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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,
Depending on your stay, and things you like to do you won’t be disappointed in Sydney.
Aside from the Opera House, the Harbor Bridge, wonderful restaurants, and I’ve heard an active night life. Can’t tell you much about night life-I’m an early riser, pack a full day when on the road, and am exhausted by ten. A nightcap in my hotel is about it for the night scene for me.
If your tastes run to museums, as mine does, there are a few to visit.
There is the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney’s answer to the Chicago Art Institute. Overlooking the Sydney Harbor and the Botanic Gardens, it is a relaxing, well lit museum that showcases Australian Artists, and has a huge display of Aboriginal art, along with a fine collection of European and Asian, and of course Australian art. It’s a museum that is easy to visit, at an pace. I prefer the smaller, more intimate museums, less angst that I’m missing something.
Over a million people visit the museum annually. The week we were there, there was a school holiday and the museums were filled with parents and children.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, located in the Rocks area-considered to be the oldest part of Sydney. The building is modern and quite lovely, and if you like modern art, you will enjoy the visit. I found a few exhibits I really enjoyed and some that were downright funny.
The Australian Museum, established in 1827, is considered Australia’s oldest museum, and covers natural history, Australian animals, and I actually got see a Cassowary Bird. There is a skeleton room, gems, and interactive kiddie areas. There is also the Indigenous Australians display, along with local cultural heritage galleries, among them displays that highlight the Aboriginal life .
While we were there, toward the end of our visit, bits of dust and soot started coming down from the vents; it was raining all sorts of speckled stuff. Then the fire alarm went off. The exit from the museum was orderly, no panic ensued. I don’t know what happened, but by the time we were outside, the fire trucks were already in place.
The Rocks Discovery Museum, located in the oldest part of Sydney, provides a wonderful history of the Rocks, along with a terrific collection of pre-1788 artifacts. This museum takes you back to the beginning, when English sailors, whalers, traders and adventurers made the area their home. I think it was my favorite area in Sydney.
The Australian National Maritime Museum, features historic vessels, along with a full-scale replica of Captain Cook’s ship, the HMB Endeavour. While I was there was an Ansel Adams exhibit, Photography from the Mountains to the Sea. That was a delightful added bonus.
There are others, but I only had a limited time and picked the ones that most interested me.
A Hotel in Venice
A Fire Within
By: Margot Justes,
There are many things to do in Sydney, and what to do depends on individual preferences, and time available.
I listed my favorite museums in a separate blog, but there are obviously many other things to see and do.
My daughter went to the top of the Harbor Bridge, the climb was rigorous and that bridge is mighty high, 440 ft from top to water level. I viewed it as a three and a half hour tour of terror.
I went to the Westfield Tower instead, took the elevator all the way up, and got my glimpse of Sydney from above, the easy way. I also took the off/on bus tour. It’s a good way to get a look at the whole city, you can get off and on at will, and visit museums, malls, whatever you like at your leisure.
The walking tours are always a delight. You get to see all the nooks and crannies, that you might miss if on your own. The Rocks walking tour was a perfect example. The area became my favorite part of Sydney, steeped in history with many wonderful old buildings and intricate stone passage ways in the oldest part of Sydney.
The Royal Botanic Gardens are a must. The gardens border Sydney Harbor and are next to the Opera House, Art Gallery NSW, and the Government House. It’s as if all points lead to the gardens. The grounds are vast and stunning, occasionally you’ll see posted signs ‘please walk on grass’. If you walk along the coast path, you’ll reach Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, where the view of the Opera House is absolutely stunning.
Of course there is shopping, from many art galleries that promote works of local artists, to souvenir shops that sell Crocodile Dundee hats, the usual touristy kitsch, to jewelry stores selling all kinds of opals, and high end jewelry, and everything in between.
The architecture is magnificent, let’s not forget the iconic Opera House, the Harbor Bridge, Westfield Tower, and of course the QVB-the Queen Victoria Building-a magnificent structure with colorful glass windows, beautiful inside and out, and it’s a shopping mall.
The hotel was walking distance to Circular Quay, the transportation hub that offers ferry rides across Sydney Harbor. It was an easy ferry ride to Darling Harbor, and Manly Beach. We asked the locals which beach we should visit-Bondi or Manly-since there was no time to do both, and the majority said Manly. So Manly it was. Many locals sat on the concrete walkway and enjoyed the sun. A perfect moment to relax and take a deep breath, and watch as the birds zoomed-in, hoping to get fed.
I would recommend a travel book, I usually tend to stick with Frommer’s; the layout is easy to read, and I just tag what interests me. If you don’t want to tour the city independently, there are many tours available.
I research the hotels on line, and usually pick them based on location, and easy access to sites, or public transportation. Sometimes I book through the hotel directly, on line, or I use a travel agent; in some cases travel agents have a better deal than you can find yourself. I check all options.
These are the places that I most wanted to see, others I missed simply because there wasn’t enough time. Do I want to go back and see more of Australia. Yes, absolutely.
I hope you enjoyed the blogs on Sydney and Cairns as much as I enjoyed writing them.
By: Margot Justes,
An early six am flight put me in Sydney about three hours later. The first thing I noticed was the change in temperature; Cairns was mid 80’s , Sydney mid 60’s. Not bad for middle of winter. For me, it was the perfect time to travel.
As with Cairns, I loved Sydney. Vastly different from Cairns, Sydney is big, less touristy, a working metropolis, like any other major city, except it’s in Australia, and it’s stunning. Maybe because I loved the gorgeous accent, the famous harbor, the iconic Opera House, the bridge, and all within walking distance from the hotel, it never got old. The people are just as friendly and helpful as they were in Cairns.
A short taxi hop brought me to the hotel. I love to walk, and usually pick hotels in areas where I want to spend the most time. I wanted to be close to the Opera House, Sydney Harbor, Harbor Bridge, and the Rocks, considered to be the oldest part of Sydney. There was a hotel that fit the bill, and the price wasn’t astronomical.
When I checked in, the room wasn’t ready. They were very gracious, and said there would be a lovely room available within an hour. I had breakfast at the hotel restaurant, and it included plain yogurt mixed with passion fruit. I first mixed the yogurt and passion fruit in Cairns, and it was addictive. By the time I finished, the room was indeed ready, and the luggage was already in place. The view was fantastic; I could see the harbor, the Opera House and the bridge.
By noon, I was on my way to the harbor to get a closer look at the Opera House; without a doubt, it was one of the most remarkable buildings I have ever seen. I was already dreading going home, and I just arrived.
There are many restaurants along the harbor, with spectacular views, and I decided my first dinner in Sydney would be in one of those outdoor places. It gets chilly in the evening, and most of them had heaters and candles. The heaters for warmth, the candles for ambiance. Perfection. I was there in July, it was winter, and considerably than Cairns.
The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting the Government House. The mansion overlooks the Royal Botanic Gardens, and it was walking distance form hotel.
The Government house built between 1837 and 1845, and for a while served as the official residence of the Governor of New South Wales. This Gothic Revival building is quite beautiful; the stately rooms, and 19th century furnishings make for a fascinating visit, and along the way you learn a quite bit about Sydney. The guide was knowledgeable, and passionate about the history of the building, and some of the inhabitants. Admission is free, and it is well worth the visit.
In the evening I went back to the harbor area, and stopped for dinner in one of those delightful restaurants that faced the harbor, and the food was delicious. I’m a pizza fan, and always manage to try the local version. Yes, even in Australia-they are quite popular there too. I couldn’t have asked for a better first day.
By: Margot Justes,
Tjapukai is an Aboriginal Cultural Park. A short 15 minute ride from Cairns, puts you right in the old world culture brilliantly revived, and it seems to be alive and doing well.
It is a contained park with planned activities, and I thought it was a terrific introduction to the Aboriginal culture and folk art.
There was a didgeridoo concert, the haunting mellow sound resonated in the theatre, along with traditional dancing performed by the Tjapukai Dance Troupe. The didgeridoo requires a lot of air power, but the sound that comes out of the instrument resonates around you like an echo. Powerful, still and evocative.
The dance movements were mesmerizing, you quickly got caught up in the story they were telling. Tales of hunting, spiritualism, survival and pride; an insight into the culture through music and dance. The perfect introduction to a civilization that was totally foreign to me. It was ideal, because it brought the past to life not just through a lecture, but through art, music and dance, and it was interactive
There were boomerang throwing lessons, along with spear throwing, it’s not as easy as it looks. If thrown correctly, the boomerang will return to you, but you must make the attempt to catch it. It will not magically appear in your hand, although the return flight was fascinating to watch.
There were lessons about hunting tools and weapons that were used some 40,000 years ago by the Aboriginal people. It was an amazing insight into an ancient society.
