Monday, February 20, 2017

Sea Days by Margot Justes



A day at sea was next, and it was most welcome, I have a pedometer with me, and since my arrival in Rome, I have logged anywhere from 5 to 9 miles a day, that is a lot for my weary old bones. While at sea I go to the jogging deck-weather permitting, sometimes not-I walk 3 miles, and then another 1 to 2 just walking around the ship, and sometimes a stroll in the evening.

The food is rather tasty, and plentiful. They even had big, ripe fresh figs, along with passion fruit, two of my favorite fruits, and passion fruit is not yet readily available at home, however Costco carries decent fresh figs in the summer.

This sea day included rain in the early morning, then the sun came out, there was a gentle breeze, and calm waters, I couldn’t ask for more. Temperatures in the 60’s made it a perfect morning for a walk along the jogging track. Just me, surrounded by clear waters and few passengers, since it was an early morning. 

I start with a glass of water, coffee and a walk, followed by more coffee and a book, and then breakfast with of course more coffee. The sea days are not structured for me, I pick and choose what I’m going to do that day, and it almost always includes a bit of writing.

Life on board ship while at sea is filled with planned entertainment, games, lessons of all sorts, lectures, food is served everywhere you turn, and there are the pools and Jacuzzis, and gym, and of course shopping, and the casino is open for those who enjoy it. It is continuous entertainment, or peaceful contemplation-the choice is yours.

The library has a selection of the best sellers, and some classics, but the library is not quiet, on this ship it is a little cavern on an upper deck, but it is open to the Centrum below-the center-a large lively area, extravagantly decorated party center, where music and dancing takes place, cooking lessons and art auctions, to name just a few. It is a lively place.

I rarely spend any time in the library, since I bring my Kindle with me, and prefer the peace and quiet of the cabin-the veranda is perfectly suited to reading, and occasionally napping. Did I mention coffee is available continuously? It is

Happy travels, wherever they may take you.

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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Messina, Italy by Margot Justes















We docked early in Messina, my favorite arrival time, the sun is not yet up, the lights sparkle from above the sea, and reflect in the water, it is rather a romantic scene.

Little time was spent in Messina, long enough to see the church and the main square, watch the rush hour traffic, and taker my life in my hands, at least it felt like that every time I crossed the street. It is a busy working city, people are in a constant hurry, and the manic traffic seems to match that urgency.

I visited Cathedral Square, and saw the biggest astronomical clock in the world, at least that is what the guide book said, and it is massive, the Orion Fountain built in 1547 in the center of the piazza, and the gorgeous massive doors built in the 15th/16th century that appear to stand guard at the entrance to the cathedral. 

Most of my time was spent in Taormina, and I’m so glad I booked this excursion. It took us an hour to get there, and it was well worth it. The views are stunning, and the same charm, and exuberance I found in Amalfi exists in Taormina. Our tour guide said it was impossible to get lost, and she was right.  There is only one long main street, and that is where it all happens. Even I couldn’t get lost, and that is saying a lot.

The place was packed with tourists, and the main street had the usual cafes, shops, but woven along with the tourist trinkets are boutiques, designer shops, and normal every day places for the locals. The architecture is varied, and even includes a Greek Theatre, the acoustics at the theatre are incredible, and a view of Mt. Aetna completes the perfect setting.

The entrance to the city proper is through an arch. Along this main long course, there are many narrow side streets, and one of them is so slim that only one person can go up the stairs at a time.

According to our guide, the reason for the tiny street is so that if invading soldiers were to come down the person waiting for them at the bottom could pick them up one by one. Sort of a military advantage-have no idea if that is true, but the story resonated with the group. The architecture is varied because Sicily has been conquered or invaded 14 times during its long history.

Happy travels, wherever they may take you.

