sprinkle a bit of shaved chocolate on top. Sweeten to taste, or add a few small marshmallows on top.  

You can of course use sugar or sweetened cocoa, but it's the good cocoa and dark chocolate that gives it the added richness. It is a delicious treat, and easy to make. 

I love hot cocoa, and use the Bialetti machine to speed the process up a little. It heats up and froths the milk at the same time. I even use it to froth a large quantity of milk for cappuccinos, and lattes.

These are among my favorite recipes during the holiday season that starts with Halloween and ends with the New Year.

I wish you much joy and peace.

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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14. Return to Rome by Margot Justes









It was a packed one day in Rome and my first transatlantic cruise,  time just didn’t allow for more. On this cruise we would stop in  Livorno, Italy-Cartagena  and 3 of the 7 Canary Islands in Spain, and Agadir, Morocco in Africa,  the final destination was Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

For the longest time I wanted to see the Borghese Galleries in Rome. Usually you have to book months in advance, but I was lucky. I walked through the beautiful gardens up to the Villa Borghese, and was told they were sold out. I must have really looked dejected, and the woman took pity on me and sent me downstairs to the ticket counter.  She told me sometimes they have returned tickets.

I did as I was told, and they had a couple of extra tickets if I was willing to wait three hours. Waiting was not a problem, first and foremost, the gardens are positively stunning and vast, there is a museum shop on the lower floor, along with a cafeteria that offered excellent coffee, and delicious paninis, I chose ham and cheese and it was yummy. 

The Borghese family arrived in Rome in the late 16th century, and the villa dates back to the early 17th Century.  There are two floors and twenty rooms filled to capacity, the collections is vast, it is one of those places that is so packed you don’t know where to look first, and it is overwhelming. I prefer galleries that aren’t quite so crowded. You will find works of Bernini, Correggio, Raphael, Rubens, Titian and Caravaggio to name just a few masterpieces exhibited.

The amazing collection is not to be missed, the self guided tours lasts 2 hours, and there is an audio option. The tours are staggered, and they only allow 350 visitors per tour; time and number of people are strictly controlled.

I came away inspired by the works of Bernini-he of the fountains of Rome fame-along with the magical fountains, he was a magnificent sculptor. The collection is massive and in reality for me, the two hours were enough.  There is just so much crammed into the available space, and the collection is so massive that I was on overload. I walked back to the hotel in the rain, and that wet breath of fresh air felt good.

I did make the most with my time in Rome. I walked through the Borghese Gardens and Galleries, I saw the finished renovation of the Bernini Fountain below the Spanish Steps, and had a delicious dinner-homemade pasta cooked al dente with porcini mushrooms and Parmesan Reggiano. It was a packed day and by the end I was exhausted, and slept like the proverbial baby.

The next morning the hotel provided a scrumptious buffet breakfast filled with various breads, sweet rolls, cakes, cheeses, hams, eggs and all the espressos and cappuccinos I could drink. My kind of breakfast.

There was an unexpected adventure I hadn’t anticipated. The driver picked me up from the hotel and off I went to the Civitavecchia Terminal, the Port of Rome. The driver stopped at the security gate at the terminal and had a lengthy conversation. I should have known something was wrong; the discussion at the security gate and the fact that I couldn’t see the ship should have given me a clue that not all was well. I didn’t even think twice about the rough waters lapping against the wall as we neared the port. I thought maybe we’ll have to be tendered because the ship was docked elsewhere.

The ship was indeed docked elsewhere, in a different location, and in fact in a totally different port in another city altogether. As the driver informed me-the seas were too rough and Civitavecchia is very rocky; the ships already there couldn’t get out, and new arrivals couldn’t get in. My ship was stuck in Naples.

There were buses lined up along the terminal, the passengers and the luggage were loaded on said buses and off we went on a three hour ride to Naples to board our ship.  Celebrity Cruises handled it really well, they provided water and snacks-heaven forbid you should be on a cruise and not have food.

Once we arrived in Naples, the check-in was relatively painless, and we were on our way, the first stop the next day was Livorno, Italy-the port for Pisa and Florence. I had high hopes of finally seeing Michelangelo’s David.


