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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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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.
By: Margot Justes,
I posted this blog three years ago. I looked for anything ‘Leonardo’ once I began writing Blood Art. To this day his life, artistry and sheer magic continues to capture our imagination. I’m working on a sequel, and this blog brought back happy memories of my first attempt at a paranormal tale, and the mystique of the great master.
A potential Leonardo da Vinci sketch had been unearthed, more precisely an art historian thought that it was "absolutely Leonardesque" but that it was probably drawn by one of da Vinci's students.
An exam showed that the sketch was done closer to 1473-yes they could narrow it down to the year-amazing isn't it-what science can do? At any rate, Leonardo da Vinci did not have any apprentices or students until the late 1470's. That leaves the work as that of the master himself, or does it?
The mystery continues, the historian is convinced that he has the first portrait drawing the master did.
Now, the fun begins, the research, the absolute proof-that yes-the sketch was done by Leonardo da Vinci. That would be lovely, but it is a long road to the absolute.
The paper is tested to check the properties and identify them as belonging to the era, they will test the chalk and pencil for the same reason. They were able to tell that both hands were used in that particular sketch, and it is known that da Vinci was reputed to be left-handed, but at the early start of his career he used both hands.
Would you believe that a reconstructed da Vinci fingerprint exists? It does. Another step that brings us closer to the ongoing search for knowledge about the great master.
Paper was expensive during the era and often re-used, and they found another drawing of an animal underneath the new sketch. Leonardo was known to draw animal figures, and the style matched.
Much is known about da Vinci, much can be found using modern day science techniques to give us a rare glimpse into the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci.
There are art detectives who attempt to solve the mysteries of newly found masterpieces like the first portrait sketch attributed to da Vinci.
There is enough proof that the piece is probably the master's, but the final absolute is still a work in progress.
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
By: Margot Justes,
My books were out on Amazon, KOBO, Barnes & Noble, and all the other available venues. It was easy since my formatter did everything for me, but last week I switched to Amazon only.
I started paying attention to the e-mails I received from the other companies, advertising books for sale, and I noticed it was the same everywhere, all the bestsellers were being promoted, not a midlist author among them.
It was the same everywhere except on Amazon. I saw my books being advertised along with others. That is a brilliant and savvy move on Amazon’s part, because among those lesser names could be the next huge bestseller. Why is it that only Amazon recognizes that possibility? Where are the others? Why is Amazon the only one giving midlist authors a chance to build their readership?
I fully recognize that bestsellers make money, they sell large numbers of books, and this is a business, and as such must turn a profit to survive. But surely there is room for a different voice, a new breath, those writers that aren’t main stream but have something to say that may not be quite middle of the road, but may succeed beyond expectations. Surely that is how a business grows, and markets expand.
Amazon recognizes the value of smart advertising, and in reality it costs them little to add a few new writers to their ad campaigns. Why can’t the others do the same?
They made the decision for me, I have more to gain when I give Amazon my exclusive rights. Amazon offers KDP Select, Paid Library Lending, discounted or free promotion days; it’s up to me to decide how to market my books. I have plenty of opportunities to promote within Amazon, and with their resources I’m better off.
The issues about market and pricing control are complex, and many claim Amazon wants to control the market, currently the battle with Hachette is an example. In reality what company wouldn’t want to be in Amazon’s shoes?
From my perspective, as a small midlist author, I’ll stay with Amazon only, for growth and potential new readership, at least they give me a chance.
By: Margot Justes,
This is one of the islands I’ll be visiting with my granddaughter this summer. I printed the excursions, and asked her to choose what she would like to see, and she picked Delos. I told her it is an island of ruins, and her reply was ‘I like ruins’-so we’re going to Delos. The tour is about four hours, and the
rest of the time we’ll have to wander around Mykonos. I’m curious to see what her reaction will be.
Included are a few pictures of Delos, the stark solitary and almost eerie island, and the lively enchanting Mykonos.
About a thirty minute ferry ride from Mykonos, Greece is the island of Delos. And what an island it is.
Uninhabited, that is not exactly true-there are approximately 25 people living there, but they are either archeologists or security personnel. Everyone else stops for a few hours and heads back to Mykonos. The island is bare, there are no snack shops, no hotels, no restaurants, and the wind can whip up in a quick frenzy, it is in fact quite desolate. There is a museum where you can buy books and other Delos souvenirs, but that is the extent of the touristy trade. What makes this island unique are the ruins. Amazing ruins. The whole island is a ruin. 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, and the mosaic floors the sites are truly inspiring. 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 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.
By: Margot Justes,
Rome has one of the biggest cruise ports in Europe, and that suits me quite well. It is one of those ancient cities that will take more than one visit to see, and many of the cruises start in Rome. I try to stay for two or three days before boarding the ship. You don’t want to arrive on the same day, especially if it’s an overseas destination, that is much too risky, and Rome is always well worth the extra time. There are many hotels that fit all budgets.