The park is intimate, well organized, and first and foremost educational. A rare glimpse of what once was, an inspiration to keep the old culture alive for future generation. A tiny spark that shows awareness of what once was.
By: Margot Justes,
Another perfect getaway from Cairns is Kuranda. There are a couple of wonderful ways to get there, one is to take the combined Skyrail, and the Scenic Rail. Tours are available where you can do both. That is what I did, hindsight being perfect, I would have just gotten the tickets and taken the rail both ways. It was a sublime 45 minute ride and the scenery was incredible, huge gorges, waterfalls and lush vegetation.
Splurge for a first class ticket, and you will be wined and dined in delicious comfort on a train that dates back to the 1890’s, and along the way pass through some amazing scenery as the old train chugs along.
The return trip was on the Skyrail, as it seemed to float over the top of the rainforest. You catch a tiny glimpse of the vastness of the formidable rain forest. I found the scenery was far more spectacular from the train, and I enjoyed it more.
Kuranda Village is delightful, it’s fun just to stroll down the street and visit the shops. The Heritage Markets operate 7 days a week, along the way there were a few galleries, restaurants, many arts and crafts boutiques, it is a place to relax and simply enjoy. I even bought a contemporary abstract that was being sold off and discounted, really discounted. I picked it up for a ridiculous price, and lugged it home.
It is a charming, touristy place, the locals are friendly, and willing to go out of their way to be helpful, and there is the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, and Kuranda Koala Gardens. To see everything at leisure, the best bet is to get a round trip train ticket and not worry about catching the last Skyrail. I would love to go back and do just that.
Kuranda is not to be missed, and the way to get there is incomparable.
By: Margot Justes,
Third day in Cairns took me to Daintree Rainforest. It’s quite a hike, a good 2 hours plus pick up time from various hotels. The ‘safari’ truck was not the most comfortable mode of transportation, every bump on the road left an impression, and there were quite a few. For me it was worth the effort. I’ve never seen a rainforest before, and didn’t really know what to expect. Our guide told us that the rainforest is over 125 million years old. Simply amazing.
The tour included, a two hour walk in the forest, a chance to swim in a creek in crystal clear water, sample the local fruit, and local Billy tea, basically an earthy bush tea, rather a muddy flavor, a barbecue lunch, a visit with captive kangaroos, and a Daintree River cruise in search of crocodiles. There was also a stop at Cape Tribulation, a walk to the lookout to see where the rainforest meets the reef.
The first thing you notice as you enter the forest is the soft mist, the gently falling rain, the serenity, the tall trees and branches aiming for the sun, along with lush ground vegetation. You can hear drops fall on the leaves, listen to the countless birds chirping, and wild turkeys strolling in the distance.
Even with the tourists, the clicking cameras and resounding footsteps, it was one of the most peaceful couple of hours I have ever spent. There is a boardwalk designed for tourists, otherwise the bush is thick with vegetation. We searched for the ever elusive Cassowary birds, but we weren’t lucky enough to see one. The flightless birds are related to the emu, and are considered to be the heaviest birds in Australia.
After our tour of the forest, it was on to the creek for a swim and fresh fruit. I’m still not a fan of papayas, but loved the passion fruit. It’s actually quite delicious mixed with yogurt. It became my breakfast treat, both in Cairns and Sydney.
Lunch was served in a local restaurant, where our tour guides put a steak on the barbie for us. I got to feed a couple of kangaroos. The restaurant keeps maimed kangaroos in a fenced yard; they survive, are well treated, and it’s great for the tourists. I have never seen a kangaroo before, and found these quite docile, and strangely awkward except when they run. The locals are not so delighted with the creatures, they are considered to be a nuisance. I loved them.
The last thing on the agenda was the Daintree river cruise, we were in search of crocodiles. It was a cloudy, rainy day, perfectly suited to the location, and we even found a large crocodile, along with birds, and Mangrove trees. You can see the roots well above the water, they thrive in salty, swampy coastal waters.
The day was long, packed solid, and well worth it. It was an exhausting excursion, my endurance was well tested, I’m not as young as I used to be. Would I do it again? You bet.
By: Margot Justes,
Cairns is the getaway to the Barrier Reef, among other places. Ie booked a tour to Green Island and the Great Barrier Reef. According to the brochure, Green Island is a beautiful 6000 year old coral cay located in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
It’s a 45 minute boat ride to Green Island from Cairns. The boat ride to Green Island was peaceful, even a whale paid us a visit, checked us out and went on his merry way.
The ride from Green Island to the Barrier Reef was exhilarating. Let’s just say it was a choppy ride-really, really choppy, knuckle white choppy. Even the crew had to hold on. I like speed boats, but that day my knuckles really were white. I was on the top deck, and couldn’t have moved if I wanted to, and believe me I didn’t. I clung to the railing with both hands, and didn’t let go until long after the boat stopped moving.
Green Island was beautiful. Lush with vegetation, unspoiled and protected. There is one resort with a swimming pool, but it was a bit chilly, and only the birds swam. There were a couple of gift shops, a restaurant, and a cafe; all part of the resort. After a walk about, I stopped for a cup of coffee-not a surprise-the setting was beautiful, right in the center of the entrance to the resort. Who could resist? If you were not a guest, you couldn’t get to the resort property, but access was available to the restaurant, gift shop, scuba and snorkeling gear.
It is isolated, but there are plenty of snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities. Peaceful and serene, and cut off from the rest of the world, it’s a perfect place to commune with nature, and just relax, savor a cup of coffee, take a deep breath and enjoy.
After Green Island, it was on to the Great Barrier Reef. The boat docked along a pontoon, and we spend the rest of the day there. While the crew cooked our lunch, it was time to scuba dive, snorkel, take a helicopter ride, or a trip in a semi submersible to view the reef. I tried snorkeling once, but the water tastes terrible. Yes, I know you’re not supposed to drink the water.
I did go in the semi submersible, twice, because it was so incredible. I have never seen anything like the reef before, the vitality and variety of the life below was astounding, because of the continuous movement of life, it seemed to dance. There are a few pictures, but they are cloudy, shooting through a thick pane of murky glass is not the best way to get great pictures. But I found Nemo. I really did.
More next week.
By: Margot Justes,
This is a stroll from the past, 2013 to be specific. I hope for a repeat in 2017 with the same friends. Ft Lauderdale appeals, in that it is relaxing, a perfect getaway before or after a cruise. It gives an instant sense of well being, and this feeling that this really is a vacation with little to do, and my perfect getaway before I boarded a ship for a cruise to the Caribbean. A leisurely morning before boarding the ship, my lap top kept me company while I waited for friends at the restaurant, early morning is my favorite time of day. Not only did I have a constant supply of coffee, but the sun and warmth felt terrific on my weary bones. While waiting for them to join me, my little lap top kept me company, and I wrote. Alfresco dining is sublime, no matter time of day, birds flocked hoping to pick up a few scraps, a kind waitress brought me a double espresso, because I mentioned the brew was weak; it was passable this morning but the espresso jolt was a delight. After breakfast, I repacked a bit and joined my friends by the pool. The Hilton Beach Resort, is a beautiful property, well kept up and clean. After checking out, we hailed a cab for the short ride to the port, and our first day at sea. Like many immigrants, I came to this country in a ship, believe me when I tell you, it’s nothing like a cruise ship. My crossing when coming to this country was a totally utilitarian mode of transportation in the bowel of the ship-versus-luxury, comfort and incomparable service. The check-in went without a mishap, quick and efficient and we were welcomed aboard. Lunch was being served on deck nine, and the cabins would be ready by one. It’s an amazing to see the amount of luggage that has to be handled and delivered to each cabin, massive suitcases, one after the other are loaded and dumped by the elevators on each deck, after which the crew has to deliver said luggage to each cabin. The work is long and arduous, people as a rule do not travel light. I have never had an issue with the service provided on board. This particular ship, Vision of the Seas, from Royal Caribbean is old, and has yet to be updated, and is scheduled to go into dry dock this September. It needs it. The inside cabin was a pigeon hole, two people couldn’t sit on the couch at the same time-third of a couch with rounded edges. To get to half the bed you have to climb over said bed. I can still type, there is room on the practically non-existent desk top for my tiny Acer, but I had to ask them to remove the bottled water, pop and whatever else was on sale. Regular coffee, tea and milk is included in the overall price, but specialty items are an extra charge. I would have moved the stuff myself, but there was no place to store it. I was amazed that it was even in the cabin, considering the minimal amount of space available. I haven’t unpacked yet, and while looking for my sandals, I made the huge mistake of walking barefoot, and stepped into something wet & sticky. I asked for it to be cleaned, and they apparently brought a big towel and attempted to dry it-but not well enough, it was still sticky and stained. I mentioned it again to our cabin attendant. That was an unusual incident, normally the cabins are clean, and response is quick. However, shoes are staying on my feet at all times, unless I’m going to bed. By evening it was shampooed and a huge fan was running in the room to dry the area. However, that was a good reminder, shoes still stay on my feet unless I’m horizontal. That applies to hotel rooms as well.