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


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15. Fresh Market by Margot Justes









A glorious Saturday morning, the temperature was mid 60’s, the sun was shining brightly, and I was finally able to visit the Fresh Market on King St. in Alexandria. An event that is held every Saturday, and is well worth a visit.

From the fall necessities like pumpkins and squashes, to vegetables and fruit. There were fresh breads, scones, jams and all the things you’d expect from the market, along with jewelry, local pottery, an author selling an illustrated children’s book, and artists.

One such artist, Len "Leonardo" Garon (www.LenGaron.com) even graciously consented to be photographed with his work. A versatile painter his work includes landscapes, monuments and dogs, among other scenes. The award winning artist displays his work right in the market, but his work is in the art collection of the White House, as well as other galleries. He is well established and I love the fact that he participates in the local weekly event.

It is a delight to walk through the market, and I hope to go every Saturday if possible. There is a coffee stand, and a few steps away, fresh scones and rolls are available for a quick al- fresco snack. Further down the way, a local bakery was selling artisan breads that would make your mouth water. The best part, it is walking distance from the apartment.

I continued on to the waterfront, and heard the Umbrellas of Cherbourg being played. I tipped the musician, we chatted briefly, I told him I haven’t heard that melody in years and it brought back many memories for me. I walked away, and heard Under Paris Skies, of course I stayed and listened. It was indeed a perfect morning. I came back to the apartment and started writing.

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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16. LIVE THE EXCITEMENT OF LOVE, WAR, AND MADNESS

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17. LIVE THE EXCITEMENT OF LOVE, WAR, AND MADNESS

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18.


Fall by Margot Justes






The summer disappeared, and now it’s practically the middle of October, and I wonder where the time went. Then I realize, I put a house on the market, sold the house, packed, moved to another state and  spent three weeks in Europe in July-that is where my summer went.

Now fall is upon us, the leaves are slowly changing color, it’s cooler, rainy,  a bit foggy in places, and actually it’s my favorite time of the year because for me it is also the beginning of the holiday season.

Friends are coming to visit for a few days next week, and then we’ll drive to Myrtle Beach. I’ll be back in time to get ready for a trip to Rome and my first transatlantic cruise; the cruise starts in Rome and ends in Fort Lauderdale. I’m still celebrating my retirement last year.

There are unique stops on this cruise, I’ll visit Livorno, Italy, the port for Florence, Italy and it will be my first visit to Florence-to say I’m looking forward to it would be an understatement. The stops also include Cartagena, Spain, Agadir, Morocco, and the Canary Islands. Then seven days at sea, where I hope to make a real dent in A Hotel in Venice. I would love to finish the manuscript by the end of this year.

In the meantime I’m looking forward to seeing the fall colors in Virginia, and how the holidays are celebrated here. I’ve been told that Williamsburg is beautifully decorated for Christmas, and it’s only a two hour drive. I’m amazed how much there is to see in this part of the country, and it is all relatively close.  

This morning I finally took a look at the pictures from the July trip, and will share some with you. I plan on writing a few blogs about the places I visited. The one that stood out by far is Malta-I want to go back and spend some time there, a week or two would be perfect.



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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19. Afternoon Tea by Margot Justes


I’m a big fan of afternoon tea, it is relaxing, delicate and just plain fun. My first introduction to afternoon tea was in South Africa, many years ago and I have been a fan ever since.

I have three favorite spots in Chicago.

The Russian Tea Time restaurant, it is small, their particular Russian tea is aromatic, strong with a hint of fruit.  My favorite used to be Russian Caravan, a blend of Chinese teas, but it has now become so smoky that you can literally smell smoke while brewing the tea. It has ceased to be my favorite. The place is small and intimate but serves a delightful high tea, and the Russian food is good too. I’ve gone there for tea, lunch and dinner, and have never been disappointed.

The Drake Hotel is my choice for good old fashioned old age ambiance. Service is excellent and friendly. The food is standard but well prepared and beautifully served.

The best food can be found at the Peninsula Hotel. The hotel is elegant, modern, the food exceptional but service can often be inattentive.  The scones are always served fresh, and warm and the lemon curd is divine. I happen to love lemon curd.

What I thought would be a wonderful treat turned out to be a very expensive and great disappointment. The afternoon tea at the Plaza Hotel in New York fell far short of expectation. The recommended bold tea was anything but, served in a pouch, it was weak and pretty much lacking in flavor. The bread of the finger sandwiches had been cut and allowed to sit, because when served it had that cut and dried prepared hours ago feel to them.