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



Monday, February 6, 2017

Salerno and Amalfi by Margot Justes













A great way to start a morning is with a good breakfast, and the one served on board ship was truly amazing. Everything one could wish for, and more, from the bread station-my weakness-to the eggs, sausages, omelets, fresh fruit, grilled vegetables, fresh vegetables, potatoes, even black pudding-blood sausage-my favorite, to bangers, cheeses, cold cuts, and everything in between, one does not go hungry while on board. They even served passion fruit, another favorite and fresh figs. But I digress...

The 1st port of call was Salerno, Italy. I booked a long excursion that would take me to Sorrento, and one of my favorite places in Italy, Amalfi, but then I have many favorite places in magical Italy. I’ve taken a boat along the Amalfi coast before, this time I opted for ground transportation, with Mt. Vesuvius in the background, and the Bay of Naples below, the drive was nerve wracking and breathtaking all at once.

 Many big buses, for the many tourists, along with small, and not so small cars packed the narrow road, all vying for the same spot on the tight and curvy road, and every time we went around a corner-and there were many of them- the bus driver would honk his horn to warn others he was coming, sometimes two buses were trying to occupy the same tiny spot, a rather impossible task, and someone had to go in reverse, and a wait would ensue, in the meantime the traffic would built up, and no room to turn back because there were cars piled in back of bus, and so we waited.

Once we came a bit too close to another bus, and the other bus had to back-up sideways and scraped the wall of a cliff so that we could continue on the rim of the road, since we couldn’t back-up. We watched in awe at the intricate maneuvers, and then applauded our driver once the turn was made. The views are breathtaking literally and figuratively, because the bus is right on the edge of the precipice, and there is no way other than continue on the narrow road, or plunge down the sheer cliffs.

Sorrento is delightful, known for their cuisine, and charming streets. We stopped in a wood carving shop, and I fell in love with inlaid wood, so many beautiful pieces, and so little space in my suitcase, but I did manage to buy a few small pieces for family. Now I want to go back with an empty suitcase. It you’re ever in Sorrento do visit A. Gargiulo & Jannuzzi www.gargiulo-jannuzzi.it and it’s in the center of Piazza Tasso, the perfect tourist draw.

Then on to Amalfi packed with tourists as well, if I ever thought that October was past the prime tourist season, the prices and number of tourists visiting Italy dispelled that notion rather quickly, as in Rome, both Sorrento and Amalfi were packed with people. Like Sorrento, Amalfi is a tourist town, and the many souvenir shops selling local specialties, like Limoncello-the sugary, lemony liqueur that is famous in the region, to lemony cookies, chocolate and candies, all lemony and all delicious.

There are the typical tourist trinkets, and of course restaurants, and cafes, lined along the narrow, cobbled and charming streets. The setting and ambiance are sheer perfection, and there is a remarkable church with striking architecture, sea views aplenty-it is truly a wonder, and right below the stairs of the Arab-Norman Sant’Andrea Cathedral with the Byzantine facade which is a must see, then when you’re for a break, right below the stairs of the cathedral is a cafe that serves delicious coffee and pastries. It is less expensive if you stand at the counter and drink your coffee, but the ambiance of sitting outside, enjoying the view, and people watching is worth the extra change.

Happy travels, wherever they may take you.

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

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Rome in October by Margot Justes

















The flight from Dulles, DC airport to Paris on Air France was delightful, and thankfully without incident, we left on time and arrived on time, and coffee on board was better than expected. 

The same cannot be said for the Alitalia flight from Paris to Rome, that one was on time for a brief period, by the time we made it to the gate, the delays had started to appear. First it was 15 minutes, and that continued for almost 2 hours. Not an airline I would fly again, unless there were no other options.

It’s a good thing the driver I hired paid attention to the arrivals, and was there when I cleared customs, which was a breeze.

And most importantly all the luggage made it to Rome.

By the time I checked in to the Sofitel, and went upstairs to the lounge for a quick bite to eat, the weather had turned and we had a glorious lightning show across the rooftops of Rome, along thunder and heavy rain thrown in for good measure.  The evening ended without a walk, and by the time I showered it was already 10 pm, and I was ready for bed.