Dinner was wonderful, my friend who is Romanian has a talent for finding all the Romanians on board, so far out of the twenty crew members, she found four that serviced the restaurants, and that included our waiter.
The fact she spoke Romanian broke the ice that much quicker.
We chatted with the couple sitting next to us, who booked a balcony from the onset-I always watch the prices and upgrade accordingly-in this case that was a huge mistake, the cruise was sold out. Live and learn.
The staff is friendly and after dinner I went up on deck ten and walked four laps; it was windy, the water choppy, and absolutely marvelous. Not going to spend much time in cabin that is for sure.
By: Margot Justes,
About a thirty to forty five forty minute (depending on weather) 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, 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,
The third and last cruise is the 15 night transatlantic one, and once again the port city is Rome, and we’ll disembark in Ft. Lauderdale Florida, and a much shorter flight home without any jet lag, since time is adjusted every evening while at sea. There will be a total 9 nights at sea, 2 nights between Palma and Tenerife, and the other 7 crossing the Atlantic. One of my favorite Italian cities, Florence is said to be the birthplace of the Renaissance. Age, architecture, history and art combine to make it a mesmerizing and fascinating place. I chose an excursion that included Pisa. I thought it might be fun just to see the tower once, and the Piazza dei Miracoli-Square of Miracles is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The rest of the time will be spent in Florence, included in the tour is Piazza del Duomo, and the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, and lunch at a local restaurant. A second stop in Provence will take me for a drive along the rough coastline to Cassis, where the quays are lined with delightful with shops and cafes, and a visit to the artsy seaside town of Sanary-sur-Mer, touristy to be sure, but should prove to be a delight. This tour will take me first to Barcelona city center, and the focus will be on Gaudi’s work. I’m a huge fan of his architecture, and his work is simply beyond whimsy. I’m looking forward to a return visit. Next we head up high in the mountains to Montserrat, and a visit to the old Benedictine Monastery that dates back to the 11th century. It is about a forty minute drive from Barcelona, and what a hairy ride it is, lanes are narrow, steep, and the curves are eye popping, good thing the buses are small. It is a must stop, and the views from above are breathtaking. Looking forward to a bit more research for the next hotel book, which of course takes place in Barcelona, with a side visit to Montserrat. The tour ends with a “sumptuous lunch at the Montserrat Restaurant.” This is a scenic look at Palma, starts with a drive along the shore to Bellver Castle, then we continue to La Seu Cathedral, a 750-year-old Gothic-style church, and to Plaza de Toros, I’m not a fan of bullfighting and most likely will skip that part, even thought I doubt there will be a bull fi8ght, I’m not even sure they pursue the so called sport, but even the thought of an animal being tortured is enough for me to pass on the event. In Tenerife we head to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of La Laguna, the cultural and religious capital of Tenerife. We’ll visit a market, and the many colorful houses along main street. Then there is a wine tasting at Bodegas Alvaro and La Casa del Vino, and there is a visit to a wine museum in a house that dates to the 17th century, the tasting will be paired with cheeses; a terrific combination.
I scheduled some blogs from my trip to Australia.
In the meantime, have a fun Halloween!
A Hotel in Venice
By: Margot Justes,
The second one is also a 14 night cruise, and on this one there will be 5 days at sea, the rest of the time will be spent visiting ports. The lovely part is that I’ll be joined by lifelong friends for the 2 upcoming cruises. This is my first time taking them back-to-back...will let you know how that works out. The first stop on this 2nd cruise from Rome, is Valetta, Malta. This will be my second visit to Malta. It is beautiful, and a delight to tour, people are warm, and friendly, filled with history, and natural beauty, it is an amazing place to visit. We’ll stop to see the Hagar Qim Temples, that date back to 3600 BC and described by the World Heritage Sites committee as "unique architectural masterpieces". This tour includes a lunch at a local resort in Golden Sands. We’ll visit the ancient city of Mdina, where St. Paul is said to have lived after being shipwrecked on the Islands in 60 A.D. Tour includes a visit to the crafts village in Ta’ Qali, filled with handmade items by local artisans. Piraeus, the port of Athens. I have been to Athens before, and have climbed the stairs to the Acropolis, the last time was in 2014. For this tour, I opted for a walking excursion that will end in the Plaka, the touristy street, filled with cafes, restaurants, and gift shops. This tour includes a visit to the marble Panathenaic Stadium, the site of the first modern Olympic Games held in 1896. This one is a repeat visit as well, but the ruins are amazing, and well worth multiple visits. I’ve extended this tour to visit the Magnesia Gate, the once-public steam baths of Scholastica, and Temple of Hadrian, the Great Theatre, one of the largest theaters in antiquity, and the Arcadian Way, the main street of Roman-era Ephesus, it is reputed that Mark Antony and Cleopatra once rode in procession. The tour will end with lunch at Cittantica Ephesus Park. I always look forward to sampling the local cuisine. I have visited Mykonos before, but instead of touring the Island, I took an excursion to Delos, an island about 45 minutes by ferry from Mykonos. Delos is an architectural site, filled with amazing ruins, it is an ongoing research facility, and a marvel to behold. The only people allowed to live on the island are the archeologists, and security staff. There is a museum on site, and the ferry brings the tourists in the morning and picks them in the afternoon. The winds can be quite brutal, and loud as they whip up in fury. The whole island is a magnificent ruin, and not to be missed. I may repost my Delos blog-it is unique. This time I’ll spend the day in Mykonos, and hopefully find the wonderful Windmills, and stop for a cup of Greek coffee in one of the many cafes. The ship docks within walking distance of the center of town. The main tourist street is along the shore, with water lapping against the stones, the souvenir shops lure you in, and for me a cafe and delicious Greek coffee always beckon. I lived in Haifa many, many years ago, and this will be an interesting visit. The school I attended is still there, walled in, high atop Mt. Carmel. The tour includes a visit to the magnificent topiaries in Haifa's Baha'i gardens, that were built on 19 terraces, and I hope to enjoy the panoramic city views from atop Mount Carmel. That should bring back a few memories. Ashdod, the port of Jerusalem, we dock overnight. The first day I booked a long 10 hour tour that will take me to Masada, and the Dead Sea, said to be the lowest point on earth. I have never been to Masada, and am really looking forward to the tour. Since it’s such a long day, they have to feed us, and lunch will be provided by one of the resorts in the area, and it will be Mediterranean fare with the Dead Sea as a backdrop. The second day in Jerusalem will be spent in the city of Jerusalem. The tour is called Eternal Jerusalem, all the key points of the ancient city will be covered, visit will include Yad VeShem Holocaust Museum, the Children's Memorial, and of course there is a stop at the Jewish quarter of the Old City, the Western Wall, and the Tomb of King David. Last stop on this cruise is Katakolon, Greece Katakolon is rather small, and offers a few of the customary tourist trinkets, but its main claim is that it is the getaway to Ancient Olympia, the site of the 1st Olympics in Greece. The ruins of the temples of Hera and Zeus-hopefully some of the Greek Mythology I read ages ago, will come back to me. The tour will end will local snacks and Greek Folk dances.
We again end in Rome, and the last cruise in this itinerary is the transatlantic one, it will take me back to Florence, Italy, Provence, France, Barcelona, and Palma de Mallorca, Spain. The excursions will not be repeated, I selected different places to visit, Europe is rich with history, there is so much to see that it is not a problem to revisit. The last stop will be in Tenerife, Canary Islands. We cross the Atlantic, and spend 7 days at sea, relaxing before disembarking in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The best part, there is no jet lag, the time is adjusted daily while at sea.