The best part was the volcanic scone eruption.  I picked up my scone and tried to gently pull it apart, a scone will easily divide in half if not desiccated with age. This cone erupted, crumbled and tiny specs scattered everywhere. Rather like a crumbly volcanic fall-out.

Service was non-existent, when I finally was able to get the waiter to ask him for more hot water, to add to the bland and tasteless tea, I told him this was literally the crumbiest scone I've ever had,  his reply was, "believe it or not, it is very fresh." My reply, "Seriously?" He never even asked if I wanted another scone.  The price of that delight was $50.00 plus tip. Visit the hotel, the building is gorgeous, but for tea head to the Waldorf Astoria, I’ve been told their afternoon tea is terrific.

Waldorf Astoria is on my bucket list the next time I’m in New York, and as it so happens, the 2015 RWA conference is being held in New York City.

My most memorable afternoon tea was in Bath, England at the Pump Room. The service, tea, historic building and waiters dressed in period garb made it an absolutely amazing experience.  The scones were perfection as was the lemon curd; creamy, tart and not overly sweet. I’ve been known to eat lemon curd without with just a teaspoon, just like Nutella, the delicious cocoa and hazelnut concoction.  

My dream is to have a book signing in Bath, and revisit all my favorite spots.

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




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20. Murano Glass by Margot Justes












A vacation always inspires me to write, whether it is in my current WIP, or a travel article, it doesn’t really matter, the inspiration is there. This time I visited some of my favorite places in Europe, chief among them was a stay in Venice...and what a visit it was.

The concierge at the hotel was able to arrange a private visit to a Murano furnace, the Schiavon Art Team. I have seen a working furnace before that was geared toward the tourists straight off the boat or the ferry, as it were, and I have stopped in many Murano and Venetian  glass stores.  For the most part the pieces are pretty similar in the shops, but this furnace had some spectacular pieces of art. I also happen to love glass, and Murano is famous worldwide for their glass.

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

Not only was I able to watch a master glass blower at work, I was also allowed to take all the pictures I wanted. Starting with the furnaces, the annealing area, polishing room and the galleries. Truly a memorable experience.

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

It was a unique experience for me, because A Hotel in Venice is partially set in Murano and deals with the intrigues of blowing glass, age old secret formulas and lack of new talent. It takes many years to become a master blower, and it is incredibly hard work. Try blowing through a tube and shape a piece of molten glass. If it’s your first try, your face will turn beet red-the effort is tremendous-but the master blower makes it look effortless. 

The visit was a most memorable and inspirational experience, one I will always cherish. 

As a side note, Blood Art will be free this weekend on Amazon. I want to introduce my favorite vampire Nikolai Volkov.  http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Art-Margot-Justes-ebook/dp/B00FWA8YMO

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. Lifestyle Change by Margot Justes



I have lived in the Midwest for the better part of my adult life, and now it’s time for a major change. 

A rather quick decision to move out of Illinois, and an even quicker sale of the house, forced me quickly to think about my future. What do I want to do? Travel was the immediate answer, but a small pied-a-terre is needed, somewhere permanent to hang your hat, as it were...

The answer was a relatively easy one. A small condo would do the trick, but then an another idea surfaced, one that would truly alter my lifestyle. Motor yacht living.

We lived in a trailer in South Africa for three months until our housing was ready. It was an experience I’d never care to repeat. Never.

I still would not consider trailer housing, but living in a tiny, compact space has a great deal of appeal. I’ve been assured, it is by no means trailer living, the water views are fantastic, and the community is rather a chummy one. Surrounded by water, and with fewer responsibilities, it would also be an ideal place for me to write.  

Adapting to new situations is nothing new for me, and as of September 1st, I’ll be living in a one bedroom apartment until a decision is made where exactly I’m going to wind up. Many people consider that unsettling,  I find it exciting. A new journey awaits.

The only sad part is that I’ll be leaving lifelong friends, more family than friends, but there is a flip side, there will always be a spare bedroom, and new and exciting places for them to visit.  I’ll visit as well.