Friday morning I opened the window, and discovered that it was overcast and still raining heavily, but the thunder and lightning had subsided. The breakfast at the hotel was delicious; it started with a cappuccino, then a pot of French press coffee, croissants, baguettes that were moist on the inside with a delicious crust, and the usual prosciutto, assorted cheeses, eggs, sausages, fruit and pastries. The best part, the breakfast was leisurely, and the cappuccinos unlimited. A terrific way to start the morning.

After the satisfying breakfast, I put on my rain coat and headed out to play tourist, Rome is a walking city, and virtually every turn has something to offer. The day improved, after about 20 minutes of walking in the rain, it stopped, the sun came out, and the rest of the day was in the low 70’s and absolutely gorgeous.

The first stop was the Pantheon-it is a must see structure, and not just once. The most preserved, it is truly grand, built in concrete in 120’s AD, and today is stands as originally built. The open 30ft oculus provides light, and when it rains outside, it also rains inside.

Lunch was at a restaurant near the Pantheon, but far enough away from the crowds, and high prices. The calamari was fresh and grilled to perfection, and the gnocchi were homemade and served in a light cheese sauce, and coffee was delicious.

After lunch, I visited a couple churches, some were extravagant, others more humble, there seems to be a church on every corner, then a walk to the Trevi Fountain, didn’t toss a coin, but hopefully I’ll be back, since a long time ago, I did just that. The fountain has been renovated-give more detail. There is something magical about Rome, the beauty and vitality of the city is truly incomparable.

Gelato Valentino was the next stop near the Trevi fountain, the gelato was delicious. Next was a visit to a church that is right across the fountain. Rome was packed with tourists, the security was very apparent, along with police, there  were military man standing alongside their vehicles with machine guns. It seems that at every high traffic tourist spot, the scene was repeated.

I stopped at Piazza Novonna, a marvelous square-describe square-a trio of street musicians were playing Hava Nagila, and Those Were the Days, two of my favorite songs. I stopped and listened, then put a couple of Euros in their viola case, and of course took a picture.

The Spanish Steps beckon every time I visit, they date back to the 18th Century, and at the base as the stairs widen is the ‘boat’ fountain designed by Bernini, and heralding the top of the stairs is-what else-a church, Trinita dei Morti.

By the time I got back to the hotel it was dusk, and I was exhausted, even though there were a couple espresso stops along the way. I bought a pedometer before the trip, and this day, it was over 9 miles, I’m not as young as I used to be, and now come with sound effects.  Too tired to hunt for a restaurant, I headed to the rooftop at the hotel-the view is magnificent, and the food good.

Sunday, after a leisurely breakfast, it was time to head to Civitavecchia and board the ship. The driver was on time, traffic was slow due to slight construction issues, which according to the driver should have been done at night, and not during the day.

The boarding process went smoothly, the cabin was ready, and after the mandatory muster drill, even the luggage was waiting for me. By the time I unpacked, it was time for dinner. I must say the food on this ship is amazingly good, well prepared, seasoned and fresh.

I kept up with the blogs while travelling, and have many pictures. It took a while to get everything in order after being gone for two months, and then of course the holidays, and road trips.

Happy travels, wherever they may take you.

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



Sunday, December 4, 2016

Museums in Sydney 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.

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

Sunday, November 27, 2016

My Favorite Things in Sydney by Margot Justes



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would recommend a travel book, I usually tend to stick with Frommer’s; the layout is easy to read, and I just tag what interests me. If you don’t want to tour the city independently, there are many tours available.
I research the hotels on line, and usually pick them based on location, and easy access to sites, or public transportation. Sometimes I book through the hotel directly, on line, or I use a travel agent; in some cases travel agents have a better deal than you can find yourself. I check all options. 

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

I hope you enjoyed the blogs on Sydney and Cairns as much as I enjoyed writing them.

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

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sydney 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.

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