A Hotel in Venice
By: Margot Justes,
This is a 14 night cruise, and we spend 3 days at sea, the rest of the time will be spent visiting ports. The first stop on this cruise from Rome, is Salerno, Italy on the Amalfi Coast. I’m heading to Sorrento, a coastal town that faces the Bay of Naples. The tour includes a stop in Amalfi, and lunch in town. It is a full day tour that will allow a bit of time on my own, to walk the narrow streets, and alleys lined with gift shops, restaurants, and coffee shops, both in Sorrento and Amalfi. Last time I was in Naples, I took a boat to Amalfi and was able to see the coast, all the houses are perched on rocks, and the view from the sea is truly breathtaking. This time it will be a bus ride, and most likely a breathtaking ride for an altogether different reason, the roads are very steep and very narrow, but we’ll have Mount Vesuvius in the background. The tour promises a wood carving demonstration in Sorrento, always love to see the local artisans at work. The second stop is Messina, Sicily, Italy. Along with a coastal tour, I’m taking an excursion that will take me to Taormina, an Italian resort town filled with history that includes a palazzo, and a Greek Theater, where the acoustics are said to be ‘dazzling’, and a view of Mount Aetna. Of course the town has-you guessed it-charming shops, restaurants, anything a tourist might desire. Again, I’ll have a bit of time to explore on my own. Third stop is Palma de Mallorca, Spain. I selected this tour because it offered Flamenco dancing-which I absolutely love. Many, many-I might as well stop here-years ago I saw Lucero Tena dance in Madrid, a truly memorable event. I even heard her perform on the castanets with the Madrid Chamber Orchestra. We’ll visit the Palace of Almundaina, La Lonja and the Cathedral, and visit the Bellvar Castle, 403 feet above sea level, with bay views, we visit Son Amar, a 16th-century Mallorca manor house and UNESCO World Heritage site. There will be a marketplace, and the usual tourist accoutrements, restaurants, and gift shops. The tour ends with the Flamenco performance, and Sangria. Fourth stop is Cartagena, Spain. A beautiful place as yet not fully discovered by tourists, but making quick inroads. I was there in 2014, and the ship docked within walking distance of the center of town. I did not book a tour here this time, but will go off on my own. There are some glorious Roman ruins that date back to 1st Century BC, and that is building up the tourist trade in. One delightful souvenir shop that sells local wines and pottery, and of course lovely coffee shops, restaurants, and friendly locals. There is a grand avenue perfect for a paseo-a stroll in the early evening, or any time. Fifth stop is Gibraltar, UK. I booked the tour that would provide the most site seeing, and that will include the Strait of Gibraltar, and the tip of North Africa. It is primarily a walking tour of the city center, and I’m really looking forward to a bit of Moorish revival architecture in Cathedral Square. The tour promises I’ll learn a lot about the history, and I’ll have time on my own before returning to the ship. According to this tour, transportation back to the ship is not provided, I can only assume that the ship docked within walking distance, on the other hand I shouldn’t assume anything. Sixth stop is Lisbon, Portugal. I’ve booked a tour that will take me to Lisbon, Sintra, and Cascais. Supposedly 3 beautiful tons. This tour includes a 450 foot high view of Cape Roca in Cascais, with the rugged Atlantic Ocean below. We’re stopping for lunch in Sintra, and that usually means local specialties. The tour ends in Lisbon with a visit to the 16th Century Gothic Monastery Church, and Belém Tower. Seventh stop is Cadiz, Spain This promises to be a tour of Andalusian countryside. A walking tour in Cadiz, then a short bus ride to Vejer de la Frontera, a seaside town with cobbled streets, shops, restaurants and beaches. Then a ride along the coast to Trafalgar Cape to visit a historic lighthouse, and on to Conil de la Frontera, another Andalusian resort town, with pine forests and overlooking the Mediterranean. Eight is Ibiza, Spain-I accidently canceled my tour, and when I went back to rebook it, it was no longer available on line. It was to be a walking tour, and I’ll keep watch and see if it becomes available, otherwise I have to wait until I board the ship and hope there is a big enough waiting list, for them to add another one. In the meantime I keep checking to see if something else appeals-so far not having much luck. Ninth is Barcelona, Spain is next. I love this vibrant and lively city, and I’m happy to be going back. My next hotel book is set there, and more researcher is always a good thing. This tour is a walking tour, and I’ll visit a few of Gaudi’s masterpieces, among them La Sagrada Família, the magnificent architectural marvel, tour includes visits to La Pedrera and Casa Batiló on the Paseo de Gràcia. I spent many hours visiting those places, and am looking forward to more. The tour also includes a visit to Barcelona's Medieval Gothic Quarter. The last stop is in Provence, France (Toulon, is the port city) I booked a tour to Marseille, once we arrive, it is a walking tour, and will include a visit to Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica, seaside villas, and visit the old harbor. To say I’m looking forward to this trip is an understatement. Hope you enjoy reading the brief descriptions of what the shore excursions offer at each stop. Next back-to-back cruise will take me to Turkey, Greece, and Israel. I’ll post a list of those excursions next week.
A Hotel in Venice
By: Margot Justes,
I often wonder how most people tour a foreign city. How do they prepare? Is everything left to the tour company, with that extra half day on their own? Or simply venture out on an adventure? Or is it a combination of both?
In cities, I combine both, guided tours, and equal time on my own. I book specific tours, rather than leave everything to an escorting tour company. In my youth, I did my own thing, and didn’t much take tours, but now my attitude has changed, and I think it is due to age.
Now, I’m ready for an easier way to travel. I still pick what I want to do on my own, and when to book tours, and what kind. More and more people travel, and the ‘must see’ places are often packed to capacity, and it is easier to get in with a tour, the Vatican is a perfect example.
To be honest, as many know, cruising is my favorite form of travel now. I pack and unpack once, see a little of a lot, and have a care free vacation.
That being said, I always stay in the embarkation city at least two days, it depends on time, cost and if I’ve been there before. During the cruise the site seeing is limited, and I choose the excursions offered by the cruise line that fit my interests. Most often they’re excellent tours, there is a little independent time, and almost always there is a certain perspective from the local tour guide on the visit.
I'll be in Rome in less than two months and have already selected specific sites I do not want to miss. I've visited Rome before, last time was in 2014, but in a grand city like Rome one can’t possibly see everything, and even repeat sites offer new perspectives.
My favorite form of transportation in Rome is walking, but a guided walking tour is a good start, and keeps me from getting lost, unless I wander off, that has been known to happen. It is an excellent way to get acquainted with a city, along with a lecture on the sites, history, there are the occasional personal observation offered by the guide.
A map is very handy, if you know how to read one, for me that is a useless effort, I can't read maps, and if on my own, North happens to be wherever I'm facing-not a good thing. However, I'm not afraid to ask a stranger for directions, and I do carry a small city map with me, after being told which way to go and where to turn, I can generally find my way.
A few years ago I was in Berlin with my daughter, she was there to do research, and I had the days to myself. One morning I wondered about the city, and of course I got lost but in the process I discovered some wondrous little side streets, stopped for a delicious cup of coffee, and wound up at Check Point Charlie, from there it was an easy walk back to the hotel, met some nice people, and I had a terrific time. I have no ideas how I found Check Point Charlie, it suddenly appeared in front of me.
I also took a bus, and forgot to validate the ticket, and to add insult to injury it was going in the wrong direction, nothing seemed familiar. I originally took the bus from the hotel stop to the Egyptian Museum. I showed the bus driver the slip of paper with the name and address of the hotel, he dropped me off at the next stop, and pointed across the street to the bus stop. I don’t speak German, he didn’t speak English, yet we communicated. He was exceedingly kind.
I digress, back to Rome, along with a visit to the Pantheon, probably built between 118 and 125 AD, the gloriously preserved building is a must see for any tourist. There are a few sites that always beckon back. I will miss the Tivoli Gardens, because of the late arrival of my flight-couldn’t be helped.
An evening walking tour in planned, Rome is magnificently lit at night, and reflecting shadows and shimmers give it a romantic atmosphere. The Trevi fountain sparkles as the water cascades down. It is breathtaking. It’ll be a romantic look at Rome, I’m a romance writer after all. Of course given Rome's age I'm sure there are a few ghosts and goblins scattered around, and I aim to find them with the help of a guide of course. In the evening I stick to guides like the proverbial super glue.
The must see stuff I do first, and I leave myself some breathing space for the unexpected treasures, a cafe, a sit down on the Spanish Steps, a small neighborhood church, an art gallery, all those delicious incidental discoveries that are so memorable.
This time I’m taking my smart phone with me, and hope to post a few pictures. I’ve already arranged to have the international app downloaded by my provider, and the rates didn’t seem too extravagant. I picked the least expensive plan that will suit my needs. Interestingly enough the app will not work in Israel, most likely due to security, and also Tenerife, because of technical difficulties.
It seems that everything is in place for this trip, all that is left is the packing. All the cruise excursions have been booked on line, and surprisingly many have already been sold out. A shelf in the closet is dedicated to random things that will be needed, and forgotten if not set aside.
In the next blog, I’ll share some of the descriptions of the tours I booked.
A Fire Within
By: Margot Justes,
I kept checking the hotel prices in Rome, and instead of going down, they kept climbing up. There are festivals and celebrations in Rome in October, there usually are but nothing that would keep the prices up for the unfashionable fall tourist season.