Over the years we all accumulate ‘stuff’; at this stage of my life, the stuff is far less important. Garage sales are a wonderful way to meet people, and at the same time get rid of your stuff.  I’ve never done a garage sale before, but since the decision to move, I have a few under my belt, and they are a hoot. Whatever doesn’t sell will be packed and given to Goodwill. The important pieces will be stored, and the rest is going to new homes.

There are a few things that will be passed on to my daughters, and of course, space will have to be found for my art; pieces I have collected over many, many years, and cannot part with.  The walls are now bare in the house, and I truly miss my old friends.

I’m looking forward to new adventures.

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

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22. Moving by Margot Justes



I thought I’d mention a few things about my move. Let me state up front, it is hard work, and seems never ending.

How on earth could I possibly have accumulated so much stuff.  It’s like Pandora’s Box, or Mary Poppins’ bag; the stuff just keeps appearing like a magic trick-seemingly out of nowhere. Boxes and boxes, covered in dust have been stored and never looked at for twenty eight years. No wonder people think twice about moving-it’s all the stuff we accumulate over the years that we can’t do without but never use.

Once the process is started, it has a deep cleansing effect-there will be fewer things to worry about, keep clean, fewer things to clutter my life.  

I’m keeping things that are significant to my family, the art pieces I have collected over decades, and frankly miss seeing because they are all packed; I have grown attached to them.

Boxes and bags have been donated to Goodwill, and sad to say many books went the same way...and still more to come.

The books were the hardest to part with, but I’m downsizing-a lot- and there won’t be much room to spread out. I went through all the books, some I have read decades ago, some were in French and I’d have a hard time reading them in English now, much less in French. Some were really old friends, well worn and loved-those I kept. It’s hard to say goodbye.

The one thing I soon realized is that you can’t save too many things to do for tomorrow, because all too soon you run out of time. It’s Thursday, and the PODS people will be here Saturday to load the them. There is still so much to do.

Using PODS seemed the most effective way to move, because the goods need to be stored until I find a permanent place to live. No packing, unpacking-the filled PODS will simply be stored until ready to ship. Rather efficient, and there is less chance of things being lost. It’s also less expensive going the POD route, at least in this instance.

Two PODS had been ordered, and when the order was placed, the company just asked how big the driveway was, and everything seemed sorted out. The end of this adventure was near. Not so fast...there is always a wrinkle-the best laid plans...

One POD arrived this morning, and the delivery man said he can’t put two PODS on the driveway-there is not enough room. The second POD was on the way, and there was no place to put it. Immediate panic ensued.

Neighbor and excellent friend came to the rescue, one phone call  and he agreed that one POD could be set on his driveway. The company was called and told where to set the POD. The wait was on for the second one. All was good.

POD arrived a few hours later, and the driver informed me that he needed a signed authorization from the owner before he could set the POD down. There is a slight glitch in this newest plan, friend is at work and could not be reached. It seemed like a comedy of errors minus the comedy.

After a bit of discussion, there is now a POD in each driveway. I’m ready for the next step, finish the never ending packing and wait for everything to be stored.

It is a rather exciting process, new adventures await me, but I’m also saying au revoir (loosely translated-see you later) so much better than saying goodbye.

I certainly am keeping in touch with them, and plan on visiting, and there will always be a spare bedroom wherever I wind up.

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

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23. Settling In Temporarily by Margot Justes








The trip to Virginia was uneventful, just the way I like it. There was no rush, and it actually felt good to be in the car and do absolutely nothing but sit and relax. I did not drive, and once we left Illinois and Indiana the scenery greatly improved.

I found I like Virginia, at least what I’ve seen so far-that is to say-not much. Norfolk is delightful and packs one of the most wonderful museum I’ve visited. The Chrysler Museum of Art houses an extensive collection of American art, pre and post paintings from the war of independence, as well as a large collection of civil war pieces. Most artists were new to me, and it was a wonderful journey of discovery.

The most amazing collection is the L. C. Tiffany-a full gallery dedicated to Tiffany, as well as an amazing glass collection on the first floor. It was heavenly. I didn’t take any pictures inside-too engrossed in the exhibits, I didn’t even bother to ask if pictures were allowed in the galleries.

