Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Cartagena, Spain by Margot Justes















A breezy day in Cartagena, located in the Murcia Region in Spain. It was not my first visit there, and last time I toured the relatively recently discovered Roman ruins, this time I decided to spend the day sightseeing on my own, and discover many of the delightful nooks and crannies.

The ship did not dock within walking distance of the city centre, but the town graciously provided a frequent and free shuttle service.

A long maritime past and many cultures have left an imprint and a rich heritage that the locals are very proud of, and are hoping the rest of the world will continue to discover. It is a city with a spectacular waterfront, the recently discovered Roman ruins that date back about three thousand years, potential digs for more treasures, friendly locals, and better marketing, makes Cartagena the perfect place to visit.

Since my last visit, the town has been discovered and has become a tourist destination. My first time there, there was one wonderful souvenir boutique, the Submarine Shop, that sold local wines, local pottery and other wine related items. There were a couple of the the obligatory flamenco dolls, ashtrays, all the touristy trinkets, but the Submarine Shop stood out in their offerings.  

This time as one entered the main square from the waterfront, there were temporary boutiques set up all along the street, and many other shops peppered the main street, along with many shoppers.

The Roman Theatre is a must see, along with some terrific Art Nouveau architecture, like the Grand Hotel, the Casino and City Hall to name just a few.  The ruins have seriously put Cartagena on the tourist map, and that is excellent news.

Funds are needed for additional architectural digs and discoveries. As recently as 1987 they found remnants of the Punic wall, and other treasures that date back to Hannibal.

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

Along with the recent discoveries, fortunately for Cartagena, they have a wonderful moderate climate, reasonable prices, and lovely beaches to motivate the tourist industry. 

I joined the locals in a glorious paseo, the wonderful Spanish tradition of a leisurely stroll on the boulevard. The plaza is just down the street from the beautiful waterfront, after logging a few miles, I sat down in a cafe and enjoyed my obligatory coffee and the view, even a bit of rain did not mar the wonderful day.

The problem with sitting down after walking a lot, is the getting up part. Reluctantly after a delicious cafe con leche,  I made it back to the shuttle stop, and by the time I boarded the ship even dinner was an effort, but I persevered.

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



Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Gibraltar, UK by Margot Justes















My first visit to Gibraltar was fantastic. I took 2 tours; the morning one was given by an Italian expat, who has only lived in Gibraltar for less than 3 years, new to the job, but knew her history rather well. She had a hard time keeping track of her people. At one point, she said. “I can’t keep losing tourists.”  Among other things, she originally counted herself and the driver in the mix, where in reality, she only had 13 tourists, but still hard a difficult time keeping us all together.

We drove by the British and Spanish border, a rather busy place, many people cross the border daily to go to work in Gibraltar. The economy is booming, real estate is quite expensive, and it is much cheaper to live in Spain and commute. 

On the way, we crossed the runway for the airport, and when a plane is scheduled to land they simply close the road, and all traffic stops. It is also one of the most dangerous airports in the world, runway is about a mile long, and after that it is a wet landing.

We visited the Kings Bastion, a fort that unfortunately has been converted to a modern entertainment center, and little remains of the original fort. My first thought was it could have been converted using the resources already there, and to keep the integrity of the building. It would have been a far more interesting place.

We also visited Europe Point, it is the southernmost point of Gibraltar, and the views include the Strait of Gibraltar, and North Africa’s tip.  “I can see Morocco from here.”…and indeed I could.

The walk down main street, and Casemates Square was filled with tourists and locals alike, the place was bustling, and a few British pubs advertised fish and chips, and by then the smell was mightily delicious, along with many of the usual souvenir shops.

The one thing about touring like this, the appetite tends to increase. I would have loved to stay in town, but had to get back and pick up the 2nd tour. Would love a repeat visit to see more of this bustling and vibrant place.

This tour included a visit with the Barbary monkeys, the delightfully curious and friendly creatures that live up the hill. They are always looking for food and are quite brazen in their search. We were warned not to feed them, and not take any food items with us; they seem to be better at finding food than the customs agents.