Has it now become trendy to go to Europe in the fall and avoid the tourist crush, long lines, and high prices? That would seem to be the case, but I’m sure if I waited until later in the season the prices would change, but unfortunately the ship won’t wait until I’m ready to book my hotel, it will sail without me.
I kept checking the hotel rates, and finally picked the Sofitel. I didn’t want it to sell out as many other hotels did, or wait until the prices go even higher. I stayed there before, it is on a quiet street, a five minute walk to the Spanish Steps, and a leisurely twenty minute walk to the Pantheon, and the Borghese Gardens are practically across the street.
The hotel is lovely, and last time they upgraded me to a suite, a Nespresso machine in the room provided delicious coffee, a delightful veranda where I sipped my morning brew, and enjoyed the superlative view of Rome. I have no such expectations this time.
The airfare was the hardest to book. I found out that it is cheaper to book a round trip ticket, than one way, or multi city. I learned a lot about what works, and what doesn’t.
I have points from a credit card company, and was told I could transfer said points to a number of participating airlines, unfortunately those airlines prices were higher than the others, and the of use points to upgrade to business did not work out at all. Either there were no seats available to upgrade, or the economy rates were astronomical.
One of the reasons I’m not a fan of flying anymore, it is nightmarish to navigate the sites of various airlines. It is a complicated and time consuming process, unless you’re willing to plunk down a small fortune, and just give up. I’m not one of those people. What I did find interesting is that while booking a flight on line, I was told there was an error, when I went back and started over again, the rate for the same flight was much higher. Some error.
Since I was not able to use my points, I had the credit card company transfer the amount to my checking account to offset the cost of the airfare. I now know that the advertised benefit of transferring point for point to the participating airline is worthless to me. It may work for others, I’m only stating that it didn’t work for me.
Air France offered a fantastic rate for business class, with a one hour and forty minute layover in Paris. I booked business going to my destination, and the least expensive economy seat for return, since I won’t be using it, the cruise ends in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I was also able to book a reasonable and direct flight from Ft. Lauderdale home. It only took me a whole day, and a great deal of patience and frustration.
The transportation from airport to hotel, and from hotel to port will be provided by RomeCab, I’ve used them before and they’re reliable and reasonable.
After spending a frustrating week finalizing the trip, I needed a break from reality, of course that didn’t motivate me to continue with current WIP, the project of torture, it just doesn’t want to end. On that note, I posted a few pictures from Rome for you to enjoy.
By: Margot Justes,
I’ve been going through my posts, and came across my trip to Australia, and thought I’d share it today.
It’s a long trek to Australia, the first leg was from Chicago to Los Angeles, than straight to Sydney, and on to Cairns. I either sat at the airport, or on the plane for what seemed like an eternity. The length of the journey was well worth it-Cairns is stunning.
My first impression of Cairns was the arrival at the hotel in the early evening, after a long flight, a couple of layovers, and a delayed flight, I thought I’d be too tired to pay attention to anything except how quickly I could get to bed. Not so.
The hotel, a few steps away from the boardwalk, faced the water. The tropical vegetation was magnificent, and the desk staff accommodating. Once I made it to my room, the view took my breath away. The harbor on the left, the water and mountains straight ahead, and the lit boardwalk and gardens below.
There was no way I was going to sleep, without first checking out the area. Shower and bed had to wait, I did freshen up-it was a long, long trip-not even counting the 10 hour layover in Los Angeles, and then a 4 hour delay-instead of taking off at ten, we took off at two in the morning. You have to give Virgin Atlantic credit, they were serving dinner in the middle of the night. I opted for sleep, but I digress...
The stroll on the boardwalk was mesmerizing, the boats along the harbor were dimly lit, the water shimmered in the dusk, and there was a gentle breeze, you could hear the rustle of the fronds from the tall palm trees. I was in heaven. Cairns was positively gorgeous, and I had a whole week to discover its treasures.
I stopped at the hotel restaurant for a quick bite to eat, and had the best grilled calamari with eggplant chutney I have ever had. It was perfection, kudos to the Mondo Restaurant. I went back one more time for that same dish, and would have done so again, but wanted to try other local places.
First evening in Cairns was memorable indeed, and once I made it to bed, yes, after I showered, I slept like the proverbial log.
By: Margot Justes,
It's always good to be prepared, and that goes for vacation planning, and in my case planning a cruise,
The first thing to do is research the cruise line, select the one that appeals the most. See what they offer, pick the cruise line that offers the perfect itinerary for you. Check prices on line, they change frequently. Call to see if an upgrade is available, or if the prices have gone down.
Recently I started looking at a couple of other cruise line that offer more unique itineraries. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. This year is fully booked, but I’m already planning for next year.
Most cruise lines offer a club membership-sign up on your first cruise, the enrollment is free, take advantage of it. The perks build up quickly the more you cruise. Saving on internet access, shop discounts, beverage savings; you get the drift-they want you back.
I’ve only cruised on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity-they are sister companies. I have reached a high membership level in their club, and one of the perks gives me a complimentary bag of laundry, and one dry cleaned garment. I can pack less, it’s not a great deal, but every little bit helps in the ease of travel. There are express lanes to check in, all those little things make it easier.
I mentioned this before, but it is important, at the time of the booking, make certain that the deposit is fully refundable prior to the final payment due date. I never used to take the insurance offered with the cruise, but now I do. It is an added security, and I like the reassurance that at least a portion of the price will be refunded. Like any insurance policy, it pays to read the fine print.
They have repositioning cruises that are unbelievably inexpensive because they have to move the ship from Europe to the Caribbean, or the reverse-depending on the season. In this case, it is a 15 night Celebrity cruise, and the cost will be less than $1,700 for food, lodging, and entertainment for 15 nights, that includes taxes, gratuities and insurance.
There are additional costs, the excursions can be pricy, and I tend to book through the cruise line, if there are any delays, the ship will wait for tours to return. Since I tend to get lost, and wander off, I’ve learned through mishaps to stick to the guide like the proverbial super glue. I once wandered off in Jerusalem, had no phone with me, I now carry my phone with me. By the time I realized I was lost, my group was long gone. I started looking for tour buses, and one kind guide contacted his counterpart, and I was escorted back to a Royal Caribbean tour that was from my ship.
There are specialty restaurants that charge extra, and of course alcohol, and specialty coffees-my weakness-I do treat myself to a few espressos and cappuccinos, but it is not mandatory. Whatever the budget will bear.
Since flying has become at best lamentable. At least sardines are covered in oil, and fit smoothly in a can, which is more than can be said for the passengers packed to the utmost capacity in the flying can. The extra fees levied by the industry add to the cost, and the comfort level in economy is non-existent.
In a way a transatlantic cruise helps, as far as length of flight. One long flight to Europe, in this case flying to Rome, and flying back home from Ft. Lauderdale. Lest you think, the flight will be cheaper, it is not. A one way ticket is more expensive, and when I checked the multicity trip, it cost as much as a round trip, and in some cases more. That all depends on the airlines used.
I’m going to try and use points to upgrade my flight-have not done that before, but have been told that my points will transfer one for one to a few select airlines-you guessed it- those airlines have the highest rates. Since this is August, I assume the fall prices have yet to be taken into account.
A Hotel in Venice
By: Margot Justes,
The kiddies and I spent five days in Hilton Head in July-to say it was hot, would be an understatement. Temperatures reached 100, and the humidity provided a few terrific facials free of charge.
My favorite time along the shore is sunrise and sunset, and I made an effort to make sure the walks happened. On one of my morning strolls, I watched as a conservator relocated Loggerhead Sea Turtle eggs from a clean-up area to a safe zone, it is their nesting time.The survival rate is incredibly low, and for further protection they mark the relocated areas. I asked permission, and was allowed to take a photograph.
A good time was had by all, and I took a few pictures of early morning views of the ocean. The family liked it so much, they’re willing to make it an annual event. I’m good with that.
In the process, I realized that it is only two months before I head to Rome. I’m done with small trips, and am now focused on my writing...she wrote laughingly.
The hotel is not booked, prices are astronomical for an off season stay, I’ll wait and watch, the same goes for the airfare. Prices have yet to reflect the fall season.
I checked the cruise prices this morning, and one of the prices dropped substantially. I called and saved $200 per person. Celebrity honors the rate, until the cruise is paid in full.
If a lower rate for the cabin category is available, the price will be adjusted. The important verbiage is the cabin category. Also important are the perks being offered at the time of the original booking, sometimes the lower price excludes the perks, and then the rate is no longer as attractive, in fact sometimes it’s more expensive.