I stayed until closing, they were setting up for a wedding and I took one picture of the prep work, one of the assistants said they were booked for weddings and other social events for the balance of the year. A perfect place to hold an event.

Across the street there is also a small glass blowing facility, with visiting artists creating their magic-that is what I call glass blowing; it seemingly looks easy but it is not. I’m a huge fan of blown glass. There is a reason I set my third hotel book in Venice, and the intrigue in Murano-both share a long history of blowing glass, and for the most part the results are exquisite.

I also took a boat ride to tour the Norfolk Naval Base, reputed to be the largest in the world. The site was awe inspiring and seemingly never ending. The Nauticus, a naval museum and the permanent home for the battleship SS Wisconsin is not to be missed.

The ship is huge and many places below deck I found rather uncomfortable, massive machines, pipes and other accoutrement that are fully exposed tend to scare me. I’m rather skittish when surrounded by such equipment. The living quarters for the officers were somewhat livable, for the enlisted man not so much, but then it was not a luxury cruise, but a life risking endeavor.

The waterfront in Norfolk is delightful, and packed with tourists and locals alike. The restaurants offer excellent food, and the bars attached to said restaurants are loud and lively.

The best lunch I had was at A. W. Shucks, an old fashioned diner off the beaten tourist path. They had the best crab cake sandwich I have ever tasted. There is a fast food place at the National Harbor in Maryland that matched it, but I’ll save that for another blog.

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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24. Alexandria by Margot Justes











I have not been consistent with my blogs-nothing new there-having settled in Alexandria, I love playing tourist-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. Recently I have had readers actually ask when A Hotel in Venice will be out, and that was my impetus to get back to work and plan my days. I’m a writer I actually need to write.

Until I find a place to live, whether a condo or a boat, I have settled in a one bedroom apartment, talk about downsizing-I had to think twice about buying toilet paper at Costco because there is so little storage in the apartment. What I do have is a big walk-in closet, and guess where the toilet paper went. I call it my little ‘black hole’ everything goes in there.

I absolutely love it. Alexandria 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, easy access to DC, just hop on the Metro and you’re there in 15 minutes, or take a water taxi and 20 minutes later you’re at the National Harbor, MD. The Alexandria Harbor also boasts a converted torpedo factory that now houses about 24 artists, their studios/galleries are open to the public free of charge. It is heavenly.

I thought I’d miss the suburban life, I spent many years raising my daughters in the ‘burbs’- now 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.

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.

In the meantime this last week progress has been made in my writing, and I’m actively looking for a place to live on a more permanent basis. That being said, I have a trip planned to Annapolis on Tuesday. I have read that it is quite a beautiful place to visit, and only about 45 minutes from here.

I’ll post a few pictures from the area, and you can see for yourself what a wondrous place it is.

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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25. Fall by Margot Justes









The summer disappeared, and now it’s practically the middle of October, and I wonder where the time went. Then I realize, I put a house on the market, sold the house, packed, moved to another state and  spent three weeks in Europe in July-that is where my summer went.

Now fall is upon us, the leaves are slowly changing color, it’s cooler, rainy,  a bit foggy in places, and actually it’s my favorite time of the year because for me it is also the beginning of the holiday season.

Friends are coming to visit for a few days next week, and then we’ll drive to Myrtle Beach. I’ll be back in time to get ready for a trip to Rome and my first transatlantic cruise; the cruise starts in Rome and ends in Fort Lauderdale. I’m still celebrating my retirement last year.

There are unique stops on this cruise, I’ll visit Livorno, Italy, the port for Florence, Italy and it will be my first visit to Florence-to say I’m looking forward to it would be an understatement. The stops also include Cartagena, Spain, Agadir, Morocco, and the Canary Islands. Then seven days at sea, where I hope to make a real dent in A Hotel in Venice. I would love to finish the manuscript by the end of this year.

In the meantime I’m looking forward to seeing the fall colors in Virginia, and how the holidays are celebrated here. I’ve been told that Williamsburg is beautifully decorated for Christmas, and it’s only a two hour drive. I’m amazed how much there is to see in this part of the country, and it is all relatively close.  

This morning I finally took a look at the pictures from the July trip, and will share some with you. I plan on writing a few blogs about the places I visited. The one that stood out by far is Malta-I want to go back and spend some time there, a week or two would be perfect.



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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