Even if you spend a whole day in the Vatican alone, it is not enough, and would also prove quite exhausting, if nothing else the huge crowds would do you in. They say about twenty five to thirty thousand people visit the Vatican daily. The best I can do is five or six hours at a time.
The treasures housed within that community are unbelievable, it is a Mecca for art lovers. Michelangelo and the Pieta and the Sistine Chapel are sites that once seen will never be forgotten, and must be seen again if at all possible. The Chapel, a rectangular room in the basement is all Michelangelo, it is bare of furnishings. It is a place to pay homage to a magnificent artist and his immeasurable artistry. It will leave you breathless.
I have done independent tours to the big sites, but now I book a tour to the Vatican and the other special sites because of all the tourists, it is easier and faster to get in. You don’t wait in the long lines, and at my age it is well worth it.
For this upcoming trip I booked two tours through Viator; Vatican Walking Tour- this tour includes the Sistene Chapel, Raphael’s Rooms and of course St. Peter’s; after the tour I can wonder around on my own. The other tour I booked through them is the Ancient Rome and Colosseum Walking Tour.
I’m going with my grandchildren, and it’s their first visit to Europe-I wanted to make sure they would get a decent historical introduction to this magnificent city.
If the stop is part of the cruise, I book through the cruise line, for one excellent reason, if there is a delay, they will wait for you. It has happened where the bus was delayed for about an hour. There was a general announcement about the delay, and we departed once the bus returned to port. That is not the case if you book through an outside agency. For me, it is not worth the extra stress to make sure I’ll be back on time, especially true if the visiting site is a bit of a distance from the port....but I digress.
Ancient Rome offers the Forum, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, these are all places that must be seen, the age and history will astound. There is also the lively Rome, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, so tourist packed that you have to wait, and weave your way to get up close and personal. The outdoor restaurants, the entertainment at said places, where you’ll get a troubadour serenading you, and it’s best to have some change ready for a tip. Rome is a walking city, and, comfortable shoes area must, although I have seen a few Italian women wear heel; how they managed is beyond me. Just walking the old streets is a delight.
Then of course there are the espresso stops, I prefer to linger, the Italians prefer to stand and gulp theirs. It is less expensive to stand and drink your coffee, if you sit down there is a charge for that privilege. However by the time I need a coffee break, I also need a sit-down break to recharge.
I try and avoid the height of the tourist season, it is far more expensive, and overcrowded and prefer to go early Spring or late Fall. Sometimes that is not always possible, as in this trip the timing depended upon the kiddies and their activities.
By: Margot Justes,
Life seems mundane. You get up, brush your teeth, make coffee, drink coffee (a few cups to get started) and generally get ready for work. After work, you run errands, make dinner, if you have kiddies take care of their needs and the day is over. You go to bed, get up, and start all over again. It's hard work.
What does one do to relieve stress, and provide a form of necessary escape, albeit it for a brief span of time? I read and write, that is my escape.
I've raised my kiddies, delight in my grandchildren, and my work is now writing full time, but after I'm done with work, time is essentially my own. I write romance stories, that is my love, escape, and obsession if you will.
Writing allows me to escape the everyday sameness. I can kill off characters I don't like. I can fall in love with the perfect hero; he's my creation, therefore he's perfect for me.
I feel a sense of accomplishment when I've finished a story. A sense of apprehension when I start, and a sense of terror when mid-stream, there is nowhere to go and the voices are silent, and finally a sense of dread that I'm on the wrong track. I write-by the seat of my pants-I think-that is the correct cliché. I get an idea and run with it and see where it takes me.
That to me is the perfect adventure-I don't know where my characters will wind up. It's a surprise. I like that, and it works for me.
I don't quite get the same sense of nirvana when I read, but it's a very, very close second. I escape to another world, and sometimes another period in time, and I look forward to the happy ending.
I'm reasonably well read, but at this stage in my life I look to romance, mystery and humor for my escape; it is the perfect get away. There is a reason romance writing is a multi-billion dollar industry. I'm not alone.
Along with writing and reading, travel is very close to my heart. It enriches the soul, and as Mark Twain put it so succinctly. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness...”
I have included a few pictures from Bath, England, one of my favorite places, and because A Hotel in Bath is a finalist for the RONE award. Shameless self promotion, but Bath really is magnificent.
By: Margot Justes,
The pictures are from Le Cinque Terre-my favorite villages in Italy.
Travel can be exhausting, and I hear from many people how tired they are of packing and planning, and then there is the actual travel itself. I try to simplify my travel as much as I can.
I love the planning part, that is not a problem for me. There is a tremendous amount of information available on the internet. Yes, it does take time, but for me that is part of the fun of travel. The only part I dislike is the going to the airport and getting on the plane. It is no longer enjoyable.
For the upcoming trip to Rome and the Mediterranean cruise, I booked the cruise last year. It is easier to budget, if you can plan in stages. I check the prices weekly, and if there is a lower rate for my cabin category, I call the cruise line and ask for the lower price; it depends on availability and if indeed the price is lower for the cabin category.