I have a tiny box where I stash the little stuff, hand sanitizer packets, tissues, money belt, and a new nifty gadget-at least new to me-a portable phone charger. I no longer carry my camera. I’m delighted with the results I get from my cell phone, it fits in my purse, and I don’t have to lug another appendage. Since I tend to take many pictures, the charger will give my phone added life while on the road. At least that is what I hope will happen. They’re rather inexpensive, I bought two for fifteen dollars.
It’s easy to forget the little stuff, it is all replaceable, but rather inconvenient. I even have a note to remind me to get the passport. My biggest nightmare is I’ll be at the airport, and my passport will be safely tucked away at home.
About a month before departure I’ll order Euro’s from the bank. There are change station at the airports, but it is more expensive. I still need to book my transportation from the airport to the hotel, and from hotel to Civitavecchia, the Port of Rome. I have used RomeCabs in the past, they’re reliable, reasonable, I can book ahead of time, and pay at time of service.
By: Margot Justes,
Happy July 4th!
I could not believe that it is July already, the year has practically disappeared-well, not really-but certainly half of it went within a blink of an eye. They say that time flies as you become older, I always used to chuckle when I heard that well worn phrase, I no longer laugh, for it is true.
May and June was spent with family and friends. A trip to Asheville, NC, and then Hilton Head in SC, the visit with friends provided a much appreciated release from daily routines.
Asheville provided the Biltmore Estate, the largest, and most magnificent private house in the country, still managed by the Vanderbilt descendents, all 255 rooms. The Biltmore Inn, a hotel on the estate provides an early morning coffee service in the lobby, and Cedric's Tavern, also on the estate, has an excellent Shepherd's Pie. The property maintains many gardens, a conservatory, where occasionally you may hear a concert, and they are well known for their wines-it is simply an amazing place to visit any time of the year.
The center of Asheville is filled with artists, galleries, street musicians, many restaurants, and a long forgotten bohemian lifestyle-that is alive and flourishing in Asheville.
Hilton Head Island is nestled among trees, it is lush, quiet and reserved, with golf opportunities it seemed on every corner, and only a 45 minute drive to Savannah, GA-the city teeming with history, grand squares, and verve. The day I was there was hot and humid, but the riverfront was filled with laughter, and good humor. Southern charm at its most effective.
After Hilton Head, and many walks along the shore, I went to Myrtle Beach, for more sand and ocean, but the primary reason was to see my grandson play baseball-he’s on a travelling team, and is quite the little slugger.
All the places beckon back, for the sheer escape from reality. It is almost like writing, you become caught up in the setting. There is nothing quite like a walk along the shore as the sun rises, or sets. All the cares seems to be swept away with the rushing tide.
Once week in June was spent in Charlotte, to watch my granddaughter graduate from junior high school, and my grandson from grade school, many celebrations that included a boat ride on Lake Norman.
Now we’re into July, and in just three months Rome, and the cruises await. I still need to book a few excursions, chief among them a trip to Masada and the Dead Sea.
In the meantime I need to finish the novella-this one seems to be a never ending process. I have been asked to do a sequel to Blood Art, but not the characters I already started to work with, and that means another project has been added, but first there must by an end to the novella.
Hope you have a safe and wonderful summer.
By: Margot Justes,
I have a couple local trips planned this Spring, meeting friends in Asheville, and then we’ll head to Hilton Head, Savannah and Myrtle Beach. I booked back-to-back cruises in early fall. The cruise will start in Rome and end in Ft. Lauderdale.
I’ve reached the stage where flying is no longer the delight it once was. Coming back from Ft. Lauderdale is shorter, and I really enjoy crossing the Atlantic on a ship. There is some site seeing, and then 5-7 days at sea. Perfect way to decompress, relax and write, and there is no jet lag-time is adjusted daily while at sea. Transatlantic cruises are far less expensive, so it is a perfect option for me.
I’m a planner, as anyone who knows me will attest, so of course I already started. There were a couple of things I needed. One was an over-the -shoulder travel bag, mine after years of use finally gave up the fight.
I have certain criteria, it must be lightweight, have a solid shoulder strap-that will make it harder to cut, must have a couple of compartments, and must have zippers. I have found the perfect bag, it even had a chain to attach a wallet for additional safety. Made by Kipling, it is readily available at Macy’s, the bigger version is $80, less if on sale, and Macy’s coupons come in handy. Pick-pockets abound in Europe, it is a well developed and rather successful profession.
The other thing that has worn through are my what I call airport shoes-black comfortable mules that I can slip off and on. Like my travel purse, my mules gave up the ghost, and besides I don’t like to wear closed shoes.
I never, never go barefoot in an airplane, so shoes I can slip off is the way to go, and they must be comfortable to trudge through airports, and site seeing. I’m big on comfort, and have a couple of pair of Ecco sandals that I can walk miles in without a problem, they pack well, and are not bulky.
The mules are also used if it’s cold and raining while I’m touring. They tend to be bulky, so it’s great that I can wear them on the plane. I do not wear gym shoes while touring, never developed the habit, and am not going to start now, and I pack light. I found just the pair, or I should say, my daughter found a pair for me-ABEO-I tried them, they were incredibly comfortable, and the fit was perfect. I now have shoes and purse. No picture of shoes-they are being shipped.
I have a folder for each trip, and have started my ubiquitous list. As I accomplish the items on the list, I check them off, and more often than not add new stuff.
If only I could plan my blogs, and actually write one every week. There will be more of my planning ‘obsession, so please stay tuned, and don’t give up on me. Of course there is a great deal to see in Asheville, Savannah, Hilton Head-well you get the drift-and of course a hotel to book in Rome, and trips to Tivoli to plan. And a conference in Atlanta coming up right before trip to Rome. The planning is a learning tool for me, I discover new places, new things to see, and that gives me a great of pleasure, and as a result, my bucket list is growing-that is always a good thing..
Happy travels, no matter where they take you.
A Hotel in Venice
By: Margot Justes,
This time I’ll be gone for over a month, and the items I’ll take will increase, but they will still fit in the same expandable suitcase, except this time it’ll probably expand a little on the way.
I keep the suitcase relatively small and compact for that reason. If I had a big suitcase, I’d probably manage to fill it up. Laundry is available on board ship, and I have a couple of free coupons per cruise. That will suit me perfectly. As a rule, I never, ever put anything valuable in the suitcase.
I take the suitcase, a carry-on, and a big purse that folds into a little purse. In that purse I carry my passport, wallet, a bit cash-the local currency as well as dollars, 2 credit cards, phone, and any important papers I may have, all personal items, anything I can stuff in the big purse I do, and that includes my small compact laptop, Kindle and camera. It all fits in that big, lightweight black bag-it is terrific for travel. That bag stays under the seat in front of me. It does not go in the luggage rack on the plane. I carry a change of clothes and personal toilette items in the carry-on.
My travel shoes have arrived, they’re not pretty, but they are incredibly comfortable. Since I buy my walking shoes for comfort, I keep them until they literally fall apart. Even though the trip is in October, I have already started my list.
I list everything I’m going to take on vacation, along with the clothes, shoes, absolutely everything. I have one pair of dress shoes that have lasted for years, and so far they’re holding up really well. I call them my sparkly shoes, and they’re perfect for the formal nights on cruise, or just an evening out, as long as it doesn’t include a lot of walking. I find that at my age, comfort and cute shoes are not interchangeable-it’s an either or situation.
I pack 2 pair of comfortable and durable strap sandals that I use for excursions, and a couple pair of fit flops, for the pool and easy excursions, and the mules I'll wear on the plane. That’s it for shoes. I love shoes, but I do not over pack.
For the formal nights, I picked 4 sparkly tops, one pair of dress silky black pants, and I alternate the tops. They're lightweight, and I roll them up-they take up less space in the suitcase. I roll everything I can to consolidate space.
Slowly things fill up the pages, and for me it is much easier than worry at the last minute that I forgot something-like a passport. As I think of things I add to the list.
Next is the trip closer to home coming up in May.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness...” Mark Twain
A Hotel in Venice
By: Margot Justes,
Rome is one of those cities, that no matter how often you visit there is always something new to see, something that was missed. Considering the age, that is not at all surprising.
Every street corner, every narrow cobbled street is filled with history, glorious churches, and of course shopping, whether it’s haute couture, or typical souvenir trinkets, it is all available. Did I forget to mention food, it is delicious.
I’ll have 3 days to spend in Rome in October. The Pantheon is high on my list this time around, as is Tivoli, glorious fountains and lush gardens can be seen at Hadrian’s Villa.
Plan is to arrive early in the morning, check in at hotel, and then set on foot to enjoy the sites. After the flight, stretching the legs feels terrific.