The monkeys don’t object in looking in your shirt pocket if something smells particularly delicious to them.  They are protected and receive fresh water, veggies and fruit daily, that is in addition to the food source that is naturally available on the upper rock. They are friendly, but we were warned that they are wild animals and will bite if frightened and provoked.

We visited St. Michael’s Caves, I haven’t seen too many caves, so have no basis for comparison, but these seemed spectacular to my untrained eyes. The colorful lighting added to the wander.

Then we trekked up, and up in the Great Siege Tunnels, and then we made the return journey down. My knees haven’t been the same since. These tunnels were dug in the late 1700’s, by the British from solid limestone,  an incredible accomplishment given the tools used, mostly sledgehammers and crowbars were used, with the help of gunpowder, under horrific conditions. The siege was an attempt by both Spain and France to wrestle Gibraltar from the British.

Gibraltar is one of those places that is still on my bucket list for a return visit, given the history, and the fact that it is a huge inhabited rock adds to the mystique and uniqueness of the place.

By the time I was back on board the only thing I wanted to do was sit, not move, and watch us sail to the next destination.

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



Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Palma de Mallorca, Spain by Margot Justes















This was my first visit to Palma de Mallorca, one of the Balearic Islands of Spain. It boasts a beautiful Catalan style Gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria, or simply known as La Seu.  Started in the early 13th century, and finally finished in the early 17th century, it is a massive structure.

Then a visit to the austere Bellver Castle that was a delight to visit, situated 403 ft above sea level, with gorgeous bay views of the city below. It is once again Gothic in style, built in the early 14th century. A rare circular castle that first housed the Mallorca  Kings, and now is a huge and central tourist draw.  

The tour included an overview of the city, along with a visit to the bull ring-a sport I find particularly barbaric-and skipped the inside visit, opted for a delicious coffee instead, but the building was quite beautiful.

Then it was to Son Amar, a 16th century Mallorca manor house, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to see a flamenco show.  I thought it would be a show geared towards tourists, but it turned out to be a professional dance group, and quite excellent. I love flamenco dancing, and the passionate music. Sadly, the imposing manor house was not open to tours, and a portion of it has been turned into a night club.

Pictures were not allowed during the show, but we were allowed to take them before the show started. They served us yummy Sangria and tapas, while we watched the graceful movements on stage.

Palma is also well known for the Mallorca pearls, and everywhere one turned there were  boutiques selling them. They are not formed in oysters, but are man-made, manufactured under strict condition, using glass balls, a lengthy and exact process, they are shiny, and quite beautiful. There are lower quality pearls available, some made with plastic, less attention to detail, and using similar names, it’s difficult for the average shopper to tell the difference, as always buyer beware. 

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



Friday, February 24, 2017

It’s Tax Time! Are You a Hobbyist or a Business?

When most of us strike out to be a successful writer we think of all things writing such as:

-          Traditional vs. Indie publishing
-          Do we need agent
-          How to engage readers
-          Finishing the Damn Book
-          …and more

What we don’t typically thing about are the tax consequences of that journey to becoming a successful writer.

One of the first things to determine, especially in the beginning, is whether you are conducting your writing as a hobbyist or a business.  If you limit yourself to just writing and don’t incur any expenses and/or earn any money in your writing journey then the question is somewhat mute, although, if you are incurring expenses do keep a written record of them so that you can consider them later, potentially as startup costs.

To be considered a business, you have to have – and be able to demonstrate – a serious intent to make a profit.  This is detailed in the Form 1040 Schedule C and related instructions found at the two links below:


If you don’t care whether or not you make any money with your writing but just happen to, along the way, receive money for your efforts then you fall into the category of being a hobbyist and the way you reflect your income and expenses is explained in IRS Publication 529:


But be careful!  You can’t pretend to be a hobbyist just to avoid certain taxes such as the Self-Employment taxes and this is spelled at the following IRS link:



So, if you want to know if your writing journey is a business or a hobby, use the link above to see if you pass or fail the test of being a hobbyist, and definitely read the Schedule C and related instructions.

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