An upgrade can be requested up until departure, however there are no guarantees. I’ve had reductions in price, but have yet to receive a ‘free’ upgrade. So far I have only cruised Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, they are sister companies. This one is a Celebrity cruise.
If travelling to Europe, I always spend at least two days in the port city. I look for hotels, and check to see if description meets my criteria-central in town, and easy walking distance to a few sites. I love to walk, and European cities tend to be walking cities. Generally I book through the hotel, there is a better chance of an upgrade. In some cases, places like Expedia might have a special price; it is best to check a few site on line, do your research.
I always request breakfast with room. This way I don’t spend time looking for a place to eat in the morning. It is easier and more expedient for me, and they tend to be a delight. A leisurely breakfast, usually accompanied by a terrific coffee is a wonderful beginning to a full day.
The next thing I do is book the flight, usually a couple of months before the trip. There is not much wiggle room. I watch the prices on a couple of airlines, and when they seem low enough I book them. I don’t gamble, but when booking a flight I consider it a crap shoot. They go up down minute by minute.
There are a few ways to save, your earned miles, or points through a credit card.
I have a credit card that gives me points on travel in general. I don’t track my miles at all, because it is a hassle to book a flight using miles; at least for me.
I usually look for the most direct route if at all possible; the fewer transfers the better, the less chance your luggage will ultimately wind up in a different city.
I always check the various sites advertising lower rates, but they all quote similar prices to the actual airlines. Most airlines won’t give you miles if you book through a second party. The same applies to hotels.
Whenever possible, I like to arrange my airport transfer ahead of time. Rome is the perfect example. I’ve used RomeCab before. I just send an e-mail with the flight information, hotel information, and pick up time from hotel to port. They’re reliable, and I know they’ll show up at the airport with my name on a placard. It’s easy, and I don’t have to wait in a long line for a taxi. The price is about the same as a cab ride. There is no pre-payment involved, just a cash payment upon arrival in hotel, and I know up front what the price will be.
I’m all set for the trip, all I have to do is pack. I usually start a couple of weeks before the trip. I pack light, and set everything I think I’ll need on my office couch. By the time I’m ready for a suitcase, the pile is smaller, and ready to go in.
On a happy note, A Hotel in Bath is a finalist for a RONE award.
By: Margot Justes,
Periodically, and lately rather frequently, I get a hankering to go back to Paris. I spent a year in that incredible city, and have gone back a few time, but it always beckons me back. The city is my first love, it was a time of my youth and extreme freedom. It was the stuff of dreams.
I write about art, travel and romance. My novel A Hotel in Paris
is set in the most romantic city in the world, and since summer and the travel season is almost upon us, I would like to offer a few tips to the city of light and romance that may be a bit off the beaten path.
By all means go to all must see places, and there are so many, but save some time for the other-must see places-go to the intimate and magnificent Rodin museum, it was his home, and his presence can still be felt in every piece exhibited, inside and in his gardens.
It is by far my most favorite museum that I have ever visited. His work is passionate, ardent, and profound. Every muscle strained, every sinew defined. Agony, joy, and in the case of the Balzac work, arrogance masterfully portrayed. Walk through the gardens, stop in the café in the garden and savor your brew in quiet contemplation.
Don’t neglect a stroll in the contemplative Luxembourg Gardens, find the Medici Fountain and the reflective pool, sit down on a bench and ponder…
For a taste of local wonder, lose yourself in the back streets of the left bank, start with Rue De La Huchette off Blvd St. Michel, pick a narrow cobble stoned street and start walking-do wear comfortable shoes. Aromas from many ethnic restaurants beckon you in, you can explore one narrow street after another.
For a romantic stroll do take the time to walk along the Seine
, right alongside and back of Notre Dame, and the books stalls. Do so in the early morning, before the crowds and the stalls open, just when the city starts to wake, stop in a café and enjoy a respite. It is so quiet and peaceful and so incredibly romantic. It is equally enchanting late in the evening as the bookstalls start to close; a pervasive hush comes with dusk.
You will see a different Paris, an enchanting Paris
; different from the hassle of the tour buses and the rush to get from one point to another without ever savoring the essence of the city. Take the time, and savor the city of lights.
Don’t be afraid to get lost, carry a map with you. Paris is a walking city filled with treasures, and you will always find your way back to the next monument.
I had to share with you my favorite work of art at the Louvre-the Winged Victory.
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
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.
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
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.
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
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.
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
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.
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
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.
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.
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.
By: Margot Justes,
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.
By: Margot Justes,
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.
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.
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By: Robert Walker,
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....
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By: Margot Justes,
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
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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.
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By: Margot Justes,
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. Hmmm. Now, that is an interesting response. Any regrets?” “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 artist—she’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 difference—I'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.”
By: Margot Justes,
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.
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
By: Margot Justes,
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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