If room is not ready hotel will hold the luggage. Since I tend to travel off season, I found that in many cases in Europe, a room is usually available.
Second day I plan to take a tour bus to Tivoli, that will be a full day excursion. Third day will be spent visiting the Pantheon, and will include a visit to Via Margutta-a street filled with artists. I’ve seen pictures, but have never been, maybe it is what Montmartre in Paris used to be. More walking, and leisurely dining, a few espressos, and cappuccinos along the way will complete the 3 days nicely. Let’s not forget the gelato.
On the last day I always look forward to a quick walk, and a delicious breakfast, before the taxi will whisk me away to the cruise ship in Civitavecchia, the Port of Rome-it is about a 45 minute cab ride from the center of Rome.
I already started looking at places to stay. I pick hotels that tend to be close to the center of town, and unfortunately my favorite hotel in Rome, the InterContinental has closed its doors permanently. It was a lovely old property, right above the Spanish Steps, with an amazing history, a past life that included a convent. The rooms were tiny, but the property was lovely, the staff helpful, and the breakfasts delicious. I will miss it.
The Splendide Royal, in a quiet area but walking distance to many sites would be my second choice. October if off season for travel to Rome, but prices at the moment are far too high. I’ll wait and watch. Maybe too many people are travelling ‘off season’ and the hotels are becoming wise. Another possible choice is the Sofitel, also centrally located on a quiet street.
It’s a good thing I booked the cruises so early, prices have risen, but I’m watching them, just in case there is a sale-until I pay for the cruises-I can get the lower price, always assuming it is the same cabin category.
No matter the trip, planning one is a lot of fun for me.
A Fire Within
By: Margot Justes,
This article is posted on my website on the travel page. I love Venice, and wanted to share its magic here too. Hope you enjoy my impressions of this incredible city.
The magic is powerful, simply strolling along the narrow ancient streets allows your imagination to soar. No matter the adventure you seek, the eerily lit side paths, or some not at
glow in the canals and ancient brick walls,
summon you forth. In the distance a single house light shines upon a small canal and reflects in the water, and as you cross that old bridge, you wonder who else walked along the same trail.
Was it Casanova in search of a damsel in distress to whisk away for some fun? His face covered by a mask as he celebrated Carnivale?
Maybe it’s the shadow of Andrea Palladio, admiring his design of Il Redentore,
the glorious church built in the 16th Century on the waterfront of the Canale della Giudecca
to save Venice from an outbreak of the plague.
Such is the lure of Venice. Steeped in history and romance, the stunning architecture, the art, and the beautiful tranquil canals, all pull together to form this magical place.
I can’t possibly detail everything, but I can give you a glimpse of my Venice. If I see a church I go in, the same for a museum, an interesting side street, and in Venice there are many. As the saying goes, I leave no stone unturned. Visit an old church, and you might find a concert being given. Tour the Church and stay for the concert.
There is a moment in A Hotel in Venice
where Minola comes upon a few ladies sitting on a bridge enjoying their dinner, an opened bottle of wine resting on a stair, and they were deep in discussion, linguistics was one of the topics-that happened to me, and I participated in the lively conversation, and along the way learned a few things. I was so taken with the scene that I decided to include it in my book. Those are the moments I treasure when I travel. I’m normally a rather shy person, but somehow find it easy to chat up strangers when on the road.
Venice often called the “Floating City” began in the 5th Century AD. There are 118 or so small islands connected by canals and bridges. It is amazing that Venice is built upon a wooden platform, driven by wooden stakes. The wood has survived because it is underwater and not exposed to oxygen, and the fact that the flowing salt water petrified the wood, and turned into a hard as stone substance is remarkable. More amazing are all those gorgeous buildings that seemingly are floating on water.
That in itself is stunning, and must be seen, add to that the architecture, the incredible art, music, and history, and you have the perfect venue for an incredible vacation, and in my case an added bonus, the perfect setting for my third book in the hotel series. I also happen to love the food, a definite added bonus. The black pasta made with cuttlefish ink is incomparable, the sardines with onions another favorite, along with an abundance of gelaterias, not to mention I love pizza, and the grilled vegetable pizza, especially the ones that include roasted eggplant are superb.
Much of the delight centers around the Grand Canal, as it flows majestically, alive with commerce and joie de vivre as palaces, vaporettos, water taxis and gondolas, and various working boats seem to glide on water, swiftly shifting to and fro to evade a collision, it is a choreographed waltz on water, a persistent and expert dance of avoidance.
Along the way there are palaces, homes, cafes and shops that line the Grand Canal and the sound of music and traffic echoes in the distance, and you seem to sway to the sound of life, as the famous Rialto Bridge stands guard. The bridge offers shopping, restaurants, but most of all, it offers a superb view of the Grand Canal.
I stood on top for quite a while, mesmerized by the intense machinations of the traffic below.
The Grand Canal is essentially a grand street, comparable to Paris, New York and Chicago. It meanders through the heart of Venice, two and a half miles long, and offers terrific public and commercial transport,
and of course romance-just like the major avenues of the world, only better, because it’s all on water.
I always think that the magnificent Rialto Bridge stands guard over the Grand Canal. The outside stairs have an unmatched and spectacular view of the Grand Canal, inside the bridge, the street is lined with tourist shops and even a Rialto Market that has been in business for over a thousand years; if you plan to visit the market, best to arrive early before the crowds do.
The Rialto is the oldest bridge crossing the Grand Canal, its origin in one shape or another dates back to 1181. The stone bridge as it stands today was completed in 1591, and I would say every visitor to the city visits the bridge. Pundits said the design was too risky, and predicted it would collapse. It still stands today and is one of the most iconic architectural delights in Venice.
Take a day and evening vaporetto ride along the Grand Canal, travel like the locals. There is a marked difference in a morning ride and an evening ride. Sunlight provides the hustle and bustle of people going to work, going about their daily business, the city comes to life, deliveries are made, restaurants open, the jostle of life begins.
Shadowy lights during the evening vaporetto ride envelopes Venice in a mysterious glow, that mystifying allure you won’t find anywhere else, where shadows beckon you to follow. The moonlight glows and shimmers, the dimly lit palaces reflect in the water, and the sound of music resonates and amplifies to create that perfect moment. The trips are remarkable and since it’s public transport it is affordable
Venice is expensive, that is not a secret, yet reasonable meals can be had, but if you eat in the tourist areas, you will pay handsomely for the privilege. I always include breakfast with my hotel stay, prices tend to be sensible when booked with room. For one, I need my coffee first thing in the morning, for another it takes less time than looking for a spot other than cafes. I’m a breakfast person, it is my time to relax, plan the daily activities, and if I’m lucky chat with a few tourists.
There are things you may not want to miss, and need to include in your budget, like a gondola ride, that will set you back about a hundred dollars, it is far more romantic than a vaporetto ride, and it will take you where a vaporetto won’t-the small canals and intimate side alleys. Watching a gondolier in action is a delight in its own right, often times the ride includes a passionate Italian love song, and the swish of the oars as they hit the water adds to the sublime moment.
The biggest tourist draw, and there are so many to choose from, is the Piazza San Marco, it is a piazza like no other, and again to simply walk around it, is best to arrive early in the morning, and in the evening-the time in between is packed with tourists, and I do mean packed. The lighting in the evening is subdued, and if it’s a moonlit night, magical.
I now book tours to the must see places
, the lines are horrifically long, you pay a little extra but you get in much faster, and an added bonus are the lectures on the history of the place you are seeing. You can linger long after the tour guide finishes, and this way you do get a little history, a bit of background and sometimes a little about the daily life of the Venetians.
There is of course a great deal of free information on the many sites-it is up to you and your budget how you want to view them. Many travel books offer all the advice you can possibly need, all the places that should be seen, taking into consideration how much time you have, they list hotels in all price ranges, and if budget is really tight, you can borrow the book from your library and take it on your trip-just remember to return it when you get back.
The treasures at the Piazza San Marco are not to be missed, it is one of the key tourists sites. Given that the Basilica San Marco was began in 832, the history is vast and rich, and for almost a thousand years it served as the Doge’s private chapel, you can just imagine the political intrigues within these walls.
The Ducal or Doge’s Palace was home to many leaders of Venice for almost a thousand years. It is filled with art, sumptuous rooms, and the famous Bridge of Sighs so aptly named by Lord Byron; it was a last lonely view of Venice for those who were going from the palace to prison.
The first palace was a fortress finished in 814, change through history included fires in 976, in 1106, 1574, and 1577. Many masterpieces were destroyed, and restoration continued slowly until the 1880’s.
The palace survived and to this day reflects the massive and majestic power that was once Venice.
It is evocative to be sure, it’s a place where you can get lost in the history, go back in time, daydream, and imagine as things were, and still come back to the present enjoy the sites, delicious coffee, black pasta and incomparable gelato.
Visiting the Companile or Bell Tower is easy, a small elevator
will take you to the top, from where you have a bird’s eye view of the piazza, and the rest of Venice, and sometime on a clear day the Alps are visible. It has been written that the tower was started in 912. Due to erosion and a shallow foundation, the
Companile collapsed in 1902. It was rebuilt in 1912 as the Venetians wanted,
“where it was and how it was.”
There are of course the must see
things, but there are others that are a surprise. Walk into a small church, and wonder at the beauty, peace and charm that is offered. Go during the Biennale Art Festival and you just might see the church converted into an art gallery, and not necessarily religious art.
Many of the places I found just by accident are free. There are many little niches filled with flowers, and little gardens, a piazza with beautiful fountains and charming cafes. Many of these places become galleries during the festival.
You will not get lost, there are signs everywhere that will point you to a landmark. Unless of course you’re like me, have no sense of direction, and easily gets lost. On my first trip to Venice upon settling in the hotel the first evening, I was determined to see Piazza San Marco. I was given the routine hotel map, the concierge circled the hotel location, and the location of the piazza.
I wondered for two hours, followed all the signs marked on the walls, there were arrows pointing where to turn next. I turned and circled places so many times I was dizzy, and I never found the piazza. By the time I found my way back to the hotel, I was convinced the piazza was not real, and could not possibly exist. The following morning, after a hearty breakfast and many cups of coffee, I found it.
Returning to the hotel was an adventure in itself,
holding a map upside down and looking lost, exhausted and downright pitiful helped in my attempt to find my way back to a shower and bed. At that point I was so tired, any hotel would have done-jet lag was beginning to take its toll.
If you like glass, Venice offers that too, many buildings and hotels proudly show their Murano masterpieces in the shape of sconces, table lamps, vases and of course chandeliers.
If you want to see for yourself how glass is blown and the intricacies involved, visit a furnace.
Murano is thirty minutes away by vaporetto, or fifteen minutes by water taxi, a choppy fast ride, and since the traffic is considerable as you head to more or less open water, the taxi basically rides the waves. It is a fun and often times bumpy ride.
Murano does not have the charm, or majesty of Venice. It is more or less a working island that produces world renowned, magnificent glass, and the economy revolves around glass that is shipped all over the world, and of course there is the tourist trade. One store after another lures you in. There are the inexpensive shops that sell glass trinkets made in China, some blown in Murano, you have many options, and as always know your product. There is a logo on many of the bigger pieces that identify it as Murano glass, but be vigilant.
There are galleries where you can spend thousands of dollars and pick up a unique treasure, some of the chandeliers are beyond elaborate, and I always wonder who would clean them. The selection is vast, from the modern to period pieces, and anything in between. On my last trip, I was fortunate to have the concierge at the hotel arrange a visit to the Schiavon Art Team furnace. I was allowed to take pictures, and speak with the master designer. Even in a gift shop I always ask if I can take pictures.
He was generous with his time, and I received a great deal of information that helped with my research for A Hotel in Venice
. Their work is imaginative, creative, and simply amazing, and on my next visit to Venice, I plan on going back. There is something magical about seeing glass in liquid form and watch as it changes and becomes a solid. It is hard work, but the results are sublime.
Glass is the business of Murano, and has been for centuries, since the guild moved from Venice in 1291, because the citizens were afraid of fires.
The first documented Venetian glass product dates back to 982. In 1224 the Guild of Glassmakers, Arts Fiolaria was established, and the guild protected the glassmakers under strict guidelines, but the guild was now controlled directly by the Republic of Venice.
The glass blowers became the elite members of society and mingled with the aristocracy and the very wealthy, powerful marriages were formed influencing the political climate of the time. It was a mysterious and sometimes deadly world of secrets, the formulas for blending and glass blowing techniques were protected sometimes with fatal results. I’ve been assured that the secrecy prevails even today. It is an ever changing and evolving industry, much like many others, but with a creative insight that for me is hard to beat-sheer artistry at work. I can watch glass being blown for hours, to me it is a mesmerizing process, and the final result be it a vase, or hat that looks real is astonishing.
Venice is enchanting, and I’m looking forward to my return trip to this mysterious, romantic and magical city. The ideal trip would include a book signing in a bookstore or maybe a furnace in Murano.
By: Robert Walker,
Thoughts of The Dark Fantastic: Book Review: CHICAGHOSTS#1: GONE GORILLA By Robert...: Let me get this out of the way first: I am a huge Robert W. Walker fan. Ever since I stumbled upon a paperback copy of the superbly ente...
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By: Margot Justes,
On the transatlantic cruise this November, I will revisit Tenerife, there is much more to see. In the meantime I thought I’d share my first impressions of this beautiful place.
Tenerife, is the largest of the Canary Islands, and according to our guide has a population of about 800,000 people.
The capital and major port is Santa Cruz, that is where we docked and spent the day touring. It is the major port of the island, and Santa Cruz has a population of about 220,000 residents.
It is bright, lively, there are beaches, high rises-at least high rises for a volcanic island-shops, gardens, restaurants along with many houses that have staircases that seem to climb up to infinity-a perfect venue for rest and relaxation. The climate and landscape are very diverse, and there are more things to see here than the other two islands I visited.
A short bus ride took us to the beautiful market, neatly laid out, one aisle after another offers produce, meat and sausages, cheeses, flowers, spices-you can stop for coffee and soak up the atmosphere. The items for sale seem never ending, and the aromas were divine, especially from the spice areas.
The next stop was the Archeological Museum that has impressive exhibits of the life and death of the Guanche society-the first inhabitants of the Canary Islands dating back to the 1st and 2ndcenturies BC.
A fascinating exhibit that lists many of the plants found on the islands, reminiscent of the Audubon style, they were beautifully drawn and labeled and framed. There is a knob on each of the framed exhibits and when you pull on the knob you open a door, and it has a picture or drawing of the discoverer of the plant. Very neat indeed. This museum serves as a learning center for all the schools in the Canary Islands.
Our next stop was La Laguna, a World Heritage Site. Designated a site because of the buildings, the intrinsic layout of the city, its colorful and distinctive architecture and beautiful patios. Smaller than Santa Cruz, it is more intimate and somewhat less touristy.
We stopped and visited another market square, this one smaller and older, but equally charming. Then on to the Cathedral and a couple of the famous interior patios. We had a few minutes to shop and stop for coffee. I opted for the coffee and a wonderful local delicacy, fried bread that I swear had custard inside, it was soft, gooey and delicious.
By: Margot Justes,
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The beautiful and rugged Liguria region of the Italian Riviera is host to five villages that comprise the Cinque Terre. Rugged indeed and absolutely stunning. A national park, the area is protected by UNESCO, and is most assuredly worth a visit. We stopped in three of the five villages, Manarola, Vernazza and Monterosso.
I would love to go back and stay a few days, but I was happy to have spent a little time in each village. The ship docked in La Spezia, and from there we took a ferry to our first stop, Manarola. The village is set atop a rock outcrop, with medieval hamlets perched on the rocks. The bedrock juts from the soil and sea below, and the effect is stunning.
Cinque Terre has become a popular tourist destination, and you will find the obligatory souvenir shops, restaurants, and cafes that serve delicious coffees and pastries, along with gelaterias. Yet it retains an old age charm, with small fishing boats moored on the street, sort of like parking a car on a sidewalk, except they’re boats. We had enough time to walk down the main street and a few narrow and twisting passage ways that further illustrated the charm of the village.
Our next stop was Vernazza, the villages are similar, yet have a unique flavor all their own. Towering buildings flank narrow alleys, and they lead down to a magnificent bay. I stopped for an espresso in a cafe overlooking the bay. The coffee and view were sublime. The walk along the narrow streets, and the main tourist area was relaxing and everything is forgotten except the sheer age and natural beauty that surrounds you. Fortified with another espresso, I was ready for more.
From Vernazza, the local train took us to Monterosso. The village is a bit bigger, and far more touristy. A restaurant with a fantastic view of the sea offered the local dish, a seafood pasta cooked al dente, the seafood fresh, and the tomato sauce was light and well seasoned. Perfection on a plate. A feast for the eyes and the palate.
Along the way, we tasted some of the local wines, and amaretti con limone cookies; the Monterosso specialty-macaroons made with lemon, and delicious a Pesto that was served on a piece of toasted Italian bread, and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.
It was a long day, and well worth the effort. The views were stunning and unspoiled, and it beckons back.
A Fire Within